Haspel says CIA should not have used 'enhanced interrogation'

Haspel says CIA should not have used 'enhanced interrogation'
© Greg Nash

Gina Haspel, President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s pick to lead the CIA, told a key Democratic lawmaker that the agency should not have used so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks. 

The agency’s controversial detention and interrogation program — and the degree to which Haspel is willing to denounce it on moral grounds — has become the central focus of the debate over her confirmation to lead the spy agency.


“While I won't condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world," Haspel wrote in a Monday letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWhite House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal 'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch MORE (D-Va.). “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken."

CNN first reported the letter.

The letter represents a marginally stronger stance on the controversial program than Haspel took during her confirmation hearing last week.

Haspel said then that the program would not be restarted under her leadership. Citing a lack of interrogation expertise within the agency, Haspel argued that the CIA should not “get back in that business” — but she dodged Democratic questions about the program’s morality.

“I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use,” Haspel said. “What I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.”

She repeatedly emphasized that, at the time, the techniques used by agency interrogators were deemed legal by the Justice Department and authorized by the White House. Democrats hammered those defenses as “legalistic.”

The use of many of the techniques leveraged by the CIA in those days is now outlawed, but their utility remains a source of bitter dispute.

Some longtime advocates of their use — including former Vice President Dick Cheney — have continued to defend the program.

But a lengthy Senate report made public in 2015 found that, broadly, their use did not result in actionable intelligence that the CIA could not have obtained elsewhere — and senior officials such as Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs MORE have said that “rapport-building” techniques are far more effective.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to vote on Haspel’s nomination in a closed session on Wednesday morning, a test she appears poised to pass. That would set the stage for a full Senate vote as early as next week.

Warner’s stance on Haspel remains unknown. He has been conspicuously close-lipped on the nominee, who, despite the controversy surrounding her counterterror past, is a career professional who is well-liked within the agency.

A handful of Senate Republicans have announced their opposition to Haspel — including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) and the long-absent Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — but neither will threaten her chances in committee. McCain is in Arizona receiving treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, and Paul does not sit on the intel panel.

But Haspel’s nomination still appears likely to go through. A pair of red-state Democrats up for reelection — Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives MORE (Ind.) — have already announced their support.

Haspel’s specific role in the program remains classified. Many of the techniques leveraged by the agency — such as waterboarding — are now widely considered torture.


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