Sunday 21 October 2018

Trump nominee to be CIA chief vows she won't sanction torture

Code Pink for Peace demonstrator David Barrows is arrested by police as he protests during CIA acting director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become the agency’s next director during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Photo: Getty
Code Pink for Peace demonstrator David Barrows is arrested by police as he protests during CIA acting director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become the agency’s next director during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Photo: Getty

Nafeesa Syeed

Gina Haspel, US President Donald Trump's choice to lead the CIA, has promised she will not resort to waterboarding and other harsh techniques she once helped supervise - but critics believe her reassurances fall short.

"Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation programme," Ms Haspel told the Senate Intelligence Committee at her confirmation hearing.

Her opponents, including human rights groups and some former military and intelligence officials, say the CIA hasn't fully disclosed her role in "enhanced interrogation" programmes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee's senior Democrat, said Ms Haspel's pledge that she'd follow the law "is not enough".

"We must hear how you would react if the president asks you to carry out some morally questionable behaviour that might seem to violate a law or treaty," Mr Warner told her. "How will you respond if a secret Justice Department opinion authorises such behaviour and gives you a 'get out of jail free' card?"

Asked repeatedly how she would respond to such an order from Mr Trump - who has supported waterboarding in the past - Ms Haspel (below) said her "moral compass is strong" and "I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral even if it was technically legal".

Mr Barrows’ fellow Code Pink for Peace protesters make their point. Photo: Getty Images
Mr Barrows’ fellow Code Pink for Peace protesters make their point. Photo: Getty Images

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the committee's Republican chairman, said Ms Haspel (61) is a "natural fit" to run the agency after three decades there and objected to turning the hearing into an inquiry "into a long-shuttered programme".

In 2002, Ms Haspel oversaw a secret prison in Thailand, where the 'New York Times' reported that an al-Qa'ida suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded three times. Ms Haspel said she could discuss such classified details only in a closed committee session to be held later in the day.

She also wrote a memorandum approving the shredding of videos that documented such methods.

She said her boss made the decision to destroy 92 tapes of a single detainee as a security matter and she agreed because "I understood our officers' faces were on them."She said she agreed with past findings of the Intelligence Committee's majority that in retrospect the "CIA was not prepared to conduct a detention and interrogation programme".

Pressed by Mr Warner and other members about whether those interrogation techniques lived up to American values, Ms Haspel said only she supports "the higher moral standard" that the US now imposes. She added: "The tragedy is that the controversy surrounding the interrogation programme" has "cast a shadow over what has been a major contribution to protecting this country".

Mr Trump defended her in a tweet, saying: "This is a woman who has been a leader wherever she has gone. The CIA wants her to lead them into America's bright and glorious future!"

Ms Haspel invoked the historical marker she would achieve as the agency's first female director.

She was introducing herself to the American people after spending "over 30 years under cover and in the shadows".

"I recall very well my first foreign agent meeting was on a dark, moonless night with an agent I'd never met before. When I picked him up, he passed me the intelligence, and I passed him an extra $500 for the men he led. It was the beginning of an adventure I had only dreamed of."

Bloomberg

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