‘To read of her glee during waterboarding is absolutely appalling’
Senator will also seek to block Mike Pompeo as secretary of state
The Republican senator Rand Paul said on Wednesday he would oppose Donald Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for director of the CIA, accusing her of having shown “joyful glee” during the torture of terrorism suspects.
Paul also announced that he would try to block the president’s nomination of the current CIA director, Mike Pompeo, to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
The Kentucky senator’s stance could be especially awkward for Haspel, who is under scrutiny for reportedly overseeing a secret CIA prison in Thailand where detainees endured so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
“To really appoint the head cheerleader for waterboarding to be head of the CIA?” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I mean, how could you trust somebody who did that to be in charge of the CIA? To read of her glee during the waterboarding is just absolutely appalling.”
Paul highlighted a ProPublica article from last year about a book written by one of the interrogators at the “black site” prison, recalling the waterboarding of the al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah.
He said: “The quote from one of the interrogators says that Gina Haspel said: ‘Good job! I like the way you’re drooling. It adds to the realism. I am almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.’
“When you read that, sort of the joyful glee at someone who’s being tortured, I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman for head of the CIA. So my opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone being tortured.”
Haspel’s confirmation would send a “terrible” message to the world, Paul added. “I don’t want the message to be that if members of our armed services are captured that, since torture’s OK with the Americans, it’s going to be fine to torture Americans when they’re captured, and I think that is the message that it sends.”
Paul claimed that Pompeo and Haspel both supported war in Iraq and currently want war in Iran, which he opposes. “I’m perplexed by the nomination of people who love the Iraq war so much that they would advocate for a war with Iran next. I think it goes against most of the things President Trump campaigned on.
“Somebody that’s advocating for regime change doesn’t really sound like somebody you’d want to have as your chief diplomat. Seriously, you think we can have discussions with other countries if we’re advocating for regime change? At least somebody needs to be advocating for diplomacy.”
Paul pledged to “do everything I can to block” both nominees. He is the first Republican to come out against the two nominations, suddenly announced by Trump in a tweet on Tuesday. Last year, Paul was the only Republican to vote against Pompeo for CIA director. Pompeo was confirmed in that role with the support of two-thirds of the Senate early last year.
Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate so it would take little dissent from Republicans to block a nomination. A successful effort against Haspel also “depends on the solidarity of the Democrats”, Paul noted.
The Republican senator John McCain, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer and has not voted in months, said on Tuesday: “The torture of detainees in US custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.
“I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law.”
Human rights groups have also strongly condemned Haspel’s nomination.