Human Rights First Welcomes Brennan Commitment to Transparency and Oversight; Criticizes Equivocation on Torture
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed commitments from John Brennan during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to support release of the committee’s study on past Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detention and interrogation policies and to cooperate with the committee’s efforts to secure more transparency on targeted killings. The organization expects that, if confirmed, Brennan will fulfill the commitments he made today. In the coming days before the committee vote, Brennan should also unequivocally state that waterboarding is torture and clarify his positions on the legal basis of targeted killing and imminence.
In response to questioning from several senators, Mr. Brennan pledged to fully engage with the committee on its 6,000 page study on post-9/11 CIA interrogation and detention, adopted in December by the Senate. Brennan called the decision to declassify the report a “weighty one” that would require consultation with the CIA. Senator McCain, as well as high-level professional interrogators concerned about past policies of torture, have urged Brennan to support public release of the report.
“Americans deserve to know what was gained and lost through the CIA’s use of torture. Brennan should commit unreservedly to ensuring the report’s declassification with as few redactions as possible,” said Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn.
“It is disappointing that Brennan failed to echo President Obama’s strong denunciations of torture — and of waterboarding in particular — during the hearing,” added Osburn. “Before the Committee votes, Senators should seek assurances that Brennan does in fact share President Obama’s unequivocal conviction that waterboarding is torture.”
Mr. Brennan provided no new information about the administration’s targeted killing program, or proposed counterterrorism “playbook,” despite the release of a Department of Justice (DOJ) white paper on targeted killing late Monday. Human Rights First noted that the white paper raised significant concerns about the legal underpinnings of the targeted killing program. Brennan did, however, commit to advocate for disclosure of eight Office of Legal Counsel opinions addressing targeted killings, requested by Senator Feinstein. “It is encouraging to see Brennan recommit to additional transparency and oversight regarding the targeted killing program,” noted Osburn.
“The DOJ suggests that an imminent threat, where lethal force may be authorized, needs to be neither a clear nor immediate threat. This turns the law upside down,” said Osburn. ”Mr. Brennan should commit to ensuring that the draft ‘playbook’ is released so that there is a robust debate about the program and its legal parameters.”
Mr. Brennan also offered a vigorous defense of Article III courts in response to Senator Rubio’s questions about future interrogation and detention operations. Osburn concluded,” We appreciate Mr. Brennan’s defense of the FBI and our federal courts which have played an important and successful role in our counterterrorism operations.”
For more information on U.S. targeted killing practice, see Human Rights First’s blueprint, How to Ensure That the U.S. Drone Program Does Not Undermine Human Rights.