Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, committed Wednesday to “fully” explaining the torture record of Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency.
But Coats wouldn’t commit to a full declassification of all materials detailing Haspel’s role in the so-called enhanced-interrogation practices and the destruction of evidence—something that top senators are demanding ahead of her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is expected later this month. Without full declassification, human-rights groups suspect the CIA and its allies will present a misleading and self-serving picture of Haspel’s involvement in torture to ensure her confirmation.
“We want to declassify as much as possible without jeopardizing what we call sources and methods. Every effort will be made to fully explain exactly what her role was and what it wasn’t,” Coats told The Daily Beast at a gathering of the Defense Writers Group in Washington.
Coats argued that Haspel’s record has been mischaracterized, and he pledged full transparency as Haspel gears up for what could be a bruising confirmation battle in the Senate. But he would not commit to making that information public, hinting that some of it could be shared privately with the intelligence committee.
“Gina plans to be totally transparent in regards to this issue, and a lot of that has been mischaracterized. And I have looked deeply into this. And she will be making that fully available to the relevant committees,” Coats said. “I think a lot of the narratives in the public have been already released to indicate what is being alleged is simply not true.”
Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the architect of its “torture report,” wrote a letter to Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, asking him to declassify all documents and information relevant to Haspel’s involvement in what she called “one of the darkest chapters in American history.”
Haspel’s involvement in torture remains cloaked in official secrecy. Both a CIA inspector general’s report and a broader Senate investigation into post-9/11 torture studiously redact or obscure the names of operatives involved in the brutal program. A memoir by Haspel’s CIA mentor, former Counterterrorism Center and clandestine-service senior official Jose Rodriguez—a figure deeply implicated in torture—refers to someone matching Haspel’s description as “Jane.”
But Daily Beast sources, stretching back years, hold Haspel in a position of oversight responsibility for a “black site” secret CIA prison in Thailand, shuttered in December 2002, where two of the earliest detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abdel Rahim Nashiri, were extensively tortured. (ProPublica recently retracted a report holding Haspel physically present for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, but did not retract anything about Nashiri.) Additionally, Haspel was a key figure aiding Rodriguez in the destruction of 92 videotapes depicting the brutal interrogations of both men—an act that inadvertently prompted both a Justice Department inquiry and a Senate investigation that led to its landmark 2014 torture report.
Coats was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the torture investigation. He, like all of its Republican members, dissented from its assessment and backed the CIA’s accusations that it was a politicized document.
Coats joined the chorus of Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials and allies who have praised Haspel and the president for nominating her, mentioning that it would be a milestone for a woman to lead the CIA.
“I think it’s a great choice because I work with her every day. And she’s an exceptionally professional and talented individual,” Coats said Wednesday. “Way beyond that, she, in my opinion, has all the qualities and capabilities that are needed. Great respect from her colleagues in the CIA.”
Some lawmakers, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY), have already come out against Haspel’s nomination. They’ve argued that her background and her participation in the CIA’s torture program makes her unqualified to serve as the head of that agency. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a torture victim himself when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has said that Haspel, who currently serves as deputy CIA director, needs to fully explain her involvement.