Gina Haspel portrayed the CIA's post-Sept. 11, 2001, interrogation program and its harsh treatment of detainees as a mistake in a letter to the Senate intelligence panel's top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, whose support she is courting ahead of a committee vote set for Wednesday.
Haspel's Monday letter to Warner amounts to a significant criticism of the George W. Bush-era CIA's use of tactics subsequently deemed torture, and it goes beyond what she said about the program during her public confirmation hearing last week. During her testimony then, Haspel vowed not to start a similarly harsh interrogation program if confirmed as President Donald Trump's CIA director, but she stopped short of disavowing a program that she said produced "valuable information."
Haspel stood by her judgment that the CIA interrogation program generated helpful leads from suspected terrorists, but her letter to Warner — who remains publicly undecided on her confirmation — acknowledged that both she and the spy agency "have learned the hard lessons since 9/11."
"While I won't condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world," Haspel wrote to Warner.
"With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken," she added. "The United States must be an example to the rest of the world, and I support that."
Haspel's prospects for confirmation are growing brighter by the day. But she needs to secure more support to ensure victory given the opposition of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the chamber's narrow division in the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposes her confirmation.
Her letter to Warner, first reported by CNN, attempts to assuage the Virginia Democrat's stated concerns about her key role in the interrogation program and smooth relations with a potential future chairman of the intelligence committee.
Warner acknowledged in an interview last week that, as the intelligence panel's vice chairman, "I do think I owe an obligation to understand the opinions of the workforce. And I think clearly the workforce is supportive" of Haspel.