Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday urged the U.S. Senate to reject Gina Haspel’s nomination as director of the CIA.
McCain released a statement just hours after Haspel went before the Senate Intelligence Committee for her confirmation hearing. In her testimony, Haspel told lawmakers that she would not restart the agency’s defunct torture program if confirmed to head the CIA, but she repeatedly dodged questions about the morality of the program.
In his statement, McCain said he understood “the urgency that drove the decision” to resort to torture as a method of interrogation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “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.”
He continued: “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 is a fierce opponent of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The senator, who fought in the Vietnam War, was held in solitary confinement and tortured as a prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than five years.
Haspel, a 30-year CIA veteran and current acting director of the agency, headed up a clandestine base in Thailand, where she reportedly oversaw the interrogation of a terrorism suspect that included waterboarding. She also reportedly played a part in helping to destroy recorded tapes of the interrogations in 2005.
Despite McCain’s comments, his good friend Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced Thursday that he would back Haspel. Graham said she “has rejected the interrogation policies of the past” and “should be confirmed as soon as possible as we live in a time of continuing threats.”
At the time of Haspel’s nomination in March, McCain responded by calling the United States’ use of torture against detainees “one of the darkest chapters in American history.”
Haspel’s role in the CIA’s torture program has generated bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill. More than 100 retired and former career and non-career U.S. ambassadors sent a letter to the Senate on Wednesday expressing “serious concern” over her nomination.
McCain, 81, was diagnosed with brain cancer last July and has been recovering at his Sedona, Arizona, home after undergoing surgery for an intestinal infection last month. He will likely be absent when the Senate votes on Haspel’s confirmation.
This piece has been updated with Graham’s comments.