WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.
The committee voted 10 to 5 to in favor of her nomination.
In a statement announcing the outcome, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the panel’s chairman, called Haspel “the most qualified person” President Donald Trump could have chosen for the Cabinet post. “She has acted morally, ethically, and legally, over a distinguished 30-year career,” he said, “and is the right person to lead the Agency into an uncertain and challenging future.”
With two of 51 Republicans committed to voting against Haspel, and five Democrats indicating that they will support her, she appears to be set to become the agency’s first female director. The full Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation in coming weeks.
Haspel’s 33-year record at the CIA intersected with the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, in which, after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, agents subjected certain detainees to procedures subsequently condemned as torture. Although Haspel promised during her confirmation hearing never to revive the program, she was far less resolute about condemning the techniques as immoral.
It was Haspel’s reluctance to say that the CIA’s interrogation program was, in retrospect, morally wrong that sparked the Senate’s authorities on torture — namely, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., who endured years of it as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wrote the Senate’s definitive report on the CIA’s practices — to declare Haspel unconfirmable.
It has been almost three years since McCain led the charge in Congress to curtail the interrogation techniques, pushing legislation to make the Army Field Manuals’ code of conduct the government standard. The Senate adopted that rule change in 2015 as part of the annual defense authorization bill by a vote of 78 to 21.
Much of the concern about Haspel’s nomination has centered on campaign statements made by Trump, who expressed an eagerness to reinstate certain outlawed practices, including waterboarding.
Haspel said during her confirmation hearing that she would disobey any order from Trump to revive such techniques. But she also claimed to have a close relationship with the president, which discomfited those already uneasy about her record.
The controversial episodes in Haspel’s career include a stint overseeing a secret prison in Thailand where brutal interrogations were conducted and her role drafting a cable in 2005 that ordered the destruction of 92 videotapes depicting the interrogation of one detainee. Many also have criticized her for not declassifying more documents related to her mostly clandestine CIA career.