Gina Haspel defends "moral compass" in grilling over CIA interrogation program
President Trump's pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, was adamant throughout her confirmation hearing on Wednesday that she would not restart previous "enhanced interrogation" techniques used by the Agency in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11. But in questioning from various senators, Haspel would not explicitly say if those past techniques were immoral or wrong.
"My parents gave me a moral compass, I would never ever take CIA back to an interrogation program," she told the committee. "CIA follows the law, we followed the law then, we follow the law today. I support the law, I wouldn't support a change in the law. But I would not put CIA officers at risk to undertake risky controversial activity again," she added.
Instead, Haspel repeatedly told lawmakers that she believes in the "stricter moral standard" outlined in the Army Field Manual.
"I think that we should hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard," she repeats. She said that her parents "raised her right" and that she knows the difference between right and wrong.
Under questioning by California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, Haspel again would not explicitly say if past techniques at the CIA were immoral.
"I believe that the CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack," she said.
Haspel also faced intense scrutiny for her role in helping order the destruction of dozens of videotapes documenting the post 9/11 interrogations years after they had concluded.
In her description of her role in the destruction of detainee video tapes, Haspel said there was great concern over the security risk post to officers featured in the videos. She explained that Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service, alone made the decision to destroy the tapes.
The tapes, Haspel said, were 92 recordings of the interrogation of a single detainee. She herself has never watched the tapes, she told senators.
Haspel now faces lawmakers further questioning in a closed-door session where senators can ask classified questions about her role in the controversial programs.
Follow along for live updates of the hearing below:
Haspel open hearing wraps up
The open portion of Wednesday's hearing comes to a close as senators move to a closed-door session where lawmakers can discuss classified information with Haspel.
Haspel on "loyalty pledge" to Trump
Haspel tells the committee that her "only loyalty is to the American people and to the constitution of the United States when asked if she's ever been asked to take a loyalty pledge by Mr. Trump, similar to that of former FBI Director James Comey.
"I've worked very closely with this president, I don't believe such a circumstance would occur," said Haspel. She said she was confident such a hypothetical is not going to occur.
Haspel: "I don't believe that torture works"
While telling lawmakers she doesn't believe torture "works" she conceded, "in the CIA program, I believe as many people, directors who have sat in this chair before me, that valuable information was obtained from senior al Qaeda operatives."
Haspel unsure if other tapes exist
Haspel says she doesn't know if there are any other tapes of other interrogation practices beyond the 92 of the one detainee in question.
"I don't know ... I don't believe there are any other tapes associated with that particular interrogation ... I simply don't know if there are tapes of any other activity," said Haspel.
She adds, "There are other government entities that are suited to holding detainees and that isn't CIA."
Wyden "not satisifed" with Haspel testimony
"What we saw this morning was a nominee trying to do everything possible to hide behind the classification system to slide into the job," Sen. Ron Wyden told reporters outside the hearing.
"I'm not at all satisfied with what has been offered. I think this is continuation of what we have seen which is to do everything possible to not divulge any information about her real role in this period," he added.
Wyden said that when nominees have a history, they'll "say a lot of stuff in order to get confirmed."
Haspel sidesteps questions of morality
Haspel, pressed by Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, won't firmly say if she thinks torture is immoral.
"I think that we should hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard," she repeats. She presses that her parents "raised her right" and that she knows the difference between right and wrong.
When asked where such moral compass was at the time of the interrogation program, Haspel noted it took place 17 years ago and was following orders and the law at the time.
In later questioning with Sen. Kamala Harris, Haspel again will not explicitly say if past techniques at the CIA were immoral.
"i believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack," said Haspel. She repeated several times that she supports the "higher moral standard" of the United States.
Haspel says CIA "not in the business" of restarting program
Haspel said at the time, the interrogation program was a "new subject" for her as the CIA lacked interrogation expertise at the agency.
"We didn't have interrogators. I was told interrogation experts designed the program and the president of the United States had approved it as well as a trusted leadership at the CIA," she explained.
Haspel acknlowedged that her views on the program evolved after the attacks on 9/11, saying "I'm not going to sit here with the benefit of hindsight and judge the very good people who made the hard decisions at the time, but as I mentioned, this country has had the opportunity to reflect because we have some space were not fearing another attack, we have deliberated about the standards we want to use interrogation."
