One influential Democrat announced Tuesday he’ll vote against Gina Haspel to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, saying her “background makes her unsuitable to serve.”
Sen. Ron Wyden didn’t elaborate on that background but others said Ms. Haspel, a longtime CIA operative, was involved in the agency’s waterboarding and rendition programs in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She reportedly ran a secret “blacksite” in Thailand.
“She was involved in a very, very controversial program,” former CIA Director John Brennan said on MSNBC. “I know that the Senate confirmation process will look at that very closely. I do think there’s going to be close scrutiny given to her nomination. But I do think at the end of the day she will be confirmed and should be confirmed.”
Mr. Brennan, who led the agency under President Obama and has been a vocal critic of Mr. Trump, said Ms. Haspel “has a lot of integrity.”
“She has tried to carry out her duties at CIA to the best of her ability, even when CIA was asked to do some very difficult things in very challenging times,” he said.
Human Rights First said Ms. Haspel “oversaw the agency’s torture and rendition program, one of the bleakest chapters in our nation’s history.”
“No one who had a hand in torturing individuals deserve to ever hold public office again, let alone lead an agency,” said Raha Wala, a spokeswoman for the group. “To allow someone who had a direct hand in this illegal, immoral, and counterproductive program is to willingly forget our nation’s dark history with torture.”
The group also asserted that Ms. Haspel “participated in efforts to destroy video documentation of these harsh interrogations.”
Ms. Haspel is currently deputy director at the CIA, and Mr. Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said he had raised concerns about her background when she was appointed to that position last year.
He said she will have to come clean about her past during her confirmation hearing.
“If Ms. Haspel seeks to serve at the highest levels of U.S. intelligence, the government can no longer cover up disturbing facts from her past,” he said.
Mr. Wyden also said he would vote against confirming Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, to be the State Department secretary.
President Trump on Tuesday fired current Secretary Rex Tillerson, nominated Mr. Pompeo to succeed him, and Ms. Haspel to succeed Mr. Pompeo.
Ms. Haspel would be the first woman to lead the CIA.
Mr. Brennan said the waterboarding of terrorism detainees under the administration of President George W. Bush had been deemed legal at the time.
“Don’t forget the detention interrogation program was authorized by the president of the United States, and deemed lawful by the Department of Justice,” he said. “Gina is a very competent professional who I think deserves the chance to take the helm at CIA. I just hope that in this administration, where loyalty seems to be the highest priority, that Gina speaks truth to power and represents the CIA in an apolitical, nonpartisan and objective way.”
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