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CIA chief nominee vows not to restart interrogation program

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's ...

Posted: May 9, 2018 3:43 PM
Updated: May 9, 2018 3:43 PM

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's pick to be the next CIA director, pledged Wednesday she would not restart the CIA's detention and interrogation program and that she would not follow an order that she found morally objectionable.

"I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal," Haspel said. "I would absolutely not permit it."

Haspel's role in the George W. Bush administration's interrogation program was front-and-center for her confirmation hearing, where she faced pointed questions about her views on the harsh interrogation of detainees and her role in the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.

Haspel made clear that she does not believe the CIA should be in the interrogation business - and she would not allow the CIA to resume interrogations - but she declined to criticize the CIA for using waterboarding and other interrogation tactics that critics say amounted to torture.

"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 at the time," Haspel said.

The CIA nominee was pressed repeatedly by Democrats about whether she thought CIA's interrogation tactics were moral, which she answered by saying she supported the current "higher moral standard."

Sen. Kamala Harris of California tried a different tack, asking Haspel whether she thought torture "worked," as Trump has said.

"We got value information from debriefing of al Qaeda detainees," Haspel said. "And I don't think it's knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that."

Haspel was also pressed over her role in the 2005 destruction of the CIA tapes that was ordered by her boss, then-clandestine chief Jose Rodriguez.

She emphasized that the decision to destroy the tapes was his, but she did acknowledge she also supported it.

"I absolutely was an advocate, if we could within and conforming to US law, and if we could get policy concurrence to eliminate the security risk posed to our officers by those tapes," Haspel told Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Haspel told Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, that she would no longer support the destruction of the tapes today.

It's not clear whether Haspel's answers will sway skeptical Democrats. Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, questioned "the message the Senate would send" by appointing a director who worked in the interrogation program.

"Ms. Haspel has stated that the law has changed and that the RDI program is no longer legal. She has committed to upholding the law. I appreciate that, but it is not enough," Warner said.

In her opening statement, Haspel said she would not restart the interrogation program, saying it was now clear the CIA was "not prepared" to run an interrogation program.

"Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program," Haspel said.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr praised Haspel, a 33-year CIA veteran, as the most qualified nominee that could have been chosen for the post, and argued that her confirmation hearing should not be used to put the George W. Bush administration's interrogation program on trial.

"I'd like to set the record straight and make clear to those in attendance, and the American people, that this hearing is not about programs already addressed by executive order, legislation and the court of law - it is about the woman seated before you," Burr said.

For lawmakers on the fence, Haspel's willingness to answer questions about her past will be a major factor in whether she will be able to clinch Democratic votes. And several senators from both parties say her answers will matter -- they're looking to her hearing to decide how they will vote on her nomination.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who is still undecided on Haspel, said the hearing was going to be key in whether he supports her.

"It's an important hearing," King said. "My principal concern is about the tapes' destruction and what she was thinking, what her role was. That's the essence of it."

Haspel was selected as deputy CIA director last year, a position that did not require Senate confirmation. But Trump's selection of Haspel to succeed Mike Pompeo atop the agency has been contentious ever since she was tapped in March. Her nomination was quickly opposed by human rights groups and many Democrats, as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, over her role in the George W. Bush administration's interrogation and detention program, in which critics say the CIA tortured terror detainees.

Critics point to Haspel's time leading the CIA's black site in Thailand in 2002, where harsh interrogations were conducted. Then in 2005, she was chief of staff to the CIA's clandestine chief, Jose Rodriguez, when he ordered the destruction of tapes of CIA interrogations.

With Paul's opposition and Sen. John McCain's absence from Washington as he fights brain cancer, Haspel will need at least some Democratic support to win the simple majority needed for confirmation. Republicans are looking to the same red-state Democrats who voted for Pompeo's confirmation as secretary of state last month to also back Haspel. Several have signaled they're open to supporting her.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida pointed to support for Haspel from former Obama and Bush administration officials, while Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said she "has been a true soldier and done her job."

Other Democrats, however, say the CIA has failed to publicly disclose key details about her record that the public should have access to before she is confirmed to a Cabinet-level position.

Several Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have urged the CIA and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to make Haspel's record in the interrogation program public.

