The Diplomats Speak: More Opposition to Gina Haspel’s Nomination to Head the CIA

Above: CIA headquarters.

An august group of 115 retired diplomats have now circulated their own letter (reproduced below) in opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. The signatories were appointed by both Republicans and Democrats and served abroad (indeed, almost the entire globe is represented), represented the United States in multilateral organizations such as NATO or the United Nations, or managed functional portfolios in Washington, such as War Crimes Issues, Trafficking in Persons, and Counter-Terrorism.  They all urge members of Congress to reject Haspel’s nomination not only because of her past involvement in torture, but also because it will embolden authoritarian leaders around the world at a time when human rights are under assault:

[T]he point will remain that her record of involvement in torture was judged worthy of and compatible with holding the CIA’s highest office. The message inherent in this decision will be understood by authoritarian leaders around the world. They will welcome it, as it will allow them to proclaim, however cynically, that their behavior is no different from ours. Her confirmation will thus undercut the work of countless diplomats, military service members, and intelligence professionals who continue to engage with their foreign counterparts on why the United States believes that torture and other forms of abuse are not only morally wrong, but strategically shortsighted and legally impermissible. In an era in which the rule of law is under considerable strain around the world, this is a cost we can ill afford.

Leading the effort are Ambassadors James Jones (who served in Mexico from 1993-97) and Thomas Pickering (who served in in Tanzania, Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, India, and Russia, and also as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations). Jones (D-OK) also served in the House of Representatives and later co-chaired The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, which operated as a bipartisan “truth commission” around detainee abuse and produced an important report on the treatment of suspected terrorists since 9/11. This letter follows on the heels of another diplomats’ letter in connection with Mike Pompeo’s nomination identifying an “urgent need” to restore U.S. diplomacy.

Media are reporting that Haspel offered to withdraw from consideration late last week given all the questions and controversy around her nomination and the damage to the CIA’s and her own reputation that might be caused by an ugly confirmation process. White House officials apparently convinced her to remain a contender. At the same time, the administration is reportedly preparing contingency plans even as President Trump tweeted his continued support for Haspel, noting that she had “come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists”, effectively turning what many see as a fatal flaw into a feature.

Although member of Congress have received a box of classified documents, it is unlikely that members of the public will learn much more about Haspel’s operational or leadership roles in the Bush Administration’s brutal and discredited Rendition, Detention & Interrogation (RDI) program, or her role in covering it up with the destruction of the interrogation tapes, during Wednesday’s hearing given the volume of open source reporting and the fact that everything else is likely still classified. That said, questions about her attitudes towards the legality, morality, and efficacy of torture and other harsh interrogation tactics are fair game as are her impressions of the accuracy of the conclusions of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) highly critical report on the RDI program and her role in spreading false information about the efficacy about the RDI program when the SSCI investigation began.  Haspel should also be asked how should would respond were President Trump to attempt to reinstate the RDI program, as he vowed to do during his campaign. In the primary debate, for example, he made the following promise:

I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding…

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has already issued a number of detailed written questions to Haspel on the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s RDI program, whether she would pledge—without reservation—to uphold the prohibition on torture, and whether she would commit to declassifying the SSCI report.  The full letter is here. McCain issued a statement in connection with the letter to Haspel, which reads in part:

We now know that these techniques not only failed to deliver actionable intelligence, but actually produced false and misleading information. … Most importantly, the use of torture compromised our values, stained our national honor, and threatened our historical reputation.

As they exercise their critical advice-and-consent role (see our coverage here), the Senate should also think carefully not only about Haspel’s past but also about the future: How will Haspel’s nomination—and all the ensuing controversy—be received by United States’ allies (and foes) around the world? What message does it send about the U.S. commitment to renounce torture and the RDI program?  Will having Haspel at the helm embolden individuals within the Agency who have an interest in reviving, or at least rehabilitating, the RDI program? Will her leadership undermine important work that Congress regularly funds at the international level to advance human rights and humane law enforcement practices?

The vote promises to be tight, with the Senate split 51-49.

