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

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Marco Rubio’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. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
…In the 2007 CBS interview, you said that information obtained in interrogations have saved lives. And in September of 2011, you said in a speech at Harvard that whenever possible the preference of the administration is to take custody of individuals so that we can obtain information, which is “vital to the safety and security” of the American people.” So obviously, you believe that interrogations of terrorists can give us information that could prevent attacks in the future?

John Brennan:
Absolutely.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
But you don’t believe the CIA should be in the business of detention, correct?

John Brennan:
I agree.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
So who should be?

John Brennan:
Well, there are a number of options. The U.S. military, which maintains an active interrogation program – a detention program. The FBI, as part of its efforts on counter-terrorism. And our international partners in working with them, and that’s where, in fact, most of the interrogations are taking place of terrorists who have been taken off the battlefields in many other countries.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
So there are active interrogations occurring?

John Brennan:
Absolutely. Everyday.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
About the foreign partners that you talked about. Have you talked to folks in the CIA about their impressions about the quality of information we’re getting from our foreign partners?

John Brennan:
Yes, on a regular basis.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
And they’ve indicated – would it surprise you to know that some of them have indicated to us repeatedly over the last couple of years that I’ve been here that the information we get directly is much better than anything we get from our foreign partners on some of these issues?

John Brennan:
Right, and that’s why we work with our foreign partners so that we can have direct access to these individuals who’ve been detained.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Well, I’ll tell you why I’m concerned. Ali Ani al-Harzi…he’s a suspect in the Benghazi attack, and the Tunisians detained him, correct?

John Brennan:
Yes. He was taken into custody by the Tunisians.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Did we not ask for access to him to be able to interrogate him and find out information?

John Brennan:
Yes, and the Tunisians did not have a basis in their law to hold him.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
So they released him.

John Brennan:
They did.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Where is he? We don’t know.

John Brennan:
He’s still in Tunisia.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
That doesn’t sound like a good system working with our foreign partners?

John Brennan:
No, it’s not – it shows that the Tunisians are working with their rule of law as well as we do.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Well, we have someone who is a suspect in the attack on Benghazi. They didn’t give us access to him, and we don’t have any information from him.

John Brennan:
We work with our partners across-the-board, and when they are able to detain individuals according to their laws, we work to see if we can have the ability to ask them questions – sometimes indirectly and sometimes directly.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
So your point is that Tunisian law did not allow them hold them and therefore they let him go before we could get there to talk to him.

John Brennan:
And we didn’t have anything on him either because if we did, we would have made a point to the Tunisians to turn him over to us.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
What roles should the CIA play in interrogations?

John Brennan:
The CIA should be able to lend its full expertise as it does right now in terms of military interrogations, FBI debriefing and interrogations, and our foreign partner debriefings and they do that on a regular basis.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
And so what’s the best setting to do that in? For example, a suspected terrorist is captured and we think we can obtain information from them, where would they go? Where do you suggest they be taken, for example? What’s the right setting for it?

John Brennan:
There’s many different options as far as where they go. Sometimes it is with – in foreign partners. You know, they put the individuals in their jails and in their detention facilities, according to their laws and people could access that.

We’ve taken people, as we’ve done in the past, and put them on naval vessels and interrogate them for an extended period of time.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
So you think that’s the best setting is the naval vessel?

John Brennan:
No, I think…

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
From our perspective, leaving aside the foreign partners for a second. For us…

John Brennan:
I think each case requires a very unique and tailored response and that’s what we’ve done, whether somebody is picked up by a foreign partner, whether somebody’s picked up on the high seas or anywhere else. What we need to do is to see what are the conditions, what we have as far as the basis for their interrogation, what type of legal basis we have for that. So it’s very much tailored to the circumstances.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
When we detain a suspected terrorist, the purpose of the interrogation – I think you’d agree with the statement – the purpose of an interrogation is to develop information that could be used to disrupt terrorist activities and prevent attacks, correct?

John Brennan:
Without a doubt.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
It’s not to lay the case for a criminal conviction.

