Léonce Byimana is executive director of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.
As a psychologist who works with torture survivors from across the world, I’ve witnessed the scars left by its unimaginable trauma. Its gravity and long-term effects cannot be overstated. They include neurological, heart and respiratory damage; headaches; vision and hearing loss; anxiety; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; insomnia; memory loss; and difficulty concentrating.
This brutality — usually inflicted by governments — makes me deeply alarmed by President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA.
Haspel was complicit in torture after the 9/11 attacks; her damning record has been widely reported. According to reports in the New York Times, The Post and elsewhere, the 33-year CIA veteran, who is currently deputy director of the agency, ran one of the CIA’s black sites created after 9/11.
In these secret CIA prisons, so-called high-level terrorism suspects were chained for days from the ceiling, stuffed into boxes, slammed against walls, deprived of sleep, held naked in shackles in cold cells for days, waterboarded and subjected to mock executions.
Haspel also participated in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogations in which detainees were waterboarded. Not only did she oversee torture, but she also sought to cover it up.
Trump has repeatedly praised interrogation techniques widely described as torture. At a campaign event in 2016, he said: “Torture works. Okay, folks? . . . Believe me, it works.”
So the president openly embraces torture, and he wants to name a CIA director who has followed orders to use it on people. There’s no telling what future orders Trump might give. But we can be sure that Haspel would follow them.
Our small staff at the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition provides medical and psychological care, legal assistance for political asylum, employment and life-skills counseling. Our work is augmented by the pro bono contributions of a network of doctors, lawyers, social workers and other professionals in the Washington community.
Last year, we assisted 279 individuals. These survivors were exposed to torture because they had spoken out against policies under repressive regimes — they suffered not only abuse but also ongoing threats and harassment in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central America. Many fled at great risk and hardship to reach the United States, leaving spouses, children and careers behind, and knowing that their loved ones might also be at risk because they had fled the country.
Torture is illegal and immoral. It is also ineffective and makes us less, not more, safe.
Haspel’s promotion would be a direct endorsement of torture, sending that message both to governments that torture and to the people who endure horrific abuse.
Some have argued that Haspel’s elevation would diminish U.S. standing around the world. I am more concerned that it would give a green light to torturers everywhere who would use our government’s endorsement of Haspel to justify their own crimes, placing many more people at risk of torture. At the same time, Haspel’s nomination would be a direct repudiation of the United States’ long history of offering refuge to those whose basic human rights have been trampled by authoritarian regimes.
Among the refugee population in the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of torture survivors — perhaps as many as 1.3 million, according to the Center for Victims of Torture. And their numbers seem likely to grow. Three decades after the U.N. Convention Against Torture imposed measures to eradicate the practice, it is still carried out in 141 countries , according to Amnesty International, which documents torture in its annual reports.
In the United States, the words we use to oppose unjust policies will not lead to our being jailed or tortured. I would urge all people of conscience to speak out for those who are not free to do so without fear of retribution or harsh punishment.
Read more on this topic: