CIA nominee is presumptive war criminal; multiple reasons to reject Haspel nomination

Developing–preliminary draft

We have grown tired under Donald Trump’s relentless assault on our democratic values and the rule of law.  With no responsible officials at the top of the Trump administration who might hear and even respond to rational analysis and advice, it is easy for critics to think, “What’s the point?”.  Gradually, over time  and as an unending stream of countless outrages are committed, not every one of them is analyzed or called out. This is how authoritarians and anti-democratic forces disdainful of the truth come to power, and hold on to and expand their grip on power.

Some outrages, however, require urgent commentary.

We now face the potential confirmation of a presumptive war criminal to head the CIA.

There are so many things wrong with this nomination that it would take a senior, experienced foreign policy expert considerable effort to set them forth.

For now, let us simply list some of the most glaring problems with this nomination.

1. The nominee worked as the deputy to Jose Rodríguez, who was in charge of the torture program at the CIA under Bush.  He is an unrepentant advocate of torture who, despite the contrary findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Torture, maintains that waterboarding produced valuable intelligence. Whenever the issue of torture reenters the space of public discussion, Ródríguez can be counted on to publish an op-ed justifying his beliefs and defending the use of torture.


“Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’” The Trenchant Observer, January 7, 2013.

“Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived,” The Trenchant Observer, May 7, 2011.

2. CIA officials have been vigorously advocating the confirmation of Gina Haspel, arguing in effect for who they would like to supervise them, who they know has in the past been willing to go along with policies of torture and other human rights violations. With Haspel, they could relax and perhaps in her apointment even find vindication. Such advocacy may be, and certainly should be, prohibited by law.

3. Haspel participated in the destruction of evidence of waterboarding (video) in open violation of the law.

4. The nomination accepts the “due obedience” defense rejected at Nuremberg, and under the terms of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. In short, the pillar upon which the entire edifice of denazification in Germany following World War II has been ripped out.


(1) Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal. Adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations, 1950.

Principle IV: The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.


5. Haspel’s nomination should not even be considered until full text of the the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Re;port on Torture is declassified and released to the public.

The CIA, which is now engaged in military or paramilitary activities in a large number of countries, needs a leader from outside agency who can control and avoid excesses, and who can be seen as capable of doing so.

6.  Looking at Haspel’s  picture in the newsaper, one searches in vain for a trace of charactet in her bland visage. One associates to a phrase from those who studied the Holocaust, the banaity of evil”.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.