Six Senate Democrats helped President Donald Trump, Republicans, and the CIA confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director.
The final Senate vote was 54-45. If Democrats had not voted for Haspel, she would not have been confirmed because three Republican Senators were opposed to her nomination.
Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) voted for Haspel.
Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) refused to support her.
Haspel was the chief of a CIA black site prison in Thailand in 2002. She oversaw the waterboarding of at least one detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
In 2005, Haspel engaged in a conspiracy with Jose Rodriguez, chief of the national clandestine service, to ensure 92 torture videotapes of Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were destroyed. Haspel drafted the cable that Rodriguez sent, which gave the order for the destruction of evidence.
The Justice Department recommended Haspel be held accountable for her involvement in this act, especially because the videotapes were destroyed so members of Congress never saw them. But according to Daniel J. Jones, who was a lead investigator for the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report, “The CIA ignored the recommendation, and Haspel kept being promoted.”
During Haspel’s confirmation hearing, she maintained the videotapes had to be destroyed to protect the safety of officers who appeared in the footage. However, this version of events is undermined by the facts in the Senate torture report.
CIA general counsel John Rizzo was concerned about a proposal to setup a commission to investigate detainee abuse and torture. He knew this would “surface the tapes’ existence,” and the legal department at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center agreed the videotapes had to be destroyed.
Nevertheless, Haspel was promoted to serve as deputy CIA director and then Trump nominated her to run the CIA when Mike Pompeo left to head the State Department.
Senators Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Bill Nelson are moderate or centrist Democrats, who may claim they had to vote for Haspel because they face close re-elections in red states. This demonstrates a lack of moral fortitude to go before voters and make the case that it was wrong for someone who was involved in torture to head the CIA.
McCain stated, “Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. 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.”
“While I thank Ms. Haspel for her long and dedicated service to the CIA, as a country we need to turn the page on the unfortunate chapter in the agency’s history having to do with torture,” Flake declared. “Congress needs to be able to provide fully informed oversight. My questions about Ms. Haspel’s role in the destruction of videotapes relevant to discussions occurring in Congress regarding the program have not been adequately answered.”
These were two clear reasons to oppose Haspel that could cut across party lines: (1) Haspel’s reluctance to acknowledge torture’s immorality in a public forum and (2) her refusal to be forthright and honest about why the videotapes were destroyed.
The wisdom of a senator, who was tortured as a prisoner of war, did not persuade the Democratic senators. As Heitkamp put it, “Haspel explained to me that the agency should not have employed such tactics in the past and has assured me that it will not do so in the future.”
How can senators be convinced it won’t happen again if Haspel refuses to fully reckon with her past in public?
It is also important to note that Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill faces a tough race in a state that Trump won by 19 percent. Yet, she did not vote for Haspel.
“Given the nature of the CIA’s work, the agency receives little oversight. I need to have confidence that the person running it has the instincts and judgment to make decisions in line with our country’s moral compass,” McCaskill said. “I agree with many in the military and my friend and colleague Senator John McCain—the only United States Senator who understands torture in a way I hope no American will experience ever again —that the CIA needs a leader who is willing to take a stand when the policies don’t reflect our values.”
“While I respect Ms. Haspel’s service and sacrifice, after meeting with her and reviewing classified documents, I do not think she is that person,” McCaskill added.
Beyond Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin, and Nelson, who will be targeted relentlessly by Trump and GOP forces regardless of their vote for Haspel, there were two Democratic senators who tokenized Haspel and were proud to overlook her torture past because they could say they backed the First Woman CIA Director Ever.
“I believe torture is inconsistent with our nation’s values, and its use has harmed America’s standing in the world. I also believe it is important to hold Gina Haspel’s nomination to a similar standard as previous nominees for this position, particularly in regards to responsibility for the CIA’s use of torture following the 9/11 attacks,” Shaheen proclaimed.
In other words, the Senate had to confirm Haspel because previous CIA director nominees—all men—were not held accountable for their roles in torture.
Warner, who is the vice chairman and leading Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, stood on the Senate floor before he voted for Haspel and said, “We should not overlook the historic nature of Ms. Haspel’s nomination as the first woman to be nominated as director of the CIA. Seeing her portrait in the halls of the agency next to the long line of former directors will be a long overdue but important breakthrough for the intelligence community.”
Finally, the country will see that women can run an agency known for its brutal torture and targeted assassination programs too. They can also carry on the tradition of destabilizing countries and meddling in elections to advance the agenda of American empire.
What is most critical about this moment is that Democrats had the potential to sink Haspel’s nomination but failed.
Just as President Barack Obama’s administration did not have the will to oppose torture and back the prosecution of individuals involved in CIA torture, the Democratic Party did not want to spend political capital on ensuring Haspel was never confirmed.
Haspel’s nomination was the result of a decade-long indifference to justice for torture. Indeed, a who’s who of war criminals and torture apologists with histories in U.S. intelligence endorsed Haspel (several of them Democrats). That went a long way toward insulating her from any opposition and allowed her to withhold the truth of her past in the CIA while still winning the support of a majority of senators.