Subscribe

Robert Scheer: CIA 'Gangster Element' Is a Stain on America (Videos and Transcript)

Protesters await the arrival of Gina Haspel, CIA director nominee, for her confirmation hearing. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer talked with Ben Norton of The Real News in a two-part interview about whistleblowers who have condemned Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director. Haspel oversaw the agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program. Protesters, including former CIA veteran Ray McGovern, disrupted Haspel’s Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Describing Haspel as a “professional liar,” Scheer says, “This is a woman who is trained to lie. This is a woman who’s lied about most of the things in her professional life. To expect her to be accountable about the super-secret agency when she spent her life denying the value of truth, denying the value of logic, never being held accountable for their lives, including whether torture worked. … [and] here is someone who’s taken from that world of error and deceit, distortion, violence, and you’re making her in charge of the whole agency.”

Scheer says there is a destructive “gangster element” in the spy agency that condones assassination and torture.

Read the transcripts for parts 1 and 2 of the videos below.

Part 1

BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton.

Donald Trump’s nominee for the new director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, was grilled in a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, May 9. Haspel is notorious for overseeing a so-called black site, that is, an overseas prison where detainees were tortured by the CIA. Haspel also participated in the destruction of evidence documenting this torture at a black site in Thailand. On the day of her hearing, 115 former U.S. ambassadors sent a letter to the Senate expressing opposition to her nomination. The former diplomats wrote that the Senate should thoroughly investigate Haspel, and if she, quote, “played a role in torture or other forms of detainee abuse, or the destruction of evidence relating to such activities, we urge you to reject her nomination.” End quote.

In the Senate hearing, Haspel repeatedly refused to say whether or not the CIA’s past use of torture was immoral.

GINA HASPEL: Senator, I believe that CIA officers to whom you referred-.

SPEAKER: It’s a yes or no answer. Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral? I’m not asking do you believe they were legal. I’m asking do you believe they were immoral.

GINA HASPEL: Senator, I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.

SPEAKER: Please answer yes or no.

BEN NORTON: That is Gina Haspel, the CIA director nominee, at the Senate confirmation hearing. Numerous whistleblowers have spoken out against Haspel’s nomination. Former CIA officer Ray McGovern disrupted the Senate hearing in protest of Haspel’s nomination. Police violently brutalized the 84-year-old CIA whistleblower on camera. Ex-CIA analyst John Kiriakou, who was imprisoned for exposing the CIA’s use of torture, has also publicly opposed Hapel’s nomination. And NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden likewise tweeted, quote, “If the Congress confirms Gina Haspel, who admitted to participating in a torture program and personally writing the order to destroy evidence of that crime, is qualified to head the CIA it says more about our government than it does about her.”.

Joining us to discuss the CIA scandal is Robert Scheer. Scheer is a renowned journalist who has covered politics for more than 50 years. He is the former editor of the legendary magazine Ramparts, and is today the editor in chief of the website Truthdig, where he writes a regular column. Scheer is also the author of 10 books. Thanks for joining me. Bob.

ROBERT SCHEER: OK. Should we jump right in? Why don’t I just say something about that, because I know Ray. I also worked at the Los Angeles Times for 29 years covering a lot of these issues, and Ray McGovern was always a highly respected source. We should make it clear, there were two CIA. There is the analysis side, which was supposed to be the main purpose of the CIA. To gather information, to analyze, to figure out what was going on in the world. And Ray McGovern was a stellar member of that part of the CIA. And the information that they came up with, whether it was about the old Soviet Union or what was going on with terrorism and so forth, has generally been proven to be accurate.

