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MILBANK: Brennan's 'trust me' isn't enough on drone warfare

  • FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2013 file photo, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., right, welcomes CIA Director nominee John Brennan on Capitol Hill in Washington, prior to the start of Brennan's confirmation hearing before the committee. Lawmakers are considering whether Congress can set up a court to decide when drones can kill U.S. citizens overseas, much like the secret courts that now grant permission for surveillance. It's another sign of the U.S. philosophical struggle over remote warfare, raised after CIA head nominee John Brennan's vigorous defense of the drones. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Is the position of God subject to the confirmation process?

Does the Lord Almighty require the advice and consent of the Senate?

These are no longer abstract questions.

John Brennan may not be divine, but he plays God often as President Barack Obama's counterterrorism chief — and he will do so even more frequently once he moves to Langley as CIA director when (not if) senators confirm him.

Brennan is the architect of the drone warfare program, an extraordinary assertion of the executive's powers. In this new, hidden warfare, unelected officials, without the blessing of a court, or anything else, order killings of suspected terrorists — even American citizens, perhaps on U.S. soil.

It's an expansion of presidential authority crying out for congressional oversight, and last week was the Senate's big chance to explore in public the policy of targeted killing using unmanned aircraft. But the only drones in evidence Thursday afternoon at Brennan's confirmation hearing were the lawmakers on the dais. With few exceptions, they weren't prying, and Brennan wasn't volunteering.

Would Brennan provide the Senate intelligence committee with a list of countries in which the CIA has performed targeted killings? "If I were to be confirmed as director of CIA, I would get back to you" was all Brennan would commit to, "and it would be my intention to do everything possible to meet this committee's legitimate interests and requests."

Would Brennan talk about the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the most prominent targets of drone warfare?

"I'm not going to talk about any particular operation or responsibility on the part of the U.S. government for anything whatever," Brennan replied.

"See, that's the problem," the committee chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., replied; she noted that she has asked the administration "for increased transparency on the use of targeted force for over a year."


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