Tuesday 17 September 2019

Trump defends ‘tough on terror’ CIA nominee Haspel

Gina Haspel offered to withdraw her nomination amid concerns that a debate over a harsh interrogation programme would tarnish the CIA’s reputation.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

By Zeke Miller and Deb Riechmann

Donald Trump has defended his nominee to head the CIA, dismissing debate over her involvement in a harsh interrogation programme and arguing Democrats want her out because she “is too tough on terror”.

The president said on Twitter that Gina Haspel has “come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists”.

He added: “In these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!”

Ms Haspel offered to withdraw her nomination, two senior administration officials said, amid concerns that a debate over a harsh interrogation programme would tarnish her reputation and that of the CIA.

Gina Haspel

White House aides on Friday sought out additional details about her involvement in the CIA’s now-defunct programme of detaining and brutally interrogating terror suspects after 9/11 as they prepared her for Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.

This is when she offered to withdraw, the officials said.

They said Ms Haspel, who is the acting director of the CIA, was reassured that her nomination was still on track and will not withdraw.

Ms Haspel, who would be the first woman to lead the CIA, is the first career operations officer to be nominated to lead the agency in decades. She served almost entirely undercover and much of her record is classified.

Democrats say she should be disqualified because she was the chief of base at a covert detention site in Thailand where two terrorism suspects were subjected to waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.

She has told legislators in recent weeks that she would stand firm against any effort to restart the brutal detention and interrogation programme, administration officials said on Friday. She is expected to reiterate that publicly this week.

Ms Haspel, one official said, was wary of suffering the same fate as failed veterans affairs nominee Ronny Jackson and of dredging up the CIA’s troubled past.

She took over last month as the acting CIA chief after the previous director, Mike Pompeo, was sworn in as secretary of state.

After her offer to withdraw, White House aides worked to reassure her that she had the president’s support.

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