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Letter to U.S. Senators from Health Professionals Urging Opposition to the Nomination of Gina Haspel as CIA Director

For Immediate Release

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Dear Senators:

As health professionals, bioethicists, and public health experts opposed to torture and ill-treatment, we write to express our grave concern over the nomination of Gina Haspel as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Haspel’s reported role in the CIA’s post-9/11 rendition, detention, and interrogation program raises grave concerns about her qualifications to lead the agency. She has been implicated in supervising the first “black site” in Thailand, where agency personnel tortured detainees using waterboarding and other long-outlawed techniques. We urge you to undertake a close examination of Haspel’s involvement in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program and to reject her nomination if there is evidence that she played any role in carrying out, supervising, or directing the torture or abuse of people in U.S. custody.

Credible evidence also indicates that Haspel was instrumental in the destruction of videotapes and other evidence of criminal conduct. Given this background, it should be clear that Haspel lacks the judgment and character necessary to oversee the development of intelligence in compliance with U.S. laws and treaty obligations.

As health experts who understand the profound mental, physical, and societal effects of torture, we oppose the selection of a nominee who helped conceal the use of torture and held a leadership position at a “black site” where it occurred. She was in a position to know about and influence aspects of a program that purposefully inflicted severe suffering and harm on individuals, to whom the United States has yet to provide rehabilitation or redress as required under the UN Convention Against Torture, a treaty ratified by the United States. Moreover, the program enlisted health professionals to inflict this harm, a grave breach of medical ethics. In Thailand, Haspel worked with contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who developed the experimental torture methods used on Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and many others.

The CIA’s use of torture is detailed in the Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, including “authorized” techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and extreme isolation as well as “unauthorized” abuses such as mock executions and rectal feeding. As Physicians for Human Rights has documented, the program used the presence of health professionals to legitimize and sanction torture, extending to the policy authorization of these practices, despite their absolute prohibition under U.S. and international law. Such complicity in torture is a fundamental perversion of medical ethics and has long-term consequences for the integrity and professionalism of all institutions involved.

Haspel’s senior role in the now-discontinued CIA torture program should be investigated and disclosed. Promoting her to the CIA’s highest position would send a dangerous message contrary to the nation’s laws and values. It would also represent a betrayal to victims of torture everywhere, as well as to the American public, which expect U.S. personnel to adhere to the highest legal and ethical standards.

It is essential that all records of Haspel’s involvement in this secret program be disclosed and declassified prior to her confirmation hearing on May 9 to ensure proper vetting by the Senate. Senators must be afforded the ability to fully scrutinize the degree to which Haspel’s conduct while overseeing the black site prison in Thailand complied with or failed to comply with U.S. human rights obligations, including the absolute prohibition against torture.

We urge you to make clear that torture and other ill-treatment by U.S. officials will not be tolerated with the promotion of those responsible for this dark chapter in American history. Placing Haspel in charge of the CIA would undo efforts – including those of Congress – to repudiate torture and to persuade the world that the United States does not condone its use. We urge you to oppose this nomination and to demand the selection of a nominee with a record of rejecting torture. Such a record is critical to demonstrating a nominee’s recognition of the extensive damage torture causes to U.S. national security interests, U.S. moral leadership, and the health and human dignity of victims.


Kerry J. Sulkowicz, MD
Chair, Board of Directors
Physicians for Human Rights

Scott A. Allen, MD
Medical Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights
Professor Emeritus, Clinical Medicine
University of California Riverside School of Medicine

George J. Annas, JD, MPH
Director, Center of Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights
Boston University School of Public Health

Deborah D. Ascheim, MD
Board Member, Physicians for Human Rights
Chief Medical Officer, Capricor Therapeutics, Inc.

M. Gregg Bloche, MD, JD
Professor of Law
Georgetown University

J. Wesley Boyd, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School
Faculty, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD
Professor and Director, Division of Medical Ethics
NYU School of Medicine

R. Alta Charo, JD *
Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics
University of Wisconsin – Madison

Robert L. Cohen, MD *
NYC Board of Correction

Susan Craddock, PhD
University of Minnesota

Dennis M. Debiak, PsyD *
President, Division of Psychoanalysis
American Psychological Association

Rohini Haar, MD, MPH
Research Fellow, Human Rights Center
University of California Berkeley School of Law

Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD
Senior Medical Advisor
Physicians for Human Rights

Steven Joffe, MD, MPH *
Emanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Medical Ethics & Health Policy
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

Allen S. Keller, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
Director, Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
Director, NYU School of Medicine Center for Health and Human Rights

Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH *
Dean Emeritus
Professor, Epidemiology, Medicine, Health Policy & Management and Nursing
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Robert S. Lawrence, MD, MACP
Founding Member, Board Member Emeritus, and Past Board Chair, Physicians for Human Rights
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Mark A. Levine, MD *
Faculty Associate, University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities
Past Chair, Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, American Medical Association

Robert Jay Lifton, MD*
Lecturer in Psychiatry, Columbia University
Distinguished Professor Emeritus, The City University of New York

Alice LoCicero, PhD, ABPP, MBA *
President, Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence, American Psychological Association Div. 48
Past President, Society for Terrorism Research
Supervisor, Wright Institute Sanctuary Project

Ranit Mishori, MD, MHS, FAAFP
Professor of Family Medicine
Georgetown University School of Medicine.

Jonathan D. Moreno, PhD *
David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of Ethics
Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania

Elena O. Nightingale, MD, PhD *
Member and Scholar-In-Residence Emerita
The National Academy of Medicine

Steven J. Reisner, PhD
Psychological Ethics Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights
Founding Member, Coalition for an Ethical Psychology

Adam Richards, MD, PhD, MPH *
Board Member, Physicians for Human Rights
Assistant Professor, Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research
University of California Los Angeles

Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD *
Professor of the Practice
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Jane Snyder, PhD*
Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis

Stephen Soldz, PhD *
Anti-Torture Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights
Director, Applied Social Justice and Human Rights Program, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
Member, Council of Representative, American Psychological Association

Homer Venters, MD, MS
Director of Programs
Physicians for Human Rights

Ron Waldman, MD
Doctors of the World USA

Matthew K. Wynia, MD *
Director, Center for Bioethics and Humanities
University of Colorado

Brigadier General (Retired) Stephen N. Xenakis, MD *
Former Erik Erikson Scholar, The Austen Riggs Center
Adjunct Professor, The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Stuart J. Youngner, MD *
Professor of Bioethics and Psychiatry
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

*Asterisk denotes affiliation for identification purposes only

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Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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