On Tuesday, President Trump shook up his administration once again through a high-profile firing and a pair of nominations, one of which was historic. Trump abruptly removed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and announced that his replacement would be CIA Chief Mike Pompeo. To fill Pompeo's position, the president nominated what would be the first woman to ever to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel.
Haspel's appointment, said Trump, would be "a historic milestone."
"Gina, by the way, who I know very well, who I've worked with very closely, will be the first woman director of the CIA," Trump told the press Tuesday. "She's an outstanding person, who also I have gotten to know very well."
While Republicans have generally praised Trump's choice of Haspel, a decorated veteran of the agency, citing her 30+ years of service, including serving as deputy director of the agency for the last year, Trump's "historic milestone" was met with forceful pushback from the other side of the aisle. Key Democrats and the ACLU say she is "unsuitable" for the position because of her role in the war on terror at a "black site" in Thailand.
As USA Today puts it, Haspel "reportedly ran a secret prison in Thailand in 2002 where terrorism suspects were waterboarded and subjected to other so-called enhanced interrogations." The ACLU's deputy director in Washington, Christopher Anders, decried the "illegal and shameful" chapter, describing Haspel as having been "up to her eyeballs in torture."
"She was up to her eyeballs in torture: both in running a secret torture prison in Thailand, and carrying out an order to cover up torture crimes by destroying videotapes," said Anders. "One man held at the secret prison she ran was waterboarded 83 times, slammed against walls, sleep deprived, and locked in a coffin-like box. After she was promoted to a position back at CIA headquarters, she worked to destroy evidence of the torture crimes committed at the prison she ran."
Among the Democratic senators voicing their strong disapproval of Haspel are Illinois' Tammy Duckworth and Oregon's Ron Wyden. Duckworth, an Iraq War vet, decried Haspel for allegedly "covering up" the "torture" she supervised. "Her reprehensible actions should disqualify her from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently this president believes they merit a promotion," she said.
Wyden, a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, agreed that the "disturbing facts from her past" make Haspel "unsuitable" to fill the role as director of the agency.
It wasn't only Democrats who raised concerns; Republican Senator John McCain, a strong critic of waterboarding, weighed in on Haspel's potential appointment by calling for her complete transparency about her role in "one of the darkest chapters in American history."
"The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history," McCain said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process."
In a statement Tuesday, Haspel thanked the president for giving her the opportunity to serve as the first female CIA director.
"I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence agency," she said. "If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office."