Silence and inaction can contribute to violence and abuse just as direct action can. History is replete with examples of men and women who have spoken out against the evils of their time, often at great personal and professional risk. While senior Bush administration officials orchestrated and oversaw a program of kidnapping, enforced disappearances, and torture in a global network of secret prisons, a number of FBI agents, CIA interrogators, and military officers opposed the use of torture and attempted to stop what they saw as a corruption of long-held American values.
When Army Sgt. Joseph Darby discovered photographs of members of his company torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, he chose not to remain silent and delivered them to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. When Alberto Mora, then the Navy general counsel, discovered the legal theories promoted by Bush administration lawyers that sought to justify torture, he vigorously campaigned against them. And when two officers in the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps, Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch and Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, realized they were expected to prosecute terrorism suspects using evidence obtained by torture, they refused. There are many more unsung heroes, some whose names are known and some we've never heard of but who nevertheless stood up for what was right in the face of overwhelming opposition.
The sad truth, however, is that far too many people in positions of power who knew that their government was violating both domestic and international law, and that torture and disappearances were morally repugnant and counterproductive, did nothing. The Senate committee already has at its disposal a 6,000-plus page classified study examining the CIA's program in depth. If that study contains information about Brennan's role, that information should immediately be made public.
When Obama considered nominating Brennan to be CIA director four years ago, a group of 200 psychologists and others wrote an open letter to the president opposing his nomination due to his support of the "dark side" of Bush administration policies. Brennan then indicated that he did not want to be considered for an intelligence position, believing his nomination would be too distracting. Instead, Obama made him chief counterterrorism advisor, which did not require confirmation.
As counterterrorism advisor, Brennan has continued to come under fire as a leading proponent of the U.S. targeted-killing program. But he also deserves credit for having advocated for the use of the civilian criminal justice system over fatally flawed military commissions in terrorism cases. He also sought to develop and articulate a clear legal rationale for targeted killings, and he advocated a return to the CIA's role of gathering intelligence instead of carrying out lethal operations.
But the Senate should look beyond the last four years in evaluating Brennan's record. The role Brennan played as a senior intelligence official during a period when the Bush administration and the CIA "took the gloves off" is essential information. The committee should not shrink from asking these questions.
If Brennan is confirmed, one of his first tasks will be to supervise declassification of the intelligence committee's report. A firm commitment from Brennan to declassify the report would go a long way toward showing whether he is fit for the job or whether, if faced with evil again, he would do nothing.