CIA nominee Gina Haspel is sworn in during a confirmation hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington on May 9, 2018
Alex Brandon—AP/Shutterstock
By Lisa Mascaro / AP
May 15, 2018

(WASHINGTON) — Amid an intensifying public debate on torture, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the CIA on Tuesday said the harsh interrogation program the agency ran at black sites after the Sept. 11 attacks should not have been undertaken.

Gina Haspel’s letter to the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee appeared aimed at shoring up support for her Senate confirmation.

“I have learned the hard lessons since 9/11,” Haspel wrote. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Haspel said she would “refuse to undertake any proposed activity that is contrary to my moral and ethical values.”

Haspel’s letter was requested by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who is among key Democrats whose votes will be crucial in the narrowly divided GOP Senate, especially after Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona urged colleagues to reject the nominee over her past role in CIA interrogations.

McCain’s comments sparked a fresh debate over now-banned torture techniques ahead of Senate voting. Trump has said the country should consider using the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. And Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was integral to the post-Sept. 11, 2001 strategy, said last week if it were up to him, “I’d do it again.”

Haspel testified at a Senate hearing that torture does not work as an interrogation technique and that as director her strong “moral compass” would ensure she did not carry out any administrative directive she found objectionable.

After the hearing, McCain, who is battling brain cancer home in Arizona, called Haspel a patriot for her long service to the CIA. But her role “in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

A career intelligence officer and now acting director, Haspel faces ongoing questions over her work running a covert detention site where terror suspects were brutally interrogated. Senators also want more information about her role destroying videos of the sessions.

While Haspel is expected to easily clear the panel in a closed-door vote on Wednesday, her confirmation at the full Senate depends on winning support from key Democrats, largely those from conservative or centrist states, who are under enormous pressure from outside liberal and human rights groups to block her.

Most Republicans are expected to back her. But Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is opposed, and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona has raised concerns about the nominee.

“The United States must be an example to the rest of the world, and I support that,” she said in her letter.

Warner has not yet said how he would vote ahead of the panel’s closed session Wednesday. But he felt Haspel was more forthcoming in her private meetings with senators, and asked her to put in writing some of what she told them.

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