It's not because Haspel supervised torture sessions, including waterboarding, at a secret black site prison in Thailand and later destroyed the video evidence of same that the senators are wringing their hands, or pretending to. It's because she refused to be straightforward about whether she has a moral code or not. She refused to acknowledge that while torture may once have been deemed "legal" by the Bush administration, it has always been inherently immoral. She refused to admit there could even be a gap between bad law and basic morality.
This has put many politicians and corporate media pundits into a quandary, at least insofar as their own public personae are concerned. If only she'd groveled a little and said she has a few regrets for her war crimes, the wafflers (mainly liberals but also a smattering of conservatives) would feel free to wash their own hands of the sordid past, in which many of them were complicit at the time, if only by their very silence. They desperately want to look forward, not backward. But they can't. It's all nasty old Trump's fault, you see.
If Barack Obama was able to successfully appoint torture apologist and architect (if not actual practitioner) John Brennan to lead the agency, and then later to suppress huge classified chunks of the Senate's report on CIA torture, redact Haspel's name, and instead classify Brennan, Haspel and their co-workers as "patriots who tortured some folks," then who are liberals to defy his conventional wisdom? Who are they to possibly sully Obama's carefully manufactured reputation as he rakes in the big bucks on the speaking circuit?
Their dilemma is that Trump is simply not capable of being as glib and discreet as Obama was in deploying the sadism and protecting the sadists in grand old circumspect American tradition. Trump has bellowed on more than one occasion that he'd love to bring back torture as official US policy rather than just continue outsourcing it, as Obama quietly did, to other countries.
So if the Democrats make too big a public stink about Haspel and refuse to give her the job, it will be a slap on the wrist to Obama himself and a betrayal of all that the Democratic Party now stands for: unquestioning allegiance to the "intelligence community" as the manufactured foil to the Trump presidency.
The real unexamined issue is the existence of the CIA itself, which has operated as an unaccountable rogue state since its inception nearly three-quarters of a century ago.
How big a monster is it?
Well, when President Harry Truman said he never lost a minute's sleep over his atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rued the day he created the CIA in 1947 through the National Security Act, you get the picture. Right from the very start the agency has operated without the "moral code" the Senate now pretends to insist upon for its leader. It has operated far outside the rule of both domestic and international law, toppling foreign governments and killing leaders and "meddling" in the elections of war-torn Europe and beyond.
So to ask Gina Haspel whether she's developed a moral compass since her benighted torturing days is like asking Jack the Ripper if he has a good bedside manner.
An excerpt from Plain Speaking, Merle Miller's oral biography of Truman:
Merle Miller: Mr. President, I know that you were responsible as President for setting up the CIA. How do you feel about it now?
Truman: I think it was a mistake. And if I'd know what was going to happen, I never would have done it....the President needed at that time a central organization that would bring all the various intelligence reports we were getting in those days, and there must have been a dozen of them, maybe more, bring them all into one organization so that the President would get one report on what was going on in various parts of the world. Now that made sense, and that's why I went ahead and set up what they called the Central Intelligence Agency.
But it got out of hand. The fella ... the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they've got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I've told you, one Pentagon is one too many.
Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don't just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there's nobody to keep track of what they're up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they'll have something to report on. They've become ... it's become a government all of its own and all secret. They don't have to account to anybody.
That's a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it's got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there's got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don't care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things.Since the Senate never even put its own legal rubber stamp on the creation of the CIA, the supposed accountability that Gina Haspel and her agency owe to our publicly elected representatives is just so much fiction, and it always has been. Housecleaning? Sure, if you count giving war criminals and other miscreants a lick and a promise, or if your idea of hygiene is sweeping dirt under the rug. The only cleaning up our elected officials ever seem to do is cleaning up on the fund-raising circuit, or in whatever realm of legalized bribery the Supreme Court has seen fit to allow.
And when you can't do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we're on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn't have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn't prove that, I don't know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn't matter whether it's the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.
As the great socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair once so saliently observed, our two political parties are nothing but "the two wings of one bird of prey."
So I predict Haspel's eventual, albeit as narrow as decently possible, confirmation, with much hand-wringing and pragmatic posturing. Blue Dog Democrats will vote her in to placate their Trump Country bases and the more "progressive" Dems will say Nay, particularly if they have their eyes on the Oval Office. If and when one of them does win the highest office in the land, he or she can pretend the hand-wringing (or wing-fluttering) never even happened. We must look forward, not back, as Gina Haspel either continues her unaccountable ways or retires to much fanfare and a generous pension and a gig on cable "news" shows and an advisory role in some awesome Hollywood spy movies and TV series glorifying the CIA.
So far, according to CNN's "whip count" for Haspel, the vast majority of Senate Democratic birds are still undecided, with only the hawkish Joe Manchin of West Virginia declaring himself firmly in favor. Bernie Sanders has sliced his own waffle right down the middle, tweeting soggily and jingoistically: "We need a new CIA director who is committed to the rule of law and will heed the advice of U.S. military leaders who vigorously oppose torture and uphold the values that have made us a great and respected nation. Ms. Haspel is the wrong choice to lead the CIA." The other progressive Senate lion, Elizabeth Warren, declares herself a No or a "Likely" No.
Pass the syrup along with the blank ammunition.