Brennan maintains CIA should stay out of the detention business

White House Counter-terrorism Adviser and nominee for CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7, 2013. SOURCE:

John Brennan, the White House Counter-terrorism Adviser and nominee for CIA Director, maintained that the Central Intelligence Agency should adhere to President Barack Obama’s 2009 executive order and stay out of the business of running detention facilities.

The 2009 executive order prohibited the CIA from operating detention facilities following widespread reports of the agency’s mismanagement of “black sites” prisons and detainee abuses, including allegations of torture.

Since then, the CIA has relied on the following three options for interrogating suspected terrorists:

1. U.S. military’s detention program, including detaining suspects onboard naval vessels for interrogation;

2. FBI’s interrogation program, including detaining suspects on U.S. soil if they are indicted on federal charges;

3. Partnering with foreign governments that apprehend and hold terrorist suspects in their jails. “In fact, most of the interrogations are taking place of terrorist who have been taken off the battlefields in many other countries,” said Brennan. He noted that whenever possible, the CIA tries to seek direct access to the detainees in foreign custody to collect first-hand intelligence.

The agency, Brennan argued, should focus on advising U.S. military and FBI and partnering with foreign governments in their interrogations and debriefings of suspected terrorists and detainees.

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

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized the CIA’s growing reliance on foreign partners, citing the example of Ali Harzi, a man arrested by Tunisian authorities in connection with the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Harzi was released from custody after a Tunisian court found no legal basis to hold him.

“That doesn’t sound like a good working system with our foreign partners,” Rubio challenged.

Brennan responded, “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.”

Rubio pressed on: “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.”

Brennan reminded Rubio that the U.S. has to respect other countries’ sovereignty – or ability to govern their own countries without external interferences – including how they handle terrorist suspects.

“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,” said Brennan. “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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