The Last Word | February 07, 2013
>>> now, what i'm going to be pressing for today and in the days ahead is declassifying more information about those issues. i think we can do it consistent with national security and that's the next step. now, i was encouraged last night when the president called and he said, as part of this effort, he is going to try to drive a more extensive discussion about these issues.
>> on the eve of today's confirmation hearing for his nominee for cia director , president obama directed the department of justice to provide the congressional intelligence committee 's access to classify documents expressing the legal classification of drone for citizens considered terrorists. the request for those documents came after nbc received on monday a document known as the white paper memo in which the office of legal counsel signed off on the killing of anwar al awlaki, born in new mexico and who was killed in an american drone strike in 2011 . protesters interrupted five times.
>> please clear the room. please remove -- thank you.
>> they won't even tell congress what country we are killing children in.
>> please --
>> i would like all the names and --
>> we are going to halt the hearing.
>> john brennan , who has been the chief architect of the drone program as the president's counterterrorism adviser defended using drone strikes.
>> i think there is a misimpression on the part of some american people who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. nothing could be further from the truth. we only take such actions a a last resort to save lives when there's no alternative to taking an action that's going to mitigate that threat. we need to make sure there's an understanding and the people that were standing up here today, i think they really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government and the care that we take and the agony that we go through to make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths.
>> a substantial majority of americans support the president' plan, the u.s. military using drones to carry out attacks and 83% said they support the use of drones in a washington post abc poll done last february. sam stein, this had to come up in this hearing today, especially with the release of the not so secret white paper , which i happen to have right
>> and it's relatively a simple -- it's 16 pages but basically comes down to the president may use force against al qaeda and its associated forces, as detailed in this white paper , in defined circumstances, a targeted killing of a u.s. citizen who has joined al qaeda or its associated forces would be lawful under u.s. and international law , targeting a member of an enemy force who poses an imminent threat against the united states .
>> they are saying, trust us . we know what we are doing. we know where the legal boundaries are. we are never crossing them. we have a system where there's little oversight over the drone program. for instance, we don't know what constitutes an immediate threat. we don't even know how they are determining whether someone is a member of al qaeda . what do you have to do to become a member of al qaeda ? do you have to take a pledge? when it comes to interrogation, we have fairly firm legal boundaries now. we didn't have them in place during the bush administration . we have them now. that's not the same as the drone program. what you saw during the hearing today was a bunch of senators saying, you have to be more forthcoming with what you're doing here.
>> laurn, i thought john brennan was disappointing on substance. it's obviously true under gentleman neef sdwra and legal precedent that you can shoot foreign fighters. it's not a big question --
>> i read it in the white paper .
>> the white paper , i think, is completely overexpansive in some things and with you should understand it to be the most aggressive of lawyering making an argument for their clients, the united states . it's not a binding precedence of any kind. within the executive branch . but more to the point, whether or not they are a citizen is not the only question. we're talking about things way off the battlefield and people that have not, by anything the administration has released if the onus is on them, shown their allegiance. and the tough question that wasn't asked today, okay, 18 years old, you can target them. that means they are on the kill list. 16 years old, you can target them. mr. brennan, what about 15, 14, 11, 9? the law cares a great deal about consent and meaningful participation. contrary to what we have in the public debate and polling which shows, yes, in general you can do it. but when you get into american children off the battlefield as conventionally defined, i think you're in tough territory and i think brennan was wrong on that.
>> well, this effort -- i don't even want to call it a war -- this effort has been off the battlefield since september 11th .
>> what do we call a battlefield now?
>> this i think is a very serious problem. i don't think it's a question that can be answered. these are all great questions. here's what i don't see. i don't see how, under the way business is done now and how it's always been done, i don't see how any of the questions can publicly addressed. the amount of intelligence that they would have to open up and hand over to you to answer any of the questions you asked would presumably compromise everything that they were trying to do.
>> i have a slight disagreement with that. i think you're right in the sense that you don't want to give away operational techniques that could be used against you, correct. but you can redact those from a legal memo and what ari is getting at, what i think a lot of other people are getting, if you are going to do this, you need to have a very firm legal ground on what you're standing because you're not the only president who is going to take this authority. there are future presidents that can use it. what happens when they use drone strikes the way we do? we want to set legal boundaries on this not just for us but for international.
>> they have boundaries in here that are pretty clear.
>> well, that, again --
>> the trouble is, we don't know what -- what you really don't know is, are they actually adhering to what they say they are doing here?
>> and my point is, i don't know how you could ever discover that and believe -- and have the program --
>> their position right now, today, in court, under the threat of perjury in the new york times and in litigation is that the program's existence is classified. so their position is farther than yours. you're talking about operational details. the administration position -- and they are wrong, in my view -- is that the program's existence itself is classified. so there is room for --
>> here's a civil suit in federal court with the aclu and they are sending interrogatories and they are wanting to do depositions. they want the cia to testify in a sif suit openly and completely about how they do this operation. but that could never happen.
>> somewhere between the administration position and aclu and lawrence o'donnell, there's something in between and the administration position is all the way out here in secrecy.
>> we are going to have to continue this in the very last word, we're going to let the cameras continue. sam stein will be able to talk then. we're going to go on and on after this. sam stein, ari fleischer , thank you very much.
>> thank you, lawrence.
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