Brennan 'objected to CIA interrogations'

John Brennan testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee panel hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington today. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

John Brennan testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee panel hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington today. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Thu, Feb 7, 2013, 00:00

John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has said he raised personal objections to “interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding and the use of nudity during his time at the spy agency but did not have the authority to stop it.

Mr Brennan, the son of Irish immigrants, told a Senate committee vetting the President’s candidate that he was aware of controversial interrogation techniques when he was deputy director of the agency under the George W Bush administration but that he “did not take steps to stop those techniques.”

He raised “personal objections” to certain techniques in conversations with colleagues about interrogation techniques by the intelligence agency, said the 25-year CIA veteran.

“I did not try to stop it because it was something that was being done in a different part of the agency under the authority of others,” said Mr Brennan.

Protestors repeatedly interrupted the hearing by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Mr Brennan’s appointment as the next director of the CIA, forcing proceedings to be adjourned briefly.

Mr Brennan, who had previously said that torture had “saved lives” and has coordinated the Obama administration's drone strikes, faced heckles from protestors about America’s drone strikes against al-Qaeda suspects and the use of torture such as waterboarding, forcing the Senate committee to clear the public gallery before re-starting proceedings.

Facing criticism over new revelations about the Obama administration’s targeted killings by drone aircraft in Yemen and Pakistan and his role in the Bush administration’s interrogations, the former CIA analyst told the Senate intelligence committee that its report on the CIA’s former rendition and now-banned interrogation techniques raised “very serious issues” and was “one of my highest priorities.”

Mr Brennan’s confirmation hearing comes days after the leaking of a US justice department document explaining the legal basis for the killing of Anwar al-Awlak, an American citizen who had joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in a US military drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.

“I have publicly acknowledged that our fight against al-Qaeda and associated forces has sometimes involved the use of lethal force outside the `hot battlefield’ of Afghanistan,” he said.

“Accordingly, it is understandable that there is great interest in the legal basis as well as the thresholds, criteria, processes, procedures, approvals and reviews of such actions.”

In response to questions from Democratic Senator Dianne about the use of drone strikes, Mr Brennan said that the President insisted that these military actions were “legally grounded”, “thoroughly anchored in intelligence” and appropriately reviewed before the use of lethal force was contemplated.

The administration sought to comply fully with the law and “meet the standards that people expect of us” to consider all actions to protect American people before turning to lethal force and drone strikes as a “last resort”.

Mr Brennan said that he had no involvement in leaking classified intelligence information to the media but he often spoke to editors and reporters to try to keep sensitive information out of the public domain.

“After working in the intelligence profession for 30 years I know the importance of keeping those secrets secret,” he said.

He acknowledged that some of the government’s “counterterrorism policies and operations have sparked widespread widespread debate, domestically and internationally,” he said.

Mr Brennan, whose parents emigrated from Co Roscommon, would become the 21st director of the CIA if his appointment is confirmed and the first to rise through the ranks to lead the agency since Robert Gates held the role in the early 1990s.

In his opening statement, he thanked his 91-year-old mother Dorothy and 92-year-old father Owen “who emigrated from Ireland 65 years ago.”