CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia. (Reuters/Larry Downing)
Now that John Brennan, confirmed by a Senate vote of 63-34, is headed to the Central Intelligence Agency, it’s the perfect time for Brennan, President Obama and the national security establishment to come clean on torture, drones and other legacies of the George W. Bush–inspired “Global War on Terror.”
The president has pledged transparency. Let’s see.
Meanwhile, kudos to Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Tea Party libertarian, who, like the proverbial stopped-clock that is right every now and then, was dead right on the issues he raised in filibustering Brennan. Thanks to Paul, we now know that the Obama administration at least toyed with the possibility of using drones to kill Americans here at home, on US soil, if circumstances were deemed appropriate. To tell you the truth, I’m not convinced, yet, that they’ve ruled it out, even though Attorney General Eric Holder told Senator Paul that the president does not have the authority to use drones at home. He left wiggle room in his response, suggesting that drones (and presumably other Pentagon capabilities) might be utilized at home during a terrorist attack. Senator Diane Feinstein chimed in that, well, we can use the Pentagon to shoot down airplanes that have been hijacked, an extreme case that begs the slippery-slope question: And what else?
As Roll Call reports:
Paul, a Kentucky Republican, rallied his party around the concerns he raised about domestic drone strikes during an almost 13-hour filibuster Thursday. In a less-than-50-word response Thursday to Paul’s request for clarification on administration policy, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. wrote to the senator to say “no,” President Barack Obama does not have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.
So what does “not engaged in combat” mean? If a gang of terrorists—and never mind Al Qaeda, what about a band of Tim McVeighs?—is engaged in violence, can the military be called in? Drones? How about cruise missiles? The capabilities of the Pentagon, the National Security Agency and DOD’s Northern Command are so vast that the sorts of surveillance and counterterrorism forces that can be brought to bear are staggering, especially in a case such as terrorism that is essentially a law-enforcement matter.
As Politico points out:
The letter [from Holder] quieted the drone flap and allowed the confirmation vote on John Brennan to be CIA director. But it didn’t resolve several key questions—how broadly “engaged in combat” can be defined, for one—and didn’t come close to addressing the legal and policy issues swirling around the Obama administration’s drone campaign overseas.
Right—not even close.
Meanwhile, a New York Times editorial raises the right questions for Brennan, once he gets to Langley, and for Obama. After taking Brennan to task for his rather evasive responses during his confirmation hearings, when he avoided answering questions about the CIA’s involvement in torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Bush era, the Times added that it’s really Obama’s fault, not Brennan’s:
It’s a little hard to be reassured because getting to the bottom of the Bush-era lawbreaking, mismanagement and incompetence in the interrogation and detention programs has not been a high priority for President Obama. In fact, it’s been no priority at all. From the day he took office in 2009, the president refused to spend any time looking at the gigantic blunders and abuses of power under his predecessor because he didn’t want a small thing like that to interfere with his other political priorities.
As a result, many, many of the details of the creation and execution of the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in C.I.A. black sites remain unknown to most members of Congress and to the public. Not only did Mr. Obama refuse to open any investigation, but his administration even gave a pass to the C.I.A. officials who destroyed videotapes of sanctioned torture.
The Senate’s report may be the last hope for Americans to know the truth about what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney authorized in the name of protecting our country—decisions that caused enormous damage to its reputation worldwide. But it remains classified, and Mr. Brennan has not said whether he would support releasing a redacted version to the public. That is the only acceptable course. The cover-up of the Bush-era lawbreaking has to stop.
Yes, Obama banned torture, and there’s no evidence that it’s continued. But the unending GWOT (pronunced “gee-what,” which almost ryhmes with “jihad”) is still a blight on America’s moral character. Let’s hope that righting that wrong starts with the release of the Senate’s mostly Democratic-written report on Bush-era wrongdoing, and soon.
While drone warfare rages on, the US provides limited recourse to victims of sexual violence abroad. Read Jessica Arons’s analysis.