WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for CIA chief is privately assuring senators that she will not reinstitute a detention and interrogation program and will make the pledge publicly at her May 9 confirmation hearing, two sources said on Friday.
Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel plans to give the commitment in her “opening statement and she has been telling members that as well,” a congressional aide told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Word of the pledge comes as Haspel’s nomination encounters opposition over her role in a now-defunct program in which the agency detained and interrogated al Qaeda suspects in secret prisons overseas using techniques widely condemned as torture.
An administration official confirmed that Haspel has been pledging in private interviews with senators that she will never allow the CIA to revive a detention and interrogation program.
She also is telling them that all U.S. government agencies involved in interrogations should observe the standards set in a U.S. Army field manual on interrogations, said the administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Daniel Hoffman, a former senior CIA official who knows Haspel well, said he believed she has learned valuable lessons from the aftermath of the harsh interrogation program.
“She has an extraordinary level of expertise in counterterrorism programs, including this chapter in our history,” Hoffman said. “She has absorbed the lessons learned.”
Trump named Haspel, the first woman tapped to head the agency, to succeed Mike Pompeo, who became secretary of state on Thursday. She faces a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on May 9.
Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for the top Democrat on the panel, Senator Mark Warner, said: “As far as Senator Warner is concerned, a commitment to following the law is not a cause for celebration, but a prerequisite for consideration.”
A public vow by Haspel not to reinstitute a detention and interrogation program would be significant, especially since Trump said last year that torture “absolutely” works and he would be open to its use if recommended by top aides.
Her public commitment also could help ease some senators’ reservations prompted by her oversight in 2002 of a secret “black site” in Thailand where detainees underwent waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other brutal techniques.
Then-President George W. Bush authorized the so-called Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Haspel, who served as an undercover intelligence officer for more than 30 years, has won the support of dozens of former senior U.S. officials.
Last week, the CIA released a 2011 memo showing that the agency’s then-deputy director, Michael Morell, had cleared Haspel of wrongdoing in the destruction of videotapes depicting the harsh interrogation of an al Qaeda suspect.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and several other Democrats have questioned her suitability to be director, and they were angered last week by the CIA’s refusal to declassify more details of her career.
The CIA said that it would work with the committee to make materials that still are classified available to senators in a secure facility and that it is committed to transparency “with the full Senate.”
Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish