GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona urged his Senate colleagues to vote against President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency over the issue of torture, but the lawmaker voted to confirm Obama administration nominee John Brennan, though he was among the top-ranking officials at the CIA when the enhanced interrogation program was implemented.
In a statement released on Wednesday night, McCain said, “I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense.”
He continued, “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 said he appreciated the dilemma that those who approved and implemented the enhanced interrogation program under the Bush administration faced after the 9/11 terror attacks. “But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world,” he stated.
While the Arizona senator opposes Haspel’s nomination based on his moral concerns, he apparently didn’t have the same issue in 2013, when he voted to confirm Brennan, who was then-President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the CIA.
McCain was actually among a minority of Republican senators, 13, who voted for Brennan to fill the post.
Thirty-one Republican senators voted against the appointment.
Brennan became deputy executive director of the CIA just months after George W. Bush took office in 2001. He was the fourth-highest-ranking official at the CIA when the enhanced interrogation program was being implemented.
In 2014, Brennan defended the program, saying the techniques “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”
“The intelligence gained from the program,” he added, “was critical to our understanding of al-Qaida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”
McCain’s reference to Haspel refusing to state in his word choice “torture” is immoral was from an exchange she had with California Democrat Sen. Kamala Harris during the nominee’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Harris demanded a yes or no answer to the question of whether Haspel thought the enhanced interrogation techniques — which reportedly ranged from sleep deprivation to waterboarding — were immoral.
“I’m not asking if they were illegal. Do you believe they were immoral?” the senator asked.
“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 CIA veteran did not give her one.
“Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we decided to hold ourselves to,” Haspel said.
She was referring 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, for example, is not among the techniques allowed.
Haspel pledged during her confirmation hearing that the CIA will not restart a “detention and interrogation program” while she leads the agency.
“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation program,” Haspel said.
Earlier this week, Brennan who has been an outspoken critic of Trump, called on senators to put partisanship to the side and vote to confirm Haspel.
“Senators: Show that you put country above politics. Gina Haspel is a competent, experienced, & highly qualified intelligence professional,” he tweeted.
Brennan continued, “Ask her tough questions, listen to her answers, & then decide but don’t penalize her for previous policy decisions or because (Donald Trump) picked her.”
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
Haspel has received strong bipartisan support from dozens of former top intelligence officials, Reuters reported.
Among those who signed a letter of recommendation addressed to the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead Haspel’s hearing were Brennan; Leon Panetta, who served as secretary of defense and CIA director under Obama; Porter Goss, who led the CIA during the George W. Bush administration; and Michael Hayden, a CIA director under Bush and Obama.
A full Senate vote on Haspel’s nomination is expected at the end of May. McCain, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment for in Arizona, will likely not be on hand for the vote.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.