President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this morning and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take over that role. He also nominated CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency.

If confirmed, Haspel will become the first woman CIA director. However, she may face a rocky road to confirmation due to her role in torture sessions at a secret prison in Thailand.

The Republicans have a one seat majority in the Senate. That incredibly slim lead may dissolve with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who has always been one of the leading voices against these “enhanced” interrogation techniques the government has used.

Haspel’s Work in Thailand

In February 2017, The New York Times published an article about Haspel’s work after her promotion to deputy director. It noted that Pompeo does not consider waterboarding and other techniques as torture and praised the “patriots” who used these different methods in the early 2000s against al-Qaeda:

Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.

The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Reports revealed that the agency waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times in one month and “repeatedly slammed” his head into walls. The interrogators eventually admitted he did not have any “useful information” for them.

The interrogators videotaped these sessions and stored them at a CIA station. Officials ordered destruction of the videotapes in 2005 while Haspel worked at CIA headquarters. The cables of those “destructions orders” had her name.

The tapes came out to the public in 2009 in a letter from federal prosecutors who investigated the destruction of said tapes:

The criminal investigation, begun in January 2008, is being led by John H. Durham, a career prosecutor from Connecticut with long experience trying organized-crime cases.

The order to destroy the tapes was given by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who at the time was the head of the spy agency’s clandestine service. Prosecutors have spent months trying to piece together whether anyone besides Mr. Rodriguez authorized the destruction and to decide whether anyone should be indicted in the matter.

The tapes were destroyed as Congress and the courts were intensifying their scrutiny of the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

Former CIA counterterrorism officer John Kiriakou said that Haspel “oversaw the staff,” which included the two psychologists. Kiriaku claimed those two men “designed the torture techniques” and “actually carried out torture on the prisoners.”

Complications Within the Senate

I do not know for sure how Paul will vote, but we all know he does not approve of torture. In January 2017, Paul appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper to refute Trump’s claim that torture works (emphasis mine):

Paul took the opposite view, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that “it’s currently against the law and I hope it will remain against the law.”

He pointed out that incoming Defense Secretary James Mattis is also against torture and believes that it doesn’t work. He also argued that U.S. intelligence officials have previously detained the wrong people, casting additional doubt on the idea that enhanced interrogation methods were justified.

“The CIA detained 119 people, 39 of them were tortured, and the conclusion of the Senate committee’s report was that it didn’t work, but there was also something very alarming,” said Paul. “Of the 119 people that the CIA detained around the world, 26 of them were mistakenly identified, sometimes with people who had similar names, but they detained the wrong people. I think most Americans would be alarmed if 22 percent of the people we picked up and tortured were the wrong people.”

Paul went on to say that Mike Pompeo’s support for torture was one of the reasons he voted against his confirmation as CIA director.

SO! How will he vote for Haspel? I emailed Paul’s office and inquired about his thoughts on Haspel. But if he didn’t choose Pompeo because of the latter’s support of torture I don’t see how he can vote yes on Haspel.

If he votes no and the votes fall to 50-50, then Vice President Mike Pence will cast his tie-breaking vote.

The Senate confirmed Pompeo 66-32. Paul was the only Republican who voted no, but as you can tell from that vote, some Democrats voted yes (I emphasized the surprising ones):

  • Joe Donnelly of Indiana
  • Dianne Feinstein of California
  • Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
  • Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota
  • Tim Kaine of Virginia
  • Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • Joe Manchin of West Virginia
  • Claire McCaskill of Missouri
  • Jack Reed of Rhode Island
  • Brian Schatz of Hawaii
  • Chuck Schumer of New York
  • Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
  • Mark Warner of Virginia
  • Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island