May 10, 2018. Yesterday, Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, had her confirmation hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Haspel is a controversial choice because of her role in the CIA’s enhanced interrogation of Al Qaeda detainees following 9/11 and the Gulf War, which is a polite way of saying her role in supervising torture by waterboarding and other extreme methods. Her exact role is classified, but she is said to have been the head of a CIA black site in Thailand where waterboarding was used. She also had some management responsibility over videotapes of torture that her boss at the CIA had destroyed. Predictably, during her Senate hearing the Democrats asked the most pointed questions about her role in torture and her current moral position on its use. She was asked by several senators if she would obey President Trump if he ordered the use of torture, including the now-outlawed waterboarding method. During his campaign, Trump said that tortured worked and he would use it again. During her Senate hearing, however, Haspel stated that she would in no circumstances permit the CIA to use torture again.
The Republicans on the committee were more laudatory of Haspel’s 33 years of service in the CIA and supportive of her confirmation. One Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, said he would vote for her, while Kentucky’s Rand Paul vowed he would not. Then today, John McCain said from his sickbed in Arizona that he opposes her confirmation. McCain was a victim of torture during the Vietnam War and has steadfastly opposed its use. His opinion is apparently weighing heavily on other senators, so Haspel’s confirmation is currently in doubt.
We think she should be confirmed. She is supported by numerous ex-CIA chiefs, including some Democrats, who say she is eminently qualified to led the agency. She reportedly also has strong support from most of the CIA’s rank and file, who believe that an insider is in a better position to run the agency than someone from the outside. Clearly, Haspel knows her stuff, and she would be the first woman to run the CIA, which is a positive step forward. Given the tenor of the times, it would have been difficult for most people in the CIA to resist orders from the White House to use torture, and we don’t think Haspel should be blamed for her role. The people who should be blamed are former President George W. Bush and especially former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a strong proponent of using extreme methods in order to prevent another attack on the United States and who recently stated that he thought the program should start up again.
Haspel says she learned from that experience and would never again agree to such methods. We believe her and hope she will be confirmed. Having a tough, experienced intelligence professional in charge of the CIA is far preferable to having an inexperienced political hack in the role.