Senators on both sides of the aisle are calling for the release of a classified memo that could give lawmakers—and the general public—a better understanding of the role Gina Haspel played in the CIA's torture program. Haspel is Donald Trump's nominee to run the spy agency, and a key Senate committee is set to vote this week on her confirmation, which could go to the full chamber before the end of the month.
A potential stumbling block to her appointment is the so-called Durham Report, written at the conclusion of an Obama-era Justice Department's investigation into "whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations." Haspel ran one of those secret prisons in Thailand for several months in 2002, and she oversaw the torture of at least one detainee: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was involved in the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Three years later, she drafted a memo ordering the destruction of videos showing the interrogation and torture of detainees.
The full report has never been released, and a Senate memo describing the parts of the report that concern Haspel's career is also being kept secret. The classified document, prepared by Democratic staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, includes "details some senators and aides have found disturbing," NBC reports, citing four sources familiar with the document.
"I have never in my life wished that more classified information could be available to the public," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told a Huffington Post reporter last week after she'd viewed the classified documents.
McCaskill can see the documents because she's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will vote Wednesday on whether to recommend Haspel's confirmation to the full Senate. But the rest of the chamber will be left in the dark, it seems, since the classified report has been removed from Senate servers in an apparent attempt to prevent leaks.
"It is critical that all senators have access to information detailing Ms. Haspel's role in the 2005 destruction of videotapes belonging to the CIA," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote in a letter to the Justice Department last week, requesting the release of the Durham Report. "It is critical that all senators have access to the same important, relevant information regarding the person nominated to the lead the CIA."
Will the memo change the course of Haspel's confirmation? Unnamed sources tell NBC that there is "nothing explosive" in the report capable of derailing her nomination, while The Intercept cites "people briefed on the contents of the memo" who say "it is not possible to read it and come away without serious doubts about whether Haspel ought to be confirmed." It would be nice to be able to read it and judge for ourselves.
During her confirmation hearing last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pressed Haspel about whether she would object to the release of the Durham investigation.
"I haven't seen it, so I haven't read it, so I don't know," Haspel replied.
"So far, the American people have only been given information that is designed to help you get confirmed," said Wyden. "Everything else has been classified."
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are the only two Republican senators to declare their intent to vote against Haspel's confirmation, but their opposition could be canceled out by two Democrats, Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-In.) and Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.), who say they will vote for Haspel. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and potentially a key swing vote, announced today that he would support Haspel's confirmation after getting a letter from the nominee clarifying her views on the torture program.
McCain's opposition to Haspel is a both personal and political. A torture survivor himself, McCain says Haspel's "refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."
In her hearing, Haspel admitted that she did not believe torture "worked," but she blurred the line a bit by defending the long-standing claim that the CIA's torture program produced useful intelligence and valuable leads in the early days of the War on Terror. Defenders of torture have long argued that it helped produce key details in the search for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, despite a lack of evidence to back up that claim.
"When bin Laden finally met the fate he deserved, the apologists for torture appeared in numbers on cable news shows and in the newspapers claiming bin Laden wouldn't have been found without intelligence gained through the use of [enhanced interrogation]," McCain says in his just-released book The Restless Wave.
"In truth, most of the CIA's claims that abusive interrogations of detainees had produced vital leads to help locate bin Laden were exaggerated, misleading, and in some cases, complete bullshit," McCain writes.
McCain explains that he came to those conclusions—ones that "angered" him—only after being able to review other classified reports on the CIA torture regime. More than a dozen years after Haspel ordered the destruction of the interrogation tapes, it's time for everyone else to have a chance to see the evidence.