The CIA has declassified some materials, including an internal 2011 report on the tape destruction clearing her of wrongdoing. And the agency provided additional classified material to senators but has argued that the information cannot be made public for security reasons.

Democrats say the response is insufficient, and they have complained that the CIA is selectively releasing favorable parts of Haspel's record.

They are also warning that Haspel will say little to nothing about the controversial parts of her career during the open hearing -- there is also a classified session for senators -- because they remain classified.

"As of now, this is headed toward a secret confirmation process," said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, adding later, "It is going to take place in public. Yet I believe, as of now, people will not know much of what the nominee was doing during that crucial period and will not know a number of the facts ... that relate to her record and who she really is."

Haspel and the CIA tried to push back on the criticisms of her record in the lead-up to the hearing.

The CIA has waged its own public relations campaign for Haspel, releasing an extensive biography and tweeting support for her nomination. Dozens of former intelligence officials, including senior Obama administration officials, have expressed support for her nomination.

Haspel's leadership experience has left many in the GOP leadership confident she'll get the job.

"She's got the r-sum-. She's got all the field work. She knows this job cold," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of GOP leadership, told CNN. Thune said Haspel "enjoys broad support among Republicans. The question is are there Democrats that will vote for her?"

This story has been updated.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 473413

Reported Deaths: 9214
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32339474
Hinds30703575
DeSoto29814346
Jackson23263336
Rankin21111358
Lee14600217
Madison14043265
Jones13165218
Forrest12953233
Lauderdale11418297
Lowndes10249175
Lamar10048128
Pearl River8737209
Lafayette8078136
Hancock7324111
Washington6837147
Oktibbeha6820118
Neshoba6404201
Monroe6372158
Warren6326161
Pontotoc610393
Panola6071124
Bolivar6016143
Marshall5972118
Union564086
Pike5491133
Lincoln5232130
Alcorn520888
George457868
Scott451993
Leflore4401140
Prentiss437276
Itawamba436198
Tippah436180
Simpson4268111
Copiah425586
Wayne424863
Tate4234100
Adams4219114
Yazoo415886
Sunflower4088104
Covington407391
Marion4032100
Leake393185
Coahoma388198
Newton364474
Grenada3517101
Stone345657
Tishomingo324888
Attala321185
Jasper310262
Winston300391
Clay288273
Chickasaw282164
Clarke277487
Calhoun259739
Holmes259485
Smith243947
Yalobusha216747
Tallahatchie215649
Walthall205557
Greene204045
Lawrence203831
Perry196453
Amite193751
Webster191941
Noxubee174538
Montgomery169853
Jefferson Davis165541
Carroll159937
Tunica148434
Benton139433
Kemper137439
Claiborne125634
Choctaw124925
Humphreys123337
Franklin115227
Quitman101825
Wilkinson99835
Jefferson86632
Sharkey62120
Issaquena1916
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 768301

Reported Deaths: 13209
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1093481727
Mobile699891179
Madison48418589
Baldwin35707452
Shelby35193291
Tuscaloosa33029512
Montgomery32582664
Lee21908204
Calhoun20140377
Morgan19351318
Etowah18583433
Marshall17272259
Houston16139353
St. Clair14956276
Limestone14129180
Cullman14069235
Elmore14010245
Lauderdale13128272
Talladega12399215
DeKalb11890229
Walker10231312
Autauga9493127
Blount9418149
Jackson9115136
Coffee8646161
Colbert8324169
Dale8284159
Escambia6456106
Tallapoosa6394168
Covington6313157
Chilton6243133
Russell591654
Franklin563597
Chambers5240132
Marion4628115
Dallas4626178
Clarke451471
Pike450091
Geneva4252106
Winston407987
Lawrence4046102
Bibb396177
Barbour338968
Marengo320981
Monroe311547
Butler309783
Pickens298769
Randolph294055
Henry293856
Hale286081
Cherokee279850
Fayette272271
Washington243545
Crenshaw232265
Clay221561
Macon214454
Cleburne209748
Lamar187839
Conecuh177139
Lowndes169056
Coosa163631
Wilcox154335
Bullock147142
Perry134235
Sumter123335
Greene119241
Choctaw72325
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