CIA Nominee John Brennan Draws Fire From Civil Liberties and Human Rights Advocates

On January 7, 2013, John O. Brennan was formally nominated to replace David Petreaus as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. With both liberals and conservatives focusing their attention on Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel, the nomination of Brennan has been pushed aside. But Brennan’s recent record at the CIA is reason to give pause and look at his record in recent years.

Previously in his career at the CIA, John Brennan held such positions as Station Chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Deputy Executive Director and head of the National Counterterrorism Center. During his years working in the White House for President George W. Bush, he was an architect of our “enhanced interrogation" techniques. Torture, including waterboarding, black sites, and prisoner abuse were hallmarks of this program.

In the Bush White House, Brennan oversaw a torture program that saw terror suspects such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) waterboarded 183 times in a one month span. Brennan told The Early Show in November 2007, “There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.” However, torturing Khalid Sheik Mohammed did not help in the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Despite being tortured, KSM lied to interrogators, telling them that the courier Bin Laden used was retired and no longer active. It was, in fact, the same courier that was ultimately used to trace Bin Laden’s whereabouts in Abbotobad, Pakistan. Torture programs that Brennan defended are not effective and they are a permanent stain on the United States’ human rights record.

As Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism official, Brennan oversaw the drone program and was the architect of what was called the "Kill List.” While effective at combating Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, the program is not without controversy. Drone strikes have killed countless civilians since 2009. Drones also violate the United Nations Charter when it comes to violating sovereign air space. One high ranking Al-Qaeda militant who was killed from a Predator air strike was Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemeni who was an American citizen. As an American citizen, he was denied due process, as guaranteed to him by the Bill of Rights. Al-Awlaki was on what was called the “Kill List."  The Kill List is a list of suspected terrorists that are targeted by the CIA and is regularly presented to the President for final approval.

Civil liberties and human rights groups are closely watching the nomination of Brennan. The American Civil Liberties Union, which normally does not concern themselves with Executive Branch politics, is calling on United States Senators to hold the nomination until they have the chance to examine the legality of his record. Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement:

The Senate should not move forward with his nomination until all senators can assess the role of the CIA — and any role by Brennan himself — in torture, abuse, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during his past tenure at the CIA, as well as can review the legal authorities for the targeted killing program that he has overseen in his current position. This nomination is too important to proceed without the Senate first knowing what happened during Brennan's tenures at the CIA and the White House, and whether all of his conduct was within the law.

John Brennan was rumored to be the president’s choice for CIA director in 2008, but was never nominated because of his record on torture. With his record, then and now, the United States intelligence gathering community could be on a slippery slope to paramilitarization under Brennan’s watch.