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February 06, 2013

Senators Should Ask Tough Human Rights Questions During Brennan’s Confirmation Hearing

Washington, DC – Tomorrow, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will have the opportunity to question John Brennan about his qualifications to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Human Rights First urges the committee to use tomorrow’s hearing to examine whether Brennan would build a durable consensus against torture by cooperating in the declassification of the committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices, as well as his reactions to questions about drones that stem from this week’s leaked Department of Justice White Paper outlining guidelines for targeting Americans abroad. The senators should also ask Brennan about other key human rights issues, including the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the CIA’s role in the prevention of mass atrocities.

John Brennan has, as counterterrorism adviser to the president, often argued that the United States must conduct its counterterrorism operations according to the nation’s laws and values. He observed in 2009, “We all have seen how our fight against terrorists sometimes led us to stray from our ideals as a nation… They [enhanced interrogation techniques] are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security.”

“At tomorrow’s hearing, senators should not miss the opportunity to have John Brennan set the record straight on his involvement with the post-9/11 torture program, his view on whether the CIA should continue to be involved in targeted killing, how he plans to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and how he would strengthen the government’s response to mass atrocities,” said Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn. “With American values and fundamental human rights at the heart of so many of these important national security issues, it is imperative that the committee members demand answers to these hard questions.”

Human Rights First will closely monitor Brennan’s Feb. 7 confirmation hearing and looks forward to hearing his responses to questions about the following topics:

  • Torture: The release of the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirtyhas rekindled the debate over the effectiveness of torture and other abusive interrogation tactics.  Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA official, and others have claimed that the CIA program was safe, effective, and necessary to secure actionable intelligence, including in relation to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  Obama Administration officials and senators who have reviewed the pertinent classified records have disputed this account and questioned the value and reliability of the CIA program.  The Senate intelligence committee has conducted a thorough study of the CIA program and prepared a comprehensive report that spans over 6,000 pages.  This report, adopted by the committee in December, could set the record straight once and for all and establish a public record of the CIA program.  Mr. Brennan should be asked whether he will support setting the record straight on U.S. torture policy and whether he will work with the Senate intelligence committee to release its study with as few redactions as possible.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s Web page on Torture and Accountability.

  • Drones: Brennan has said that the U.S. needs to take responsibility when it takes action abroad to kill someone.  He has also expressed concern about the precedent that the U.S. drone policy is setting for other nations who may not respect the rule of law as the U.S. does. Several of members of Congress have advocated that the administration make public the legal and policy analysis of the drone operations, requests that remain unmet. Mr. Brennan should be asked if he supports such a request and, if not, how he proposes the United States strike the right balance of the need for security and the need for proper oversight of this gravely serious operation. He should also be asked what kind of precedent he feels the current U.S. drone program will set for the dozens of other nations who currently have or may acquire access to drone technology.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s blueprint How to Ensure that the U.S. Drone Program Does Not Undermine Human Rights.

  • Guantanamo: As an official in the Obama Administration, Brennan has been a strong critic of Guantanamo.  In September of 2011, he noted, “Aside from the false promises of enhanced security, the purported legality of depriving detainees of their rights was soundly and repeatedly rejected by our courts. It came as no surprise, then, that before 2009 few counterterrorism proposals generated as much bipartisan support as those to close Guantánamo. It was widely recognized that the costs associated with Guantánamo ran high, and the promised benefits never materialized.” The committee should explore Brennan’s knowledge of the administration’s plans to close the facility and what he views are the next steps toward achieving the goal.                                                                                                                                                     

For more information, please see Human Rights First’s blueprint How To Close Guantanamo.

  • Atrocity prevention: On April 23, 2012, the president designated the prevention of mass atrocities as a national security interest and announced a range of steps the U.S. government would take to strengthen its ability to foresee, prevent, and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. As part of this effort, the Obama Administration, through the interagency Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), has ordered the intelligence community to collect and analyze information that allows the U.S. government to better anticipate, understand, and counter atrocity threats. The new reforms include the preparation of the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the global risk of mass atrocities and genocide, a report about mass atrocity threats in the Director of National Intelligence’s annual threat assessment testimony before Congress, and collaboration with internal and foreign partners to increase the overall collection, analysis, and sharing of information relating to atrocity threats and situations. Mr. Brennan should be asked how he plans to steer the CIA’s priority on atrocity prevention and how he would you manage the National Intelligence Estimate on mass atrocities. In addition, the committee should explore what process and staffing Brennan would put in place so that intelligence collection and analysis on threatening mass atrocity situations remain a priority in the Agency and strengthen the outcomes of the APB.

For more information, please see Human Rights First’s blueprint How to Disrupt Enablers of Mass Atrocities.

For more information or to speak with a member of Human Rights First’s team about the Brennan hearing, please co