Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon voted against John Brennan’s nomination to be the next director of the CIA, saying he was too cozy with the policies of the Bush administration.
“The Bush Administration was far too quick to sacrifice our core constitutional values that guarantee freedom in the name of fighting terrorism, and while the Obama administration has attempted to turn the page on some important infringements on civil liberties, too many of those Bush-era policies continue," he said in a statement. "We need new leadership in our intelligence community to help steer our nation toward a clear re-affirmation of our values. John Brennan, an inside player in both administrations, is not the right person for that job."
Merkley listed warrantless wiretapping, the lack of rights given to those deemed "enemy combatants," and the use of drone strikes as his primary concerns. The Democratic senator doubted that Brennan, who has defended warrantless wiretapping, would alleviate his concerns.
Brennan has been closely associated with the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries. In a 2012 speech, he insisted the practice was legal, ethical, proportional and saved U.S. lives. Brennan remarked it was "hard to imagine a tool that can better minimize the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft."
Brennan, who served as a top CIA official during the Bush administration, said in 2007 that so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding provided valuable intelligence. He told the Senate in February that he was mislead about the effectiveness of the practice. Though he refused to call waterboarding torture, he said it would have no place in the CIA under his watch.
"We can and should protect America from our enemies without compromising the very essence of American freedom and rule of law," Merkley concluded. "We need someone at the CIA who will lead us towards counterterrorism policies that reflect and respect Americans’ deep faith in our Constitution. I don’t believe John Brennan is the right person for that challenge."
Brennan was confirmed by a 63-34 vote.
[Jeff Merkley via Flickr user Medill DC, Creative Commons licensed]