Torture Victims Lead Call for Torture Apologists Avril Haines and Mike Morell Not to be Confirmed as Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director


Avril Haines and Mike Morell, who both have a troubling history as torture apologists. In an open letter, opponents of torture, myself included, urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and urge the Senate not to confirm Biden’s appointment of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

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I’m delighted to be a signatory to an open letter, initiated by Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America and CODEPINKCONGRESS, urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence (the head of the 16 branches of the US Intelligence Community) — and I’m particularly gratified that I was able to reach out to a number of former Guantánamo prisoners to encourage them to sign the letter.

Both Morell and Haynes have a troubling history of defending torture. Morell, who was a CIA analyst under George W. Bush, and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Barack Obama, defended the use of torture when speaking to VICE in 2015. “I don’t like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers,” he said, adding, “I’m gonna defend my guys till my last breath.” As Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd explained in an article for Common Dreams yesterday, Morell “put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.”

Hopefully, as they also noted, “Morell’s traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration … after progressives launched a campaign against [him], and Senator Ron Wyden — a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — called him a ‘torture apologist’ and said his appointment to head the CIA was a ‘non starter.’”

As for Avril Haines, Deputy Director of the CIA under Obama, Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd noted that she “has an inside-the-beltway reputation for being nice and soft spoken,” but “was a little too nice to CIA agents who hacked the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee investigators looking into the CIA use of torture,” when she “chose not to discipline those CIA hackers who violated the separation of powers, crossing the boundary line and beaching the firewall between the executive and legislative branches. To add insult to injury, Haines led the team that redacted an exhaustive 5-year, 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture until it was reduced to a censored, 500-page summary smeared with black ink to cover up the screaming horrors and shield those responsible.”

What is clearly needed, in both posts, are people who were never embroiled in the disgusting and disgraceful torture program, and have never sought to defend it, because anything less tends, even tacitly, to endorse what took place in the US’s post-9/11 torture program, one of whose outposts — Guantánamo — is still open, shamefully, and about to mark the 19th anniversary of its opening.

Open Letter to President-Elect Biden & U.S. Senate from Torture Victims and their Advocates Opposed to Mike Morell for CIA and Avril Haines for National Intelligence

As survivors of torture and their advocates, we urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for CIA Director and ask the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

Both Morell and Haines have troubling records on torture — a form of violence with lingering effects: anxiety, stress, physical and psychological trauma. We know because we have lived this nightmare, either personally or as advocates of survivors forever haunted by past torture.

We believe that the record of Morell and Haines disqualifies them from directing intelligence agencies. Their appointment would undermine the rule of law and U.S. credibility around the world. It would be a callous rebuke to people like ourselves and all those who care about human rights and the protection of basic dignity.

Morell, a CIA analyst under Bush and both Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Obama, has defended the Agency’s “enhanced interrogation” practices. These included waterboarding, physical beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and sexual humiliation. These practices have commonly, and rightly, been denounced as torture. In July 2014, President Obama plainly admitted, “We tortured some folks.”

That same year, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued the 500-page summary of its “Torture Report.” Drawing on millions of pages of internal CIA documents, the report denounced CIA torture as both inhumane and ineffective. It concluded that the Agency’s use of torture was far more frequent and gruesome than previously acknowleged. Senate investigators also documented that the CIA had lied to Congress, the President, and the American people by falsely insisting that its “enhanced interrogations” had forced detainees to reveal critical information, and thereby thwarted terrorists plots.

Yet in his 2015 memoir, Morell asserted without evidence that torture was effective. As the Military Times reported, Senate intelligence committee staffers were so troubled by Morell’s claims that they issued a lengthy rebuttal in a special report. Referencing the CIA’s own documents, the report blasted Morell’s numerous errors and misrepresentation of established facts.

In addition, Morell defended the CIA’s destruction in 2005 of nearly 90 videotapes of the brutal interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and other detainees in CIA black sites. Sought by congress, the courts, and attorneys, the tapes doubtless depicted troubling US conduct. Their destruction came in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuse revelations, just as the country was vigorously debating the lawfulness and morality of the treatment of detainees.

To defend the elimination of the tapes, as Morell has done, is unconscionable. It defies the transparency our democracy needs to function, while serving to shield from accountability those potentially guilty of grave crimes.

The claim that “torture works” is the great lie used by tormentors throughout history to justify their abuses. When repeated by high-ranking officials to defend post-9/11 torture, it serves to excuse the inexcusable.

