The very serious people who (inexplicably) make a living by talking about American politics (Note: I said, talking about, not providing analysis) seem quite pleased with President Obama’s selection of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The pundits are gushing over Brennan’s qualifications, stern demeanor, and a few have even commented on how he just looks like a CIA agent. Talk about setting the bar low. Few mention the irony that if David Petraeus had not been caught having an affair, he would still be the Director of the CIA and John Brennan would still be quietly developing kill lists and drone targets for President Obama. Yes, in America it is unacceptable to have an affair, but it is very acceptable to develop secret assassination lists for the U.S. Government.
John Brennan spent 25 years in the CIA and is a fluent Arabic linguist. During his 25 year career in the CIA he worked in several Middle Eastern countries and gained increasing positions of responsibility. Indeed, he was the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia when 19 Americans were killed in the Khobar Tower bombing. I’m quite certain that Mr. Brennan is imminently qualified to discuss the culture, politics and current affairs of most Middle Eastern countries. His qualifications as an expert on the Middle East are not troubling, what is troubling is his endorsement of torture, extraordinary rendition and drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists. All of these tactics are justified as necessary conduct in America’s “Global War on Terror”.
What is extraordinary rendition? Extraordinary rendition is the kidnapping of a person in one country and the delivery of that person to a country in which they will be ‘interrogated’. Simply put, it’s taking someone from a country that is not an American ally and transporting that person to a country that is an American ally, so that the person can be imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, or even killed. In a 2005 interview John Brennan specifically defended the use of extraordinary rendition by saying, “it’s an absolutely vital tool”. Wait a second, Mr. Brennan. Are you suggesting that the American legal system is not able to prosecute suspected terrorists? Yes, that is exactly what he is saying. He is saying that other countries can do things during an interrogation that are illegal in America. Why, interrogation can be a way to bring a family together in some countries. Mr. Brennan explains some of the virtues of extraordinary rendition, “…..let’s say an individual goes to Egypt because they’re an Egyptian citizen and the Egyptians then have a longer history in terms of dealing with them, and they have family members and others that they can bring in, in fact, to be part of the whole interrogation process.” Bringing in the spouse, parent or child to witness their loved one being tortured sure can get results, right Mr. Brennan?
Within the Obama Administration, Mr. Brennan’s views on the practice of rendition are as acceptable as his love affair with drone strikes. The U.S. Government does not release figures on either the drone strikes it conducts or the casualties of those drone strikes. Therefore, it is impossible to definitively state how many people have been killed as a result of American drone attacks. What is clear, however, is that the Obama Administration has embraced the use of drone strikes. With John Brennan as the Director of the CIA drone strikes will continue unabated and most likely will increase. John Brennan has the responsibility of developing and maintaining a list of suspected terrorists, known as a kill list, which he then presents to President Obama. Based on a the location of the suspected terrorist, Obama will then decide if a drone strike can be used to kill the suspect with an acceptable amount of collateral damage. Collateral damage is a military euphemism for innocent bystanders. Does it need to be stated that these suspected terrorists are never given a chance to face their accusers and defend themselves against the crimes they are accused of having committed? Does it need to be stated that the U.S. Government is executing a person who has not been given a trial? Well, surely that person has to be guilty, right? There is no possibility that a mistake could be made in something as important as a ‘kill list’, right? Keep in mind that hundreds of people were imprisoned for years in Guantanamo before the U.S. Government finally concluded that they were innocent. It is absurd to believe that no mistakes have occurred in the administration of the kill list. It is established fact that innocent bystanders have been killed during the drone strikes.
Obama’s appointment of John Brennan is disgusting, but not surprising. This administration, as with the previous administration, has decided that it is simply more convenient to conduct war without the constraints of our legal system. If innocent people are killed it is justified by the ‘fog of war’. It’s unfortunate, but understandable and acceptable in order to keep America safe. Anything can be justified during a war. Assassination, torture and lifetime imprisonment without trial can be excused in the name of National Security. The loss of our centuries old legal system is just necessary collateral damage to keep us safe. I would prefer to take my chances and keep my rights. By selecting John Brennan, Obama has loudly, clearly and unequivocally turned his back on the American judicial system. Why don’t I feel any safer?