Washington • Sen. John McCain, whose experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam has established him as Congress’s moral conscience on torture, asked CIA director nominee Gina Haspel to detail her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program.
Haspel’s tenure at the CIA, where she serves as deputy director, has been tied to its history of using interrogation techniques such as waterboarding on terrorism suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At one point, Haspel was in charge of a “black site” prison where such measures — often referred to by critics as torture — were used. Haspel is also part of a group of CIA officials who were involved in the decision to destroy videotaped evidence of some of the interrogation sessions with detainees.
In a letter to Haspel on Friday, McCain, R-Ariz., asked for “a detailed account” of her role overseeing the CIA’s interrogation programs between 2001 and 2009, in the United States and abroad. He asked her to list the steps she did not take to prevent the CIA from using such measures — and for the names of those who asked her to destroy evidence related to the sessions.
McCain also asked Haspel to commit to declassifying a report on torture that the Senate Intelligence Committee completed in 2014. That report was written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who last week called on the CIA to declassify documents related to Haspel’s ties to the interrogation program.
Though Feinstein acknowledged then that Haspel had a positive reputation as the CIA’s deputy director, on Friday she said that “to promote someone so heavily involved in the torture program to the top position at the CIA ... is a move that I’m very wary of.”
“Her experience may have served her well as deputy, but the top position is another matter entirely,” Feinstein said in a statement.
While Feinstein and McCain have not said how they will vote on Haspel’s nomination, both want her to explain not only her actions but her views on the CIA’s past use of the controversial interrogation techniques.
“Do you believe actions like these were justified, and do you believe they produced actionable intelligence?” McCain asked Haspel in his letter.
There was some debate in Congress as to whether the interrogation techniques Haspel has been tied to were explicitly illegal before Congress made them so in 2015. McCain has long argued that the CIA’s techniques were outside what was permissible by laws and international treaties.
And in a statement released along with his letter Friday, McCain answered his own question to Haspel. “We now know that these techniques not only failed to deliver actionable intelligence, but actually produced false and misleading information,” he said. “Most importantly, the use of torture compromised our values, stained our national honor, and threatened our historical reputation.”
When Haspel’s nomination was announced earlier this month, McCain warned that she would need “to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program” during her confirmation hearings and that she “must pledge without reservation to uphold” the prohibition on torture.
Haspel’s confirmation hearing is expected to take place in April before the Senate Intelligence Committee. McCain, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is an ex officio member of the intelligence panel.