WASHINGTON – Sen. Dianne Feinstein,D-Calif.,had to momentarily shut down John Brennan’s confirmation hearing after protesters refused to stop interrupting the proceedings.
President Barack Obama’s controversial nomination of Brennan as director of the CIA induced peace activists from Codepink to flood the chamber with signs,shouts,T-shirts and in one case,a life-sized stuffed doll representing a drone victim.
One woman yelled “John Brennan,your drone policies kill women and children!” as she was dragged out of the hearing room. Others held signs reading “Stop C.I.A Murder” and “Brennan = Drone Killer,” while more raised hands covered in pink paint.
One older woman stumbled and fell as she was escorted out of the room by police. She held a list that stretched to the floor containing the names of children she said were civilian casualties in drone strikes.
Brennan,who has been Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser,remains a controversial figure for many since his approval of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding,became known four years ago when Obama first nominated him for the position.
Questioned about his approval and knowledge of waterboarding as a torture method,Brennan said he was not in the chain of command at the time.
“I had no oversight of it,” he said. “I expressed my personal objections to waterboarding,but I did not try to stop it because that would have been done by someone else in the agency.”
However,Brennan told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he promoted enhanced interrogation techniques because they saved lives. He said he is a strong proponent of doing everything else possible before such measures are used.
“I never believe it’s better to kill a terrorist than detain one,” he said.
Several senators addressed the somewhat cool relationship between the CIA and Congress. They cited CIA cables about the terrorist attack on the U.S consular office in Benghazi,Libya,that have not been given to the committee or made public.
“We need to make sure that the American people are brought into this debate,” Sen. Ron Wyden,D-Ore.,said.
Drones remain a contentious topic as well. Since he entered office,Obama has authorized 311 remote drone strikes in Pakistan alone,compared to 52 strikes under President George W. Bush. Peace activists,including those from Codepink,point to large numbers of innocent civilian casualties,regarded as collateral damage,as evidence that Obama’s drone program isn’t working.
In a February 2012 Washington Post/ABC poll,more than 70 percent of those polled said they favored the drone policy. Two-thirds said drone strikes targeting American citizens believed to be terrorists and living in other countries were acceptable.
If he is confirmed as CIA director,Brennan will have to address both topics. Forefront in the public eye is a Department of Justice memo,obtained by NBC news two days ago. The memo gives legal justification for using drones against American citizens who are suspected of terrorism activities,and not necessarily for a specific attack on the U.S. The report offers reasons for attacking American citizens merely suspected of terrorist activities,even if they have not been indicted.
“What we need to do is optimize secrecy and protect our national security. We need to explain to the American people the procedures we practice,” Brennan said.
Reach Reporter Jess Miller at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.