Early into the John Brennan's confirmation hearing to be CIA director, his most difficult to believe statement is his claim, "I never believed it's better to kill a terrorist than to detain them." The Obama administration's drone program has, since 2008, incinerated not-even-high-ranking Al Qaeda members in thousands of drone strikes. A drone strike is only conducted, Brennan said, if it will directly save American lives and if there is no other alternative. In the first questions from senators, Brennan walked a fine line on controversial national security policies like torture -- he didn't endorse them, and he didn't take credit for them, but he did denounce them. Brennan said he has "personal objections" to waterboarding, but didn't try to stop it. The Senate report on extraordinary interrogation techniques "raises serious questions about the information that I was given at the time," Brennan said. "At this point, Senator, I do not know what the truth is."
While Brennan said waterboarding was "reprehensible," he would not call it torture. Brennan noted that the attorney general had called it torture, but that he was not a lawyer and therefore unable to make that determination. But Brennan's refusal to call it torture probably had less to do with his educational background than this: "The term torture has a lot of legal and political implications," he said.
There was surprisingly little about drones. "What's remarkable so far in the
#JohnBrennan confirmation hearing is there are so few questions about drones. It's like a third rail," P.J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman, tweeted.
Dianne Feinstein gave Brennan a little help when discussing Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen killed by drone strike in Yemen in 2011. When people hear "American citizen," she says, they think of an upstanding citizen. But al-Awlaki wasn't upstanding, was he? Brennan says no. Al-Awlaki was "intimately involved in activities meant to kill men, women, and children," Brennan says. "He was not just a propagandist." But in the United States, you don't have to be an upstanding citizen to get constitutional protections like due process.
Sen. Richard Burr tried to lighten the mood with a fun torture joke. "I notice that you’re on your 4th glass of water and I don’t want to be accused of waterboarding you." Feinstein concluded the hearing by endorsing his confirmation. "I think you're going to be a fine and strong leader for the CIA," she says. A classified hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.