During his confirmation hearing today, John Brennan did little to allay my concerns about his attitude about torture for reasons I will get into in a moment. But he did admit that torture didn’t lead us to Bin Laden.
Here is the video:
The fact that he admitted, during questioning by Senator Diane Feinstein, that torture did not lead us to Osama Bin Laden is significant.
Before going further, it’s important to note that torture is both immoral and according to credible legal scholars, it is illegal. In that context, whether we got useful information on OBL, anyone, or anything else, doesn’t remove the fact that torture is both wrong and illegal under any circumstances.
That said, since we got Bin Laden, torture enthusiasts have persisted in making the utilitarian argument in an effort to justify the Bush Administration’s violations of national and international law.
Back to John Brennan. Initially, Brennan attempted to dance around Senator Levin’s questioning by noting the Bush Administration “thought” information they obtained through torture was valid. When pressed, he acknowledged that torture did not lead us to Osama Bin Laden.
This is significant, given John Brennan’s previously stated enthusiasm for the Bush Administration’s torture policy.
Given his previously stated support for the Bush torture program, the fact that Brennan acknowledged it didn’t produce useful information is significant. It does provide some insight into his objections to the Obama administration’s decision to release the Bush torture memos and other documents.
It is likely that the Senate will confirm Brennan’s appointment as the CIA’s director. He did say that the CIA will not revert to the bad old days of kidnapping and torturing people. He also denied involvement in setting up the parameters for using torture and getting authority from the DOJ.
Still, Brennan’s answers during today’s confirmation hearing give reason for pause. For one thing, he danced when asked if waterboarding is torture. After he acknowledged awareness of the program, and saying he objected to it, Brennan acknowledged that he didn’t intervene because “it wasn’t his job.”
Considering that Brennan did intervene when the Obama Administration decided to release the torture memos and other related documents, this argument is not compelling.
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 was aware of the program. I was CC’d in 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 some agency colleagues about certain of those EIT’s, 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 something that was being done in a different part of the agency.
It becomes less compelling since he did defend torture during an interview with CBS in 2007, using the Bush Administration talking point that torture saved lives. While saying he opposed torture, but didn’t intervene because it wasn’t his job, somehow he could find it within himself to defend torture during an interview with CBS in 2007.
He has since changed his views, after getting reports that the information obtained from torture was not useful. In other words, his actions suggest someone who is willing to use tactics that are unlawful and immoral if they serve a utilitarian purpose.
The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out … There clearly were a number of things, many things, that I read in that report that were very concerning and disturbing to me. Ones that I would want to look into immediately if I were to be confirmed as CIA director. It talked about mismanagement of the program, misrepresentation of information, providing inaccurate information, and it was rather damning in a lot of its language as far as the nature of these activities carried out.
Finally, there’s what Brennan didn’t say under questioning as to whether waterboarding is torture. After re-stating the Obama Administration’s position that waterboarding is indeed torture, Brennan declined to say whether his personal views on the question correspond with that view.
Transcript- courtesy of The Huffington Post
BRENNAN: I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and should not be done,” Brennan told Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), when asked whether he personally believes it is torture. “And again, I am not a lawyer, Senator, and I can’t address that question.
LEVIN: Well, you’ve read opinions as to whether or not waterboarding is torture. And I’m just asking, do you accept those opinions of the attorney general? That’s my question.
BRENNAN: Senator, I’ve read a lot of legal opinions. I read an Office of Legal Counsel opinion from the previous administration that said waterboarding could be used. So from the standpoint of that, I can’t point to a single legal document on the 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.
LEVIN: Is waterboarding banned by the Geneva Conventions?
BRENNAN: I believe the attorney general also has said it’s contrary and in contravention of the Geneva Convention. Again, I’m not a lawyer or a legal scholar to make the determination as to what’s in violation of an international convention.
One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to offer a personal opinion on the question.