John Brennan, President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, defended the administration’s controversial counterterrorism policies during his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. Brennan attempted to justify the administration’s use of drone strikes and backtracked on his earlier assertion that waterboarding yielded useful information. He also denied he played a central role in the agency’s torture of suspected terrorists and suggested he was misled as a CIA senior official over the value of information obtained through so-called “enhanced interrogation” tactics. This is part of Brennan’s defense of drones.
John Brennan: “I think there is a misimpression on the part of some American people, who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there’s no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat.”
In a rare move, Brennan’s confirmation hearing was temporarily called into recess following multiple interruptions by protesters drawing attention to his leading role in the drone war. Members of the group CODEPINK began standing up one by one to condemn the killings of U.S. citizens and civilians abroad until Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein brought the hearing to a halt. Eight CODEPINK protesters were arrested.
John Brennan: “A heartfelt thank you also goes to my family in New Jersey, especially my 91-year-old mother Dorothy, my 92-year-old father Owen, who emigrated from Ireland nearly 65 years ago.”
CODEPINK Protester: “178 children killed by drones in Pakistan. And Mr. Brennan, if you don’t know who they are, I have a list. I have a list with all the names and the ages.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “All right, I’m going to — we’re going to halt the hearing. I’m going to ask that the room be cleared and that the CODEPINK associates not be permitted to come back in. Done this five times now, and five times are enough.”
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in Tunisia for the burial procession of an opposition leader murdered earlier this week. A general strike called by the country’s biggest labor union in response to the killing has already brought the capital Tunis to a near standstill. A political crisis has been mounting since the murder of Chokri Belaid, a leading human rights advocate and outspoken critic of the Islamist-led government. Amid the turmoil Wednesday, Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali proposed to dissolve parliament and form a new government. But the ruling Islamist party has rejected the prime minister’s bid.
In Iraq, a series of explosions across the country have killed at least 31 people. Dozens of others were wounded. Today marks the seventh consecutive Friday when bombings have taken place in Iraq, amid rising sectarian tensions ahead of April elections.
U.S. news outlets are facing criticism after it was revealed they complied with an Obama administration request to hide the location of a U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia. The base was first used in 2011 to kill Muslim cleric and U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. The New York Times disclosed its location for the first time this week, reportedly because the base’s architect, John Brennan, a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, is now nominated to head the CIA. The Washington Post admitted they were also part of “an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.” Critics are questioning the papers’ silence particularly because other outlets noted the location of the base months ago. The Times of London mentioned it in July 2011, while Fox News noted the location in an online article before broadening the language to say “Arabian Peninsula” instead of “Saudi Arabia.” Adrian Chen of the media website Gawker wrote: “In cooperating with the blackout, news organizations weren’t protecting a state secret: They were making the CIA’s life easier by suppressing a story that was already out there.”
A hunt is underway in Southern California for a former police officer accused of killing three people and launching a targeted offensive against the Los Angeles Police Department. Christopher Dorner, a former Navy Reserve lieutenant, posted a lengthy manifesto on Facebook vowing “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform.” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck described the suspect on Thursday.
Charlie Beck: “Of course he knows what he’s doing, and we trained him. He was also a member of the armed forces. It is extremely worrisome and scary, especially to the police officers involved.”
Dorner was fired from the LAPD in 2008 for making false statements after he complained that his training officer had kicked a mentally ill suspect in the course of an arrest. Testimony by the suspect’s father supported Dorner’s claim. Over the weekend, Dorner allegedly shot dead Monica Quan, a basketball coach and daughter of the former police captain who represented him during his disciplinary action, as well as her fiancé, a university safety officer. He’s also accused of shooting several police officers, one of them fatally. Dorner’s manifesto accuses the department of racism, corruption and other abuses. It also recounts his isolation as one of a few African Americans in the areas where he grew up. And it explicitly calls for tighter gun control, with Dorner saying his spree would not have been possible with a “well regulated [assault weapons ban].” Police pursuing Dorner as part of a multi-agency hunt were involved in at least two separate shootings injuring two people Thursday after they came across vehicles that looked similar to the suspect’s. Dorner’s own truck was found on fire and abandoned.
Lawmakers in California have unveiled a series of bills aimed at making the state’s gun restrictions the toughest in the country. The legislative package would ban semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and require a special permit to buy ammunition, among other provisions.
Top U.S. officials have revealed for the first time the CIA, military and State Department all backed a plan last year to arm Syrian rebels. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the plan to provide weapons to vetted fighters was ultimately rejected by the White House. The disclosure came as Panetta and Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before a Senate panel Thursday where they also testified about the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
A Bangladeshi man who tried to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Bank with a fake bomb as part of an elaborate FBI sting operation has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. Quazi Nafis, 21, faces 30 years to life in prison following his arrest last October. The FBI supplied every component of the attack, including the inert explosives, the van used to carry them, the detonator and even the storage facility where an agent helped Nafis assemble the fake bomb. The agent even reportedly planted the idea of using a remote-control device to trigger an explosion after Nafis had originally planned a suicide mission but expressed a desire to return to Bangladesh first. At his hearing Thursday, Nafis renounced violence and said, “I deeply and sincerely regret my involvement in this case.”
An autopsy report has shed new light on the death of a Mexican teenager shot by the U.S. Border Patrol last October. Authorities claimed 16-year-old José Elena Rodríguez was throwing rocks at agents over the border fence. But medical examiners say José was shot as many as 11 times with all but one of the bullets striking from behind. They also found the bullets entered his body at a lower point than where they exited. A lawyer for José’s family said, “The only way I can fathom that report is that he was lying on his face when he was hit.” Further doubt has also been cast on the claim that José was throwing rocks, since he was standing on the Mexican side of the border fence, the top of which was more than 40 feet above him.
State senators in North Dakota have passed a measure critics fear could end abortion in the state. The bill requires doctors at the state’s only abortion clinic to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a step that can be impossible for abortion providers. Alabama Republicans have advanced a similar bill, while yet another parallel measure enacted in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only remaining clinic.
The Northeastern United States is bracing for a massive blizzard that is expected to dump up to two feet of snow from New York City to Boston today and into Saturday. Flights and school classes have been canceled across the region in anticipation of the storm, which is being described as historic. Snow is already falling here in New York City.
In Britain, beef lasagna products have been pulled from the shelves over concerns they are actually made up of horsemeat. Frozen-food company Findus tested several of its products and found most contained between 60 and 100 percent horse. The news comes after millions of burgers were withdrawn in Ireland and Britain over similar concerns. The lasagna products are being tested for bute, a horse drug that could be potentially harmful to humans. Catherine Brown, head of the Food Standards Agency, spoke to the BBC.
Catherine Brown: “I think these are very robust tests, and what it says is the clear majority, potentially all of these products, are in fact horsemeat. Now we’re going to require every food business to test every product line, be it meatballs, be it lasagna, be it burgers, to be able to reassure us at a baseline that there is no horse in these products.”