U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris posed the essential question to Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Following revelations regarding Haspel’s role in what Amnesty International describes as “the CIA’s program of torture and enforced disappearances,” and amid concerns expressed by the human rights group that Haspel may “have been involved in covering up possible evidence of crimes under international law,” Harris sought clarity on what the nominee now thinks about the past use of torture.
“One question I’ve not heard you answer is: Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?” asked the California Democrat. Haspel attempted to respond with scripted talking points. Harris explained: “I’m not asking: Do you believe they were legal? I’m asking do you believe they were immoral.” Haspel went back to her talking points.
When the hearing was done, Harris said: “I asked CIA director nominee Gina Haspel if she believed enhanced interrogation tactics like waterboarding were immoral. It was a yes or no question. She refused to answer.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Vietnam-era prisoner of war who knows a good deal more about torture than his colleagues, watched the hearing. When it was finished, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded: “Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”
Remarkably, on the same day that Trump’s nominee disqualified herself, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir endorsed Haspel’s nomination and slammed Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin for failing to do the same. “Baldwin’s silence on her nomination is just another signal that she’d rather bow to our enemies than tell terrorists we’ll do what’s necessary to ensure Americans are kept safe,” said Vukmir.
Vukmir did not stop there. She claimed: “After Sen. Baldwin’s outrageous support of the Iran deal, it’s no surprise that she would rather give the man behind the 9/11 attacks and other terrorists hugs and safe spaces than take adequate action to protect America and confirm Gina Haspel quickly.”
The Republican contender even took to social media with photoshopped images of Vukmir and Haspel, who were identified as “Team America,” and Baldwin and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a principal architect of the 9/11 terror attacks. Baldwin was identified with Mohammed as part of “Team Terrorists.”
Baldwin dismissed Vukmir’s dishonest attack as “gutter politics” and a “new low.”
It was certainly gutter politics. But Vukmir’s approach is not entirely new.
The seat that Baldwin and Vukmir are seeking this year was once held by Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy, the red-baiting Republican whose disregard for the truth was so crude and so destructive that the Senate finally censured him in 1954.
It has been many years since a serious contender for a Wisconsin Senate seat stooped as low as McCarthy. But Leah Vukmir has earned comparison with her partisan predecessor — along with recollection of the question attorney Joseph Welch asked of McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency?”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising.
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