Obama's Nominee For CIA Director Is Going To Get Grilled From Both Sides

john brennan

Photo: Flickr/Secretary of defence

The release Monday of a secret Justice Department memo outlining the legal case for drone strikes against American citizens is likely to raise some big questions at today’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA. Brennan, who is currently the top White House counter-terrorism advisor, is the architect of the controversial drone program. As a result, both Republicans and Democrats are likely to grill Brennan on the otherwise secret program, seizing what will likely be one of their only opportunities to learn more about our robotic lethal operations abroad.

Here are some of the top issues that will likely come up at today’s hearing: 

What does that drone memo actually mean?

The leaked document says that a U.S. citizen that is a senior al Qaeda commander “or an associated force” that poses an “imminent threat” can be killed with the consent of “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government.”

Expect questions about what an “associated force” or “imminent threat” actually means. The memo doesn’t define any of those terms, leaving a door wide open to a range of interpretation.

And who is a high-level official? The Senate will likely want to know who will be ultimately responsible if a strike goes wrong.

“How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will likely lead the charge with specific questions on drone oversight. “How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed?” Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, asked in a January letter, acquired by Danger Room. “Does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?”

Wyden may also ask whether such attacks can be carried out in the United States, and for a complete list of countries where drones have been used to kill people in the war on terrorism.

What did you know about enhanced interrogations? 

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Brennan spent 25 years at the CIA, most recently as director of the National Counterterrorism centre during the George W. Bush administration.

As a result, Brennan will likely face questions about what he knew about the use of enhanced interrogation methods — such as waterboarding — during that time, and about his stance on the use of secret CIA prisons after 9/11. Several Senators, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have condemned enhanced interrogation as torture. 

“John [Brennan] has said previously that he was personally opposed to abusive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. Additionally, he did not play a role in the creation, execution or oversight of these programs,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, told Reuters.

Former Bush administration officials disagree with that assessment, saying that they do not recall such objections from Brennan. 

Did you leak details about the Osama Bin Laden Raid To The Media?

Many Republicans believe Brennan was the principal source for glowing media reports about the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. Those reports, in which the White House source described Bin Laden as firing at Navy SEALs and using his wife as a human shield — turned out to be completely different from the official White House version released later. 

Brennan may also be grilled about his role in possible intelligence leaks during the making of the film Zero Dark 30.

Do you think jihad is legitimate?

In a 2010 speech at the centre for Strategic and International Studies, Brennan described violent extremists as victims of “political, economic, and social forces,” and rejected the use of the word “terrorism” or “jihad,” calling it a legitimate tenet of Islam. He also referred to Jerusalem using the Arabic word for the city — Al Quds. 

The Weekly Standard jumped on the Al Quds remark, and the conservative blog Power Line called him an “Arabist.” Expect Republicans to bring all this up again. 

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