Hardball | February 07, 2013
>>> defending the drones. let's play "hardball."
>>> good evening. i'm michael smerconiummer komerconish to f or chris matthews . secrets and spies. the man who is at the center of the national debate over the targeted killing of americans overseas has been in the hot seat on capitol hill . among other things john brennan coordinates the kill list and so his confirmation hearing to become head of the cia is drawing an unusual amount of interest and attention. we'll get to what he said and the reaction at the top of the show.
>>> also, more and more people on the right are asking, who is karl rove and why should we listen to him anymore? rove wants electable republicans nominated. the tea partiers want their people in. real right wingers and they're trashing rove and establishment republicans in the process.
>>> plus, you've probably heard that chuck hagel once said the following, quote, the jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. i'm not an israeli senator. i'm a united states senator . but what you probably haven't heard is the rest of that interview and why some people who know what hagel really said aren't angry with him at all.
>>> and why is chris christie talking so much about his weight? maybe because he wants to talk about it on his terms and why might that be? because perhaps he's running for president.
>>> finally, the recently fired dick morris admits he was wrong at the top of his lungs last november. that's fine, but was he really wrong in predicting a romney landslide or did he know what was coming an decide that's what fox viewers wanted to hear?
>>> we begin with the debate over the drones. robin wright is a scholar at the woodrow wilson center . news weekes's dan clademan is the author of constitution kill or capture." john brennan 's confirmation hearing this afternoon started out with some fireworks. anti-war protesters interrupted the proceedings five times accusing the cia of causing huge agets of collateral damage with drone strikes. the committee's chair dianne feinstein eventually cleared the room. later, brennan cited the protesters when he address what had he called a misperception about the goal of the drone strikes. let's listen.
>> i think there is a misimpression on the part of some american people who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. nothing could be further from the truth. we only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative to taking an action that's going to mitigate that threat. so we need to make sure there is an understanding and the people that were standing up here today, i think they really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government and the care that we take and the agony that we go through to make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths.
>> robin, when he described this as a last resort to save lives, one reaction i had is among the lives we save when we use drones are those of troops who otherwise would be going into harm's way.
>> absolutely. i lived in beirut when jesse jackson had to hold his nose and go to damascus to beg for the release of an american pilot who had been shot down by the syrians. drones are clearly the wave of the future because they save american lives but they're also effective for surveillance. they have far greater use than simply the kind of fighters we've used, and we actually also use them for domestic purposes. they were reportedly used in the case of the 5-year-old who was held in alabama. they have been used for weather. there are an estimated 8,000 drones so although it's part of the most secret program, military program, we have, there are also other uses.
>> which starts to frighten folks domestically 37 good thing with the outcome of that alabama case but some folks think their civil liberties are about to be infringed upon at home. dan , i know from your reporting and the book you wrote there, was more debate within this administration about the transparency aspect of it than there was whether they would engage in a drone program. explain that.
>> well, that's exactly right, and that comes up significantly in the case of anwar al awlaki, the american citizen and yemeni member of al qaeda in the arabian peninsula in yemen who we killed, the united states government killed. in that particular case the president really didn't have any qualms about going after him. he thought al awlaki was a senior member of an enemy force who was bept on attacking america and this it would be a lawful act of war . the real debate inside the administration surrounded this question of whether they ought to talk publicly about the legal rationale, the justification for going after an american citizen . and there was a lot of debate about it. ultimately the decision was not to release the justice department legal opinion . that's obviously. in the news a lot this week, and instead to send out the attorney general to give a speech laying out some of that. but the actual underlying act itself of killing an american citizen was not something that this president lost a lot of sleep over .
>> all right. there might not have been debate within the white house , but let's run through some of the criticisms that the drones have received. here is what stanley mcchrystal, the former commander of forces in afghanistan, told reuters last month. quote, the resentment created by american use of unmanned strikes is much greater than the average american appreciates. they are hated on a visceral level, even by people who have never seen one or seen the effects of one. another point, in "the l.a. times " today, columnist carol williams wrote, quote, imagine if north korea or iran or venezuela deployed thousands of unmanned surveillance aircraft in search of earthbound enemies, a swarm of robotic hunters armed with lethal weaponry and their government's go-head to exterminate targets. are either of those a convincing argument for you.
