Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined on Wednesday to discuss whether during a closed-door hearing he called for a suspected terrorist to be killed.
But Burr, who took over the committee in January, said it was better to capture terrorists when possible.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch this week raised concerns that Burr in 2013 had, according to a New York Times report, called for the CIA to hunt down and kill Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, an American citizen who allegedly was a top al Qaida operative.
The groups said Congress, including Burr, had failed in its oversight role by promoting the killing of a person instead of demanding a court hearing.
The New York Times this past Sunday reported that Burr and then-Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., had said behind closed doors that the CIA was too timid and that al Farekh ought to be killed. The report didn’t give the source.
Burr said in an interview on Wednesday that he wouldn’t address what was said in a closed hearing, “especially an unidentified individual’s comments.” He said he couldn’t correct what was said about intelligence matters, but added, “It’s amazing how many people are in our meetings. I’ve read quite a few (comments) this week that I’m going, ‘I don’t know where they got this from, but it ain’t anywhere near right.’”
“But I’ll say this,” the intelligence committee chairman added, “that it’s our preference to always take into custody any people we believe are terrorists and might be valuable to us from an intelligence standpoint. He would certainly fall into that category.
“In the absence of the ability to capture an individual,” Burr continued, “if they are involved operationally in terrorism in a way that would put Americans’ lives in jeopardy or security domestically in question, then I believe we have an obligation to eliminate that threat and there are times where we make decisions that individuals are geographically located in a place that we can’t get to them.”
He cited problems of sovereignty issues and the risk of putting “too many lives in jeopardy” to try to capture a suspect.
Al Farekh was captured by Pakistani forces and faces trial in the United States.
“Whether there’s any intelligence value there, that’s up to the experts to determine,” Burr said.
He declined to comment on the CIA’s covert drone strike program or confirm its existence, but said: “I think the methods we use around the world are effective at disrupting and eliminating the leadership of terrorist organizations.”
“I believe we do an incredibly effective oversight job on all of the CIA’s programs,” Burr said. “And there is no program that receives the level of oversight as the ones we carry out in Pakistan.”