President Donald Trump’s pick to become the director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, kicking off the Senate confirmation process for what is already shaping up to be another contentious Trump nominee.
Haspel, if confirmed, will replace Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the next director of one the nation’s top intelligence agencies. She would be the first female director in the agency’s more than 70-year history.
Haspel currently serves as the deputy director of the CIA, a position she has held since Feb. 7, 2017. The deputy director has held a number of positions in the CIA during her 33 years with the agency, including: deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and chief of staff for the director of the National Clandestine Service.
She heads to Capitol Hill Monday morning to meet with three Democrats who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee–Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Dianne Feinstein of California and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico–ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.
Democrats on the committee are looking to question Haspel about her role in the interrogation of terrorists suspects in the early 2000s during the onset of the nation’s “War on Terror.”
Haspel ran a secret prison, known as “Cat’s Eye,” in Thailand, where terrorist suspects were subject to waterboarding and other “advanced” interrogation techniques. Haspel took over the prison in October 2002, after one inmate, Abu Zubaydah, was reportedly waterboarded at least 83 times in one month. A little over a month after Haspel’s arrival, another suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 that killed 17 Americans, was waterboarded three times.
Haspel left the prison after it closed in December 2002.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, under the leadership of Feinstein, investigated the CIA’s interrogation and detainment program for terrorists in 2014. Senators found that terrorist suspects were sleep deprived for up to a full week and threatened with their lives while in custody.
The report also detailed how the CIA’s medical staff approved of the techniques, like “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration,” which a CIA official said was a way to have “total control over the detainee.”
Haspel’s role in the program is unclear, but senators will likely pepper her with questions regarding her knowledge of the use of these techniques and if she gave the order to use them.
The deputy director will also likely have to answer to questions regarding her role in the 2005 destruction of video evidence of CIA agents waterboarding terrorist suspects. Haspel served as the chief of staff to Jose Rodriquez, the director of operations for counterterrorism, when he ordered the destruction of videotapes of waterboarding sessions. Haspel was reportedly in favor of destroying the evidence.
The CIA declassified a review that found “no fault with the performance” of Haspel in the destruction of the videotape evidence, which could help clear the air for senators who are troubled by her involvement in the matter.
The waterboarding episode has already caused Haspel a major headache. Feinstein blocked Haspel’s promotion to become the director of clandestine operations in 2013, citing her role in the interrogation program and the destruction of evidence of waterboarding.
Feinstein told reporters in March that she is not considering blocking Haspel’s nomination, claiming she has served as a good deputy director and appears to have the confidence of the agency.
Haspel reportedly decided to withdraw her nomination Friday for fear that some within the administration were concerned about her role in the interrogation programs. She told the White House that she was interested in stepping down to avoid what is likely to be a fiery confirmation hearing Wednesday, one that could not only damage her credibility but that of the CIA.
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went to Haspel’s office Friday to try to sway her to stay the course. The lobbying on the part of the administration appears to have worked for now.
“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists. Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina,” the president tweeted Monday in defense of his nominee.
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