Gina Haspel, the acting director of the CIA, has been nominated to permanently head the agency by President Trump. Before that happens, she needs confirmation from the Senate.
At first glance, this would seem to be an unusually good choice by President Trump, something on the level of the pick for FCC Chairmanship or United Nations Ambassador. Haspel is not a standard political appointee, instead rising through the ranks of the CIA from field officer to station chief and eventually to Deputy Director. She has experience with the Agency.
That experience is threatening to derail her nomination. One of her posts was as the head of a secret base in Thailand where terrorist detainees were questioned and waterboarded. This has led to some news sources assailing her; an example is the recent Vanity Fair story about her which dubs her “Torture Queen“.
From the article:
Almost as soon as she was nominated, Haspel was criticized by Democrats … for her support of tactics such as waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation; and for her alleged involvement in the destruction of nearly 100 tapes containing footage from interrogation sessions. (A recently declassified C.I.A. review found that Haspel was not at fault for the tapes’ destruction, as it was the decision of her boss at the time.)
She supported tactics that were standard CIA policy, while she was at the CIA. That would not normally seem to be a sticking point against advancement. But she was in charge of the site where torture happened.
Except that the organization that revealed that she had done so later recanted their story as more evidence came to light. From ProPublica:
The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them.
She also destroyed tapes from interrogations, which was another point used to indicate she was inherently dishonest and prone to covering up potential wrongdoing. As even the antagonistic Vanity Fair acknowledges, however, she was following a lawful order from a superior. The primary complaint seems to be that she did not disobey the order and abandon her career in order to ensure legal but politically damaging footage might continue to exist and be used against the CIA or the federal government in the future.
Today she will face her Senate confirmation hearing. It is expected that she will face aggressive questioning focused primarily around her support of harsh interrogations of terrorists.
If she is confirmed by the Senate, she will be the first female head of the Central Intelligence Agency. She will succeed Mike Pompeo, who was recently confirmed as the Secretary of State.