12 Questions for John Brennan On Drones and Torture

February 5, 2013

drones fb graphicOn Thursday, February 7th, John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, will face a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing comes on the heels of yesterday’s release of troubling information about the Obama administration’s use of lethal force.

John Brennan has served in important leadership roles in the Bush and Obama administrations, including at the CIA.  The Senate and the U.S. public have a right to know the truth about his involvement, if any, in human rights violations. Brennan should also be asked what he will do to make sure human rights violations are never committed again.

Amnesty International does not currently take a position on whether or not John Brennan should head the CIA. However, all government officials—including Brennan—have an obligation to ensure that the U.S. meets its responsibilities under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

Here are 12 key questions Senators should ask him, covering drones, torture, Guantánamo and the U.S. government’s “global war” paradigm that’s used to justify human rights violations:

Drones and lethal force

1. What has been your role in developing, authorizing, implementing or over-seeing the U.S. government’s policy on the use of lethal force, including with drones, and in selecting names for the “kill list” and carrying out drone strikes?

2. What will you do to ensure much greater transparency in relation to the use of lethal force, including with drones and particularly by the CIA, in a way that allows for a proper assessment of the lawfulness of particular attacks, and accountability for any attacks that are unlawful?

3. In your roles to date, what measures have you taken, or ensured the U.S. government has taken, to ensure that, in specific cases, the USA’s use of lethal force, including with drones, has been in compliance with international law?

4. What would you do as head of the CIA to ensure that the U.S. government’s policies and practices on the use of lethal force, including with drones, comply with the U.S. government’s obligations under international human rights law and, in the very limited circumstances where it also applies, international humanitarian law? 

Torture and other ill-treatment

5. In light of recent media reports, could you confirm that you had no decision-making role in developing, authorizing, ordering, implementing or over-seeing the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding? Could you provide detail of your contemporaneous criticisms of these techniques under the Bush administration?

6. Do you consider waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” to amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment?

7. Do you support public release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA detention and interrogation?

Guantánamo, rendition and secret prisons

8. Do you support closure of the Guantánamo detention facility by ensuring that all detainees are either charged and fairly tried in civilian court, or released? 

9. What was your role, if any, in developing, authorizing, ordering, implementing or over-seeing rendition, enforced disappearances or the use of long-term secret detention in ‘black sites’? What will you do to ensure these practices are never used again, and that the CIA does not involve itself in secret detention at all, for any period or in any circumstances?

10. Do you believe that holding terrorism suspects incommunicado on Navy ships is consistent with the U.S. government’s international human rights obligations?

The administration’s “global war” paradigm

11. Do you accept that international human rights law applies to all U.S. counterterrorism operations, including those outside U.S. territory?


12. If confirmed as Director of the CIA, what would you do to help ensure that the U.S. government meets its obligations under international law to ensure accountability—including investigation, prosecutions where there is sufficient evidence and remedy for victims—for torture, enforced disappearance and other crimes under international law, including those already committed in relation to the USA’s secret detention and rendition programs?

Take Action: Send these questions for John Brennan to Senator Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Committee on Intelligence.