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Trump's pick to lead CIA says she will 'never, ever' restart 9/11 waterboarding programme

Gina Haspel says she will 'never, ever take CIA back to an interrogation programme'

Emily Shugerman
New York
Wednesday 09 May 2018 15:46 BST
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Gina Haspel confirmation hearing: Haspel promises not to restart CIA programme

President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the new CIA director has said she would “never, ever” restart the controversial interrogation programme the agency used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Nominee Gina Haspel faced tough questions about her involvement with the programme during her Senate confirmation hearing. Under fire from senators, the 33-year CIA veteran promised not to reinstate the programme – which employed interrogation methods some have called torture – but refused to call the past actions immoral.

“I have views on this issue, and I want to be clear,” she told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation programme.”

Pushed by Democratic senators to declare her independence from Mr Trump, Ms Haspel went further, saying she would refuse to carry out orders from the president if she thought they would bring the CIA into immoral territory. But Ms Haspel avoided repeated questions about whether the interrogation programme was immoral, saying only that the CIA should hold itself to a “stricter moral standard” now.

“My moral compass is strong, I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal,” Ms Haspel said. “I would not permit it.”

She added: “I would never, ever take CIA back to an interrogation programme.”

Gina Haspel hearing interrupted by an anti torture protestor yelling bloody gina

Ms Haspel added that she does not believe torture works, as the president has claimed, but said that the CIA did get valuable information from its interrogation of Al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11. It is unclear whether the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were used in all of these cases.

Questions about Ms Haspel’s role in the programme stemmed largely from her time running an American “black site” prison in Thailand – the same time in which at least one detainee was waterboarded.

Groups such as Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights – and even the British government – have called such techniques torture. A Senate Intelligence Committee report from 2014 found the CIA interrogation programme was flawed and that officials portrayed it as more effective than it was.

Ms Haspel’s record at the CIA raised enough questions that Trump administration officials summoned her to the White House over the weekend for discussions. The nominee reportedly volunteered to step down at the time, but the administration assured her of its full support. Mr Trump defended his pick’s record as “tough on terror” in a Monday morning tweet.

Still, Ms Haspel’s confirmation hearing was repeatedly interrupted on Wednesday by protesters calling her “bloody Gina” and accusing her of being a torturer. Several senators said they were reluctant to approve her confirmation, for fear it would signal their acceptance of a dark period in American history.

Senators also wanted to know about Ms Haspel’s role in the destruction of nearly 100 tapes of prisoners being waterboarded in 2005. Ms Haspel has admitted to drafting a cable ordering the destruction of the video tapes, but claimed her boss, Joe Rodriguez, was the one to send it.

During the hearing, Ms Haspel emphasised that Mr Rodriguez had not consulted her before sending the final memo. She also claimed to have drafted the orders with the help of CIA lawyers, who consistently informed her that destroying the tapes was legal.

But senators pointed out that numerous officials – including two White House lawyers – opposed the destruction of the tapes at the time. Ms Haspel also knew, the senators emphasised, that the CIA lawyers were not copied on the final version of the memo that Mr Rodrigues sent out.

A 2011 disciplinary review by former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell absolved Ms Haspel of any responsibility in the incident.

Many senators were frustrated on Wednesday by the lack of publicly available information about Ms Haspel’s career, the majority of which was spent undercover. The Senate was given access to classified information about Ms Haspel’s time at the CIA, but little has been released to the public.

“So far the American people have only been given information that is designed to help you get confirmed,” Senator Ron Wyden complained. “The rest is classified.”

Ms Haspel admitted that, as acting CIA director, she had the power to decide what information about her career was released to the public. But she said that she had chosen to follow agency guidelines on declassification, and had not made any exceptions for herself.

Ms Haspel previously served as deputy director of the CIA under former director Mike Pompeo. Mr Trump nominated her to the top CIA spot after choosing Mr Pompeo to serve as secretary of state. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to lead the CIA.

The Intelligence Committee plans to hold a classified hearing with Ms Haspel this afternoon, before proceeding to a vote. To be confirmed, Ms Haspel will need the support of nearly every Republican in the Senate, where the GOP holds a slim 51-to-49 majority.

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