WASHINGTON: Protesters denouncing U.S. drone attacks disrupted a Senate hearing Thursday on the nomination for the next CIA director, forcing police to clear the hall to keep demonstrators out.
“Stand up against drones,” yelled a protester, as President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the CIA, John Brennan, was repeatedly interrupted while trying to deliver his opening remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
After five separate disruptions, the chair of the panel, Dianne Feinstein, ordered police to clear the room and to bar the return of protesters from the anti-war “Code Pink” activist group, many of whom held up their hands with palms painted pink.
Brennan is widely seen as the architect of the large-scale covert drone war against Al-Qaeda, which Obama and his aides have declined to discuss openly.
Feinstein had barely lowered the gavel on the packed hearing when the first protester stood up and shouted. One demonstrator held up a handmade sign that read: “Brennan = drone killing.”
Minutes later another woman, holding up a crude dummy of a child, stood to decry drone attacks which she said have killed children.
“Senator Feinstein, are your children more important than the children of Pakistan and Yemen?” she yelled.
Brennan kept his cool, resuming his testimony when prompted by Feinstein. But the senator had seen enough and ordered the hearing evacuated except for reporters and staff.
“We welcome everyone here,” Feinstein said when quiet returned. “We expect no clapping, we expect no hissing, we expect no demonstrations. This is a very serious hearing.”
As police removed protesters and other guests from the hearing room, one woman shouted: “This is a war criminal. He should not be confirmed!” Medea Benjamin, a Code Pink co-founder, held up a red poster that read: “Reject Obama chief terrorist John Brennan.”
The “targeted killings” against suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere have been condemned by human rights groups as an illegal clandestine war.
But most lawmakers support the campaign as an effective way to counter Al-Qaeda extremists without deploying troops in risky military operations.
The Senate hearing resumed after the five-minute disruption. Brennan told the committee that he did not know whether harsh interrogation methods have produced valuable information – because of what he has read in a still-classified report on the issue.
He said that when he was a deputy manager at the Central Intelligence Agency, he was told the interrogation methods including waterboarding produced “valuable information.” But after reading the Senate committee’s report, he does not know what the truth is and needs to study it further.
Brennan said he was aware of the CIA’s interrogation program during the administration of President George W. Bush, but, in his words, “played no role in the creation, execution or oversight.”
He added that he shared misgivings about it with CIA personnel, but was in no position to stop it. He said he did not regret advising against a 1998 strike targeting Osama bin Laden a few months before the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.