Warrantless Wiretapping: John Brennan Supported It Too

Via Digby, Newsweek reports:

Although both [intelligence chiefs] McConnell and Hayden expressed a willingness to stay on for some period of time, sources close to the Obama transition say this is unlikely, given that both men zealously defended controversial Bush administration policies-such as the warrantless-wiretapping program-that the incoming Democratic president opposed during the campaign.

Of course Digby is right that Obama voted for expanding the wiretapping program and telco immunity. But just as importantly, Obama's intelligence issues transition chief John Brennan vehemently championed it and McConnell in particular. Something is not right here.

By Big Tent Democrat, speaking for me only

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    Many people have real moral dilemmas (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by OldCity on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 08:38:30 AM EST
    MY father came here from Belfast as a teen ager.  He served as a doctor in Viet Nam.   He took care of many soldiers reclaimed after being captured by the Vietnamese.

    Now, this man has an opposition to mousetraps because they're cruel.  He stopped fishing because he had qualms about inflicting pain.  He spent a career as a pediatrician; 50% of his practice was pro bono.  In short, he's someone who's morals I respect immensely and who is very sensitive to the needs and to the suffering of others.  

    But he's been to war.  He has two purple hearts.  He's seen what an unprincipled enemy will do, both to combatants and to innocent civilians.  And he's responded to my outrage over torture this simply, "Fsck'em.  They're killers of the worst sort.  Nothing we could do to them will ever be equivalent to the pain they've inflicted or want to inflict.  Fsck'em."

    Now, I still disagree with him.  Vehemently, in fact.  But his life experiences inform his viewpoint in a way that my simple moral absolutism can't.  

    And so, while I agree that torture is despicable, I think that there are good people that have those views for reasons we cannot begin to imagine.  The old man feels that people willing to inflict pain on a grand scale to innocents have cashed in their chips.  They've made themselves unworthy of protection.  I disagree, but then again, I've never come back to a village to see every kid I innoculated two days previous now dealing with an amputated arm.  

    I think we need to retain the high ground and not acquiece to our baser instincts.  That mease we don't do it, and we don't put people in power who would do it.  But, I also don't think we should be so hasty to utterly condemn those people for their views, either.  People are far more complex, and shouldn't be characterized as monsters for an opinion among many.

    Unnamed sources (none / 0) (#1)
    by jes on Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 11:37:38 PM EST
    say McCnnel and Hayden might not stay. How can anyone put faith in unnamed sources?

    Seems reasonable to have (none / 0) (#2)
    by MyLeftMind on Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 11:40:17 PM EST
    someone on the transition team who knows precisely who will agree or oppose Obama when he changes wiretapping policies.

    John Brennon's clearly in the know.  It's not like he's appointing himself to be in charge.

    How do you know that? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 11:43:14 PM EST
    Good point. (none / 0) (#4)
    by MyLeftMind on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:06:06 AM EST
    Fact is, we don't even know for sure that Obama's really against warrantless-wiretapping or if he just says what we want to hear.  Like the FISA vote last summer, they have to walk a tightrope between doing what's right for innocent people and not getting dinged by making changes that can be pointed to as the reason a terrorist act happened.  Well, they didn't walk a tightrope on the FISA bill, they just voted to get it out of contention for the GE.  But the Obama administration will certainly have to revisit how it works now.

    Similar issues with torture.  Of course we don't want our CIA or military to do it, but if keeping fifty combatants in jail and not letting them sleep for months on end results in ten of them giving the same information on a terror cell poised to hit an American city, those anti-sleep techniques are going to be hard to criticize.  Hell, keeping them locked up will be hard to criticize.  And just wait until the first time a judge lets one of them out and he ends up participating in another plane bombing.  It's going to be much worse than a repeat rapist getting out of jail.  The stakes are bigger, the risk greater, and the whole process will look bad if and when it fails.

    It's just not as cut and dry as the movies where the good guys always do what's right.  Maybe posts like yours will keep them just a bit more honest.


    "looks bad" (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 12:40:35 AM EST
    You do realize there are actual human beings on the other end of your worries about "looking bad" politically?

    Of course. I said I was against torture. (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by MyLeftMind on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 02:47:32 AM EST
    Of course.  I said I was against torture.
    But it's still going to be a big problem for whoever's in charge when a terrorist is let out and proceeds on his path of killing Americans.  I'm not saying it justifies torture, I just hope it doesn't happen on Obama's watch.

    BTW, I've never made it through a full episode of 24.  Too many commercials, too much silly drama.  


    Ah yes, the ticking time bomb (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by Crossan on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:12:44 AM EST
    Of course we don't want our CIA or military to do it, but if keeping fifty combatants in jail and not letting them sleep for months on end results in ten of them giving the same information on a terror cell poised to hit an American city, those anti-sleep techniques are going to be hard to criticize.

     You've watched 24 one too many times.


    The "ticking time-bomb" scenario ... (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Robot Porter on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:24:09 AM EST
    is a load of baloney.  It would never happen outside the confines of some Hollywood movie.  

    It's a way to make torture seem allowable under one set of circumstances, so by extension it can be seen to be allowable under others.

