Haspel's résumé is chilling. "From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior official overseeing a top-secret C.I.A. program that subjected dozens of suspected terrorists to savage interrogations, which included depriving them of sleep, squeezing them into coffins, and forcing water down their throats," Dexter Filkins wrote at the New Yorker last year, after the Trump administration named Haspel deputy director of the CIA under Mike Pompeo.
In 2002, Filkins reported, Haspel was present at a CIA black site in Thailand during the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect. According to a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Filkins wrote, Zubaydah "was waterboarded eighty-three times; at one point, he became non-responsive, with water bubbling up from his lungs. Doctors had to revive him. During his confinement, Zubaydah lost sight in his left eye."
Haspel has not been an agent of change at the CIA; she has no discernible record of standing up to the systems that have harmed women and men around the globe. Instead, she has been instrumental in perpetuating those systems and in helping the intelligence community carry out — and cover up — some of the worst excesses in recent memory.
After Haspel was appointed deputy director, Raymond Bonner of ProPublica combed through declassified documents and books on the Zubaydah interrogation and found evidence that as chief of base of the black site, she played a central role in organizing what occurred there. At one point, according to Bonner, Haspel wrote that her team had conducted a "dress rehearsal … which choreographed moving Abu Zubaydah (Subject) in and out of the large and small confinement boxes, as well as use of the water board."
"Team is ready to move to the next phase of interrogations immediately upon receipt of approvals/authorization," she wrote a few days later, Bonner reports. "It is our understanding that DOJ/Attorney General approvals for all portions of the next phase, including the water board, have been secured, but that final approval is in the hands of the policy makers."
According to Bonner, Haspel also "spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown." And once the interrogation was over, Haspel was also involved in the decision to destroy tapes of it, Filkins reports.
Rather than being a harbinger of feminist change — or any other kind — Haspel is a continuation of the past, a return to an era of torture that, until recently, seemed behind us. Last year, Filkins characterized Haspel's appointment to the deputy position as an endorsement of torture from a president who had sometimes vacillated on the issue. Her elevation to head of the CIA certainly seems like a further endorsement.
The fact that Haspel is a woman is immaterial when what she represents is not progress toward a more equal future but a return to policies that harmed countless people of all genders. No "congratulations" are due to Trump for choosing someone to lead the CIA whose claims to fame include robbing a man of half his eyesight.
Anyone who's been watching Trump knows he couldn't care less about supporting women. His transparent attempt to pass off his latest appointment as a feminist choice is just more evidence of that.