Haspel’s CIA Nomination Clears Committee

CIA nominee Gina Haspel passed the committee level 10-5 with bipartisan support Wednesday, clearing the way for a full Senate vote as early as this week.

Ahead of Wednesday’s closed-door session, all eight Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee declared support for Haspel along with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the panel’s top Democrat, Mark Warner. Haspel is expected to secure enough support on the Senate floor to be confirmed, if narrowly, with a range of vulnerable Democrats backing her. That includes Manchin, Indiana senator Joe Donnelly, North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, and Florida senator Bill Nelson.

“Democrats are running out of excuses to block this highly qualified nominee,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters Tuesday. “I hope more of our Senate Democratic colleagues will come across the aisle and support her, as they should.”

Haspel’s nomination has been mired in controversy over her role in the CIA’s controversial post-9/11 detention and interrogation program. The CIA nominee has drawn heightened criticism from committee Democrats including California senator Dianne Feinstein, as well as ex-officio member Arizona senator John McCain.

During her confirmation hearing last week, Haspel vowed never to restart a detention and interrogation program at the agency, even if ordered to do so, and said that the CIA “was not prepared” to conduct such a program 17 years ago. But Haspel would not describe the program as immoral, which McCain condemned as “disqualifying.”

“Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing,” he said in a statement. “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

In a letter to Warner sent Monday, Haspel went a bit further in repudiating the program than she did during her hearing. “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,” she wrote. “The United States must be an example to the rest of the world.”

Haspel simultaneously reiterated her unwillingness to condemn those officials operating at the agency in the aftermath of 9/11. “While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” she said.

Asked last week whether she agreed with the statement that “torture works,” Haspel said, “I don’t believe that torture works.” However, she added: “We got valuable information from the briefing of al Qaeda detainees and I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”

Haspel has faced scrutiny for her brief tenure overseeing a CIA “black site” prison in Thailand and her involvement years later in the destruction of videotapes depicting interrogation sessions. Democrats have criticized the agency for “selective declassification” of her record.

Kentucky senator Rand Paul said months ago that he will vote against Haspel. Arizona senator Jeff Flake is publicly undecided.

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