John Brennan, Torture-Tainted CIA Prospect, Alarms Obama Supporters

Marc Ambinder reported Thursday evening that former National Counterrorism Center head John Brennan is Barack Obama's "favorite to be nominated director of the Central Intelligence Agency." According to Ambinder's sources, Brennan has been vetted and even begun recruiting his team.

The news has alarmed Obama supporters who remember Brennan best for his role in both faulty pre-war intelligence and agreement with Vice President Dick Cheney on torture.

Glenn Greenwald writes, "I'm both entirely unsurprised and basically undisturbed by the fact that Obama's most significant appointments thus far are composed largely of standard Washington establishment figures and pro-Iraq-War hawks." But Brennan is "a different matter."

To appoint someone as CIA Director or Director of National Intelligence who was one of George Tenet's closest aides when The Dark Side of the last eight years was conceived and implemented, and who, to this day, continues to defend and support policies such as "enhanced interrogation techniques" and rendition (to say nothing of telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping), is to cross multiple lines that no Obama supporter should sanction. Truly turning a page on the grotesque abuses of the last eight years requires both symbolism (closing Guantanamo) and substantive policy changes (compelling adherence to the Army Field Manual, ensuring due process rights for all detainees, ending rendition, restoring safeguards on surveillance powers). Appointing John Brennan to a position of high authority would be to affirm and embrace, not repudiate, the darkest aspects of the last eight years.

Andrew Sullivan, in a post titled "No Way. No How. No Brennan," adds:

[T]he Republican, former chief-of-staff for George Tenet (who authorized war crimes as CIA head), admirer of Dick Cheney, CEO of the company one of whose contract employees improperly accessed Obama's and McCain's passports, and defender of renditions and "enhanced interrogations" is still Obama's front-runner pick to head the CIA. No, I'm not making this up. ...

Brennan was complicit and naive in the run-up to the Iraq war. And Obama wants to reward him? Brennan is also a believer in Cheney's term "the dark side," wishing merely to have some limits within it. He clearly has a mindset that has far more in common with the war crimes of his former boss than with the clear, and indisputable beliefs of the Obama movement.


The least we know is that Brennan is ambivalent about [torture]. Ambivalence on this matter is unacceptable. We haven't fought for decency and reform and a return to American values for so long to be turned back now. We didn't work our butts off to elect Obama only to get Bush another four years at CIA. If Brennan emerges as the pick, those of us against the continuation of war crimes and the prosecution of war criminals will have to oppose him strenuously in the nomination process. We will, in fact, have to go to war with Obama before he even takes office.

Melvin Goodman, a retired CIA intelligence analyst, lambasted Obama in the Baltimore Sun for relying on "discredited cronies" like Brennan.

Blogger and lawyer Anonymous Liberal says he shares their concerns, but he doesn't think the possibility is quite so dire. He points out that Brennan's actual involvement in illegal Bush-era programs is unclear, and that intelligence agencies don't set policy.

Every illegal program and policy during the Bush administration emanated from the White House and was given legal imprimatur by the Justice Department. Regardless of what John Brennan personally thinks about surveillance, torture, rendition, etc., he will only be able to do what the White House and the DOJ authorize him to do. That's why Eric Holder's nomination is reassuring. And if Obama really wants to reassure people like myself, he'll appoint someone with Holder's expressed views (perhaps Marty Lederman?) to head up the OLC.

So long story short, while some of Brennan's expressed views are troubling, his appointment may be more about operational competence than policy or ideology.