    And anyone who argues otherwise is either naive, a fool, or a torture advocate.


    Yup (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by Crossan on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:36:47 AM EST
    It is a deceptive little tool, I have to say.  Very low info way to justify torture.

     It doesn't help that it is a common example posed in moral theory classes across the country, either.  But you're right, it never happens.


    It hasn't happened yet. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Fabian on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 05:37:39 AM EST
    And we have hundreds of years of this kind of spy versus spy history to draw from.

    Plus the sheer luck and incompetence involved in finding one person who knows exactly the information you need, exactly when you need it is staggering.

    Incompetence because if you did your counter terrorism job correctly, you would know a lot more much earlier.


    hayden (none / 0) (#7)
    by jharp on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:16:42 AM EST
    If my memory serves me right.

    Didn't Hayden make a public recorded display(Palin style) of a complete lack of knowledge of the 4th amendment?

    Forgive me if I'm mistaken but I recall it was pretty breathtaking.

    hayden (none / 0) (#8)
    by jharp on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:21:18 AM EST
    I thought so. Here it is.


    Anyways, I hope you like me as a guest.

    And I like your weblog.

    Supporting immunity for telecoms is NOT the same (none / 0) (#13)
    by barryluda on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:59:16 AM EST
    as supporting warrantless-wiretapping.  It's a distinction that makes a difference.  Is there a link or other evidence that Brennan supports warrantless-wiretapping?

    I don't agree with it, and was disappointed that Obama decided to take Brennan's advice on FISA.  But Brennan's rationale, to me, doesn't indicate he vehemently championed warantless-wiretapping.  He thought not granting immunity would make companies less likely to assist the government in the future.  Again, I think he got it wrong since it's never OK to use the excuse that the government told me to do it when breaking the law (coincidently I'll be watching Judgment at Nuremberg tonight).

    I continue to agree that Brennan appears problematic, but more for what he hasn't said -- to make his opposition to torture and warrantless-wiretapping clear -- than what he's said.

    In short, while I disagree with Brennan (and Obama) that granting immunity was the right thing to do, it's not the same as saying Brennan vehemently championed warantless-wiretapping.

    There are many links (none / 0) (#14)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 07:05:10 AM EST
    Provided to you previously.

    I thought I read them all; maybe I missed the one (none / 0) (#15)
    by barryluda on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 07:17:51 AM EST
    that talks not about Brennan's support for telecom immunity but rather, as you assert, that Brennan vehemently championed Warrantless Wiretapping.

    But that's also... (none / 0) (#17)
    by DancingOpossum on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 09:20:45 AM EST
    ...why our laws on based on justice and not revenge. For the same reason someone with your father's experiences and views, as understandable as they are, should never be allowed to make the decision about whether torture should be legal. In the same way that the victims of crimes should not be allowed to murder the criminals who harmed them--understandable though that reaction might be, to allow it to take sway is vigilantism, not justice. (The same reasoning underlies my opposition to "victim impact statements" in murder trials). We have laws precisely because humans are imperfect and unemotional. No, our sytem doesn't always work perfectly, and sometimes it is cold and unfeeling, and sometimes the bad guy gets off and the good guy gets jailed...but for the most part, it works because it sets itself above human frailty. Any law or loophole in the law that bends to "understand" the "need" for torture is giving way to naked vigilantism and we need to stand firm against it.

    ...oops (none / 0) (#18)
    by DancingOpossum on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 09:21:21 AM EST
    humans are imperfect and emotional (not "unemotional). Gack!

    well, obviously, (none / 0) (#19)
    by OldCity on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 09:57:55 AM EST
    I stated that, or at least implied it.

    I don't think we want advocates for torture in places of power.  That said, we also can't demonize people based upon their views in that regard, because we often don't know how they arrived at those views.  

    The point is that our views on individual constitutional or moral issues can be completely inconsistent with our overall orientation.  So, we gotta do a little more of disparaging the opinion and not the people that hold the opinions.  


    Fair enough re (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by oldpro on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:37:20 PM EST
    differentiating between the opinion and the people who may hold it.

    Two things about torture:

    Our WW II experts in intelligence unanimously testified to congress that they never used torture or anything close to it because the 'opposite treatment' worked to gain information and torture was thoroughly unreliable in information gathering.

    And, acquiesing to use of torture fosters and encourages more of it, dehumanizes and trautitizes both victims and torturers and undermines our ability to judge fairly, think clearly, make other good choices.

    This subject always reminds me of the popular button seen everywhere following the '68 Chicago convention, Kent State, etc.  It said:  "Draft cops - they're already violent."

    Bad on many levels.


    Yes, fair enough (none / 0) (#21)
    by DancingOpossum on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 01:39:50 PM EST
    But I still don't want someone who holds the opinion that torture is okay to be in a position to decide our policies on torture.

    In other words, I don't think it's disparaging of Brennan personally to say he shouldn't be in that position.

    Feingold after the FISA vote (none / 0) (#22)
    by Ben Masel on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 02:39:58 PM EST
    expressed confidence that Obama would get rid of "some of the worst provisions.' begging the question re the rest of the worst provisions.