That Sen. John McCainwants his colleagues to reject President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the CIA should be no surprise — just consider the extent to which his new memoir lays out his deeply held beliefs arguing against the agency’s use of torture.
The debate over torture techniques in interrogations conducted under the auspices of the Central Intelligence Agency during the George W. Bush administration features prominently in the forthcoming book by the Republican from Arizona.
Among the episodes referenced in the book is the destruction of the tapes of the harsh interrogations of top al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah at CIA black sites.
“The videotapes of his interrogations, along with recordings of the torture of other detainees, were ordered destroyed by the head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, despite standing orders from the White House Counsel’s Office to preserve them,” McCain writes with Mark Salter in “The Restless Wave,” which is set for publication on May 22.
Watch: Haspel’s Confirmation Hearing Felt Like Deja Vu to 2014 Interrogation Debate
While Gina Haspel, the president’s nominee to head the CIA, is not directly referenced in the McCain account of the order from Rodriguez, it is now public knowledge that she followed his directive in drafting the cable for the recordings to be destroyed.
The part of McCain’s message about “enhanced interrogations” that might be most relevant to the Senate floor debate is his rebuttal — drawing from his first hand experience being tortured by the North Vietnamese when he was a prisoner of war — to the argument that senators should not be re-litigating past decisions.
“Some might read this and say to themselves, ‘Who gives a damn what happens to a terrorist after what they did on September 11?’ But it’s not about them. It never was,” he writes.
Later, in recalling the interrogations of the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, McCain writes, “But even if [the CIA] didn’t get anything useful out of him, whose scruples are troubled by the treatment of a vicious, unforgivable killer? Mine are.”
McCain’s view of the United States needing to take the moral high ground when it comes to not torturing people (no matter how evil) might not be shared by the current president. The Arizona senator makes mention of Trump’s campaign trail claims about the efficacy of torture.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about that topic on Wednesday.
“The president has confidence in Gina Haspel to lead the CIA and wants to see her do exactly that, and is going to allow her to fulfill that position and make those decisions,” Sanders said when asked about Haspel’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee that she would not revive Bush-era interrogation programs if confirmed as director.
But Sanders also said she had not recently discussed with Trump the question of whether torture is effective.
The question now is if any of McCain’s GOP Senate colleagues might be pushed into the “no” column by the Armed Services chairman’s stand.
“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,” McCain said Wednesday night. “I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
The Republican most likely to consider a similar position might be fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress. Flake has thus far been undecided.
One McCain friend and frequent ally who came to a different conclusion about Haspel? Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
“Ms. Haspel has rejected the interrogation policies of the past. She is fully committed to following the law that prevents future abuses. This law, among others, includes the Detainee Treatment Act which I helped author," Graham said in a Thursday morning statement. “Gina Haspel should be confirmed as soon as possible as we live in a time of continuing threats.”
Opposition from Flake would require Haspel and Trump administration to find an additional Democratic senator to vote in favor of the nomination on the Senate floor, with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III effectively offsetting the opposition of Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.