No 675 Posted by fw, February 10, 2013
“…this Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight. You know, they allowed John Brennan to say repeatedly, “Well, I’m not a lawyer,” while simultaneously saying, “Everything we’ve done is perfectly legal.” And then they say, “Well, what about torture?” And he goes, “Well, I’m not a lawyer, and that has legal implications.” I mean, what kind of a show is this? I mean, what does this say about our society when this is the extent of the debate we can have when an administration in power has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens and foreigners alike around the world without trial? I mean, it’s devastating. It should be a very sobering moment for all of us.” —Jeremy Scahill
In a Democracy Now interview, Jeremy Scahill, investigative activist, writer, documentary film producer, umasks John Brennan as “Obama’s hit main or assassination czar“. Click on the linked title below to watch a video of the interview and to access a full transcript. Alternatively, an embedded 22:34-minute video of the interview and abridged transcript with added subheadings is posted below.
[Introduction] President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the increased 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. And then there’d be almost 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 were discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol Hill. I mean, it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand.”
Brennan blames CODEPINK protestors for “misimpression” of the drone program.
BRENNAN: I think there is a misimpression on the part of some American people, who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there’s no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat. So, we need to make sure that there is understanding, and the people that were standing up here today [CODEPINK protestors], I think they really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government and the care that we take and the agony that we go through to make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths. And as the chairman said earlier, the need to be able to go out and say that publicly and openly, I think, is critically important, because people are reacting to a lot of falsehoods that are out there.
Senate hearing “was basically a show that was produced by the White House…in conjunction with Feinstein’s office”
SCAHILL: Well, you know, if you—if you look at what happened yesterday at the Senate Intelligence Committee, I mean, this is kabuki oversight. This was basically a show that was produced by the White House in conjunction with Senator Feinstein’s office. I mean, the reality was—is that none of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way. In the cases where people like Senator Angus King or Senator Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA asserts the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, the questions were very good. Brennan would then offer up a non-answer.
Brennan’s buzz-word non-answer to Sen Ron Wyden’s question about evidence and Obama’s authority to kill Americans
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.
Listening to Brennan is like listening to a used car salesman; moreover, senators didn’t push back
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.”
Absent from the hearing was any sense that Brennan is “Obama’s hit man or assassination czar”
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 of the fact that Obama essentially authorized the killing of three US citizens
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.
Feinstein and Brennan contrived to put slain US citizen Anwar Awlaki on trial and issue a guilty verdict
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.
FEINSTEIN: Could I ask you some questions about him?
BRENNAN: You’re the chairman.
FEINSTEIN: You don’t have to answer. Did he have a connection to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who would attempt to explode a device on one of our planes over Detroit?
BRENNAN: Yes, he did.
FEINSTEIN: Can you tell us what that connection was?
BRENNAN: I would prefer not to at this time, Senator. I’m not prepared to.
FEINSTEIN: OK. Did he have a connection to the Fort Hood attack?
BRENNAN: That is a—al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a variety of means of communicating and inciting individuals, whether that be websites or emails or other types of things. And so, there are a number of occasions where individuals, including Mr. Awlaki, has been in touch with individuals. And so, Senator, again, I’m not prepared to address the specifics of these, but suffice it to say—
FEINSTEIN: Well, I’ll just ask you a couple of questions. You don’t—did Faisal Shahzad, who pled guilty to the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt, tell interrogators in 2010 that he was inspired by al-Awlaki?
BRENNAN: I believe that’s correct, yes.
FEINSTEIN: Last October, Awlaki, did he have a direct role in supervising and directing AQAP’s failed attempt, well, to bring down two United States cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages, as a matter of fact, inside a computer printer cartridge?
BRENNAN: Mm-hmm. Mr. Awlaki—
FEINSTEIN: Dubai? [hint, hint]
BRENNAN: —was involved in overseeing a number of these activities, yes.
