'I Never Believe It's Better to Kill a Terrorist Than to Detain Him'

Brennan told Chambliss that he did not take steps to stop the CIA's use of waterboarding that he now says he found objectionable, and even slipped in a blame-Bush moment.

"I had expressed my personal objections to my -- some agency colleagues about certain of those EITs such as waterboarding, nudity, and others, where I professed my personal objections to it, but I did not try to stop it because it was, you know, something being done in different part of the agency under the authority of others," he said. "And it was something that was directed by the administration of the time."

No one has come forward, though, to confirm that Brennan indeed voiced concern about the program, and in fact his former boss told the Wall Street Journal he had a role in setting the parameters of the program.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) tried unsuccessfully to get Brennan to call waterboarding torture.

"The attorney general has referred to waterboarding as torture. Many people have referred to it as torture," Brenna responded. "And as you well know and as we've had the discussion, Senator, the term 'torture' has a lot of legal and political implications. It is something that should have been banned long ago. It never should have taken place in my view. And, therefore, it is -- if I were to go to CIA, it would never, in fact, be brought back."

"Do you have a personal opinion as to whether waterboarding is torture?" Levin asked again.

"I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and it's something that should not be done. And, again, I am not a lawyer, Senator, and I can't address that question," Brennan said.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) followed this up a bit later with a waterboarding joke.

"I'm gonna try to be brief, because I've noticed you're on your fourth glass of water, and I don't want to be accused of waterboarding you," he told the nominee.

On the controversial subject of drone strikes, Brennan told Feinstein her committee should want to protect certain covert activities.

"The president has insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded, will be thoroughly anchored in intelligence, will have the appropriate review process, approval process before any action is contemplated, including those actions that might involve the use of lethal force," he said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) predicted "the drones are going to grow."

"There's going to be more and more of that warfare, not just by us, but by other countries, including perhaps by people from within our own country," he said.

The most anticipated drone critic of the day, though, was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"What do you think needs to be done to ensure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it's allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues: the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?" Wyden asked.

"What we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews," Brennan said. "…And, in fact, I think the American people would be quite pleased to know that we've been very disciplined and very judicious, and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort."

"If the executive branch makes a mistake and kills the wrong person or a group of the wrong people, how should the government acknowledge that?" Wyden continued.

Brennan said acknowledging that publicly "would be ideal and that would be the objective of the program."

Wyden has been seeking a full list of countries in which the intelligence community "has used its lethal authorities." If confirmed, Brennan said, "I would get back to you."

"If I were to go to CIA and the CIA was involved in any type of lethal activity, I would damn well make sure that this committee had that information," he eagerly added. "Absolutely."