In the week before John Brennan's confirmation hearing, the conversation about the nominee to be CIA director was almost entirely about drones. The hearing itself mostly wasn't. Despite the release of the government's controversial justification for killing terrorists and American citizens with drones, and the revelation that the U.S. has a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia, Brennan got only a few questions about drones. For the most part, the three-hour hearing was about how much information the CIA shares with the Senate Intelligence Committee, whether the Obama administration inappropriately leaked information to reporters, and a rehashing of waterboarding, an important topic, but a dated one, because the U.S. doesn't waterboard people anymore.
Most drone-related questions were far from confrontational. Sen. John Rockefeller said drones would be used more and more, and wanted to know how the program "is going to have to be exact and directed and of particular excellence and exactitude. How will that happen?" Brennan said he would have the obligation to make sure all the programs ran effectively. Sen Ron Wyden asked if more information about drones could be declassified. Brennan said he was committed to being "as open as possible with these programs." Wyden asked what could be done to make people care a little more about drones: "What should be done next to ensure that public conversation about drones so that the American people are brought into this debate and have a full understanding of what rules the government is going to observe when it conducts targeted killings?" This very hearing, Brennan said: "I think this hearing is one of the things that can be done because I think this type of discourse between the executive and legislative branch is critically important." Flattery will get you everywhere with U.S. senators.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein even gave Brennan some help in making the drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki not so bad. "When people hear 'American citizen', they assume he's upstanding." But that's not always the case, right? she asked. The idea that we can deny a citizen due process if he's a bad guy would be pretty revolutionary in U.S. court. Brennan responded that al-Awlaki was no mere propagandist, but a terrorist.