Will Obama Torture Apologists Make a Triumphant Return to Joe Biden's White House?

His rumored candidate for CIA director, Michael Morell, is raising alarms.


President-elect Joe Biden is being warned not to bring torture apologists who served under President Barack Obama into his administration.

The Daily Beast reported this week that Biden was considering Michael Morell as a potential CIA director, but Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) had objections. Wyden publicly warned that Morell, who served as deputy director of the CIA under Obama, shouldn't be considered due to his past ties in obscuring CIA torture. CNN subsequently interviewed Wyden:

"No torture apologist can be confirmed as CIA director. It's a nonstarter," Wyden told CNN, referring to Morell's previous suggestions that the agency's so-called "enhanced interrogation" of terrorists was both effective and moral—claims that go further than those made by other officials who have faced scrutiny over the agency's handling of detainees at black sites, including former Director John Brennan and current Director Gina Haspel.

Wyden isn't the only person trying to raise alarms about Morell. Over at Just Security, Scott Roehm, along with Daniel Jones (who investigated the CIA torture and wrote the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on it), also warned against Morell. They note Morell's role in essentially absolving CIA staff (including current CIA Director Gina Haspel) of responsibility for destroying tapes of CIA torture of suspected terrorists during the Iraq War. He was also responsible for the CIA's response to the Senate's torture report, insisting that the CIA's methods had resulted in actionable intelligence. They had not. Roehm and Jones write:

In an interview … Morell said he rejected the description of the CIA program as torture "because to call it torture says my guys were torturers" and "I'm going to defend my guys to my last breath." He would go on to vocally support Haspel and her candidacy for CIA director.

CNN reported that Nick Shapiro, a spokesperson for Morell, insists that Morell was not familiar or involved with the CIA's torture program, didn't learn about it until 2006, and has since said that "he believed that waterboarding is indeed torture."

Biden hasn't named his choice for CIA director yet, but he did name Avril Haines as his choice for director of national intelligence. But Haines comes with similar baggage. Haines also supported Haspel's nomination as CIA director. And as deputy CIA director for a year under Obama, CNN notes, Haines made the decision not to punish any of the CIA employees who were secretly snooping on Jones and other Senate staffers working on the torture report.

As we start transitioning back to a Democratic administration, this fight is a reminder about the bipartisanship that drives a lot of the worst tendencies of national intelligence behavior. For anybody who might have forgotten what that looks like, check out The Report, which dramatizes the Senate's investigation of the CIA and absolutely does not shield the behavior of leaders under Obama from criticism.