Morell has no place in a Biden-Harris administration. His nomination would send a chilling message to torture survivors and other victims of grave injustice that the United States government, including the Biden administration, does not uphold its own stated principles. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) from the Senate Intelligence Committee has said about Morell: “No torture apologist can be confirmed as CIA director. It’s a nonstarter.” We agree and urge the President-elect not to nominate Morell.

We also oppose Avril Haines, another torture apologist, as Director of National Intelligence. Since she has already been nominated, we ask Senators to oppose her confirmation.

As CIA Deputy Director from 2013–2014, Haines overruled the CIA Inspector General by choosing not to punish agency personnel accused of hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. In addition, Haines was part of the team that redacted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark 6,000-page report on torture, reducing the public portion to a 500-page summary. The full report has been sought by attorneys, human rights advocates, legislators, and scholars seeking a full account of the United States’s troubling conduct.

Haines also supported Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director. Supervising a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, Haspel was directly implicated in CIA torture. She later drafted the memo authorizing the destruction of the CIA videotapes.

Like Morell, Haines has worked both to defend torture and surpress evidence of it. She too, is incompatible with the stated aim of the Biden-Harris administration to restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to government.

The new administration must show the American people and the world that it acknowledges past disturbing U.S. conduct and will ensure that such abuses never recur. To do that, it needs intelligence leaders who have neither condoned torture nor whitewashed the CIA’s ugly record of using torture. We need intelligence leaders who understand that torture is illegal under international law; that is inhumane; that it is ineffective; that it puts at risk U.S. military personnel, should they be captured by adversaries; and that it violates the restoration of trust in American decency central to Biden’s vision for his presidency.

That is why we urge President-Elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell for Director of the CIA and the Senate to reject the nomination of Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. The people of the United States and the world deserve better.


Mohamedou Ould Salahi, tortured prisoner at Guantánamo; held without charge for 14 years; beaten, force fed, deprived of sleep; released in 2016, author, Guantánamo Diary

Djamel Ameziane, Algerian, former Guantánamo detainee, torture survivor imprisoned without charge from 2002–2013, in solitary confinement for a decade, suffered vision loss.

Moazzam Begg, Torture survivor, former Guantánamo prisoner, CAGE, UK; signed confession under torture; while in US custody subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions, hog tied with hood over head.

Maher Arar, Canadian torture and rendition survivor; whipped with an electrical cord and forced to confess while in US custody in Syria.

Mansoor Adayfi, Released Guantánamo prisoner sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money; imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge for 14 years, seven in isolation; torture surivor; resettled in Serbia; award-winning writer.

Lakhdar Boumediene, Algerian-born citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay from 2002–2009, force fed for two years; lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, a 2008 US Supreme Court decision that Guantánamo detainees have the right to habeas corpus in US federal courts.

Carlos Mauricio, College professor kidnapped and tortured by US-backed right-wing death squads in El Salvador; Executive Director: Stop Impunity Project.

Hector Aristizabal, Psychologist and theater artist; torture survivor from Colombia, CoCreator of Reconectando; Theater of the Oppressed.

Sister Dianna Ortiz, US missionary teaching Mayan children, tortured in 1989 by members of the US supported Guatemalan Army.

Jean Marie Kalonji, Congolese youth leader tortured by the police and military, Coordinator of the Fourth Way.

Mario Avila, a Guatemalan torture survivor kidnapped in 1969 and again in 1976 and tortured in clandestine jails under the directives of the U.S. government; Colectivo Guatemalteco Los AngelesTorture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC).

Gloria Avila, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC).

Frankie Flores, Torture Survivor from El Salvador; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC).

Jennifer Harbury, Atty, wife of deceased Guatemalan torture victim Efraín Bámaca Velásquez; author, “Truth, Torture and the American Way,” which documents the CIA’s historical use of torture.

Major Todd Pierce (U.S. Army, Retired), Judge Advocate General attorney on the defense teams for Guantánamo military commissions defendants.

Buz Eisenberg, Attorney for Guantánamo detainee.

Jim Dorsey, Attorney for released Guantánamo detainee

Jeffrey S. Kaye, author, Cover-Up at Guantanamo.

Alfred W. McCoy, author, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

Marjorie Cohen, Atty, author, The United States And Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, And Abuse.

Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Roy Bourgeois, School of the Americas Watch.

Helen Sklar, Certified Specialist in Immigration Law, represented torture victims from all over the world in asylum proceedings.

Elizabeth Murray, Retired Deputy National Intelligence Office/Near East.

Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Colonel (retired) and former US Diplomat.

Valerie Lucznikowska, September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture and Professor of History at The New School.

Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK Women for Peace.

Dr. Maha Hilal, Justice for Muslims Collective.

Rebecca Gordon, author, Mainstreaming Torture.

Bogdan Dzakovic, Son of WWII torture victim.

Ray McGovern, Retired CIA officer, Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Philip M. Giraldi, former CIA Operations Officer, Executive Director, Council for the National Interest.

John Kiriakou, Former CIA officer imprisoned after whistleblowing re CIA torture.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower.

Greg Thielmann, retired intelligence official, U.S. State Department.

David Swanson, Executive Director, World Beyond War; author, “Torture is Foreplay for War.”

Norman Solomon, Author, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Marcy Winograd, Progressive Democrats of America; 2020 DNC Delegate, author of Open Letter to Joe Biden: Hire New Foreign Policy Advisors, signed by 450 Delegates opposed to torture whitewashing.

Matthew W. Daloisio, Atty, Witness Against Torture.

Andy Worthington, Director,, author, The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.

Nancy Talanian, No More Guantánamos.

Bill Binney, Retired National Security Agency official and whistleblower.

Sue Udry, Executive Director, Defending Rights and Dissent.

Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Roger Waters, musician, songwriter, “Each Small Candle” – tribute to a torture victim.

Angela Edman, Esq, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC).

Art Laffin, Catholic Worker House.

Sandra and Ulis Williams, Activists, School of the Americas Watch.

Martin Melkonian, Teachers for Human Rights.

Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA.

Uwe Jacobs, Psychologist, Survivors International.

Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Frank Goldsmith and Robin Kirk, Co-chairs, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.

Linda Lewis, Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Dr. Mary Helen White, Physicians for Human Rights, works with torture victims.

Adrienne Kinne, President, Veterans For Peace.

Garette Reppenhagen, Executive Director, Veterans For Peace.

C. Peter Dougherty, Co Founder, Meta Peace Team.

Sara Olson, Women Against Military Madness, Tackling Torture Committee.

Julie Alley, Witness Against Torture

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posting, with my own introduction, an open letter to Joe Biden and the US Congress, opposing Biden’s possible nomination of Mike Morell as CIA Director, and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, because they both have a history, under Barack Obama, of having been torture apologists.

    I’m a signatory to the letter, along with numerous other individuals, including five former Guantanamo prisoners – Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Djamel Ameziane, Moazzam Begg, Mansoor Adayfi and Lakhdar Boumediene.

    My thanks to Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America for all their work on this.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Fauzy-Ackroyd wrote:

    I hope the signatory list grows ever longer. These immoral torture defenders should never again hold any office.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And yet the CIA and most aspects of the US “intelligence community” seem to call the shots, don’t they, Anna, as though the president works for them.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    I agree, Andy. Neither is appropriate for the nomination but then we can look at the history of Joe Biden and see why he is nominating them.
    I will push Biden to stop catering to war criminals and their apologists but since he is one, I believe we will be hard pressed to get him to stop catering to war criminals and their apologists.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, well said, sadly, Jan. As I mentioned to Anna, above, one might almost think that the president actually works for the US “intelligence community.”

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great news! As SpyTalk explains, “Michael Morell, long considered a shoo-in to be President-elect Joseph Biden’s CIA director, has withdrawn his candidacy after weeks of sharp criticism from critics who painted him as an apologist for torture carried out under agency’s counterterrorism interrogation program.” The news came via the “Dead Drop” column at The Cipher Brief, a publication for intelligence insiders, which stated, “Transition and Capitol Hill observers felt that had he been nominated, Morell could have eventually won approval— but in the end, Morell apparently decided that he did not want to put the incoming administration or the CIA through a re-litigation of the enhanced interrogation program.”

    As Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture has just explained in an email, “we can reasonably believe that our grassroots efforts made a difference. Indeed, the withdrawal comes just a day after we published our letter, had it appear in online media, and made calls to Congress.”


  7. CLOSE GUANTÁNAMO NOW- Ahmed Rabbani – an innocent man on hunger strike at Guantánamo – Paper to Use says...

    […] Torture Victims Lead Call for Torture Apologists Avril Haines and Mike Morell Not to be Confirmed as… […]

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Spanish readers can find the article here, courtesy of the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website – ‘Víctimas de tortura encabezan el llamado para que los apologistas de tortura Avril Haines y Mike Morell para que no sean confirmados como director de Inteligencia Nacional y de la CIA’:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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