May 17, 2018

Warren Delivers Floor Speech Opposing Gina Haspel for CIA Director

"No matter how you dress it up, torture is torture and it is wrong. It is inhumane, it is ineffective and it is un-American."

Video (YouTube)

Washington, DC - In a floor speech delivered today on the Senate floor, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voiced her strong opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  In her remarks, Senator Warren cited Ms. Haspel's support for torture and her order to destroy evidence of the CIA's use of torture as reasons for opposing her nomination.  The Senator also noted the opposition of Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who himself was tortured for two years after being captured in North Vietnam, and urged her colleagues to reject her nomination. 

The full text of her remarks is available below.

Remarks by Senator Elizabeth Warren
May 17, 2018

I'm here today to express my strong opposition to President Trump's nomination of Gina Haspel to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. There are two reasons I oppose this nomination:  Ms. Haspel's support for torture and her willingness to destroy evidence of the CIA's use of torture.

For years, apologists for the CIA's program have tried to re-describe this inhumane practice to make it seem less appalling to the American people. They've even renamed it. Torture has been rebranded as "enhanced interrogation."

There is no way to hide the basic facts. The techniques used by the CIA were torture. Waterboarding so that the person had the repeated sensation of drowning.  Confining people into small boxes for hours on end. Depriving people of sleep for days. Forcing people to hold painful stress positions.

The CIA did not invent these tactics. Listen to an American war hero describe what he endured as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam:

  • "I was being forced to stand up continuously-sometimes they'd make you stand up or sit on a stool for a long period of time. I'd stood up for a couple of days, with a respite only because one of the guards-the only real human being that I ever met over there -let me lie down for a couple of hours while he was on watch the middle of one night."
  • Speaking about his captors, this former American POW said: "They bounced me from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes."
  • "They beat me around a little bit," he describes. "I was in such bad shape that when they hit me it would knock me unconscious. They kept saying, 'You will not receive any medical treatment until you talk.'"
  • "I was getting about three or four spoonfuls of food twice a day." "Sometimes I'd go for a day or so without eating."
  • "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine ... I had been reduced to an animal during this period of beating and torture."

These are the words of Senator John McCain -- our distinguished colleague, the senior Senator from Arizona, and a decorated Naval aviator who was beaten, broken and tortured for two years after being captured in North Vietnam.

No matter how you dress it up, torture is torture and it is wrong. It is inhumane, it is ineffective and it is un-American.

That was the conclusion of the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program during the Bush Administration. The committee drew a definitive conclusion: torture did not work.  And in fact, not only does torture not work, it makes it more difficult for other agencies in our government to protect our national security.

Surely a person who is seeking to be the Director of the CIA in 2018 should agree with this assessment-or be able to give a really good explanation of why not. And someone seeking to be the Director of the CIA should be able to state clearly that torture is wrong.  But when repeatedly asked a yes or no question by my colleague Senator Kamala Harris -- were the CIA's actions immoral? -- Ms. Haspel danced around the answer. These are not the answers of a person who can be trusted to administer the powerful CIA.

That question of trust goes to my second objection:  The Director of the CIA will make many decisions that will be held in secret and never reviewed by the American people. It is critical that we trust her judgment and that we have complete confidence in her honesty and willingness to submit to Congressional oversight. I do not have that confidence in Ms. Haspel, and here is why.

As we now know from the public reports, between October and December of 2002, Ms. Haspel oversaw a CIA prison in Thailand. Under her leadership, at least one detainee was waterboarded and subjected to other torture methods. And as far as we know, Ms. Haspel raised no objections.

According to news reports, in 2005, Ms. Haspel recommended that the CIA destroy 92 videotapes of interrogations of detainees. CIA officials remember at the time Ms. Haspel was one of "the staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes." The staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes.  She went so far as to draft the order for her boss, the Director of the National Clandestine Service, to sign, urging them to use "an industrial strength shredder," just to make sure that they were completely destroyed.

Ms. Haspel destroyed these tapes despite federal court orders requiring the preservation of the CIA's records, despite the objections of members of congress, and against the order of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA Director, two White House counsels, and senior Department of Justice officials. In a convenient coincidence for Ms. Haspel, the tapes she ordered destroyed reportedly documented the interrogation of detainees at the very same CIA prison in Thailand that Ms. Haspel previously supervised. Even more conveniently, some of the tapes reportedly documented the interrogation of the very detainee who was waterboarded under Ms. Haspel's leadership.

When Senator Angus King asked about her destruction of the tapes, Ms. Haspel could come up with no credible explanation. How can we trust her to be fully forthright with Congress in the future, if she cannot acknowledge missteps of the past?

Ms. Haspel had numerous opportunities to question the directives she was given during this era. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, other CIA officers "regularly" called into question the effectiveness and safety of the techniques being used.  But not Gina Haspel. It was happening right before her eyes and she did nothing to stop it. While her colleagues questioned the legitimacy of the CIA's program, according to public reports, Ms. Haspel vigorously defended it. According to those same reports, the Trump White House reviewed CIA message logs that "made it clear just how accepting she had been of since disavowed interrogation techniques."  The fact is, so far as the record indicates, the only action Ms. Haspel has taken with regard to U.S. torture practices has been to do her best to cover it up. 

Why re-litigate the choices that were made during those dark days after 9/11? Because this matters, especially with a president like Donald Trump. As a candidate, Donald Trump said he would "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," because even "if it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway."  And as President, Donald Trump pulled back from his plan to reinstate the use of secret CIA prisons overseas only after overwhelming bipartisan outrage. 

The stakes are high. The use of torture is one of the darkest chapters in our nation's modern history. We cannot give this president any reason to drag this country back. We cannot allow any room for that mistake to occur again.

Gina Haspel has spent 33 years at the CIA. She has a decorated career and has sacrificed for this country in ways that Americans will never know. I have no doubt that her current and former colleagues who praise her as a patriot are sincere. But patriotism and judgment are not the same thing. And someone who puts protecting the agency above following the law cannot be trusted. 

When announcing his opposition to Gina Haspel's nomination, Senator McCain recently said that "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 agree with Senator McCain, and I urge my colleagues to reject her nomination.