John Brennan's Confirmation Hearing

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hold a hearing at 2:30 pm ET today on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director.

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the Office of Legal Counsel's targeted kill memo(s) will be provided to the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Brennan's answers to pre-hearing questions are here. His answers pertaining to rendition, detention and interrogation begin on page 21.

Brennan, who is expected to be confirmed, will face some tough questioning, especially by Democrats. [More...]

On a related note, in the civil lawsuit brought by family members of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, who were targeted for killing and killed, the ACLU filed this response Tuesday to the Government's motion to dismiss the suit.

On another related matter, Brennan's answers make clear he agrees with Obama's policy of getting other government to do our bidding by arresting and detaining suspects Americans suspect of being terrorists so they can be extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges, even when their actions were not against the U.S. Shades of the DEA's African sting cases and Victor Bout, and the most recent case of Mahdi Hashi in Brooklyn and some of the Somali Pirate cases.

Related stories are here and here.

Here is the story of Mahdi Hashi, a British-Somali man who vanished from east Africa and turned up in a New York Federal court, charged with providing material support to terrorism seven though he had no plans to act against the U.S. He was held on a ship for interrogation for months. The CIA has a strong presence in Africa -- especially Somalia and Djibouti.Then he id brought to a New York federal court alongside two Swedish men. All three appear to have been rendered by the United States from Djibouti, and have now been charged with terrorism offences. More at the Washington Post here. Marcy Wheeler of Empty Wheel wrote about it here. Here is the DOJ press release on it.

WAPO reported:

The nine-count indictment, which was returned under seal by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York late last week, does not accuse Warsame of carrying out or plotting attacks against U.S. targets. It charges him with conspiracy and providing material support to two groups the United States considers terrorist organizations: al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group opposed to Somalia’s weak, U.S.-backed government, and Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Warsame is also accused of weapons offenses related to both alleged conspiracies; conspiracy to teach and demonstrate explosive-making; and receiving military training from AQAP.

So there's rendition and interrogation at our request, conducted, via kidnapping and transfer to a foreign country's prison, and then there's proxy detentions, where we ask the other governments to hold the guys for a while, so they can be interrogated and then brought to the U.S. to face criminal charges under our laws, even though their actions weren't intended to have any effect here. And if convicted, we will pay $27,000 a year for each to warehouse them for decades, when they were no threat to America.

I thought it was just the DEA that wanted to play Global Holy Warrior, but now the intelligence agencies want their piece of the pie. Since they can't detain and interrogate suspects in their own facilities any more, they borrow from "friends" in other countries. The effect is the same. Either no criminal charges and a death sentence is meted out by the Executive Branch, with no judicial oversight, or charges are brought, followed by a kidnapping flight to America to stand trial in a foreign land, get convicted, and spend the rest of the lives or most of it in our overcrowded American prisons.

It seems to me Congress is only interested in reading papers to learn how the Adminsitration justifies it. I want to know when the brakes will get put on these programs of overseas detention, targeted killing, drone strikes and proxy detentions. One judge has tried in the case of a Somali man, Ali Ali, whose case is now on appeal. Her decision is here.

None of this should be a surprise to Congress, since in 2009, it authorized $75 million for counter-terrorism assistance directed at Shabab and Al Qaeda in Somalia.

Is it better to be extradited to the U.S. and tried in federal court than killed by a drone when you haven't even been charged with a crime? Of course. But they are both lousy choices.

As Law Prof Jonathan Hafetz wrote recently:

More important is the extent to which the United States is utilizing foreign governments to avoid procedural safeguards against arbitrary detention; the increased risk of abusive treatment in proxy detention; and the implications of aggressively using the material support statute without a nexus to the United States. These issues do not trigger the same alarms as the sheer lawlessness that characterized extraordinary rendition, but they are worthy of continuing scrutiny nonetheless.

If you are watching the hearing today, please let us know how it is going in comments. Cong. Mark Udall will be one of the questioning Brennan, about 3:45 ET.

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    I would hope that one of the questions (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by MO Blue on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 08:25:11 AM EST
    posed to Mr. Brennan is what deliberations led to the extra-judicial killing of Anwar al-Awlaki's 16 year old son Abdulrahman.

    The justification that he "should have [had] a far more responsible father," is not an acceptable answer.

