By Karoun Demirjian,
The author of the Senate’s comprehensive review of CIA interrogation practices formally announced Thursday that she would oppose Gina Haspel as the agency’s new director, arguing that confirming someone so closely tied to the program would in effect be telling the world that the United States endorses torture.
“This nomination is bigger than one person,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who released the 2014 torture report as then-chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in a statement. “For the Senate to confirm someone so involved with the program to the highest position at the CIA would in effect tell the world that we approve of what happened, and I absolutely do not.”
Feinstein’s declaration comes on the heels of a similar message from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who stated Wednesday night that while Haspel’s 33-year record of service at the CIA is impressive, her refusal to denounce her past involvement with the interrogation program as immoral disqualifies her as a potential director.
“Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying,” wrote McCain, who himself endured years of torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
It remains unclear whether the appeals from McCain and Feinstein — who together comprise the Senate’s moral conscience on matters related to torture — will sway any lawmakers presently on the fence about Haspel’s nomination.
Haspel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday went fairly smoothly, as she sought to convince senators that she would under no circumstances restart the CIA’s interrogation program and that she would disobey any potential order from President Trump to have the CIA do something she deemed to be either immoral or against American values.
[Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, pledges she won’t restart interrogation program]
But Haspel refused to disavow her past actions related to the program, arguing that she had been led to believe they were legal at the time.
In late 2002, Haspel took over a secret CIA prison in Thailand where detainees had been subjected to interrogation practices. Then, in 2005, she drafted a cable ordering the destruction of videotaped evidence of interrogation sessions on the orders of her superior — an episode for which she was internally cleared of any wrongdoing but that has nonetheless haunted her candidacy to be CIA director.
Feinstein is one of several Democratic senators who also called on Haspel to declassify documents related to her mysterious career, so that they can be shared with the public. Most of those Democrats have pledged to oppose her nomination — though the panel’s vice chairman, Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who called the lack of transparency “unacceptable” in a letter to Haspel earlier this week, has yet to decide how he will vote.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s hearing, at least three senators who had expressed concerns about Haspel’s record announced that they would support her confirmation, including panel Republican Susan Collins (Maine), Texas Republican Ted Cruz and panel Democrat Joe Manchin III (W.Va.).
Haspel needs at least one Democrat to back her nomination in the Senate of 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, as McCain and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are opposed to her nomination. If McCain’s words are able to sway more Republicans away from Haspel, she will need to persuade more Democrats to support her candidacy to secure confirmation.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote as early as next week on her nomination, and Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has said he wants Haspel’s floor vote to occur soon after. Her confirmation hearing behind her, Haspel is now meeting with senators off the committee who may vote for her, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is expected to speak with Haspel on Thursday.
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