Our favorite CIA director nominee, Gina Haspel, reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee today for her confirmation hearing and was met with difficult questions.
Prior to her hearing, more than 100 former and retired U.S. ambassadors sent a letter to the senate decrying Haspel’s nomination.
The ambassadors focused on Haspel’s involvement with the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques program (EIT), as did the Code Pinkprotesters who gathered inside the Senate Office Building and were later forcibly removed.
Other groups and individuals rallied outside the building, protesting both Haspel and newly-appointed national security advisor and infamous war hawk John Bolton.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “mastermind” of the September 11 attacks and former torture subject of the CIA, has asked permission to share information about Haspel with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Haspel gave many answers today, but very few of them were straightforward and most were convoluted at best.
Asked by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) whether or not she was an “advocate” for the destruction of videotape footage of CIA torture, Haspel answered that she “absolutely was an advocate” for the destruction of the tapes because she was motivated to protect the identities of CIA operatives in the footage.
Despite her decision to destroy evidence of activities that, in all likelihood, amounted to international war crimes, Haspel claims that her “moral compass is strong,” and that she would not reinstate EIT programs in the CIA if appointed as director.
However, that assurance was not given in response to the question, “Would you bring back systematic torture programs?” but rather to the question, “If the president were to give you a direct order to waterboard a prisoner, would you do it?”
So, while she may not bring back torture as an agency-wide program, she hasn’t denied the possibility that she might use it on an individual case-by-case basis.
One of the most telling exchanges took place between Haspel and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), who pressed Haspel on her personal belief in the morality or immorality of the use of torture:
Haspel: “Senator, I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use —”
Harris: “Please answer yes or no. Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?”
Haspel: “Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to —”
Harris: “Would you please answer the question.”
Haspel: “Senator, I think I’ve answered the question.”
Harris: “No, you’ve not. Do you believe the previous techniques, now armed with hindsight, do you believe they were immoral, yes or no?”
Haspel: “Senator, I believe that we should hold ourselves to the moral standard outlined in the Army field manual (which prohibits torture).”
In essence, all we learned from Haspel’s hearing is that, while she pledges to follow the law, we can’t expect her actions to be guided by personal morality of any kind.
With 30 years experience with the CIA, she is certainly qualified as a clandestine operative, and there’s no questioning her decision-making abilities nor her leadership qualities.
That being said, a career as a spy and a history of operating with little to no oversight or consequence is hardly adequate preparation for the high-accountability, high-visibility role of CIA director.
Furthermore, just as the president’s decision yesterday to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, appointing Haspel as CIA director would be yet another signal to both our allies and our enemies that ours is a government that cannot be trusted.
By withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the president has shown the world that, while he may keep his own promises, he has no qualms about breaking this country’s commitments. This will undoubtedly discredit the U.S. government and all of our efforts from this point on.
If our senate confirms Gina Haspel, they will be signaling to the world that they are complicit in the president’s objective to empower radical individuals who support his radical agenda.
To view the full coverage of Haspel’s hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, click here.