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.
Since Dick Cheney wasn’t available, Obama is picking the next best thing to run the CIA, John Brennan.
Here’s what some of the qualification checklist may have looked like.
I’ve never understood the need to cloak the titles of government positions in Orwellian nonsense. Brennan’s title of counterterrorism adviser should actually have been something like ‘Head of US Terrorism.’ At least then we could have given the administration a ✔ for transparency.
The chief counterterrorism adviser to the US President Barack Obama is putting pressure on the European Union to label the Lebanon resistance movement Hezbollah as a “terror group”.
John O. Brennan on Friday criticized the European for its failure to join the United States in designating the Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Brennan also said that Iran and Syria should be punished for supporting Hezbollah.
On July 24, The European Union flatly rejected an Israeli call to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group, despite being under pressure from the US.
The EU regards Hezbollah as an active political party in Lebanon. It says there is not enough evidence to warrant listing the Lebanese group as a “terror group” like the United States.
Led by France, Europeans countries argue that their relations with Lebanon, where Hezbollah provides extensive social services and its political wing holds government power, would be damaged by the designation.
Currently, among the 27-EU member states, only the UK and Netherlands are in favor of adding Hezbollah to the EU list of terror which would freeze the group’s Europe-held financial assets.
The renewed pressure from the US comes only weeks after Hezbollah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that the Lebanese resistance movement had sent a drone into the Israeli airspace.
The aircraft crossed hundreds of kilometers above the sea and entered the occupied territories from southern Palestine and flew over several Israeli strategic sites without being detected by Israeli Air Force’s radars, he said.
Security analysts say the incident indicates that the Israeli military is incapable of handling a surprise attack despite the numerous military maneuvers regularly conducted by the regime.
- Will EU do Israel’s Bidding on Hezbollah? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- UK Calls to Add Hezbollah’s Resistance to EU’s Terror Watch List (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Hezbollah confirms sending drone into Israeli airspace (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Bush administration detained and tortured suspected militants; the Obama administration assassinates them. Both practices not only visit more hatred upon the United States; they are also illegal. Our laws and treaties prohibit torture. The Constitution forbids the government from depriving any person of life without due process of law; that is, arrest and fair trial. Yet President Obama has approved the killing of people, many of whom were not even identified before the kill order was given.
Jo Becker and Scott Shane reported in the New York Times that Obama maintains a “kill list.” After consulting with his counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, Obama personally makes the decision to have individuals executed. Brennan was closely identified with torture, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during the Bush administration. The Times story, based on interviews with three dozen current and former Obama advisers, reports that “Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into U.S. custody” because he doesn’t want to add new prisoners to Guantanamo.
The leak of the kill list angered Republicans, evidently because they believe it demonstrates Obama’s “strength” in foreign policy. Some progressives who do not fully understand the profound illegality of drone attacks find them preferable to the United States’ all out invasions of more countries. We all need to understand that the unlawful precedent the United States is setting with its use of killer drones not only undermines the rule of law; it also will prevent the United States from reasonably objecting when other countries that obtain drone technology develop “kill lists” of persons those countries believe represent threats to them.
On June 15, for the first time, Obama publicly acknowledged that his administration is engaging in “direct action” in Yemen and Somalia. Although the United States is not at war with either country, George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” has morphed into Obama’s “War on Al Qaeda.” Obama’s “war” has been used as an excuse to assassinate anyone anywhere in the world whenever the President gives the order.
But “there is not a distinct entity called Al Qaeda that provides a sound basis for defining and delimiting an authorized use of force,” according to Paul P. Pillar, deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center from 1997 to 1999. The United States is not at war with Yemen and Somalia. Even if Obama identifies certain people living in Yemen or Somalia as members of Al-Qaeda who are desirous of committing acts of terror against the people of the United States, there is no basis in law for our government to declare war on individuals it considers a threat. The United States has legal means to indict and extradite, both under U.S. and international law.
Since 2004, some 300 drone strikes have been launched in Pakistan. Twenty percent of the resulting deaths are believed to have been civilians. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission says U.S. drone strikes were responsible for at least 957 deaths in Pakistan in 2010.
In the three and one-half years since Obama took office, between 282 and 585 civilians have been killed, including more than 60 children. “The CIA’s drone campaign has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to rescue victims or who were attending funerals,” a new report by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found.
But, according to the Times article, Obama has developed a creative way to count civilian casualties. All military-age men killed in a drone strike zone are considered to be combatants, “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” As a result, Brennan reported last year that not one civilian had been killed during one year of strikes. An administration official recently claimed that the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan was in the “single digits.” Three former senior intelligence officials told the Times that they couldn’t believe the number could be so low.
