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Washington (AFP) – Gina Haspel appeared destined to become President Donald Trump’s next CIA director after the espionage veteran placated a key Senate Democrat on Tuesday by acknowledging she regretted the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques.
Haspel, who faces a vote Wednesday in the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of a full floor vote, has now locked in the backing of at least four Democrats, more than likely enough to win confirmation in the 100-member chamber.
The intelligence panel’s top Democrat, Mark Warner, said he has been persuaded that Haspel, who was in the spotlight over her role in overseeing the torture of terror suspects during the Bush administration, would not allow such interrogation techniques under her watch.
“I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president if ordered to do something illegal or immoral — like a return to torture,” Warner said in a statement announcing his support.
Haspel, age 61 and a 30-year CIA veteran, has been the agency’s acting director since Mike Pompeo was sworn in as secretary of state at the end of April.
She was extensively questioned during her Senate confirmation hearing last week about her role in 2002 in charge of a secret CIA prison in Thailand.
Detainees suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda, including Abu Zubaydah, were frequently tortured, including through the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
During tense exchanges in that hearing she declined to specifically acknowledge torture’s immorality, but in a Tuesday letter to Warner she made her position clearer.
“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,” she wrote.
“As director, I would refuse to undertake any proposed activity that is contrary to my moral and ethical values.”
Three other Democrats — Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, and Heidi Heitkamp, each running for re-election this year in states won by Trump in 2016 — have come out in favor of Haspel, allowing her to overcome any potential remaining opposition.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, but two in their party remain opposed to her confirmation: senators Rand Paul and John McCain — who was tortured while being held prisoner in North Vietnam.
With the handful of Democrats behind her, it would take at least three more Republican defectors to sink her nomination.
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