The only problem is the government, different governments didn’t listen to what the analysis, analysts were saying. And Ray McGovern himself briefed the president of the United States on a number of occasions. He was a high-ranking expert on Russia, on what was happening in the world. And to have a man of that quality and that patriotism, that seriousness of purpose, be treated as if he was a bank robber on speed or something was obscene. And there are plenty of people around the world who know of Ray McGovern ‘ s work, of his writing, and the idea that he was treated in that way, it’s horrific. And at a hearing in which you’re investigating, really, the dark side. That’s what Gina Haspel comes from. These are the people who do all the mischief and that’s the side of the CIA that has basically gotten it wrong time after time. The Bay of Pigs, you know, figuring out what was happening with terrorism before 9/11. Not talking to the FBI. The torture program. You could go through one chapter after another. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And that’s the part of the CIA that’s a travesty, a stain, that dark stain on American history, and has misled us. And has misled us by using secrecy. They’re not accountable. So to take someone associated with the worst aspects, this is what Ray McGovern was trying to say. Someone that was associated with the worst aspects of the CIA and make them head of the whole thing after, after we have learned that she destroyed evidence needed to know whether crimes were committed, she destroyed evidence that we had a right to have. She was involved in torture. No one is even questioning that. And she was involved in the coverup. To take someone from that wing of the CIA, the dark, miserable, murderous, deceiving side, and put them in was particularly offensive to someone like Ray McGovern, who, after all, was trying to enlighten us.

And he knows how much damage that side of the CIA did. He spent a lot of time once he retired exposing their arrogance and, you know, how, and their embrace of violence as opposed to logic and fact.

BN: Yeah. On the subject of Ray, in fact, we have a video clip here. This is a shocking clip of former 27-year CIA analyst Ray McGovern disrupting the Senate hearing in protest of Gina Haspel’s nomination. And this, this video clip shows police violently pulling him out, he’s, again, 84 years old, and throwing him onto the ground. And Ray says that his arm has been dislocated in this. Please watch here.

So Bob, can you respond to this? I mean, you spoke a little bit about it. But specifically the irony that you have a veteran CIA analyst who is speaking out against the use of torture and violence by the CIA, who is in turn violently assaulted by police and thrown out of the room onto the floor.

RS: Well, I think you put it well. I just want to make a point here. The CIA is an agency that is out of control, and they are not doing the job that they were created to do. They’re not making us safer. They keep getting it wrong. And they get it wrong not because of their brilliant analysts like Ray McGovern, who generally develop an accurate view of the world, and it’s complex, and they try to inform the politicians. That’s not where the damage is coming from. The damage is coming from the gangster element. The, the people who believe assassination, and talk about meddling in elections, these people have meddled in almost every election that’s taken place in the post-World War II period. And they’ve they’ve engaged in assassinations and assassination plots at one time, whether it was in Cuba, whether it was Eastern Europe, whether it was the Middle East. There’s no question about that dark, horrible record. And so the torture is really, you know, sort of the ultimate evidence of how out of control and how much of a violation of everything a country is supposed to stand for, what they represent.

And to pick someone from, you can’t ask her any questions. You know, this is a professional liar, by the way. This is a woman who is trained to lie. This is a woman who’s lied about most of the things in her professional life. To expect her to be accountable about the super-secret agency when she spent her life denying the value of truth, denying the value of logic, never being held accountable for their lives including whether torture worked. You know, all of the evidence is clear that torture even though it just, aside from being profoundly immoral and a horrible example to the world, also didn’t produce any credible evidence. On the contrary it produced error. And at the same time, here is someone who’s taken from that world of error and deceit, distortion, violence, and you’re making her in charge of the whole agency.

You know, and that’s been presented as somehow a victory for women. If you’re against her, you’re against women breaking through the glass ceiling. I mean, it’s a nutty view. I think it was deliberately done by Donald Trump to burnish his reputation, because he’s known to have such a hostile attitude towards women. Oh, ok, I’ll show you a woman who’s even nastier than I am, you know. And that’s who you have now. And I mean, it’s really quite depressing.

BN: Well, unfortunately we’ll have to end our discussion there. But we were joined by Robert Scheer, who is a longtime award-winning journalist. He is the editor in chief of Truthdig, and also a longtime columnist. We were speaking about Gina Haspel who is the new nomination for CIA director. Thanks for joining us, Bob.

RS: Thank you.

BN: Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.

Part 2

BN: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton.

