Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA
© Greg Nash

The New York Times reported last week that the White House is planning to push out Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump cannot blame policy of separating children on Obama North Korea looked to set up communications back channel through Kushner: report North America wins 2026 bid to host World Cup after lobbying from Trump MORE and replace him with CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council US pulls out of UN Human Rights Council Negotiators must redouble efforts as clock ticks on NAFTA MORE. President Trump is also reportedly planning to nominate Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis GOP senators drafting legislation to keep immigrant families together Hillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review MORE (R-Ark.) to replace Pompeo at CIA. 

Pompeo’s record, including his past support for torture, was discussed when he was nominated to head the CIA, but Cotton’s record has yet to receive that sort of scrutiny by the Senate. If President Trump nominates him to head the CIA, here are five things senators should ask:

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1. Do you still support torture and waterboarding, although waterboarding is torture and both are illegal? 

As recently as 2016, Sen. Cotton said:  “I don’t think waterboarding is torture.” On the other hand, he told CNN that a chief suspect in the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 “may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with torture.” 

Despite the documentation of torture and other mistreatment at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, Cotton has also stated: “We should be proud for the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay and the way our soldiers conduct themselves all around the world to include the people doing the very hard work at Guantanamo Bay.”

2. Do you still think suspects detained under the laws of war by the U.S. government should “rot in hell” or “rot at Guantanamo Bay” even if most have not even been accused of a crime and all are entitled to the human rights protections under international law? 

At an Armed Services Committee hearing on the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba in 2015, Cotton said: “In my opinion, the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is that there are too many empty beds and cells there right now. We should be sending more terrorists there for further interrogation to keep this country safe.” Cotton continued: “As far I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they don’t do that, they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.”

3. Do you still believe expanding the use of lethal force to kill suspects overseas, including U.S. citizens, makes us safer? 

Defending the war in Iraq, Sen. Cotton has said: "We need to bomb people over there to keep people safe over here.” He’s also called for expanding the U.S. drone war, stating: "When an American drone unexpectedly brings justice to Anwar al-Awlaki, it is a powerful reminder to all terrorists their safe haven may not be so safe after all.”  He added: “Far from restraining the use of drones, then, through unwise and unconstitutional mechanisms, we should continue and probably expand their use in our war against radical Islam."

4. Do you still believe that the U.S. is in a war against “radical Islam”?

International law permits a state to use force in self-defense against specified states or armed groups, or against individuals when necessary to prevent the imminent loss of life.  It does not permit a war against a religion.

5. Do you still support having journalists prosecuted and jailed for espionage based on their lawful reporting?

As an infantry officer, then-Lt. Tom Cotton wrote an open letter to New York Times reporters about a story in regards to how the government tracks terrorist financing, stating: “I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law. By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars.”  

Sen. Cotton’s views should ring alarm bells if he’s nominated to lead the CIA, where he’d be in charge of the United States clandestine intelligence services, which have in the past been involved both in torture and in unlawful killings.  His nomination warrants very close scrutiny.

Daphne Eviatar is director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA.