This week, when Sen. Rand Paul announced that he will oppose to Gina Haspel as new CIA Director due to her widely reported support for torture, the senator read from a 2017 ProPublica story that originally stated that Haspel had relished in harsh interrogation at a particular black site, including mocking a detainee and destroying evidence of the act.
It turned out ProPublica’s original report was wrong and they made a major correction. ProPublica noted that Haspel was not in charge of the black site in Thailand where the torture reportedly took place during the time that it happened.
This led National Review’s Rich Lowry to wonder if Paul owed Haspel an apology. Rep. Liz Cheney accused Paul of “defending terrorists” (which may or may not have had anything to do with the ProPublica retraction, given that Cheney always accuses anyone who opposes torture of being in league with terrorists). Sen. Tom Cotton slammed Paul for misrepresenting Haspel.
This is completely backwards. Paul’s critics appear to be using an unfortunate mishap to distract from the senator’s much more important primary point that Haspel is not fit for office due to her support for torture – an illegal interrogation method that is unconscionable in ways that undermine our global credibility, weaken our military, threaten national security and diminish our basic values.
This concern is far more significant than Paul being wrong about a longtime torture advocate – a woman that some within the CIA reportedly nicknamed “Bloody Gina” – not being the particular torturer in one particular instance.
It’s true that Paul arguably may or may not owe Haspel an apology for this one aspect of his critique of her CIA record. But is it reasonable to expect public figures – or anyone else – to predict when otherwise credible news sources will make mistakes?
No, Haspel’s overall record still stands and it doesn’t hold up to honest scrutiny. Trying to make this issue more about Paul reporting false information is a ruse, particularly when put forth by uber-hawks like Cheney and Cotton. As Paul senior advisor Doug Stafford told CBS News:
[Senator Rand Paul] was quoting a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter. Regardless of the retraction of one anecdote, the fact remains that Gina Haspel was instrumental in running a place where people were tortured. According to multiple published, undisputed accounts, she oversaw a black site and she further destroyed evidence of torture. This should preclude her from ever running the CIA.
What we’ve learned about ProPublica’s misleading report does not change the troubling record of Haspel. Sen. Paul outlined in his Fox News op-ed Thursday, “According to published reports, Gina Haspel – who President Trump wants to become the next CIA director – oversaw one of the CIA’s notorious ‘black sites’ in Thailand and was directly involved in the destruction of videos documenting the torture that took place there.”
“One former CIA official has also stated that she was ‘one of the architects, designers, implementers and one of the top two managers of the [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques program] and a true believer, by all accounts, in the ‘Global War in Terror’ paradigm,” Paul continued.
The senator added, “Going forward, we should be able to know for sure that our CIA director should be someone who would refuse to allow certain methods because he or she knows them to be wrong – not just because they are illegal.”
Appointing Haspel would also send all the wrong signals within the agency. As former CIA counterterrorism officer John Kiriakou — who went to prison for disclosing CIA torture and claims Haspel helped cover it up — said Friday in a Washington Post op-ed:
Putting Haspel in charge of the CIA would undo attempts by the agency — and the nation — to repudiate torture. The message this sends to the CIA workforce is simple: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll get promoted. Don’t worry about the law. Don’t worry about ethics. Don’t worry about morality or the fact that torture doesn’t even work. Go ahead and do it anyway. We’ll cover for you. And you can destroy the evidence, too.
These are not minor concerns for Republicans or Democrats to gloss over for partisan or other reasons.
Sen. Paul is right that Haspel’s professional record is inextricably bound to her support for torture and that no one who endorses that illegal and immoral method it is fit to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Rand Paul, or more accurately, ProPublica’s unfortunate mistake, doesn’t change this.
Disclosure: I co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Sen. Rand Paul.