CIA nominee John Brennan was repeatedly questioned about torture at his CIA confirmation hearing, including the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques. He refused to say waterboarding was a form of torture, but said he has come to oppose the technique. Under George W. Bush, Brennan served as deputy executive director of the CIA and director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. “Remember, he was the cheerleader for some of these onerous policies, particularly renditions and extraordinary renditions. So, for John Brennan today to say he read the Senate committee intelligence report on torture and he learned things he never knew before and that he was shocked with what he learned, this is a case of incredible willful ignorance,” says Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our coverage of the Senate confirmation hearings for John Brennan as director of the CIA, looking at his role inside the CIA under George W. Bush. On Thursday, Brennan was repeatedly questioned about his views on interrogation and torture. This is Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: In your opinion, does waterboarding constitute torture?
JOHN BRENNAN: The attorney general has referred to waterboarding as torture. Many people have referred to it as torture—attorney general, premier of—law enforcement officer and lawyer of this country. And as you well know, and as we’ve had the discussion, Senator, the term “torture” has a lot of legal and political implications. It is something that should have been banned long ago. It never should have taken place, in my view. And therefore, it is—if I were to go to CIA, it would never, in fact, be brought back.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Do you have—do you have a personal opinion as to whether waterboarding is torture?
JOHN BRENNAN: I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible, and it’s something that should not be done. And again, I am not a lawyer, Senator, and I can’t address that question.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, you’ve read opinions as to whether or not waterboarding is torture. And I’m just—I mean, do you accept those opinions of the attorney general? That’s my question.
JOHN BRENNAN: Senator, you know, I’ve read a lot of legal opinions. I’ve read an Office of Legal Counsel opinion in the previous administration that said in fact waterboarding could be used. So, from the standpoint of that, you know, I cannot point to a single legal document on this issue. But as far as I’m concerned, waterboarding is something that never should have been employed and, as far as I’m concerned, never will be, if I have anything to do with it.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Is waterboarding banned by the Geneva Conventions?
JOHN BRENNAN: I believe the attorney general also has said that it’s contrary and in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Again, I am not a lawyer or legal scholar to make a determination about what is in violation of an international convention.
AMY GOODMAN: That was CIA Director-designate John Brennan being questioned yesterday during his Senate confirmation hearing by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.
For more, we’re joined by Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, director of the Center’s National Security Project, his latest book, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism.
Your response to that line of questioning, Mel Goodman?
MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I think it was very disturbing on a lot of levels. It’s a step backward, for one thing. Former Director Leon Panetta did define waterboarding as torture. The attorney general has defined waterboarding as torture. But John Brennan won’t do so. And also, when John Brennan was a deputy executive assistant to Buzzy Krongard and to George Tenet, remember, he was the cheerleader for some of these onerous policies, particularly renditions and extraordinary renditions. So, for John Brennan today to say he read the Senate committee intelligence report on torture and he learned things he never knew before and that he was shocked with what he learned, this is a case of incredible willful ignorance. He’s been at the top of the CIA and now at the top in the White House—in fact, he’s probably stepping down in becoming the director of the CIA. He has written the manual for targeted killings. He’s written the disposition matrix, which is something out of George Orwell, that allows the president of the United States to pick targets based on evidence that Brennan collects from the CIA, presumably the same kind of evidence that was taken to the country in 2002 and 2003 that allowed the United States to go to war. So, all of this is extremely disturbing about who Brennan is.
