U.S. President Donald Trump's pick to head the country's spy agency promised lawmakers not to revive a program featuring so-called enhanced interrogations of terror suspects but repeatedly refused to condemn the practices as illegal or immoral.
Wednesday's confirmation hearing for Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Gina Haspel, who is aiming to become the agency's first female director, gave much of the public its first look at the 61-year-old intelligence officer who has spent most of the last three decades rising through the ranks, while often working in the shadows.
Much of the hearing focused on Haspel's 2002 stint in Thailand during which she oversaw a secret CIA prison. Detainees there were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques that are frequently denounced as torture.
"I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program," Haspel told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"I would never, ever take CIA back to an interrogation program," she said. "I would absolutely not permit it."
Praise from Republicans
Haspel won praise from the committee's Republican lawmakers, including its chairman, Senator Richard Burr, who called her "without a doubt the most qualified person the president could have chosen."
But other senators repeatedly hammered Haspel over her record, much of which remains classified. And on several occasions, Wednesday's proceedings came to a halt as protesters, including one yelling, "Bloody Gina, you are a torturer," were escorted from the room.
"Put country above politics," Brennan tweeted. "Don't penalize her for previous policy decisions or because DT [Donald Trump] picked her."
Other current and former intelligence officials, including current Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and former CIA directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta, have also issued statements of support.
Group warns against confirmation
Yet as late as Wednesday, a group of 115 former and retired diplomats sent a letter to lawmakers, warning Haspel's confirmation would be a mistake.
"If Ms. Haspel is confirmed, it is going to undercut a lot of the effort that the Department of State and other U.S. agencies make in promoting human rights," said Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who signed the letter.
Ford warned that should Haspel become CIA director, other nations would point to the U.S. record on interrogations as justification for their own abuses of human rights.
"It's an outrageous allegation, but it's going to be made and it's going to stick," he said.
Some of those who have worked with Haspel believe such leaps of judgment are unfair.
"When you're doing intelligence, you're always sort of playing at the legal edge. Everything you do is vetted by U.S. law," Carol Rollie Flynn, a former executive director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, told VOA.
"She's just a really good person. She's someone who is pretty much universally respected," Flynn said. "They don't grow on trees."
Source: Voice of America