Brennan faces the Senate Intelligence Committee

UPDATED: After early Code Pink protest, the hearing goes smoothly for Brennan, who skirts a number of questions

By Natasha Lennard

Published February 7, 2013 7:30PM (EST)

Updated, 5:55 p.m. EST: And Feinstein closes the questioning by telling Brennan how great she thinks he is, echoing Rockefeller's earlier panegyric. There will be another hearing on Tuesday, but, in the great CIA tradition Brennan is set to uphold, it's classified.

Updated, 5:25 p.m. EST: Wyden pushes Brennan on whether an American citizen should be given the opportunity to surrender himself before a targeted killing attempt is made. But Brennan says an American who joins al-Qaida is an enemy in war and has thus forfeited this right.

But Wyden points out that the issue here is with evidence and possible geographical limitations when it comes to adding U.S. citizens to kill lists.

(In an ostensibly lighthearted moment, Sen. Burr comments that in the lengthy hearing, the nominee has drunk four glasses of water and says "I'll be brief... I don't want to be accused of waterboarding you." Because waterboarding jokes, especially when the very serious issue of torture and CIA interrogation techniques are on the table, are the mark of good taste.)

Updated, 5:25 p.m. EST: Feinstein is now giving Brennan a platform to morally (not legally, mind you) justify the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki -- and it's an obsequious display. She pushes the point that he was far from an upstanding citizen -- because apparently such moral judgements should transcend constitutional protections and concerns about due process.

Updated, 5:05 p.m. EST: Independent Sen. Angus King proposes a "FISA-court type process where an American citizen is going to be targeted for a lethal strike. Having an executive be judge, jury and executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions. and the laws of this country.... We're depriving American citizens of their life when we target them in drone attacks," King says.

Brennan answers: "Senator, I think it's certainly worthy of discussion. Our tradition... is that a court of law is used to determine one's guilt or innocence for past actions. [but] we take actions so that we protect American lives... that is an executive branch function...

"We have wrestled with this, in terms of whether there can be a FISA-like court, but the actions that we take on the counter-terrorism front... the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, that we have no recourse."

Updated, 5:05 p.m. EST: Brennan says that a spike in targeted killings can be accounted for by an unfortunate growth in al-Qaida in places like Yemen. He rejects Susan Collins' suggestion that a shift in policy is the reason for the increase in legal strikes. "Having an executive be judge, jury and executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions. and the laws of this country.... We're depriving American citizens of their life when we target them in drone attacks," King says.

Brennan also outright denied that drone strikes were inspiring anti-American sentiment worldwide, despite evidence of this growing resentment, which Collins referred to. Brennan maintains that citizens in areas where America's drones fly over head are, in fact, grateful.

Updated, 4:50 p.m. EST: Jesselyn Radack, whistle-blower on the FBI and National Security and Human Rights Director of the Government Accountability Project takes to Twitter to question Brennan's professed preference for putting terror suspects into a federal court process instead of killing them. She points out that fewer than 10 suspects have been given access to such legal process.

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Updated, 4:46 p.m. EST: Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) asks whether lacking places to detain and interrogate terror suspects increases impetus to kill such individuals instead. Marco Rubio is terrifying.

Brennan does not think the CIA should be in the business of detention. He is, however, an advocate of targeted killing.

Updated, 4:39 p.m. EST: Sen. Mark Udall (D-Co.) says CIA has a responsibility to correct any misinformation previously put out about the CIA's detention and interrogation program.

Udall wants the record set straight within 90 days.

Udall also says he wants to see the intelligence committee's report on the detention and interrogation program should be declassified. Brennan, a fan of government secrecy, is less sure. He says it would be "a very weighty decision in terms of declassifying that report."

Updated, 4:12 p.m. EST: Brennan says waterboarding should never have been employed and will not be under his directorship. But Brennan refuses to answer whether the technique is or is not torture. "I am not a lawyer, senator, and I cannot address that question," he responds to Sen. Carl Levin.

Levin pushes Brennan on whether he believes interrogation at a CIA black site led to information on the identity of Osama bin Laden's courier. The lengthy Senate Intelligence Committee states that interrogation provided no such information. Again, Brennan somewhat skirts the question and doesn't fully follow Levin's prompting to state that the interrogation of detainees provided no useful information.

Updated, 4:05 p.m. EST:  Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) expresses concern about the creeping "militarization" of the CIA.

"The CIA should not be doing traditional military operations," says Brennan, who has in recent years played a central role in institutionalizing a paramilitary apparatus under the CIA.

Updated, 4:00 p.m. EST: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) -- perhaps the loudest voice in Congress calling for greater transparency about drone strikes --- pushes Brennan on the government's targeted killing and the secrecy surrounding it. He reminds Brennan that he has an outstanding request for the CIA to provide a list of every country in which the U.S. has used and is using its lethal power. The nominee vows that he would work to respond to the requests, but skirts specifics about what this promised effort might yield.

Updated, 3:42 p.m. EST: When asked by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) about the passing of information about covert programs to the media. Brennan says he "works with reporters and editors of newspapers to keep out of the public eye some of this country's most important secrets."

Updated, 3:30 p.m. EST: Brennan says he no longer believes that torture provides "valuable intelligence" -- a view he once held. He says he has "serious questions about information that I was given at the time" about the use of enhanced interrogation. "Now I have to determine what the truth is, and at this point in time I do not know what the truth is," he says.

Updated, 3:20 p.m. EST: In language all too common of this administration when it comes to condoning controversial counterterror tactics, Brennan assures the committee that President Obama "has insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded, will be thoroughly anchored in intelligence" when it comes to drone strikes.

But as civil liberties groups have regularly stressed, what counts as "legally grounded" for the Obama administration is a matter of deep contention. Indeed the current legal battle over the NDAA argues that government has introduced provisions to ex post facto legalize the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, the legal opinions justifying adding U.S. citizens to kill lists, made public in a leaked white paper this week, were widely criticized by legal experts.

Updated, 3:15 p.m. EST: Feinstein begins her questioning with the issues of "provision of legal documents."

The senator said she is waiting on eight more documents on legal opinions about the Obama administrations kill lists. She also asked that Brennan relay requests that the senate committee staff, not just chairs, be given access to these legal opinions too -- this was not the case with the document given to the Senate under President Obama's direction yesterday evening. Brennan says it's necessary to keep certain documents in a closed circle but it's possible they will be made available to staff.

Updated, 2:50 p.m. EST: Brennan had barely opened his mouth to begin his testimony when a protester interrupted him. The woman, who appears to be a member of antiwar group Code Pink, was swiftly escorted from the chamber by police at the request of Sen. Feinstein.

Seconds later, a man in the chamber interrupted Brennan again, shouting against the U.S. drone program. Then another woman stood up to repeat the message. "Do your job" the protester shouted at Feinstein, decrying the death of civilians in Yemen and Pakistan.

Feinstein has now asked to clear the chamber, calling a recess. She says that Code Pink protesters will not be permitted back into the hearing.


Original post: As Salon noted this morning, John Brennan Thursday afternoon will face questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee in his confirmation hearing to become CIA director. Senators, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, will ask about Brennan's role in the use of drone strikes and his knowledge of torture and rendition of suspects under the Bush administration.

Feinstein has opened the hearing by stressing what she feels is the importance of removing secrecy around the U.S. drone programs. Her reasoning, however, will not please human rights activists who campaign against U.S. drone wars. The Congresswoman said wanted to be able to speak openly about how civilians are killed by drone strikes.

I will keep this post updated with major news as the hearing proceeds.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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