CIA nominee Haspel vows not to allow torture
President Trump’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency pledged this week not to resume harsh interrogation tactics if she’s confirmed as director, saying Americans have adopted “a stricter moral standard” since the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Gina Haspel, who has spent 33 years at the CIA, nearly all of them undercover, described herself as a “typical, middle-class American” to lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but she was at times evasive and confrontational in response to tough questions from Democrats about her role in controversial Bush-era detention and interrogation programs. In 2002, Haspel took charge of a secret CIA “black site” prison in Thailand where at least one suspected al Qaida operative was waterboarded, slammed into walls, and held in a small wooden box. Haspel vowed not to resume such techniques, but refused to say they were illegal or immoral, and hedged on whether they produced actionable intelligence. She also insisted she would not follow orders by President Trump that violated her conscience. “My moral compass is strong,” Haspel said. “I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral even if it was technically legal.”
Haspel also confirmed that she authored a 2005 memo ordering the destruction of videotapes of interrogations at the Thailand detention center. She said that it was necessary to protect the identities of CIA officers who participated. Many of the details of Haspel’s involvement in the interrogation program remain highly classified. “It’s a cover-up from A to Z,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.
What the columnists said
President Trump sees Haspel’s involvement with torture as a feature, not a bug, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Trump continues to insist that torture “works,” even though it’s been disavowed by the intelligence community. The president is already using liberal opposition to Haspel “as an opportunity to simplemindedly bash Democrats as terrorist sympathizers.” The Senate should make a clean break with this dark past by rejecting Haspel’s nomination and Trump’s “loathsome attempts to profit politically” from torture.
Haspel “deserves America’s gratitude,” said Deroy Murdock in NationalReview.com. “It’s easy to forget that al Qaida kept America and the rest of civilization wide awake every night, asking, ‘What happens next?’” Brave intelligence officers like Haspel worked tirelessly to keep the worst from happening. If they had to rough up a few terrorists, so be it. We all know what this is really about. Democrats are willing to reject the first woman nominated to lead the CIA “so that they can high-kick President Donald J. Trump in the teeth.”
Haspel’s nomination is a “lose-lose proposition for Democrats,” said Natasha Bertrand in TheAtlantic.com. The CIA veteran is “well-liked and respected by her colleagues” and has been endorsed by six former agency directors. Some see the nomination of a career intelligence official as being preferable to a more partisan pick, like Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. “Democrats have to make a decision: Help to confirm someone with a dark past, or risk her being replaced by a Trump loyalist?”