Obama, who has been targeting “suspected militants” (called “personality strikes”) in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, even killing U.S. citizens, has authorized expanded drone attacks – whenever there are suspicious “patterns of behavior” at sites controlled by a terrorist group. These are known as “signature strikes.” That means bombs are being dropped on un-identified people who are in an area where suspicious activity has taken place. This goes beyond the illegal practice of “targeted killing.” People are being killed without even being an identified target.
The administration justifies its use of armed drones with reference to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed just days after the September 11 attacks. In the AUMF, Congress authorized force against groups and countries that had supported the terrorist strikes. But Congress rejected the Bush administration’s request for open-ended military authority “to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” Deterrence and preemption are exactly what Obama is trying to accomplish by sending robots to kill “suspected militants” or those who happen to be present in an area where suspicious activity has taken place.
Moreover, in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, Congress specifically declared, “Nothing in this section is intended to . . . expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force [of September 2001].”
Drone attacks also violate well-established principles of international law. A targeted killing is defined as the “intentional, premeditated, and deliberate use of lethal force . . . against a specific individual who is not in the physical custody of the perpetrator,” according to Philip Alston, former UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions. Targeted or political assassinations – sometimes known as extra-judicial executions – run afoul of the Geneva Conventions, which include willful killing as a grave breach. Grave breaches of Geneva are punishable as war crimes under the U.S. War Crimes Act.
Christof Heyns, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, expressed grave concern about the targeted killings, saying they may constitute war crimes. He called on the Obama administration to explain how its drone strikes comport with international law, specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture particular individuals, and whether the State in which the killing takes place has given consent. Heyns further asked for specification of the procedural safeguards in place, if any, to ensure in advance of drone killings that they comply with international law. He also wanted to know what measures the U.S. government takes after any such killing to ensure that its legal and factual analysis was accurate and, if not, the remedial measures it would take, including justice and reparations for victims and their families. Although Heyns’ predecessor made similar requests, Heyns said the United States has not provided a satisfactory response.
Heyns also called on the U.S. government to make public the number of civilians collaterally killed as a result of drone attacks, and the measures in place to prevent such casualties. Once again, Heyns said the United States has not satisfactorily responded to a prior query for such information.
Likewise, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently declared that U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan violate the international law principles of proportionality and distinction. Proportionality means that an attack cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage sought. Distinction requires that the attack be directed only at a legitimate military target.
The United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICCPR states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” The Covenant also guarantees those accused of a crime the right to be presumed innocent and to a fair trial by an impartial tribunal. Targeted killings abrogate these rights.
Self defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter is a narrow exception to the Charter’s prohibition of the use of force or the threat of force to settle international disputes. Countries may engage in individual or collective self-defense only in the face of an armed attack. To the extent the United States claims the right to kill suspected terrorists or their allies before they act, there must exist “a necessity of self-defence, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,” under the well-established Caroline Case. Obama’s drone attacks do not meet this standard.
The United States’ resort to ever increasing targeted killings is a direct result of the “War on Terror” the Bush administration declared after 9/11. Bush declared a perpetual war on a tactic and claimed all Al-Qaeda and Taliban are terrorists who may be preemptively killed as a form of self defense, rather than being arrested and tried for criminal acts. Although he does not use the phrase “War on Terror,” Obama has continued and even extended this policy. It is the product of a powerful military industrial complex in the United States which sees the use of force as the first step to resolving disputes rather than a last resort, notwithstanding the strictures of the UN Charter.
This practice sets a dangerous precedent. Heyns opined that “any Government could, under the cover of counter-terrorism imperatives, decide to target and kill an individual on the territory of any State if it considers that said individual constitutes a threat.” Heyns also cited information that indicates “the attacks increasingly fuel protests among the population.” Heyns said the “lack of transparency” and “dangerous precedent” that drone attacks represent “remain of grave concern.”
Drone strikes are also counterproductive. They breed increased resentment against the United States and lead to the recruitment of more terrorists. “Drones have replaced Guantanamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants,” Becker and Shane wrote in the Times article. They quoted Faisal Shahzad, who, while pleading guilty to trying to detonate a bomb in Times Square, told the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.” Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram told the Geneva Forum last week that the drone attacks are illegal and violate the sovereignty of Pakistan, “not to mention being counter-productive.” He added, “thousands of innocent people, including women and children, have been murdered in these indiscriminate attacks.”
Becker and Shane noted, “[Obama’s] focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president. Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents.”
Ibrahim Mothana, who wrote an op-ed in the Times titled “How Drones Help Al Qaeda,” agrees. “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair,” Mothana observed.
It is time to halt this dangerous and illegal practice.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.