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Gina Haspel Faces Questions Over CIA Role In Torture


President Trump's new pick to lead the CIA is Gina Haspel. She's not a household name, but there's a spotlight on her now and her three-decade career at the agency. NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre is in the studio with us to talk about Ms. Haspel.

Thanks for being here, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do we know about her?

MYRE: Joined the CIA 1985, has spent more than three decades there, had a lot of big jobs, both at headquarters in Langley, Va., and overseas as a station chief. But because she was undercover, we don't really know much about her in terms of her thinking - she - or comments, photos are rare - that sort of thing. One particular period is well-known. This was in 2002. After the 9/11 attacks, she went to Thailand, ran a black site prison where a couple al-Qaida suspects were waterboarded. This is known and has brought up a lot of criticism. And then following that in 2005, she wrote a cable that called for destroying videotapes of these waterboarding sessions.

MARTIN: And intelligence officials have come to her defense - right? - and said that she was just following the law, she was just following orders. Clearly, that's not going to satisfy critics who would say it doesn't matter, what you did was wrong in their opinion.

MYRE: Yeah, she's going to face tough criticism at a confirmation hearing. But the top CIA people, former directors, those types, have said she was given explicit orders to do this and that it was deemed legal at that time in assurances that it was legal. So that will be, I think, her defense when we hear her, but that you're certainly going to hear from a number of senators who are going to ask about this since she has not spoken about it before.

MARTIN: Right. So we should clarify, it is not legal anymore. President Obama made that change, right?

MYRE: Right. In 2009, executive order by Obama, Congress followed in 2015 with a law. The Army field manual says what is and isn't legitimate interrogation. Waterboarding is not among them.

MARTIN: So you mentioned that this confirmation hearing could be contentious. Senator John McCain released a statement yesterday, and I'll read some of it. He praised Mike Pompeo, who has led the CIA and is now going to go over to the State Department if confirmed. But he did raise concerns about Haspel, saying, (reading) the torture of detainees in U.S. 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.

Do we have a date for her confirmation hearing?

MYRE: Not yet. Richard Burr, who runs the Senate intelligence committee, says he's happy to set it up as soon as she gets the paperwork done. He's already said he supports her. She's met with most of the committee members, since she has been the deputy director at CIA for the past year. Again, it's a slim margin. There's only 51 republicans there in the Senate, and you've got people like McCain. So could be close, and she will face some Democratic pushback.

MARTIN: All right, NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre for us. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.