Washington, May 18 (IANS) The US Senate has approved Gina Haspel as the first female Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) despite her role in the spy agency’s brutal detention and interrogation programmes post-9/11 terror attacks.
Haspel’s confirmation on Thursday in a 54-45 vote followed a partisan fight among senators about Haspel’s past ties to the CIA’s former rendition, detention and interrogation activities, carried out in the years following the September 11 attacks, with the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding, now widely considered torture.
Six Democrats crossed party lines to vote in her favour. According to the Washington Post, Haspel appeared to have been helped by some last-minute arm-twisting by former CIA Directors John Brennan and Leon Panetta, who contacted at least five of the six Democrats to endorse her bid to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
One of the six senators, Mark Warner, said Haspel had told him the agency should never have resorted to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
Warner said she had pledged never to use such methods even if Trump demanded it. “I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President, who will speak truth to power if this President orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture,” he said before the vote.
Two Republicans — Jeff Flake and Rand Paul — voted against Haspel. Opponents of her nomination included more than 100 retired admirals and generals who said her role in the agency’s use of torture would encourage foreign governments to torture American soldiers.
Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr said the confirmation of a woman as CIA head would send an important message.
“Many others who have served, or are currently serving, have cracked the glass ceiling at the agency. Gina is poised to break it,” he said.
“It may be impossible to measure the importance of that breakthrough but I do know that it will send a signal to the current workforce and to the workforce of the future that a lifetime of commitment to the agency can and will be rewarded.”
A 33-year veteran of the agency, 61-year-old Haspel spent most of her career as an undercover operative, the US media reported.
Haspel supervised a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 where harsh interrogations were conducted and she destroyed CIA interrogation tapes years later. Her specific role in the programme remains classified.
One suspect that was brought there, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was brutalised using methods that were later banned by President Barack Obama.
Al-Nashiri, who was interrogated after Haspel took over the post, was also subjected to sleep deprivation, nudity, extreme temperatures, being held in a small box, and “walling” (being slammed repeatedly into a wall).
Three years later, Haspel ordered the destruction of 92 video tapes that documented the interrogation of him, and Abu Zubaydah, who was also held at the Thai location.
At least 119 men were tortured by the US in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, according to a 2014 Senate report.