A top contender to lead the CIA under President-elect Joe Biden is facing fierce pushback from Democrats for his stance on post-9/11 interrogation tactics.
"I have never heard him advocate for torture. And I say that in very good conscience."
That’s veteran intelligence officer Marc Polymeropoulos defending former CIA deputy and acting director Michael Morell after some senators signaled they wouldn’t confirm him, calling Morell a "torture apologist."
"I don’t like calling it torture for one simple reason. Because to call it torture says my guys were torturers, right, and they were told that they weren’t. They were told that what they were doing was legal. And I’m gonna defend my guys ‘til my last breath," Morell told Vice News in a 2015 interview.
Morell’s spokesperson tells Newsy today Morell believes "many mistakes" were made. Polymeropoulos says Morell is an outstanding pick because of his three decades in national security and personal relationship with President-elect Biden.
"We would end up sacrificing really considerable national security experience for those that perhaps on the left would want to be totally clean. I don't think that's good for the country. And I don't think it's smart as we really need to take the intelligence community kind of into the next century," Polymeropoulos, former acting chief of clandestine operations in Europe and Eurasia, told Newsy.
The agency came under fire for using techniques like waterboarding following the Sept. 11 attacks. The former lead investigator for the Senate’s intelligence committee torture report says though Morell wasn’t involved in the program, he rejected oversight and should have penalized certain officers.
"The next CIA director needs to be able to acknowledge wrongdoing and hold their CIA officers accountable for wrongdoing," Daniel Jones, president of Advance Democracy, tells Newsy. "There's a greater charge to hold people accountable in secret organizations, and I hope the next director is able to do that."
Jones says there are plenty of other qualified candidates to lead the agency.
"To say that we need to recycle people who are engaged in a program that many believed to be illegal and was certainly immoral and and more importantly, ineffective, that we have to go back to those people, I think it's just a ridiculous thought," he says.
Newsy contacted all the Democrats on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee to gauge support for Morell — our only response, from a source close to Sen. Mark Warner, saying he doesn’t object to Morell.
Biden is also believed to be considering a diverse slate of other candidates, including former CIA station chief Darrell Blocker, former CIA deputy director David Cohen, former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vince Stewart, and Sue Gordon, who held top positions at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
"Other individuals, let me just throw out there, that are being considered for the next post of CIA director, were certainly involved later on in the Obama years in terms of counterterrorist operations and actions that also have been controversial," says Polymeropoulos. "Are we going to make that a litmus test as well for the next CIA director?"