*          *          *

Dear Senator:

We write as former ambassadors of the United States to register our serious concern over Gina Haspel’s nomination to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

As career and non-career senior diplomats, we experienced no higher honor than to have represented the American people and their interests and values to foreign governments abroad. We did so while recognizing that foreign audiences—governments and their citizens, friends and foes—rightly look to the senior-most representatives of our government to embody what our nation holds dear. It is for this reason that we cannot support Ms. Haspel’s nomination, given credible information in the public domain.

There remains much we do not know about the specific roles and responsibilities Ms. Haspel held in relation to the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program generally, and the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” specifically. Mindful of this, we support calls made by various members of Congress for the CIA to declassify additional information regarding her relationship to the program, commensurate with the need to protect legitimate intelligence sources and methods, so that the American people have a meaningful and accurate understanding of the role that Ms. Haspel played.

What we do know, based on credible, and as yet uncontested reporting, leaves us of the view that she should be disqualified from holding cabinet rank. This includes that, in 2002, she oversaw a secret detention facility in Thailand in which at least one detainee was repeatedly subjected to waterboarding, and that she later strongly advocated for and helped implement a decision to destroy video tapes of torture sessions, including ones she oversaw.

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.

America’s power in the world is defined in part by the strength of our military, the size of our economy, the prestige of our universities, and the quality of our entrepreneurs. But our influence, and thus our security, is also advanced by the principles and values set forth in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and laws and treaties, as well as our adherence to the rule of law, to democratic norms and institutions, and to our willingness to stand up for men and women living under repression.

We have little doubt what lesson governments that rely on torture and other forms of mistreatment to maintain their grip on power will draw from Ms. Haspel’s confirmation. Whether or not she uses the opportunity of her confirmation hearing to reject torture—which we hope she will do—the point will remain that her record of involvement in torture was judged worthy of and compatible with holding the CIA’s highest office. The message inherent in this decision will be understood by authoritarian leaders around the world. They will welcome it, as it will allow them to proclaim, however cynically, that their behavior is no different from ours. Her confirmation will thus undercut the work of countless diplomats, military service members, and intelligence professionals who continue to engage with their foreign counterparts on why the United States believes that torture and other forms of abuse are not only morally wrong, but strategically shortsighted and legally impermissible. In an era in which the rule of law is under considerable strain around the world, this is a cost we can ill afford.

For all these reasons, we urge you to scrutinize Ms. Haspel’s record with the utmost care. If that record demonstrates that Ms. Haspel played a role in torture or other forms of detainee abuse, or the destruction of evidence relating to such activities, we urge you to reject her nomination.

Sincerely,

Thomas Pickering
Career Ambassador, Former Under
Secretary of State for Political Affairs and
former Ambassador to Russia, India, the
United Nations, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria,
and Jordan

James R. Jones
Former Ambassador to Mexico and former
Member of the U.S. House of
Representatives

Daniel Baer
Former Ambassador to the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Rob Barber
Former Ambassador to Iceland

Leslie Bassett
Former Ambassador to Paraguay

Donald S. Beyer, Jr.
Former Ambassador to Switzerland and the
Principality of Liechtenstein; Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives

Jack R. Binns
Former Ambassador to Honduras

Clyde Bishop
Former Ambassador to the Republic of the
Marshall Islands

James K. Bishop
Former Ambassador to Niger, Liberia, and
Somalia

Robert. O. Blake, Jr.
Former Assistant Secretary of State for
South and Central Asian Affairs and former
Ambassador to Indonesia and Sri Lanka and
Maldives

Barbara Bodine
Former Ambassador to Yemen

Avis Bohlen
Former Assistant Secretary of State for
Arms Control and former Ambassador to
Bulgaria

Aurelia E. Brazeal
Former Ambassador to the Federated States
of Micronesia, Kenya, and Ethiopia

James (Wally) Brewster Jr.
Former Ambassador to the Dominican
Republic

Sue K. Brown
Former Ambassador to Montenegro

Edward Brynn
Former Ambassador to Burkina Faso and
Ghana

John Campbell
Former Ambassador to Nigeria and Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State for Human
Resources

Carey Cavanaugh
Former Ambassador and Special Negotiator for Eurasian Conflicts

Luis CdeBaca
Former Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor
and Combat Trafficking in Persons

James F. Collins
Former Ambassador to the Russian
Federation

Elinor G. Constable
Former Ambassador to Kenya

Edwin G. Corr
Former Ambassador to Peru, Bolivia, and El
Salvador and former Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State for International Narcotics
Matters

Ruth A. Davis
Former Director General of the Foreign
Service, Director of the Foreign Service
Institute, and Ambassador to Benin

Robert Dillon
Former Ambassador to Lebanon

Shaun Donnelly
Former Ambassador to Sri Lanka and
Maldives

David Dunford
Former Ambassador to Oman

Harriet L. Elam-Thomas
Former Ambassador to Senegal

Nancy Ely-Raphel
Former Ambassador to Slovenia

Gregory W. Engle
Former Ambassador to Togo

Robert W. “Bill” Farrand
Former Ambassador to Papua New Guinea
and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in
the Bureau of Human Rights and
Humanitarian Affairs

Gerald M. Feierstein
Former Ambassador to Yemen

Robert S. Ford
Former Ambassador to Algeria and Syria

Chas W. Freeman, Jr.
Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and
former Assistant Secretary of Defense for
International Security Affairs

James I. Gadsden
Former Ambassador to Iceland and former
Deputy Assistant Secretary for European
Affairs

Rufus Gifford
Former Ambassador to Denmark

David N. Greenlee
Former Ambassador to Bolivia and
Paraguay

Michael Guest
Former Ambassador to Romania

Keith Harper
Former Ambassador and Permanent
Representative to the United Nations Human
Rights Council

Douglas A. Hartwick
Former Ambassador to Laos and Assistant
US Trade Representative

Samuel D. Heins
Former Ambassador to the Kingdom of
Norway

Carla A. Hills
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban
Development and former U.S. Trade
Representative with title of ambassador

Heather Hodges
Former Ambassador to Moldova and
Ecuador

Henry Allen Holmes
Former Ambassador to Portugal

Thomas C. Hubbard
Former Ambassador to the Republic of
Korea and the Republic of the Philippines

Arthur H. Hughes
Former Ambassador to Yemen and Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State for Near East
Affairs

Edmund Hull
Former Ambassador to Yemen

Robert E. Hunter
Former Ambassador to NATO

Bonnie Jenkins
Former Coordinator for Threat Reduction
Programs with title of ambassador

Dennis Jett
Former Ambassador to Peru and
Mozambique

Linda Jewell
Former Ambassador to Ecuador

L. Craig Johnstone
Former Ambassador to Algeria

Deborah K. Jones
Former Ambassador to Kuwait and Libya

Richard H. Jones
Former Ambassador to Lebanon, Israel,
Kuwait, and Kazakhstan

Ian Kelly
Former Ambassador to the OSCE and
Georgia

David T. Killion
Former Ambassador to UNESCO

Jimmy Kolker
Former Ambassador to Uganda and Burkina
Faso

John Kornblum
Former Ambassador to the Federal Republic
of Germany

Mark P. Lagon
Former Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor
and Combat Trafficking in Persons

Suzan LeVine
Former Ambassador to the Swiss
Confederation and the Principality of
Liechtenstein

Carmen Lomellin
Former Permanent Representative to the
Organization of American States (OAS)

Frank E. Loy
Former Under Secretary of State for Global
Affairs and former Director of the Bureau of
Population, Refugees, and Migration, with
the personal rank of ambassador

Princeton N. Lyman
Former Assistant Secretary of State for
International Organization Affairs and
former Ambassador to Nigeria and South
Africa

Jack F. Matlock, Jr.
Former Ambassador to the USSR and
Czechoslovakia

Nancy McEldowney
Former Ambassador to Bulgaria and
Director of the Foreign Service Institute

James D. McGee
Former Ambassador to Swaziland,
Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, and
Zimbabwe

