Nightly News   |  February 07, 2013

Brennan voices support for detaining terrorists

During his confirmation hearing to be director of the CIA, John Brennan reaffirmed his opposition to the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, and rejected suggestions that he’d rather kill a terrorist with a drone than detain him. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> now, back east to washington. john brennan , president obama 's choice to head the cia in the second term, was grilled by both democrats and republicans at a confirmation hearing today. and it got off to a raucous and noisy start, with protesters and questions about the agency's controversial drone policy and interrogation programs. nbc's andrea mitchell covering in our oh washington newsroom. andrea, it's not every day you hear the order oh to have the hearing room cleared.

>> reporter: not indeed. in fact, the senate historians said they can't recall this happening going back to the '60s and '70s. john brennan promised to be open to congress if he is confirmed to lead the cia . even as the white house still limited access to key documents in a hearing that did not get off to a smooth smart.

>> members of the committee, i'm honored to appear before you today. [ heckling ]

>> polilease remove this woman. we will recess.

>> reporter: when john brennan did get to testify, he said he opposed the harsh interrogations during the bush administration when he was at the cia . even though in 2007 , brennan said those enhanced interrogation techniques , known as eits, including waterboarding, saved lives.

>> what steps did you take to stop the cia from moving these techniques you found objectionable?

>> i did not take steps. i was not in the chain of command of that program. i had expressed my personal objections and views to my agency colleagues about certain eits where i professed my personal objections to it, but i did not try to stop it.

>> we have just not seen anybody who has come forward and say they heard any objections from you with respect to these programs.

>> reporter: also under scrutiny, targeted killings by drones, a policy greatly expanded under president obama , popular at home but causing a backlash around the world. brennan rejected suggestions that he would rather kill a terrorist with a drone than capture him.

>> i respectfully disagree, senator. i never believe it's better to kill a terrorist than to detain him.

>> reporter: president obama tried to remove a big obstacle to his aide's confirmation. finally today letting the senator see the legal memos justifying the targeting of al qaeda members overseas, even if they're americans. in addition to the administration's white paper disclosed this week by nbc's michael isikoff . but the senator still didn't get everything he wanted.

>> the committee stone walled on several other requests, particularly with respect to secret law .

>> reporter: john brennan enjoys an especially close relationship with the president, really a friendship, and he has worked with the intelligence committee for years, so he is likely to win approval, frustrating many who want more answers about the administration's use of drones. brian?

>> andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom tonight, thanks.