The US Senate has confirmed Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA, ending a difficult confirmation fight centred on her ties to the spy agency’s past use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques.
Ms Haspel, who will be the first woman to lead the CIA, is a 33-year veteran at the agency currently serving as its acting director. She was nominated by President Donald Trump, with the the 100-member chamber voting 54-45 in favour of confirming her selection.
Six Democrats joined most Republicans in voting for Ms Haspel, and two Republicans voted no.
Ms Haspel was approved despite stiff opposition over her links to the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, in the years after the 9/11 attacks.
An undercover officer for most of her CIA career, in 2002 Ms Haspel served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency conducted interrogations at a secret prison using methods including waterboarding. 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 with brain cancer, urged the Senate not to vote for Ms Haspel. He did not vote on Thursday.
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Tortured himself while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Mr McCain said approving Ms Haspel would send the wrong message, and the country should only use methods to keep itself safe “as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”
Ms Haspel also had strong support from the Trump administration, many current and former intelligence officials and a wide range of legislators.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, which oversaw the nomination, supported Ms Haspel.
Rights groups quickly condemned the vote. Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch called it “the predictable and perverse by-product of the U.S. failure to grapple with past abuses.”
Mr Trump nominated Ms Haspel, then deputy director, in March to succeed Mike Pompeo as CIA director. Ms Haspel became acting director after Mr Pompeo was confirmed as secretary of state.