Central Intelligence Agency nominee toughens interrogation stance, picks up support

Evarado Alatorre
May 16, 2018

Gina Haspel passed her first Senate hurdle to becoming the first woman to lead the CIA, winning approval of the intelligence committee Wednesday morning.

With two of 51 Republicans committed to voting against Haspel, and five Democrats already indicating they will support her, it appears she is set to become the agency's first female director.

Most likely now that she has the votes to be confirmed, or in the off chance to cast the deciding vote against her, U.S. Senator Doug Jones of Alabama issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon announcing his decision to vote against Haspel.

The controversial episodes in Haspel's career include a stint overseeing a secret prison in Thailand where brutal interrogations were conducted, and her role drafting the 2005 cable ordering the destruction of 92 videotapes depicting the interrogation of one detainee.

"With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the C.I.A. should have undertaken", she wrote in a letter to the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Joe Donnelly of IN and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota came out IN support of her late Tuesday afternoon. Haspel has been criticized for supervising a Central Intelligence Agency black site in Thailand where detainees were brutally interrogated, as well as for her role in the destruction of Central Intelligence Agency interrogation tapes. The committee's eight Republicans were joined by Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Some of Ms. Haspel's past actions and beliefs did not meet that standard. "I believe that she will be a strong advocate for the Agency's workforce, and an independent voice who can and will stand up on behalf of our nation's intelligence community".

Her confirmation hearing last week was dominated by questions about her part in the spy agency's use of methods such as waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, more than a decade ago under President George W. Bush. The only Senate Republicans who are not expected to vote for her are Kentucky's Rand Paul and Arizona's John McCain, who is battling cancer and is not expected to be present for the ballot.

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Bolstering the comments she made during her hearing, Haspel wrote, "I do not support use of enhanced interrogation techniques for any goal".

Besides Warner, at least four other Democrats, all up for re-election this year in states that backed Trump in 2016, have expressed support for Haspel.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will support Haspel as well, his office said.

Trump himself has said the country should consider resuming the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

"Gina Haspel is the most qualified person the president could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70-year history of the agency", said committee chairman Richard Burr in a statement.

A letter from more than 100 former US ambassadors said Haspel's confirmation would undermine diplomatic efforts to discourage torture by tyrants in other countries.

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