Peace activists on Monday sounded the alarm over President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, citing her role in drone strike policy during Barack Obama’s presidency and covering up torture perpetrated by members of the George W. Bush administration.
Haines, as former deputy national security adviser and former deputy CIA director, worked closely with Obama and former CIA Director John Brennan as the administration dramatically increased drone strikes.
CIA Director Gina Haspel, as the New York Times noted, will report to Haines. Haspel had a role supervising the CIA’s torture program, and Haines supported President Donald Trump’s nomination of the agency chief in 2018.
As the Daily Beast reported in July, Haines approved an “accountability board” that spared CIA personnel reprisal for spying on the Senate’s torture investigators, and was part of the team that redacted their landmark report. After the administration ended, Haines supported Gina Haspel for CIA director, someone directly implicated in CIA torture, a decision that remains raw amongst progressive activists. Until late June, she consulted for the Trump-favorite data firm Palantir, which emerged from the CIA.
Haines’ nomination drew praise from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he was “incredibly pleased” by the pick, adding it sends “a clear message of hope and support for American values to the world in choosing candidates who possess the qualifications, the demeanor, and the temperament to serve in leadership positions.”
Other centist Democrats expressed similar sentiments:
Politicians, press, and pundits took to Twitter to say that Haines is a really nice person:
Peace and digital rights advocates—Haines also worked as a consultant for the surveillance state- and deportation-enabling tech firm Palantir Technologies—had a decidedly different take on her selection. Under the hashtag #FeminismNotMilitarism, the women-led peace group CodePink tweeted that “appointing a woman to be the director of national intelligence DOES NOT justify, atone, or excuse the U.S. intelligence community’s murderous drone strikes and violent counterterrorism strategies.”
In a Common Dreams op-ed earlier this month, CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin and co-author Nicolas C. Davies noted that “Haines provided legal cover and worked closely with Obama and CIA Director John Brennan on Obama’s tenfold expansion of drone killings.”
Benjamin and Davies wrote that Haines taking a prominent position in the Biden administration would be just one more troubling failure to reorient U.S. foreign policy away from past mistakes.
Haines joins a growing list of controversial names either already chosen or under consideration for jobs in the Biden administration, including his highest-ranking Cabinet pick to date, secretary of state nominee and Iraq and Libya invasion supporter Antony Blinken. Both Haines and Blinken worked for WestExec Advisors, a key player in the revolving door world between government and the corporate sector whose founders include Blinken and former Clinton and Obama hawk Michèle Flournoy—who is widely considered the front-runner to become the first woman defense secretary.
Writing at the Guardian Saturday, Arwa Mahdawi cautioned against “acting like Flournoy’s likely appointment as head of the Pentagon is some kind of win for feminism.”
“There is nothing remotely feminist about women in rich countries dropping bombs on women in poor countries,” wrote Mahdawi.