Obama's CIA nominee defends drone strikes

Washington, Feb 8 (IANS) President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has defended the dramatic rise in the use of drones against terror suspects that has run afoul of its key ally Pakistan.

John Brennan, who has served as Obama's top counterterrorism adviser and is considered to be the key architect of the drone programme, told his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday that the president "insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded".

Brennan was nominated to lead the US spy agency after the resignation of former Gen. David Petraeus over an extra-marital affair.

"My role as the president's counterterrorism adviser was to help to orchestrate this effort over the past four years to ensure, again, that any actions we take fully comport with our law," he told the Senate intelligence committee.

Decisions related to determining whether an individual was associated with Al Qaeda and that a threat was imminent to justify military force were made on a "case by case basis", Brennan told the committee in a written response to a query posed in advance.

An unclassified outline of the administration's policy given to Congress last summer indicated that the government could use lethal force against an American citizen overseas if the person was a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates and an attack was imminent.

Brennan also told the committee he was aware of the CIA's controversial enhanced interrogation techniques while serving as a top official at the agency during the previous Bush administration, but did nothing to stop them because he had no oversight role.

Brennan said he raised objections with colleagues to the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including water-boarding which have been decried by critics as torture, but denied any role in managing or enabling their use.

Asked if the controversial techniques yielded intelligence that saved lives, Brennan avoided a direct answer but repeated his insistence that such techniques would never happen under his watch.

Brennan served as the CIA's deputy executive director at the time.

Under persistent questioning by Democratic Senator Carl Levin, Brennan pledged that waterboarding -- or simulated drowning -- would never be used under his direction, but he refused to label it torture.

The hearing was temporarily halted at the start when protestors repeatedly interrupted Brennan's pening statement. Some waved signs accusing Brennan of war crimes because of the drone attacks.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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