Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA has told senators privately that she would stand firm against any effort to restart the brutal detention and interrogation program the spy agency ran after 9/11, administration officials said today.
In comments meant to soften the public profile of Gina Haspel before her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, two administration officials said she was not the “architect” of the programme, but a “line officer” who never interrogated any terrorism suspects.
Haspel’s vow to fight any attempt to resurrect the programme puts her in the same camp as Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who has advised Trump that he doesn’t think torture is an effective interrogation tactic. But it’s at odds with Trump, who spoke in the campaign about toughening the US approach to fighting extremists and vowed to authorise waterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse.”
Democrats, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, continue to ask the administration to declassify more detail about Haspel’s involvement in the programme, which stained America’s reputation abroad..
The two administration officials said Haspel told them that she and the agency as a whole learned lessons from the 9/11-era programme, one of the darkest chapters in the CIA’s history. Now that she is in a leadership position, she wants to make sure she never puts her CIA colleagues in a position again of taking on something so controversial and fraught with danger, they said.
Haspel has received robust backing from former intelligence, diplomatic, military and national security officials, who praise her extensive intelligence career, which she served almost entirely undercover. Among those who back her are six former CIA directors Porter Goss, John Brennan, Leon Panetta, George Tenet, William Webster and Mike Hayden and three former national intelligence directors James Clapper, Mike McConnell and John Negroponte.
“Who in their right mind would think that it is legal to slam a man face first into a wall or waterboard someone to the brink of death?” asked Chris Anders, deputy director of the ACLU’s legislative office in Washington.
“If she did not stand up for the law and basic morality when it mattered, why should any senator believe that she will say no to any illegal order from this president?” Haspel, who has been with the CIA for more than 30 years, also is expected to be grilled by the Senate intelligence committee about how she drafted a memo that called for the destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogation sessions.
Their destruction, ordered by her boss in 2005, prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.
Last month, the CIA released a memo showing Haspel was cleared of wrongdoing in the destruction of the videotapes. The eight-page memo written in 2011 summarizes a disciplinary review conducted by then-CIA deputy director Mike Morell. He said that while Haspel was one of the two officers “directly involved in the decision to destroy the tapes,” he “found no fault” with what she did.