Critics came out in force following Thursday's confirmation hearing of John Brennan, President Obama's nominee for the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency and lead architect of the United State's secret drone warfare playbook.
Many attacked the questioning senators, remarking—as Esquire's Charles P. Pierce did—"They never laid a glove on him."
And despite the CODEPINK protestors' welcome reminder that "We are killing children" there was little mention of the brutal civilian casualties attributed to this "targeted" warfare. In response to this obvious lapse, The Progressive editor Matthew Rothschild wrote.
“We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative,” [Brennan] said.
Well, then, what about his drone killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar Al-Awlaki? Was that really a last resort to save lives? Unfortunately, I didn’t hear a Senator ask that question.
Calling the hearing "pure show," Pierce writes it was clear that "both sides [were] operating under a tacit agreement that there are things that the American people must not, and should not, know about what it being done in their name."
He said that this was particularly evident when Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Brennan "point-blank" whether the president could order a drone strike on an American citizen inside the US, following up with "What evidence does the president need to engage a drone strike? And could that power be used inside the United States?"
"I have been a strong proponent of being as open as possible," Brennan answered. "I believe we should optimize transparency and optimize secrecy and national security concerns. We can do both. The Office Of Legal Counsel advice established the boundaries, and we don't operate at those boundaries."
The man whom the administration has put up to head the CIA would not say whether or not the president of the United States has the power to order the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen within the borders of the United States. (And a thousand heads on conspiracy websites explode.) And the hearing, remarkably, went on as though nothing untoward had happened.
On last night's "Viewpoint," Current TV's John Fugelsang also listed the many questions that were not asked in the hearing:
But, I was surprised that no one asked Mr. Brennan about how drone bombs don’t just kill America haters—they create new ones.
I was surprised no one asked him why all adult males are considered combatants, and that’s how they keep the civilian death casualties numbers so low.
I was surprised no one asked him about the CIA’s new definition of the word “imminent” for all those imminent threats. Turns out, all they have to do is think you might be a threat one day. Nothing like a little pre-emptive Bush/Cheney nostalgia — forgive us our trespasses as we trespass against those we think might one day trespass against us.
But I guess I was most surprised by Mr. Brennan’s unwillingness to say if waterboarding was torture. He said, “I can’t say if it’s torture, I’m not a lawyer.” The only thing we learned for sure today was that John Brennan should’ve coached Chuck Hagel.
Brennan's lawyer remark was particularly worrisome to critics, given the scope of authority entrusted to him by the current Administration. Investigative blogger Marcy Wheeler said that this comment alone "utterly decimated the drone program’s legitimacy." She added:
In other words, this man, who can’t (or refuses to) say whether waterboarding is torture because he is not a lawyer, is entrusted every Tuesday to make far more difficult legal decisions, both on the subjective feasible and imminent questions, but also on specific international laws.
In other words, according to the guy who has been acting as judge and jury for the last four years, the guy who has been acting as judge and jury is completely incompetent to act as judge and jury.
Rothschild concludes that, despite all of the "octopus ink" Brennan excreted to "dodge or obfuscate" the facts, one particularly revealing remark, that "the Obama Administration has not stretched to the 'outer limits' of its justifications," left him even less assured.