John Brennan:
Well, I think, you know, you want to take the person off the battlefield. You also want to get as much intelligence as possible. You don’t just want to get the information from somebody and then send them off. You need to be able to do something with them. And we’ve put people away for 99 years – for life – so that in fact they’re not able to hurt Americans ever again. So what you’d want to do is get the intelligence but also at the same time put them away so that justice can be done.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
I understand. But the number one priority, initially, is not necessarily to protect the record for criminal prosecution. It’s to obtain information so we act correctly…

John Brennan:
Absolutely right. Absolutely right.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Priority number two is to take them off the battlefield to ensure they can’t attack us in the future.

John Brennan:
Right… [overlapping audio]

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Why shouldn’t we have places where we interrogate people? For example, Guantanamo. Why shouldn’t we have a place to take people we have obtained? Is it not an incentive to kill them rather than to capture them if we don’t have…

John Brennan:
No, it’s never an incentive to kill them. And anytime we have encountered somebody, we have come up with, in fact, the route for them to take in order to be interrogated, debriefed, as well as prosecuted.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
So what – why is it a bad idea to have a place that we can take them to?

John Brennan:
It’s not a bad idea. We need to have those places, and again sometimes overseas, sometimes it might be a naval vessel, a lot of times it’s back here in the states, where we bring someone back because we, in fact, have a complaint on them, an indictment on them, and then we bring them into a Article III process so we can elicit information from them and put them away behind bars.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Is the Article III process in your mind an ideal way to develop this kind of information? Or are there limitations in the Article III process?

John Brennan:
I’m very proud of our system of laws here and the Article III process, and our track record is exceptionally strong over the past dozen years – couple of dozen years. So many terrorists have been in fact successfully prosecuted and will not…

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
No, I understand but in terms of – for our first priority is to develop information…

John Brennan:
Absolutely, FBI does a great job…

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
But in Article III setting is not the most conducive to that.

John Brennan:
I would disagree with that.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
…Immediately advise them about not cooperating and turning over information that would incriminate them.

John Brennan:
No. Again, it’s tailored to the circumstances. Sometimes, an individual will be Mirandized. Sometimes, they will not be Mirandized right away. Mirandizing an individual means only that the information that they give before cannot be used in an Article III court. But, in fact, the FBI do a great job as far as eliciting information after Mirandizing them and so they can get information as part of that type of negotiation with them – let them know they can, in fact, languish forever or we can in fact have a dialogue…

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
…This Harzi case that I talked about, you’re fully comfortable with this notion that because the Tunisians concluded that they didn’t have a legal basis to hold him we now lost the opportunity to interrogate someone that could have provided some significant information on the attack in Benghazi?

John Brennan:
Senator, you know, this country of America really needs to make sure that we are setting a standard, an example for the world. As far as the basis that we are going to, in fact, interrogate somebody, debrief somebody, we want to make sure we’re doing it in conjunction with our international partners. We also want to make sure that we have the
basis to do it so that we don’t have to face in the future challenges about how we in fact obtained the…

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
What is that law – you keep talking about the basis of our law. What law are you exactly talking about in terms of the basis of detaining someone? When you say that we want to make sure that we have a basis to -?

John Brennan:
Well, that’s right.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Based on which law are we talking about?

John Brennan:
Well, it all depends on the circumstances. Are we talking about law of wars detention authority, which the U.S. military has? Talking about Article III authority that the FBI has?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Right…

John Brennan:
CIA does not have, by statute, any type of detention authority.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
The point I’m trying to get at is – the truth of the matter is we don’t know if Harzi knew anything about the Benghazi attack. We don’t know if he knew about future attacks that are being planned by the same people because we never got to talk to him because Tunisia just said their laws wouldn’t let them hold him, which is an excuse we’ve heard in other parts of the world as well. And that doesn’t concern you that, you know, we weren’t able to obtain this information?

John Brennan:
We press our partners and foreign governments to hold individuals and to allow us access to it. Sometimes the laws do not allow that to happen. I think the United States government has to respect these governments’ right to, in fact, enforce their laws appropriately. What we don’t want to do is to have these individuals being held in some
type of custody that’s extrajudicial.

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