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Republican Senator Rand Paul vows to block Donald Trump's choices for Secretary of State and CIA director

'I think the debate over whether or not America is a country in favour of torture or not is an important one,' senator says

Emily Shugerman
New York
Thursday 15 March 2018 01:36 GMT
Senator Rand Paul speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol
Senator Rand Paul speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A Republican senator has come out against Donald Trump’s nominees for secretary of state and CIA director, throwing into question whether the president's picks will make it past their confirmation hearings.

Senator Rand Paul told reporters he would oppose the nomination of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and Gina Haspel for CIA director, hinting he might go as far as to stage a filibuster during their hearings. Mr Paul took issue with the nominees’ support for the Iraq War, as well as their ties to enhanced interrogation techniques – techniques the senator and many others refer to as “torture”.

“People complain sometimes about the filibuster; they complain about trying to obstruct. I think the debate over whether or not America is a country in favour of torture or not is an important one,” Mr Paul said. “I’m going to do everything I can to block them.”

Mr Pompeo and Ms Haspel must pass a simple majority vote in the Senate in order to be confirmed. Republicans currently hold a slim 51-49 majority in the upper chamber – meaning that if all Democrats vote “no” on the confirmations, the GOP will have little room for intra-party defection.

Mr Paul’s vote is especially important, as he serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee is required to vote on Mr Pompeo's nomination before it moves to the full Senate.

Rex Tillerson fired: Trump has 'total confidence' in new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Mr Paul accused Ms Haspel of being a “direct participation in interrogation” and finding “gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone who was being tortured”.

Ms Haspel, the current deputy director of the CIA, has previously been tied to controversial interrogation techniques. Among other things, the CIA veteran oversaw an American “black site” prison where detainees were waterboarded and subjected to other harsh questioning methods, according to a Senate report.

Mr Pompeo, meanwhile, has criticised the Obama administration for shutting down the black site prisons, and expressed support for so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

A number of other politicians and activist groups have spoken out against the nominations, which were spurred by Mr Trump’s decision to fire Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called Ms Haspel a “central figure in one of the most illegal and shameful chapters in modern American history” and called on the CIA to declassify and release every aspect of her involvement with the interrogation programme.

Republican Senator John McCain has also signalled some opposition to Ms Haspel, saying she should divulge “the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation programme”. Mr McCain was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters he was not urging his fellow Democrats to oppose Mr Pompeo’s or Ms Haspel’s nominations at this point. Fourteen Democrats, including Mr Schumer, supported Mr Pompeo’s nomination to CIA director last year.

Mr Schumer said he was he was reserving judgment for Mr Pompeo’s confirmation hearing, slated for April.

"I'm not taking a position until we hear from him, but there are lots of outstanding questions," he said.

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