Gina Haspel told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that she “will not restart” the CIA’s brutal interrogation program if confirmed to lead the agency, as senators warned her that a pledge to simply follow the laws against torture are “not enough.”
“No one should get credit for simply agreeing to follow the law. That’s the least we should expect from any nominee and certainly the director of the CIA,” top panel Democrat Mark R. Warner (Va.) told Haspel, setting the stage for what was expected to be a contentious hearing.
Panel Democrats and some Republicans were primed to grill the career CIA operative about her clandestine background, particularly the role she played in the agency’s controversial interrogation program that employed “enhanced” techniques such as water boarding, which many have likened to torture.
Haspel told senators that she “fully” supports “the standards for detainee treatment required by law,” and that in retrospect, the CIA “was not prepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program.” She also said that the CIA learned “tough lessons” during “that tumultuous time,” and that experience reinforced her “personal commitment, clearly and without reservation,” not to restart the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
But those answers are unlikely to satisfy lawmakers who want Haspel to provide a public reckoning not only of her personal views on brutal interrogation techniques that were employed, but on the rest of her 33-year record at the agency as well — materials about which the CIA has refused to declassify.
Haspel’s hearing comes just days after the nominee offered to bow out, to avoid discussing in a public setting her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, which many have likened to torture. Haspel’s answers and overall performance Wednesday could make or break her bid for the Cabinet post.
Haspel spoke deliberately and carefully in her opening statement, calling the hearing “a new experience for me, as I spent over 30 years undercover and in the shadows,” and noting that the hearing is the first time she directly engaged with the American public in her career.
“I think you will find me to be a typical middle-class American,” Haspel told senators.