In her confirmation hearing today, Gina Haspel fueled fears that as CIA Director she would repeat the mistakes of the past and further undermine congressional oversight, transparency, and the rule of law. During her questioning by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Haspel confirmed several troubling aspects of her involvement in CIA torture, refused to directly condemn the torture program, and even offered new information that called her judgement into further question.
Haspel’s answers to questions on classification policy, the destruction of the videotapes, and the rule of law suggest that she believes the CIA is not obligated to be transparent or accountable to Congress or the public. In response to questions from Senator Angus King, she acknowledged that she advocated for the destruction of videotapes showing torture of detainees by CIA operatives, and that she was aware that there were objections in the administration to her doing so. When questioned on the tape destruction by Senator Heinrich, Haspel said that she and other CIA officials at the time feared the tapes might be leaked. Fear of leaks is not a legitimate reason for the unauthorized destruction of government records. If the next CIA Director believes she can violate court orders, the Federal Records Act, or other laws out of fear that documents could be leaked, the consequences for CIA oversight and transparency would be devastating.
Although Haspel was willing to hide evidence of torture, it would appear from her testimony that she is unwilling to condemn torture itself. Several times throughout the hearing, Senators asked Haspel if she believes now that the torture program was immoral or contrary to American values, and several times she refused to answer. Though she committed not to restart a CIA interrogation program, her refusal to issue a strong condemnation or apology for her involvement in torture seriously undercut that commitment. Haspel also refused to answer Senator Ron Wyden’s question about whether she pushed for the torture program’s continuation in 2007, after Congress had already passed the Detainee Treatment Act, adding another disturbing item to the long list of unanswered questions about her career.
In our statement for the record of the hearing, Open the Government decried the CIA’s selective declassification about Haspel’s CIA career, expressing alarm over “this attempt by the CIA to wield the government classification system as a tool to advance its interests, rather than to protect national security and serve the public.” When Senator Kamala Harris pointed out that as Acting Director, Haspel has a conflict of interest in making declassification decisions about her own record, Haspel refused to commit to recusing herself from the process.
As Senators Feinstein, Wyden, Heinrich, and Warner have said in statements, the current level of public information on Haspel’s record is “unacceptable.” Today’s confirmation hearing did little to change that, and what information was released only added to the already disqualifying public record.