When it comes to Gina Haspel, President Trump's controversial nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, the White House is playing the woman card. But the way the president's team is invoking gender is exactly why so many conservatives hate identity politics.
The Washington Post reported that Haspel, the acting director of the CIA, sought to withdraw her nomination Friday after some White House officials feared the role she played in the interrogation of terrorism suspects could prevent her from being confirmed by the Senate. Here are details of her involvement, from The Post's report:
In late 2002, Haspel oversaw a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand, where one al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded. Another detainee also was waterboarded before Haspel’s arrival.
Three years later, Haspel was involved in the CIA’s destruction of nearly 100 videotapes that recorded the men’s interrogations, touching off an investigation by a special prosecutor who ultimately decided not to bring charges against those involved.
Any advocate of women's empowerment who is so concerned about Haspel's past activity that they would vote against her becoming the first woman to head the CIA is a “hypocrite,” tweeted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump, who noted the most qualified person is “a woman,” claims criticism of Haspel is based on her being “too tough on terror.”
The White House might be sensitive about the lack of women in the Trump administration, given that 80 percent of nominations for top jobs in the Trump administration have gone to men, according to a Guardian report based on data from American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal super PAC that monitors Republican candidates.
Despite Trump officials portraying the pushback to Haspel as partisan, the truth is concerns about Haspel's role in interrogation are coming from both sides of the aisle.
The Post previously reported that when Haspel’s nomination was announced, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said she would need “to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program.”
“We now know that these techniques not only failed to deliver actionable intelligence, but actually produced false and misleading information,” McCain said in a statement in March. “Most importantly, the use of torture compromised our values, stained our national honor and threatened our historical reputation.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also said he was opposed shortly after Haspel's nomination was announced.
One of the most prominent lawmakers with questions for Haspel is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the longest currently serving female U.S. senator and a strong advocate of getting more women in positions of leadership.
Feinstein said on CBS's “Face the Nation” in April:
I am of the opinion that putting somebody right now at the head of the CIA who played a role in, let's say, torture is not necessarily appropriate. I have met with Gina Haspel. I know her somewhat. I know that she is talented, but I also know that she was fully supportive of the program that many of us are very critical of. . . . She was supportive of the program while it was going on and actually supervised one of the sites where some of this 'interrogation' so-called went on. She's the number two position now. That's different from number one, the head of the CIA worldwide. There are countries that look very badly on what the United States did, particularly European countries. And we want whoever is head of the CIA to be able to be acceptable to our allies. So this is an open question in my mind. We need to resolve it.
Trump, Sanders and those making similar points arguing criticism of Haspel is hypocritical either do not understand the argument those wanting more gender diversity in the Trump administration are making — or at worse, are appealing to tokenism.
As I previously wrote for the Fix, the expectation that liberals would celebrate Haspel's nomination simply because she is a woman displays a basic misunderstanding of the left's desire for more women in top positions of government. Liberals do not want to simply see more women in leadership. They want women with liberal values that critics of the Trump administration say Haspel lacks.
Human rights issues are not necessarily a gender issue or a partisan issue. If Haspel is the best person to lead the CIA despite criticism of her past involvement, she and the White House should be able to make that case before the Senate and the rest of America without accusing the lawmakers who are charged with confirming her of sexism.