(Bloomberg) -- Gina Haspel was confirmed as the first woman to head the CIA after assuring senators that she won’t let the agency return to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques that she helped supervise during her three decades as a working spy.
The Senate voted 54-45 Thursday to confirm the 61-year-old Haspel, who was nominated by President Donald Trump after Mike Pompeo left the Central Intelligence Agency to become secretary of state.
While Haspel won praise for her expertise after postings in the agency’s clandestine service and counterterrorism center, her background also revived the long-simmering debate over the morality and effectiveness of torture as an interrogation tool. Haspel oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where at least one al-Qaeda suspect was subjected to waterboarding under the “enhanced interrogation program” used after the Sept. 11 attacks.
‘Benefit of Hindsight’
At her confirmation hearing on May 9, Haspel repeatedly refused to disavow techniques such as waterboarding as immoral. But she won over members including Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, with a letter this week saying that “with the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”
Some Democrats also said she convinced them that she would be willing to confront Trump -- who in the past has said “torture works” -- on interrogation or other matters.
“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,” Warner said.
Still, Haspel’s Senate confirmation was opposed by 43 members of the Democratic caucus and Republicans Rand Paul and Jeff Flake. Human rights groups protested Haspel’s elevation to the CIA’s top post in light of her association with the interrogation program and her participation in the decision to destroy videotapes of sessions in 2005.
“For the first time in the history of the United States, the CIA will be led by someone with a past role in the use of torture,” said Christopher Anders, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, criticizing the Senate’s handling of her nomination. “From beginning to end, the process was a coverup to suppress information on the CIA’s torture program.”
The Senate Intelligence panel voted 10-5 in favor of Haspel on Wednesday.
In written responses to questions submitted by Intelligence Committee members and released by the panel Tuesday, Haspel pledged to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
She also said she agreed with the 2017 findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian interference was aimed at hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately at helping Trump win.
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