While conservatives grapple with Obama’s nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department, the Left is struggling with Obama’s decision to nominate John Brennan as the new CIA Director. Dubbed the “Assassination Czar” by the far-left program Democracy Now, Brennan was Obama’s original choice to head the CIA when he was first elected in 2008. An uproar from the left, however, caused Brennan to withdraw his nomination. With reelection safely behind him, though, Obama clearly feels emboldened to push again for Brennan.
The left’s ire was particularly acute four years ago, because Brennan had been a high-level CIA official during the Bush Administration. At the time, the left was consumed with moral urgency to reverse many Bush anti-terror policies. Brennan was seen as a key player in the development of those policies.
Brennan spent years at the CIA and served as chief of staff to former director George Tenet during the creation of the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer described him as a “supporter” of the programs, which included torture and the use of secret prison “black sites.”
After he withdrew his name for consideration for the CIA job, Brennan was appointed by Obama to be his chief counter-terrorism advisor. In that role, he has overseen a sweeping expansion of the drone program and adoption of a “kill list,” where the President can order targeted assassinations of terrorists.
Brennan has helped construct and justify the Administration’s claim that it can kill people, including American citizens, abroad on its own authority, even when those people are not in countries with which we are at war. His speech in April was a sort of catechism, culminating in “targeted strikes are wise.” We have done it in Pakistan and Yemen; could we do it in London or Paris?
In the aftermath of Brennan’s nomination yesterday, the ACLU cautioned the Senate not to proceed with confirmation “until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program”. ACLU’s statement is telling, since the organization doesn’t usually take positions on nominees for the executive branch.
Obama’s decision to forge ahead with Brennan’s nomination suggests he feels he has a personal political mandate following his reelection. Brennan’s legacy hasn’t changed in the four years since his name was first floated as CIA Director. If anything, the civil libertarian critique of his record has strengthened, given the increased use of drone strikes and targeted assassinations.
Obama understands, however, that much of the left’s outrage directed against Bush wasn’t as much about his specific policies as his political affiliation. Obama has continued most of the Bush-era anti-terror policies, as even staunch leftists now wearily acknowledge.
Although I actively opposed Brennan’s CIA nomination in 2008, I can’t quite muster the energy or commitment to do so now. Indeed, the very idea that someone should be disqualified from service in the Obama administration because of involvement in and support for extremist Bush terrorism polices seems quaint and obsolete, given the great continuity between Bush and Obama on these issues. Whereas in 2008 it seemed uncertain in which direction Obama would go, making it important who wielded influence, that issue is now settled: Brennan is merely a symptom of Obama’s own extremism in these areas, not a cause. This continuity will continue with or without Brennan because they are, rather obviously, Obama’s preferred policies.
A tiredness usually settles in during a President’s second term. Even the left gets weary of its moral outrage. While the usual suspects are expressing outrage over Brennan’s nomination, his confirmation fight will likely end with a whimper. As Greenwald notes, these are “obviously Obama’s preferred policies.”
EDITORS’ PICKS:Governor’s former aide to fill Kerry’s Senate seat
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON | Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:13am EST
(Reuters) – John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, had detailed, contemporaneous knowledge of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on captured terrorism suspects during an earlier stint as a top spy agency official, according to multiple sources familiar with official records.
Those records, the sources said, show that Brennan was a regular recipient of CIA message traffic about controversial aspects of the agency’s counter-terrorism program after September 2001, including the use of “waterboarding.”
How deeply involved Brennan was in the program, and whether he vigorously objected to it at the time, as he has said he did, are likely to be central questions lawmakers raise at his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, scheduled for February 7.
By TAL KOPAN | 8/8/12 12:55 PM EDT
In the wake of recent mass shootings, the White House (under pressure from gun control advocates) has said it generally supports a federal assault weapons ban, though Congress is not moving in that direction. But if Congress were to act, would an assault weapons ban be constitutional?
Assault weapons bans have mostly been adjudicated in state courts thus far, where judges have generally been inclined to uphold them, according to Professor Adam Winkler of the UCLA School of Law. A federal ban, however, were it to end up before the Supreme Court, would most likely be evaluated in terms of the Second Amendment without much regard to state precedent, Winkler said.
The federal courts have not given much previous guidance on whether a federal assault weapons ban would pass Second Amendment muster, but Winkler says he suspects one would be upheld by the Supreme Court.
“In the Heller case, the courts said a handgun ban is not constitutional because handguns are in ‘common use,’” which is a common standard in jurisprudence, Winkler said. “A shoulder-launched missile is not in common use for self-defense; a machine gun is not in common use. The assault rifle is a slightly more difficult question. … I suspect [the court] would uphold such a ban, especially after such high-profile shootings. And I suspect that many judges, like many other people, would believe you don’t need an assault weapon for self-defense.”
In June 2010, the Supreme Court’s ruling in McDonald v. Chicago extended to states the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which held that a D.C. ban on owning handguns violated the Second Amendment. The decision in McDonald struck down Chicago and Oak Park’s handgun bans by incorporating the Second Amendment through the 14th. Since the invalidation of handgun bans, both pro- and anti-gun advocates have turned their attention to assault weapons bans.
And in Heller, Scalia, writing for the majority, seems to indicate that restrictions on certain types of weapons remain constitutional.
“The Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” Scalia wrote. But he also said a 1939 Supreme Court case, United States v. Miller, allows for limitations on the right to bear arms, “supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”
“We … read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns,” Scalia writes.
A follow-up to Heller, Heller v. District of Columbia (known as “Heller II”) challenged laws prohibiting large-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons. In October 2011, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled 2-1 to uphold those bans as constitutional, remanding certain registration requirements back to the lower court for further review. Judge Douglas Ginsburg, delivering the opinion of the court, used the logic of the first Heller to conclude some restrictions on the Second Amendment are constitutional. He says these restrictions must pass an “intermediate scrutiny test” — and the court found the assault weapons ban in question did.
“To pass muster under intermediate scrutiny the District must show [registration requirements] are ‘substantially related to an important governmental objective,’” and the means must be a “close fit” with the ends, Ginsburg writes.
Also working its way through the courts is Wilson v. Cook County, which challenges a Cook County, Ill., assault weapons ban. An Illinois appellate court was ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court to reconsider the case in light of the McDonald ruling. More…