In his tweet announcing her selection for promotion to director of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Trump boasted that Gina Haspel was the “first woman so chosen.”
As an Egyptian feminist, I am not celebrating.
Ms. Haspel played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s global kidnap, detention and torture operation known as “extraordinary rendition.” Under the program, which was adopted after the 9/11 attacks, suspected militants who were captured in Afghanistan were sent to other countries, which held them in secret detention and allowed C.I.A. personnel to torture them. The first secret prison was in Thailand, where, as an undercover officer in 2002, Ms. Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later helped carry out an order to destroy videotapes that documented the interrogations.
In one case, a suspect was tortured so brutally that it was hard to tell he was still alive. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in one month and repeatedly slammed into walls, and those weren’t the only harsh methods his interrogators used. Eventually, they concluded he knew nothing useful to tell them.
At least 54 countries supported the rendition program. As an Egyptian, I am shamefully aware that my country’s government was among the most diligent.
Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Syria were among the most common destinations for rendered suspects. Ms. Haspel and others who ran the program could count on Egypt to do the dirty job the C.I.A. required. Annual reports issued by the State Department and human rights organizations have long documented the systematic use of torture by successive Egyptian governments.
That dirty job done so well by the regime of President Hosni Mubarak — who was supported by five successive United States administrations — was instrumental in providing bogus information used by President George W. Bush’s administration to invade Iraq. After Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan captured in Afghanistan, was rendered by the United States to Egypt in 2002, Egyptian interrogators beat him and subjected him to a “mock burial” by putting him in a cramped box for 17 hours. He fabricated information that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to operatives of Al Qaeda. In 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited that information in his speech to the United Nations that made the ultimately debunked “weapons of mass destruction” case for war against Iraq.
Mr. Libi recanted the story after being returned to C.I.A. custody in 2004 as the war raged. He was sent back to Libya from American custody in late 2005 or early 2006 and detained there at the Abu Salim prison, where in 2009, at age 46, the former preacher who once ran a training camp for armed militants in Afghanistan apparently died of a suicide. His friends were suspicious of his cause of death.
The dozens of such “ghost prisoners” who were in American custody overseas were just among many of the shameful examples of collusion between my country and the C.I.A.’s rendition program.
How, when it has so readily relied on Egypt to take torture further than its own operatives would or could, can any American administration ever seriously hold our government accountable for its torture against us, the Egyptian people? The answer: It can’t, and it doesn’t. And successive Egyptian governments count on that. It is less likely to do so if Ms. Haspel, whose career is so tainted by torture, is at the helm. Furthermore, though previous United States administrations provided at least lip service to condemning torture in Egypt, President Trump has said that he believes torture “absolutely” works, and on the campaign trail in 2015, he said that he would approve waterboarding “in a heartbeat.”
Despite Mr. Trump’s boast, the choice of Ms. Haspel for promotion is no victory for women. My feminism does not demand that a woman have an equal opportunity to torture, alongside men. Torture is no less wrong because a woman, not a man, carries it out. I do not celebrate the appointment of women to high positions in regimes where cruelty is a favored tool of governance by a patriarchy; if they accept, they are nothing short of foot soldiers of that patriarchy and the violence it has instituted.
My feminism, instead, works to dismantle patriarchy and its violence — whether it is sanctioned by the state, as torture is, or practiced at home, in the form of intimate partner or domestic violence.
I do not subscribe to a feminism that demands perfection or super heroic nobility of women. But I do insist that putting women at the service of patriarchy is no victory for us. These are discussions that will come up again and again as women demand inclusion in institutions that have not been friends to women, such as the military, religious institutions, corporations — and the C.I.A.
Mr. Trump is certainly no friend to women. This president has been accused by at least 19 women of sexual misconduct. However many women he chooses to promote in his patriarchic government, he is no feminist. Feminism, as I see it, is not about counting women in key jobs.
It’s about what the president stands for and what those women work to enact and achieve. That is why I refuse to celebrate this move to promote Gina Haspel, a woman with too much experience in cruelty and deception. She and others who tortured for the C.I.A. must be held accountable, not rewarded.
Mona Eltahawy is the author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, and a contributing opinion writer.