White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan was once considered a potential pick for head of the Central Intelligence Agency, before questions about his association with the torture and rendition policies of the prior administration made consideration of him for that post controversial. Brennan eventually withdrew himself from consideration, although he arguably took up a more powerful position and influential position in the White House. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he repudiated those methods (emphasis mine):

[T]o refocus the fight against those who attacked our embassies in Africa eleven years ago tomorrow and our homeland eight years ago next month, the President is proceeding with his plan to end the war in Iraq and to defeat al Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And to ensure that our counterterrorism efforts strengthen our national security—and not undermine it—he banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, is proceeding with a new plan to swiftly and certainly deal with detainees, and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.


At the same time, I have seen—we all have seen—how our fight against terrorists sometimes led us to stray from our ideals as a nation. Tactics such as waterboarding were not in keeping with our values as Americans, and these practices have been rightly terminated and should not, and will not, happen again.

I believe President Obama is absolutely correct: such practices not only fail to advance our counterterrorism efforts, they actually set back our efforts. They are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security.

Interestingly enough, he didn't mention disclosure of the prior administration's legal rationale for torture as part of Obama's "strengthening" national security. Brennan was reported to have lobbied against disclosure. This is certainly an about face from prior comments Brennan made about these programs in the past. Brennan once described extraordinary rendition--the process of giving terrorist suspects to countries where they will be tortured--as "absolutely vital tool" and said it " saved lives." He also defended "enhanced interrogation," arguing that "a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives." Today, he's taking the administration line.

-- A. Serwer

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