Commentary Magazine


Topic: enhanced interrogation techniques

Enhanced Interrogation Record No Longer a Problem for Brennan

Back in 2008, John Brennan was passed over for the CIA director role largely because of his record on enhanced interrogation. After his nomination to the post yesterday, the anti-war movement is trying to make it an issue again. The ACLU has released a statement calling on the Senate to delay his confirmation and investigate his involvement with the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:

President Obama this afternoon nominated his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to become the next director of the CIA. Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, had the following concerns with the president’s choice to fill this critical national security post.  

Despite media reports that Brennan continually raised civil liberties concerns within the White House, noted Murphy, the Senate should not move forward with his nomination until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program.

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Back in 2008, John Brennan was passed over for the CIA director role largely because of his record on enhanced interrogation. After his nomination to the post yesterday, the anti-war movement is trying to make it an issue again. The ACLU has released a statement calling on the Senate to delay his confirmation and investigate his involvement with the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:

President Obama this afternoon nominated his counterterrorism advisor John Brennan to become the next director of the CIA. Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, had the following concerns with the president’s choice to fill this critical national security post.  

Despite media reports that Brennan continually raised civil liberties concerns within the White House, noted Murphy, the Senate should not move forward with his nomination until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program.

But the Senate doesn’t really seem interested. While John McCain is raising some questions, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein–a vocal opponent of Bush’s EIT policies–indicated she’s not going to put up much of a fight

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he has “many questions and concerns” about Brennan’s role in overseeing the interrogation programs, “as well as his public defense of those programs.” 

“I plan to examine this aspect of Mr. Brennan’s record very closely as I consider his nomination,” said McCain in a statement Monday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will weigh the nomination, said Brennan has the “qualifications and expertise” to be CIA director. 

But Feinstein also said she would bring up the committee’s recent review of the Bush-era interrogation techniques and ask Brennan “how he would respond to the [review's] findings and conclusions.” 

To be fair, the opposition to Brennan on these grounds seems overblown. While he hasn’t explicitly defended enhanced interrogation techniques, he has acknowledged they worked and saved lives. Some anti-war leftists might claim that makes him a supporter. But it’s also possible to believe there is a moral or legal case against the Bush administration’s methods, and still admit they were effective. The same case could be made about Obama’s rendition policies the anti-war left opposes, and the drone program he accelerated. 

Four years ago, Brennan’s alleged support for enhanced interrogation was enough to torpedo his potential CIA director nomination. Now even Glenn Greenwald concedes he “can’t quite muster the energy or commitment” to actively oppose his nomination. That dramatic shift is why Brennan’s record on EITs won’t be an obstacle for him in the Senate. The Democratic Party’s civil libertarian streak on national security during the Bush administration was nothing more than partisanship masquerading as principles.

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