Trump’s CIA pick promises no more harsh interrogation program

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the CIA will promise lawmakers on Wednesday she will never resume a program of harsh interrogations, often denounced as torture, that has been the major issue complicating her confirmation.

Democratic senators have vowed to question nominee Gina Haspel, currently the spy agency’s acting director, about the issue at her Senate confirmation hearing. But those senators may find it more difficult to question her about the effectiveness of those and other controversial actions such as drone strikes because most information about them remains confidential.

“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 said in excerpts of her testimony released ahead of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

Haspel needs 51 votes to be confirmed as the first woman director of the CIA in the 100-seat Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 51-49 majority. The agency’s former deputy director, she would succeed Mike Pompeo, a Republican former congressman confirmed last month as secretary of state.

Haspel could face a difficult time being confirmed. At least one Republican, Senator Rand Paul, has said he opposes her confirmation, and others have said they will wait to see how she does at Wednesday’s hearing.

No Democrat has yet expressed support for Haspel.

Two sources familiar with preparations for the hearing said Haspel is regarded inside the CIA as a supporter of the so-called harsh interrogation techniques, 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.

Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel arrives to testify at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee investigation concluded that these methods were “not an effective way of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”

An undercover officer for most of her more than 30-year career, Haspel in 2002 during President George W. Bush’s administration served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency ran one of the secret prisons where suspected al Qaeda extremists were interrogated using procedures that included waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

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.

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,” Wyden told reporters.

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Senator Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman, said there are no plans to make such documents public.

Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by John Walcott, James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker

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