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The arguments for and against Gina Haspel as CIA director

Should the Senate confirm CIA director nominee Gina Haspel? Nick Schifrin gets two views on her background and role in a controversial detention and interrogation program from John Rizzo, a former DIA chief legal officer, and retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Would Gina Haspel be a good director and should the Senate confirm her?

    We get two views.

    John Rizzo had a 34-year career at the CIA. From 2001 to 2002, and from 2004 to 2009, he served as the CIA's chief legal officer. He and with 52 former senior intelligence and national security officials wrote the Senate in support of Haspel's nomination. And Stephen Xenakis is a retired Army brigadier general. He was one of 109 retired general officers who wrote a different letter, urging the Senate to reject Gina Haspel if senators confirmed she played a role in detainee abuse. He is also a psychiatrist who has counseled some of the men subjected to the CIA's torture techniques.

    And thank you both for being here.

    Stephen Xenakis, let me start with you.

    We heard Gina Haspel defend herself today. She said, look, this was a product of the time. The Department of Justice approved it. The White House approved these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

    What is wrong with that defense?

  • Stephen Xenakis:

    Look, she also said a couple of other things, is that when you're on the front lines, you're expected to make the tough decisions.

    And she and the others were in the position, and any responsible leader, if he's a general or if he's a senior leader at CIA, is expected to make the tough decisions under tough conditions. They don't panic. They walk through it in a systemic, methodic way. They know their profession. They know the work. And they know what's right.

    And I think this was a lapse in leadership on her part. There was a lapse in knowing what was right. There was a lapse in knowing what was effective. And even though she had some legal cover, and you could get legal cover almost in various ways, still didn't make it right or effective.

    And so I think they failed, she failed particularly in not exercising good leadership and good judgment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    John Rizzo, was it neither right nor effective?

  • John Rizzo:

    Well, it was effective. A couple things, Nick.

    First of all, I was in a leadership position at CIA during those years. I was involved in the program from beginning to end. Ms. Haspel — I have to be circumspect here, because I know she was a little — couldn't get into a lot of her precise responsibilities.

    But I will say this for Ms. Haspel. She wasn't in a leadership position at the agency, and certainly wasn't in a leadership position, like I was, in the creation and approval and implementation of those techniques.

    So, I mean, I think that's important to keep in mind.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, Stephen Xenakis, does that exonerate her, just because she wasn't in the leadership?

  • Stephen Xenakis:

    I don't think so.

    I mean, again, you're on the front lines, you have to make the tough decisions. And you're in a situation where there aren't people there. You're right. You're facing the problem. And you have got to exercise a judgment that you know is best and is going to work.

    Interestingly, also, in listening to her testimony, she never answered directly if this was effective or not. I forget which senator asked her, do you think it worked? And she didn't say, well, it works or it doesn't work.

    What she said was, well, we got, eventually, the information we needed from the captives.

    So, it's not clear to me that, at this point, which I think is important, she may in fact recognize that these tactics are not effective.


  • John Rizzo:

    Well, may I speak to that?

    I will say for myself — and I have said this before publicly, including in a memoir I wrote a few years back — that the program was effective. I mean, aside from its moral — I mean, apart from its questions of morality or even legality, the program produced results.

    The difficult part of this is that, you know, it is unknowable whether these detainees would have yielded the same information without resorting to these admittedly harsh, harsh techniques. And I think that is unknowable.

    And I believe Ms. Haspel made that point at the hearing. So, it's a complicated, complex, difficult issue.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It certainly is.

    But I think we heard Democrats state today that this is about more than whether it was effective or not. It was about whether it was right and the morality.

    And you believe that it just simply wasn't there, or at least her response weren't there for those answers?

  • Stephen Xenakis:

    No. Her responsibility wasn't there. It's clearly immoral, and it's clearly illegal for everybody.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    John Rizzo, does it matter if it's immoral?

  • John Rizzo:

    Well, first of all, it wasn't illegal at the time.

    Now, a program like that could not take place today because Congress subsequently, a few years back, basically prohibited any of these harsh techniques.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right, but does it matter if it's immoral?

  • John Rizzo:

    Oh, sure. I mean, that's a fact.

    For what it's worth, I believe that there was a moral imperative after 9/11, both from the American people and from Congress, that the CIA wouldn't, could not, must not allow a second major attack on the homeland to happen.

    I mean, as we all remember, those were very perilous times. So, in terms of the morality, I think — I think — I believed then, I believe now — CIA had a moral imperative on behalf of the American pique to protect the country, to protect thousands of people, innocent people from being murdered, and to use those techniques within the law that would elicit the kind of critical intelligence that could prevent another imminent, major attack on this country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Stephen Xenakis, I want to get your thoughts quickly on something else.

    You have — you're a psychiatrist who has seen some of these detainees who were subject to the some of these techniques.

    What's the impact on them?

  • Stephen Xenakis:

    Oh, it's injured them. There's evidence of clear injury and damage, which is — I think is further evidence that these tactics really were torture, and they were brutal.

    And we make it clear from our standpoint — and I sit with a number of philosophers and lawyers at the Center for Ethics and Rule of Law at Penn Law School — torture is illegal. Now, there may be legal opinion that says this is — these — what you're doing is cleared, but torture is illegal.

    And this was brutal, and it injured these people, and in every ways, it was torture.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And I just want to get one last point in.

    Gina Haspel would be the first woman CIA director, also the first operative, the first clandestine officer in more than 50 years. Does that matter?

  • John Rizzo:

    Well on, the first point, it's certainly — it's certainly a good thing that a woman is finally appointed CIA director.

    I don't think that, frankly, affects her qualifications about whether she will be confirmed or not. But it is quite important, in my view, to have a career intelligence officer, especially operations officer, to head the CIA.

    I worked under 11 CIA directors. None had the kind of experience that Ms. Haspel had. And I'm telling you, on the inside, it is much easier and more efficient for the agency and for the country to have a CIA director in the chair who doesn't have to have on-the-job training.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    John Rizzo, Stephen Xenakis, thank you both for coming in.

  • John Rizzo:

    Thank you.

  • Stephen Xenakis:

    Thank you.

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