Detainees tortured included Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times in one month [Carolyn Kaster/AP]
Gina Haspel has been named by US President Donald Trump as new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, becoming the first woman to hold the post if confirmed by the Senate.
Trump announced on Tuesday that Haspel, currently the intelligence agency’s deputy director, would be replacing Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo was appointed the new secretary of state after incumbent Rex Tillerson was ousted.
In a statement issued by Trump to the Washington Post, he said the nomination of Gina Haspel was “a historic milestone”.
Speaking to reporters, he said Haspel is “an outstanding person”.
Haspel became the US spy agency’s second-in-command in February 2017. She is a career intelligence officer who joined the CIA in 1985.
Her former posts at the intelligence agency include deputy director of the national clandestine service for foreign intelligence and covert action.
“Gina Haspel was one of President Bush’s torturers-in-chief and she is simply not fit to hold an office that requires, at its very heart, a commitment to uphold the values of the Constitution,” Maya Foa, director of international human rights organisation Reprieve, said in a statement delivered to Al Jazeera.
The New York Times reported in 2017 that Haspel played a direct role in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition programme” through which captured fighters were abducted and tortured.
She ran the CIA’s first overseas detention site in Thailand, also known as a “black site”.
The detention centre was the place at which the the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two Saudi citizens currently held in the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba for alleged links to al-Qaeda, took place.
The interrogations involved extensive use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, the term used for waterboarding and other interrogation methods internationally classified as torture.
A 2005 US justice department memo said Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in a single month in 2002.
A 2014 report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intellingence on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme said these techniques were used on Zubaydah “with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time”.
The reports also said the techniques included slamming him against a wall, sleep deprivation and forced nudity.
Videotapes of the interrogations were destroyed on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel and agreed to by her former boss, then-CIA director of counterterrorism operations Jose Rodriguez.
Rami Khouri, a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera Haspel’s appointment was “in keeping” with previous actions by the Trump administration.
“This is very much in line with what we’ve seen … Appointing people in high positions who are, to say the least, controversial – not only in terms of their views but in terms of their adherence to fundamental ethics and law in the US and international law against torture,” he said.
Foa, the director of Reprieve, agreed.
She said “appointment should be a warning to allies of the US in the UK, Europe and around the world to rethink their cooperation with an administration which has refused again and again to show respect for the values we all share”.