- - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Will Dianne Feinstein come through for Donald Trump? The liberal California senator is under heavy pressure to block the president’s pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel, a highly respected 32-year agency veteran whose support of enhanced interrogation techniques after Sept. 11, 2001 has made her a hate figure on the left.

She’s been dubbed “Bloody Gina” and a “war criminal” by her foes. Urging the Senate to reject her, Kelly Magsamen of the leftwing Center for American Progress has accused Ms. Haspel of being “directly involved in one of the CIA’s darkest moments in history.” Faiz Shakir, the American Civil Liberties Union’s political director, has threatened to mount an “educational campaign” against Ms. Haspel if Ms. Feinstein doesn’t forcefully oppose her, a move certain to tarnish the senator’s image among liberals in the June Democratic primary.

The Democratic left thinks it has leverage over the 84-year old senator because she is not only up for re-election but failed to secure the state Democratic party’s endorsement in San Diego in February. State Senate leader Kevin de Leon captured 54 percent of the convention delegates (1508) while Ms. Feinstein was far behind with 37 percent (1023). Mr. De Leon, her major challenger so far, has already zinged Ms. Feinstein for her refusal to lead the charge against Ms. Haspel.

Ms. Feinstein, however, is insisting she won’t make a final determination on Ms. Haspel until after the CIA releases all information relating to her involvement in the agency’s interrogation program. What has clearly troubled the Democratic left even more, however, is that Ms. Feinstein, despite her opposition to enhanced interrogation methods, has had many positive things to say about Mr. Trump’s CIA choice, even though she had previously blocked the effort of the agency to have Ms. Haspel run its clandestine operations.

“I have spent some time with her,” Ms. Feinstein has told the media since Ms. Haspel’s nomination. “We’ve had dinner together. We have talked. Everything I know is she has been a good deputy director. She seems to have the confidence of the agency, which is good.”

Nor is Ms. Feinstein the only Democrat or liberal who appears “soft” on Ms. Haspel. Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he’s had “a very good working relationship with her,” while Amy Jeffress, who worked closely with Ms. Haspel on national security issues as an aide to Mr. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, insists Ms. Haspel would be “a thoughtful and conscientious leader of the CIA.”

Ms. Haspel’s credentials are clearly impressive. Now the agency’s deputy director, she previously held two key jobs in the clandestine service and has received sterling reviews from former CIA operatives and FBI agents, who, according to even a New York Times profile, describe her as a tough, talented, apolitical professional.

Still the hard left can’t forgive her for having once supported harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the wake of 9/11, even though many honorable operatives believe they were crucial in shedding light on the al Queda terrorist network that carried out that devastating attack. President Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, opposed these techniques largely because he believed that they damaged America’s image. But he strongly defends those like Ms. Haspel who implemented those policies.

In his book, “Worthy Fights,” he insists harsh interrogation methods did, in fact, produce “leads that helped our government understand al Queda’s organization, methods and leadership.” Contrary to critics, he stresses, “we got important, even critical intelligence, from individuals subjected to these enhanced interrogation techniques.” It is “foolish to maintain” otherwise. And again: “[W]e should be clear-eyed about the fact that we gave up those practices at a cost — that there is information we might never have received had interrogators not been allowed to inflict pressure, anxiety and even pain on subjects.”

Support for Ms. Haspel among intelligence experts is strong. She gets along well with the president and is admired by her peers. Nor was her support for enhanced interrogation techniques unique among those in the national security field in the devastating aftermath of 9/11. And why, say backers, should she be slammed for following national policy when a) it proved effective and b) the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel ruled that harsh interrogation was perfectly legal in the kind of war we were fighting, as was affirmed in 2005 by the unanimous opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Ms. Haspel’s approval by the Senate is far from certain. With Rand Paul having expressed his firm opposition and John McCain’s vote in doubt, the Senate Republicans can’t afford to lose another in their own ranks if she’s to be confirmed. So Democratic progressives like Elizabeth Warren and libertarian Republicans like Mr. Paul are counting on Ms. Feinstein, with all her credibility as former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to upend Mr. Trump’s pick.

Ms. Haspel’s hearing are expected in April. Will Feinstein, who many think would back Ms. Haspel if it weren’t for the primary and the increasing radicalization of her own party, buckle to the pressure? It would be a sign of patriotism and courage, say many, if she didn’t.

Allan H. Ryskind was a longtime editor and owner of Human Events. His latest book is “Hollywood Traitors” (Regnery, 2015).


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