WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA may face sharp questions about U.S. policy on targeted killings when his Senate confirmation hearings begin Thursday, and some of the pressure may come from the president’s own Democratic Party.
John Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, is likely to be cross-examined about a leaked Justice Department memo justifying the use of drones to kill U.S. citizens and face tough questions about reports that the spy agency is secretly launching drones from an air base in Saudi Arabia to target alleged terrorist leaders in Yemen.
Several senators have indicated that they are not satisfied with the administration’s response to their requests for information on the matter, and say the 2011 paper from the Justice Department does not adequately explain the legal basis for the policy.
Eleven senators, eight of them Democrats, sent a letter to the president asking for the original classified opinions on the program’s legality.
“Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them," said Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregan) in a written statement.
Wyden says he has several other questions for Brennan, such as the amount of evidence needed to decide that a particular American is part of a terrorist group and whether the president must provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender.
Last April, Brennan, recognized as the architect of the White House strategy on targeted killings, said the Obama administration’s policy is legal, ethical and wise.
“There are still terrorists in hard-to-reach places who are actively planning attacks against us," said Brennan. "If given the chance, they will gladly strike again and kill more of our citizens. And the president has a constitutional and solemn obligation to do everything in his power to protect the safety and security of the American people.”
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the methods the United States uses to target al-Qaida leaders are designed to avoid civilian casualties.
“I think it is fair to say that far fewer civilians lose their lives in an effort to go after senior leadership in al-Qaida, along the lines that we are discussing here, as opposed to an effort to invade a country with hundreds of thousands of troops and take cities and towns,” he said.
Some lawmakers have said they want to know whether the drone attacks are used as a recruiting tool by al-Qaida and other anti-American groups.