Media downplay former CIA official Brennan's support of "enhanced interrogation techniques"

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Reports have claimed that former CIA official John Brennan "withdrew from consideration" as President-elect Barack Obama's choice for CIA director because of criticism from "liberal groups" that "his tenure coincided with controversial Bush administration programs" -- or, in the words of Fox News' Jim Angle, "the left ... torpedoed" Brennan "because he was part of the war on terror over the last decade." But these outlets did not mention that Brennan was not simply at the CIA at the same time as the interrogation and rendition policies were instituted or carried out but, in fact, has publicly supported them.

A January 7 Los Angeles Times article claimed that former CIA official John Brennan "withdrew from consideration" as CIA director "after he was criticized by liberal groups because his tenure coincided with controversial Bush administration programs, including secret CIA prisons and disputed interrogation techniques." Similarly, on the January 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle asserted that "the left ... torpedoed Mr. Obama's original choice, John Brennan, because he was part of the war on terror over the last decade." Angle continued, "By acceding to their complaints, critics argued, the Obama camp boxed itself in and was almost forced to pick someone with no association with the past, meaning no knowledge of it either." In addition, a January 7 Washington Post article stated that Brennan "withdrew his name from consideration over concerns that his association with interrogation and rendition policies under President Bush and then-CIA director George J. Tenet would taint Obama." However, Brennan was not simply at the CIA at the same time as these interrogation and rendition policies were instituted or carried out, or was merely "associat[ed] with" those policies. In fact, he has publicly supported the CIA's post-September 11 rendition policy and the agency's use of "the most serious types of enhanced" interrogation procedures.

As one of Brennan's most prominent critics, Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, has noted, in an interview on the November 2, 2007, edition of CBS' The Early Show, Brennan defended the CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques":

HARRY SMITH (co-anchor): If you know, this all becomes such a giant issue because the president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity goes on, you know, what does that -- what does that mean exactly, I guess?

BRENNAN: Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9-11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.

SMITH: Right. And you say some of this has -- has borne fruit.

BRENNAN: There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hardcore terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9-11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.

SMITH: Yeah. John Brennan, we thank you very, very much for enlightening us this morning. We really do appreciate it.

During the Early Show interview, Brennan did say that one particular technique, waterboarding, "is certainly subjecting an individual to severe pain and suffering, which is the classic definition of torture. And I believe, quite frankly, it's inconsistent with American values and it's something that should be prohibited."

Greenwald also noted that, in a December 5, 2005, interview on PBS' The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Brennan stated of rendition: "I think it's an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives." In that interview, according to the PBS transcript, Brennan also stated:

REUEL GERECHT (American Enterprise Institute fellow): I think we need to be honest here and say that one of the reasons we're sending them there is because they tend to be a little bit rougher in their interrogations and we are not objecting to that.

MARGARET WARNER (correspondent): What about that point, Mr. Brennan? I mean, why would you not, if this -- if you have a suspect who is a danger to the United States, keep him in United States' custody? Is it because we want another country to do the dirty work?

BRENNAN: No, I don't think that's it at all. Also I think it's rather arrogant to think we're the only country that respects human rights. I think that we have a lot of assurances from these countries that we hand over terrorists to that they will, in fact, respect human rights.

And there are different ways to gain those assurances. But also let's say an individual goes to Egypt because they're an Egyptian citizen and the Egyptians then have a longer history in terms of dealing with them, and they have family members and others that they can bring in, in fact, to be part of the whole interrogation process.

WARNER: But what about Mr. Gerecht's point that the CIA could bring them in to help?

BRENNAN: Well, you can [sic] be transporting people all over the world, bringing family members and professional colleagues and others.

Again, it has to be looked at in the instance -- the case-specific requirements, and a lot of times it makes more sense to have that person in a country where the local service, the intelligence and security service can in fact have a long process that's going to be able to elicit that information.

Indeed, Angle's December 22, 2008, report on Brennan's withdrawal included a clip of Greenwald saying, "The fact that he [Brennan] nonetheless supported rendition and all of the other enhanced interrogation techniques beyond waterboarding, nonetheless makes him unqualified for that position [of CIA director]."

From the January 7 Los Angeles Times article:

Early on, Obama was expected to offer the CIA job to one of his senior intelligence advisors, John Brennan, an agency veteran who had helped set up the nation's counter-terrorism center.

But Brennan withdrew from consideration after he was criticized by liberal groups because his tenure coincided with controversial Bush administration programs, including secret CIA prisons and disputed interrogation techniques.

Brennan was not directly involved in the programs. But once he dropped out, some intelligence officials think the Obama team had boxed itself in.

"They ruled out a whole generation of people who had worked in intelligence," the former agency official said.

From the January 7 Washington Post article headlined "Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection":

A widely held view among intelligence officials was that Obama's team had decided to automatically disqualify any candidate who might have been seen as tainted by association with the controversial interrogation and detention policies of the Bush presidency -- essentially anyone who held a management job in the past eight years. Former senior CIA official John O. Brennan, who headed the transition intelligence team, withdrew his name from consideration over concerns that his association with interrogation and rendition policies under President Bush and then-CIA director George J. Tenet would taint Obama.

A number of Tenet-era officials have argued that they were simply carrying out orders that the president and the attorney general, as well as Congress, had approved. Hayden, the outgoing director, defended interrogation policies, including waterboarding, that many have labeled torture, saying they were necessary to break some terrorism suspects. Although he has told Congress that waterboarding has not been used recently, Hayden publicly supported Bush's decision to retain the option to use "enhanced interrogation techniques."

But one former senior intelligence official noted that many of the people [CIA director-designate Leon] Panetta will be expected to lead would have participated in implementing the interrogation policy. Obama and Panetta "should think twice about pledges they make now" about the handling of terrorism detainees, another former senior official said, "because they may come back to haunt them in the future if some dire circumstances occur."

The desire to retain [deputy director Stephen] Kappes and [intelligence director Michael] Morell, both of whom held senior positions under Tenet as well as with Hayden, however, indicated that Obama does not intend to clean house beyond the top leadership level.

From the January 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

ANGLE: Democratic Senator Evan Bayh [D-IN], also on the intelligence committee, was supportive of Panetta, but not happy about the Obama forces' failure to consult

BAYH: There was a snafu in the failure to notify Senator [Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA] and Senator [Jay] Rockefeller [D-WV]. That should have happened.

ANGLE: Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden were working feverishly today to undo that damage, with both calling Feinstein to apologize. But it appeared the apologies were for not informing her before the decision leaked, not for failing to consult her at all before the choice was made. Mr. Obama praised Panetta's management skills today, then suggested he'll use them to make sweeping changes.

OBAMA: I think what you're also going to see is a team that is committed to breaking with some of the past practices and concerns.

ANGLE: That will please the left, which torpedoed Mr. Obama's original choice, John Brennan, because he was part of the war on terror over the last decade. By acceding to their complaints, critics argued, the Obama camp boxed itself in and was almost forced to pick someone with no association with the past, meaning no knowledge of it either.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.