This is Part 2 of our discussion with Robert Scheer, who is the editor in chief of Truthdig, and a longtime award-winning journalist. We are discussing the Senate confirmation hearing for Gina Haspel, who is likely going to be the next CIA director. Under former president George W. Bush, Haspel oversaw the use of torture at a CIA black site in Thailand, and the destruction of evidence that proved that that torture happened. We’re going to continue our conversation where we left off last time, discussing the scandal of President Trump nominating a torturer for the next CIA chief.

RS: I want to say something about the Senate committee, also. They did, by the way, you mentioned that I was once the editor of Ramparts magazine. The reason that the Senate Intelligence Committee was formed to do the kind of surveillance of the CIA is that Ramparts magazine, followed by others and people like Sy Hersh, we were able to expose that the CIA was violating its charter, it was interfering in domestic politics, it was engaging in fundamentally anti-democratic activities, small d democracy. And so we did some prizewinning, wonderful journalism at Ramparts, and they went after us. And the response of some very good people in Congress, most notably Sen. Frank Church from Idaho, was to begin to try to control that agency and make them accountable.

So you have the Senate Intelligence Committee trying to do that around torture, and what happened has been forgotten here in these hearings. But the fact is that their operation and trying to assess what the CIA did was invaded by the CIA. Their files were broken into. They were denied. We were lied to while they were doing their own work. So the members of that committee are quite familiar with how devious and corrupt the CIA has been. And to now go along, and there will be Democrats going along, unfortunately. You know, and Leon Panetta, who covered for the CIA, was a Democrat. And Barack Obama, by the way, made the decision, Barack Obama sent John Kiriakou, who you mentioned, to prison. Two and a half years. They wanted to get him for 40 or 50 years. Because he told the truth about torture, he was going to be punished. They didn’t punish a single person who did the torture, who authorized the torture. They all got off scot-free thanks to Barack Obama.

Well, there are plenty of Democrats now, including some on the committee, who are going to give a pass to this woman. And they’ll justify, oh, she’s promised not to do it again. But this is a really depressing moment. It means we’ve lost the main idea of the U.S. constitutional experience, which is power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and accountability is the name of the game. And if you can hold your secret agencies accountable, you’ve lost it. And that’s why George Washington, in his farewell address, warned about the, you know, warned us against the impostures of pretended patriotism.

And what Ray McGovern represented, and John Kiriakou, is real patriotism. Defending their country for its values, and what is it, and the lives of its people. And these other people are pretended patriots. They believe violence and power and destroying people, and destroying others without justification, they think that’s their right. Their right, because they have power. And that’s what this woman has done in her life. She was put into a position of extreme power over other human beings. And she said, yeah, we can waterboard them, and we can torture them in every which way, and make them stand in stress positions. And you know what, she took it upon herself to follow the orders, like the good German. That’s her defense. She was following orders, instead of becoming a whistleblower and doing what Snowden, who worked for the CIA, doing what McGovern did, and Kiriakou, telling us the truth. No, she went along with what she had to know was an illegal order.

The Congress and the courts were trying to look into what happened with this torture. Her supporters said, destroy the tapes. She admits that, and she went ahead and destroyed it. And never told us that she disclosed them. She destroyed evidence of the most profound crime that’s happened in modern history.

BN: Yeah. Well, unfortunately we’re winding up here. We don’t have too much time left. But I’m wondering if you can briefly comment, you raised a few points. One, it’s interesting to see how the Democratic Party has begun portraying the CIA as part of the resistance, if you will, against Donald Trump. And now we see what the CIA represents is torture, extrajudicial violence, killings, et cetera. So there’s that aspect of it. And then additionally-.

RS: It’s true of the FBI, also. Remember, it was the FBI that tried to get Martin Luther King to commit suicide, and wanted to destroy him, OK. So you know, these are agencies that have a history of trying to destroy democracy. And yet you’re absolutely right. The Democrats are so angry about what happened the election, want to use the secret police agencies to go after anybody, on any basis.

