As we’ve been covering here at LI, Gina Haspel is President Trump’s pick to head the CIA.  She has been blasted for her role in overseeing then-legal and -authorized enhanced interrogation techniques against Islamist terrorists.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has issued a statement in which he urges the Senate not to confirm Haspel due to her role in enhanced interrogation.  The problem with this, however, is that he voted to confirm John Brennan to the CIA’s top spot, knowing full-well Brennan’s role in enhanced interrogation.

Here is McCain’s official Senate press release:

“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.”

Oddly, McCain apparently did not find “disturbing” Brennan’s role in “the use of torture.”

As you may recall, McCain was among the handful of Republicans who voted to confirm Brennan as CIA director back in 2013.  He must have been aware that in 2008, Brennan removed his name from the running for this same position during the first Obama administration because of his involvement with rendition and “torture.”

In fact, the Atlantic noted in 2013 that Brennan was involved in far more than supposed “torture”: “If only torture were the only reason to be wary of Brennan. At The New Yorker, Amy Davidson focuses on Brennan’s role in Obama’s secretive program of extrajudicial assassinations and explains that the way the president praises his top counterterrorism adviser is deeply misleading.”

CNN reported in 2014, after Brennan’s confirmation (for which McCain voted):

CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday defended harsh interrogation techniques as providing “useful” information to authorities, including in the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. But he said it is “unknowable” what information could specifically be attributed to those techniques.

“It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against Bin Laden,” Brennan said.

. . . . He said detainees who faced “enhanced interrogation techniques” did provide some information that provided useful — as well as other information that didn’t. He said whether those interrogations had anything to do with that information is “unknowable.”

“Let me be clear: We have not concluded that it was the EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from the detainees subjected to them,” he said.

Brennan, then far above Haspel in the CIA’s pecking order, is somehow exempt from McCain’s indictment, yet he uses the enhanced interrogation methods Brennan oversaw and defended as a reason for not confirming Haspel?  How does that work exactly?

Apparently, McCain is not happy that Haspel hasn’t jumped through the appropriate hoops regarding “torture’s immorality.”

What doesn’t add up, however, is that Brennan was still not whole-heartedly “acknowledging torture’s immorality” even after his confirmation. After all, Brennan repeatedly and publicly defended the enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the agency even after he ascended to CIA Director.

In fact, the year after his confirmation as CIA Director, Brennan defended the “torture” of radical Islamists detained at various facilities.  In 2013, the Atlantic asked of his nomination as CIA Director, “Does It Matter if John Brennan Was Complicit in Illegal Torture?”.  McCain’s vote to confirm Brennan was a resounding “nay.”

The CIA’s involvement the first time around included the submission of proposed enhanced interrogation techniques.  These were then reviewed by a phalanx of executive branch lawyers before being approved and deployed.

Even if, as CIA Director, Haspel wanted to employ these now-banned interrogation techniques, she could not do so without running afoul of existing law.  McCain knows this, given his role in passing that bill in the first place.

After enduring political grandstanding by Democrat presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Haspel assured the Senate that she had no intention of unilaterally reinstating such programs—a power she would not possess even as CIA Director.

The Hill reports:

Haspel’s ties to the interrogation program led to a contentious confirmation hearing on Wednesday in which Senate Democrats drilled down on her views on the subject. She did not answer when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) repeatedly asked if Haspel believes past interrogation techniques were “immoral.”

However, she pledged that she would not bring back the program.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday that he will support Haspel’s nomination. Several other GOP senators remain on the fence.

McCain’s opposition to Haspel’s nomination marked the latest instance in which the Arizona senator broke with Trump.

With this final observation, the Hill, I think, hits the nail on the head.  McCain has reportedly stated that he does not want President Trump even to attend his funeral, while reportedly requesting former presidents #NeverTrump Bush (43) and #Resistance Obama to eulogize him at his eventual funeral.

Given his support for Brennan, it’s hard to see McCain’s statement against Haspel’s confirmation as moral outrage (unless it developed in the few years since he voted for Brennan as CIA Director).  Sadly, McCain seems to be embracing political and personal pettiness rooted in his intense dislike of our current and duly-elected president.  Haspel is just collateral damage.


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