Gina Haspel, who is the first female director, was confirmed by the US Senate despite severe opposition due to her involvement and oversight of the intelligence agency's torture, detention and interrogation programmes.

An undercover officer for most of her CIA career, Gina Haspel in 2002 served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency conducted interrogations at a secret prison using torture methods which included waterboarding.
An undercover officer for most of her CIA career, Gina Haspel in 2002 served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency conducted interrogations at a secret prison using torture methods which included waterboarding. ( Reuters )

The US Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be director of the CIA, ending a bruising confirmation fight centred on her oversight of the spy agency's use of torture and other brutal interrogation techniques.

Haspel, who will be the first woman to lead the CIA, is a 33-year veteran at the agency currently serving as its acting director. 

The tally was 54-45 in favour of her nomination in the 100-member chamber, where a simple majority was required for confirmation.

Six Democrats joined President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans in voting for Haspel, and two Republicans voted no.

Haspel was approved despite stiff opposition over oversight of the CIA's use of torture, including waterboarding, in the years after the September 11 attacks.

TRT World's correspondent Leone Lakhani has more from Washington, DC. 

An undercover officer for most of her CIA career, Haspel in 2002 served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency conducted interrogations at a secret prison using torture methods which included waterboarding. Three years later, she drafted a cable ordering the destruction of videotapes of those interrogations.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has been away from Washington all year as he battles brain cancer, urged the Senate not to vote for Haspel. He did not vote on Thursday.

Tortured himself while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said approving Haspel would send the wrong message, and the country should only use methods to keep itself safe "as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world."

Haspel also had strong support from Trump's administration, many current and former intelligence officials and a wide range of lawmakers, including Democrats.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, which oversaw the nomination, supported Haspel.

"I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president, who will speak truth to power if this president orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture," he said in a Senate speech before the vote.

But several Democrats expressed worry that Haspel might not stand up to the president who in 2016 told supporters that "torture works" and that he would like to see interrogation techniques "tougher than waterboarding."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Community who in that role worked extensively with CIA management, said confirming Haspel sends "the wrong message" that the United States has abdicated its moral authority.

"No one has ever been held accountable for the torture program and I do not believe those who were intimately involved in it deserve to lead the agency," Feinstein said in a statement after voting against Haspel.

"What message does it send to the world if we reward people for presiding over what is considered to be one of the darkest chapters in our history?"

The American Civil Liberties Union also attacked Haspel's confirmation, calling it "a complete disgrace to our democracy."

Rights groups quickly condemned the vote. Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch called it "the predictable and perverse byproduct of the US failure to grapple with past abuses."

Trump nominated Haspel, then deputy director, in March to succeed Mike Pompeo as CIA director. Haspel became acting director after Pompeo was confirmed as secretary of state.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies