by Deborah Pearlstein, Professor of Law Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
At Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee considering her nomination to be CIA Director, Gina Haspel talked a lot about “leadership lessons” – lessons not only reflecting the knowledge and experience she plainly has, but presumably the deeper insights and judgment one gains after trying and failing, as we all inevitably do, to do the right thing at the critical time. The great disappointment of Haspel’s testimony was in how evident it became that she seems to have learned the wrong ones.
Even before the Wednesday hearing, Haspel’s nomination was opposed by scores of retired military leaders, and an equal number of America’s ambassadors and diplomats; there are likewise many individuals in our intelligence community who cite the same reasons as Haspel’s opponents for thinking America should never go down the torture road again. Our torture program violated the law, endangered our troops, empowered terrorist recruiters, imperiled essential counterterrorism cooperation with our most stalwart allies, did lasting physical and psychological harm both to the prisoners we tortured and the men and women we demanded torture them, and compromised our most basic values as a country. As John McCain put it back it 2005: “"It's not about who they are. It's about who we are." These lessons were hard won indeed.