Marc reports the Republican, former chief-of-staff for George Tenet (who authorized war crimes as CIA head), admirer of Dick Cheney, CEO of the company one of whose contract employees improperly accessed Obama's and McCain's passports, and defender of renditions and "enhanced interrogations" is still Obama's front-runner pick to head the CIA. No, I'm not making this up. Brennan was high up in the agency during the run-up to the Iraq war and has since conceded this about the intelligence he was in part responsible for:
Looking back on it now, as we put pieces together, it probably is apparent to some, including Paul, that it was much more politicized than in fact we realized.
So Brennan was complicit and naive in the run-up to the Iraq war. And Obama wants to reward him? Brennan is also a believer in Cheney's term "the dark side," wishing merely to have some limits within it. He clearly has a mindset that has far more in common with the war crimes of his former boss than with the clear, and indisputable beliefs of the Obama movement. Listen to the ambivalence about torture here:
I think George [Tenet] had two concerns. One is to make sure that there was that legal justification, as well as protection for CIA officers who are going to be engaged in some of these things, so that they would not be then prosecuted or held liable for actions that were being directed by the administration. So we want to make sure the findings and other things were done probably with the appropriate Department of Justice review.
But at the same time, there is a question about how aggressive you want to be against terrorism in terms of, what does it mean to take the gloves off? There was a real debate within the agency, including today, about what are the minimum standards that you want to stoop to and beyond where you're not going to go, because we don't want to stoop to using the same types of standards that terrorists use. We are in this business, whether it be intelligence or the government, to protect freedom, democracy and liberty, not to violate that.
When it comes to individuals who are determined to destroy our nation, though, we have to make sure that we take every possible measure. It's a tough ethical question, and it's a question that really needs to be aired more publicly. The issue of the reported domestic spying -- these are very healthy debates that need to take place. They can't be stifled, because I think that we as a country and a society have to determine what is it we want to do, whether it be eavesdropping, whether it be taking actions against individuals who are either known or suspected to be terrorists. What length do we want to go to? What measures do we want to use? What tactics do we want to use?
Hopefully, that "dark side" is not going to be something that's going to forever tarnish the image of the United States abroad and that we're going to look back on this time and regret some of the things that we did, because it is not in keeping with our values. ...
Sometimes there are actions that we are forced to take, but there need to be boundaries beyond which we are going to recognize that we're not going to go because we still are Americans, and we are supposed to be representing something to people in this country and overseas. So the dark side has its limits.
The simple answer to the question - what length do we want to go? - is to abide by the rule of law. Why is that so hard to understand? And yet Brennan and Tenet didn't. They authorized clear torture sessions. Why is such a man even considered for the post under Obama? This man cannot end the taint of Bush-Cheney. He was Bush-Cheney. In fact, if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals. It would be an acknowledgment that Tenet himself is not a war criminal, while the facts indisputably prove that he was.
In fact, I'd like to see much more evidence of whether Brennan himself is implicated in the war crimes and unlawfulness of the past eight years. If nominated, the Senate should find out. Whatever his qualities, Brennan is not change. He has even used Tenet's disgusting adoption of the Gestapo euphemism "enhanced interrogation." Here he is arguing against change earlier this year:
Even though people may criticize what has happened during the two Bush administrations, there has been a fair amount of continuity. A new administration, be it Republican or Democrat -- you're going to have a fairly significant change of people involved at the senior-most levels. And I would argue for continuity in those early stages. You don't want to whipsaw the [intelligence] community. You don't want to presume knowledge about how things fit together and why things are being done the way they are being done. And you have to understand the implication, then, of making any major changes or redirecting things. I'm hoping there will be a number of professionals coming in who have an understanding of the evolution of the capabilities in the community over the past six years, because there is a method to how things have changed and adapted.
It's fine not to uproot the entire agency and to have some continuity. But for Obama to appoint a Bush-Cheney apologist to the CIA? How on earth did this idea get this far?
It may be that Brennan will stop torture under any euphemism. But the trouble with this area of policy is that it is necessarily secret and so trusting the people running the CIA is essential. I don't trust Brennan. On the question of torture, it is absolutely vital that there be a clean break with Bush-Cheney at the top of the agency. Many CIA staffers have been implicated in war crimes, and their cover-up. If you were to de-Cheneyize the entire place after eight years of entrenchment, you'd have few people with real skills left. So the top leadership is vital. It needs to signal that there is no longer any doubt that the US is abiding by Geneva, including Article 3, in all its branches of government.
The least we know is that Brennan is ambivalent about this. Ambivalence on this matter is unacceptable. We haven't fought for decency and reform and a return to American values for so long to be turned back now. We didn't work our butts off to elect Obama only to get Bush another four years at CIA. If Brennan emerges as the pick, those of us against the continuation of war crimes and the prosecution of war criminals will have to oppose him strenuously in the nomination process. We will, in fact, have to go to war with Obama before he even takes office.
And if Obama doubts our seriousness, I have three words for him. Yes we can.
(Photo: John Brennan by Brendan Smialowski/Getty.)