The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday approved Gina Haspel, Donald Trump‘s selection to lead the CIA.
The 10-5 tally wasn’t as close as it could have been, with Republicans controlling the panel by just an 8-7 margin.
The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, offered a surprising thumbs-up on Tuesday after Haspel, the spy agency’s acting director, put in writing her belief that the CIA should never have engaged in ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques – now widely regarded as forms of torture.
The program, applied to terrorism suspects, ‘is not one the CIA should have undertaken,’ Haspel wrote to Warner on Monday.
The Virginia senator said in a statement Wednesday that Haspel ‘will be a strong advocate for the Agency’s workforce, and an independent voice who can and will stand up on behalf of our nation’s intelligence community.’
‘Most importantly,’ he added, ‘I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President if ordered to do something illegal or immoral – like a return to torture.’
CIA nominee Gina Haspel says she thinks it was a mistake to apply ‘enhanced interrogation’ – torture – to terror suspects
Haspel wrote Monday to Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (left) and copied Chairman Richard Burr (right), but refused to say her predecessors who green-lighted torture were wrong
Haspel would be the first woman to run the CIA. Her maneuvering with Warner came as the Trump administration worked overtime to attract support for her.
Committee chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, quietly nudged Democrats to support her. Ultimately Warner and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin did.
Manchin is facing a tough re-election challenge this year in a deep-red state, and can’t afford to be painted as soft of terrorism.
‘Gina Haspel is the most qualified person the President could choose to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in the 70 year history of the Agency,’ Burr said Wednesday.
The full Senate will still have to vote to officially confirm her.
Haspel’s moment in the harsh glare of politics has generated a renewed public debate about the practical value of torture, which Trump touted as a certainty during his 2016 campaign.
Haspel’s letter also declares that ‘valuable intelligence’ has been collected in the past through enhanced interrogation techniques
Waterboarding involves restraining a suspect, placing a cloth over his face and pouring water on his head to simulate drowning
‘Torture works,’ the president said on at least six occasions as he ran for the White House. He specifically mocked Democrats’ concerns about waterboarding, saying it was a ‘minor form’ of torture and that the U.S. ‘should go much stronger.’
But Haspel wrote Monday that she has ‘learned the hard lessons since 9/11.’
‘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.’
Haspel’s letter came after Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona urged colleagues to reject the nominee over her past role in the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogations.’
While she said she now disagrees with the operations, she declined to take issue with her predecessors’ decisions – and said the torture sometimes produced useful information.
‘I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected,’ she said, while conceding that ‘the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world.’
U.S. Capitol Police officers removed a protester from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing room last week as she shouted at Haspel
The question of what to do about the CIA’s history of torturing suspected terrorists hung over Haspel’s hearing
Haspel also admitted that the CIA should have kept Congress better informed of its methods all along.
‘[I]t was a mistake not to brief the entire Committee at the beginning,’ she wrote. ‘Both the Committee and the Agency shared the goal of obtaining the critical intelligence needed to thwart another attack.’
‘CIA needs to have consensus from members of the oversight committees who make decisions on behalf of the American people as their elected representatives on activities that can’t be made public.’
U.S. Army military policemen are shown in 2005 patting down suspected terrorists at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq – a place where people in military custody were often tortured
When Haspel’s nomination reaches the floor of the Senate for a full vote, she will likely prevail although the margin will be narrow.
Republicans John McCain and Rand Paul have announced their opposition to her. But McCain, who is battling brain cancer, is not expected to come to Washington to cast his ballot.
Three Democrats have acceded to the White House, however.
In addition to Warner, Joe Donnelly of Indiana said Saturday that he made his decision after ‘a tough, frank and extensive discussion’ with Haspel. Manchin had earlier thrown his lot in with her.
Republicans hold a 51-49 Senate majority, making for a 52-47 vote with McCain recovering from surgery.