GINA HASPEL, the veteran CIA officer nominated by President Trump as the agency’s next chief, begins the confirmation process under a cloud. She is linked to one of the most shameful chapters in the agency’s history, the torture of al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons in the years immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Ms. Haspel oversaw one of the secret sites, in Thailand; she also was involved in the destruction of videotapes documenting the torture sessions.
Ms. Haspel, who has served as deputy CIA director for the past year, is widely described as a dedicated and skilled professional. Her 32-year career includes distinguished service abroad, including in Central Europe, Turkey and Asia, and she has been endorsed by a host of senior former intelligence officials. But she should have to clear up questions about her past behavior and clearly renounce any use of harsh interrogation techniques before she is confirmed.
Clarifications are necessary in part because Ms. Haspel has been the subject of some widely circulated misinformation. ProPublica reported last year that she was present at the interrogation in Thailand of al-Qaeda suspect Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, who was subjected to waterboarding 83 times, nearly killing him; Ms. Haspel was said to have taunted him for his suffering. The report prompted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to dub Ms. Haspel “the head cheerleader for waterboarding.” But Ms. Haspel did not take over the Thailand site until after the interrogation of Abu Zubaida had ended.
Ms. Haspel was reportedly present when another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was interrogated and waterboarded three times. On the instructions of her boss, Jose Rodriguez, she wrote a memo ordering the destruction of videotapes showing the interrogations, even though the two had been told to preserve them for an ongoing investigation. Mr. Rodriguez was later reprimanded, but Ms. Haspel was not.
Ms. Haspel’s record in Thailand almost derailed her career. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) intervened to prevent her promotion to head the CIA’s clandestine service. But Ms. Feinstein, who has since worked with Ms. Haspel in her position as deputy director, now seems to have a more nuanced view. She said Ms. Haspel has been “a good deputy director” who “seems to have the confidence of the agency.” Ms. Feinstein also noted that while waterboarding and other harsh techniques had been ruled legal by Justice Department lawyers at the time Ms. Haspel oversaw them, they have since been outlawed.
Ms. Feinstein has called for the declassification of documents detailing Ms. Haspel’s role in torture and the destruction of evidence. That would help clarify whether she should be excluded from a job for which she otherwise appears to be well qualified. Ms. Haspel can also help herself by preparing to respond fully to senators’ questions about her role in Thailand. Above all, she must be willing to repeat the response given by her predecessor, Mike Pompeo, when he was asked at his confirmation whether he would accept an order from President Trump to reopen the secret prisons and resume waterboarding.