Maine’sU.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are coming under pressure from human rights groups who oppose Gina Haspel’s nomination to be director of the CIA, citing her role in the agency’s detention and “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists in the wake of 9/11.

Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the CIA and its current deputy director, offered to pull her name from consideration after media reports connected her to the enhanced interrogation techniques, which critics call torture, used under President George W. Bush after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2015, President Obama signed the McCain-Feinstein amendment into law that bans the use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, which simulates the experience of drowning, on terrorism suspects.

National human rights and religious groups, such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Human Rights First and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, have been lobbying Collins and King to oppose Haspel’s nomination. All three groups have taken out ads with the Press Herald and other Maine publications.

Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, both serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is expected to consider Haspel’s nomination beginning Wednesday. What comes out in the committee’s hearing could determine whether Haspel is confirmed by the Senate. Haspel, 61, would become the first woman to lead the agency.

In a closely divided Senate, with Republicans holding a slim 51-49 majority, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has not been able to be present this year while battling brain cancer. But McCain, a POW during the Vietnam War, has been an outspoken opponent of the Bush-era interrogation techniques and often has opposed President Trump on key issues.

King issued a statement Monday saying that he will use the hearing to learn more about whether Haspel should be confirmed.

“I’ve met with Gina Haspel and read a great number of the documents regarding her nomination. I welcome the hearing with her in this coming week. I’m very concerned about some of the issues that have been raised in connection with this nomination, but I’ll reserve judgment until after the hearing,” King said in the statement.

Collins also said she is undecided. She is the only Republican senator to oppose two Trump nominees – voting against Betsy DeVos as secretary of education and Scott Pruitt as EPA director.

“I have consistently said that the enhanced interrogation program was completely unacceptable and that waterboarding is tantamount to torture. In 2015, I co-sponsored an amendment to the defense authorization bill introduced by Sen. McCain that will ensure interrogation techniques such as waterboarding will never be used again and that the Army Field Manual will govern interrogations of detainees,” Collins said in a statement to the Press Herald on Monday night.

Collins has met with Haspel and said she has a “number of remaining questions” to ask the nominee during the Senate committee hearing.

“As a 33-year veteran of the CIA, Gina Haspel has dedicated her entire life to public service, serving in some of the most dangerous places in the world,” Collins said in her statement. “As such, she has an extensive record at the agency, some of which has only recently been made public. … Although Ms. Haspel was not a high-ranking CIA official when the enhanced interrogation program began and did not help create the program, I want to hear more about her views on waterboarding and on other issues in the agency’s past, present, and future.”

In 2014, Collins and King issued a joint statement that was in favor of declassifying a report made in 2012 to the Senate Intelligence Committee that discussed the CIA’s interrogation techniques under the Bush administration. The report was declassified and released to the public in late 2014.

“We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA’s management of this program,” Collins and King said in the statement.

The extent to which Haspel oversaw or approved of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used during the Bush administration is the subject of dispute.

Jack Devine, a retired high-ranking CIA official who is now a New York-based consultant, told the Press Herald in a phone interview Monday that he has known Haspel for a long time, and that he has “high regard” for her.

Devine said she was a junior officer in 2002 at a secret site in Thailand where the enhanced interrogation techniques were used.

“The descriptions of her role in that program have been greatly inflated,” Devine said, pointing out that he is personally opposed to the enhanced interrogation program.

But according to a February 2017 article in the New York Times, Haspel “oversaw the torture of a terrorism suspect” while she headed up the secret site in Thailand in 2002.

Jim Cason, associate executive secretary for strategic advocacy for the Friends Committee, a Quaker group, said that Haspel’s actions in the CIA disqualify her from serving as director.

“As a matter of faith, we believe torture is wrong, no exceptions,” Cason said. “To have someone with that background be the head of the CIA sends a wrong signal to residents of the USA and it sends the wrong signal internationally about the United States’ position on torture. In effect, we would be saying to the world that these actions were OK. There would be no way to take that back.”

Human Rights First released a letter over the weekend signed by 109 former U.S. military generals and flag officers urging the Senate to reject Haspel for her role in the torture program.

In its 2017 article, The New York Times also reported that the “sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the CIA station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at CIA headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.”

However, Mike Morell, former CIA director under Obama, issued a statement in April clearing Haspel of any role in the destruction of the tapes.

“Ms. Haspel did not destroy the tapes, she did not oversee the destruction of the tapes, and she did not order the destruction of the tapes,” Morell said in a statement released to the media.

Devine said he has no reason to not believe Morell, and also, it was the correct decision to destroy the videotapes, because if they were ever publicly disseminated it could put CIA employees who were on the tapes and their families at great risk to their safety.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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