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US Senate confirms Haspel as CIA director despite links to torture programme

Haspel confirmation is 'byproduct of US failure to grapple with past abuses', rights group says
Senate votes 54-45 to make Haspel first woman to lead CIA (Reuters)

The US Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be director of the CIA, ending a bruising confirmation fight centred on her ties to the spy agency's past use of torture.

Haspel, who will be the first woman to lead the CIA, is a 33-year veteran at the agency and currently serving as its acting director. The tally was 54-45 in her favour in the 100-member chamber, where a simple majority was required for confirmation.

Haspel was approved in spite of stiff opposition stemming from her links to the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered to be torture, in the years after the 9/11 attacks.

An undercover officer for most of her CIA career, Haspel in 2002 served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency conducted interrogations at a secret prison using methods including sleep deprivation, holding suspects in stress positions and confining them to coffin-size boxes.

Three years later, she drafted a cable ordering the destruction of videotapes of those interrogations.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has been away from Washington all year while battling brain cancer, urged the Senate not to vote for Haspel.

Tortured himself while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said approving Haspel would send the wrong message, and the country should keep itself safe only through methods "as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world".

Haspel, however, had strong support from Republican President Donald Trump's administration, many current and former intelligence officials and a wide range of lawmakers, including some Democrats.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, which oversaw the nomination, supported Haspel.

"I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president, who will speak truth to power if this president orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture," he said in a Senate speech before the vote.

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Rights groups had urged senators to block Haspel's nomination.

"Due to the overwhelming public evidence suggesting Haspel’s participation and compliance with crimes including torture, enforced disappearance, and obstruction of justice, Haspel’s nomination is an affront to human rights," Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International USA said in a statement on Tuesday.

Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch called Haspel's nomination "the predictable and perverse byproduct of the US failure to grapple with past abuses".

Trump has endorsed brutal interrogation methods, proclaiming during his campaign that "torture works" and that he would approve waterboarding and "much worse" if he was elected.

"Torture is torture. This issue has been settled, and anyone who's been involved should not be in a leadership position or leading anything in this country, especially the CIA," Hassan Jaber, the executive director of ACCESS, a Dearborn-based Arab American organisation, told MEE when Haspel was nominated in March.

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