When asked if the president would ask her to restart or use interrogation techniques, Haspel said she she would not believe the president would ask her to do that, despite other U.S. government entities conducting interrogation.
"We're not in the business of interrogating detainees," said Haspel. She added firmly, "We're not getting back in that business."
Pressed further on the president potentially ordering her to get back into that business, Haspel said under any circumstances, she would not restart an interrogation program at CIA.
Haspel, Wyden on waterboarding
Haspel, asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, on the CIA's use of waterboarding for interrogation practices, said that the team at the time "believed in our work, we were committed to ensure country wasn't attacked again."
She says the counter terrorism team was informed that techniques in the CIA's program were legal and authorized by the highest legal authority as well as the president at the time.
"I believe I and my colleagues in the counter-terrorism center were working as hard as we could with tools we were given," said Haspel.
Haspel, Feinstein debate detainee tapes
Haspel is adament that she did not "run the interrogation program" at the CIA and was not read in on the program until after it was started.
Asked if she was an advocate for destroying the interrogation tapes, Haspel said she was an "advocate" for conforming to U.S. law and destroying the tapes subject to it being done with appropriate legal clearance.
Haspel explains that the tapes were 92 recordings of only one detainee and that she had never watched them.
Haspel declines to get into the CIA's history of using waterboarding techniques for the Senate's closed-door session.
Haspel says she has "moral compass" to not continue interrogation program
"My parents gave me a moral compass, I would never ever take CIA back to an interrogation program," urges Haspel during questioning with Sen. Warner.
CIA follows the law, we followed the law then, we followed the today, I support the law, I wouldn't support a change in the law. But I would not put CIA officers at risk to undertake risky controversial activity again," she added.
When pressed by Warner on her personal values, Haspel said "my moral compass is strong" noting that she would not allow CIA to take on activity that she felt was immoral, if it was ever technically legal.
"I would not permit it," she urged.
Asked if she would follow-through on an order from the president to pursue such techniques, she replied: "No, I believe CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values."
Haspel on tape destruction controversy
Haspel offers description of her role in the destruction of detainee video tapes. Haspel has faced intense scrutiny for her role in helping order the destruction of dozens of videotapes documenting the interrogations years after they had concluded.
Haspel says at the time of the tapes creation, in 2002, she served as chief of staff to the deputy director of operations. She said overtime there was a "great deal of concern" over the security risk posed to officers depicted on the tapes.
"Those security issues centered on threat from al Qaeda should they be leaked," said Haspel. Haspel said that Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service, made the decision to destroy the tapes.
Haspel explained that she did "not appear on the tapes as has been mischaracterized in the press" and that after numerous legal consultations, the CIA found there was no legal requirement to disposing the tapes.
On interrogation practices, Haspel says "the congress and indeed our nation have had an opportunity to have a debate interrogation standards we want to use as the United States of America. We have decided to hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard. "
She added, "I support the United states holding itself to that stricter moral standard."
Haspel says she's proud of work post-9/11
"The hard lessons we learned from that experience inform my leadership of CIA today," says Haspel.
She adds, on the controversy surrounding interrogation practices, "Today, the US Government has a clear legal and policy framework that governs detentions and interrogations. Specifically, the law provides that no individual in US custody may be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach that is not authorized by and listed in the Army Field Manual. I fully support the standards for detainee treatment required by law, and just as importantly, I will keep CIA focused on our collection and analysis missions that can best leverage the expertise found at the Agency."
Haspel on historic role as CIA Director
"It is not my way to trumpet the fact that I am a woman up for the top job, but I would be remiss in not remarking on it - not least because of the outpouring of support from young women at CIA who consider it a good sign for their own prospects," said Haspel, describing her rise through the ranks at CIA to her historic nomination to be the first woman to lead the agency.
Haspel tells the committee that he doesn't need any time to learn the business of what the CAI does.
"I know CIA like the back of my hand. I know them, I know the threats we face, and I know what we need to be successful in our mission. I have played a leading role this past year in setting us on the right path and I intend on continuing on that path if I am confirmed as Director."
Haspel begins testimony
Haspel says she is prepared to ensure that the CIA is "postured to meet the complex challenges our nation faces."
"Those challenges include a changing but still lethal threat from terrorist groups; a nuclear threat against the continental United States from a rogue state; destabilizing Iranian adventurism; an aggressive and sometimes brutal Russia; and the long-term implications of China's ambitions on the global stage," adds Haspel.
