Protect our rights; reject John Brennan
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The question as to whether John O. Brennan should be confirmed by the Senate as CIA director raises broader issues for Americans. Should someone who has been heavily involved in carrying out abominable policies be allowed to continue doing so, or should public distaste be expressed by the Senate by refusing to move him forward in the hierarchy or give him more authority?
The truly objectionable policies with which Mr. Brennan has been closely identified are, first, torture of prisoners, whatever euphemistic name the U.S. government tries to give the practice. Another was "rendition" of terror suspects, which meant catching someone, putting him on a plane, carting him off to some "friendly" country where torture is not frowned on and having him tortured there. Some 54 allied countries -- the list is still a secret -- reportedly played ball.
The more recently revealed gem of a practice in which Mr. Brennan has been involved is the killing of thousands of people by drone, including at least three American citizens, without benefit of trial, defense or any of the other "due process of law" guarantees in the U.S. Constitution. For American media, civil rights advocates and even members of Congress to lay hands on the administration's justification for this unconstitutional, unjust policy has been comparable to a dentist digging out a wisdom tooth. The American public learned about it when someone leaked a memo to NBC.
The fundamental question is whether "informed, high-level" American officials should be able to order the killing of fellow American citizens, even if they can be deemed evil-doers, without benefit of trial, defense, a guilty verdict or any of the other trappings of America's increasingly defunct system of justice that used to differentiate America from Uzbekistan.
We still don't know exactly what Mr. Brennan's role in all of this was, but it is most likely that as deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism he worked on the hit list that President Barack Obama worked from in deciding whom to execute by drone without due process of law.
If "the buck stops at the top," shouldn't Mr.Obama ultimately face the music for these killings? If so, shouldn't Mr. Brennan's nomination therefore be approved by the Senate? All he was doing was carrying out a policy that he himself did not devise, whether he recommended it or approved of it or not. He, like the Nazis, was just obeying orders.
On the other hand, Americans should ask themselves what they would do if they were asked to kill other Americans without trial -- even apparent bad guys living in Yemen. If one accepts the idea that such extralegal execution is acceptable, where does it end? Would it be OK to kill with a drone a suspected terrorist here at home threatening to blow up the Pennsylvania Turnpike? Would the turnpike commission members qualify as "informed, high-level" officials who could authorize such a hit?
I accept completely that assuring the security of Americans is perhaps the principal obligation of any U.S. government. At the same time, how exactly does killing by remote control a 16-year-old American and six other people in faraway Yemen do that? Do we not have a right to have this explained to us? And if, in the name of the holy secrecy of CIA "sources and methods," a person put forward by the American president to head that agency doesn't explain it, even to America's elected representatives in Congress, what have we come to?
One clear means of delivering the public's opinion of the policies and the man is for the Senate to reject Mr. Brennan's nomination to head the CIA. I would strongly urge it to do so.
Let Mr. Obama instead come up with a nominee whom Americans could be sure was dedicated not only to American standards of justice and to protecting the right of Americans to due process of law, but someone who also has a heart, who perceives the wrong of torture and of the killing of Americans with drones.
Another nomination that bears close scrutiny is that of the successor to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. It has not yet been announced that Mr. Holder is leaving the Justice Department, but it is clear that it is time for him to go.
The Obama White House stays well-buttoned-up in terms of internal deliberations, but Americans' freedoms, particularly their right to privacy, have deteriorated seriously on Mr. Holder's watch. Americans no longer have any reason to imagine that any of their previously private communications -- by telephone, the Internet or any other means other than a walk in the park (watch out for that wired squirrel!) -- is free of government spying.
It is possible that Mr. Holder has been attentive to these aspects of his dominion's work, in particular the activities of the FBI, but there is no evidence that has been the case. Consequently, when the time comes for the Congress to pass on his successor, close attention should be paid to the nominee's point of view on the right of Americans to be free as much as possible from government spying.
It has become increasingly clear that among the major victims of the 9/11 attacks on the United States were Americans and their previously enjoyed freedoms. Some of this erosion may be necessary. Some of it clearly is not.
First Published February 13, 2013 12:00 am