President Donald Trump’s new pick to run the CIA, Gina Haspel, is a career officer who ran a secret prison in Thailand, or CIA black site, where suspected terrorists were waterboarded. She would be the first woman to head the agency.
Haspel, who was named the CIA’s deputy director in February 2017, briefly was in charge of a secret prison where accused terrorists Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, The Associated Press has reported. She also helped to destroy the CIA’s waterboarding videos, an order that resulted in a long Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.
Trump has supported the harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning.
Haspel served as chief of station at several CIA outposts abroad, and held top senior leaderships in Washington, D.C., including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, a section of the CIA, and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service of Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.
She was deputy director of the CIA’s Russia Group and NBC News reported that, according to former colleagues, she has a conventional, hardline view of Russia as a dangerous adversary.
But she was passed over as director of the National Clandestine Service in 2013, after serving as acting director for two months, when California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein in particular raised concerns about her role in the controversial interrogation program.
NBC News reported that Haspel was present at the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an Al-Qaida terrorist suspect who was waterboarded 83 times in one month and treated harshly in other ways until it was discovered he had no useful information.
Haspel, who joined the agency in 1985, would need to be confirmed as director by the U.S. Senate. She would replace Mike Pompeo, who would become secretary of state.
“It’s no secret I’ve had concerns in the past with her connection to the CIA torture program and have spent time with her discussing this,” Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday. “To the best of my knowledge she has been a good deputy director and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again.”
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said that he wanted to hear about the extent of Haspel’s involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program, her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law.
“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, our government squandered precious moral authority in a futile effort to produce intelligence by means of torture,” he said. “We are still dealing with the consequences of that desperately misguided decision.”
Any nominee for CIA director must pledge to uphold the current ban on harsh interrogation techniques, he said.
Haspel said in a statement that after 30 years as an officer with the CIA, she had been honored to serve as its deputy director alongside Pompeo for the last year.
“I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” she said. “If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office.”
A former CIA director, John Brennan, praised Haspel’s competence and integrity and told MSNBC that there was tremendous respect for her within the ranks. He acknowledged that she was involved in a very controversial program, a role that he predicted would receive close scrutiny during her confirmation process, but said that he thought she deserved the chance to take the helm at the CIA.
Asked if he would vouch for her, he said, “I vouch for her capabilities, her experience, her expertise, and I do have confidence that she will carry out the duties of director well. I just hope that in this administration where it seems as though loyalty seems to be the highest priority, that Gina Haspel speaks truth to power and represents the CIA in a apolitical, nonpartisan and honest and objective way.”
Some Democrats, the ACLU and other civil rights advocates objected when she was named deputy director last year.
“I am especially concerned by reports that this individual was involved in the unauthorized destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, which documented the CIA’s use of torture against two CIA detainees,” Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island wrote in a letter to Pompeo at the time.
Christopher Anders, deputy director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, said in a statement Tuesday that Haspel was “up to her eyeballs in torture.”
“The CIA must declassify and release every aspect of Haspel’s torture record before considering the nomination,” the statement added.
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