President Obama must have known that choosing John Brennan to direct the CIA would be highly controversial because of his alleged tolerance of torture as a top official at the agency during the Bush administration. Among those who have spoken out over the past several days is Senator John McCain — himself a victim of torture as a war prisoner in North Vietnam — who responded to Brennan’s nomination with a clear warning:
I appreciate John Brennan’s long record of service to our nation, but I have many questions and concerns about his nomination to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs. I plan to examine this aspect of Mr. Brennan’s record very closely as I consider his nomination.
In coming weeks, this line of criticism will become central when Brennan faces his confirmation hearing in the Senate. But maybe we shouldn’t rush to condemn this nomination — an appointment which makes sense from the point of view of the Obama administration trying to unify its national security policy across agencies. Rather than seeing Brennan’s appointment as a surrender to post-9/11 abuses, perhaps we should ask whether it is in fact an opportunity. The nomination process for John Brennan just might help us through the national impasse on matters of transparency and accountability, which continue to prevent Congress, and the nation, from moving forward on the issue of torture — as the raging debate over Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial film Zero Dark Thirty has illustrated.
Right now, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is sitting on what is widely considered to be the most definitive report to date on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques. On March 5, 2009, Democratic chairman Dianne Feinstein and Republican vice chairman Kit Bond announced that the committee would review the CIA detention and interrogation program. Last December, the completed report was adopted by the committee, though not yet publicly released. Reportedly, it comprises an unprecedented and staggering amount of research, with over 6,000 pages and more than 35,000 footnotes resulting from the committee’s review of more than six million pages of CIA records and other documents.
So the real story of enhanced interrogation at American hands — Senate investigators claimed to have looked at the creation of the program, the assessment of information that came from the program, the sharing of knowledge of the program with other agencies and more — is now available, or should be. While the Senate Armed Services Committee report from 2008 made some headway in revealing the details of the creation and implementation of the policy, this recent report promises much greater depth, accuracy and access to CIA information. In Feinstein’s words, this new report, adopted on a bipartisan basis, “…will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report.”