    The other question in regards to this killing is about the quality of the information used in evaluating whether or not to kill an American citizen without due process. What lead to this erroneous information being provided to the media? The quality of the government's evidence -- or the honesty of its claims.

    Two weeks after the U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki with a drone strike in Yemen -- far from any battlefield and with no due process -- it did the same to his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, ending the teenager's life on Friday along with his 17-year-old cousin and seven other people. News reports, based on government sources, originally claimed that Awlaki's son was 21 years old and an Al Qaeda fighter (needless to say, as Terrorist often means: "anyone killed by the U.S."), but a birth certificate published by The Washington Post proved that he was born only 16 years ago in Denver. As The New Yorker`s Amy Davidson wrote: "Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government's evidence -- or the honesty of its claims -- and about our own capacity for self-deception." The boy's grandfather said that he and his cousin were at a barbecue and preparing to eat when the U.S. attacked them by air and ended their lives. link

    Someone should stop Obama's mindless nominations (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by koshembos on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 08:40:06 AM EST
    There exist enough evidence to make Brennen unconformable. Kerry, Hagel and now Brennen are all unfit for their respective jobs mainly on grounds of dysfunction. Do we really want a bizarre collection of misfits to run the government?

    It borders on the ridiculous to think these (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by ruffian on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 02:07:33 PM EST
    are the best we can do. I don't get it. The best hope for the Obama era was that he would bring in fresh people and thinking. I don't know what happens to people when they step into that office, but it is not good.

    He didn't change when he (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by TeresaInPa on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 05:28:35 PM EST
    stepped in to office.  He was always that guy.  Pssst...Bill Clinton was right, Obama being the anti-war candidate was a fairy tale.....

    Don't get out much (none / 0) (#10)
    by Politalkix on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 06:28:20 PM EST
    outside your cozy circle, do you? BHO, himself took great pains to emphasize that he was not "anti-war" but against "stupid wars" (and he did label the Iraq war a stupid war when sentiment supporting that war was high in America).

    I don't even mean his policy positions per se (none / 0) (#13)
    by ruffian on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 08:49:46 PM EST
    I just thought that maybe someone 20 years younger than most of these people would have brought different people to the dance.

    Agreed (none / 0) (#16)
    by lilburro on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 01:02:57 AM EST
    On account of that alone it's a shame that Susan Rice wasn't nominated (beyond various other circumstances).  Kerry and Hagel seem to be picks that are trying to appease the Old Boys Club of the Senate a bit.  Ha, or a lot.  I understand that the GOP is intransigent but, it has been 4 years, and they were utterly obnoxious for most of BC's 8.  Surely there have to be better options on the table than triangulation or appeasement.  Some new tactic to put the GOP on their heels.  

    Maybe the author of said tactic is currently in their 2nd semester at Harvard (or more intriguingly some place that isn't the snakes' nest of the elites).  I don't know.


    What's your problem with Kerry? (none / 0) (#7)
    by unitron on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 02:22:33 PM EST
    Has he been waterboarding anyone without my hearing about it?

    I think I'm just sick of them all (none / 0) (#14)
    by ruffian on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 09:47:29 PM EST
    I'm sure he'll be fine, but nothing special.

    I hope they ask Brennan about the (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Anne on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 11:03:26 AM EST
    Saudi base from which drones are being launched, and why the administration asked the major US media to keep the existence of that base on the down-low for two years.

    Aside from exploring Brennan's very cozy relationship with the Saudis, it's long past time there was scrutiny and focus given to the cozy relationship the government has with major media, in which they conspire to keep us in the dark about things we really ought to have some input on.

    On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.

    But the Post admitted that it - along with multiple other US media outlets - had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:

       "The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network's most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

        "The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year."

    The "other news organization" which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT - in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen - reported that Brennan "work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes". As the paper's Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which "had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA", but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.


    "Cozy relationship," (none / 0) (#5)
    by Zorba on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 01:25:26 PM EST
    What has happened to the Washington Post since the days of Watergate?
    Katharine Graham was not exactly a saint, but she must be rolling over in her grave.
    It has not been the same since Leonard Downie, Jr. became Executive Editor in 1991 (he was Executive Editor until 2008).  And it certainly has not been the same since 2001 (interestingly enough, the year Katharine Graham died).

