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Inside Story Americas

Is John Brennan the man for the top CIA job?

We ask if the man seen as the architect of President Obama's policy of drone warfare can reform the very same programme.
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 13:16

In the week that members of the US Senate are due to question John Brennan, an architect of President Barack Obama's policy of drone warfare, a discussion finally appears to be taking place in the US media about the programme of extrajudicial killing he is thought largely to have designed.

"[Brennan] is someone who's tried to get the drone programme away from the CIA and give it to the military to deal with, which would create more transparency just by simply having it under military jurisdiction .... If press reports are any indication, he does seem to be somebody who does want to reform the programme, make it more transparent. And in that sense, especially since he is so close to Obama ... he's the best person to do it."

- Michael Cohen, a fellow of The Century Foundation

A leaked government document obtained by NBC news revealed the Obama administration's legal rationale for the killing of US citizens.  

And on Wednesday, The New York Times revealed that the CIA has been launching drone strikes from a base in Saudi Arabia for the past two years - a piece of information that The Washington Post then revealed it has been covering up for some time as part of an informal arrangement with the government.

John Brennan has spent 25 years in the CIA, including a stint as station chief in Saudi Arabia. He was deputy executive director of the CIA's administrative arm under the Bush administration.

Brennan had detailed knowledge about the use of what the administration called harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, according to the US media.

The US media reports also say he helped implement warrantless wiretapping under the Bush administration.

Brennan was an adviser to Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, and was tipped to head the CIA. But he backed out after being accused of supporting torture during the Bush administration.

"I've heard no commitment from Mr Brennan to take the drone programme away from the CIA .... This is someone who was not considered qualified four years ago because of his involvement in torture and rendition and so forth. And we can say well he criticised these practices internally, [but] he did not resign, he did not speak out, he did not follow his legal obligation to expose crimes to public."

- David Swanson, an activist and author

Brennan had by then condemned waterboarding but maintained that the practice had saved lives. He also claimed in 2011 that there had not been a single collateral death from drone strikes for a year. But multiple reports say that dozens of civilians were killed during this period.

Some have interpreted Obama's choice of Brennan to lead the CIA as a sign of his determination to persevere with the secretive policy of drone strikes that is thought to have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians.  

However, Brennan's supporters argue that he is just the man who can reform the programme, and perhaps curtail the CIA's increasingly paramilitary role.

Up to this point, members of the Democratic Party and the media, who in the past were quick to highlight abuses of power under Bush have largely given Obama a pass on the issue of extrajudicial killing.

Therefore there is great interest in the level of scrutiny Brennan will receive on Thursday, both from senators and the press.

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: David Swanson, an activist and author who has been instrumental in the campaign to make Charlottesville the first US city to pass a resolution against the use of drones; Michael Cohen, a fellow of The Century Foundation who writes about foreign policy for The Guardian; and Joshua Hersh, a foreign policy correspondent for The Huffington Post.

"By targeting an individual terrorist or small number of terrorists with ordnance that can be adapted to avoid harming others in the immediate vicinity, it is hard to imagine a tool that can better minimise the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft. For the same reason, targeted strikes conform to the principle of humanity, which requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering. For all these reasons, I suggest to you that these targeted strikes against al-Qaeda terrorists are indeed ethical and just."

John Brennan, the nominated head of CIA, on April 30, 2012         

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Source:
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