U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) faces tough questioning on February 7 in a Senate confirmation hearing expected to focus on a secret White House targeted-killing program whose existence was leaked earlier this week.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who headed the CIA’s National Counterterrorism Center under President George W. Bush, was a key architect of the U.S. drone program that the CIA uses to track and kill terrorists.
Senators say they will ask Brennan to explain a classified Justice Department memo
that lays out a legal justification for killing U.S. citizens believed to be “senior operational leaders” of Al-Qaeda or “an associated group” and who present an “imminent threat of violent attack" against the United States.
Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge the use of drones to track and kill terrorists.
On February 6, the White House announced that the Justice Department would release classified documents to Congressional intelligence committees that discuss the legal justification for killing U.S. citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.
The announcement came after a bipartisan group of 11 senators reiterated their long-standing demand to see the Justice Department’s full legal opinion on the targeted assassination of U.S. citizens.
In a letter to Obama
, the lawmakers had suggested that the confirmations of Brennan and Chuck Hagel, Obama’s nominee to be defense secretary, might be held up if the information wasn’t provided.
On February 5, White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested the classified documents would not be given to the committees.
"When it comes to some of these matters, the information that is kept secret is kept secret for national security reasons -- not to keep it from the American people, but to keep it from those who plot daily and continually to do harm to the United States and do harm to the American people," Carney said.
Brennan’s nomination has also been questioned by human rights and antiwar groups because of his role in the drone program and his past support of enhanced interrogation techniques and secret renditions.
A member of the peace group Code Pink named Laura explains why the group recently held a memorial vigil at Brennan’s suburban Washington home: “We want to draw attention to not only the people who have died as a result of the lethal drone program our country utilizes, but the fact that we reject this nomination, that we want Congress to ask him tough questions during the hearings, and we want them to reject his nomination as head of the CIA.”
Brennan was reportedly Obama’s choice to lead the CIA back in 2008, but protests over his role at the CIA under Bush led him to withdraw his name from contention.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Heather Maher, AP, NBC News, and "The Washington Post"