Gina Haspel’s nomination to be director of the CIA has reinvigorated the long-simmering controversy over the George W. Bush administration’s decision to turn America into a torture state. Haspel, who oversaw the torture of one detainee at a CIA black site in 2002 and later engineered the destruction of videotaped evidence of torture, is being held up as a hero by conservative pundits who celebrate her “toughness.”
One of those pundits, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, has spent the past week defending Haspel and advocating for the torture techniques she implemented. “We can't have evil exist in this world without doing something to counter it,” he said on his March 13 show. “And if it means that terrorists caught on the battlefield are forced to answer questions, well, sadly that’s what you have to do because you are dealing with evil.”
This line of argument resurrects an issue related to the torture controversy that has remained conspicuously unresolved for nearly a decade: Sean Hannity promised to be waterboarded but still hasn’t done it.
Hannity has long been an advocate for torture, and one of his more curious pro-torture strategies is to dismiss its unpleasantness while simultaneously lauding its effectiveness. Back in April 2009, while speaking to actor Charles Grodin on his Fox News show, Hannity said: “Is it really so bad to dunk a terrorist's head in water and make him talk? Tell me what's wrong with that.” Later in the program, the two had this exchange:
CHARLES GRODIN: Have you ever been waterboarded?
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): No, but Ollie North has and I've talked to him about it.
GRODIN: And how -- would you consent to be waterboarded?
GRODIN: So we could get the truth out of you?
HANNITY: Yes. Sure.
GRODIN: We can waterboard you?
GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?
HANNITY: I'll do it for charity. I'll let you do it.
GRODIN: I wouldn't do it.
HANNITY: I'll do it for the troops' families.
That was almost nine years ago, and Hannity still has not been waterboarded, but not for lack of trying. Keith Olbermann, then an MSNBC host, tried to get Hannity to live up to his promise by pledging $1,000 to charity for every second of torture Hannity could endure. Four years after his initial promise, ThinkProgress called into his radio show to ask when he was going to follow through, and Hannity snapped at the reporter for being rude. “Here I am, nice enough to bring you on the program and give you an opportunity to give your pretty radical left-wing point of view,” he said, “and that’s kind of -- you know what -- the way you treat me.”
And now here we are in the year 2018 and Hannity is still noticeably unwaterboarded and still hiding behind the fact that his buddy Oliver North knows what it’s like. “Have you been waterboarded in your life, in your career in the military as a marine that served his country and have a Purple Heart or two,” Hannity asked North on his March 15 show. North said yes he had as part of SERE training, a program soldiers go through to learn how to resist -- you guessed it -- torture. “I waterboarded at least 150 people,” North said, “some of whom I'm sure are right now wondering what the heck is going on because it was all legal before.”
Look, Sean, one of the sad consequences of the utter lack of torture accountability and your status as a premier advocate of state-sponsored barbarism is that the torture issue isn’t going away, which means this whole “I volunteered to be waterboarded” issue isn’t going away -- that is, until you get waterboarded. No one is saying you’re a coward, Sean. In no way am I implying that the reason you haven’t followed through on your nine-year-old promise to be waterboarded for charity is that behind the bravado lurks a secret terror of what the “dunking” entails.
Quite the contrary, in fact. I think your promise to volunteer to put yourself through this physically debilitating and psychologically horrifying torture technique is the height of manliness. A total alpha move. And the fact that you’re going to do it for the troops is just patriotic icing on the testosterone cupcake.