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Cole writes: "The confirmation hearing for John Brennan allowed the country to grapple with many issues that had been swept under the rug and seldom discussed in public."

Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)
Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, essayist and professor of history. (photo: Informed Comment)


Top Ten Surprises of the Brennan Hearing

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

08 February 13

 

he confirmation hearing for John Brennan allowed the country to grapple with many issues that had been swept under the rug and seldom discussed in public. While few to none of them were thus resolved, it does seem to me positive that they were brought up in public.

Surprises?

  1. The LAT reports that "Republicans largely focused on whether the CIA should be capturing more terrorists, rather than just killing them." Let's get this straight. The GOP is pressuring a Democratic administration to be less bloodthirsty?

  2. It turns out the John Brennan wants to turn the drone program over to the Department of Defense. I have long advocated this step (not that it matters much what I think about these matters). As Brennan and his aides point out, having it under the Central Intelligence Agency makes it automatically covert and removed from public inquiry or discussion. While the special operations forces in the US military do not have has much bureaucratic oversight as the CIA, the Department of Defense in general is in the nature of the case more under civilian oversight than the CIA. And, its programs are open to public discussion.

  3. The National Journal reports that Brennan also says he recognizes that the drone program as now carried out has the potential to undermine international law, and that the US risks setting precedents that e.g. China and Russia might themselves use for their own purposes in the near future. While the paternalistic assumption that the US is responsible but lesser races are not is problematic, to say the least, the point- that US policy is often cited in justification for controversial actions by other countries- is correct. The problem is that Brennan and Obama seem to be in the position of the young St. Augustine, who is alleged to have prayed that God make him virtuous, but "not yet."

  4. Brennan alleges that he objected to the use of waterboarding when he was deputy executive director of the CIA, but did not pursue the matter because it was being done in a different section of the agency. Hunh? Is it that he was in the Directorate of Intelligence and it was the Directorate of Operations guys who were waterboarding? Isn't he implying that there are black ops being run by rogue parts of the agency that aren't open to influence from even deputy executive directors?

  5. The LAT says that Brennan has now concluded, after a 6,000 page review distilled into a 300-page summary, that stress positions, humiliations such as nudity, and waterboarding (which I will call torture even though he would not) produced no useful intelligence. I would go further and argue that actually the torture produced key disinformation for which Washington often fell, sending it off on wild goose chases like invading Iraq.

  6. Likewise, LAT notes that "Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said the interrogation program was 'corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.'" Hunh? Somebody was making money off the torture? Who, how and why? You can't just leave us hanging with that tidbit, Sen. Rockefeller!

  7. The CIA is telling Sen. Diane Feinstein that the number of innocent civilians killed by US drone strikes annually has typically been in single digits, but also forbade her to say that publicly because everything about drones is classified. If this allegation is true, the CIA is not as good at counting as the young British journalists at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (scroll down).

  8. It turns out that Americans, when asked, think that droning American citizens is illegal, and that they don't support the drone program if it means killing innocent civilians along with militants. As usual, Americans turn out to be mostly center-left on policy when anyone bothers actually to ask their opinion. Sen. Ron Wyden, among our foremost exponents of the rule of law in these matters, turns out to have an enormous constituency!

  9. When senators pressed Brennan to have judicial oversight of drone strike decisions where they concerned Americans, he said it could be considered but doubted whether a court could evaluate intelligence on whether a militant posed a threat. Why can intelligence bureaucrats make that evaluation but judges cannot? Occasionally the arrogance of the intelligence aristocracy peaked out at the hearing.

  10. Administration officials are admitting that the drone program, which is allegedly authorized by the 2001 congressional authorization for the use of military force, would be brought into legal question if al-Qaeda were declared defeated, thus putting an ending parenthesis around the AUMF. But I argue that the AUMF is itself unconstitutional, since it went beyond calling for hunting down and punishing the plotters of 9/11 to creating a class of persons ("al-Qaeda members") who are objects of a Bill of Attainder. You can't actually declare war on a small civilian organization that is spread over the world. There is no formal definition of an al-Qaeda member, there is no real way to decide who is 'operational' and who isn't, and there is a tendency in the US government to use 'al-Qaeda' to describe all militant and/or inconvenient Muslim movements. In fact, the NYT revealed that the US routinely ex post facto puts all young men killed in a drone strike in the category of 'militants,' even if it has no idea who they are. Most living actual al-Qaeda members had nothing to do with 9/11 and many are critics of it. The hypocrisy of all this is obvious in Libya, where the US cooperated with Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who became the security director for post-revolutionary Tripoli, even though he could be droned at will by President Obama any day of the week according to current US policy. The entire thing is a definitional, constitutional and legal mess, and Obama should end it all before going out of office.


 

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+76 # BobboMax 2013-02-08 12:30
Ref "torture produced key disinformation for which Washington often fell," I would suggest that Washington (in the persona of the Cheney-Addingto n administration) jumped eagerly rather than "fell."
 