“I believe that Senator Feinstein’s office coordinated this moment with the White House to put on this show trial”, missing the central issues entirely
SCAHILL: What you’re seeing there—first of all, let’s remember, the Obama administration never sought an indictment against Anwar Awlaki, that we know of. He was never charged with a crime, that we know of. And he was executed on orders from the president of the United States in September of 2011. The issue here is not who Anwar Awlaki was or what we think of Anwar Awlaki. The issue here is the Constitution. The issue here is due process.
And what we saw, I believe—I believe that Senator Feinstein’s office coordinated this moment with the White House to put on this show trial because of the deadly serious questions surrounding the killing of a U.S. citizen without due process. And what we saw play out there was absolute theater, where you had Anwar Awlaki being posthumously tried, with no evidence. And what came after the clip you just played is Feinstein and Brennan agreeing, quite happily, that Anwar Awlaki was a bad man and that it was justified to take him out and kill him. There was no question about the fact that two weeks later they killed Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who no one has ever alleged had any ties whatsoever to terrorism or any militant organization. His only connection was his lineage, who his father was. So, you know, there was something really insidious that happened there, and I think it really is patronizing of the sensibility of the American people to engage in something like that, with one of the most powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill essentially conspiring with the White House and its nominee to be the CIA to retroactively justify the killing of a U.S. citizen who was never charged with a crime.
The hearing was “more or less a love fest between the most powerful senators… and it basically looked like they were discussing purchasing a used car”
SCAHILL: But at the end of the day, I mean, I can’t say I was surprised at what happened on Capitol Hill, but it really was more or less a love fest between the most powerful senators, when it comes to intelligence operations in the U.S., and John Brennan, a man who could not get confirmed last time Obama tried to make him CIA director, because of very serious questions about his views on and role in the torture program under the Bush administration—has served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they were discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol Hill. I mean, it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand right now.
Scahill rebuts Feinstein’s claim “about the very low number of civilian casualties that result from such strikes”
FEINSTEIN: [I’ve … been attempting to speak publicly] about the very low number of civilian casualties that result from such strikes; I have been limited in my ability to do so. But for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes, and the figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits.
SCAHILL: Yeah. I would invite Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee to travel to Abyan province in Yemen, where I was a few months ago, and meet with the Bedouin villagers of al-Majalah, where more than 40 people were killed, several dozen of them women and children, their bodies shredded into meat with U.S. cluster bombs, and then come back and go on national television and talk about single digits. There were over 40 people killed in one strike alone. And you know what? That wasn’t even a drone strike. That was a cruise missile strike. Everyone is talking about drones these days and obsessed with drones. The U.S. uses AC-130 gunships, night raids, Tomahawk cruise missile strikes. Some of the most devastating strikes were not even drone attacks.
“This Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight”
So, you know, this Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight. You know, they allowed John Brennan to say repeatedly, “Well, I’m not a lawyer,” while simultaneously saying, “Everything we’ve done is perfectly legal.” And then they say, “Well, what about torture?” And he goes, “Well, I’m not a lawyer, and that has legal implications.” I mean, what kind of a show is this? I mean, what does this say about our society when this is the extent of the debate we can have when an administration in power has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens and foreigners alike around the world without trial? I mean, it’s devastating. It should be a very sobering moment for all of us.
Powerful media outlets collude with administrations, facilitate their propaganda, conceal potentially illegal programs or actions – “a sort of conveyor belt of lies”
SCAHILL: Yeah, what’s new? What’s new? I mean, this has been going on—this has been going on forever in this country. I mean, look at how many times we had major powerful media outlets colluding with the Bush administration to either—you know, either facilitating administration propaganda, or as you’ve called it, sort of this conveyor belt of lies, or, on the other hand, concealing potentially illegal programs or actions that were being conducted by the Bush administration. I mean, this happened throughout the Bush era. And so, to have it right now with the Obama administration is just par for the course. I mean, this is how things are done in Washington.
Jeremy Scahill, producer and writer of the documentary film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, which premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival. He is national security correspondent for The Nation, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and the forthcoming book, Dirty Wars.