Ingrid Burke, RAPSI

A Senate confirmation hearing for the directorship of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) temporarily descended into chaos yesterday as anti-drone protesters took turns hollering abuses at nominee John Brennan over the Obama administration’s drone strike policy.

Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the CIA, was nominated by President Barrack Obama last month to fill the CIA directorship, which was vacated last year in the scandalous aftermath of the discovery of former director General David Petraus’ extramarital affair.

Introducing Brennan, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) emphasized the imperative of carrying out US intelligence without undermining the Rule of Law: “As the president said, the imperative to secure the nation must not come at the sacrifice of our laws or ideals. This needs never be an either/or choice. We can protect the nation and stay true to our principles.”

A great deal of controversy over the US policy of targeted killing, specifically by way of drone strikes, has resurfaced in the aftermath of the recent leak of a US Department of Justice (DOJ) document outlining the legal justification for targeting US citizens in lethal attacks abroad.

Thus drones were a hot topic in the lead up to the Brennan confirmation hearing. Taking in the audience at the start of proceedings, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) – presiding over the hearing – instructed the audience to avoid acting inappropriately, advising against “cheer[s]” and hiss[es].”

As Brennan took the floor to begin his opening statement, a woman in the audience clutching a sign that said “Brennan = drone killing,” launched into an only occasionally comprehensible tirade about drones, torture, and protecting soldiers. Feinstein promptly ordered the police to remove the woman who – clearly eager to make her 15 seconds in the spotlight count – continued hollering her discontents as she was escorted away from the hearing. As she left, several audience members lifted their hands in what appeared to be a gesture of solidarity. Feinstein then let it be known that she’d be happy to clear the room if the audience failed to control itself.

As he began singing the praises of his wife Kathy, a second protester began shouting abuses about a 16-year-old who was killed in a drone strike.

While his speech was largely inaudible in the Senate footage, it is likely he was referring to 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, who was killed in a drone strike while at an open-air restaurant in Yemen in the fall of 2011. Abdulrahman’s father Anwar al-Aulaqi, also a US citizen, had been killed by another drone strike in Yemen just over two weeks earlier, according to a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) against various high-ranking US defense and intelligence officials. Because of his age and US citizenship, Abdulrahman’s provoked a great deal of controversy with regard to the legal limits of the use of drone strikes by the US government.

This particular protester voiced concern with the fact that US tax dollars had funded the operation. He too was holding a sign, though its contents were not visible in the Senate footage. As he was escorted from the courtroom, he urged whoever it was his speech was targeting with urges to “stand up” against torture and drones.
Brennan didn’t appear entirely nonplussed as he picked up where he left off.

He began speaking – a bit more quickly this time – about his brother Tom and his children, who had endured a great deal of absenteeism due to the demands of his 25-year career with the CIA.

As a third protester stood up on her chair, yelling as loud as she could that she was there to speak as a mother, Brennan fell silent and dropped his hand, apparently to hold his spot on the page as a third police escort was organized.

The woman, wearing a heart the size of her torso on her back and holding up what appeared to be a monkey doll, roared about drone strikes in “Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia … Who else? Who else? Where else?” No one in the audience seemed ready to jump in and remind her. She put up a bit of a fight as two male police officers endeavored to drag her from the hearing room, lambasting the CIA and Obama administration for keeping Congress out of the loop with regard to its drone strikes.
As Feinstein laughingly asked the police to expedite the removal, the woman charged: “Senator Feinstein, are our children more important than the children of Pakistan and Yemen?... Do your job! World peace depends on it!”

Feinstein then warned that pending one more outcry, she would clear the hearing room.

Perhaps realizing at this point that these protesters almost certainly lacked the credibility to derail his nomination, Brennan began again – more collected this time.

Another protester promptly decided to accept Feinstein’s challenge. As Brennan began talking about his parents – Irish immigrants, both in their 90s – another woman began yelling that she had a list of all of the names of what we can assume are drone strike victims – although the bulk of her speech was stifled. She gripped a list longer than she was tall.

As the woman was escorted from the courtroom, Feinstein declared a recess and instructed security to refuse the reentry of any Code Pink activists into the hearing.

Code Pink has made waves in recent months for its increasingly raucous displays of outrage over US drone policy. On its website, the organization describes itself as, “a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.”