Trump’s nominee to run CIA faces torture questions in Senate hearing

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Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel leaves her Senate confirmation hearing. President Donald Trump has nominated her to be CIA Director. (Photo: Lisa Chiu)

Questions about Central Intelligence Agency Director nominee Gina Haspel’s involvement in CIA interrogation techniques after Sept. 11 continued to dog her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Despite her opening remarks, where Haspel said that she would not restart any CIA detention and interrogation program, multiple Democratic senators pressed for her personal thoughts on CIA interrogation methods that were once legal — including waterboarding.

“Do you believe the previous CIA interrogation techniques were immoral?” Sen. Kamala Harris of California asked Haspel.

Haspel responded that she supports the “higher moral standard” that is now in place at the CIA.

Unsatisfied, Harris continued to press for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, which Haspel did not provide.

In a response to another question by Harris on the effectiveness of torture, Haspel said: “I don’t believe that torture works.”

Haspel has worked at the CIA for the past 30 years, and was in leadership positions at the National Clandestine Service within the agency. She is currently the Acting CIA Director following former Director Michael Pompeo’s confirmation to Secretary of State.

Some citizen groups have criticized Haspel for her role in running a CIA secret prison in Thailand and for her activities related to shredding 92 videotapes in 2005 of an interrogation of a terrorism suspect.

In the hearing, Haspel said that it was her superior Jose Rodriguez who authorized the destruction of the tapes and that she was never depicted in the tapes, nor did she ever see what was on the tapes.

The CIA was concerned that keeping the tapes on file posed a security risk for the CIA officers on the tapes if the the recordings were ever leaked from within the agency, Haspel said.

The hearing was interrupted three times by protestors, some wearing “Code Pink” clothing. Police officers escorted and at times forced them out of the hearing room.

Despite the protests and tough questions, Haspel had the support of many Republican Senators in the hearing.

“You have the unique experience one only gains from growing up in the CIA,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.

“You have the moral strength to speak truth to power. You have learned from the past mistakes of your organization and made clear that they will not be repeated.”

Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, also asked Haspel about the CIA’s history, adding that the CIA shouldn’t get credit for “simply agreeing to follow the law” now.

“I’m not going to sit here with the benefit of hindsight and judge the very good people that made very hard decisions in very extraordinary circumstances in time,” Haspel responded.

The issue of China was raised by Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who asked whether she would ever use devices made by Huawei or ZTE, two Chinese mobile companies.

Rubio has introduced legislation that would prevent the U.S. government from buying items from these two companies out of concern they may be used to spy on the United States.

Haspel said she wouldn’t use those devices.

Asked if she would ever make a pledge of loyalty to President Trump if asked Haspel responded: “My only loyalty is to the American people and the Constitution of the United States.”

Towards the end of the hearing Haspel was asked to describe the risks that CIA agents face on a daily basis.

“A personal example is an officer that worked for me. She was an extraordinary woman and our No. 1 Al-Qaida officer,” Haspel recounted.

“After having her third baby she went to Afghanistan and she and six colleagues were murdered by a suicide bomber that penetrated our base. These are very real sacrifices. These are my friends and colleagues.”