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Allegations Of Torture Have Blocked The Rise Of Trump’s Choice To Lead The CIA Before


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 destroy videotapes documenting the brutality.

Trump’s decision to name Gina Haspel as the intelligence agency’s first female director stirred immediate opposition this morning from at least two Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union. 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 over the torture allegations.

Haspel would replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whom Trump said he would nominate to become secretary of state, replacing the ousted Rex Tillerson.

Republican Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said this morning he will support Haspel. “I know Gina personally and she has the right skill set, experience, and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies,” Burr said in a statement.

Burr told BuzzFeed News that he was not concerned with Haspel’s interrogation of terror suspects. “No, I think the person who expressed the most concern is Sen. Feinstein.”

Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that she thought Haspel “has been a good deputy director” of the CIA. “It’s no secret I’ve had concerns in the past with her connection to the CIA torture program and have spent time with her discussing this,” Feinstein added. “I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again.”

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 that site in Thailand, 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.

Zubaydah has been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp since 2003, and his value as an information source has been disputed. President George W. Bush and CIA leaders said he provided helpful information. But Zubaydah’s lawyer, Brent Mickum, wrote in 2009 that his client never belonged to al-Qaida or the Taliban, never fought against the US and was tortured so badly that “it’s not surprising that the videotapes of his torture were destroyed.”

Three years after Zubaydah’s interrogation, 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.

Rodriguez wrote in his 2013 memoir “Hard Measures” that Haspel had “drafted a cable” ordering the 92 tapes to be destroyed. Rodriguez wrote that he “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.”

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 Pompeo’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.”

But Burr, the committee chairman, said in his statement that he wants to ensure Haspel’s nomination is considered “without delay.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, also said she would oppose both nominations and said Haspel’s “reprehensible actions should disqualify her from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again.”

In early 2017, 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 difficult things in very challenging times.”

The ACLU issued a statement Tuesday denouncing Haspel and questioning whether she, as a career CIA officer, has the independence to oversee the agency.

“Gina Haspel was a central figure in one of the most illegal and shameful chapters in modern American history. She was up to her eyeballs in torture, both in running a secret torture prison in Thailand and carrying out an order to cover up torture crimes by destroying videotapes,” the statement, attributed to Christopher Anders, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, said.

Trump said in a statement that Haspel would achieve “a historic milestone” as the first woman to serve as 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.

Emma Loop contributed reporting

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