Gina Haspel, Trump's pick to lead CIA, to pledge she won't restart interrogation program

Gina Haspel is expected to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that she “will not restart” the CIA’s brutal interrogation program if confirmed to lead the agency, according to excerpts of her remarks released by the agency in advance of what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing.

Haspel’s hearing comes just days after the nominee offered to bow out, to avoid discussing in a public setting her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program, which many have likened to torture. Haspel’s answers and overall performance Wednesday could make or break her bid for the Cabinet post.

Committee members are bitterly divided over their assessment of Haspel, with some — mostly Republicans — praising her record as a career operative, the support she has from CIA rank-and-file, and the fact that, if confirmed, she will become the first woman to run the agency. Others — mostly Democrats — have criticized Haspel, particularly over her role in the interrogation program implemented after 9/11 and for refusing to declassify documents related to her tenure at the agency.

In addressing the interrogation program, Haspel is expected to acknowledge her service “in that tumultuous time” to reinforce her “personal commitment, clearly and without reservation,” not to restart the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

Haspel is also expected to drop various hints about her biography, according to excerpts of her prepared statement that read like the vague contours of a spy novel. “I recall my first foreign agent meeting was on a dark, moonless night with an agent I’d never met before,” Haspel is expected to say. “When I picked him up, he passed me the intelligence, and I passed him extra money for the men he led.”

But that is unlikely to satisfy those senators who have called for more public disclosure about her career. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, told Haspel in a letter earlier this week that her recalcitrance was “unacceptable.”

Haspel is expected to pledge to cooperate with congressional oversight, and tell lawmakers that “if we can’t share aspects of our secret work with the public, we should do so with their elected representatives.” She will have the opportunity to provide more details about her tenure during a closed-door hearing following her public testimony.

The panel chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), told reporters Tuesday that the committee could vote as soon as next week on Haspel’s nomination, and that he expected Haspel to receive a positive endorsement. But her chances of being confirmed on the Senate floor — where not all Republicans have pledged to support her — is not certain.

Two episodes in Haspel’s 33-year career with the CIA are likely to draw the most scrutiny at Wednesday’s hearing. In October 2002, she took over a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand where an al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded. Another suspect was subjected to the same so-called enhanced interrogation technique before Haspel arrived. At the time, she was serving in a senior leadership position in the agency’s counterterrorism center.

In 2005, Haspel drafted a cable, ultimately issued by her boss, ordering the destruction of nearly 100 videotapes of the interrogation sessions. Officials familiar with the episode have said that Haspel believed her boss, Jose Rodriquez, then the director of the National Clandestine Service, would obtain approval from the CIA director and general counsel before issuing the order. But Haspel was a strong advocate within the agency for destroying the tapes, believing that were they to become public and reveal the identity of CIA interrogators, they could face reprisals from terrorists.

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