Obama's CIA nominee grilled on drones, torture

WASHINGTON. February 8. KAZINFORM US lawmakers on Thursday pressed President Barack Obama's choice as America's next spy chief on issues of transparency, torture and extrajudicial killings in the nation's global counterterrorism operations, according to RIA Novosti.

In a confirmation hearing before the US Senate Intelligence Committee, John Brennan, 57, Obama's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), faced tense questioning from lawmakers on the efficacy and ethics of drone warfare, as well as the American government's legal basis for killing its own citizens overseas.

Both issues have seized headlines this week after the leak of a US government memo laying out the legal justification for killing Americans linked to al-Qaida, as well as a report that the 2011 assassination in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen tied to al-Qaida, was carried out by a drone strike originating from a US base in Saudi Arabia.

Brennan defended Obama's policy of targeting suspected terrorists, saying there was a misimpression that "we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such action as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative."

Asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, whether the United States should make a public acknowledgement when individuals are wrongfully killed by US drone strikes, Brennan said Washington should inform its foreign allies and the public.

"If there is this type of action...then the United States government should acknowledge it," said Brennan, Obama's current counterterrorism adviser, on drone strikes and targeted attacks against al-Qaida leaders.

Obama on Wednesday evening ordered that an expanded version of the government's legal justification for such assassinations be released to the Senate Intelligence Committee, though several committee members expressed concern at Thursday's hearing that they had not been given all of the documents and complained that their staffs had been prevented from viewing those that had been received

Brennan's crucial role in US drone warfare operations made Thursday's confirmation hearing a lightning rod for the national debate over the ethics of drone strikes in light of the civilian deaths and injuries they have wrought.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer cleared the public from the hearing after antiwar activists in the audience repeatedly interrupted the proceedings by loudly denouncing Brennan as a "traitor" and a "war criminal."

"Stop the killing of Pakistani children!" one man yelled before being removed from the room by police.

Brennan was asked Thursday why, as a critic of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, he did not take action to convince his superiors at the CIA to end the practice during the presidency of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

Brennan said that he voiced his concerns to several of his colleagues but that he was outside of the chain of command that could implement a policy change concerning the practice, which Obama banned after taking office in 2009.

Later in the hearing, Brennan declined to describe waterboarding as "torture," citing conflicting legalistic interpretations of the term. He insisted, however, that should he be confirmed as the new CIA chief, the practice would "never, in fact, be brought back."

"I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and is something that should not be done," Brennan said.

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