NOW with Alex Wagner | February 07, 2013
>>> less talk is centered on the legal at of the targeted killings of american citizens overseas. the larger question facing the u.s. revolves around its use of drones as the primary weapon in the war on terror . according to the u.k.-based bureau of investigative jurmism, which attempts to monitor the covert program, u.s. drone strikes have killed anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 people in pakistan as many as 1,000 in yemen and approximately 50 people in smol wra. among those targets are an estimated 1,600 civilians, though the real number aring as with many things drone-related is very difficult to discern. with us senior military correspondent with the huffington post , dave wood . dave, how are you, my friend?
>> i'll send this first question over to you as we talk about the importance of drones and u.s. military strikes. the numbers are nearly impossible to discern in terms of casualties in and around this. why -- i mean, there is skresy in the program, but how the u.s. military classifies a sdmrool we are talking about drones but we should be talking about killing. once the president determines that we're at war, it sort of hands over to the military the whole question of who do you kill and how? the fact is the drones are a useful technology if your job is to kill people. they're precise. they can establish a lot of good intels, but it's a tool. the real question is who are we killing and why? are we at war and are we not? it just lays out the legalward, and who are we trying to kill and why? that's the important question here.
>> it's amazing that we don't actually -- there is no definitive answer to that.
>> i have always believed that we should not be at war. this authorization to use military force , which was passed in 2001 after 9/11 should be repealed because to fight terrorism effectively it should be intelligence, law enforcement , political resolutions, but, you know, the costs we can talk about the moral, the political costs of the drone program, but just think of two costs. human, a very human one. these drones are fewing anti-american hated around the world, and the first targeted use of drones in yemen led to the killing of 14 women and 21 children. in pakistan it has been reported that there is just a fury toward america, particularly because there is no apology for the killing of civilians. secondly, we are at risk and sam spoke about precedence, but we're at risk of fueling a new kind of arms race because there are 50 countries which have drones around the cusp of having drones. do we want to see that become a new proliferation fight?
>> what are the ram fiction there's? i mean, it's one thing for the u.s. to go into pakistan . what about when they want to come and commandeer their own drone strikes? to katrina's point, stanley mcchrystal in aan interview with reuters said what scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. the resentment created by american use of unmanned strikes is more than the average american can appreciate.
>> we're not there and feeling it in a visceral way. the other strange thing, we did a discover story on drones last week, and one sdeelt that sticks in my head is even though the drones are so remote, there is still burn-out suffered by people who operate them even on safe u.s. terrain. it is not without its sort of moral residue even at home by the people who are participating in this program, and i think that's worth thinking about.
>> just to go back to both david's points and katrina's, we were talking earlier about the legal at. when the legal standards for targeting american citizens are so loose, what are the standards that are being applied to nonstandards, non-citizens. that has to be a real concern. so far we know of four u.s. citizens who have been killed as a result of targeted killing strikes. robert, who is a former bush administration head m counterterrorism center is saying that we have been seduced by drones. we are creating more enemies than we are killing. there are human consequences, legal consequences, policy consequences, and what may look seductive in the short-term is creating long-term harm for our national security .
>> i think it's so true. part of it is also our jeremy skahill, national security correspondent, has been reporting on drones and special ops for a few years now. it is important that the brennan mom nation has brought, it seems to me, more attention. time magazine has covered these discussions on msnbc about not only drones, but the whole architecture as the president said on john stewart of this global war on terrorism . we are at risk again in the president -- on the precedent front of passing on an imperial presidents with sadly a congress and a public, though i think leadership, the elite, are more to blame than the people. a congress and a leadership unwilling to really push for accountability and transparency, and that is a very dangerous precedent for this country, but the media has played a role. i'm sure some of your viewers have followed today the reports that the "new york times" and some other major news organizations at the white house 's request chose not to report that there was a drone base in saudi arabia .
>> there's been a huge --
>> that is a major problem. i mean, i come from a magazine which reported on preparations for the bay of pigs . the "new york times" did not at the kennedy administration 's request report on it. later the kennedy administration said we wish you had. the trope of national security is too often used as a corps for what people need to know .
>> i think, sam, just politically this is an -- it's a really interesting issue because there's almost bipart sfwlan agreement about the secrecy. you had lindsey graham yesterday saying i think the president is on solid legal ground. i think he is doing the right thing. i applaud this administration. that is not something lindsey graham usually says about anything relating to the obama white house .
>> true. you know, in addition to the media needing to play the role of accountability, we can extend that through congress. congress has a role in oversight there, and far too often -- they are advocating that responsibility of the president, and i think that's a real problem. i'm heartened that the ooc memo laying out the legal just fekz for the drone program is going to be reviewed by the intelligence committees, but i think more probably needs to be done. i have a question for david wood . first of all, david, huge fan of your writing.
>> have you guys met?
>> never met him. don't know him. just a huge fan. let me ask you, again, back to the operational aspects of the drone program, what do we know about how -- who has to check off the boxes to say this person is, indeed, a member of al qaeda or related to al qaeda , is indeed an imminent threat ? who is the person that has to make those determinations? is it clear he is not the president. that goes to the final tally, but who down the chain has to make those determinations.
>> it's a great question. once you decide that you're going to fight the war on terror then everything else sort of falls in place, and all these other questions about whether it's legal to kill american citizens, which is important for the -- to sort out, gets subsumed and the whole business of war fighting, which we're good at and experienced at, and the business of okaying a drone strike, what's outlined in the white paper that was released last week is nested missed the consideration that comes under the geneva conventions and the laws of warfare. you know, there's all these things that have to be checked off. the most important and difficult one is this proposed strike proportional to the threat. is there a moral justification here? this is done all the time on the battlefield. usually by privates and sergeants who are, you know, in direct firefights, but it's also done very senior levels in this government. you know, i have talked to lawyers at the joint staff , for example, who are involved with lawyers at the national security staff and the cia and the joint special operations command , and they all vet this kind of thing. we don't know very much about that process. i hope that there's a red team , which is a military term used for when you have a discussion like that. they're the guys that go in and try to find holes, pick apart the argument, try to find the problem with it, and i hope that they have that vigorous kind of discussion. again, we don't know. again, the point here is that once you authorize, once we decide as a country to go to war, you know, all this is what happens. there are civilian casualties . there are difficult legal questions. there are -- there is a whole issue of blow-back which happens in afghanistan every time there's a raid on a village. it creates resentment. all those kinds of things happen many war. the basic question, again, hate to keep coming back to this, but are we at war, and if so, who are we killing, and why? that's really the basic question here.
>> and that is why much of what you said is sound. the memo is about the authority to kill people who are far from any battlefield, any recognized battlefield.
>> what's a battlefield?
>> well, that's defined under international law . that's the law that people are referring to. it is true that if you are in the context of an armed conflict , you can kill people who are directly participating in hostilities. we're now talking about a claimed authority to take that far beyond any recognized battlefield. this is an authority that virtually no other country in the world agrees with. no one else agrees with our premise that we are in a potentially global armed conflict with undefined associated forces of al qaeda and we are setting a precedent that we wouldn't want russia, china, or iran to follow. yet, they may because we are claiming that authority.
>> these are all great questions, and we really need to talk all these out, but i think the fact is that warfare has outrun the existing law, and we need to decide these questions. the questions you raise are really good and important ones.
>> the huffington post david wood