msnbc | February 06, 2013
>>> some members of congress want etch more information on the president's controversial drone program. now that it's been revealed that the justice department says it's legal to kill abroad if they are suspected of being terrorists but the white house says it's necessary.
>> we only take these kinds of actions when there's an imminent threat , when capture is not feasible and when we are confident that we are doing so in a way that's consistent with federal and international law .
>> these strikes are legal. they are ethical and they are wise.
>> legal, ethical and wise. joining me now is general barry mccaffery. let's talk about the fine line between doing what's legal here and what's right. are these drone killings making our country safer?
>> well, first of all, i think it's a legitimate debate and congress should be engaged with oversight of both the cia and the department of defense . i think the discussion is probably helpful. having said that, thomas, you know, we've killed more than 3,000 jihadists in the last several years of these drone campaigns, hundreds of strikes. they were running them out of iraq, afghanistan , yemen, you name it. they've been an important tool to keeping the american people safe. so i think we should keep in mind that these are not law enforcement operations. they're acts of war against a terrorist threat to the united states .
>> so the drone program, if we look at it, it has ramped up under the president. there have been 400 -- more than 400 cia strikes against targets in pakistan and yemen. as we look back over history, that's eight times as many under president bush . now, the drone attacks, they often have collateral damage. they kill civilians. so doesn't that strain the ongoing future relations between the u.s. and countries where these attacks are taking place, because aren't we creating more problems for themselves when a civilian is killed and they dedicate themselves to trying to retaliate.
>> i think it's a legitimate concern. the laws of warfare, the four major principles essentially deal with avoiding excessive civilian casualties . so i think there is a requirement for some real diligence and caution in how we carry these out. one of the arguments i heard is we're targeting people we don't really even know their names. for gosh sakes, i crawled around in the mud trying to shoot it out with people 20 feet away in combat and didn't know their names. these are imminent terrorist threats to the united states ' security. so again, it's a legitimate debate. we should be cautious. but it's a lot more targeted and surgical by far than shooting artillery at taliban units in eastern afghanistan .
>> as we wait, lawmakers are going to be grilling john brennan , the architect of this policy during his confirmation hearings for cia director , and that's coming up tomorrow. do you think that this is going to have a big impact , a lot of questions during that confirmation directly on this?
>> brennan was put on the grill before over the so called torture memos. he's a career cia officer. he's a magnificent public servant. he's extremely knowledgeable. i'm sure he will be questioned closely about all this. and that's appropriate. having said that, he's not the architect of anything. this is a responsibility the commander in chief, the secretary of defense and the cia director . so that's who we ought to hold accountable.
>> are drone strikes the future?
>> well, all the other nations are now building drones. and so again, there's precedence here that we should be concerned about. because this sort of tool will be use against us in the coming decades. having said that, we've got to protect the american people . we have decimated al qaeda globally. it's astonishing how well we have done against a lot of these people. a lot of that was during a drawdown of conventional military power in iraq and afghanistan . arguably the obama team has done an excellent job of keeping the american people safe.
>> sir, it's always great to see you. thank you.
>> good to be with you.