The John Brennan Confirmation Hearings
I hope you’ve been following the confirmation hearings for John Brennan as director of the CIA. He is in my opinion a conscientious, dedicated government employee. I find it encouraging, however, that senators from both sides of the aisle are demanding information concerning torture and assassination policies and programs approved and implemented by President Obama and his predecessor and that Mr. Brennan has been involved in. We are dealing here with serious legal and constitutional issues under U S law. The U S and our government officials are also subject to the international rules of war as reflected in the Geneva Convention of 1946 and the additional protocols adopted subsequently.
The President claims that Executive Department actions in the areas of torture and assassination have been okayed by legal opinions from attorneys in the Justice Department (in effect inside counsel). The senators are correct in demanding the right to review these opinions and to seek their own counsel on these issues. Perhaps the Supreme Court should be involved in interpreting the relevant laws and the actions heretofore taken by our presidents and Executive Department employees. I am not taking a position on whether these opinions and the actions heretofore taken by Executive Department employees, for example, the military and CIA, should be fully disclosed to the public or limited for national security reasons to a review by a committee of senators and representatives of the House and their legal and other advisers. But this disclosure issue should also be considered and acted upon by Congress along with Senator Feinstein’s proposal that a special court be established to review assassinations proposed by the president.
If as a nation we decide to continue this program, then we the people through our elected representatives in Congress should approve it. This is particularly necessary if, as requested by government officials, the assassination program is expanded to include Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian militant who organized the attack on the Algerian natural gas plant last month but is not directly part of al Qaeda that we are at “war” with.
If the actions taken were found to be illegal, they could be considered war crimes under the Geneva Convention. The assassination of U S citizens whether here or abroad without the due process protection (trials with the right to defend oneself ) that all defendants are entitled to under U S law may not only be illegal but a precedent that could have profound consequences for all of us. Finding that American-born Anwar al-Awlaki, a renegade Muslim cleric in Yemen encouraging his followers to kill Americans, is an “enemy” worthy of death is relatively easy. How this interpretation might be expanded to other Americans in other situations by future presidents is more ominous.
Another reason to vet throughly Mr. Brennan’s nomination is that his prior assignments in dealing with torture and assassinations have aligned him with the military operations involving these tactics. The CIA should not in my view become another unit of the military. I have read recent newspaper reports that more than half of the CIA’s budget (the size of which is unknown to the public) is spent on military operations. Drone attacks and the Osama Ben Laden assassination are examples.
The Senate has some heavy lifting this week. I hope they rise to the occasion.