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.

Marcy Winograd
7 min readDec 20, 2020

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 Haine 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”✎ EditSign✎ EditSign✎ 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 toture 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 chosing 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. ✎ EditSign✎ EditSign✎ EditSignThe 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 Guantanamo; held without charge for 14 years; beaten, force fed, deprived of sleep; released in 2016, author, Guantánamo Diary.

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

Moazzem Begg, Torture Survivor, former Guantanamo 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 chord and forced to confess while in US custody in Syria.

Mansoor Adayfi, Released Guantanamo prisoner sold to US forces in Afghanistan for bounty money; imprisoned at Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo Bay from 2002–2009, force fed for two years; lead plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, a 2008 US Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo detainee.

Jim Dorsey, Attorney for released Guantanamo 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.

Elizabth 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 Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.

Nancy Talanian, No More Guantanamos.

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.

Dr. Emma L. Briant, Author, Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change.

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

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Marcy Winograd

Co-Founder, Progressive Caucus, California Democratic Party; blogger at LA Progressive