What started as a murmur is turning into a yell. On Wednesday, a coalition of religious leaders and human rights groups joined to protest the promotion of a CIA officer accused of advocating for torture in the aftermath of 9/11.
In a letter to CIA Director John Brennan, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and a handful of other groups urged the nation's top spy to demote or fire an undercover CIA officer under consideration to permanently lead the CIA's clandestine service.
"We are deeply concerned by reports in reputable news sources that you are considering appointing as the new Director of Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency an individual who reportedly was closely involved in setting up CIA secret detention facilities (known as 'black sites')," reads the letter, obtained by Foreign Policy. "The same person was also allegedly involved in creating and operating the CIA interrogation program, which employed torture, and ordering the destruction of interrogation videotapes that depicted torture."
Because the officer is undercover, her identity is a secret. But last month, the Washington Post revealed the contours of her career. She is highly respected within the agency and would be the first female director of the clandestine service, the CIA branch responsible for sending spies overseas and running the drone program. However, she also helped run the CIA's controversial interrogation program and personally signed off on the destruction of videotapes documenting interrogation abuses, including a tape that reportedly shows Abu Zubaydah "vomiting and screaming" while getting waterboarded. To this day, many consider the destruction of the tapes a concerted coverup of interrogation abuses.
The coalition is led by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an anti-torture group formed in 2006 that boasts representatives from Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and mainline Protestant communities. Other signatories of the letter include the Center for Victims of Torture, the Open Society Policy Center, and Physicians for Human Rights. This represents the first organized effort against the CIA officer in question.
Last week, former Bush administration officials John Yoo and Marc Thiessen wrote in National Review and the Washington Post respectively to defend the officer, who they said was falling victim to the Obama administration's "politicization of the CIA."
"Brennan is blocking the most qualified operative to head the CIA's key division because of her involvement in interrogations," wrote Yoo, a former White House lawyer and legal mastermind behind the Bush administration's interrogation program. "Clearly, diversity only goes so far for the Left."
The words of support from Yoo and Thiessen were preceded by criticisms of the officer by Glenn Carle, a 23-year veteran of the clandestine service, who told FP that promoting the officer would be a mistake. "We should repudiate these sorts of practices, whatever the pressures and judgements of the moment were."
In considering the next head of the clandestine service, Brennan has taken the unusual step of appointing a panel of three former CIA officers (John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes, and Mary Margaret Graham) to sift through the list of top candidates. At press time, the CIA did not respond to a request for comment, but spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told FP last month the woman in question "is one of the most senior and respected officers in the Agency and is, of course, a strong candidate for the job." The letter protesting her appointment appears below: