WASHINGTON — Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said Friday he will oppose acting CIA director Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the agency due to her past links to enhanced interrogation techniques, called torture by critics.
“I believe her role in the Agency’s use of torture and efforts to destroy evidence of it was neither minor nor incidental,” Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
Kaine’s statement comes after Haspel said at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing this week that she would not permit the spy agency to restart the kind of harsh detention and interrogation program it ran at black sites after 9/11. She was reportedly the chief of base of a covert detention site in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded.
Some opposition to Haspel has centered on her refusal to answer “yes” or “no” when Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asked Haspel whether she now believes that enhanced interrogation techniques were immoral. Haspel did say torture does not work.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot who was beaten in captivity during the Vietnam War, has urged his fellow senators to reject Haspel. McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that he believes Haspel is a patriot who loves the country but “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”
Kaine pointed to McCain’s stance, saying: “I believe the CIA needs leadership that not only honors the rule of law but meets a higher calling to the moral principles of our nation.”
Kaine was among the 42 Democratic senators who voted last month against confirming former CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Though Republicans hold a 51-seat majority, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has said he would vote against Haspel because he does not want to “reward somebody who participated in torture” and who has trouble saying that torture is immoral.
Senate Intelligence Committee member Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, is the first Democrat to say he will vote for Haspel. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who also serves on the panel, has pledged likewise.
Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, said he would not vote for Haspel, as she was not as forthcoming as he would have liked. King is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I found some of her responses to be narrowly crafted and evasive,” King said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.