Archives For John Brennan

I’ve wondered for quite a while what Barack Obama thinks about torture. We now know a little more:

Even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.  We did some things that were contrary to our values.

torturefoia_page3_full.gifI understand why it happened.  I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.  And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.  And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.  And that’s what that report reflects.  And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.  And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line.  And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted.  And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

What to make of this?

I don’t think it’s that big a deal that he used the English language to describe what was done, in any fair-minded person’s judgment. He’s said that before now. And his general position hasn’t changed. Let me paraphrase: We tortured. It was wrong. Never mind. So he tells the most basic version of the truth – that the US government authorized and conducted war crimes – and hedges it with an important caveat: We must understand the terribly fearful circumstances in which this evil was authorized. But equally, he argues that the caveat does not excuse the crime: “the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.”

This latter point is integral to the laws against torture – but completely guts his first point. As I noted with the UN Convention, the prohibition is absolute:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Cheney, Bush, Tenet, and Rumsfeld all knew this from the get-go. That’s why they got their supine OLC to provide specious justifications for the legally prohibited. That’s why they won’t use the word “torture,” instead inventing an Orwellian euphemism. And, of course, the president’s excuse for them – that “in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” we did wrong things – is deeply misleading. This went on for years abughraibleash.jpgacross every theater of combat. What about what Abu Ghraib revealed about the scope of torture in the battlefield much later on? What about 2005 when they secretly re-booted the torture program? This was a carefully orchestrated criminal conspiracy at the heart of the government by people who knew full well they were breaking the law. It cannot be legally or morally excused by any contingency. It cannot be treated as if all we require is an apology they will never provide.

Yet that’s what the president’s acts – as opposed to his words – imply. And that’s what unsettles me. It is not as if the entire country has come to the conclusion that these war crimes must never happen again. The GOP ran a pro-torture candidate in 2012; they may well run a pro-torture candidate in 2016. This evil – which destroys the truth as surely as it destroys the human soul – is still with us. And all Obama recommends for trying to prevent it happening again is a wistful aspiration: “hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.” Hopefully?

Then there’s the not-so-small matter of the rule of law.

Call me crazy but I do not believe that the executive branch can simply allow heinous crimes to go unpunished just because they were committed … by the executive branch. It seems to me, to paraphrase the president on agabuse.jpgFriday, that the rule of law “has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.” How many times does the United States government preach about international law and Western values? On what conceivable grounds can we do so when our own government can commit torture on a grand and brutal scale for years on end – and get away with it completely?

Either the rule of law applies to the CIA or it doesn’t. And it’s now absolutely clear that it doesn’t. The agency can lie to the public; it can spy on the Senate; it can destroy the evidence of its war crimes; it can lie to its superiors about its torture techniques; it can lie about the results of those techniques. No one will ever be held to account. It is inconceivable that the United States would take this permissive position on torture with any other country or regime. Inconceivable. And so the giant and massive hypocrisy of this country on core human rights is now exposed for good and all. The Bush administration set the precedent for the authorization of torture. The Obama administration has set the precedent for its complete impunity.

America has killed the Geneva Conventions just as surely as America made them.

(Photo: a page on enhanced interrogation techniques via a FOIA request.)

Yesterday, Brennan admitted that the CIA snooped on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Froomkin, like yours truly, calls for his resignation firing:

Figuring out how to right the constitutional imbalance between the branches of government, as exposed by this CIA assault on Congress, is very complicated. But doing something about lying isn’t. You need to hold people accountable for it.

Senator Mark Udall also wants Brennan gone:

Udall’s statement is noteworthy in particular because he is fighting one of the most CIA Director John Brennan Speaks At The Council On Foreign Relationscompetitive Senate races this year. The first-term senator is neck-and-neck with Rep. Cory Gardner in a campaign that may determine control of the Senate in 2015. While the Rocky Mountain State’s electorate is certainly more libertarian-leaning than the mean and Udall has long been a vocal civil libertarian, it’s still noteworthy that a candidate in a swing state is taking such a firm stance on this issue. It shows the sea change in American political attitudes around surveillance and the general conduct of the war on terror over the past decade as both parties have become more dovish and more skeptical of the intelligence community.

Benjamin Wittes, who is generally supportive of government surveillance, chews out the CIA:

Improper access to oversight committee computers? Filing a crimes report lacking factual support—apparently misleading the lawyer who filed it in the process? Improperly accessing committee staff email? And then talking to investigators about the whole business in a fashion less than truthful? It’s an ugly picture, utterly unlike the recent NSA scandals in apparently involving all sorts of violations of the rules. And it will have repercussions, as it no doubt should.

