WASHINGTON -- A Senate hearing on John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA could lay bare some parts of the secret war against al-Qaida: lethal drone strikes from covert bases against even American terror suspects, harsh interrogation methods and long detention of suspects without due process.
Some of the practices produced revulsion among some in Congress and the public, but the outcry has been muted because Brennan and others say these harsh and secretive methods have saved American lives.
Those issues will be front and centre in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today for Brennan -- a chance for him to answer criticism he backed the detention and interrogation policy while he served at the CIA under former U.S. president George W. Bush, charges that stymied his first attempt to head the intelligence agency in 2008.
In answers to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee before the hearing, Brennan said he was "aware of the program but did not play a role in its creation, execution, or oversight," and added he "had significant concerns and personal objections" to the interrogation techniques.
He wrote he voiced those objections to colleagues at the agency privately.
Brennan also described how individuals are targeted for drone strikes, saying whether a suspect is deemed an imminent threat -- and therefore appropriate for targeting -- is made "on a case-by-case basis through a co-ordinated interagency process" involving intelligence, military, diplomatic and other agencies.
He defended the missile strikes by Predator or Reaper drones as a more humane form of war. Aides have portrayed him as cautious in their use, restraining others at the CIA or military who would use them more often, even though as the White House's counterterror czar he has presided over an explosion of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Fewer than 50 strikes took place during the Bush administration while more than 360 strikes have been launched under President Barack Obama, according to the website The Long War Journal, which tracks the casualties.
Administration officials say Brennan would further limit the use of drones by the CIA and leave the majority of strikes to the military.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others have pressed the White House to show them the classified legal memo that outlines specifically when drones and other lethal strikes may be employed against al-Qaida. An unclassified Justice Department white paper was made public this week, outlining America's authority to kill suspected terrorists with drones, even U.S. citizens, if a case can be made by the CIA or military that they are linked to al-Qaida and have taken part in plots against Americans.
A senior administration official said late Wednesday Obama now has directed the Justice Department to provide the Senate and House intelligence committees access to classified advice from its Office of Legal Counsel on which the white paper was based.
The CIA's drone strikes primarily focus on al-Qaida and Taliban targets in the tribal regions of Pakistan, while the military has launched strikes against al-Qaida targets in Yemen and Somalia.
-- The Associated Press