May 9 (UPI) — Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s appointee to be the next director of central intelligence, faced tough questions Wednesday at the start of her Senate confirmation about her involvement in past CIA interrogations.
Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the CIA, was tabbed by Trump to replace Mike Pompeo as agency chief when he succeeded Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department.
Last month, more than 100 retired generals and admirals wrote to members of the Senate expressing “profound concern” about Haspel’s nomination — specifically for her involvement in interrogating terrorism suspects that some say amounted to torture.
“I would never allow the CIA to be allowed to be involved in corrosive interrogations,” Haspel said Wednesday when asked about waterboarding, a controversial interrogation technique that simulates drowning.
One figure apparently concerned about Haspel’s nomination is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks who was captured in 2003 and interrogated on numerous occasions by the CIA. His attorneys have asked a military judge for permission to share information about Haspel with the committee.
According Senate investigators, Mohammed was “waterboarded” 183 times, slapped, slammed into a wall, shackled into painful positions and sleep-deprived while forced to stand with his hands chained above his chest, The New York Times reported.
Internal CIA documents said Mohammed nearly drowned as a result of some of the waterboardings, a Senate intelligence committee study found in 2014.
A CIA spokesman told the Times he couldn’t say whether Haspel was ever involved in Mohammed’s interrogations.
When asked how she would respond if ordered to torture detainees again, Haspel said, “I would never, ever take the CIA back to an interrogation program.”
“I would not put CIA officers at risk by asking them to undertake risky, controversial activity again,” she added.
When asked about the destroying of CIA interrogation tapes that showed waterboarding, Haspel said that decision had been made by her boss, then-head of the CIA secret service Jose Rodriguez.
Haspel said the tapes were destroyed due to a security risk posed to CIA officers on the tapes.
Haspel, 61, joined the CIA in 1985 and spent most of her career as a clandestine operative. She has served as deputy CIA director since last year and acting director since April 26. For a few weeks in 2013, she was the agency’s acting director of the National Clandestine Service under President Barack Obama.
If confirmed, Haspel would become the CIA’s first permanent female director.