Nobody doubts that Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who has been serving as an assassination czar developing a targeted killing program, will be confirmed to the position of CIA chief. In that sense, Jeremy Scahill was completely right to describe what the press and public saw yesterday during the confirmation hearing as “kabuki oversight.”
Scahill was on “Democracy Now!” this morning and reacted:
..[I]f 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.
More significant, however, was how the “kabuki” worked to serve the Obama administration.
Here’s the key exchange on Anwar al-Awlaki, the US citizen and Muslim cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011:
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Could I ask you some questions about him?
JOHN BRENNAN: You’re the chairman.
SEN. DIANNE 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?
JOHN BRENNAN: Yes, he did.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Can you tell us what that connection was?
JOHN BRENNAN: I would prefer not to at this time, Senator. I’m not prepared to.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: OK. Did he have a connection to the Fort Hood attack?
JOHN 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—
SEN. DIANNE 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?
JOHN BRENNAN: I believe that’s correct, yes.
SEN. DIANNE 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?
JOHN BRENNAN: Mm-hmm. Mr. Awlaki—
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Dubai?
JOHN BRENNAN: —was involved in overseeing a number of these activities, yes.
Scahill said, after watching the exchange, that he believed Feinstein’s office had “coordinated this moment with the White House to put on a show trial because of the deadly serious questions surrounding the killing of a U.S. citizen without due process.” He added, “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.”
He noted, “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.”
For CNN’s Barbara Starr, who Brennan probably has in his contacts on his phone, the staged cross-examination worked. She wrote a story under the headline, “Brennan defense al-Awlaki drone strike as part of war with al Qaeda.”
Scahill was not the only one to object to this exchange during the hearing. Amy Davidson of The New Yorker noted Feinstein had summed up the exchange saying, ““And, so, Mr. Awlaki is not an American citizen by where anyone in America would be proud.”
She wrote in a blog post:
“Proud,” “upstanding,” “so-called American”—is this the basis on which the Senate is judging fundamental questions of American rights and due process? Before the hearing, I wondered what picture of Americans we were supposed to have when we heard about the executive giving itself the power to kill them. Feinstein could hardly have given a less reassuring answer. When and on what basis will any of us get a “so-called” in front of our nationality? That there may have been a good deal of evidence against al-Awlaki is why his case should have gone before a court, not why it shouldn’t have. What happened to the idea that it is precisely when we are the most enraged, and the least popular, that we need to be the most careful?
Though Brennan’s remarks are not included, David Cole addressed the key issue surrounding Al-Awlaki’s killing in an op-ed published by the Washington Post.
The full edition of “Democracy Now!” this morning was dedicated to deconstructing and skewering the display by the Senate intelligence committee yesterday. Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, which as a group was banned from the hearing by Feinstein, and former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman both appeared after Scahill.
There is one note worth making and it pertains to some aspects of the hearing I addressed in a prior post today. I noted that Brennan received no questions about renditions.
What Goodman said on “Democracy Now!” may explain why:
He was the agency. He was on the seventh floor of the agency. He was an executive assistant to the director and to the executive secretary of the CIA. He was the one they allowed to go on Sunday morning talk shows to defend renditions, and particularly extraordinary renditions, which involve not only kidnapping people off the streets of Europe and the Middle East and Africa, but sending them to countries where we knew these people would be tortured.
It is true. He kept saying how America works with “foreign partners” to detain and interrogate people now, which should make one think the Obama administration is outsourcing most of the detentions and interrogations of terror suspects to other countries or groups that may engage in torture. (And, of course, Scahill was behind the bombshell report on the CIA’s secret sites in Somalia in 2011.)