Senator Patrick Leahy Announces He Will Vote No On The Haspel/CIA Nomination

The Senate has often been called the world’s greatest deliberative body – where we can thoroughly and respectfully debate weighty matters regardless of pressures imposed by any given moment. While we do not always live up to this ideal, it is one for which we should always strive.  The Constitution entrusts us with the task of serving as a check against the Executive Branch, providing our advice and – if appropriate – our consent to the Executive’s nominees to lead our government’s most critical agencies. And at its best, the Senate can be the conscience of the nation.

As we move to vote on the nomination of Gina Haspel, with little debate and gaping holes in her record, I fear the Senate is failing to fulfill its basic duty to provide advice and informed consent to her nomination.  Worse yet, we are failing in our duty to serve as the nation’s conscience.

Much of what is publicly known about Ms. Haspel’s role in the CIA is disturbing.  I do not question Ms. Haspel’s commitment to our country or to our national security.  But I do question her judgment, and her fidelity to a core value of our Nation: that all people have certain inalienable rights. Underlying these inalienable rights is our belief in the basic dignity of human beings; a dignity that is incompatible with inhumane practices like torture.

During the height of the CIA’s torture program, Ms. Haspel ran one of the agency’s most notorious “black sites” in Thailand.  There, under her leadership, brutal torture techniques were employed.  From available accounts, this included water boarding detainees, slamming them against walls, and confining them in coffin-shaped boxes for extended periods of time. 

At the time, a benign euphemism for this treatment was “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  But we know better.  This was government-sanctioned torture, pure and simple.  Torture is immoral.  Torture is inhumane.  Torture is un-American.  I agree with Senator John McCain – who speaks with a distinct moral clarity on this issue – that Ms. Haspel’s refusal to condemn torture as immoral is disqualifying.  For that reason alone, I cannot, in good conscience, support her nomination.

But it is worse than that. Ms. Haspel also reportedly advocated for destroying the videotapes of these torture sessions – against the advice of the CIA’s lawyers and in contravention of a federal judicial order requiring that they be preserved.  CIA’s former general counsel characterized Ms. Haspel as one of the “staunchest advocates . . . for destroying the tapes.” Ms. Haspel claims that destroying the tapes was necessary to protect the security of CIA officers conducting these interrogations.

But that explanation withers under even the slightest scrutiny – if that were really the concern, then the CIA could easily have copied the tapes with the officers’ faces blacked out, and only then destroyed the originals.  Nor do we have access to the only independent account of Ms. Haspel’s role in the destruction of the tapes – the Justice Department’s Durham Report.  I joined nine senators on the Judiciary Committee in a request for access to the Durham Report, but our request has not been accommodated. As a result, we will not know the full story of the tapes’ destruction before we are asked to vote on Ms. Haspel’s nomination today.

And this is just what we know through public reports. There is much more the American people don’t know about Ms. Haspel’s actions, because it remains classified.  The American people have been kept in the dark in part because Ms. Haspel herself has been responsible for what information about her record is declassified.  It is a brazen conflict of interest that Ms. Haspel can decide what to release and what to conceal about her past.  The CIA has declassified glowing facts about Ms. Haspel’s work with Mother Teresa, but refuses to disclose basic information that would shed light on her past actions, and what values would guide her as CIA director.  This process has been reduced to a farce.

I have reviewed classified materials on Ms. Haspel’s long career at the CIA, and I find these materials to be deeply disturbing.  I am not able to discuss any of the details revealed in these materials, again because Ms. Haspel has decided to keep them cloaked by classification. Candidly, I do not believe a senator can provide his or her informed consent to this nominee without first reviewing these materials.

I recognize and appreciate that Ms. Haspel has committed to not allowing the CIA to resurrect the use of torture if she is confirmed.  I also recognize that such a commitment is not optional.  Torture is illegal; that is simply what the law demands. 

But what about the next immoral action that this President might ask her to commit?  Should we trust that she will have the moral compass to stand up and say “no”?  Based on what I have seen, I do not.

The world is watching closely today.  Our allies and our enemies – and our future generations – will view this vote as nothing less than a referendum on torture.  If the Senate gives its blessing to a nominee who is synonymous with the CIA’s interrogation program, then the demons of our past – from Abu Ghraib to the CIA’s black sites – may haunt us anew.  

I do not believe that this blight on our history represents who we are, or what we stand for.  I believe we must clearly demonstrate that we are capable of learning from – and moving beyond – our darker chapters as a Nation.  For that reason I will vote no on Ms. Haspel’s nomination.  I urge my fellow senators to do the same.

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