WASHINGTON – Barack Obama wants John Brennan to head the CIA, and experts assembled on a conference call on the issue concluded that if confirmed, it’s unlikely he would change the Obama administration’s practice on using drones.
That raises a lot of questions for the experts, as a recently revealed Justice Department memo obtained by NBC News said it is legal for the White House to kill U.S. citizens abroad if officials think they are senior al-Qaida leaders aiming their operations at the deaths of Americans.
That memo documents that the Justice Department believes ordering the deaths of American citizens is fine even if there is no intelligence pointing to an active plot against America.
Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled now for Brennan, who currently is Obama’s counterterrorism chief.
Having been labeled as “Obama’s drone warrior,” Brennan has been a pioneer in the advancement of the program.
In a conference call hosted by Foreign Affairs, experts speculated as to the future development of the drone program.
“This is a story of what we don’t know,” said Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of Center for Civilians in Conflict, in regards to the drone subject. She added “that is the whole drone story from the beginning” and that in regards to Brennan “we don’t know what [he] is going to do when he gets to the CIA.”
Holewinski said the reasoning for the speculation is simply because there is so much secrecy surrounding the drone project, adding that “the level of secrecy around this drone program is absurd.”
“We do not know exactly how one gets on a list,” she said.
Council on Foreign Relations fellow Micah Zenk said, “We don’t know how many exact killings have occurred” because of the secrecy of the Obama administration.
Regarding Brennan’s qualifications to run the CIA, Holewinski said that it is especially important to determine.
She said she would want to ask Brennan “what defines a civilian” and what is the “legal” and “moral” “justification for signature strikes.”
Zenk said in regards to Brennan’s qualifications, “One of the more disturbing developments of John Brennan’s public statements is … his usage of terms …” that are not typical of the military environment.
Holewinski expressed grave concern about the status quo, saying, “We don’t know what the long term consequences are going to be on the ground.”
“One of the big missing elements in U.S. policy,” she said, is how the United States treats those who are under the threat of drones. She expressed grave concern over the concept of blowback, which are the unintended consequences resulting from an operation.
Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul over his years in Washington had raised questions about that. In 2008, he said, “I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk.”
Holewinski also said the U.S. has failed to communicate adequately where its operations are taking place, such as Pakistan.
And she pointed out what she considers the nation’s failure to compensate or recognize individuals whose property is damaged by drone strikes.
When asked if drone strikes are leading to increased terrorist recruitment, Holewinski said, “It is difficult … to link it.”
Rather, she says, the United States is creating an environment that gives the terrorists legitimacy.
According to the UK Mail Online, since the advent of the program more than “300 remote strikes” have been conducted, “killing some 2,500 people.”
Brennnan’s support for increasing the power of the state on behalf of the so-called War on Terrorism has also included his support for wireless surveillance, the PATRIOT Act and various “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
After the Justice Department memo was uncovered, Obama’s advisers defended the president’s authority to order U.S. citizens killed with drones.
Such killings, said press secretary Jay Carney, “are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and to save American lives.”