Top US Senate intelligence Democrat backs Trump CIA nominee

Clay Curtis
May 16, 2018

The nominee to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, said in a letter that the spy agency should not have undertaken a harsh interrogation campaign, which included waterboarding terrorism suspects, following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

While many Democrats in the Senate say they oppose Haspel's nomination because of her supervision of the harsh interrogation techniques used in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency won support from Virginia's Mark Warner, the intelligence panel's top Democrat. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted today to recommend her confirmation to the full Senate.

Haspel pledged at her confirmation hearing that she would never restart the interrogation program put in place after the September 11 attacks, but did not go as far as saying it should not have been started.

In a letter to Sen.

Heitkamp's announcement came soon after another Democratic senator, Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, said he would support Haspel.

The letter was dated Monday.

At her confirmation hearing last week, Haspel promised the Intelligence Committee that she would not restart the CIA's torture program, even if pressured to do so by President Trump.

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"I think it ought to be made available to all senators if not the general public", King said of the Justice Department report. "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", Warner said.

But for Warner, and for the Democrats who followed his lead to also announce their support for Haspel on Tuesday, it was enough.

She ran a black-site prison in Thailand where a high-level terrorist was detained and tortured in 2002. Three years later, when she was based at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters outside Washington, Haspel wrote a cable calling for videotapes of the waterboarding to be destroyed.

In announcing her support, Heitkamp said it was not an easy decision. This brings the overall count to five Democrats.

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.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted Tuesday that her confirmation vote could come as early as this week.

It was Haspel's reticence to say that the CIA's interrogation program was, in retrospect, morally wrong that sparked the Senate's authorities on torture - namely, Sens. Former CIA Director John Brennan contacted her, Warner, and Sens. In November, McCain convinced Manchin to vote against Steven Bradbury to become the general counsel of the Department of Transportation because of his role in crafting the memos that authorized the CIA's use of torture in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

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