Hope and Change (John Brennan Edition)
Is this the ethos Obamaphiles went to the polls—twice!—to vote for?
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, had detailed, contemporaneous knowledge of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on captured terrorism suspects during an earlier stint as a top spy agency official, according to multiple sources familiar with official records.
Those records, the sources said, show that Brennan was a regular recipient of CIA message traffic about controversial aspects of the agency’s counter-terrorism program after September 2001, including the use of “waterboarding.”
How deeply involved Brennan was in the program, and whether he vigorously objected to it at the time, as he has said he did, are likely to be central questions lawmakers raise at his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, scheduled for February 7.
After Brennan temporarily left government service in 2005, he publicly disavowed waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, and other physically painful techniques that are often described as torture.
The official records, which include raw CIA operational message traffic that remains classified, are silent on whether he opposed the techniques while at the spy agency, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Brennan served as deputy executive director of the agency beginning in 2001.
Some former officials familiar with deliberations about the program said they don’t recall Brennan voicing objections to the use of harsh interrogation techniques.
But other former officials say Brennan was among agency officials who were uncomfortable with the use of physically coercive tactics, despite the legal opinions that supported their use. He expressed concern, according to these officials, that if details of the program became public, it would be CIA officers who would face criticism, rather than the politicians and lawyers who approved them.
"If John says he expressed reservations about some techniques, I believe him because he’s an honest guy," said John McLaughlin, who was deputy CIA director at the time.
"Mr. Brennan had significant concerns and personal objections to many elements of the EIT (enhanced interrogation techniques) program while it was under way," a senior administration official said in response to Reuters’ inquiries. "He voiced those objections privately with colleagues at the agency."
The question of whether and to what extent Brennan raised objections will be a focus of his confirmation hearing for Republican and Democratic senators alike.
"I have many questions and concerns about his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration," Senator John McCain, who was tortured during captivity in North Vietnam, said recently.
One wonders what the reaction amongst Obamaphiles will be if Brennan fails to give a straight answer regarding his support for enhanced interrogation techniques while in government. For that matter, one wonders what the reaction amongst Obamaphiles is now, given the ambiguity concerning the question.