WASHINGTON — Thursday CIA Director Nominee John Brennan answered questions from members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on his relationship to the “enhanced interrogation” program, the company’s targeted killing of Americans, as well as the nominee’s role in advising the media.
A memo leaked to NBC News’ Michael Isikoff, published yesterday, reveals the Justice Department’s rationale for greenlighting the assassination of Americans it deems “co-belligerents” with al-Qaida and the Taliban. In a Page 1 footnote, the memo defers to a 2009 definition from Hamlily v. Obama, in which a district court decided that “lack of combatant status in non-international armed conflicts does not, by default, result in civilian status for all, even those who are members of enemy ‘organizations’ like al Qaeda.” Justice Department internal deliberations appear to have concluded that serving as a “co-belligerent,” a term of international law, need not require that an American be a “combatant” actively engaged in hostilities.
Initiating an eight-minute question period, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “It’s the idea of giving any president unfettered power to kill an American without checks and balances that’s so troubling. Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to right to kill them.”
Mr. Brennan responded by saying “there’s a misimpression on the part of the — some American people who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorist for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives where there’s no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat.”
In April of last year a district court sentenced Tareq Mehenna, of Massachusetts, to 25 years in prison for “aiding” al-Qaida by translating documents out of Arabic and redistributing them on the Internet. While Massachusetts U.S. attorneys, including Aaron Swartz prosecutor Carmen Ortiz, claimed that Mr. Mehenna had unsuccessfully sought out training as a terrorist, the man’s conviction was ultimately not the product of his having editorialized on the communications he made available in English.
Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said that the targeted killing of Americans has been more “casual than a last-ditch effort,” a practice that “has strayed well beyond focused killings of the ‘senior operational’ leaders against whom strikes are authorized under the DOJ memo leaked earlier this week.”
Protests, which Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) attributed to the “Code Pink organization,” became so frequent both before and during Mr. Brenna’s opening statement that the senator closed the hearing to the general public, directing attendees to an alernate observation area in which the reactions of only of hearing speakers were evident.
The nominee said that the protesters “have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government.” Protesters, most of whom occupied the public rows closet to the nominee, he stated, underestimate the care the CIA takes to avoid collateral damage, and the agony that officers go through in ensuring it protects innocent bystanders. As the public left Room 216 of Hart Senate Office Building, one protester yelled that she was Pakistani, and that the nominee was “killing my people.”
Another protester, who attended 2010 protests at CIA headquarters, held up a sign with the name of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, targeted along with his father, Anwar, in Yemen. Before the meeting he remarked that the United States was turning into the “Third Reich.”
Go to 1:56 in the above clip to see Sierra Adamson pose a question to White House Adviser Robert Gibbs,as he speaks to the targeted killing of Abdulrahman al-Alwaki. Mr. Gibbs said that the elder Mr. al-Awlaki was an al-Qaida commander “hoping” to inflict harm on Americans. When Ms. Adamson pressed the former press secretary about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Mr. Gibbs responded that the younger Mr. al-Awlaki “should have [had] a far more responsible father.” He added that if Anwar al-Awlaki was “truly concerned about the well-being of [his] children, I don’t think becoming an al-Qaida jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
The United States, says Human Rights Watch counterterrorism counsel Andrea Prasow, “has never disclosed the legal framework in which it claims to operate [when conducting targeted killing], adding, “It should specify whether it believes it has authority to conduct targeted killings under the laws of war, or some other framework.”