John Brennan has said that in the struggle against terrorism, the United States must stay true to its ideals. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee should make sure this isn't just rhetoric but a principle that will guide him as director of the CIA.
Some of the positions he's taken as President Obama's counterterrorism adviser—favoring the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, for example—demonstrate a respect for the rule of law, and supporters of human rights in the administration view him as an ally. But he has made comments that raise concerns. Senators need to ask him probing questions and press him to be specific. His answers will reveal whether he's the right person to lead the CIA.
Torture. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has approved a 6,000 page report on CIA detention and interrogation post-9/11, which according to chair Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California, shows that torture was "far more systematic and widespread than we thought." The committee will vote on whether to declassify it, and its release would require the cooperation of the CIA.
It's not entirely clear what position Brennan took on the "enhanced interrogation" program when he was a top officer at the CIA. After he left that post, he criticized waterboarding, saying it "goes beyond the bounds of what a civilized society should employ" but also defended such techniques, claiming they had "saved lives." He should unequivocally oppose torture and support the release of the intelligence committee's report.
Drones. President Obama has directed a massive expansion in the U.S. drone program. Yet it's shrouded in secrecy. Brennan discussed the program in a speech last year, but he raised as many questions as he answered. He needs to explain in much more detail the rules governing the program so that Americans, and people around the world, can verify that it accords with international law. As Brennan has said, "If we're going to take action abroad where we kill somebody, we need to take responsibility for that."
Armed Conflict. Outgoing Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson recently said that "war must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary, and unnatural state of affairs" and that the armed conflict against al Qaeda must draw to a close. Brennan should explain how the United States will transition from a global armed conflict to a post-war counterterrorism strategy.
The hearings offer an opportunity for a rare, open debate on controversial counterterrorism policies. Senators should seize it.
About Elisa Massimino President and CEO of Human Rights First
Stephen Soldz Professor at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
Heather Hurlburt Executive Director of the National Security Network