Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, oversaw the chamber’s landmark investigation into the CIA’s use of torture. “I think hopefully the entire organization learned something from the so-called enhanced interrogation program. I think it’s something that can’t be forgotten. And I certainly can never forget it. And I won’t let any director forget it,” Feinstein said this week.
That should be an easy task for President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the CIA, Gina Haspel — who, as a CIA official, ran a “black site” in Thailand where she personally oversaw torture.
Feinstein on Tuesday said she wouldn’t make a decision on how to vote until the confirmation hearings. “I have spent some time with her, we’ve had dinner together, we have talked. … Everything I know is that she has been a good deputy director of the CIA,” Feinstein said of Haspel, who was part of a team that waterboarded a detainee 83 times in a month.
Haspel oversaw and was directly involved in the torture of two detainees in an overseas secret prison. Her team waterboarded a detainee dozens of times in a month, shackled his body in contorted positions, stuffed him into a coffin-like box, and slammed his head into walls. “She was up to her eyeballs in torture,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Feinstein’s primary opponent, California state Sen. Kevin de León made his own position clear, saying he would vote “no” on confirming Haspel if he were elected to the U.S. Senate. “Following orders is a poor excuse to commit torture and tear at the fabric of our great democracy,” de León said.
Just recently, Feinstein, who has spent over a quarter-century in the Senate, failed to win the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. De León won 54 percent of the vote of nearly 3,000 delegates at the state convention, compared to Feinstein’s 37 percent, but he would have had to reach 60 percent in order to win the endorsement.
“I look forward to speaking again with Gina Haspel about the role she would play and how she would run the CIA,” Feinstein said in a later statement. “It’s no secret I’ve had concerns in the past with her connection to the CIA torture program and have spent time with her discussing this. To the best of my knowledge, she has been a good deputy director and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again.”
As Intelligence Committee chair, Feinstein had blocked Haspel’s promotion to lead the CIA’s clandestine operations in 2013 because of her involvement in the torture program and destruction of the evidence. But now, there are stronger condemnations of Haspel coming from Senate Republicans.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on Wednesday that he will “do everything I can to block” Haspel and ascending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, said Haspel was involved in “one of the darkest chapters in American history.”
“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” McCain said in a statement.