>> there are supposed lie 70 countries that have some kind of drone technology. but the drone is the instrument of the 21st century when it comes to air power , and that's a reality. the problem comes down to really the morality and the white house has put out three criteria, including is it an imminent threat . if it were delayed, would it cause greater risk, and is there no other alternative? the problem is those always involve subjective judgments. it's the same thing as firing a gun. in the eyes of the person who holds the weapon and it isn't always a balanced perception, and the truth is that the drones have generated enormous backlash in pakistan particularly where the united states has used them the most as well as in yemen, the second highest number of targets.
>> dan , robin mentions the morality of it. i hear often from radio listeners who sense a hypocrisy in what they see the obama administration being critical of harsh interrogation methods but going along with the drone program. is there some inherent hypocrisy in that?
>> well, there was an interesting statistic in the first year of the obama administration. i think -- or perhaps over the first couple of years in the administration. he authorized more drone strikes and more people were killed in drone strikes that he authorized than the total number of people that had before passed through guantanamo bay . that crystallizes that hypocrisy people talk about.
>> you could also argue that we know drone strikes work. you know, the jury still seems like it's out with regard to hash shall interrogation metz thod but drone strikes work.
>> in terms of the morality, you know, if you determine that there are threats out there, there are bad guys that you need to take off the battlefield but you can't go there, you can't go to pakistan, you can't go to certain places, then what alternative do you have if you can't capture them. nornd, once you have detained suspected terrorists, there are all sorts of international laws , the laws of war, the geneva conventions that say you can't touch the person, you can't, you know, punch the person in the nose let alone kill the pern --
>> on this subject of torture, john brennan was a top official at the cia when the agency was involved with waterboarding detainees. here is what he told senators today when asked about his role in the program.
>> i was aware of the program. i was cc'd on some of the documents but i had no oversight of it. i had expressed my personal objections and views to my -- some agency colleagues about certain of those eits such as waterboarding , nudity, and others where i were fessed my personal objections but i did not try to stop it because it was something that was being done in a different part of the nnan y under the authority of refused to label waterboarding torture under questioning from senator carl levin .
>> my question is this, in your opinion, does waterboarding constitute torture?
>> the attorney general has referred to waterboarding as torture. the attorney general, premiere law enforcement officer and lawyer of this country. and as you well know and as we have had the discussion, senator, the term torture has a lot of legal and political inl plications.
>> do you have a personal opinion as to whether waterboarding is torture.
>> i have a personal opinion it's something that is reprehensible and should not be done.
>> back in 2007 he told cbs that the interrogation program had provided some useful information.
>> there have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedure that is the agency has, nskt, used against the real hard core terrorists. it has saved lives.
>> inconsistencies robin in what you just heard? is that a consistent narrative from mr. brennan ?
>> not completely obviously saying sometimes it produces information and sometimes it isn't --
>> not enough to derail this nomination.
>> i don't think so. i think brennan probably compared with hagel is going to be a breeze to get through, but these are issues and this is what this testimony actually illustrates, that really tug at the heartstrings of americans. we have had a traumatic decade. we have come away questioning tactics of torture, the use of guantanamo bay . the legal justification not fully understood. the drone issue still not fully explained because it's so secret. there's still a lot the american public is struggling to understand.
>> dan , one reaction that i have relative to the whole standard of when we could take out even an american is, you know, be careful before you make your decision based on the occupant of the white house because precedent is being set here, and whatever the drill might be for today could apply to president clinton in 2016 . it could apply to president rubio in 2017 i guess i should say.
>> you're exactly right, michael. i think this president actually is fairly sensitive to precedent. you know, it's interesting, he has sort of supreme confidence in his own ability to handle power well and responsibly. he's less confident about those w40 who would come after him, and that's part of the reason that he is sort of tasked john brennan to put together what brennan has called a playbook to kind of codify and institutionalize the --
>> a set of standards.
>> and procedures for targeted killing . it willing interesting to see how he does that when he's helm of the cia .
>> thank you dan and robin. we appreciate you being here.
>>> coming up, the republicans' civil war . it's karl rove against the tea party and democrats, they couldn't be happier. this is "hardball," the place for