When the possible nomination of John Brennan as CIA director was floated in late 2008, my colleagues and I who had opposed the George W. Bush administration's torture program were aghast. As a high official in the Bush-era CIA, Brennan had defended the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" torture program in interviews, stating that these interrogations were conducted with "appropriate Department of Justice review." But as the infamous torture memos released by President Barack Obama demonstrate, Justice Department lawyers redefined "torture" idiosyncratically, to guarantee that the CIA's "enhanced techniques" would not fit the revised definition.
As President Obama's counterterrorism adviser over the past four years, Brennan has consistently opposed applying U.S. and international law to hold CIA and Bush administration officials accountable for authorizing and implementing torture. He helped to undercut the Nuremberg Principle, which states that no one is immune from prosecution following acts of human rights abuse. In this case, impunity for such abuses virtually guarantees that future administrations will feel safe again to adopt torture as policy.
Brennan also has been one of the key architects of the Obama administration's drone program of targeted assassinations, and in June 2011 he questionably claimed that over the previous year "there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency and precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop." The use of drones as an instrument of foreign policy is a very dangerous development. It makes violence more likely because it offers the illusion of controlled targeting and because it removes those doing the killing from any direct risk of harm. Drones thus join the long history of weapons that appear to guarantee victory but in fact only encourage adversaries to adopt them as well, while developing innovative countermeasures.
Like the roles of president and Supreme Court justice, the role of CIA director is symbolic as well as functional. Even appearances of impropriety by officials compromise these roles. John Brennan's defense of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program, his opposition to indicting the facilitators of the program under U.S. and international law, and his advocacy of the drone program create a dismal image of the U.S. intelligence community both domestically and abroad. The appointment of Brennan as CIA director would pose a grave risk to the reputation and efficacy of the Obama administration. We encourage the Senate to reject his nomination.
About Stephen Soldz Professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
Heather Hurlburt Executive Director of the National Security Network