CAPITOL HILL - The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel as the Central Intelligence Agency's first female director by a vote of 54-45, ending a tumultuous nomination process in which lawmakers revisited the CIA's past interrogation practices.
Six Democrats voted in favor of Haspel, while two Republicans opposed her nomination to replace Mike Pompeo, who was confirmed last month as secretary of state.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, praised Haspel, a career CIA employee, as "uniquely qualified to face America's biggest national security challenges," adding that she has "earned the respect and admiration of the men and women of the CIA."
President Donald Trump's selection of Haspel sparked controversy, given her oversight of harsh detainee interrogations after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. She also wrote a memo authorizing the spy agency's destruction of videotapes showing what many legal scholars said was the torture of terror suspects.
Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced his opposition to Haspel shortly before the vote, calling some of her known record "disturbing."
"I do not question Ms. Haspel's commitment to our national security. But I do question her fidelity to a core value of our nation — that all people have certain inalienable rights," Leahy said in a statement, adding that the basic dignity of human beings "is incompatible with inhumane practices like torture."
Haspel's confirmation came one day after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10-5 to advance the nomination. At her confirmation hearing last week, Haspel told the committee her post-9/11 actions had the backing of the Justice Department and came during a period of intense fears about U.S. security.
"She has acted morally, ethically and legally over a distinguished 30-year career and is the right person to lead the Agency into an uncertain and challenging future," the committee's chairman, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, said in a statement.
Several Democrats disagree
Several Democrats sharply disagreed, alleging that as acting CIA director, Haspel engineered an incomplete disclosure of her record to senators and the broader American public.
"The Haspel nomination is one of the most self-serving abuses of power in recent history," Ron Wyden of Oregon said. "I don't know of another occasion when the person who was up for nomination was given the sole ability to decide what about her background would be classified and what wouldn't."
During her confirmation hearing, Haspel repeatedly declined to say whether harsh interrogation techniques were morally wrong.
The committee's top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, told VOA that was inconsistent with conversations he had with her about the program.
"The person that I knew, the person that I’d had private conversations with and others, was more forthcoming about what her view of the interrogation program was now," he said.
Earlier this week, however, she wrote a letter to the committee's top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, saying the CIA should not have conducted abusive interrogations.
Warner said the written statement o had earned Haspel his support.
"As Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel will be the first operations officer in more than five decades to lead the Agency," Warner said in a statement. "I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President if ordered to do something illegal or immoral like a return to torture."