A drone flies above Afghanistan in 2010. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File.)
So John Brennan has testified at his confirmation hearings, the Senators had their crack at him, apparently to little avail, many in the media now assess. Various outlets are drawing up questions he dodged (he wouldn’t even say if waterboarding was torture) or decrying the usual lack of guts or focus on the part of most committee members. Senator Dianne Feinstein was so bent on helping the president get Brennan through the gate, she claimed that civilian casualties from drone strikes had remained in the “single digits” the past few years.
At least the five separate protests in the hearing room, while predictable, drew wide attention. On the other hand, a Republican senator got away with making a joke about waterboarding.
One thing I did appreciate: with Brennan admitting that he once thought torture helped in getting bin Laden and in some other cases, but now, after reading the full (classified) report, he has grave doubts about that, this ought to knock Zero Dark Thirty’s chances of winning an Oscar out the window. One wonders if it was Brennan himself who “spun” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. Perhaps they should now admit they, too, may have gotten it wrong.
John Cassidy at The New Yorker is among those claiming that Brennan, the “drone man,” escaped from the hearings “unscathed.”
Although a good number of Senators seemed exercised about the White House’s tardiness in turning over its legal rationale for assassinating American citizens, few, if any, of them appeared to have any more fundamental qualms about the drone program. Brennan didn’t express any, either. “The people who were standing up here have a misleading view of what it is we do,” he said, referring to the protesters. They “don’t understand the agonies we go through to avoid collateral damage.” Under questioning from Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, the most Brennan was willing to concede was that, on occasions when American drones did kill the wrong person, or people, the United States should fess up. “We need to acknowledge it to our foreign partners,” he said. “We need to acknowledge it publicly.”
That’s all right, then. With all parties agreed on the necessity of taking out potentially dangerous Islamists, even if that might involve the odd fatal error, the toughest questions revolved about Brennan’s role, or lack thereof, in the CIA’s torture program following 9/11, when he was a top official at the agency.
Even there, the few tough questions inflicted little pain, so to speak.