WASHINGTON (CN) – Anticipating a stormy reception when she appears on Capitol Hill next week, the White House has drafted a 27-page memo providing talking points to back up Gina Haspel’s controversial nomination to lead the CIA.
The existence of the memo was first reported by The Hill Thursday morning. It purportedly focuses on five broad points that supporters of Haspel are urged to use in defending the nominee, who is expected to face a difficult confirmation fight in the Senate.
Haspel is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 9.
Haspel has been panned both by Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 retired military generals and officers who object to her running the CIA after overseeing one of the agency’s black site prisons in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The White House memo reportedly emphasizes Haspel’s “common sense” leadership and touts a would-be milestone for the agency if her nomination succeeds: Haspel would be the first woman to serve as director of the CIA.
The memo also offers generalized counter-arguments to those critics who may defend her involvement with the agency’s interrogation of suspected terrorists which included torture.
According to a declassified 2011 internal memo from the CIA, Haspel was technically absolved from any responsibility for activities at the black site as well as the destruction of 92 tapes which showed suspects being water boarded in 2005.
Former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell said he “found no fault” with Haspel’s performance at the time and that she “acted appropriately in her role” as chief of staff for the CIA’s directorate of operations Jose Rodriguez.
Rodriguez emphasized in the 2011 memo “it was not her decision to destroy the tapes,” but rather that of her supervisor. Morell also noted that while Haspel wrote the cable authorizing the destruction of the tapes, she did not release that cable.
Haspel’s time in Thailand is not specifically mentioned in the White House talking points but reportedly notes that if “pressed on a specific matter,” her defenders are encouraged to respond: “She is an intelligence and national security expert who follows the law as written and has demonstrated strong and clear leadership in very challenging positions.”
Haspel’s current role as acting director at the CIA – and the ease of transition if nominated – is also a point her supporters are expected to lean on.
In another talking point, her “strong working relationship with White House senior staff and other officials” are emphasized as well as her experience serving under former CIA director turned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
To further dilute criticism, the memo also suggests focusing on Haspel’s numerous awards for her service with the CIA.
Those awards include the Presidential Rank Award for federal civil service; the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit award; the George H.W. Bush award, which is granted for “excellence in counterterrorism” and the Donovan Award which is given to individuals serving in the CIA’s directorate of operations.
Haspel’s hearing could be complicated further if mention of a motion recently filed by Joseph Margulies, attorney for terrorism suspect Abu Zubadayah, comes up.
Zubadayah was tortured and water boarded in 2002 and his attorney claims that he is the subject in many of the videos that were destroyed.
Margulies filed a motion on May 1 requesting a federal judge compel the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct a search for the destroyed torture tapes and attest to their findings under oath.
The motion also included a sworn declaration from Gail Helt, who said she believes some of the tapes still exist.
Haspel’s nomination caused her to speak up for the first time, Helt told the Daily Beast.
Helt admitted she does not have firsthand knowledge that the tapes survived, but rather her account stems from a 2013 conversation with a CIA colleague who said the tapes still existed.
“If [Gina Haspel] is connected to this [torture] program, and I certainly believe she is, and these tapes exist, it’s in the public interest that we all know what the government has done and could potentially do again. That really concerns me,” Helt said Tuesday.
In an interview with Courthouse News Thursday, Gail Helt said she thinks its “frightening that anyone with the ties to torture that Ms. Hapsel is alleged to have is being considered to head the CIA.”
“Her confirmation would send the message to subordinates that there are no consequences for anything, raising the likelihood that this happens again. I hope senators keep that in mind as they cast their votes. An America that ignores torture is not the America most of us were raised to believe in,” Helt said.
Dozens of health professionals, bioethicists and physicians have also called for Haspel’s nomination to be rescinded, writing in a letter submitted to the Senate on Thursday that as members of Physicians for Human Rights, they have “grave concern” over Haspel’s qualifications given her “reported role in the CIA’s post 9/11 rendition, detention and interrogation program.”
“As health experts who understand the profound mental, physical, and societal effects of torture, we oppose the selection of a nominee who helped conceal the use of torture and held a leadership position at a “black site” where it occurred,” the letter states. “She was in a position to know about and influence aspects of a program that purposefully inflicted severe suffering and harm on individuals, to whom the United States has yet to provide rehabilitation or redress as required under the UN Convention Against Torture, a treaty ratified by the United States.”
“In Thailand, Haspel worked with contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who developed the experimental torture methods used on Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim alNashiri, and many others,” the letter continues.
The Physicians for Human Rights also requested a full investigation and disclosure of Haspel’s role in the torture program.
“Promoting her to the CIA’s highest position would send a dangerous message contrary to the nation’s laws and values. It would also represent a betrayal to victims of torture everywhere, as well as to the American public, which expect U.S. personnel to adhere to the highest legal and ethical standards.”