President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency refused to take the bait when Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California repeatedly pushed her to cast a negative moral judgment on the CIA for employing enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
During Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Harris asked the nominee if she believed the “interrogation techniques were immoral?”
“Senator, I believe that CIA officers to whom you refer…” Haspel, 61, began responding, before Harris cut her off.
“It’s a yes or no answer, do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?” the senator demanded to know. “I’m not asking if they were illegal. Do you believe they were immoral?”
“Senator, I believe the CIA did extraordinary work to protect this country given the legal tools that we authorized to use,” Haspel replied.
Harris once again called for a yes or no answer, but the 33-year veteran of the CIA did not comply.
“Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we decided to hold ourselves to,” Haspel said.
Her reference was to legislation passed in 2005 banning torture and expanded in 2015 to limit U.S. interrogation techniques to those outlined in the Army Field Manual. Waterboarding is not among the techniques allowed.
Harris chided Haspel saying, “You … have a responsibility in this hearing to answer the questions asked of you.”
Haspel appeared unfazed.
Harris — who is seen as a potential 2020 Democrat presidential candidate — turned her questioning to Trump’s views on torture.
“The president has asserted that torture works. Do you agree with that statement?” Harris asked.
“Senator, I don’t believe that torture works,” answered Haspel, who then went on to defend the CIA’s interrogation program.
“I believe as many directors who have sat in their chair before me that valuable information was obtained from senior Al Qaeda operatives that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack,” Haspel said.
“Is that a yes,” Harris queried.
“No, it’s not a yes,” responded the nominee. “We got valuable information from the debriefing of Al Qaeda detainees. I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”
He said if then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo or Secretary of Defense James Mattis came to him and said they wanted to use enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees, he would approve it.
“If they do want to do it, I will work toward that end,” Trump said. “I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally. But do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works.”
According to a 2014 Senate report, 119 detainees were held at CIA sites between 2002 and 2008. Of those, 39 were subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, ranging from sleep deprivation to waterboarding, prolonged standing, and exposure to cold, CNN reported.
The report by the then-Democratic led Senate Intelligence Committee found enhanced interrogation was not particularly effective.
John Yoo — who helped draft the Justice Department’s guidelines for CIA interrogation in the early 2000s — defended Haspel and the conduct of her CIA colleagues surrounding the issue.
“We should actually encourage the CIA when they have a hard question to go to (the) Justice (Department),” he told Fox News host Dana Perino earlier this week.
— The Daily Briefing (@dailybriefing) May 7, 2018
“They followed all the rules,” he added. “Gina Haspel and her colleagues followed the rules when they came to us. They didn’t wing it. They didn’t go off on their own, off the reservation. The statute says you can’t inflict severe pain and suffering, and we tried our best to figure out what that was so the CIA would not violate that law.”
Some conservative commentators took note of Harris’ apparent attempts to use the Haspel hearing for her own political purposes.
Carmine Sabia believes Harris is auditioning for the Democrat nomination for president.
Sen. Kamala Harris uses every hearing to grandstand and bully the nominees. She is doing that again with Gina Haspel. She does not ask questions, she harasses and auditions for the Democrat nomination for the presidency.
— Carmine Sabia (@CarmineSabia) May 9, 2018
Radio talk show host Dana Loesch quipped that Haspel is interfering with Harris getting footage to use in future campaign ads.
Gina Haspel is interfering with Kamala Harris’s attempt to get b-roll campaign footage.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) May 9, 2018
Haspel has received strong bipartisan support from dozens of former top intelligence officials, Reuters reported.
Senators: Show that you put country above politics. Gina Haspel is a competent, experienced, & highly qualified intelligence professional. Ask her tough questions, listen to her answers, & then decide but don’t penalize her for previous policy decisions or because DT picked her.
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) May 7, 2018
Among those who signed a letter of recommendation addressed to the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead Haspel’s hearing were Leon Panetta, who was Secretary of Defense and CIA Director under President Barack Obama; John Brennan, who was CIA Director under Obama; Porter Goss, CIA Director under President George W. Bush, and Michael Hayden, CIA Director under Bush and Obama.
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