Sen. John McCain called on the Senate to reject Gina Haspel’s nomination to be the director of the CIA, citing her refusal in testimony on Wednesday to acknowledge “torture’s immorality.”
“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” the Arizona Republican said in a statement Wednesday evening.
“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,” his statement continued.
McCain serves as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, but is currently in Arizona, where he is being treated for brain cancer and is not expected to be present for the vote on Haspel’s nomination.
Haspel was tapped by President Donald Trump to take the place of now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had been heading the CIA prior to the departure of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Despite having spent her career with the CIA, Haspel’s nomination has been considered somewhat controversial because of her involvement in the George W. Bush administration’s interrogation program after 9/11. Her role in the program was addressed several times during her confirmation hearing, but she told the senators that under her watch, 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.”
However, Haspel declined to criticize the agency for its past techniques, like waterboarding, which critics say amounted 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.
McCain said her testimony “failed to address” concerns over her involvement and the US’ previous tactics used on prisoners after the 9/11 terror attacks.
“Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked,” McCain said. “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.”
McCain was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, where he was tortured, and has been a vocal critic of the US’ use of torture. In November 2017, he opposed Steven Bradbury’s nomination for general counsel of the Department of Transportation because of his involvement in the “torture memos,” which outlined a legal justification for various interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.
CNN reported earlier Wednesday that several Republican senators remained undecided on how they would vote but Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was opposed to her nomination.
CNN’s Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.