John Brennan, in a rare display of bipartisanship, came under fire by both Democrats and Republicans during his nomination hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In what the Washington Post
described as one of the most heated sessions for a nominee in a decade, Brennan was asked to defend the refusal by the administration to provide basic information on the drone program, including the death toll. To make the point, he was prodded to square this with his assertion that he opposed enhanced interrogation methods, known as water boarding. In both cases justice department lawyers provided legal opinions justifying the programs.
Earlier this week a White Paper was leaked and published by NBC news that justified killing American citizens abroad provided that they were an imminent threat to the United States, as determined by a high level administration official. The White Paper was vague enough
to allow the execution unchecked.
A Justice Department White paper issued late Monday, justifies killing Americans abroad if they pose an imminent threat to the United States. The document details that the American citizen has to be associated group and poses an imminent threat to the United States.
The document further details that the imminent threat does not have to be based on intelligence of a specific attack, but “imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity." It must also take collateral damage to civilians into consideration.
While Brennan defended the White Paper
policy and the drone program in general, he said that the water boarding undertaken by the Bush administration was reprehensible and had to be stopped. Brennan wasn't sure if the enhanced interrogation program was effective and if it had yield any useful information.
On a second controversial topic, he said that after reading a classified intelligence report on harsh interrogation techniques, he does not know if water boarding has yielded useful information.
Despite what he called a public misimpression, Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee that drone strikes are used only against targets planning to carry out attacks against the United States, never as retribution for an earlier one. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he declared.
Republicans have claimed that water boarding indeed yielded results and information extracted that vital information and possibly thwarted dozens of attack and may have led to the capture of Osama Bin Ladin.
This was confirmed in an interview
of retired Central Intelligence Agency field officer John Kiriakou, who headed he interrogation of Zubaydah in Pakistan after his capture in 2002.
Kiriakou told ABC that Zubaydah was waterboarded -- a technique in which the person being interrogated is made to feel as if he is being drowned -- after initially refusing to cooperate with those questioning him.
Zubaydah withstood the waterboarding for ``quite some time'' -- about 30 to 35 seconds -- Kiriakou said in the ABC interview.
``The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate,'' Kiriakou told ABC. ``From that day on, he answered every question. The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.''
While Brennan supports the Obama administration drone program, he said that it has to be acknowledged publicly.
Apparently Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) was not too impressed
with Brennan's answers. She opined that this rationale was long gone. She said that she thought the administration was victim of its own secrecy.
She said that she had sought permission to disclose estimates of civilian casualties attributed to the drone program, but was told she couldn't since it was classified. For the public, the drone program doesn't exist.
She also indicated, for the first time, that she plans to have the committee examine the creation of a special court to evaluate evidence against Americans who might be targeted, similar to the scrutiny applied to government monitoring of the communications of Americans suspected of having connections to terrorist groups.
Although the public and the media have been aware of the drone program, particularly the drone strikes into Pakistan, this week was the first time that the administration publicly acknowledged it.
Since 9/11 the CIA has transformed into a powerful paramilitary arm of the US administration. While it still collects data from all corners of the world it has become more and more involved in striking foreign targets with drones from a distance. The whole operation can be likened to a computer game, where the operators guide a drone to its target often more than 10,000 miles removed. No stench, no noise and no real evidence of collateral destruction. Clinical and clean with minimum psychological effect on the operators, the program has become an effective tool for the administration.
If John Brennan were confirmed, he would be the most experienced director in decades, having served 25 years in the agency.
The question is if water boarding is so reprehensible, why isn't the indiscriminate killing of civilians?