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Brennan’s Evasions

Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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John Brennan is no Chuck Hagel. That much was clear from the confirmation hearings on Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA. Unlike Hagel, who stumbled and mumbled through his performance, Brennan demonstrated a deep knowledge of his brief and answered (or gamely parried) tough questions with great self-assurance and forcefulness.

John Brennan

But several of Brennan’s answers before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were problematic. Indeed, his three and a half hours of testimony raised important questions on two issues central to his nomination: the politicization of intelligence and the Obama administration’s approach to fighting radical Islam. Brennan will face additional questions in both areas at a closed hearing on his nomination on February 12. He should.

During the hearing last week, several senators asked Brennan about the enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) used by the CIA during the Bush administration. In a 2007 interview, Brennan offered a broad defense of the program. “There [has] been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hardcore terrorists,” Brennan said. “It has saved lives,” he continued. “And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.”

In the same interview, however, Brennan criticized waterboarding as “inconsistent with American values” and “something that should be prohibited.” That wasn’t good enough for many Democrats, who not only believed that EITs were immoral but also desperately needed them to be deemed ineffective, even if the evidence demonstrated otherwise. So Democrats on the intelligence committee undertook a “study” of EITs in an effort to discredit them further. Not surprisingly, the report questions the practices’ effectiveness.

When Brennan was asked for his thoughts on the 350-page executive summary—again, prepared only by Democrats—he testified that it had changed his mind. “I must tell you, senator, that reading this report from the committee raises serious questions about the information that I was given at the time and the impression I had at that time. Now I have to determine what, based on that information as well as what CIA says, what the truth is.”

So Brennan trusts a partisan report produced by senators whose conclusions were announced before the study was even commissioned as much as his own firsthand, contemporaneous knowledge of the effectiveness of the program while he was at the CIA? As Senator Saxby Chambliss pointed out, Brennan received more than 50 emails on the results of interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, one of three al Qaeda leaders to be waterboarded. Brennan’s predecessors who have spoken about the issue publicly—Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta—have acknowledged that EITs produced valuable information. And a close look at the CIA inspector general’s report on EITs leaves readers with one inescapable conclusion: They worked.

If Brennan’s apparent change of heart on EITs causes concern about his ability to put analysis ahead of politics, his comments on Ali Harzi, a suspect in the Benghazi attacks last fall, raise questions about the Obama administration’s approach to radical Islam and—more immediately troubling—Brennan’s veracity.

Did John Brennan lie under oath? The answer appears to be yes.

Here’s the backstory. Senator Marco Rubio asked Brennan about Harzi, who was detained in Tunisia and eventually released by the Tunisian government. When Rubio asked why the United States couldn’t prevent Harzi’s release by the Tunisians, Brennan responded that the United States must respect Tunisian law and traditions. “The Tunisians did not have a basis in their law to hold him.” And when Rubio pushed further, Brennan dismissed his concerns and made a claim that simply isn’t true.

“We didn’t have anything on him, either,” Brennan said. “If we did, we would have made a point to the Tunisians to turn him over to us, but we didn’t have that.”

We didn’t have anything on him?

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