msnbc | February 10, 2013
>>> your view seems to be that even if we could save american lives by detaining more terrorists using only traditional techniques, it would be better to kill them with a drone or let them go free rather than detain them. can you explain the logic in that argument?
>> well, i respectfully disagree, senator. i never believe it's better to kill a terrorist than to detain him.
>> as president obama 's choice to head the cia was grilled by congress, the u.s. military is rebooting its leadership of our lod longest war . today, general john allen , the top u.s. and nato commander in afghanistan passed the torch to general joseph dumbford. the change of command happens as many question how the united states conducts its national security policy. i want to bring in retired army general barry mccaffrey . good to see you.
>> good to be here.
>> we should note the general is also the former assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs as well. for many, the public hearings raised the issue of targeted killings . what effect, if any, will all the talk and scrutiny have on u.s. policy on the ground?
>> well, i think it's a legitimate and helpful debate. you do want oversight by congress, you do want there to be known rules. you want to take into account international laws of war. however, we've killed almost 3,000 extremists, terrorist threats to the american people with these drones. these are not law enforcement operations. they are military and cia operations --
>> but general , we've also killed some civilians as well.
>> well, i think the collateral, so-called collateral damage , a terrible term for innocent victims, is much higher when you're using artillery in afghanistan than when you're using a predator or a reaper in a terrorist area. so, they're extremely carefully controlled. the damage to the innocent population is limited to the extreme. you know, craig, at the end of the day , we've got to be very cautious tying the hands of the president of the united states in foreign military operations .
>> but at the same time, don't we also have to figure out a way to balance civil liberties ?
>> well, i don't think there are any civil liberties engaged when we're targeting al qaeda or extremist terrorist operations overseas. that's probably the wrong term to use. we've got to remind ourselves, you know, we run 200, 300 u.s. killed and wounded in the military in eastern afghanistan , in southern afghanistan , on a monthly basis. they're fighting extremists. those operations also take place in somalia, yemen, western pakistan and other places where there's a known terrorist threat. i think the american targets is almost throwing us off the track of the real issue. very few americans, i think three have been killed in action targeting us. mostly, this is foreign extremists who are being targeted by the cia .
>> on this program yesterday, former cia lawyer vicky duvall raised questions over the administration's targeted killing policy. listen.
>> the problem here is that the president has been arcticing on his say so alone and those of his advisers, and in our system, we like to have a little bit better check on what's going on than just the say so of one branch of government.
>> former secretary of defense, robert gates , on cnn's " state of the union " this morning spoke up for a check on the president's ability to take on these attacks as well. take a listen to this.
>> i think some check on the ability of a president to do this has merit as we look to the longer-term future.
>> why not have a judicial or a congressional panel as part of the process , general ?
>> well, i think congressional oversight is absolutely required. we do that with cia operations in general anyway. and clearly, congress retains the power to fund or not fund programs, to impeach the president or senior officers of the government. we do want checks and balances, but congress is not a good decision-making branch for wartime operations, and seshlg essentially, that's what we're doing here, we're trying to keep another 9/11 from happening. and primarily, i might add, these aren't operations in canada and france.
>> we're talking ungoverned, lawless areas of the world.
>> peter baker , "the new york times" this morning, i'm sure you saw this. you wrote that president obama actually finds himself cast in a similar role to that of president george w. bush . "mr. obama has embraced some of mr. bush's approaches to counterterrorism right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces." why do you think president obama 's adopted some of the bush administration 's approaches to counterterrorism?
>> well, you know, i'm not sure i see the parallel to the extent that this article implies. i think obama 's been extremely careful in circumscribing the use of force . we made mistakes in the bush era at first, arrested u.s. citizens , held them, we made some mistakes, torture being the worst of the lot. so, i think the obama team's been mindful of that. they're trying to be careful. but at the end of the day , better you take soldiers out of afghanistan and iraq and allow the agency and the fbi to operate overseas. so, again, we ought to be careful. don't circumscribe the ability of the president of the united states to keep us safe, but do have congressional oversight .
>> general barry mccaffrey , we will leave it there. thank you. appreciate your time, as always.