John Brennan found himself in an uncomfortable and unusual situation on Feb. 7 when protesters loudly confronted him, intent on holding him and the U.S. government accountable for their past and present war crimes. Brennan is the chief counterterrorism adviser to the Obama administration.
At a Senate confirmation hearing to consider his nomination as Central Intelligence Agency director, Brennan repeatedly tried to speak, only to find himself shouted down by courageous demonstrators. They condemned the Obama administration’s policy of targeted assassinations using unmanned drones.
Activists held up red-painted hands to symbolize blood and displayed signs which read, “Brennan = drone killings” and “Stop CIA Murder!” Finally, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein found it necessary to call a halt to the hearing and clear the chamber before continuing. Eight Code Pink members were then arrested.
Brennan is a career CIA operative with more than 35 years experience in the U.S. spy/torture/murder/falsehood business. He was an executive at the highest level in three different administrations. In 2008, Brennan was forced to withdraw his name from consideration to be CIA director because of his previous support for waterboarding and other forms of torture. Last year, he strongly endorsed the practice of targeted assassinations using drones.
The Feb. 5 New York Times said that Brennan has been “the principal coordinator” of American kill lists. The same article quotes former Obama administration counterterrorism official, Daniel Benjamin, who stated that Brennan “probably had more power and influence than anyone in a comparable position in the last 20 years.”
Brennan was a key organizer of the “disposition matrix,” a database that U.S. officials describe as “a next-generation capture/kill list.” (Washington Post, Oct. 23) Developed by the Obama administration beginning in 2010, the disposition matrix goes beyond existing kill lists and creates a blueprint for tracking, capturing, rendering (kidnapping and torturing) or killing terrorism suspects. It is intended to become a permanent fixture of American policy. (WP, Oct. 26)
The Pakistan Observer reported that Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malikhas, stated that 336 American drone strikes in his country claimed more than 2,300 victims; 80 percent of them were innocent civilians. (Oct. 18) A Pew Research Center poll shows that 74 percent of Pakistanis believe that America “is the enemy,” an increase from prior years. (Examiner.com, Oct. 26)
Thousands more have been killed in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere by drones which are often controlled from thousands of miles away by faceless military officers or contractors who murder at the touch of a joystick.
As expounded by Brennan and the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. president now has the power and “legitimate authority” to kill anyone at any time for reasons developed and forever kept secret by the executive branch alone — whether they are in a war zone or not — as long as the president, as advised by the CIA, believes that they are an “imminent threat.” To be an imminent threat, a person need not have done anything concrete, but only be a member of a suspect organization, which need not be publicly identified.
The policy also allows the killing of individuals whose identities are unknown, but who are thought to be engaged in certain activities considered dangerous. (WP, Oct. 26)
Despite its name, the CIA is often not all that intelligent, but it is always brutal. In December 2003, as deputy executive director of the CIA under George W. Bush, Brennan became convinced that the scrolling news at the bottom of Al-Jazeera broadcasts contained “secret messages” about plots against the U.S. On the basis of this questionable “intelligence,” they ordered the color-coded threat level raised from yellow to orange during the holiday season.
The entire episode was subsequently shown to be ridiculous, even by CIA standards, and the color coding of threat levels was dropped. But it is chilling in the extreme to consider the impact of such “intelligence” being applied to a worldwide program of organized murder such as the disposition matrix.
The brave demonstrators who disrupted Brennan’s confirmation hearing should be congratulated. These protests must be expanded to expose and bring a halt to these war crimes.