According to the White House, John Brennan was sworn in as CIA Director on a “first draft” of the Constitution including notations from George Washington, dating to 1787.
Vice President Joe Biden swears in CIA Director John Brennan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 8, 2013. Members of Brennan’s family stand with him. Brennan was sworn in with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution, dating from 1787, which has George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it.
That means, when Brennan vowed to protect and defend the Constitution, he was swearing on one that did not include the First, Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Amendments — or any of the other Amendments now included in our Constitution. The Bill of Rights did not become part of our Constitution until 1791, 4 years after the Constitution that Brennan took his oath on.
I really don’t mean to be an asshole about this. But these vows always carry a great deal of symbolism. And whether he meant to invoke this symbolism or not, the moment at which Brennan took over the CIA happened to exclude (in symbolic form, though presumably not legally) the key limits on governmental power that protect American citizens.
Update: Olivier Knox describes how the White House pushed the symbolism of this.
Hours after CIA Director John Brennan took the oath of office – behind closed doors, far away from the press, perhaps befitting his status as America’s top spy – the White House took pains to emphasize the symbolism of the ceremony.
“There’s one piece of this that I wanted to note for you,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters gathered for their daily briefing. “Director Brennan was sworn in with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution that had George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it, dating from 1787.”
Earnest said Brennan had asked for a document from the National Archives that would demonstrate the U.S. is a nation of laws.
“Director Brennan told the president that he made the request to the archives because he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA,” Earnest said.
Update: I’m assuming this copy of the Constitution is the one Brennan used.
In the New York Times, veteran intelligence writers Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane described Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan as “notably aggressive” and that it produced “intense questioning” for the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller, another intelligence veteran, said that there were “heated exchanges” as Brennan was “challenged in often blunt terms”
Nothing could be further from the truth as the feckless Senate Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, led Brennan on a virtual walk in the park on the way to confirmation next week.
Keep in mind that Brennan could not be nominated for CIA director four years ago because of the intense opposition to his approval of the agency’s policy of extraordinary renditions, which permitted the CIA to take people off the streets of Europe and the Middle East and transfer them to foreign intelligence services that routinely engaged in the most sadistic kinds of torture.
Also, keep in mind that Brennan is the architect of the U.S. policy of “targeted killings” that have made assassinations a routine part of U.S. foreign policy. And in a shocking statement that was never addressed by the committee, Brennan admitted that, after reading the summary of the committee’s secret report on torture and abuse, he could no longer maintain that torture actually saved American lives.
If Brennan was truly unaware of the sadistic nature of U.S. torture and its lack of favorable results, then this is the most significant case of willful ignorance since Robert Gates told the Senate Intelligence Committee 22 years ago that he was unaware of the true nature of Iran-Contra.
Sherlock Holmes maintained that the dog that doesn’t bark often provides the real clues. Well, the questions that were never asked pointed to a committee that did not want to engage in a genuine confirmation process of a controversial nominee. There were no questions about Brennan’s various press conferences that provided inaccurate information on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the capture of the Nigerian underwear bomber, and the number of innocent lives that are being taken in Drone attacks.
Conversely, there was no discussion of press appearances that Brennan should have given in the wake of the attack on the Benghazi consulate that was oddly placed in the hands of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. All of these interviews were designed in part to put the best possible face on the national security policies of the Obama administration, hardly a standard for judging a future director of the CIA (or a Secretary of State).
The long list of uncovered topics included Iran, which has been the target of intense covert action; renditions that continue in the Obama administration; the huge number of foreign countries that participated in the program of extraordinary renditions; the virtual demise of the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which is the only serious oversight entity within the intelligence community; the placing of responsibility for targeted assassinations of American citizens in the hands of “informed, high-level” officials (whatever that may mean); or the CIA’s double standard that allows the operations officer who destroyed the torture tapes to write for the Washington Post while a CIA critic of torture and abuse goes to jail.
Since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has increasingly become a paramilitary organization, but there was no questioning of Brennan on what he will do to return the agency to its central role of collecting and analyzing intelligence.
As a result of this hearing, the American people have no idea of Brennan’s plans for an intelligence agency that has registered a series of regular intelligence and operational failures over the past two decades. Brennan merely explained that his job at CIA will involve “optimizing transparency and optimizing secrecy,” again whatever that means. He blithely assured the committee that he would do his best to share documents with its members, which was similar to Gates’s assurances to the committee in 1991 that were observed in the breach.
Brennan would not even call waterboarding an act of torture even though former CIA Director Leon Panetta and Attorney General Eric Holder have done so. Brennan had no idea that, under his stewardship as counter-terrorism adviser, only one high-value target had been captured.
The Bush administration at least tried to capture these targets and elicit intelligence; the Obama administration has resorted primarily to drone operations to kill them (although Brennan said some suspects end up in the hands of U.S. regional allies with Americans sometimes attending the interrogations or putting in their own questions).
No one on the committee appeared to understand that it was foreign intelligence liaison that produced the intelligence for past captures of “high-value” targets, but CIA practices of torture, renditions and secret prisons made liaison more difficult. And no one on the committee pursued the long-term consequences of Brennan’s “targeted killings,” which retired General Stanley McChrystal believes has increased the number of terrorists and the intensity of anti-Americanism.
Nevertheless, an editorial in the New York Times recommended the confirmation of Brennan, while expressing the hope that he would not “forget that heightened danger does not free the executive branch from oversight or the normal system of checks and balances.”
There was nothing in Thursday’s hearings that suggested the Senate Intelligence Committee is devoted to genuine oversight or that Brennan has a genuine understanding of checks and balances. In fact, in one of the most disturbing remarks of the day, Brennan closed out the session by actually asking the committee to be an “advocate” for the CIA. He doesn’t even understand that the committee was created three decades ago to be an advocate for the American people.
Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. His latest book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. Goodman’s recent speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco will be on CSPAN Sunday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m. EST.
The Nation magazine is home to a particularly odious group of journalists. The “left” publication speaks on behalf of a privileged layer of the upper middle class, deeply complacent, lacking political principles and more and more integrated into the military and political establishment.
Even by these standards, a column penned by the Nation ’s Robert Dreyfuss January 22, “Brennan at the CIA Might Surprise Us,” stands out. Dreyfuss is no casual commentator. He is the Nation’s chief foreign policy correspondent. The article thus presents the magazine’s more or less official position in defense of John Brennan, nominated by President Barack Obama to head the CIA.
As Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Brennan played the principal role in vastly expanding the administration’s drone assassination program. He oversaw the development of the “disposition matrix” to permanently institutionalize the practice of extrajudicial murder—disposing of human beings—in the name of the “war on terror.”
Before serving under Obama, Brennan was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center in the Bush administration, where he was implicated in torture and illegal domestic spying. In sum, this is a man with a great deal of blood on his hands.
This is Obama’s second attempt to nominate Brennan for the top post in America’s spy network. When the president first tried to do so in 2009, the nomination came under criticism from his liberal supporters. Brennan eventually withdrew his nomination.
This time around, there has been much less criticism. The Democratic Party and its milieu have moved even farther to the right over the past four years. Some voices have been raised, however, including from a few liberal commentators cited by Dreyfuss. The Nation responds by offering its services as a lawyer for Brennan and the Obama administration.
“Were you a terrorist or member of Al Qaeda, you wouldn’t want to meet John Brennan in a dark alley,” Dreyfuss begins. “He’s an Irish tough guy, and he doesn’t apologize for wanting to obliterate Al Qaeda. For four years, as Obama’s top adviser on counterterrorism, that’s been his job… Often innocents have died.”
“But Brennan may surprise us.”
In the end, the massacre of thousands of civilians by US drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries is of little concern to Dreyfuss. “Maybe, just maybe, John Brennan won’t be a bad CIA director,” he writes. What, one might ask, is a good CIA director? The notion that the Nation might take a principled stand in opposition to the American government’s chief spying and dirty tricks agency does not cross Dreyfuss’s mind.
The article resorts to lawyerly sophistry. There are “widespread accusations, not necessarily accurate, that he [Brennan] supported torture during the George W. Bush administration.” He “may or may not have objected to the use of waterboarding and other violent techniques.” To claim that he is “a supporter of torture,” is “an accusation without proof.”
Really? Brennan is on record as declaring in 2007, “There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the [CIA] has, in fact, used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives.” We must “take every possible measure” against those “determined to destroy our nation,” he declared in another interview given at that time.
As for drones, Dreyfuss goes on, “it’s a mixed bag.” He boasts that “on several occasions, I met and interviewed Brennan.” In these discussions, the Nation assures its readers, Brennan came off as a principled man, even “left,” animated by a belief that “the military is the wrong instrument in fighting terrorism.” He quotes an article in the Washington Post portraying Brennan as guided by a “moral compass” in his selection of drone targets.
Parroting the line of the Obama administration, Dreyfuss insists that Brennan has sought “to limit, not expand, drone warfare.” This can only be taken as an endorsement of the “disposition matrix.”
Dreyfuss refers to claims that Brennan has lied about the impact of the administration’s drone killing, asserting that it has not killed any civilians. However, Dreyfuss observes, “Brennan made clear that he was talking about a specific stretch of time” of about a year—suggesting by implication that the hundreds of people killed during this period all deserved to die. The administration automatically categorizes any adult-aged male it happens to kill as a “terrorist.”
If this defense does not suffice, Dreyfuss has another one prepared. “To be sure,” he writes, “as the White House’s counterterrorism chief and as a spokesman for the administration, Brennan has no choice but to defend the administration’s policy of carrying out a global drone warfare program.” Brennan, after all, was just following orders.
The attitude of Dreyfuss and the Nation magazine toward basic democratic rights is summed up in the comment’s treatment of the administration’s policy of assassinating US citizens. Mention of this violation of fundamental constitutional principles is confined to the final paragraphs, in which Dreyfuss notes that “Senator Ron Wyden says he wants answers about the administration’s legal justification for killing American citizens via drone attacks.”
The confirmation hearings next month, Dreyfuss assures us, “should be seen as an opportunity to get answers to all these questions, on the record.”
This is an obvious fraud. Dreyfuss is well aware that the administration has adamantly refused to make available its pseudo-legal justifications for assassinating American citizens, successfully blocking in court efforts to force it to do so.
Dreyfuss personifies a social layer that, through the mechanism of the Obama administration, has reconciled itself to imperialism, becoming in fact one of the most adamant supporters of American aggression. There is nothing remotely left-wing about these forces. They are capable of supporting and defending any crime.
- Brennan (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The president had considered naming Mr. Brennan to head the CIA when he took office in 2009. But some human rights advocates protested, claiming that as a top agency official under President George W. Bush, Mr. Brennan had supported, or at least had failed to stop, the use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding that are widely considered to be torture. Mr. Brennan denied those accusations but withdrew from consideration, and Mr. Obama gave him the advisory position, which did not require Senate confirmation.
That Brennan was a supporter of torture is not a claim or an accusation, though–it’s a matter of public record. As we pointed out after Brennan’s name was withdrawn in 2009, here’s what he had to say to CBS News in 2007 (Early Show, 11/2/07):
The CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures…. There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.
If the words “support” and “torture” have any meaning, then Brennan is supporting torture there. This is another example of how in order to be an “objective” reporter, you have to deny that there’s any such thing as objective reality.