Trump urges CIA pick with torture history to stay on board

Gina Haspel is set to face a tough confirmation hearing after a number of lawmakers,raised reservations over her past involvement in the torture of detainees. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Donald Trump on Monday (May 7) tweeted support for his controversial pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), after reports she might withdraw her nomination to avoid a Senate grilling over her past involvement in torture.

Gina Haspel - who has a long career in the CIA's clandestine service and currently serves as its deputy director - ran the agency's "black box" interrogation cell in Thailand after the September 11 attacks.

She is set to face a tough confirmation hearing Wednesday (May 9) after a number of lawmakers, including Republican senator John McCain - who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam - raised reservations over her past involvement in the torture of detainees.

"My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists," the Republican president tweeted early Monday.

"Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!"

Citing senior officials, The Washington Post said on Sunday (May 6) that Haspel herself had indicated she would withdraw her nomination over the prospect of a tough Senate hearing that could damage the top espionage body's reputation and her own.

Trump had decided to push her to stay the nominee, according to the paper.

Haspel, 61, is widely respected in the intelligence community as a disciplined, non-political field agent who took on hardship positions and unsavoury jobs.

After becoming the CIA's deputy director one year ago, Trump nominated her for the agency's top job to replace the former director Mike Pompeo, recently confirmed as the top US diplomat.

According to numerous reports, key Al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were brutally interrogated, slammed against walls, and repeatedly waterboarded in 2002 in Thailand.

Haspel was reportedly involved in the CIA's destruction of videotapes recording the interrogations.

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