The Ed Show | February 06, 2013
>>> good to have you back with us tonight. the fallout continues over department of justice memo obtained by nbc news. the memo outlines the obama administration 's justification for the targeted killing of american citizens overseas by drone strikes. if those citizens are considered to be high-level al qaeda operatives plotting against the united states . progressives want answers. tonight an administration official tells nbc news that president obama has directed the justice department to provide congressional intelligence committees access to classified information providing the legal rationale for these drone strikes. this comes after the white house faced a second day of questioning on the subject. spokesman jay carney says president obama is not troubled by the memo being made public.
>> he thinks that it is legitimate to ask questions about how we prosecute the war against al qaeda .
>> senator ron wyden , a member of the senate intelligence committee , has been a critic of the drone program for years. every american has the right to know when their government believes it is allowed to kill them. he tells nbc news, "the memo doesn't answer the central questions. when does the government have the legal right to kill an american"? wyden will get the institution to question about it tomorrow at the senate confirmation hearings for john brennan . john brennan 's champion of the drone program, has served as president obama 's terrorism expert. wyden says it makes a mockery of the oversight process. he says he was kept in the loop about the strike that killed an american-born al qaeda leader.
>> we do have oversight into it. i knew about those operations, the targeting sets, all of that leading up to it, including very shortly thereafter. and i review all of is the air strikes that we use under this title of the law.
>> let's turn to our panel tonight. msnbc military analyst and medal of honor recipient, colonel jack jacobs . michelle goldberg of "newsweek" and daily beast . and sam stein of the " huffington post ." great to have all of you with us tonight.
>> thank you.
>> michelle , you first. what do you make of the white house 's response tonight that they are providing the memos that those on the intel committee wanted?
>> they obviously should have provided them a long time ago. it was always ludicrous, not only that these weren't made public, but that they weren't even allowed to the people who are charged with overseeing our intelligence agencies . and what they're asking for is basically the rationale that the government uses to decide when it can kill an american citizen . i mean, nothing can kind of be more fundamental to the government's ability -- or to the senate's ability to rein in cia and -- to rein in cia access.
>> colonel, this is warfare that americans aren't used to. and they ask questions about what are our constitutional -- what is our leeway here? what is fair game and what is not? and how are these decisions being made? is this just the new wave of warfare that we have to get used to?
>> it is, because we have the technology now to do things we haven't done before. but the argument that congress ought to be involved in superadvising this is an important one, and we should not ignore it. the congress has a responsibility, not just the authority, but the responsibility to supervise the activities of the executive branch , and in particular, the intelligence committee which takes a look at all the black programs and is kept in the loop on everything certainly has the capability of making an evaluation of what is the right thing to do and is the wrong thing to do, and needs to weigh in. to the extent it doesn't do that, then it's abrogated its responsibilities.
>> sam , what is your take on what the hearings are going to be like tomorrow for mr. brennan . this should be questions right out of the chute, shouldn't it?
>> yes. this is a major component of the president's war on terror . it's a major component of his foreign policy . and listen, there is a difference between operational oversight, which is what congressman rogers was stressing in the interview with andrea mitchell , and legal oversight. and up until this point we really haven't seen any legal justification that the administration has presented for why it can target american civilians abroad if it has determined an imminent threat to the homeland.
>> well, it was written today in the new yorker that the justification that they're using is a comparison to military troops going into cambodia in vietnam. that's how the nixon administration , they're making that comparison. i don't know how that's going to set with a lot of people. so i'm anxious to hear what mr. brennan does for justification tomorrow. sam ?
>> let me add one point to that which is the other thing the administration has done is well, we've been talking about this process, attorney general eric holder has been talking about this process. john brennan has been talking about this process publicly. we have outlined it. and i think there is a role for congress to play. and i would add even for the american public to play to a certain extent in judging what kind of legal justifications the administration is using. i understand the administration doesn't want to set a bad precedent here, but these are weighty matters.
>> colonel, what kind of intel are we getting on the ground? i mean we have to be sure that we're not killing innocent people here.
>> well, i'm going to say having spent a lot of time in combat, i can tell you any time that we have any combat operation, you're going to have innocent people killed. there is always going to be collateral damage . and indeed in the second world war , we went out of our way to kill civilians. that's how we won the war. i'm not suggesting that we ought to do this now. but to think that even with these technological capabilities we have now as being as precise as we can be, that we're going to avoid killing civilians, that's not going to happen. this is always going to be collateral damage .
>> michelle ?
>> this isn't actually even about the drone program per se . this is about when the government can decide that an american citizen is part of a terrorist organization and have them essentially assassinated. and if you read the memo, it goes kind of much further than any of the public statements by holder that they've basically said has kind of outlined their legal justification. so there is no need to release all this other information. it's so incredibly broad, and it really redefines words like imminent, when they talk about an imminent threat . it redefines words like infeasible when they say it would be infeasible to capture someone.
>> colonel, in military terms, the broadness of it?
>> i don't mind there being a broad application of the use of this technology to destroy the enemies of mine who would kill me. but i do believe very strongly that the congress, particularly the intelligence committees have to do a better job of oversight.
>> lindsey graham says he agrees with president obama .
>> i think the president's on solid legal ground. i think he is doing the right thing. i applaud his administration . when jay carney said it was legal, ethical, and wise, he was right in my opinion.
>> on the hill, are there more people with the president on this, sam ?
>> maybe. i think i want to see how the brennan hearings play out before we make a judgment on that. but, you know, listen. the use of drones is popular in the sense that it makes war more abstract. we don't have to see our soldiers actually carry out some of the messy applications of war. and for that reason, there is people, including chuck hagel , who are supportive of drone technology, because it minimizes u.s. risk. but that -- that is a separate conversation. the operation conversation is separate from the legal one. and i think there is more information that is needed to figure out just exactly how we determine who is an imminent threat , who is an al qaeda operative. how do we make those determinations? who is involved in making the determinations before we launch the drone strike. i think those are very weighty questions that deserve more of a public hearing .
>> well, the number of strikes versus the bush administration , colonel, very different. obviously, this is how the obama team wants to execute the war on terror . and the broad range, you're okay with it. but what do you tell innocent folks that get killed or an american that might be hit by a strike inadvertently?
>> well, there is nothing you can say about that. war is a messy business. even technologically precise war like this. you raise an interesting point about this president. the first month he was in office, he authorized more strikes of this type than president bush had done during his entire term in office. and of course we've increased those for precisely the reasons that were suggested here. it's a good way to keep americans out of harm's way and so that we can launch -- we can fight war at a great distance and leave it completely immune.
>> michelle , can we keep the moral high ground throughout all of this?
>> of course not. again, this is separate from whether or not you think the use of drones is justified. the question is whether you think the government can put people on a kill list and without revealing the rationale for why they're there in the first place. colonel jack jacobs , michelle goldberg and sam stein. thanks very much very being with us.
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