    Well (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by lilburro on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 01:11:34 PM EST
    I assume this won't make a difference in the hearings but here is what Brennan was quoted as saying in 2007:

    [Q from Scott Horton:]Your new piece in The New Yorker includes bits from an interview you conducted in 2007 with John O. Brennan--Obama's initial pick to run CIA who now advises Obama on counterterrorism matters in the White House on the National Security Council. You quote Brennan saying, "Would the U.S. be handicapped if the CIA was not, in fact, able to carry out these types of detention and debriefing activities?" He's referring to the extraordinary renditions program and the Bush program of enhanced interrogations. "I would say yes," he answers his own question. Isn't that essentially the argument that Vice President Cheney makes and that President Obama rejected?

    [A from Jane Mayer:]Yes. Brennan, when I interviewed him two years ago, wasn't just neutral, he was a supporter of using coercive interrogation techniques. He drew the line, according to his friends, at waterboarding prisoners, which they say he opposed. But otherwise he supported many of the coercive approaches that Obama has banned. Maybe Brennan changed his mind after 2007. He wouldn't grant The New Yorker an interview to clarify this. So we're left with his words from 2007.

    That pretty clearly contradicts what he is saying in his hearing answers (p.22).

    Pretty ridiculous nomination.  And of course he's in a position to rewrite history as far as what he said internally.  

    And really what has changed since 4 years ago to make him a more appropriate candidate?  No more political clamor for a truth commission?  Less chance of embarrassment on Obama's part about answers to these questions?

    Pretty depressing.

    Memos (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by MO Blue on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 03:44:45 PM EST
    3:11 pm: Sen. Feinstein said she was not given access to Office of Legislative Counsel memos concerning drones until last night. Feinstein wants 8 more OLC opinions.

    Feinstein says Senate staff was banned from seeing OLC memos.

    Brennan says CIA has not finished its report. link

    NYT op ed, by Mary Ellen O'Connell, (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by KeysDan on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 06:35:32 PM EST
    professor of law, Notre Dame University, opines that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has a duty to question Mr. Brennan  on not just the attacks, but the legal pretexts for them.  They should, she continues, demand full public release of all the legal analyses behind targeted killings.  "Secret Law" is an oxymoron.  The rule of law is the basis of our democracy and the foundation of international relations.  Operational details may properly be kept confidential, but not the law itself,  Professor O'Connell cogently argues.

    The little bit I heard today, whenever (none / 0) (#12)
    by Anne on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 07:47:10 PM EST
    anything remotely legal came up, Brennan's response was some version of "I am not a lawyer," so while he may have been asked the questions, he was never going to answer them.

    Charlie Pierce (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by MO Blue on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 10:15:08 PM EST
    The man whom the administration has put up to head the CIA would not say whether or not the president of the United States has the power to order the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen within the borders of the United States. (And a thousand heads on conspiracy websites explode.) And the hearing, remarkably, went on as though nothing untoward had happened.

    He also couldn't answer straight out whether waterboarding is torture. He hid behind legalities as Carl Levin fumed. "I am not a lawyer," Brennan kept saying. People kept congratulating him for the blunt, straight answers he was giving. It was like watching an exotic tribe worship in its native tongue. This was not America as it would recognize itself. This was the worship of a different god.

    Charles P. Pierce -

    Mr. Brennan is not a lawyer (5.00 / 3) (#17)
    by KeysDan on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 09:46:55 AM EST
    but he seems to have received a lot of lawyerly advice.   As a former deputy in the CIA during the Bush years, when waterboarding was approved, he was admittedly aware of such brutal interrogation methods, voiced objections, but did nothing to stop it because he did not have oversight responsibilities.  Waterboarding was--"reprehensible", but he refused to describe it as torture. He would understandably  prefer to be CIA Director rather than a felon, as remote a possibility as that may be, as we look forward not backward.

    Yes, he would definitely prefer (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by MO Blue on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 10:22:46 AM EST
    to be CIA Director rather than entertain even the slightest chance he would be held accountable for any actions taken by the CIA while he was a deputy. Torture that is renamed - what a great escape clause.

    I am also particularly impressed at how he was able to keep the door open for the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen within the borders of the United States without any blow back. Oh, what a brave new world the powers that be are designing for us all while the majority of our citizens approve or silently accept the change.