Senate confirms Haspel to be first woman CIA director

WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be director of the CIA, ending a bruising confirmation fight centered on her ties to the spy agency's past use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques.

Haspel, who will be the first woman director of the CIA, is a 33-year veteran at the agency currently serving as its acting director. As senators continued to vote, the tally was 51-43 in favor of her nomination in the 100-member chamber, where a simple majority was required for confirmation.

Haspel was approved despite stiff opposition over her links to the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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 methods including waterboarding. Three years later, she drafted a cable ordering the destruction of videotapes of those interrogations.

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Nominee to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel arrives for meetings with Senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel is sworn in prior to testifying at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee Gina Haspel (R) attends Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's ceremonial swearing-in at the State Department in Washington, U.S. May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by U.S. President Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, is shown in this handout photograph released on March 13, 2018. CIA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Nominee to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel arrives for meetings with Senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel testifies at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee Gina Haspel (C) attends Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's ceremonial swearing-in at the State Department in Washington, U.S. May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
UNITED STATES - MAY 7: Gina Haspel, nominee to become CIA director, arrives for her meeting with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in the Hart Senate Office Building on Monday, May 7, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel testifies at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
UNITED STATES - MAY 7: Gina Haspel, nominee to be director of the CIA, arrives in Hart Building for meetings with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and other senators on May 7, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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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.

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 Republican President Donald 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. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann)

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