 
+21 # Malcolm 2013-02-08 16:59
So true. The PNAC pigs were already planning to invade Iraq, and were ready as soon as WTC was hit by their own planes.
 
 
+1 # James38 2013-02-10 12:12
The PNAC (Project for a New American Century), led by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, may be a bunch of ultra-far-right Reaganite fruitcakes, and they seem to have had influence on the policies of the GW Bush administration' s development of the Iraq war. However, it is a big stretch (I would say a ridiculous stretch) to claim that the WTC strike was carried out by "their" (PNAC) planes.

Evidence? I have seen nothing but the overheated imagination of the conspiracy buffs.

There is pretty convincing evidence of US government incompetence and a lack of communication between security agencies (which has been going on for a long time), but direct collusion? No evidence for that at all.
 
 
+50 # WestWinds 2013-02-08 13:01
Good luck. BHO is as much a puppet of the Right as are the Bushes. If you really want to start effectively dismantling things that hold this mess in a status quo state, try bulldozing and razing K Street.

Really interesting article.
 
 
+5 # Christopher Warren 2013-02-09 10:53
Quoting WestWinds:
Good luck. BHO is as much a puppet of the Right as are the Bushes. If you really want to start effectively dismantling things that hold this mess in a status quo state, try bulldozing and razing K Street.

Really interesting article.

President STATUS QUObama came from the University of Milton Friedman and you ain't no radical if you teach there!
 
 
+44 # LeeBlack 2013-02-08 14:26
Our drone program is setting a precedent. What will we think when drone targets are in the U.S.?
 
 
+28 # MainStreetMentor 2013-02-08 15:25
I think, LeeBlack, that drones are already targeting, and have been targeting, US citizens for a LONG time - tracking, photographing and cataloging, they just haven't YET used live ammunition in their quests.
 
 
+4 # hoodel 2013-02-09 09:26
Department of Homeland Security is buying drones. ... weaponized ones, not just the surveillance ones. They are buying artillary, armored cars and 2 billion bullets wasn't enough. Their appropriations have called for more.

Why? Federal law calls for armed guards at certain federal offices. DHS surmises that due to local and state budgetary constraints, we can't count on local and state police... meaning a national police force.

The Obama administration supports strikes on US persons in a "conflict zone." Military appropriations have defined the whole planet (including CONUS) as a conflict zone. As a parallel precedent, the President redeployed the National Guard and send in the Navy when Sandy hit, with out first getting concurrence from the affected governors.
 
 
+12 # Malcolm 2013-02-08 17:01
Quoting LeeBlack:
Our drone program is setting a precedent. What will we think when drone targets are in the U.S.?


We'll likely think the same thing we do when we are attacked-all over the world-by arms manufactured and sold right here in the US of A.

Everyone will be baffled, i suppose, except those who profit. I won't go into who THAT is.
 
 
0 # James38 2013-02-10 13:03
Please, Malcolm, don't be coy. Let us know who you think THEY are.

First, we need to know who is influencing US policy and why.

Second, don't forget the evidence. We need real information, not speculation stated as fact.
 
 
-54 # get real 2013-02-08 15:19
Much better to send one drone to knock out a dude in a jeep than send a 100 of our military and only 80 return. As to killing an American....the jerk was affiliated with the terrorist. As for me take them out so we done spend our bucks feeding and housing them.
 
 
+34 # wantrealdemocracy 2013-02-08 16:40
Get real has absolutely no human compassion. He says anyone targeted for a drone attack is a 'jerk' and he thinks it is a good idea to kill that person than to arrest him and charge him with a crime for which he will go to court to defend himself. Wonder if he would feel that way if he was in the jeep? This lad has no idea of the rights stated in our Constitution. Our elected officials swear an oath to uphold our Constitution. Admitedly they are not holding to their oath and should be removed from office. As for get real, give the ignorant lad a copy of the Constitution.
 
 
0 # Regina 2013-02-09 12:38
Do you really think he can read?
 
 
+1 # James38 2013-02-10 13:06
If you are concerned about real democracy, you need to be realistic about how to deal with people who would like to destroy it.

Take a look at this video. It shows how some women are dealing with the need for progress - and how you might not know how bad the Taliban really is:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/videos/2013/02/09/tina-brown-on-malala.html
 
 
+21 # Banichi 2013-02-08 16:40
Really? Then you would be OK with some 'high government official' who does not have to supply any proof other than his 'informed opinion' targeting you, yourself, I take it? Or do you really think you could not be such a target? Based on what?

Time to wake up to the implications - and that's only one of them..
 
