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CIA nominee Gina Haspel now says agency shouldn't have tortured terror suspects

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WASHINGTON — CIA director-nominee Gina Haspel, who ran a secret CIA prison after 9/11 where a detainee was tortured, asserted for the first time publicly Tuesday that the CIA’s program of brutal interrogations was a mistake that “ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world.”

Haspel’s significant new statement, in a letter to the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner, all but assures that she will be confirmed, Senate aides said.

In the letter, Haspel took a stand that she repeatedly declined to take during her confirmation hearing, when she was asked over and over to pass judgment on a CIA program that many believe was a departure from American values. She avoided answering, saying instead that she supports the current law banning brutal interrogations across the U.S. government.

“While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel wrote in the new letter. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Image: CIA nominee Gina Haspel listens during her confirmation hearing
CIA nominee Gina Haspel listens during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill May 9, 2018 in Washington.Brendan Smialowski / AFP – Getty Images

She told senators something similar during her testimony in closed session last week, two people who were present for her testimony told NBC News. But Haspel had wanted to avoid saying it publicly, for fear of impugning the many people who still work at CIA who had some involvement with the post 9/11 program.

Warner and other Democrats wanted to hear her say it publicly, and now they have.

Haspel also told Warner in the letter that it “was a mistake not to brief the entire committee at the beginning” of the interrogation program. That was also a significant statement, because former CIA officers who have defended the torture program have commonly argued that Congress was briefed and had no problem with it. In fact, the 2014 Senate report suggests that the early briefings — to a small group of Congressional leaders — were inaccurate and incomplete.

“CIA needs to have consensus from members of the oversight committees who make decisions on behalf of the American people as their elected representatives on activities that can’t be made public,” Haspel wrote.

Haspel’s letter came as senators were reviewing a classified memo, prepared by the Democratic staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that includes details about the CIA’s interrogation program that some senators and aides have found disturbing, four people familiar with the document told NBC News.

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