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Trump's Pick for CIA Director Refused to Call Waterboarding 'Immoral' and John McCain Just Responded

Strong words from the senior senator.

In a statement, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) urged the Senate to reject Gina Haspel's nomination to be the director of the CIA. The senior senator cited Haspel's refusal in testimony yesterday to acknowledge "torture's immorality."

McCain's message is especially potent because he is currently in Arizona receiving treatment for brain cancer and is not expected to be present for the vote on Haspel's nomination.

Haspel's nomination has been controversial. President Donald Trump tapped her for the CIA position, sparking an outcry over her involvement in the George W. Bush administration's interrogation program after 9/11. Haspel has been criticized for using torture during her career at the CIA and for destroying evidence of such torture.

McCain is a former prisoner-of-war who was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. He has long criticized the U.S.' use of torture.

His statement reads as follows:

Today, Gina Haspel testified before the Senate and to the country about her qualifications to lead the CIA. This occasion provided an opportunity to provide details about her experience in the CIA, explain her involvement in the so-called enhanced interrogation program during the Bush Administration, and account for the mistakes the country made in torturing detainees held in U.S. custody after the September 11th attacks. Unfortunately, the testimony the American people heard from Ms. Haspel today failed to address these concerns.

Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked. I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.

I believe 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.

McCain's statement comes after Haspel told the Senate that she would not allow the CIA to resume interrogations.

"I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal," Haspel said. "I would absolutely not permit it."

Haspel stopped short, however, of criticizing the CIA for its past use of waterboarding and other methods which critics say amount to torture.

"I'm not going to sit here with the benefit of hindsight and judge the very good people who made hard decisions who were running the agency in very extraordinary circumstances at the time," Haspel said.

Haspel also failed to answer direct questions from Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) over the CIA's former interrogation techniques.

"Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?" Harris asked.

"Senator, I believe that CIA officers, to whom you referred––" Haspel began.

"It's a yes or no answer," Harris replied.

Despite the criticism, President Donald Trump remains confident that Haspel will be confirmed. In a Twitter post, he wrote, "Gina Haspel did a spectacular job today. There is nobody even close to run the CIA!"

Haspel has also received the endorsement of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the previous CIA Director.

"I had the chance to watch Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel testify," Pomeo tweeted yesterday evening. "I’m looking forward to receiving intelligence as Secretary of State from this amazing leader. Win Gina!"

Haspel's confirmation hearing fueled further tensions after a former CIA operative and activist was forcibly removed from the hearing for protesting Haspel's nomination.

Ray McGovern, who rose during the hearing and demanded answers from Haspel about her promises not to create another torture program, was thrown out by at least five Capitol Police officers.

McGovern had earlier penned an opinion piece denouncing Haspel's nomination:

It is no secret that Haspel oversaw detainee torture, including waterboarding, at a CIA “black site” base in Thailand. The nonprofit National Security Archive, housed at The George Washington University, reports that Haspel later drafted a cable ordering the destruction of dozens of videotapes of torture sessions, including some from before her arrival. Haspel also helped feed repeated lies about the supposed effectiveness of torture to CIA superiors, Congress, and two presidents.

McGovern observes that torture can 'work' like a charm when interrogators are told to coerce false 'intelligence' that can be used, for example, to start a war.