Slatest PM: The Great Drone Awakening

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 7 2013 4:36 PM

Slatest PM: The Great Drone Awakening

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CodePink activists protest against John Brennan, the hard-nosed architect of the US drone war against Al-Qaeda, outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

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Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Obama's CIA Nominee Is In For a Long Day: New York Times: "As a new debate intensifies over the Obama administration’s targeted killing program, John O. Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to be C.I.A. director, acknowledged as his confirmation hearing began Thursday that there was 'widespread debate' about the administration’s 'current counterterrorism policies.' But, he said, the United States remains 'at war with Al Qaeda and its associated forces,' which 'still seek to carry out deadly strikes against our homeland and our citizens.' ... Brennan, who has wielded tremendous power as the president’s top White House counterterrorism adviser, was expected to face occasionally sharp questioning on a range of topics from members of the committee: from the drone campaign in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere to his role in the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program, which was carried out while he was a top official at the C.I.A."

The Drone Awakening: BuzzFeed: "A strange thing happened in America this week: The country started to show signs of outrage over the Obama administration's targeted killing program. ... This is The Drone Awakening many of Obama's fiercest civil liberties critics on both the left and right have been pushing toward: a public accounting of the legality and morality of a program that has gone on in secret for more than 10 years now. Drone strikes expanded exponentially under Obama, from 52 drone strikes under Bush to the Nobel Peace Prize winner's 311. ... But the recent eagerness to discuss drones — Obama authorized the release of more DOJ memos to Congress this week — isn't just a reminder of the administration's promised commitment to transparency. It's also an attempt to provide the legal cover for actions the administration has already taken as explanations are being demanded of them at home and abroad."

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Code Pink Does Its Code Pink Thing: The Hill: "Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was forced to clear the room during Thursday's confirmation hearing of CIA nominee John Brennan after protesters brought the proceedings to a halt. Protesters from the organization Code Pink rushed the witness table at the beginning of the hearing as Brennan took his seat before the Senate panel. After being warned by Feinstein against any further interruptions, the protesters continued to shout questions at Brennan about the U.S. armed drone program and his role in those efforts. Holding homemade placards with the faces of those allegedly killed during those strikes, the protesters continued to shout insults at Brennan. After interrupting Brennan's opening statement for the third time, Feinstein ordered the Capitol Police to escort the protesters and the rest of the gallery out of the hearing room."

Talking Torture, Er, Harsh Interrogation Techniques: Washington Post: "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. In response to questions from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, Brennan acknowledged that some 'valuable intelligence' came out of sessions in which a key al-Qaeda member was subjected to the technique known as 'waterboarding.' When Chambliss suggested that, in Brennan’s view, it was 'better to kill them with a drone' than for the CIA to detain terrorists, Brennan said, 'I never believe it’s better to kill a terrorist than to detain him.' 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.'"

Meanwhile: Washington Post: "The Pentagon’s top leaders testified Thursday that they favored supplying weapons to rebels engaged in a civil war with the Syrian government, something the White House has resolutely opposed. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made only a brief mention of their stance on Syria during a hearing called by the Senate Armed Services Committee to investigate the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, last year."

Happy Thursday and welcome to The Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees and the whole team at @slatest.

The L.A. Manhunt: Los Angeles Times: "As the search continued Thursday for a former police officer suspected of a double homicide and shooting three police officers, one fatally, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck called the situation 'extremely worrisome and scary.' Beck said suspect Christoper Jordan Dorner, 33, had multiple weapons at his disposal, including an assault rifle, and called the ex-LAPD officer and former Navy reserve lieutenant 'armed and extremely dangerous.' 'Of course he knows what he's doing — we trained him,' Beck told reporters Thursday morning. 'It is extremely worrisome and scary, especially to the police officers involved.' When asked what he might say to Dorner, Beck replied: 'I would tell him to turn himself in. This has gone far enough. No one else needs to die.'"

A Storm's a-Comin': Associated Press: "People in the Northeast stocked up on food and supplies and road crews readied salt and sand Thursday as the region braced for a major winter storm that could bring up to 2 feet of snow to places that haven't seen significant accumulations in more than a year. The National Weather Service said most of southern New England could see anywhere from 18-24 inches between Friday and Saturday, and some other forecasts cautioned that totals could be even higher. Suffolk County in New York was under a blizzard watch, as were parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. New York City was expecting between 4 and 6 inches of snow. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said plows and 250,000 tons of salt were being put on standby to start clearing the streets."

Obama Talks Big: Reuters: "President Barack Obama told congressional Democrats on Thursday he is willing to agree to a 'big deal' with Congress on spending cuts and tax reforms to end uncertainty over the U.S. budget deficit, but insisted that new revenues be part of the package. 'I am prepared, eager and anxious to do a big deal, a big package, that ends this governance by crisis where every two weeks, or every two months, or every six months, we are threatening this hard-won recovery,' Obama told House of Representatives Democrats attending a three-day retreat. In a foreshadowing of more budget battles to come, Obama said he would insist that taxes be raised by closing loopholes that benefit the wealthy, as a way to raise money for spending projects."

Menendez Under the Microscope: Washington Post: "Sen. Robert Menendez raised concerns with top federal health-care officials twice in recent years about their finding that a Florida eye doctor—a close friend and major campaign donor — had overbilled the government by $8.9 million for care at his clinic, Menendez aides said Wednesday. Menendez (D-N.J.) initially contacted federal officials in 2009 about the government’s audit of Salomon Melgen, complaining to the director overseeing Medicare payments that it was unfair to penalize the doctor because the billing rules were ambiguous, the aides said. ... Menendez, who became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month, is under scrutiny because of his close relationship with Melgen. The doctor donated more than $700,000 last year to Menendez’s reelection campaign and other Senate Democrats. And when Melgen needed help with a port security contract in the Dominican Republic last year, Menendez urged U.S. officials to press the country to carry out the multimillion-dollar agreement."

Something Else To Worry About: Wall Street Journal: "Japan said Russian fighter jets intruded on its airspace for the first time in five years, raising tensions between the two countries at the same time that Tokyo is engaged in a similar high-stakes tangle with China. Russia quickly denied Japan's accusation, but the simultaneous spats on both Japan's northern and southern borders underscore the regional security challenges faced by a new Japanese prime minister elected on a promise to toughen his country's defense of its islands. It comes as the U.S.—Japan's chief military ally—has vowed to raise its presence in Asia, but the U.S. also is facing across-the-board budget cuts and seeking to reduce its global military footprint as it winds down a decade of wars."

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