WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will grill President Donald Trump’s choice for CIA director about her role in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists, but will be less able to question her about the effectiveness of those and other controversial actions such as kidnappings and drone strikes.
Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel will appear on Wednesday at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Democratic senators have vowed to cross-examine her about her role in the use of harsh interrogation methods, as well as the destruction of 92 videotapes documenting the questioning.
Public questioning of Haspel on issues such as the effectiveness of the interrogations, CIA drone strikes and agency “renditions” of suspected militants to third countries may be limited because the operations remain classified.
Two sources familiar with preparations for the hearing said Haspel is regarded inside the CIA as a supporter of such activities, and there is little if any record of her expressing objections or reservations about them. They said Haspel also agreed that harsh interrogation tactics produced valuable intelligence.
But she will assure the panel the agency will not revive the controversial programs begun after the 9/11 attacks.
“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” Haspel will say, according to excerpts of her testimony released on Tuesday.
A 2014 intelligence committee investigation concluded that these methods were “not an effective way of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”
The committee found that seven detainees who were questioned using waterboarding, or simulated drowning, sleep deprivation, and other techniques “produced no intelligence while in CIA custody,” while “other detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to, these techniques.”
Moreover, the report added, “multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence” when harsh techniques were used on them.
When the techniques were used, Haspel was a senior officer in the CIA’s Clandestine Service and its Counter-Terrorism Center, which oversaw the activities known as “RDI,” for “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation.”
In response to a complaint on Monday by the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner, that it was selectively declassifying information about Haspel’s 32-year CIA career to make her look good, the agency on Monday turned over a stack of personnel records detailing Haspel’s service.
The documents are classified, however, making it hard for senators to ask about them in public.
Senator Ron Wyden, one of the committee Democrats most skeptical of Haspel’s nomination, said the documents could, and should, be made public to answer questions about her record.
“The vast amount of her background can be declassified without compromising what are called sources and methods,” he told reporters.
Richard Burr, the intelligence panel’s Republican chairman, said there were no plans to make such documents public.
The CIA also gave the committee an “executive summary” of a Justice Department prosecutor’s criminal investigation into the interrogations and the destruction of the videotapes. But that document, outlining details of the probe – which produced no prosecutions – also remains classified, the sources said.
“This week CIA provided classified and unclassified material for every Senator to review,” said a CIA spokesman in an email. “There is no Senator who will be voting without being able to review Acting Director Haspel’s record.”
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by John Walcott, James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker