John Brennan, U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee for the post of Director of the CIA, refused to describe the “enhanced interrogation technique” of water-boarding as “torture”, even as protesters brought to a halt his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.
The hearing came a day after the Obama administration yielded to Congressional pressure to release a memo on its justification for targeted assassination of American terror suspects, and in the same week as a think-tank’s stinging report on detailing on the U.S. practice of “extraordinary rendition” and water-boarding.
Pressed by the Senate Intelligence Committee for his view on the CIA’s use of water-boarding, Mr. Brenan said he found the practice reprehensible and that if he was confirmed it would not recur. Four years ago, Mr. Brennan pulled out of the nomination process for the same post after he was criticised for his part in the George W. Bush administration’s support for “enhanced interrogation”.
“It is something that should’ve been banned long ago,” Mr. Brennan told Senators, even as he declined to describe water-boarding as torture, citing the legal and political ramifications of doing so.
Though Mr. Brennan was the CIA’s Deputy Executive Director when “enhanced interrogations” were introduced following the 9/11 attacks, and he admitted to receiving close to 50 messages involving the programme, he defended his record saying, “I was cc’d on some of those documents, but I had no oversight of it.” “I think a lot of information, both accurate and inaccurate, came out of interrogation sessions conducted by CIA, including those where [enhanced interrogation techniques] were employed,” he wrote in prior remarks to the Committee. “My belief is that these techniques… are counterproductive to our overall efforts against [al-Qaeda] and other terrorists.”
Proceedings on Capitol Hill were brought to an abrupt halt after the hearing was mobbed by protesters, including those from Code Pink, an anti-drone protest group.
Protesters waved signs describing Mr. Brennan as a “national security risk”, before being whisked away by Capitol police.
Though a classified hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Mr. Brennan’s elevation to the CIA’s directorship appeared all but certain, with Committee Chairperson Senator Dianne Feinstein concluding the hearing by endorsing his confirmation saying, “I think you’re going to be a fine and strong leader for the CIA.”
Mr. Brennan strongly defended anti-terror attacks by unmanned drones. Despite what he called a public misimpression, he told the Committee that drone strikes are used only against targets planning to carry out attacks against the US., never as retribution for an earlier one. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he declared.
Referring to one American citizen killed by a drone in Yemen in 2011, he said the man, Anwar al-Awlaki, had ties to at least three attacks planned or carried out on U.S. soil.