Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, grew increasingly frustrated during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing of CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel, who pointedly avoided answering specific questions regarding the destruction of CIA “interrogation tapes.”
Feinstein, during the hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, didn’t fail to remind Haspel that the CIA has only publicized select parts of the prospective nominee’s background and then pointedly asked her about her involvement in overseeing torture, Mediaite reports. Then it was Haspel’s turn to inform Feinstein that previous statements on her involvement have been corrected. Haspel specifically cited a report by The Washington Post that questioned an earlier story by The Daily Beast regarding Haspel’s involvement in overseeing torture.
But Feinstein didn’t budge.
“Were you an advocate for destroying the tapes,” she asked.
“I absolutely was an advocate,” Haspel said, adding that she supported the elimination of “security risks posed to our officers by those tapes.”
Feinstein wanted to know if Haspel was aware of what was on those tapes.
“No, I never watched the tapes,” she said, “but I understood that our officers’ faces were on them.”
The hearing was a tense affair, with Republicans willing to sing Haspel’s praises in the face of Democrats asking for tougher answers.
Haspel, who ran a covert detention site where detainees were brutally interrogated during President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror,” avoided characterizing torture techniques as immoral, The Guardian reports.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins asked Haspel what she would do, if, as director of the CIA, the President ordered her to waterboard a suspect.
“Senator, I would advise…” she began to say and then stopped herself.
“I do not believe that the president would ask me to do that,” she said.
That remark was met with scornful laughter from members of the public in the gallery. Perhaps more than a few people remember that while he was campaigning, President Donald Trump vowed to implement waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.”
So the embattled nominee tried another tack.
“But we have today in the U.S. government other U.S. government entities that conduct interrogations … I would advise anyone that asked me that the CIA is not the place to conduct interrogations,” she said. “We do not have interrogators and we do not have interrogation expertise.”
But there are some people, like Fatima Boudchar, who remember only too well the torture that happened under the auspices of the CIA under Haspel’s tenure as a black ops officer during that time. Heavily pregnant, Boudchar was frequently beaten. And The Washington Post notes that waterboarding and other forms of torture weren’t uncommon while Haspel was in charge of a “black site” prison during the Bush administration.
Despite this, Haspel told the committee:
“CIA does not today conduct interrogations, we never did historically, and we’re not getting back in that business.”
But Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), wasn’t having it, criticizing her for not answering the question regarding what she would do if Trump ordered her to waterboard someone.
And she deflected again.
“I would not restart under any circumstances an interrogation program at CIA, under any circumstances.”
Heinrich grew increasingly frustrated with her intractable non-answers as to whether she would condemn the idea of other government agencies carrying out waterboarding and other forms of torture. And he said so.
“You’re giving very legalistic answers to very fundamentally moral questions,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee then asked whether the CIA’s interrogation practices were consistent with American values.
“We have decided to hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard,” she said.
Once again, Warner asked her if The President asked her to do something that’s morally questionable, would she do it?
She seemed more definitive this time, answering:
“My moral compass is strong,” she said. “I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”
“So you wouldn’t follow the president’s order?” he asked again.
“No, I believe that CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values.”
Then it was Senator Kamala Harris’s (D-CA) turn and she didn’t waste any time either, jumping right into the CIA’s past use of torture:
“Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques are immoral?” she said.
Haspel began to fudge:
“It’s a yes or no answer,” Harris snapped.
But Haspel kept up the avoidance strategy, finally saying:
“I think I’ve answered the question.”
“No you haven’t,” Harris responded.
The Senator finally decided to throw in the towel:
“You’ve not answered the question,” she said, “but I’m going to move on.”
Sen. Kamala Harris repeatedly asks CIA director nominee Gina Haspel, “Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral? … It’s a yes or no answer” https://t.co/XSgPwGL0Bp pic.twitter.com/jxcJFQCzgD
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 9, 2018
Haspel, who was also heckled by protesters during the hearing, was slated to face another hearing with classified questions in the afternoon. As of yet, no Democrats have expressed support for her nomination, sans Joe Manchin.
You can watch Sen. Feinstein grill the prospective nominee in the video below.
Featured image by NewsMediaTech via YouTube video