CIA nominee defends drone strikes

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John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Thursday defended drone strikes against terrorist targets but insisted that it was better to detain terrorists than kill them.

Appearing at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Brennan also rebutted accusations that he did not follow through on his concerns about harsh interrogation techniques by taking his reservations to superiors in the CIA.

Brennan said the United States employs drone strikes only as a deterrent against imminent terrorist threats, not as punishment for previous actions. He firmly defended the controversial attacks that have killed three Americans and an unknown number of foreigners.

But in response to questions from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Brennan disputed the suggestion that it was "better to kill with a drone" than for the CIA to detain them.

"I never believe it's better to kill a terrorist than to detain him," Brennan said. He said he did not want the CIA to be in the detention business, but that detaining and interrogating terrorists could produce valuable information to prevent further attacks.

As Brennan began testifying, he was repeatedly interrupted by anti-war protesters, who were escorted out by guards.

Brennan, 57, a 25-year veteran of the CIA who currently serves as Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, appeared before the panel after submitting written testimony in which he defended drone strikes and warned of continuing threats from al-Qaida, cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation.

Brennan told senators that drone strikes against terrorist targets meet "rigorous standards" and that no new legislation is needed to govern them.

In opening the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said it was important to "ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values." She expressed concern about civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Answering questions from Chambliss, Brennan acknowledged that some "valuable intelligence" came out of sessions in which a key al-Qaida member was subjected to the technique known as "waterboarding." But later in the hearing, Brennan backtracked on whether harsh interrogation practices were useful.

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