US president's nomination for CIA director, Gina Haspel, draws criticism

US presidents nomination for CIA director, Gina Haspel, draws criticism
US president's nomination for CIA director, Gina Haspel, draws criticism. Reuters/CIA
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US Senator Rand Paul has become the first Republican to oppose President Donald Trump's nomination of current Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Deputy Director Gina Haspel to become the agency's new director. He also said on Wednesday he would oppose nomination of former CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the new secretary of state.

"I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA," Paul told a news conference. "My opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone who was being tortured."

Gina Haspel is set to become the first woman at the helm of the CIA. But the 61-year-old's appointment as deputy director of the secret service in February 2017 had proved a point of contention.

Thailand CIA detention center

Haspel oversaw a CIA "black site" in Thailand — a secret prison where detainees endured so-called enhanced interrogation techniques including waterboarding from 2003 to 2005 in the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York in 2001.

Read more: Opinion: September 11 was a historic turning point

It is also alleged that she later helped carry out an order to destroy waterboarding videos. Trump has indicated support for the interrogation method.

However, an intelligence officer who worked with Haspel denied she was anything like a "gleeful participant," saying, "That makes it sound like she was holding the bucket and laughing, when all she was was a bureaucrat following orders."

The allegations led Berlin human rights organization ECCHR to call on German federal prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant against Haspel in 2017.

A long history

Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and worked undercover for a large part of her career, which means little is known about her.

Read more: Opinion: With Tillerson's firing, White House loses a voice of reason

A candidate's appointment to director of the CIA is not automatic.

Haspel has to prepare for numerous questions in the Senate about her previous role and must explain any involvement in the torture program, which is "one of the darkest chapters in American history," according to Republican Senator John McCain.

"Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA's interrogation program," McCain said in a statement. "I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel's record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law."

Pompeo's hearing

Senator Paul sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold Pompeo's confirmation hearing, expected next month, and vote on whether to report his nomination as secretary of state to replace Rex Tillerson favorably to the full Senate.

He criticized Pompeo, along with Haspel, for supporting the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques which are widely considered to be torture.

Paul also expressed concerns that Pompeo would advocate for regime change in Iran that could lead to military
action. "I want to do everything I can to block them," Paul said. "This is a debate that's really worth having."

Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate. If all Democrats voted against the nominations they would only need a small number of Republicans to join them to block the appointments.

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