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Our Ambivalent Endorsement of Gina Haspel

In the extremely unlikely case we found ourselves a United States Senator we’d be inclined to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, but we’d do so with some ambivalence. Some of the arguments made for and against Haspel seem reasonable enough, but the rest of the arguments we’re hearing, both pro and con, strike us as downright dumb.
The fact that Haspel would be the agency’s first female director is entirely irrelevant, as far as our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities are concerned, so we were disappointed but not at all surprised that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “tweeted” that any opposition to a nominee with such career credentials as Haspel must be motivated by sexism. Way back in the ’16 presidential former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had the far more relevant career credentials for the job of president, despite the many reasons that awful woman was clearly unfit for the job, and even such Trump-averse Republicans as ourselves scoffed at the notion that anyone should ever vote for a candidate based on his or her sex. We still reject that silly claim, and Trump’s White House press secretary — of all people — playing the gender card strikes us as sillier yet.
The Democrats’ opposition to Haspel’s nomination has been led by up-and-coming and potential presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose feminist credentials are by far more unassailable than Sanders’, and are based on on an arguable complaint that Haspel’s otherwise exemplary career in the CIA included a stint at overseeing an overseas outpost where where she oversaw an operation that included harsh interrogations of captured suspected terrorists. Haspel admits giving the green to light to “waterboarding” and other undeniably harsh interrogation techniques that Democrats then and now regard as torture. Although she testified has testified before congress that we will eschew such methods in the future, Haspel has also has refused to condemn their use in the past, so the Democrats’ opposition to her nomination doesn’t seem at all hypocritical even if she is a woman potentially empowered to be the first woman director of the CIA.
On the the other hand, we’re not at all convinced that Haspel was overly harsh in the interrogations she oversaw. They happened shortly after Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and didn’t involve anything that American troops weren’t trained to endure as they went off to fight various wars in response to that aggression. We’re the queasy sorts who are unable to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, but even after all these years we’d still countenance getting medieval on some suspected terrorists in those extraordinarily rare “ticking time bomb” situations that only seem to occur in the movies, and we acknowledge it’s a complicated question Haspel faced during an otherwise exemplary career.
On yet another hand, neither are we comfortable with Trump’s and his reconfigured Republican party’s newfound enthusiasm for torture.
During the campaign Trump slanderously excoriated Republican President George W. Bush for lying his way into mercenary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also blamed his processors for being weak-kneed against Islamist terrorism. He vowed that he would he would go way beyond mere “waterboarding” with suspected terrorists, not just in a rare “ticking time bomb” situation but on a regular basis, kill all the families of any suspected terrorists, summarily shoot any suspected terrorists with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and fire anyone who defied to his orders to commit such internationally-regognnized war crimes. He also derided all his Republican primary opponents who disagreed as “pussies,” and somehow that vulgar argument wound up winning the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency.
Among the few Republicans opposing Haspel’s nomination in Arizona Sen. John McCain, who suffered five years of undeniable torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam war, three of them voluntarily after he selflessly refused an early release because of his family’s clout rather than desert his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, which gives us respectful pause about Haspel’s nomination. During the last campaign the draft-dodging Trump said that McCain was only a hero “because he got caught, and I hate to tell you but I like a guy who didn’t get caught,” and although we’re still proud to vote cast our vote despite our many complaints about ┬áRepublican nominee McCain way back in ’12 we are also proud that we didn’t vote for either Trump or that awful Clinton woman back in ’16.
All the Trump apologists on the talk radio shows are damning McCain as as traitor to the country, and administration officials are joking about how the brain cancer-striken Senator and war Hero and former Republican presidential standard-bearer will soon be dead anyway. At that this point in ’18 we’d probably vote for Haspel’s confirmations if we were somehow Senators, but we’d feel ambivalent about her ambivalence in answer those questions the damned Democrats are asking about what she’d do if Trump kept his campaign promises and ordered her to commit a war crime without a “ticking time bomb” rationale.

— Bud Norman

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A Minor Victory Among the Major Defeats

The Obama administration has been in desperate need of some good news lately, and seems to have at last made some with the capture of one of the terrorists involved in the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Even the administration’s harshest critics will be pleased that somebody might held to account for the tragedy, while the administration’s most fawning admirers at The Washington Post are calling it a “major victory,” but it raises questions that are likely to mitigate the good feelings.
Surely the administration would have preferred to tout some accomplishment that didn’t require a reference to Benghazi, which remains an undeniable deadly screw-up that was followed by blatant lies that made a mockery of the First Amendment by the terrorists who seek to deter any criticism of their deranged religious beliefs. The “leading from behind” toppling of the Libyan government that preceded the tragedy, and that country’s descent into murderous anarchy since, are also necessary background information that the administration would just as soon go unmentioned. These issues never provoked the widespread public outrage we thought they deserved, but they’re still proving troublesome for past Secretary of State and presumptive next president Hillary Clinton on her recent book tour and campaign launch, and the capture of just one middle-management terrorist involved in the fiasco is not likely to quell the controversy.
A casual news reader might also wonder why it has taken so long to bring any of the terrorists to justice, especially one who has been available to numerous western journalists for interviews in which he boasted of his high profile. Those interviews have also had the captured terrorists echoing the administration’s laughable line that the terrorist attack was a spontaneous reaction to an obscure YouTube video and not a coordinated attack, so the more cynical sorts will naturally wonder if that might be why he’s the only involved in the attack that has been captured.
The terrorist will be given an opportunity to tell that improbable story under oath in an American courtroom, as the administration is planning on trying him in the American justice system as an ordinary criminal rather than in a military tribunal as an enemy combatant. That raises questions, too, about the administration’s broader approach to what it still refuses to call a war against Islamist terrorism. With harsh interrogations ruled out the terrorist won’t provide any useful intelligence, he’ll be housed in an American prison next to some nervous community rather than in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp that that the administration is so eager to empty that it recently released five of its most dangerous inmates in exchange for a soldier who seems have to deserted, and a shrewd defense attorney will demand more evidence about the investigation and capture than the national security agencies will want to divulge, and as the story plays out over the coming months or years it will lead to debates the administration should lose.
It’s a good news story for now, though, and the administration is probably willing to swap future embarrassments for a bit of positive press now. The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of the president’s political foes is becoming harder to ignore now that some potentially damning e-mails have suspiciously gone missing, the recent release of those five terrorists for the alleged deserter still leaves the terrorist ranks ahead by four, America’s foes are making land-grabs from Ukraine to the China Sea, the brave soldiers who fought against America’s foes are still stuck on waiting lists at Veterans Administration hospitals, the economy is still weak and lately showing worrisome signs of inflation, so the capture of one terrorist can be touted as a “major victory” and provide a brief distraction.

— Bud Norman