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President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency oversaw the torture of terrorism suspects at a secret CIA prison in Thailand in 2002 and helped destroyed videotapes documenting the brutality.
Trump’s decision to name Gina Haspel as the intelligence agency’s first female director is likely to face fierce opposition from Democrats and civil-liberties groups. Haspel has been the agency’s second-in-command since February 2017, when Trump appointed her.
But unlike the deputy director, the CIA director must be confirmed by the Senate, where several influential Democrats have protested Haspel over her role in CIA torture while she was a clandestine agency officer. On June 7, the EU Center for Constitutional and Human Rights called on Germany to issue a warrant for her arrest warrant over the torture allegations.
Haspel would replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whom Trump nominated this morning to become secretary of state, replacing the ousted Rex Tillerson.
Haspel ran the first overseas detention site that the CIA created after the 9/11 attacks so it could interrogate suspects outside of the US, where laws prohibit torture. At the Thailand site that Haspel ran, CIA officers brutally interrogated suspected al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah. Interrogators slammed him against a wall repeatedly, poured water over his face until he started to suffocate and confined him for hours in a cramped box.
Three years later, the CIA destroyed a videotape of the torture along with 91 other tapes documenting the agency’s brutal interrogations in overseas “black sites.” Haspel drafted the order to destroy the tapes, according to a news report, though the CIA has said the ultimate decision to destroy that tapes was made by Haspel’s boss, Jose Rodriguez, who was head of the agency’s clandestine service.
When Trump named Haspel the agency’s deputy director, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich urged Trump to reconsider the appointment. “Her background makes her unsuitable for the position,” the senators wrote Trump. Both are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and they urged the declassification of information about Haspel.
On Tueday, Wyden said he would oppose both Haspel's and Rompeo's nominations.
“Ms. Haspel's background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director,” Wyden said in a statement. “Her nomination must include total transparency about this background.”
Republican Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, at the time called Haspel “undoubtedly the right person for the job” and said she had over the years “impressed us with her dedication, forthrightness, and her deep commitment to the intelligence community.”
John Brennan, who was CIA director from 2013 to 2017, praised Haspel in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC, noting that the controversial interrogation program she oversaw in Thailand had been authorized by President George W. Bush and deemed lawful by the Justice Department.
“She has tremendous respect within the ranks. She was involved in a very very controversial program, and I know that the Senate confirmation process will look at that very closely,” Brennan said. “But Gina Haspel has a lot of integrity. She has tried to carry out her duties at the CIA to the best of her ability, even when the CIA was asked to do some very diff things in very challenging times.”
Trump said in a statement that Haspel would achieve “a historic milestone” as the first CIA director. “Mike [Pompeo] and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.”
Haspel, a CIA veteran with more than 30 years experience, served temporarily in 2013 as head of the agency’s clandestine service. But her role in the clandestine torture program prompted Brennan to name another candidate to take the job permanently.