Should President Trump’s choice to head the CIA be derailed for nothing more than a thought crime? But that’s precisely what Senate Democrats are arguing should happen. If you listen closely, they are not saying career CIA officer Gina Haspel is unfit for having implemented enhanced interrogation methods against the murderous 9/11 assailants. They are saying something else: She’s disqualified for her refusal to proclaim that their use was shockingly “immoral.” That’s John McCain’s mantra as well.
In rallying the Senate in opposition to her appointment, The Washington Post, with its outsized influence on Democratic senators, argues Ms. Haspel failed her confirmation hearings because she has not yet prostrated herself before the world to utterly condemn her agency’s interrogation techniques after 9/11.
Ms. Haspel, The Post concedes, pledged during her grilling that she would not permit the CIA to engage any more in those techniques — now banned by law — if she is confirmed. She said she backed the “stricter moral standard” the nation has now embraced and that she “would not allow” the CIA to undertake activity she thought was immoral, “even if it was technically legal.”
But this was not enough for her alleged moral betters, who are treating her like some dissenter in a Communist re-education camp. To become CIA chief, she cannot remain insufficiently contrite about how the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Congress and our national security agencies lost their souls when they agreed to endorse these techniques against those who leveled that deadly attack on 9/11. To become director, she must no longer harbor the slightest thought that enhanced interrogation was morally justified at the time or proved effective or saved countless American lives, though there is plenty of evidence to support this view.
Ms. Haspel’s foes should be reminded what Leon Panetta said about these methods in his 2014 book “Worthy Fights.” Mr. Panetta, President Obama’s liberal but highly respected CIA director, writes that he opposed enhanced interrogation largely because he believed it damaged America’s global image. But he strongly defends those like Ms. Haspel who implemented those policies. Nor does he believe the Senate should turn her down because she has not passed the rigid thought test laid down by her opponents.
Mr. Panetta insists that harsh interrogation methods did, in fact, produce “leads that helped our government understand al Qaeda’s organization, methods and leadership.” Contrary to critics, he stresses that “we got important, even critical intelligence, from individuals subjected to those enhanced interrogation techniques.” It is “foolish to maintain” otherwise.
And once more with feeling: “[W]e should be clear-eyed about the fact that we gave up those practices at a cost — that there is information we might never have received had interrogators not been allowed to inflict pressure, anxiety and even pain on subjects.” Should we now drag Mr. Panetta before the Senate and demand he recant his view or be stripped of his title as former CIA director?
Congress knew about enhanced interrogation methods from the git-go and approved them. In September 2002, notes a 2007 Washington Post investigative piece, “four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group which included Nancy Pelosi, was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.”
Among the techniques described was waterboarding, but on that day, says The Post, no objections were raised. And two of them “asked the CIA to push harder “
Long before enhanced interrogation, including waterboarding, became controversial, the CIA gave key Senate and House legislators some 30 private briefings on the topic, including descriptions of these methods. Lawmakers’ memories were varied. But among those being briefed, Porter J. Goss told the Post, “there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing.” Mr. Goss chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004 and served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. “And the reaction in the room,” Mr. Goss elaborated, “was not just approval, but encouragement.”
Part of the reason there was no outcry, one official at the early briefings told The Post, is because it was closer to 9/11 and “people were still in a panic. But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, ‘We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.’ “
Ms. Haspel, as most honorable people will concede, is highly qualified to be CIA chief and she has support from some of the most prestigious members of the intelligence community. Her only fault, apparently, is to have not yet genuflected before those who demand that she must publicly condemn in the most mortifying manner that the agency used allegedly inexcusable investigatory procedures when our country was in great peril — procedures that folks like Leon Panetta believe provided critical information for this nation’s safety.
• Allan H. Ryskind was a longtime editor and owner of Human Events. His latest book is “Hollywood Traitors” (Regnery, 2015).
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