Donald F. McHenry
Former Permanent Representative to the
United Nations

William B. Milam
Former Ambassador to Pakistan and
Bangladesh

Richard Miles
Former Ambassador to Georgia, Bulgaria,
and Azerbaijan

Day Mount
Former Ambassador to Iceland

Thomas Niles
Former Ambassador to Canada, the
European Union, and Greece

Robert M. Orr
Former Ambassador to the Asian
Development Bank

Ted Osius
Former Ambassador to Vietnam

Maurice S. Parker
Former Ambassador to Swaziland

June Carter Perry
Former Ambassador to Lesotho and Sierra
Leone

Robert C. Perry
Former Ambassador to the Central African
Republic

Pete Peterson
Former Ambassador to Vietnam and Former
Member of the U.S. House of
Representatives

John R. Phillips
Former Ambassador to Italy

Nicholas Platt
Former Ambassador to Pakistan,
Philippines, and Zambia

Michael C. Polt
Former Ambassador to the Republic of
Estonia, Serbia, and Montenegro

Laurence Pope
Former Ambassador to Chad and Associate
Coordinator for Counter-terrorism

Samantha Power
Former U.S. Permanent Representative to
the United Nations

Jon R. Purnell
Former Ambassador to Uzbekistan

Stephen J. Rapp
Former Ambassador-at-Large for War
Crimes Issues

Charles Ray
Former Ambassador to Zimbabwe and
Cambodia

Arlene Render
Former Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Zambia,
and Gambia

Peter F. Romero
Former Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs and
Ambassador to Ecuador

Edward M. Rowell
Former Ambassador to Bolivia,
Luxembourg, and Portugal, and Principal
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
Consular Affairs

Stapleton Roy
Career Ambassador, Former Assistant
Secretary of State for Intelligence and
Research and former Ambassador to
Singapore, China, and Indonesia

Nancy Rubin
Former Ambassador to the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights

William A. Rugh
Former Ambassador to Yemen and the
United Arab Emirates

David Saperstein
Former Ambassador at Large for
International Religious Freedom

Teresita Schaffer
Former Ambassador to Sri Lanka and
Maldives

David Scheffer
Former Ambassador-at-Large for War
Crimes Issues

Theodore Sedgwick
Former Ambassador to Slovakia

John Shattuck
Former Assistant Secretary of State for
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and
former Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Sally Shelton-Colby
Former Ambassador to Barbados, Grenada,
and Dominica and Minister to St Lucia, and
Special Representative to Antigua, St.
Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, and St. Vincent

Harry Shlaudeman
Former Ambassador to Venezuela, Peru,
Argentina, Brazil, and Nicaragua and former
Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican
Affairs

Alan Solomont
Former Ambassador to Spain and Andorra

Joan E. Spero
Former Ambassador to the United Nations
for Economic and Social Affairs

Ronald I. Spiers
Former Ambassador to Pakistan, Turkey,
and the Bahamas

Sylvia Stanfield
Former Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam

Kathleen Stephens
Former Ambassador to the Republic of
Korea

Strobe Talbott
Former Deputy Secretary of State and
former Ambassador-at-Large on the New
Independent States

Clyde D. Taylor
Former Ambassador to Paraguay

Patrick N. Theros
Former Ambassador to Qatar

Alexander Vershbow
Former Ambassador to NATO, Russia, and
South Korea and former Deputy Secretary
General of NATO

Kirk Wagar
Ambassador to Singapore

Edward S. Walker, Jr.
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near
Eastern Affairs and Ambassador to Israel,
Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates

Alexander F. Watson
Former Assistant Secretary of State for
Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ambassador
to Peru, and Deputy Permanent
Representative to the United Nations

Melissa Wells
Former Ambassador to Guinea Bissau and
Cape Verde, Mozambique, Zaire, and
Estonia

Allan Wendt
Former Senior Representative for Strategic
Technology Policy and former Ambassador
to Slovenia

Barry B. White
Former Ambassador to the Kingdom of
Norway

Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.
Former Ambassador-at-Large for
Counterterrorism

Kenneth Yalowitz
Former Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia

John M. Yates
Former Ambassador to Cape Verde, Benin,
Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea and
Special Representative for Somalia

  

About the Author(s)

Beth Van Schaack

Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights, Stanford Law School; Former Deputy to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. State Department. All views are her own. Follow her on Twitter (@BethVanSchaack).