You know, if we had time, we could go into the incredible contradiction of all of Russian hysteria, because we just had an example, on a related issue, where a foreign government, Israel, was able to dramatically influence our election. Netanyahu spoke to Congress, denounced this treaty of arms control with Iran, very dramatically influenced it. What happens, this guy gets to be president, Donald Trump. And he does he doesn’t do Russia’s bidding. He does Israel’s bidding, and Saudi Arabia’s bidding, and destroys this treaty. You know, if there was foreign meddling in this election, it doesn’t seem to have effectively come from Russia. It came from Israel, and I guess Saudi Arabia. And by the way, Saudi Arabia is where 15 of the 19 hijackers came, with legal documents, from Saudi Arabia to destroy the World Trade Center and to attack the Pentagon. Saudi Arabia, which is now in great favor with this president. And we don’t hear anything from the CIA or the FBI about their dangerous influence, or Israel’s, for that matter, in our politics.

BN: Yeah, and of course we have an e-mail released by WikiLeaks from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which a U.S. intelligence analyst acknowledges that Saudi Arabia, and also another U.S. ally, Qatar, supported ISIS, along with Al Qaeda. But unfortunately we don’t have too much time left here. I’m just curious, if you can comment, in the Senate confirmation hearing, Gina Haspel claimed that she will no longer use torture in the future under President Donald Trump, as she had previously done under President George W. Bush. Of course, during his presidential campaign Donald Trump not just joked but actually promised that he would use torture. He even pledged to kill the family members of suspected terrorists. Can you respond to her claim, Gina Haspel’s claim, that she suddenly she has a change of heart and will not use torture in the future?

RS: What you want from somebody running that agency is honesty and integrity. This woman has proven that she is a liar, by definition. Just first of all, Donald Trump is an idiot. He is saying torture is effective. Let’s have more of it. It will make us safer. Gina Haspel is somebody who knows from experience that they did not get any usable information. On the contrary, they got lies, they got garbage. And the good investigation of what happened on 9/11, to the degree that there has been one was done by, you know, an FBI agent who was mystified that torture didn’t work. By the way, the FBI refused to go along with the program, as John Kiriakou has pointed out, and withdrew, because they said, you’re, you’re not doing effective investigation.

So Gina Haspel was in a position to inform the American public, the American president, hey, this torture that we claim was effective and necessary, and in fact wasn’t really torture, was just enhanced interrogation, really was a monstrosity, and it gave us bad information. It didn’t give us any [inaudible]. She never told the president of the United States that. She never told the American public that. And she’s now going to be trusted, this proven liar, this proven master of deceit, is now going to be trusted to be head of the entire CIA? So even the people on the analysis side, who come up with, challenge this narrative and come up with the independent information that challenges the push towards more violence, they’ll be silenced by her, because she’s in charge of the whole agency, including potential critics. And we’re supposed to trust her?

What evidence is there in her 33 years in this agency that she ever acted with courage? Why wasn’t she a whistleblower? She witnessed torture. She witnessed violation of laws. She witnessed lying about it. She was in the agency when they lied to the people making Zero Dark Thirty that said torture, that movie told the American people, which is why, maybe, one of the reasons so many Americans, I think it’s two thirds, think torture is a great thing, and is necessary. But they were lied to by the CIA. She was in a high position. She was an expert on the torture. And when the CIA, with, by the way, a Democrat in [inaudible] lied to these filmmakers, to the screenwriters of Zero Dark Thirty, said torture was necessary to capturing bin Laden.

So that was a big lie. She went along with it. It was on a very high level. Knew they were lying. The report is lying to filmmakers, lying to the American public. She never said a word in opposition to it.

BN: Well, unfortunately we’ll have to end our discussion there. But we were joined by Robert Scheer, who is a longtime award-winning journalist. He is the editor in chief of Truthdig, and also a longtime columnist. We were speaking about Gina Haspel who is the new nomination for CIA director. Thanks for joining us, Bob.

RS: Thank you.

BN: Reporting for the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.

Robert Scheer
Editor in Chief
Robert Scheer, editor in chief of Truthdig, has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. His columns appear in newspapers across the country, and his…
Robert Scheer

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.
or
or

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.