Brennan Placates Congress on Torture, Drones in Confirmation Hearings

Brennan refused to call water-boarding torture, saying he's 'not a lawyer'

The Senate confirmation hearings on Thursday for John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, focused primarily on CIA torture and drones, as Brennan heads to inevitable approval.

Obama attempted to nominate John Brennan as Director of the CIA back at the beginning of his first term, but faced backlash because of Brennan’s rumored complicity in the Bush administration’s torture and rendition programs – something Obama had campaigned against.

The 25-year CIA veteran and current counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama denied he ever supported the CIA’s Bush era torture program.

“I did not take steps to stop the CIA’s use of those techniques. I was not in the chain of command of that programme,” he said. “I was aware of the programme. I was CC’d in on some of those documents, but I had no oversight of it. I wasn’t involved in its creation,” he said.

Brennan described so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” like water-boarding as “reprehensible” and “something that should not be done,” but he refused repeated opportunities to call the treatment torture.

“The Attorney General has referred to waterboarding as torture, many people have referred to it as torture,” Brennan said. But ““I am not a lawyer,” he told Senator Carl Levin, “I cannot address that question.”

But, as Marcy Wheeler points out, Brennan is “almost certainly, the ‘informed, high-level official of the US government who [determines] that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,'” referring to the leaked Justice Department memo legally justifying targeted US citizens for assassination by drone.

“That person not only determines whether capture would be ‘feasible’ and what ‘imminent’ means,” Wheeler writes, “but he decides whether killing the person would be ‘consistent with law of war principles.'”

“In other words, this man, who can’t (or refuses to) say whether waterboarding is torture because he is not a lawyer, is entrusted every Tuesday to make far more difficult legal decisions, both on the subjective feasible and imminent questions, but also on specific international laws,” Wheeler adds.

While Brennan tried to accommodate the heightened public concern about the drone war of late by pledging more transparency and openly admitting when civilians are accidentally killed, he refused to provide information on it that Obama has doggedly kept secret, even in the face of repeated Congressional demands.

Washington Post article back in October described how Brennan’s kill lists, under his leadership, have evolved into something called a “disposition matrix” which secretly collects information on targeted individuals and the efforts to kill or capture them.

“Among senior Obama administration officials,” the Post reported, “there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade” which is a “timeline [that] suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”

Brennan has left a lasting mark on how the Executive Branch, through the covert actions of an increasingly paramilitary CIA, conducts extrajudicial assassinations of suspects without charge or trial, even if they are American citizens.

As the Post explained, Brennan has helped Obama manage “the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”

Author: John Glaser

John Glaser writes for