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Artist Steve Powers' installation "Waterboard Thrill Ride" is seen at the Coney Island arcade August 14, 2008 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. After a dollar bill is fed into a machine, the creation features robots performing the horrific CIA interrogation technique used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Artist Steve Powers' installation "Waterboard Thrill Ride" is seen at the Coney Island arcade August 14, 2008 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. After a dollar bill is fed into a machine, the creation features robots performing the horrific CIA interrogation technique used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

No, Joe, Don’t Roll out the Red Carpet for Torture Enablers

We need political leaders and intelligence community officials who acknowledge that torture is illegal under international law, inhumane, and ineffective.

Medea BenjaminMarcy Winograd

It was painful enough to live through the U.S. invasion of Iraq that caused untold devastation and human misery for no justifiable reason.

Now we are again reminded of the grim Bush legacy with President-elect Biden's nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines, who has an inside-the-beltway reputation for being nice and soft spoken, was a little too nice to CIA agents who hacked the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee investigators looking into the CIA use of torture—waterboarding, sleep deprivation, hypothermia, rectal feeding, whippings, sexual humiliation—at prisons in Guatanamo and Afghanistan during the Bush War on Terror.

As Deputy Director of the CIA in the Obama administration, Haines chose not to discipline those CIA hackers who violated the separation of powers, crossing the boundary line and beaching the firewall between the executive and legislative branches. To add insult to injury, Haines led the team that redacted an exhaustive 5-year, 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture until it was reduced to a censored, 500-page summary smeared with black ink to cover up the screaming horrors and shield those responsible.

"[Mike] Morell doesn't call it torture, but Guantanamo survivor Moazzam Begg knows exactly what torture is."

That's why torture survivors and their advocates have just released a damning Open Letter urging Senators to vote "No" on Haines when her nomination lands in their laps in mid-January or February after the cyber pomp and circumstance of a virtual Presidential inauguration. The letter, signed by several decade-long detainee/survivors of torture at Guantanamo, also objects to the possible nomination of Mike Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush, for CIA Director.

"Elevating torture apologists to a leadership position within the Biden administration will damage the USA's standing and give the world's dictators succor and comfort," said Djamel Ameziane, a Guantanamo detainee from Algeria who was tortured and held without charge from 2002-2013, until he was finally released from prison.

Morell's traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration, however, after progressives launched a campaign against Morell, the former Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, and Senator Ron Wyden—a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee—called him a "torture apologist" and said his appointment to head the CIA was a "non starter."

Objections to Morell include his defense of the Agency's "enhanced interrogation" practices: mock drownings, "walling"—repeatedly slamming prisoners against a wall, whipping detainees with electrical cords, dumping freezing cold water on detainees naked except for diapers.

Morell refused to call these practices torture. "I don't like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers," Morell admitted to VICE reporters in 2015. "I'm gonna defend my guys till my last breath," said Morell, who put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.

Morell doesn't call it torture, but Guantanamo survivor Moazzam Begg knows exactly what torture is. Begg, who signed a false confession while tortured, is Outreach Director for CAGE, a UK-based organization serving communities hard hit by the War on Terror. Begg recollects his days in US custody. "They tied me up with my hands behind my back to my legs, kicked me in the head, kicked me in the back, threatened to take me to Egypt to be tortured, to be raped, to be electrocuted. They had a woman screaming in the next room whom I believed at that time was my wife. They bought pictures of my children and told me I would never see them again." 

Contrary to the Senate report and the CIA's own internal review, Morell justified the torture by insisting that it was effective in thwarting future plots against Americans. Senate staffers said Morell got names, dates and facts all mixed up, and was dead wrong on the effectiveness of torture.

Torture Survivor and award-winning writer Mansoor Adayfi, sold to U.S. forces in Afghanistan for bounty money and imprisoned without charge at Guantanamo for 14 years, knows firsthand that torture doesn't work. "In Guantanamo, when they put you under very bad circumstances—like 72 hours under very cold air conditioning, and you are tied to the ground and someone comes and pours cold water on you—you are going to tell them whatever they want you to say. I will sign anything, I will admit anything!"

In addition to soft-pedaling the use of torture, Morell helped shield the abusers from accountability by defending the CIA's 2005 destruction of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites.

Progressives should know soon whether Morell's cozy relationship with Bush-era CIA agents buries his nomination for good.  

Biden is expected to nominate his candidate for CIA director any day now. For Jeffrey Kaye, author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo and a signatory to the Open Letter, the President-elect must pass on Morell and the Senate must reject Haines. "Morell and Haines have put loyalty to CIA torturers above adherence to US treaties and domestic law, as well as basic morality. To allow them to serve in government would send a message to all that accountability for torture is passé, and that war crimes will always be dismissed with a wink from those in high office."

Other signatories to the letter objecting to Morell and Haines include:

  • Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Guantanamo prisoner held without charge for 14 years; beaten, force fed, deprived of sleep; released in 2016, author, Guantánamo Diary;
  • Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants;
  • Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US missionary, teacher of Mayan children, who was tortured by members of the CIA-funded Guatemalan army;
  • Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project;
  • Roy Bourgeois, Roman Catholic priest who founded School of the Americas Watch to protest US training Latin American military officers in torture techniques;
  • Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Whistleblower and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell;
  • John Kiriakou, former CIA officer imprisoned after exposing classified information about CIA waterboarding;
  • Roger Waters, musician formerly with Pink Floyd, whose song "Each Small Candle" is a tribute to a torture victim

Progressives have been lobbying against the inclusion of torture apologists in the Biden administration since the August Democratic National Convention, when 450 delegates delivered a letter to Biden urging him to hire new foreign policy advisors and reject Haines. CODEPINK later launched a petition signed by over 4,000, and organized Capitol Hill calling parties with Muslim Delegates and Allies to leave "No on Haines, No on Morell," messages at the offices of Senate Intelligence Committee members slated to question Haines during confirmation hearings.

For months, Morell was considered the frontrunner for CIA director, but opposition to his disgraceful defense of torture has cast a pall on his nomination. Now anti-war activists say they want to make sure his nomination is off the table, and that Biden and the Senate also understand Avril Haines must be rejected for her complicity in suppressing evidence of CIA torture.

There's more, too.

Both Morell and Haines supported Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA Director—a nomination that then-Senator Kamala Harris, other prominent Democrats, and Senator John McCain vigorously opposed. Haspel supervised a black site prison in Thailand and drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of CIA videotapes documenting torture.

In the words of Colonel Wilkerson, Chief of Staff for Bush's Secretary of State Colin Powell, "Kidnapping, torture and assassination have no place in a democracy and turn the CIA into a secret police… Abuses of the kind documented in the Senate's report could happen again."

And they could—if Biden and the Senate elevate torture apologists and whitewashers to the White House.

We need intelligence leaders who acknowledge that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel captured by adversaries. The American people must send a clear message to President-elect Biden that we will not accept torture enablers in his administration.


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Marcy Winograd

Marcy Winograd

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.

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