Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that she “will not restart” the agency’s controversial torture/enhanced interrogation program even if the president asked her to.
“I would never, ever take CIA back to an interrogation program,” Haspel said in a notable exchange with Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.). “First of all, 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.”
Pressing the nominee, Warner then asked Haspel whether she would obey the president, even if she found the order “morally objectionable.”
“My moral compass is strong,” she replied. “I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”
“So you wouldn’t follow the president’s order?” Warner returned, seeking clarification.
“No, I believe that CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values,” Haspel responded.
Haspel, who has spent her career in the CIA, came under fire after becoming the agency’s deputy director in 2017 over her direct involvement in its enhanced interrogation program. The 61-year-old ran a black site in Thailand in 2002, where suspected terrorists were waterboarded and violently interrogated, and even allegedly played a role in destroying tapes of those interrogations in 2005—at a time when the federal government was investigating the extent of the controversial program.
Still, Haspel was nominated for director by Trump in March and, if successful in her bid, will become the intelligence agency’s first female director. Ahead of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, interest in her past was heightened.
Throughout the three-hour hearing, Haspel defended her previous actions and evasively refused to classify the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program as immoral.
“In all of my assignments I have conducted myself honorably and in accordance with U.S. law. My parents raised me right. I know the difference between right and wrong,” she said, addressing a question from Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
She did, however, say that in hindsight she would not support the order to destroy tapes of evidence as had happened in 2005.
Heinrich asked once again whether Haspel would obey Trump if he asked her to restart the interrogation program.
“I would not restart under any circumstances an interrogation program at CIA, under any circumstances,” she repeated.