United States President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee toughened her public stance against harsh interrogation on Tuesday and picked up Democratic support, making it increasingly likely she will be confirmed as the agency’s next director.
“With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation programme is not one the CIA should have undertaken,” Gina Haspel said, in answers to written questions released by the Senate intelligence committee.
Mrs Haspel wrote that she had learned “hard lessons since 9/11,” in comments aimed at clarifying her position on now-banned torture techniques. Haspel said she would “refuse to undertake any proposed activity that is contrary to my moral and ethical values”.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence panel, had requested the letter, and shortly afterwards announced his support.
The committee is expected to vote on Wednesday to recommend that the full Senate confirm her.
Mrs Haspel was involved in supervising a CIA detention site in Thailand. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona urged colleagues to reject the nominee over her past role in CIA interrogations, sparking a fresh debate over the interrogation techniques.
Mr Trump himself has said the country should consider using the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. And former vice president Dick Cheney, who was integral to the post-September 11, 2001 strategy, said last week if it were up to him, “I’d do it again.”
Confirmation by the full Senate appeared likely as four Democrats - Mr Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota - announced their support. Most Republicans in the Senate are expected to vote for her except Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator McCain, who is battling cancer and not likely to vote.
In announcing his support, Senator Warner said Mrs Haspel has been “professional and forthright” with the intelligence committee. “Most importantly, I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president if ordered to do something illegal or immoral - like a return to torture,” Mr Warner said.
Mrs Haspel testified at a Senate hearing that torture does not work as an interrogation technique and that as director her strong “moral compass” would ensure she did not carry out any administrative directive she found objectionable. Her written answers to questions went further to underscore her opposition to any attempt to reinstate harsh interrogation of suspects.
After the hearing, Mr McCain, who is battling brain cancer at his home in Arizona, called Mrs Haspel a patriot for her long service to the CIA. But her role “in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”