By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Wednesday to approve President Donald Trump's nominee to be CIA director, Gina Haspel, and she is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate as soon as next week.
The panel voted 10-5 behind closed doors to approve the nomination, which was expected after two of its seven Democrats, Vice Chairman Mark Warner and Joe Manchin, said they would join the panel's eight Republicans in backing Haspel.
Despite criticism - including from Republican Senators Rand Paul and John McCain - because of ties to the CIA's former harsh interrogation program for terrorism suspects, Haspel is expected to become the first female director of the spy agency.
Senator Richard Burr, the committee's Republican chairman, said in a statement that Haspel is the best person to lead the agency, saying she "has acted morally, ethically, and legally" during her career.
Haspel, a 33-year CIA veteran, is currently its acting director.
Debate over her confirmation has been dominated by questions about her part in the spy agency's use of methods including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
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 cited Haspel's role in the interrogation program, saying the country should only use methods to keep itself safe that are "as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world."
Rights groups denounced the committee vote. Christopher Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union said the committee was "rewarding a dark, criminal chapter of our history."
Besides Warner, at least four other Democrats, all up for re-election this year in states that backed Trump in 2016, have expressed support for Haspel. She needs a majority to be confirmed in the 100-member Senate, which Republicans control 51-49. Vice President Mike Pence can break a tie.
Haspel pledged at her confirmation hearing that she would never restart the harsh interrogation program.
She wrote to Warner on Monday, however, and said the CIA should never have undertaken the program.
Trump nominated Haspel, then CIA deputy director, in March to succeed Mike Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, as head of the agency..
Haspel became acting director after Pompeo was confirmed as Trump's second secretary of state.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)
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Updated Date: May 17, 2018 01:05 AM