Scahill On Brennan Confirmation Hearing: 'Total Kabuki Oversight'

In his analysis of John Brennan's confirmation hearing on Thursday, author Jeremy Scahill says the conversation that took place "basically looked like they're discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki

In his analysis of John Brennan's confirmation hearing on Thursday, author Jeremy Scahill says the conversation that took place "basically looked like they're discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki oversight. And that's a devastating commentary on where things stand."

President Obama's nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended Obama's counterterrorism policies, including the increase use of armed drones and the targeted killings of American citizens during his confirmation hearing Thursday.

"None of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way," says Jeremy Scahill, author of the forthcoming book "Dirty Wars." "In the cases where people like Sen. Angus King or Sen. Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA has the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The questions were very good -- Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. Then there would be almost a no follow-up." Scahill went on to say, "[Brennan has] served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they're discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki oversight. And that's a devastating commentary on where things stand."

On Friday, Scahill joined Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! to share his analysis of Brennan's confirmation hearing. From the discussion:

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, let’s go to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s questioning of John Brennan Thursday. He has led the push for the White House to explain its rationale—Senator Wyden has—for targeting U.S. citizens.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Let me ask you several other questions with respect to the president’s authority to kill Americans. I’ve asked you how much evidence the president needs to decide that a particular American can be lawfully killed and whether the administration believes that the president can use this authority inside the United States. In my judgment, both the Congress and the public need to understand the answers to these kind of fundamental questions. 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?

JOHN BRENNAN: I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs, as far as our explaining what we’re doing. What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security. I don’t think that it’s one or the other. It’s trying to optimize both of them. And so, what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews. The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate. It doesn’t mean that we operate at those out of boundaries. And, in fact, I think the American people will be quite pleased to know that we’ve been very disciplined, very judicious, and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Brennan answering Senator Wyden’s question. He’s been the chief critic. President Obama, two days ago, called Senator Wyden, because a group of them had said they would stop the hearing if information wasn’t provided about the legal basis for drone strikes. When Wyden yesterday attempted to get that information, he raised in the hearing that he wasn’t able to. Jeremy Scahill?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, if you listen to John Brennan, I mean, it’s like he’s talking about buying a used car and what, you know, sort of little gadgets and whistles it has on it. He used "optimize"? Ron Wyden was asking him about whether—about the extent of the CIA’s lethal authority against U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil and abroad. And, see, the problem is that while some questions were asked that are central questions, there was almost no follow-up. People wouldn’t push—senators wouldn’t push Brennan back when he would float things that were nonsensical or just gibberish, you know, or using terms like "we need to optimize this, we need to optimize that." There was no sense that—I mean, remember, this is a guy who is, for all practical purposes, President Obama’s hit man or assassination czar. This guy has been at the center of a secret process where the White House is deciding who lives and who dies around the world every day, and yet the conversation that took place was as though they were, you know, sort of talking about whether or not they’re going to add a wing onto a school in Idaho or something, when they were talking about life-and-death issues for people, not only U.S. citizens, but around the world.

There was no discussion at all of the so-called signature strikes—the idea that the U.S. is targeting people whose identities it doesn’t know, whose actual involvement in terror plots is actually unknown. There was no discussion of the fact that the Obama administration authorized operations that killed three U.S. citizens in a two-week period in 2011, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy who was sitting and having dinner with his cousins in Yemen. No discussion of the case of Samir Khan, a Pakistani American who was killed alongside Anwar Awlaki. His family had met with the FBI prior to his death. The FBI told his family that Samir Khan was not indicted, that Samir Khan was not accused of a crime, and yet you have three U.S. citizens being killed.

When Anwar Awlaki’s name was raised during the course of the hearing, it was one of the most disgusting displays of a show trial or a faux trial that I’ve ever seen. Dianne Feinstein and John Brennan set out to put Anwar Awlaki on trial, posthumously, without presenting any evidence and to issue a guilty verdict. The whole thing was a show. And I believe that—

It was difficult to pick just one portion of the exchange to highlight, as there is a lot of excellent discussion and insight from Scahill. After playing back a clip of the exchange between Senator Dianne Feinstein and John Brennan as they discuss Anwar Awlaki, Scahill says it was "one of the most disgusting displays of a show trial or a faux trial that I’ve ever seen."

Scahill also hits the senate Republicans for "engaging in a partisan theater of their own, where, you know, they made the whole issue about White House leaks, for the most part."

You can read the full transcript here.

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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