John Brennan Decimates the Logic of Drone Program

John Brennan will be confirmed as CIA Director.

But along the way he has utterly decimated the drone program’s legitimacy.

Twice in his confirmation hearing, he insisted he was not a lawyer. Most notably, Carl Levin went to some length to try to get Brennan to admit waterboarding was torture. Brennan said that he thought it was reprehensible, but he repeatedly stopped short of saying it was torture because “I’m not a lawyer.” Over and over again, he is not a lawyer.

He is, however, almost certainly, the “informed, high-level official of the US government who [determines] that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.” That person not only determines whether capture would be “feasible” and what “imminent” means. But he decides whether killing the person would be “consistent with law of war principles.”

In other words, this man, who can’t (or refuses to) say whether waterboarding is torture because he is not a lawyer, is entrusted every Tuesday to make far more difficult legal decisions, both on the subjective feasible and imminent questions, but also on specific international laws.

In other words, according to the guy who has been acting as judge and jury for the last four years, the guy who has been acting as judge and jury is completely incompetent to act as judge and jury.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. joe shikspack says:

    wait, you’re telling me that in the obama administration, life and death decisions are placed in the unsupervised hands of a stumblebutt moron who feels insufficiently educated to decide whether waterboarding is torture?

    i’m shocked! shocked, i tell you!

  2. joanneleon says:

    To listen to Brennan, you’d think he had a little lawyer on his shoulder all the time to make decisions in his job.

    But yes, how can he be judge, jury and executioner if he can’t even answer basic questions about the laws of war such as whether waterboarding is torture.

  3. Kathleen says:

    “judge and jury” but not a lawyer

    EW I was curious about what you think about Feinstein and Levin mostly Levin pushing for confirmation on their determination in their report that actionable intelligence was not accessed through torture. And the other issue Levin passed the meeting that Cheney claimed happened with (forget the name) confirming that Al Qeada and Iraq were connected. Levin lifted up some totally redacted pages. What was that all about? And how relevant? Levin seemed quite peeved

  4. joanneleon says:

    @joe shikspack: And he’s the best they’ve ever seen! Well DiFi and Rockefeller anyway. Now that’s really scary.

    Speaking of scary, maybe they’re scared of him now that they know that high-level officials can do the drone thang. Don’t drone me, bro!

    Would you grill or vote against a guy who has the power, legally (according to him and Obama and ain’t nobody else matters now) to blow you to bits with a drone strike if they secretly determine that you are not a very good American (or if they don’t like you)?

  5. emptywheel says:

    @Kathleen: The redacted pages were a Czech cable to the US reporting a meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi spook. The redacted version is what CIA gave him. Levin seems to know the Czechs are okay with it being released (and multiple reports quote from sections that are redacted). But the CIa says he can’t have it anway.

    They’re protecting Cheney.

  6. GulfCoastPirate says:

    @emptywheel: ‘They’re protecting Cheney.’

    From what? Are they afraid normal people will insist he be sent to the Hague?

    Or they afraid that normal people will insist that Obama be sent with him?

  7. orionATL says:

    @emptywheel:

    yeah. i think that, as obama came to see it after the liz and dick show early in his presidency, that’s part of his “presidential mission”.

    of course, with the executions of american citizens he authorized, obama is now too compromised to question the previous admin even if he were so inclined – which he and his chief-of-staff rahm e. made clear in 2009 they were in no way inclined to do.

  8. lefty665 says:

    He’s a f*cking Jesuit, the storm troopers of the Vatican that have been torturing for almost 500 years. Is waterboarding torture? Would a Jesuit bury you alive?

    Hellfire and damnation, he’s the “saintly presence” in the White House basement bunker condemning unworthy souls for heresy. First Amendment, you don’t need no steenkin’ First Amendment when you’re “God’s Marines”. Kill ’em all and let “Him” sort them out. Inquisition redux. Go ask Alice and Galileo.

    My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I…

  9. Julie B says:

    What “matters” is that Brennan appears to be thoughtful and intelligent. In that way, he is very much like Obama: he appears on TV one way, honest and trustworthy, and then does something that is completely opposite of what he promised and even amoral. After all, blood-thirsty war mongers are supposed to *look* wild-eyed and unhinged, Hollywood said so. Since they *appear* normal, a-ok.

    When a society has collectively lost its ability to accurately judge someone’s character, that society’s days, in its present form, are numbered.

  10. klynn says:

    “Brennan said that he thought it was reprehensible, but he repeatedly stopped short of saying it was torture because “I’m not a lawyer.” Over and over again, he is not a lawyer.”

    Was there a censored/redacted sentence after that? Something that sounded or read like, “But the person I report to on this is a lawyer.”

  11. lefty665 says:

    @phred: Thx! Seems like about where we are doesn’t it? I’m really going to be pissed if it turns out the $#%^&*() Teabaggers were right.

  12. klynn says:

    @lefty665:

    “…-ing Jesuit, the storm troopers of the Vatican that have been torturing for almost 500 years. Is waterboarding torture? Would a Jesuit bury you alive?”

    A history worth looking at in this context.

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