Trump defends CIA nominee Haspel amid questions about torture role
WASHINGTON DC, USA – President Donald Trump on Monday, May 7, defended his nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, who faces stiff opposition over her past role in the torture of suspected Al-Qaeda detainees.
"My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists," Trump tweeted.
"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!"
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
Trump's tweet came as the CIA veteran's history of involvement in the torture of Al-Qaeda suspects after the September 11 attacks threatens to derail her nomination to lead the premier US spy agency.
The little-known Haspel, who spent 3 decades in the agency's covert services and is currently CIA deputy director and acting director, will face questioning at a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, May 9.
She has strong support from the espionage community, garnering endorsements from multiple former CIA chiefs.
But a number of senators and rights groups are demanding accountability for "War on Terror" abuses at CIA-run black sites in other countries, especially the waterboarding of two suspects at a secret prison in Thailand in 2002, where Haspel was in charge for a period.
"What I want to have happen at this session is that the American people see who this nominee is, and what her role was in this particular period between 2002 and 2007," said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.
"There has been a boatload of misinformation" in the limited details of her career released by the CIA, he said.
According to media reports, Haspel and the White House are concerned the hearing won't go well. The Washington Post reported that she was ready to step aside at the end of last week to prevent harm to the CIA's and her own reputation.
CNN reported Monday that the White House had already pinpointed a replacement candidate if Haspel cannot be confirmed.
But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders stuck by the nominee, saying that Haspel has "an unparalleled understanding of the CIA and is the right person to lead it in these dangerous times."
Haspel, 61, has by most accounts been an exemplary operative during her 33 years in the CIA's shadowy clandestine service.
In an aggressive campaign in Haspel's support, the CIA has selectively declassified details of her career.
She twice served as London-based chief of European operations; she learned both Russian and Turkish on the job; she led an operation to nab two of the bombers of US embassies in Africa in 1998; and she once helped Mother Teresa in efforts to get food for needy people – though just where that took place remains classified.
Nothing is said about her role in the interrogation program, in which major Al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed all went underwent brutal treatment, including waterboarding.
Her role in that is not denied: according to the CIA, in 2001-2003 she was a deputy group chief of the Counterterrorism Center, which ran the program, and from 2003-2004 she was a "senior-level supervisor" of the CTC.
Former CIA officers identify her as the chief of staff of Jose Rodriguez, the CTC director most identified with the interrogation program, and they say she was present in Thailand when Nashiri was tortured.
And in 2005, the CIA confirms, Haspel helped when Rodriguez ordered the destruction of nearly 100 videotapes that showed the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah.
Critics oppose promoting someone so closely identified with torture to the position of CIA chief.
"The torture of detainees in US custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history," said Republican Senator John McCain, who as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war from 1967 to 1973 underwent torture.
"The Senate must do its job in scrutinizing the record & involvement of Gina Haspel in this disgraceful program," he said.
Last month more than 100 former top generals and admirals signed a letter urging senators to reject Haspel, saying torture by US officials hinders cooperation by allies and gives extremists a propaganda tool against US troops.
"It would send a terrible signal to confirm as the next director of the CIA someone who was so intimately involved in this dark chapter of our nation's history," they said.
Haspel spent part of the day Monday wooing senators, and is slated to meet more on Tuesday, May 8.
But doubts remained. Mark Warner, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, complained that repeated requests to declassify information on her career have not been fulfilled.
"Given that we are only two days from the date of your confirmation hearing on May 9, 2018, this lack of transparency for the American people about someone nominated for a cabinet-level position is unacceptable," he said in a letter obtained by Agence France-Presse. – Rappler.com