The nominee describes herself as a "typical middle class American" stressing to the committee that she doesn't have "any social media accounts."
Haspel takes oath
Haspel is sworn in by Chairman Burr before beginning her confirmation hearing. She agrees to appear before the committee outside today's hearing, provide documents when needed and requested as well as provide briefings on intelligence matters and covert action to the full committee.
Warner still wants answers from Haspel on torture program
Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia highlights Haspel's experience despite agency shortcomings, but says Haspel acknowledging the history of the torture program is "not enough."
"The secrecy inherent in the CIA's work demands that the Director honor and follow the law - particularly in the dark spaces where the IC often operates, and when the glaring light of public scrutiny is nonexistent. No one should get credit simply for agreeing to follow the law--that's the very least we should expect from any nominee, and certainly from the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency," said Warner.
He adds, "Ms. Haspel, what the Committee must hear is your own view of the RDI program today, given the benefit of time and hindsight. Should the United States ever permit detainees to be treated the way the CIA treated detainees under the program - even if you believe it was technically "legal"? Most importantly, in your view - was the program consistent with American values?"
Warner urged Haspel to take the issues of the program "seriously and to address them at length."
"My vote on your confirmation will be greatly influenced by how you address these questions today," said Warner.
Burr on torture program
Committee chariman Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina said in his opening statement that Haspel's confirmation hearing will not be "about programs already addressed by executive order, legislation and the court of law" slamming lawmakers that "seek to turn this nomination into a trial about a long-shuttered program."
"Gina, I have reviewed your record closely; I have read your detailed and thoughtful answers to the Committee's pre-hearing questions; and I have spoken with you many times over the years. You are, without a doubt, the most qualified person the President could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70 year history of the Agency," Burr adds.
Read his full remarks here:
Haspel arrives for hearing
Haspel arrives to the Senate chamber ahead of her hearing. CBS News' Olivia Andrzejczak Gazis reports that the atmosphere is tense and the audience in the chamber is thick with protestors.
Demonstrators in the room chanted "Stop the torture" as police escort two protesters out of the room.
Haspel acknowledges terror program in prepared remarks
In prepared remarks of Haspel's opening testimony, Haspel acknowledges that in accepting the nomination from President Trump would "raise questions about CIA declassified activities and my career at the Agency."
"CIA has learned some tough lessons, especially when asked to tackle missions that fall outside our expertise. For me there is no better example of implementing lessons learned than what the Agency took away from the detention and interrogation program. In retrospect it is clear, as the SSCI Majority Report concludes, that CIA was not prepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program."
She adds, stressing the need for Congressional oversight and gaining Americans trust, "If we can't share aspects of our secret work with the public, we should do si with their elected representatives. For CIA, oversight is a vital link to the open society we defend."
"If confirmed as Director, I will uphold the Agency's obligations to Congress and ensure that oversight works on behalf of the American people," Haspel says.
Dueling letters of support, criticism for Haspel
Letters of support and criticism have been sent to the committee ahead of Haspel's hearing.
A bipartisan group of 115 retired and former career ambassadors signed a letter warning the Senate that confirming Haspel "would undercut the work of diplomats around the world."
"We have no reason to question Ms. Haspel's credentials as both a leader and an experienced intelligence professional. Yet she is also emblematic of choices made by certain American officials in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 that dispensed with our ideals and international commitments to the ultimate detriment of our national security," wrote the ambassadors. "What we do know, based on credible, and as yet uncontested reporting, leaves us of the view that [Ms. Haspel] should be disqualified from holding cabinet rank."
A human rights group "Human Rights First" released a similar letter of opposition to Haspel, signed by over 80 former ambassadors, including former UN Ambassadors Samantha Power and Thomas Pickering.
Meanwhile, over two dozen members of the intelligence community signed a letter of support of Haspel.
"We believe that Ms. Haspel is an excellent choice to lead the CIA at a time when our intelligence community is under significant pressure at home and abroad. The threats to our national security are as complex as they have ever been and emanate from around the globe. A strong CIA director, with deep roots in Langley and the IC, is a critical asset for our nation at this time in our history."
Haspel takes on terror program in prepared remarks
"I understand that what many people around the country want to know about are my views on CIA's former detention and interrogation program," Haspel is expected to say, according to excerpts of her prepared testimony released by the CIA Tuesday night.
"I have views on this issue, and I want to be clear. Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program."