US President Donald Trump’s nomination for CIA director, Gina Haspel, has been grilled over her alleged ties to torturing terrorist suspects at her public confirmation hearing on Thursday (AEST).
Testifying before both Democrats and Republicans members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the acting CIA director was heavily questioned about her involvement in interrogation tactics and her role in the destruction of torture tapes in 2005, which have threatened to derail her confirmation.
Ms Haspel often stuck to scripted answers and avoided several questions by saying they involved classified information. She later testified at a closed-door classified session.
Her nomination is contentious because she ran a covert detention site in Thailand where suspects were brutally interrogated and waterboarded during George W Bush’s “war on terror” in 2002.
Despite her alleged involvement, Ms Haspel she would end the agency’s harsh interrogation program.
Ms Haspel said the program, often denounced as torture, was “immoral” but refused to answer questions in relation to her own interrogation links.
She also did not say she would refuse an order to use waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.
“My moral compass is strong,” Ms Haspel told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I would not allow the CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”
Her guarded responses came as protesters disrupted the hearing shouting, “Prosecute the torturers!” and “Bloody Gina!”
Ms Haspel remained stone-faced as police escorted the protesters from the room.
Ms Haspel said she never saw torture videos she is implicated in helping to destroy and was not depicted on them, but that the destruction was important at the time to protect the CIA personnel showed on the tapes from being targeted.
She added she “absolutely” supported destroying the tapes at the time, however she would not support destroying tapes today.
“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” Ms Haspel testified.
The Justice Department investigated the destruction of the tapes, but no charges were filed.
Mr Trump vowed as a candidate to resume the now-banned waterboarding, and promised techniques “a hell of a lot worse”.
Ms Haspel said she does not “believe the President would ask me to do that”, but did not say that she would refuse.
She needs 51 votes for confirmation as the first woman director of the CIA in the 100-seat Senate, where Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 51-49 majority.