"I'm Not a Lawyer": Brennan's Confirmation Obfuscations

Posted: Feb 07, 2013 5:58 PM
President Obama's nominee for CIA Director John Brennan arrived on Capitol Hill prepared to expertly parry questions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, calmly affirming that he believes in President Obama's counterterrorism policy and, when pressed, simply did not answer some of the tough questions.

It's understandable that Brennan would punt in the face of the Intelligence Committee. Public hearings have to skirt around confidential information and, more than once, questions centered on a 6000-page report on the utility of enhanced interrogation techniques that has not been made public. Repeatedly, however, Brennan leaned on excuses and equivocations to dodge some of the most hard-hitting questions.

Brennan obfuscated on the question of oversight of the targeted killings program initiated by the Obama Administration that has resulted in the deaths of at least three American citizens to date. "We only take strikes as a last resort to save lives," Brennan said. Sen. Ron Wyden said he was "disappointed" by efforts at transparency by the Obama Administration. In response to a request to turn over all documents related to the program, the Obama Administration supplied the Senate Intelligence Committee with one memo from the Office of Legal Counsel. The drone program was brought to the forefront of Brennan's confirmation by a memo released earlier this week detailing the Obama Administration's twisted legal justification for the program.

Wyden told Brennan that he's "convinced" that there are parts of drone policy that can be declassified. Brennan responded that the goal is to "optimize transparency and optimize secrecy. I don't think it's one or the other. It's trying to optimize both of them." If the government makes a mistake when it comes to killing an American citizen abroad, Brennan said, "we need to acknowledge it and acknowledge it publicly."

16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. As reported by the Washington Post, "no one in the Obama Administration, Pentagon or Congress has taken responsibility for his death, or even publicly acknowledged that it happened."

Republicans portrayed the Brennan-era CIA as leaking like a sieve. Idaho Sen. James Risch focused on a White House public relations operation that may have accidentally divulged critical information. Brennan was on the defensive, saying that "I do not believe it is ever appropriate to disclose any of those details" about covert operations, and that "whenever I talk to reporters, I do so at the request of the White House Press Office."

Brennan refused to take a stand on if enhanced interrogation techniques used during the Bush Administration - such as waterboarding - constituted torture. Moreso, he refused to even take a stand on if they provided important information.

"I'm not a lawyer," Brennan responded when asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on whether or not he thought that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques used by the Bush Administration constituted 'torture.' "The term torture has a lot of legal and political implications... I'm not a lawyer." When pressed, he continued to refuse to answer the question, other than that he thought that waterboarding was a "reprehensible" tactic used to extract information from detained terrorists.

Brennan also said that, while he stated in 2007 that he thought that enhanced interrogation techniques led to important intelligence breakthroughs, the 2012 report from Democrats on the Intelligence Committee raised "serious questions about the impression that I had at that time." He then said he was "not clear at this time" if waterboarding saved American lives.