Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, announced Wednesday evening that he opposes the nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA, giving Democrats a shot in the arm in their efforts to torpedo President Trump’s pick.
Mr. McCain, a victim of torture by North Vietnam as a captured Navy pilot, cited Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the torture of detainees in the war on terror.
“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,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.
Ms. Haspel oversaw a secret facility in Thailand where at least two al-Qaeda suspects were waterboarded, one of them while she was facility chief.
In her testimony before the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, Ms. Haspel attempted to address those concerns, saying she “would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal.”
She also said she “would never permit the CIA to resume an interrogation program” like the one the Bush administration approved in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But she also refused to say directly that that program was immoral or illegal.
Mr. McCain said such waffling leaves him no choice but to oppose the nomination.
“Unfortunately, the testimony the American people heard today failed to address these concerns,” Mr. McCain wrote.
Even though Mr. McCain has not voted for some weeks as he battles cancer, the Senate is so closely divided that one senator can be decisive in highly-partisan votes.
Only one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has said he will vote to confirm Ms. Haspel. Before Wednesday, one other Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, had said he would oppose the nomination.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona have said they were undecided, and either could now torpedo the nomination in a chamber in which Republicans hold only a 51-49 advantage, plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence.
The declaration, from a man who endured repeated bone-breaking beatings while a prisoner of war, that Ms. Haspel’s assurances on torture were insufficient can be expected both to increase pressure on wavering senators and provide moral grounds to vote against her.