Erin Kelly, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – Gina Haspel promised senators Wednesday that the CIA will not revive its outlawed interrogation techniques if she is confirmed as the agency's first female director.
"I understand that what many people around the country want to know about are my views on CIA’s former detention and interrogation program," Haspel told the Senate Intelligence Committee at her confirmation hearing. "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 she would not resume the program, even if President Trump asked her to do so. Trump has said that he believes "torture works" and would consider reviving its use.
"I would not restart, under any circumstances, an interrogation program at CIA," Haspel said when pressed by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
The Washington Post reported that Haspel considered withdrawing her nomination late last week because of her concerns that a contentious hearing about torture could damage the CIA's reputation, as well as her own. White House officials convinced her not to pull out.
Intelligence Committee members focused much of their questioning on Haspel's oversight in 2002 of a secret "black site" in Thailand where suspected terrorists were subjected to waterboarding and confined in coffin-shaped boxes for hours during President George W. Bush's administration. Torture techniques were used after the 9/11 terrorist attacks against America.
Haspel defended the agency's actions, saying the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" was deemed legal at the time by the Department of Justice and President Bush. She said she supports the "higher moral standards" that the country has since adopted that ban torture.
"I would not put CIA officers at risk by asking them to undertake risky, controversial behavior again," she said.
Haspel, who spent more than 30 years as a covert agent before becoming the CIA's deputy director last year, faced questions about her involvement in the destruction of 92 videotapes that showed a prisoner being waterboarded. Waterboarding is a technique that simulates the experience of drowning.
She said she wrote the order in 2005 to destroy the tapes at the request of her boss, Jose Rodriguez, who was head of the CIA's clandestine service. Rodriguez issued the order without informing CIA Director Porter Goss ahead of time, Haspel said.
Haspel said she supported the destruction of the tapes because she feared someone would release them publicly and jeopardize the safety of CIA officers seen on the tapes.
"We were worried about an irresponsible leak of our officers' faces to the world," she said. She said the CIA director should have been informed of the order before it went out.
It's not clear whether Haspel's promises will convince a majority of senators to confirm her. The Intelligence Committee could vote as early as this month on whether to recommend her confirmation to the full Senate.
Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., vowed to oppose Haspel because of her role in the interrogation program. Late Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has brain cancer and may not be available to vote, urged his Senate colleagues to reject Haspel. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the first Democrat to announce he would vote to confirm on Wednesday afternoon. Shortly after his announcement, Haspel got a big boost when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would vote in favor of the nominee.
Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said he was glad Haspel expressed support for the ban on torture but said, "No one should get credit simply for agreeing to follow the law."
"That’s the very least we should expect from any nominee, and certainly from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency," he said.
If confirmed, the 61-year-old Kentucky native would be the first woman to lead the spy agency. She would replace Mike Pompeo, who was confirmed by the Senate as the new secretary of State.
Haspel, who was introduced Wednesday by former senators Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said she is especially proud to have been the first woman to serve as the second-highest-ranking officer in the clandestine service.
"From my first days in training, I had a knack for the nuts and bolts of my profession," she testified. "I excelled in finding and acquiring secret information that I obtained in brush passes, dead drops or in meetings in dusty back allies of Third World capitals."
"I recall my first foreign agent meeting was on a dark, moonless night with an agent I’d never met before," Haspel said. "When I picked him up, he passed me the intelligence, and I passed him extra money for the men he led. It was the beginning of an adventure I had only dreamed of."
Although President Obama and a previous Congress banned the use of torture, Trump has talked about the possibility of reviving the harsh interrogation techniques and defended Haspel for being "tough on terrorists."…………………..