At Intelligence Hearing, Harris Repeatedly Asks Haspel for Views on Torture

WASHINGTON, D.C. May 9, 2018 – At a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris pressed Gina Haspel, nominee to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to assess the morality of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, like waterboading.

Video of Harris’ Questioning

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Harris asked Haspel four times whether she believes the enhanced interrogation program was immoral, and whether she agrees with President Trump’s assertion that “torture works.”  Haspel repeatedly refused to provide a direct answer to Harris’ question.

“Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?” Harris asked. “I’m not asking do you believe they were legal, I’m asking do you believe they were immoral?”

Haspel responded, “I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.”

Harris also highlighted the possible conflict of interest in Haspel’s role in determining the classification of documents pertaining to her own record at the CIA. Last week, Harris sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats requesting the declassification of all documents related to Haspel’s involvement in the enhanced interrogation program. The DNI has not fulfilled this request.

Harris asked, “So I understand that you, from previous answers, are serving as the authority over whether or not CIA information concerning you will be classified or not. Given an obvious appearance of conflict, will you agree to recuse yourself from the responsibility and the authority to make decisions about whether or not that information will be classified or not? Will you agree to recuse yourself of that responsibility and authority, yes or no?”

Haspel did not commit to recusing herself, stating “Senator, I am following the guidelines that exist at CIA and there is another declassification authority, it’s called the IRO.”

Full transcript of Harris’ questioning:

HARRIS: Thank you. So let’s just be clear, this hearing is not about the incredible importance of the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the CIA. That’s not what this hearing is about. This hearing is not about the importance of the agency’s mission. Both of which I wholeheartedly support. This hearing is about your suitability to be the Director of the CIA and in our responsibility to participate in choosing who will be the next Director of the CIA, the mission that we have now includes understanding that who we choose will be a signal to the men and women of the agency, to the American people and to our neighbors around the world about our values as Americans on critical issues that range from our adherence to a rule of law, to what we prioritize in terms of professional accountability and what we prioritize in terms of our moral authority as Americans and as a country. So one question I have not heard you answer is do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?

HASPEL: Senator, I believe that CIA officers to whom you refer –

HARRIS: It’s a yes or no answer. Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral? I’m not asking do you believe they were legal, I’m asking do you believe they were immoral?

HASPEL: Senator, I believe that CIA –

HARRIS: It’s a yes or no answer.

HASPEL: – did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.

HARRIS: Please answer yes or no. Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?

HASPEL: Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.

HARRIS: Can you please answer the question?

HASPEL: Senator, I think I’ve answered the question.

HARRIS: No, you have not. Do you believe the previous techniques, now armed with hindsight, do you believe they were immoral? Yes or no?

HASPEL: Senator, I believe that we should hold ourselves to the moral standard outlined in the Army Field Manual.

HARRIS: Okay. So I understand that your, you have not answered the question, but I’m going to move on. So I understand that you, from previous answers, are serving as the authority over whether or not CIA information concerning you will be classified or not. Given an obvious appearance of conflict, will you agree to recuse yourself from the responsibility and the authority to make decisions about whether or not that information will be classified or not? Will you agree to recuse yourself of that responsibility and authority, yes or no?

HASPEL: Senator, I am following the guidelines that exist at CIA and there is another declassification authority, it’s called the IRO. I have not interfered with the –

HARRIS: Ms. Haspel do you believe that you have the authority to recuse yourself?

HASPEL: I’ll take that for the record. I may have the authority to recuse myself. I’m not a lawyer.

HARRIS: Assuming you do –

HASPEL: I don’t, I’m not sure about that.

HARRIS: Assuming you do and I believe you do, will you agree to recuse yourself from the responsibility and the authority of making decisions about what CIA information about you and your record will be classified or declassified?

HASPEL: Senator, if I had agreed with the proposals that have come up to because people thought it would be advantageous to me I think I would have been abdicating my responsibility to follow the rules that everyone at CIA follows.

HARRIS: Okay. And you also in this hearing have a responsibility to answer the questions that are being asked of you. I’m going to ask you a different question. Do you, would you agree that given this appearance of conflict or potential conflict around the classification or declassification of these documents that would you agree that Director Coats instead should have the responsibility for declassification decisions regarding your background?

HASPEL: Senator I think one important thing is that this committee plays a unique role to review the classified record and we have sent over every piece of paper we can lay our hands on about my classified record. All of my evaluations over a 33 year career and I hope every Senator has had the opportunity to look at that classified material.

HARRIS: Indeed I have. I have another question for you, then, because I only have a few minutes left. I only have a few seconds left. The President has asserted that torture works. Do you agree with that statement?

HASPEL: Senator, I don’t believe that torture works. I believe that in the CIA’s program and I’m not attributing this to enhanced interrogation techniques, I believe as many people, directors who have sat in this chair before me that valuable information was obtained from senior al Qaeda operatives that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack.

HARRIS: Is that a yes?

HASPEL: No, it’s not a yes. We got valuable information from debriefing of al Qaeda detainees and I don’t, I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.

HARRIS: Thank you, my time is up.