Second US Democrat to support Haspel as new CIA chief

Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, is facing tough opposition over her role in the 'enhanced interrogation' program that saw Al-Qaeda detainees tortured

Washington (AFP) – A second Democratic senator said Saturday he would support Gina Haspel as the new CIA chief despite her past role overseeing the torture of Al-Qaeda suspects, likely providing enough votes for her confirmation.

Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana said after meeting Haspel he believes that she “has learned from the past, and that the CIA under her leadership can help our country confront serious international threats and challenges.”

In the statement, Donnelly said that he had “a tough, frank and extensive discussion” about the future of the agency and past “enhanced” interrogation of suspects, a term that includes waterboarding.

Both Donnelly and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who also supports Haspel, come from conservative states and face tough re-election bids in the November midterm elections.

Two Republicans oppose Haspel’s nomination: Rand Paul of Kentucky and the ailing John McCain of Arizona.

McCain, a former navy pilot who was tortured while held prisoner in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, called for lawmakers on Wednesday to reject Haspel’s nomination due to her role overseeing the torture of detainees.

McCain is a widely respected elder statesman in US politics whose views carry significant weight, but he is battling brain cancer and is unlikely to vote on Haspel’s nomination.

With Donnelly’s support, Haspel now appears to have the minimum 50 votes needed to be confirmed as the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Between 2001 and 2004, Haspel was a deputy group chief of the Counterterrorism Center, which ran the so-called enhanced interrogation program, and then served as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, who directed the program.

During part of that period, she oversaw the CIA’s secret prison in Bangkok, where Al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were repeatedly waterboarded during lengthy interrogations.