A Tea Party congressman from Kansas has accepted an offer by US president-elect Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Mike Pompeo, a three-term member of Congress and member of the House Intelligence Committee, is one of several hardliners picked by Trump for a top post. If confirmed by the Senate, he would would oversee a vast surveillance apparatus which he has indicated he wishes to expand.
Pompeo and David B. Rivkin Jr., a senior fellow at the neoconservative think-tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
They urged Congress to pass a law “re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a single comprehensive, searchable database.”
Pompeo, as noted by The Nation, “is a foreign policy hawk who has fiercely opposed the Iran nuclear deal, stoked fears of Muslims in the US and abroad, opposed closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and defended the National Security Agency’s unconstitutional surveillance programs as ‘good and important work.’”
A figure close to the far-right Koch brother billionaires, Pompeo has also suggested that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden should be executed.
Praise for Israel’s police
Pompeo’s praise for Israel’s police two months into a wave of violence that saw Palestinians being executed in the streets is further cause for alarm.
In December last year, Pompeo stated that he “traveled to Israel and Lebanon, where I was briefed on the unconscionable acts of violence being committed against innocent Israeli civilians and police officers.”
Pompeo made no reference to the Israeli occupation, discriminatory anti-Palestinian laws, or the overwhelming violence Israeli forces have brought to bear against Palestinians.
“I saw graphic video footage of some of the violent acts that are continually targeted at Israelis, solely because they are Jewish,” Pompeo asserted, conflating Palestinian resistance to a decades-long military occupation with religious bigotry.
“After seeing this, I can tell you that the Israeli people and the Israeli National Police are demonstrating admirable restraint in the face of unspeakably cruel attacks. As a friend of the state of Israel, I commend the officers for their professionalism and thank them for all they do,” he added.
That fall, however, Israeli forces and armed civilians used deadly force against Palestinians who posed no immediate lethal threat. Subdued captives were repeatedly summarily executed – sometimes on video – with Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraging “the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners,” as an Israeli rights group put it.
Amnesty International has called for investigations into such killings and a ranking US senator, along with 10 members of Congress, has asked the State Department to probe “possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt – incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of US military assistance.”
Pompeo made his defense of the Israeli police notwithstanding that force’s brutal beating of American citizen Tareq Abukhdeir the previous year in the Shuafat neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem, where police intimidation and violence is an everyday reality.
Pompeo’s website features just two paragraphs on foreign policy. Notably, almost one whole paragraph of that is devoted to his strong support for Israel:
“America must … continue to stand alongside our allies around the world – such as our democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel. The US-Israeli alliance serves as a cornerstone of international and regional security. As a vibrant and dynamic democracy, Israel is a model of progress in the Middle East, and the United States must continue to support the State of Israel.”
The suggestion that Israel, which has occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip for almost half a century, is a “model of progress in the Middle East” is the type of language that would come up for inquiry in Pompeo’s confirmation hearing if Democrats were to become keener to connect with liberal Democrats and younger voters who, according to polls, are showing increasing sympathy toward Palestinians rather than Israel.
“Law and order” Trump
Pompeo’s lionization of Israel’s police accords with the Trump campaign’s heavy emphasis on “law and order.”
Candidate Trump was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, raising questions about how police forces would interact with demonstrators as well as people in Latino, African American and Muslim communities during a Trump presidency built on racism and bigotry directed at these and other groups.
Tom Jackman, who covers crime and the courts for The Washington Post, noted that Trump told the Fraternal Order of Police in a questionnaire he “would rescind an executive order by President Obama which limited the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement, saying the transfers were ‘an excellent program that enhances community safety.’”
Pompeo regards the use of waterboarding as within the parameters of US law, a viewpoint Senator Dianne Feinstein, author of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the practice, said she would challenge during Pompeo’s confirmation hearing.
Trump is also on record voicing support for torture practices such as waterboarding and killing the families of alleged terrorists. Trump stated in February: “I would bring back waterboarding and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Under pressure, Trump appears to have backed away from killing family members of “terrorists,” but grave fears remain that he will go beyond waterboarding or, at the very least, redefine what constitutes torture.
Senator John McCain sought to allay such concerns over the weekend, stating, “If [any agency of government] started waterboarding, I swear to you, there’s a whole bunch of us that would have them in court in a New York minute.”
“And there’s no judge in America that wouldn’t say they’re in violation of the law because it’s specifically, in law, now prohibited,” McCain added.
Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, rejected McCain’s assertion, telling Face the Nation, “We’re going to have a president again who will never say what we’ll never do.”
The torture proposed by Trump and Pompeo is very much aligned with practices carried out by the Israeli government.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has asserted – as recently as this month – that Israel’s “using torture happens and is not exceptional in interrogations. Painful handcuffing and threats are a common method used in Shin Bet [Israel’s domestic intelligence agency] interrogations with the purpose of causing a detainee grave pain and suffering and to break his spirit.”
Hunger strikes and torture
From Israel to Guantánamo Bay, brutal interrogation and prison techniques have been applied in the post-9/11 world by the US and its allies.
In response to Pardiss Kebriaei with the Center for Constitutional Rights describing the forcible feeding of hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo, Pompeo replied, with the dismissive and misogynistic rhetoric characteristially espoused by Trump and his allies, “I have no idea what that woman is talking about.”
Pompeo added: “The last thing to say about these folks who are assertedly [sic] hunger strikers is that they look to me like a lot of them have put on weight.”
The bizarre claim points to a type of cruelty that is likely to pervade a Pompeo CIA – one that may even surpass the abuses and law-breaking of the George W. Bush administration.
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo, described the process of forcible feeding to The New York Times in 2013:
“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
Yet the probable next director of the CIA regards such brutality as a means of putting on weight. Such outrageous and odious views have proved to be a springboard – for more than Pompeo – into Trump’s good graces.