Key Democrat backs Haspel for CIA director after she says interrogation program should not have been started
Gina Haspel, President Trump's pick to lead the CIA, testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 9. (Andrew Harnik/AP) May 15 at 3:18 PM Email the author
Gina Haspel appears to have secured enough votes to be confirmed as the countryâs next CIA director after stating in a letter to a top Democrat that the agency never should have detained terrorist suspects and employed brutal interrogation techniques against them.
In announcing his support for Haspel, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said Tuesday that he had asked her to write down her views because he believed that in on e-on-one meetings she had expressed greater regret, and more resolute moral opposition to the agencyâs interrogation program than she had communicated during her confirmation hearing last week.
âI believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President if ordered to do something illegal or immoral â" like a return to torture,â Warner said in a statement, citing his past interaction with Haspel and the overwhelming support for her among the agencyâs rank and file and the wider intelligence community. He added that he also had ârespectâ for those âwho have made a different decisionâ about her nomination.
Warnerâs support for Haspel provides more opportunity for her to gain the backing of other lawmakers who were on the fence about her nomination. Several Democrats facing tough reelection battles this year, as well as Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), have been caught between the pressures of an administration and agency forcefully lobbying for Haspelâs confirmation and the admonitions of senior senators like John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who have said that a vote for Haspel is effectively telling the world that the United States condones torture.
Minutes after Warnerâs announcement, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) â" one of the GOPâs prime targets in 2018 â" announced she too would be supporting Haspel.
âThis was not an easy decision. Ms. Haspelâs involvement in torture is deeply troubling as my friend and colleague, John McCain, so eloquently reminded us,â Heitkamp said in a statement. âHowever, Ms. Haspel explained to me that the agency should not have employed such tactics in teh past and has assured me that it will not do so in the future.â
[Gina Haspel, Trumpâs pick to lead CIA, pledges she wonât restart interrogation program]
Warner said in an interview that he had âbeen wrestling with thisâ decision in light of warnings about the mess age endorsing someone with Haspelâs record would send. He said those concerns were âall fair points.â
But he stressed that Haspel âhad been more forthcoming in private,â and that for a career spy like Haspel, it had to have been âhard to have that kind of debut in that public a settingâ and address every question perfectly.
He added that the CIA would also be making âsome fuller declassificationâ of records related to Haspelâs career, but that he âwould always urge more.â
Haspel, who played an integral role in the CIAâs interrogation program, pledged during her confirmation hearing last week that she would not restart it if approved to lead the agency. She refused to say, however, that the program had been immoral or wrong, defending the agencyâs actions â" and her own â" as legal.
Haspel took steps to right that record in her letter to Warner, dated Monday.
âWith the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senio r agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken,â Haspel wrote, citing âhard lessonsâ that she and others at the CIA had learned.
Haspelâs letter was first reported by CNN.
She stopped short of condemning the people âthat made these hard calls,â and again cited âvaluable intelligence collectedâ through the program â" despite the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committeeâs report on torture, released in 2014, which concluded the CIAâs interrogation methods were not a viable means of gaining information. Those omissions â" plus the fact that almost all records related to her career have not been declassified â" will likely keep dozens of Democrats from voting for her.
But in saying the CIA never should have embarked on the program in the first place, she is putting distance between herself and other senior intelligence officials, many of whom acknowledge that the CIA made mistakes but defen d the interrogation program as legal, presidentially authorized and a legitimate response to the immediate threat of attacks by al-Qaeda.
[Undercover to under scrutiny: Gina Haspel, nominee to head CIA, faces scrutiny over interrogation program]
âThe United States must be an example to the rest of the world, and I support that,â Haspel wrote in her letter.
She also said it âwas a mistake not to brief the entire Committee at the beginningâ of the program, acknowledging criticism that the CIA didnât do enough to keep more than a handful of congressional overseers up to speed. At the same time, she appeared to implicate those members who did know about the interrogation program.
âBoth the Committee and the Agency shared the goal of obtaining the critical intelligence needed to thwart another attack,â Haspel wrote.
Haspel played an integral role in the CIAâs program, both as a senior leader in the agencyâs Counterterrorism Center and a supervisor of a secret facility in Thailand. While she was there, the CIA subjected one detainee to waterboarding.
Notably absent from Haspelâs letter was any statement about her role in destroying 92 videotapes of interrogations carried out at the Thailand facility.
Haspel has said that she drafted a cable authorizing the destruction, which was sent by her boss, former operations director Jose Rodriguez, in 2005. But Haspel claims that she believed Rodriguez would first get permission from the CIA director and its top lawyer before dispatching the cable. Rodriguez has said publicly that Haspel knew he intended to take the matter into his own hands and issue the order, because he believed he had the authority to do so.Source: G oogle News