Transcript: Sen. Carl Levin’s Q&A on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Carl Levin’s Q&A on the nomination of White House Counter-Terrorism Adviser John Brennan as the next CIA Director. The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was held on Feb. 7, 2013:

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
…You’ve said publicly that you believe waterboarding is inconsistent with American values; it’s something that should be prohibited; goes beyond the bound of what a civilized society should employ. My question is this. In your opinion does waterboarding constitute torture?

John Brennan:
The Attorney General has referred to waterboarding as torture. Many people have referred to it as torture. Attorney General, the premier of law enforcement officer and lawyer of this country. As you well know when we’ve had the discussions, Senator, the term torture has a lot of legal and political implications. It is something that should have been banned long ago; it never should have taken place in my view. And therefore, if I were to go to the CIA, it would never in fact be brought back.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Do you have a personal opinion as to whether why waterboarding is torture?

John Brennan:
I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and it’s something that should not be done. And again, I am not a lawyer, Senator, and I can’t address that question.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Well, you’ve read opinions as to whether or not waterboarding is torture, and…do you accept those opinions of the Attorney General?

John Brennan:
Senator, you know, I’ve read a lot of legal opinions and I read an Office of Legal Counsel opinion on the previous administration that said, in fact, waterboarding could be used. So from the standpoint of that, I cannot point to a single legal document on this issue. But as far as I’m concerned, waterboarding is something that never should have been employed, and as far as I’m concerned, never will be if I have anything to do with it.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Is waterboarding banned by the Geneva Conventions?

John Brennan:
I believe that the Attorney General also has said that it is contrary…of the Geneva Convention. Again, I am not a lawyer or legal scholar to make a determination about what is in violation of an international convention.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Mr. [Jose] Rodriguez, the former CIA Deputy Director for Operations, was asked about his personal moral or ethical perspectives on these enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He said that he knew of – these are his words – “I know that many of these procedures were applied to our own servicemen – tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers who’ve gone through this.”

Now, as we investigated at the Senate Armed Services Committee in our 2008 report, these so-called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape or SERE techniques referred to by Mr. Rodriguez were used to train members of our military, were never intended to be used by U.S. interrogators. These techniques were based on Chinese communist interrogation techniques used during the Korean War to elicit confessions, were developed to expose the U.S. and the use of training U.S. personnel in exposing them for a few moments to these techniques was meant to help them survive in the event they were captured, in the event they were subjected to these techniques.

My question to you is this: Is there any comparability between a friendly trainer – United States – exposing our troops to abuses these SERE techniques, including waterboarding, for a few moments, under close supervision – is there any possible comparability to that to using these techniques on an enemy in an effort to extract
intelligence?

John Brennan:
They’re for completely different intentions and purposes. I do not see any comparability there.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Now, the Chairman and I issued a report or made a statement on April 27, 2012 – began with a statement with Mr. Rodriguez. Here’s what he said: “Information provided by CIA detainees – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al Libbi – about Bin Laden’s courier being the lead information that eventually led to the location of Bin Laden’s compound and the operation that led to his death.” That’s what Rodriguez said. We said that statement is wrong. The original lead information had no connection to CIA detainees. The CIA had significant intelligence on the courier was collected from a variety of classified sources. While the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were used against KSM and Al Libbi, the pair provided false and misleading information during their time in CIA custody. Now, my question to you is are you aware of any intelligence information that supports Mr. Rodriguez’s claim that the lead information on the courier came from KSM and Al Libbi?

John Brennan:
I have not reviewed the intelligence thoroughly, but I am unaware of any.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Michael Hayden on May 3, 2011, former CIA Director said that “what we got – the original lead information began with information from CIA detainees at black sites.” The Chairman and I issued in the same statement the following that the statement of the [Hayden] was wrong. Do you have any information to disagree with our statement?

John Brennan:
I do not.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
…You don’t have any information to the contrary.

John Brennan:
Right.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Now, Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General – the Wall Street Journal: “Considering how the intelligence that led to Bin Laden came…began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under pressure…harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He lose the torrent of information including eventually the name of a trusted courier of Bin Laden.” Our statement, that of the Chairman and myself, is that that statement is wrong. You have any information to the contrary?

John Brennan:
Senator, my impression earlier on was that there was information that was provided that was useful and valuable. But as I’ve said, I’ve read now the first volume of your report, which raises questions about whether any of that information was accurate.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
But I’m not referring – not to the report but the statement that Chairman Feinstein and I issued on April 27, 2012. We flat out say that those statements are wrong. Do you have any basis to disagree with us?

John Brennan:
I do not.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Will you, when you become CIA Director assuming you’re confirmed, take the statement that we have issued and tell us whether or not you disagreed with any of the statements that we have made about those statements of those three men? Will you do that if you’re confirmed?

John Brennan:
I will look and consider that request, Senator. As I said, the report that this committee had put together, I need to take a look at what CIA’s response is to it. And that report raises serious questions about whether any worthwhile intelligence came from these individuals.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Will you include in your review a review of our joint statement and tell us after you review whether you disagree with anything that we’ve said? Will you do that?

John Brennan:
I would be happy to.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
There’s one final point and that has to do with a very famous document… that has to do with a cable that came in that relates to the so-called Atta matter. Are you familiar with that issue?

John Brennan:
Yes, I am, Senator.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
The issue is whether or not there ever was a meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta, who was one of the people who attacked the [World] Trade Center, and the Iraqi intelligence. The cable that came in has been classified by the CIA, even though the report – this is what CIA did to the cable. Will you check with the Czechs, who are the source of this cable, to see if they have any objection to the release of this cable relative to the report of that meeting?

John Brennan:
Yes, Senator, and since our courtesy call, I have looked into this issue. And I know that you and Director Petraeus were involved in it – in discussion on this, and I would be happy to follow up on it. But there did seem to be some concerns about release of that cable.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.):
Well, the report of the CIA, by the way – excuse me, the unclassified report of the intelligence committee, which was not classified, which was not redacted by the CIA, made at least 4 references to the Czech intelligence service providing the CIA with reporting based on a single source about this alleged meeting, which never took place. We knew it never took place. Yet, repeatedly…referenced to there was a report of a meeting between these two. Now, it’s very significant to the historical record here. We went to war based on allegations that there was a relationship between Iraq and the attackers of the 9/11 attack. It’s very important that this cable be de-classified. The only reason to keep it redacted and classified, frankly, is to protect an administration – not to protect sources and methods. Because the sources and methods – if you will check with the Czechs, I’m sure they will tell you they have no objection to the release of that cable. My question to you: Will you check with the Czechs, if you’re confirmed,
and determine whether they have any objection to the release of the cable which makes reference to them?

John Brennan:
Absolutely, Senator.

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