Mitchell Reports | February 07, 2013
>>> president obama 's controversial rationale for targeted killings of americans in other countries has exposed at least the tip of the iceberg of the obama administration's war on al qaeda . daniel is national political correspondent "news week" and the daily beast and also the author of "kill or capture, the war on terror and the soul of the obama presidency." good to see you. thanks very much for joining us. you are right on point with the hearing. the subject of the hearing today. a couple of things you expose in your book. you right about the president having month qualms about killing al alaki in yemen. the american, of course, who was involved with allegedly involved with the christmas bomber. you said that he had become fixated on taking out the charismatic cleric, and you write that his focus was so intense that one of his briefers, general james cartwright , the former deputy national security advisor , thought that -- deputy joint chief of staff chair of the joint chief thought that the obama 's rhetoric was starting to sound like george w. bush 's, whom he had briefed on many occasions. what is clear that the president found the american citizenship 's immaterial. can you expand on that?
>> well, andrea, it was really striking to me as he was reporting the book, the president was really concerned and sort of twisted up about, you know, issues like preventive detention , indefinite detention or whether calling he'd shake mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind should be tried in a civilian court or a military commission , but on this issue of whether he could go after anwar al alaki, he really had no doubt. he lost no sleep. there might have been a lot of hand-ringing going on elsewhere, but not for the president. you have to remember many some ways al alaki, for president obama , was his bin laden . al qaeda , the court organization, had already been sort of knocked back on its heels. osama bin laden was not really capable of pulling off, you know, spectacular attacks. alaki had shown that he was really hell bent on attacking the homeland. he tried --
>> and he was operational. he was operational in a way that we did not believe bin laden was at that point.
>> absolutely. so the president, you know, his view was that, look, this is a lawful act of war . there is an imminent threat because al alaki had proven time and time again that he was trying to do this. he didn't lose a lot of sleep over it.
>> i'm fascinate bid your writing, your reporting on general cartwright, and also the countervailing force was how the former state department legal advisor , who is the dean of the law school , both before and since, well known and nationally known legal scholar , and you write about how he was really concerned about making sure had he the intelligence. he said he was queasier -- you write he was queasy about the whole operation, and if al alaki wasn't going to be able to defend himself in a court of law , then perhaps you write koh could at least insure the government's case was legitimate. he then spent five hours going over the intel himself. tell me about koh and his role in all of this.
>> well, harold koh was in some ways the sort of humanitarian within the obama administration arguing to make sure that these kinds of attacks were being done within a framework of law. you know, that didn't give him license to oppose every military action . koh was, in fact, the first member of the obama administration who went out publicly and defended the drone program. he did defend it and talk about how it was being done lawfully. then the administration -- before he did that, he already knew that the administration wanted to go after al alaki. going after an american citizen did give him pause. he was going to go and look at all the intelligence. he went into a secure room inside the state department , and for hours he spent, you know, going over all of this chilling intelligence about al alaki. he said many many ways for him the standard was iffing to be was this guy evil. not exactly a technical legal standard, but it needs to get over that bar. he walked out of that room and not just is this guy evil, but he is satanic. he said that it would be okay to go after al-awlaki. he did argue, however, that we should have been more transparent about the legal theories behind that attack than the administration chose to be. in fact, he was in favor of releasing the so-called white paper which is now been released and leaked.
>> and, dan, briefly on john brennan , john brennan is going to come before this committee within the hour and he is going to try to make the argument that he did not support enhanced interrogation techniques , ie, torture, when he is in fact on the record in 2006 and 2007 defending them.
>> yeah. other than drones, i think the drama in this hearing is going to be john brennan 's involvement such as it was in torture or coercive interrogation . there's no doubt that he was there at the time that this was being planned. there's no doubt that he was aware of it. he was in briefings. he was in meetings. he claims that he opposed it, that he quietly told people inside the agency, including his superiors, that he was against it. we haven't seen evidence of that yet. it will be interesting to see the extent to which the senators drove on this issue and trying to find out who the people were that he spoke to so he they could approve that he did, in fact, oppose the program.
>> thank you so much. thanks for being with us.