'I Never Believe It's Better to Kill a Terrorist Than to Detain Him'
If Chuck Hagel's performance in his confirmation hearing last week was comparable to a deer caught in the headlights, John Brennan's artificially earnest, overly agreeable performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee today brought to mind a kid imploring his teacher to raise his "B" grade to an "A."
"If I am confirmed, a trust deficit between the committee and the CIA would be wholly unacceptable to me, and I would make it my goal on day one of my tenure and every day thereafter to strengthen the trust between us," Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has consistently been frustrated by a lack of information-sharing and forthrightness from this White House.
"I have a reputation for speaking my mind, and at times doing so in a rather direct manner, which some attribute to my New Jersey roots," he continued. "I like to think that my candor and bluntness will reassure you that you will get straight answers from me, maybe not always the ones you like, but you will get answers and they will reflect my honest views. That's the commitment I make to you."
And whereas the right bore down on Hagel in that contentious hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the left had their share of frustration from President Obama's counterterrorism chief, nominated to be the next leader of the CIA, as they sought answers to the administration's drone program and other aspects of the war on terror.
Numerous protesters were scattered throughout the room, keeping the Capitol Police busy as they stood up in turn -- sometimes on their chairs -- to hold up signs and shout about drone victims.
"I'm going to say once again that we welcome everyone here, that we expect no clapping. We expect no hissing. We expect no demonstration in this room. This is a very serious hearing. I will stop the hearing, and I will ask the room to be cleared," Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said after the first outburst.
Two more protesters interrupted Brennan's opening statement. "The CIA and the Obama administration refuse to even tell Congress. They won't even tell Congress what countries we are killing children in," one yelled.
At the fourth interruption, Feinstein suspended the hearing. "I'm going to ask that the room be cleared and that the Code Pink associates not be permitted to come back in," she said. Protesters got a few minutes to dish to assembled news reporters and photographers before being led out.
Brennan, who joined the CIA at age 24 in 1980, restarted his opening statement with "a special salute to David Petraeus, a patriot who remains, as do all former directors, one of the staunchest advocates of the Agency's mission and workforce."
"Simply stated, the need for accurate intelligence and prescient analysis from CIA has never been greater than it is in 2013 or than it will be in the coming years," Brennan said.
"Historic political, economic and social transformations continue to sweep through the Middle East and North Africa with major implications for our interests, Israel's security, our Arab partners and the prospects for peace and stability throughout the region. We remain at war with al-Qaeda and its associated forces, which, despite the substantial progress we have made against them, still seek to carry out deadly strikes against our homeland and our citizens, and against our friends and allies."
Feinstein mainly sought assurances that the Intelligence Committee wouldn't be stonewalled as usual when requesting documents and full briefings on intelligence matters.
Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) asked Brennan about an interview he gave years ago opining the CIA should be out of the detention business. "Your view seems to be that, even if we could save American lives by detaining more terrorists, using only traditional techniques, it would be better to kill them with a drone or let them go free rather than detain them," Chambliss said.
"I never believe it's better to kill a terrorist than to detain him," Brennan said. "…I'm a strong proponent of doing everything possible, short of killing terrorists, bringing them to justice, and getting that intelligence from them."
Under later questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) about who should do detain and interrogate then, Brennan said the military and FBI were options, as well as leaving it up to "international partners."
"And that's where, in fact, most of the interrogations are taking place of terrorists who have been taken off of the battlefields in many different countries," he said. "…The CIA should be able to lend its full expertise, as it does right now, in terms of -- in support of military interrogations, FBI debriefings and interrogations and our foreign partner debriefings. And they do that on a regular basis."