Fordham University has chosen John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser and former CIA official, to deliver its 167th commencement address.
Brennan has defended the use of torture by the United States, as well as the U.S. secret prison system throughout the world. He has also openly endorsed the United States’ rendition policies, which effectively circumvent due process and habeas corpus and outsource America’s torture regime to client states.
Even worse, Brennan was complicit in the unlawful and immoral launching of the Iraq War through his work under then-CIA director George Tenet, as eloquently articulated in fellow Fordham alumnus and former CIA officer Ray McGovern’s recent letter to the editor in The Ram.[i]
Brennan was also instrumental, as reported by NPR, in Obama’s decision to grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies who were complicit in illegally spying on American citizens, thus shielding them from prosecution and allowing them to continue their role in violating American citizens’ fourth amendment rights to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.[ii]
Unfortunately, Brennan’s utter lack of respect for the rule of law in granting the telecom agencies retroactive immunity is not nearly as egregious as his prominent support for the Obama administration’s broad interpretation of executive power that grants the president the right to order the assassination of U.S. citizens without a shred of due process. According to McGovern, “Brennan is now the administration’s strongest advocate of extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens by drones.”[iii]
In fact, Brennan has supported the CIA’s drone campaign more broadly. In late June of 2011, with regard to the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan, Brennan made the outrageously disingenuous claim that “in the last year, ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, [and] precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” insisting that “if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.”[iv]
Shortly thereafter, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) conducted a study using very conservative research methods in which they were able to identify 10 separate attacks in which a total of 45 civilians were killed, including six children, during the year preceding Brennan’s statement. The BIJ also noted that there were “at least 15 other strikes that warranted urgent investigation.”[v]
The BIJ estimates U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed as many as 775 civilians, including 168 children, since 2004.[vi] The CIA has also used drones strikes in Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, accounting for an unknown, yet surely much larger number of civilians casualties. There have also been strong allegations that the CIA has used follow up drone attacks to target mourners and rescuers of the initial attacks.[vii]
In covering the carnage caused by the American drone campaign Noor Behram, a British photojournalist, said, "For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant. I don't go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed."[viii] Brennan’s defense of such a policy is simply inexcusable.
By choosing John Brennan as the speaker for its 2012 commencement ceremonies, Fordham University is implicitly endorsing the “War on Terror,” the use of rendition, the CIA’s heinous drone campaign, and the subversion of the rule of law in America, including the assassination of its own citizens.
As a member of the class of 2012, I strongly condemn such an endorsement and would like it to be known that John Brennan does not represent the Jesuit values that I have developed as a student at Fordham University.