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CIA nominee wins Senate panel backing, confirmation expected

| Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:21 a.m.
Veteran covert operative Gina Haspel was approved May 16, 2018 to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency in a crucial Senate panel vote, despite her record of involvement in torture in the early 2000s.
AFP/Getty Images
Veteran covert operative Gina Haspel was approved May 16, 2018 to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency in a crucial Senate panel vote, despite her record of involvement in torture in the early 2000s.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., goes behind closed doors as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee arrive to vote on Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., goes behind closed doors as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee arrive to vote on Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the CIA, won the backing of the Senate intelligence committee on Wednesday, paving the way for her expected confirmation to lead the spy agency.

The panel voted 10-5 to advise the full Senate to confirm Haspel, whose nomination has renewed debate over the harsh interrogation program the CIA conducted on terror suspects after 9/11. Haspel, who supervised a CIA detention site in Thailand in 2002, has told Congress that the agency shouldn't have used those harsh tactics and has vowed not to restart them.

The committee released the result of the vote, conducted in closed session, without giving further details. However, all eight Republicans and two of the seven Democrats on the panel earlier expressed support for Haspel. The remaining five Democrats had announced their opposition.

The confirmation vote by the full Senate could occur before the end of the week.

“Gina Haspel is the most qualified person the president could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70 year history of the agency,” said Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. “She has acted morally, ethically, and legally, over a distinguished 30-year career and is the right person to lead the agency into an uncertain and challenging future.”

She also had the support of the committee's top-ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

“As director of the CIA, Gina Haspel will be the first operations officer in more than five decades to lead the agency,” Warner said.

“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,” he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has staunchly opposed Haspel, called her nomination one of the most “self-serving abuses of power in recent history” because Haspel, as acting CIA director, was in a decision-making role in determining what parts of her undercover career were declassified. He likened that to a “stacking of the deck” and said he would continue to seek the declassification of details about her past activities at the agency.

Warner said he would continue to seek the declassification of a Justice Department report about the destruction of more than 90 videotapes showing the harsh interrogation of one terror suspect. No charges were filed as a result of that report. Haspel drafted a cable that ordered the tapes destroyed, but the cable was sent by her boss, Jose Rodriguez, who has repeatedly taken responsibility for the order.

The interrogation program became one of the darkest chapters of the CIA's history and tainted America's image worldwide after the Sept. 11 attacks. Haspel has not disclosed any details of what she did in connection with the program or say whether she thought it had been immoral.

But during her confirmation hearing last week, she said she doesn't believe torture works as an interrogation technique and that her “strong moral compass” would prevent her from carrying out any presidential order she found objectionable.

“With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken,” according to Haspel's written answers to some 60 additional questions from lawmakers.

Bolstering the comments she made during her hearing, Haspel wrote, “I do not support use of enhanced interrogation techniques for any purpose.”

Attention now turns to the vote by the full Senate, which has yet to be scheduled. Haspel has already won the backing of several Democrats. They include Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelley of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. The only Senate Republicans who are not expected to vote for her are Kentucky's Rand Paul and Arizona's John McCain, who is battling cancer and is not expected to be present for the ballot.

Haspel's opponents, however, continue to weigh into the debate.

“Ms. Haspel is cynically trying to offer mere words in an attempt to win votes to support her confirmation,” said Gen. Charles Krulak, former commandant of the Marine Corps.

“The definition of moral courage is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons when no one's looking. Gina Haspel failed that test,” said Krulak, who organized a letter signed by more than 100 retired generals and admirals expressing concern over her nomination.

Daphne Eviatar with Amnesty International on Tuesday called Haspel's nomination an “affront to human rights.”

“This country has not held any officials accountable for the use of torture, so it's even more outrageous that the government is considering someone to the chief intelligence position in spite of her alleged participation in that clearly illegal and immoral activity,” she said.

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