Gina Haspel Confirmed As C.I.A Director
As expected, Gina Haspel was confirmed as C.I.A. Director yesterday despite her controversial record when it comes to torture.
Late yesterday, as expected, the Senate confirmed Gina Haspel to be the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, with five Democrats crossing the aisle to support the controversial nominee:
WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be the first woman to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, elevating a career clandestine officer to the directorship despite bipartisan misgivings about her role in the agency’s brutal detention and interrogation programs in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Ms. Haspel, the current deputy director, takes the helm at a time of shifting alliances and intelligence threats from Iran to North Korea to Russia, unfolding after President Trump tried to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s judgment as part of his broader attack on the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
But it was Ms. Haspel’s past that transfixed senators — if only for a few weeks — as they grappled anew with the aggressive interrogation policies of the George W. Bush administration in the years after the terrorist attacks. Ms. Haspel supervised a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 when a Qaeda suspect was waterboarded there, and senators raised fresh questions about her role in the agency’s destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions in 2005.
Democrats and a handful of Republicans pressed Ms. Haspel to repudiate the program and sought assurances that torture would not be revisited under her watch. Ms. Haspel told senators during her confirmation hearing that her moral compass was strong and that she would not revisit such a program. And on Tuesday, under intense pressure, she went further, writing that the program “did damage to our officers and our standing in the world.”
In the end, those assurances were enough to win over a handful of skeptical senators. Two Republican no votes — and opposition from Senator John McCain of Arizona, the victim of torture in Vietnam who was not present for the vote — were more than offset by Democrats, most of whom represent states that Mr. Trump won in 2016. Ms. Haspel also won over Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had led the interrogation of her record.
Ms. Haspel is now set to take over a spy agency that has managed to keep a low profile under Mr. Trump in recent months. Mr. Trump was sharply critical of America’s intelligence agencies before taking office, even comparing them to Nazis at one point. But Ms. Haspel’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who is now the secretary of state, built a warm rapport with the president.
In the end, Haspel was confirmed by a vote of 55-44. This included no votes from two Republican Senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who had announced his opposition to the nomination earlier this week. The other Republican who was opposed to the nomination, Flake’s fellow Arizonan John McCain, did not vote because he is still in Arizona recovering from cancer treatment and surgery. Their opposition was more than offset, though, by the support that Haspel received from red-state Democrats such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Also voting for Haspel were Virginia’s senior Senator Mark Warner, who is the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who is facing a formidable challenge for reelection from Florida Governor Rick Scott. Other vulnerable Democrats such as Jon Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri ended up voting against the nomination, as did Alabama Senator Doug Jones who will not face voters against until 2020. As I said the other day, Haspel’s nomination was assured once she received Warner’s support, but it’s not surprising to see both Heitkamp and Nelson cross party lines on this vote given the tough election fights they face in states that President Trump won just two years ago.
As I’ve noted in the past, Haspel’s nomination did not come without controversy. Most prominently, of course, was the issue of her role and activities during the years after the September 11th attacks during which the C.I.A., operating on the orders of President Bush, engaged in a number of “enhanced interrogation” techniques to obtain information from al Qaeda and other terror suspects apprehended on the battlefield or elsewhere. When President Trump first nominated her to replace Mike Pompeo as Director, it was reported that Haspel had overseen the torture of at least one al Qaeda suspect while she was in charge of one of the agency’s so-called “dark sites” in Thailand. That report was later revised to make clear that she did not directly oversee any acts of torture although it seemed clear even after this revision in the initial report that she was aware of what was going on with respect to those suspects. Additionally, it has been largely unrefuted that she played a role in attempting to cover-up the agency’s role in conducting torture of prisoners by pushing for the destruction of evidence that such torture had taken place. This last point is particularly relevant given the fact that President Trump has in the past said that we should go back to using the interrogation techniques that Haspel and others engaged in under C.I.A. auspices during the early years of the “War On Terror.” Because of this record, many civil liberties activists and other figures opposed the nomination, and their arguments were quite persuasive.
All of that is what is it is, though. Haspel has been confirmed. Now we’ll just have to see what kind of Director she ends up being.