US Senator John McCain has condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Gina Haspel to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), saying she was involved in “one of darkest chapters in American history.”
“The torture of detainees in US custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history,” McCain said in a statement. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”
Haspel, a black ops veteran who joined the CIA in 1985, was once in charge of a clandestine interrogation operation in Thailand accused of torturing detainees. If approved by the Senate, Haspel would become the first woman ever to be director of the CIA.
President Trump nominated Haspel, 61, to lead the top US spy agency, after he tapped current CIA director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state.
President Trump fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state on Tuesday after a series of public rifts over issues including Iran, Russia and North Korea.
Progressive groups are fighting back against Haspel’s nomination, saying her involvement in the CIA’s torture program should “disqualify her” from the top position.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Haspel was “up to her eyeballs in torture, both in running a secret torture prison in Thailand and carrying out an order to cover up torture crimes by destroying videotapes.”
Despite her controversial past, Haspel’s rise is not entirely surprising. She is respected in the US intelligence community as she previously served at the CIA deputy director and led worldwide undercover spying operations.
Several other lawmakers said they would challenge Haspel over torture, potentially setting the stage for a rocky confirmation hearing when she goes up before the Senate Intelligence Committee for in the coming weeks.
“Ms. Haspel’s background makes her unsuitable to serve as CIA director,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a committee member, said on Tuesday. “If Ms. Haspel seeks to serve at the highest levels of US intelligence, the government can no longer cover up disturbing facts from her past.”
Haspel reportedly presided over the torture of key al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri who were interrogated and repeatedly waterboarded at the CIA’s black site prison in Thailand.
According to reports, Zubaydah alone, the report added, “was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, slammed into walls and confined in a coffin-like box” before CIA interrogators determined that he had no useful information to provide.
“I felt I was going to explode from bending my legs and my back and from being unable to spread them not even for short instants,” Zubaydah wrote to his lawyers in 2008, describing being placed in the box. “The very strong pain made me scream unconsciously.”