WASHINGTON (CN) – More than 100 retired military generals and officers submitted a letter to the U.S. Senate on Monday, panning Gina Haspel’s nomination to be the next CIA director due to her time running a CIA black site prison in Thailand where suspected terrorists were waterboarded in 2002.
Haspel is the first woman ever nominated to lead to the spy agency, but that milestone has been overshadowed by questions and criticism over her involvement with what, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was referred to as the United States’ “enhanced interrogation” program.
“We are deeply troubled by the prospect of someone who appears to have been intimately involved in torture being elevated to one of the most important positions of leadership in the intelligence community,” the four-page letter from the former military officials states.
It is signed by dozens of retired generals, vice admirals, majors and others including four-star General John Dailey.
Dailey served two tours in Vietnam and retired from the U.S. Marine Corps before becoming NASA’s associate deputy administrator.
Former U.S. Army vice chief of staff and four-star General Ronald Griffith also signed the letter, as didf our-star General Richard Hearney, previously assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Urging the senate to reject Haspel’s nomination, the officers called her public record “concerning” and “incomplete.”
“There are multiple uncontested reports that she ran a CIA black site prison, [where] at least one detainee, Abd alRahim al-Nashiri, was repeatedly tortured, including by waterboarding,” the letter states. “In addition, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo has stated that for some period of time a person we now know to be Ms. Haspel oversaw the CIA’s entire interrogation program—a program that was rife with mismanagement and abuse.”
Monday’s letter comes just three days after CBS News reported it obtained a declassified 2011 internal memo from the CIA absolving Haspel of responsibility for the activities at the black site, as well as for destroying 92 tapes showing the waterboarding of terrorism suspects in 2005.
According to the declassified memo written by Michael Morell, the former CIA deputy director responsible for Haspel’s evaluation, he “found no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel.”
“I have concluded that she acted appropriately in her role as Mr. Rodriguez’s Chief of Staff,” Morell said.
At the time, Jose Rodriguez was the CIA’s directorate of operations.
“It was not her decision to destroy the tapes, it was Mr. Rodriguez’s,” the memo continues.
In the memo, Morell also noted that while Haspel drafted a cable authorizing the destruction of the tapes, she did not release that cable.
In their letter, General Dailey and others rejected explanations that Haspel was “just following orders or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct.”
“We did not accept the ‘just following orders’ justification after World War II, and we should not accept it now. Waterboarding and other forms of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment are — and always have been — clearly unlawful. Individuals in the service of our country, even at the lowest levels, have a duty to refuse to carry out such actions,” the letter states.
The officers urged a “full declassification” of the nominee’s background, including any information about her roles in rendition, detention and interrogation.
Should the record show she played any role “in carrying out, supervising or directing any form of torture or detainee abuse,” the senate must reject her nomination, the military officials said.
Haspel is scheduled to be confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 9.
Her nomination has already given some lawmakers pause, including. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Feinstein, along with a handful of other Democratic lawmakers, submitted letters to the CIA last week questioning the nomination.
Feinstein slammed the agency in a statement last week, saying they were only declassifying material favorable Haspel “while at the same time stonewalling efforts to declassify all documents related to her involvement in the torture program.”
On Sunday, Feinstein appeared on the CBS Sunday news show “Face the Nation” and told host Margaret Brennan she considered Haspel “talented,” but knew she regretted her decisions.
“The point is that she was supportive of the program while it was going on and actually supervised one of the sites where some of this ‘interrogation’ so-called went on. She’s the number two position now. That’s different from number one, the head of the CIA worldwide,” Feinstein told Brennan. “There are countries that look very badly on what the United States did, particularly European countries. And we want whoever is head of the CIA to be able to be acceptable to our allies. So this is an open question in my mind. We need to resolve it. We have not yet had the hearings. I generally do not make up my mind until after the hearing.”
For their part, the generals emphasized their apprehension over the pending confirmation.
“It would send a terrible signal to confirm as the next Director of the CIA someone who was so intimately involved in this dark chapter of our nation’s history,” they wrote.
Like Haspel, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, also faces a fraught confirmation process.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee may not have enough votes to recommend him for confirmation this week since all of the committee’s democrats, and at least one Republican member have already expressed opposition to him, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Support for Pompeo has been anything but bipartisan.
Committee chairman and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that rejection of Pompeo has been based on politics.
“We are in an era where somebody like this, who is qualified, unfortunately, is likely to be voted out without recommendation or with a negative recommendation,” Corker said. “It’s just sad that our nation has devolved politically to this point.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also chimed in, telling correspondents on Fox News that “at some point” Democrats would “have to decide whether they love this country, more than they hate this president.”
In the run up to this week’s hearing, democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware issued a statement saying he wouldn’t vote for Pompeo because he believes the CIA director would “embolden, rather than moderate or restrain” President Trump’s “most belligerent and dangerous instincts.”
If enough favorable votes aren’t shored up, senators will likely decide against issuing a recommendation for the CIA director.
Pompeo could be the first nominee the committee has passed on since John Bolton was nominated to serve as ambassador to the United Nations by former President George W. Bush.