 
-1 # James38 2013-02-10 06:42
From CNN(http://articles.cnn.com/2011-09-30/politics/politics_targeting-us-citizens_1_al-awlaki-yemeni-embassy-drone-missile?_s=PM:POLITICS)

"The U.S. drone killing of American-born and -raised Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a major figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has re-energized a national debate over the legal and moral quandaries of a government deliberately killing a citizen." "While President Obama on Friday applauded the U.S. action as "a major blow" against al Qaeda, civil libertarians assailed the U.S. decision to kill a citizen." "The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement." "But U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the lethal strike was lawful. It was entirely legal. If a citizen takes up arms against his own country, he becomes an enemy of the country. The president was acting entirely within his rights and I fully support the president," King said."

Al Awlaki had clearly stated his support for strikes against the US, and was clearly an instigator of specific violence against the US.

I think such a specific case of violence against the country may be the exception that proves the rule. The killing of Al Awlaki, if typical only of a rare case of need for such action, may have been justified.
(continued)
 
 
+3 # James38 2013-02-10 06:43
(continued)

The problem is in making sure that such actions can not become less rare and less controlled. A US citizen who has become an enemy combatant is a rare individual, and equal in danger to any enemy combatant. Targeting such key enemies in a way that saves the lives of US troops is just good military policy in a war situation.

The thing that really weakens the US position is that it was already fighting an illegal war in Iraq. We need to clean up our national conscience by repudiating that "War of Lies", and prosecuting the Bush Administration War Criminals. That would remove much confusion from this discussion. Part of the confusion is that because of US war crimes, some of the things Al Awlaki said were unfortunately true.
 
 
+7 # hoodel 2013-02-09 09:28
There is more judicial review involved to tap this guy's phone than there is to kill him?
 
 
0 # Malcolm 2013-02-09 10:19
Quoting get real:
Much better to send one drone to knock out a dude in a jeep than send a 100 of our military and only 80 return. As to killing an American....the jerk was affiliated with the terrorist. As for me take them out so we done spend our bucks feeding and housing them.


Lucky you; the censor of this site offed my post; apparently the word "jingo" has only four letters.
 
 
0 # gdp1 2013-02-09 06:39
...Everything is as it should be:..... the terrorists are correct in their analysis of America as a corrupt and unjust regime....and the Americans are correct in killing those that so think...They,(b oth sides) should be killing each other, and they are,....and the thirst for blood is quenched....ecc e homo...
 
 
0 # James38 2013-02-10 05:53
"...torture produced key disinformation for which Washington often fell, sending it off on wild goose chases like invading Iraq."

The "War of Lies in Iraq" was not a "wild goose chase". It was a criminal act, and GW Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, and several others who promoted and caused it are War Criminals.

I would say that this fact is more important than the criticisms leveled by Cole in this article, but in the same vein. It is a National disaster that the US has not decided to own up to the illegal War, and prosecute the criminals who caused it.

The US needs to clean house, regain self respect and the respect of other countries, and assume a more balanced position in the world.

Failing to do this, continuing to sweep the fact of that monstrous war crime under the rug, just sets the US up for the possibility of more such massive failures in the future.

The US Soldiers who died or were maimed in that war should have spoken out, would have spoken out had they realized that their sacrifice was futile and destructive to world peace and resulted in the needless deaths of multiple thousands of Iraqi civilians.

(continued)
 
 
+1 # James38 2013-02-10 06:02
(continuing)
Saying "(not that it matters much what I think about these matters)" is self-defeating and indicates that Cole has slipped in his understanding of the importance of every voice - even his, prominent and influential as it is.

"One citizen, one vote" is still the concept that underlies our freedom, even though the Electoral College does its best to make that idea a bad joke, and causes major apathy and confusion in the electoral process.

Someone commented that we need a return to universal draft for military service. The "all volunteer" policy removes the military and its actions too far from the mainstream of our awareness. The volunteers tend too much to be more in need for a job and less critical or aware of the reasons they are being used in War.

If the US has a reason to put US lives in jeopardy, it is the responsibility of all of us to be involved and to understand and agree with the policy.

The hope is that had a draft been in effect, the Citizens of the US would have rejected the bogus war in Iraq. The confusion and controversy would have been brought into clearer focus, and so many would have refused to be drafted for possible death in a dishonorable cause that the war might not have happened.

We need a higher appreciation of reality in our country. Our actions are not a rehearsal or practice for some performance in the future.
 
 
0 # Michael Lee Bugg 2013-02-10 17:27
Obama needs to come to grips with two facts. First, the drone attacks do not affect our safety here in the "homeland" since we are sheltered in the arms of Bush's 'Homeland Security Agency' (This is extreme sarcasm for those who can't tell) and makes us more subject to retaliation in that part of the world. Second, no matter how many Islamic people he orders killed around the world he is not going to get credit from many people for "protecting" us, nor is he going to escape the accusation of being an Islamic sympathizer if not a secret Islamic jhadist bent on destroying the Christian religion and all of its faithful (sarcasm alert) adherents! So Obama should man up and cease the idiotic drone attacks that only keep the drone makers fat and happy!
 

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