As retired general and flag officers of the United States military, we write to express our profound concern about the nomination of Gina Haspel to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). We urge you to examine closely the full extent of Ms. Haspel’s involvement in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program and, should you find that she played any role in carrying out, supervising, or directing the torture or abuse of people in U.S. custody, or the destruction of evidence relating to these activities, we urge you to reject her nomination.
We are deeply troubled by the prospect of someone who appears to have been intimately involved in torture being elevated to one of the most important positions of leadership in the intelligence community. While the public record concerning Ms. Haspel is incomplete, there are multiple uncontested reports that she ran a CIA “black site” prison, at which at least one detainee, Abd alRahim al-Nashiri, was repeatedly tortured, including by waterboarding. In addition, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo has stated that for some period of time a person we now know to be Ms. Haspel oversaw the CIA’s entire interrogation program—a program that was rife with mismanagement and abuse.
We understand that some well-respected former senior government intelligence officials have spoken highly of Ms. Haspel’s experience and long record of service to the Agency. However, we do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was “just following orders,” or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct. We did not accept the “just following orders” justification after World War II, and we should not accept it now. Waterboarding and other forms of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment are—and always have been—clearly unlawful. Individuals in the service of our country, even at the lowest levels, have a duty to refuse to carry out such actions.
Moreover, Ms. Haspel appears to have been involved in inappropriate actions that went beyond what was authorized by Congress or senior officials in the executive branch. Public reports suggest that cases of detainee abuse she supervised or otherwise had an operational role in involved conduct even more abusive than what the discredited legal memos supported. In addition to her role in overseeing and implementing torture, Ms. Haspel also appears to have strongly advocated for and played a key role in carrying out an order to destroy 92 videotapes of individuals in U.S. custody being subjected to torture. She did so despite federal court orders requiring preservation of all records pertaining to detainee abuse, and over the objections of congressional leaders, the Director of National Intelligence, Director of Central Intelligence, two successive White House counsels, Department of Justice officials, and the vice president’s top lawyer. This disregard for lawful checks on the CIA’s power is troubling.
We devoted our lives to the defense of our country. We know that fidelity to our most cherished ideals as a nation is the foundation of our security. The torture and cruel treatment of prisoner undermines our national security by increasing the risks to our troops, hindering cooperation with allies, alienating populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and providing a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm. It would send a terrible signal to confirm as the next Director of the CIA someone who was so intimately involved in this dark chapter of our nation’s history.
Given the serious allegations made against Ms. Haspel, we urge you to insist on full declassification, with appropriate redactions to protect sensitive national security information, of all information regarding her role in the rendition, detention, and interrogation program. If the record shows that Ms. Haspel played any role in carrying out, supervising, or directing any form of torture or detainee abuse, or the destruction of evidence relating to these activities, we urge you to reject her nomination.