Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged the Senate to reject Gina Haspel, arguing in a Wednesday night statement that the first female nominee to lead the CIA was too tainted by her work at the agency during the period when it had pursued “enhanced” interrogation techniques.
“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” McCain said in a statement Wednesday night. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
McCain’s opposition announcement comes on the heels of Haspel’s confirmation hearing, in which she promised senators of the Intelligence Committee that she would never revive the CIA’s controversial interrogation program, even if ordered by President Trump, and said that she would not today support an order to destroy videotaped evidence of such interrogations.
But Haspel refused to condemn her actions overseeing a secret CIA prison where such methods had been used, or in drafting the order to destroy evidence of such sessions, insisting that at the time, she understood them to be legal, and that it was impossible to know “whether interrogation techniques played a role” in getting “valuable information from debriefing al-Qaeda detainees.”
McCain, who has brain cancer and has remained in Arizona since the end of last year, was not expected to return for any votes this month. Haspel’s performance before the Senate Intelligence Committee was seen to have boosted her nomination; after the hearing ended, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), fresh off a primary victory, became the first Democrat to endorse her, putting her one vote away from certain confirmation.
But McCain, who had survived torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and fought to end the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation policy, criticized Haspel in terms that clash dramatically with the White House’s campaign for her nomination. The Republican National Committee accused Democrats of “mansplaining” to Haspel when they accused her of dissembling with her answers and argued that confirming her would be a victory for all women.
A Republican super PAC bought ads attacking Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Haspel’s only other Republican critic, warning that if he opposed Haspel, he was standing with al-Qaeda. Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), released a head-turning statement saying that Baldwin belonged to “Team Terrorist” and “would rather give the man behind the 9/11 attacks and other terrorists hugs and safe spaces than take adequate action to protect America.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a lengthy report in 2014 that concluded that the CIA’s interrogation techniques were not a legitimate or useful way of procuring useful intelligence.