CIA Director John Brennan said Wednesday that the next president could remove the restrictions President Obama has put on the use of drones overseas — and that the CIA might comply with an order to commit torture.
In April, Brennan told NBC News that the CIA would refuse an order to resume its torture program. But on Wednesday, speaking at a Brookings Institute event, he said he was just speaking on his own behalf.
“If a president were to order, order the agency to carry out waterboarding or something else, it’ll be up to the director of CIA and others within CIA to decide whether or not that, that direction and order is something that they can carry out in good conscience,” he said.
He added that he was personally opposed: “As long as I’m director of CIA, irrespective of what the president says, I’m not going to be the director of CIA who gives that order. They’ll have to find another director.”
Brennan did not acknowledge that Congress last year turned Obama’s anti-torture executive order into law, explicitly banning waterboarding and other forms of torture — and restricting the CIA in particular to interrogation methods listed in the Army Field Manual.
As for a possible expansion of drone strikes, current policy guidelines issued by President Obama in 2013 require “near certainty” on the part of the government “before lethal action is taken,” that “the terrorist target is present,” and that “noncombatants will not be injured or killed.” President Obama called that standard the “highest standard we can set.”
When The Intercept asked whether the CIA would abandon the “near certainty” standard if ordered to do so, Brennan said, “Any subsequent president can change” restrictions on drone targeting. “If this president or the next president decides to change existing directing policy guidance, it is the [Central Intelligence] Agency’s responsibility to carry out that direction.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has previously advocated for targeting the innocent family members of terrorist suspects, saying, “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself.”
Trump has also said he would bring back “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”