Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the CIA, promised she would not resort to waterboarding and other harsh techniques that she once helped supervise, but critics said her assurances fell short.
"Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation programme," Haspel told members of the senate intelligence committee at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Haspel’s opponents, including human rights groups and some former military and intelligence officials, say the CIA hasn’t fully disclosed her role in "enhanced interrogation" programmes after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s senior Democrat, said that Haspel’s pledge that she would follow the law "is not enough".
"We must hear how you would react if the president asks you to carry out some morally questionable behaviour that might seem to violate a law or treaty," Warner told the nominee. "How will you respond if a secret" justice department "opinion authorises such behaviour and gives you a ‘get out of jail free’ card?"
Asked repeatedly how she would respond to such an order from Trump — who has supported waterboarding in the past — Haspel said that "my moral compass is strong" and that "I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral even if it was technically legal."
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s Republican chairman, said Haspel was a "natural fit" to run the intelligence agency after three decades there and he objected to turning the hearing into an inquiry "into a long-shuttered programme".
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also vouched for Haspel and said young people would be deterred from joining the CIA "if someone is smeared in this process".
In 2002, Haspel oversaw a secret agency prison in Thailand, where the New York Times reported that an al-Qaeda suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded three times. On Wednesday, Haspel said that she could discuss such classified details only in a closed committee session.
She also wrote a memorandum approving the shredding of videos that documented such methods. She testified that her boss made the decision to destroy 92 tapes of a single detainee as a security matter and she agreed.