Friedersdorf thinks Brennan knows too much to get canned (which only increases the necessity of doing it):

Perhaps Obama has always believed and continues to believe that Brennan is doing a heckuva job. But just as secret torture acted as a cancer in the U.S. government, encompassing acts so barbaric and criminal that, even recently, the CIA spied on a Senate subcommittee investigating the subject, America’s semi-secret policy of semi-targeted killing rendered everyone involved complicit in activities sufficiently dubious that all desire their secrecy. Would you fire a guy who knows as much about your most morally fraught acts as Brennan knows about who Obama has killed in secret? Yeah, me neither. This isn’t the biggest cost of presidents who hide arguably illegal actions by declaring them state secrets. But it is certainly one of the costs.

Corn wonders why Brennan lied:

Why did he put out a false cover story? Was he bamboozled by his own squad? Was he trying to stonewall?

Drum is underwhelmed by the Senate’s response:

If this affair had persuaded a few senators that maybe our intelligence chiefs are less than totally honest about what they do, it might have done some good. But it doesn’t seem to have done that. With only a few exceptions, they’re outraged when the CIA spies on them, but that’s about it.

Noah Rothman expects a major conflict:

The outrage over the CIA’s claimed abuse of authority was bipartisan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called the allegations against the spy agency “dangerous to a democracy.” “Heads should roll, people should go to jail, if it’s true,” Graham said at the time. “I’m going to get briefed on it. If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA, if it’s true.” War, it would seem, is imminent.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. But I’m hoping.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

CIA Director John Brennan Speaks At The Council On Foreign Relations

I offer you a simple set of facts: under the Bush administration, the CIA set up a program that indisputably contained torture techniques; in due course, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the program in order to get some clarity as to its intent, its techniques, its authorization and its results; as the Committee was doing its work, the CIA hacked its computers in order to craft its own defense and suss out what the Committee had discovered. When Senator Feinstein publicly accused the CIA of this grotesque interference in its affairs, and assault on the constitutional separation of powers, the CIA chief, John Brennan said:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s—that’s just beyond the—you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

At the time I wrote: “Either Brennan or Feinstein isn’t telling the truth. ” We now know it was Brennan who wasn’t telling the truth, as the CIA itself has now acknowledged in its own internal report that it did exactly that – something “beyond the scope of reason”. Indeed it is beyond the scope of reason. It was also beyond the scope of reason that the CIA would import the torture and brain-washing techniques of Communist China in order to glean intelligence from captured enemy combatants. And yet they did that as well. But the attempt to obstruct justice by hacking into the Senate’s computers adds something else to the original crime. Let’s recall what DiFi said back in March:

Here’s her conclusion:

I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

This is not a minor matter – it is a hugely important matter in terms of the constitution and the rule of law. We’re talking here about crimes and deception. How are we supposed to believe another word that comes out of Brennan’s mouth? And how desperate must the CIA have been to cover up its crimes that it took this extraordinary step of spying on the Senate that oversees it?

I submit that either Brennan knew nothing of what was going on and had no grip on his own agency; or he knew full well and was brazenly lying in public. In either case, under his watch, the CIA tried to subvert a critical Congressional report on its own criminal history.

I’m with David Corn:

Brennan owes the nation an explanation for his own actions. Why did he put out a false cover story? Was he bamboozled by his own squad? Was he trying to stonewall?

The CIA conducts much of its business in secrecy; and most of Congress’ vetting of the CIA likewise occurs out of public view. Effective oversight requires trust and cooperation between the two—and there must be that trust and cooperation for the public to have confidence that the oversight system works. But there also has to be public trust in those who lead the CIA. Brennan’s initial public statements about this scandal severely undermine his credibility. He owes the public a full accounting. If he remains in the job, President Barack Obama will owe the public an explanation for why he retained an intelligence chief who misled the public about CIA misconduct.

(Photo: Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan takes questions from the audience after addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in in Washington, DC on March 11, 2014. Brennan denied accusations by U.S. senators who claim the CIA conducted unauthorized searches of computers used by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff members in an effort to learn how the committee gained access to the agency’s own 2009 internal review of its detention and interrogation program, undermining Congress oversight of the spy agency. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

John Brennan’s Latest Lie

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 31 2014 @ 2:21pm

The torture-defender and CIA loyalist insisted earlier this year that the CIA never deliberately hacked the Senate Intelligence Committee to undermine its vital report on war crimes under Bush and Cheney. Here’s what he said:

When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.

Really? So here are the facts on this:

An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that its officers improperly penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program. In a statement issued Thursday morning, a C.I.A. spokesman said that agency’s inspector general had concluded that C.I.A. officers had acted inappropriately by gaining access to the computers. The statement said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had apologized to the two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and that he would set up an internal accountability board to review the matter.

Brennan apologized this week to Senators. I doubt he will ever apologize to the American people.