7 Things to Watch in the Jeh Johnson Confirmation Hearing

Today the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Jeh Johnson, to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Johnson was the Pentagon’s top lawyer from 2009-2012, and if confirmed as DHS secretary, he will head up the agency charged with securing and managing U.S. borders while facilitating trade and travel, enforcing and administering immigration laws, and coordinating with federal, state, local, international and private sector partners to provide essential support for national security. As a principal on the National Security Council, the next DHS Secretary will also play an influential role in many of President Obama’s second-term priorities, including comprehensive immigration reform and counterterrorism operations.

During his time at the Defense Department, Johnson confronted complex problems involving national security, human rights, and upholding American ideals. In this new post at DHS, Johnson would face a different set of human rights challenges that will set a global standard and reflect the credibility of American leadership.

As you follow today’s confirmation hearing, here are seven things to watch to assess Jeh Johnson and his record on human rights:

  1. Comprehensive immigration reform is stalled in the House and some members have asked whether the Senate bill does enough to address fraud and abuse.  How does Johnson plan to address fraud and abuse in his new position?
  2. The bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report on expedited removal and immigration detention a few years ago.   An updated report this year found that asylum seekers are still detained primarily in facilities with inappropriately jail-like conditions.  Will Johnson make a commitment to reinvigorate the immigration detention reform initiative launched by DHS in 2009 and truly transform the system?
  3. Criminal justice systems across the country are increasingly turning to cost-effective alternatives to detention, prompted in large part by experts with the “Right on Crime” movement.  Will Johnson advocate for a modernized immigration enforcement system that relies on proven alternatives to detention, endorsed for their cost-savings by diverse groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (home to Right on Crime), and others?
  4. As Pentagon general counsel, Johnson provided key legal analysis supporting the United States’ targeted killing policy.  He has said that U.S. policy should not be “shrouded in secrecy.”  The legal precedent the United States is setting is critical as other nations develop armed drone technology.  Does Johnson support the public release of the Presidential Policy Guidance on lethal targeting of terrorism suspects, and the relevant Department of Justice memos that interpret the applicable law?
  5. As Pentagon general counsel, Johnson was in a position to advise the secretary of defense on whether to certify for foreign transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay.  Yet the secretary of defense did not certify a single transfer under Johnson’s tenure, despite a waiver in current law allowing the secretary to skirt the most onerous certification requirements.   Does Johnson support the provisions in the FY2014 Senate National Defense Authorization bill that clarify and expand the administration’s authorities on detainee transfers?
  6. Johnson has said that the “war against Al Qaeda must be regarded as finite, extraordinary, and an unnatural state of affairs” and that the war against al-Qaeda will reach a “tipping point.” How does Johnson define the end of armed conflict against al Qaeda and associated forces? What are the alternative strategies and tactics to protect America’s borders in the current threat environment?    How  would he leverage the intelligence, deterrence, and law enforcement functions inherent in the DHS to aid the Defense Department in transitioning primary responsibility for counterterrorism operations to the intelligence agencies, the State Department, the FBI, and—ultimately—the Department of Homeland Security?
  7. Johnson has said he supports declassifying the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the use of torture by the CIA that was adopted by the committee in 2012.  Because the CIA opposes many of the report’s findings, the agency may seek to block release of the report, or insistent on extensive and unnecessary redactions. As a principal on the National Security Council and given his experience working on detainee issues, Johnson will be in a position to influence the administration’s response.   Will he advocate for the release of the report as an important step towards government oversight and transparency regarding the post-9/11 CIA torture program?

Published on November 13, 2013


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