And this feckless hearing, as Jeremy said—if you look at The New York Times today and The Washington Post, they describe yesterday’s events as intense, as aggressive, as heated. This was a walk in the park for this man. And at the end of the hearings, I thought it was fascinating when John Brennan had the audacity to look at this committee and its feckless chairman and say, “I want you to be an advocate for the Central Intelligence Agency.” The job of the Senate Intelligence Committee is to be an advocate for the American citizens, to make sure the American citizens understand that secret acts are not breaking laws and are not illegal and are not immoral. So, John Brennan now is in no position to claim that he wants the Senate Intelligence Committee to back him up, regardless of what CIA activities he sponsors. This is a very disturbing series of events.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mel Goodman, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, the vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, also asked Brennan about waterboarding. Let’s go to that exchange.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: As deputy executive director, you received the daily updates, from the time of Abu Zubaydah’s capture throughout his interrogation, including the analysis of the lawfulness of the techniques, putting you in a position to express any concerns you had about the program—before any of the most controversial techniques, including waterboarding, were ever used. Now, we found a minimum of 50 memos in the documents within the 6,000 pages that—on which you were copied. What steps did you take to stop CIA from moving to these techniques you now say you found objectionable at the time?
JOHN BRENNAN: I did not take steps to stop the CIA’s use of those techniques. I was not in the chain of command of that program. I served as deputy executive director at the time. I had responsibility for overseeing the management of the agency in all of its various functions. And I was aware of the program. I was cc’d on some of those documents. But I had no oversight of it. I wasn’t involved in its creation. I had expressed my personal objections and views to my—some agency colleagues about certain of those EITs, such as waterboarding, nudity and others, where I professed my personal objections to it. But I did not try to stop it, because it was, you know, something that was being done in a different part of the agency under the authority of others, and it was something that was directed by the administration at the time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mel Goodman, your response to his answer?
MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, very disturbing for him to say he was in a different part of the agency. He was the agency. He was on the seventh floor of the agency. He was an executive assistant to the director and to the executive secretary of the CIA. He was the one they allowed to go on Sunday morning talk shows to defend renditions, and particularly extraordinary renditions, which involve not only kidnapping people off the streets of Europe and the Middle East and Africa, but sending them to countries where we knew these people would be tortured.
So, this is very reminiscent of Bob Gates in Iran-Contra 20 years ago when he was confirmed, when he said he really knew nothing about it and it wasn’t within his level of competence. I think we’ve learned from past experience that you have to scrutinize these statements very carefully. And I think Brennan was playing games with the committee, and the committee was very willing to play along with John Brennan.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mel Goodman, I’d like to ask you about another aspect of the hearings, the suggestion by Dianne Feinstein, and reiterated by Angus King, that the Senate might set up a FISA-like court to review targeted assassinations. This is almost like trying to bring the court system into a process of illegal killings?
MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, we need to bring the judicial system in. But remember, with the FISA court, I’m aware of only one time where the FISA court actually disallowed an attempt by the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless eavesdropping. So don’t expect a FISA-type court to bring some kind of legality to this issue. And here, a year ago, it was Attorney General Eric Holder, when he talked about due process for Americans, and drones have killed Americans, Eric Holder said, and I quote, “Due process does not mean judicial process.” So, what does it really mean?
And now you have a press spokesman for the president, Jay Carney, who has referred to all of this activity as legal, ethical and wise. Then you have John Brennan, the author of the manual on these killings, and you have a Senate Intelligence Committee that’s perfectly willing to play along with all of this. So, this is the disturbing aspect of this part—
AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman, we—
MELVIN GOODMAN: —that and the appeal for the committee’s advocacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman, we have to wrap. You’re a former CIA and State Department analyst. You were one of the leading voices who testified against Brennan four years ago, when President Obama wanted him to be CIA chief there. Then, he withdrew his name because of all of the protest. What’s changed in four years?
MELVIN GOODMAN: What’s changed in four years is that we have a president who is also a constitutional lawyer who has ignored the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, with regard to speedy trials, with regard to due process, with regard to illegal searches and seizures, with regard to torture and abuse, to a certain extent, because the country is still practicing renditions.
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
MELVIN GOODMAN: We’re still rendering people to other countries. So, this is what needs to be monitored. And we don’t have an Office of the Inspector General who is conducting oversight within the agency, and you don’t have a Senate Intelligence Committee willing to conduct oversight outside the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: Mel, we have to leave it there. Mel Goodman, former CIA analyst, author of the book National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism.