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Trump’s CIA pick says agency will not repeat “controversial activity”

GINA HASPEL CIA
ALEX BRANDON / POOL / AFP
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Senate nomination hearing grills Gina Haspel on torture

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in her confirmation hearing Wednesday that under her leadership the agency will never again conduct the kind of detention and interrogation regime it had undertaken in the post-9/11 era.

“Having served in that tumultuous time,” Haspel said, “I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, C.I.A. will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.”

Even if the Trump administration were to produce a legal opinion justifying the use of torture, Haspel, who has been serving as acting CIA director since Mike Pompeo’s nomination as Secretary of State, said she would refuse.

“I would not put C.I.A. officers at risk by asking them to undertake risky, controversial activity again,” she said. “I would not allow C.I.A. to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”

The CIA has been criticized for its use of practices that many call torture, such as waterboarding. Though Haspel oversaw a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 while an al Qaeda suspect was waterboarded there, she said that she and other agents were working within the law. Although she said in her hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the C.I.A. should never resume that type of work, she said agents should not be judged for doing it.

“I’m not going to sit here, with the benefit of hindsight, and judge the very good people who made hard decisions, who were running the agency in very extraordinary circumstances,” the 33-year C.I.A. veteran said.

Haspel is gaining support among senators, but Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, stated that “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” McCain is being treated for brain cancer and is not expected to make it back to Washington for the vote.

According to a report in the New York Times, Haspel, 61, “bristled and pushed back on charges that the interrogation program was immoral, insisting that her own ‘moral compass is strong.’”

Committee members tried to pin down the nominee on the question of torture. “The president has asserted that torture works,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D- Calif. “Do you agree with that statement?”

Haspel said she did not believe it works but that al Qaeda operatives who were interrogated did give up useful information.

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