The Rachel Maddow Show | November 30, 2012
>> alert system we used to have? remember that? tom ridge announced the exist tense of our national color -coded be afraid alert chart about a decade ago. we could tell at a glance how alert we were supposed to feel. and if you didn't feel like glancing at the be alert chart, at least a at the airport they would read periodic recorded statements over the intercom telling you out loud that today's threat level was orange. the threat level was always orange at the airport no matter what else was going on in the country. we don't do that anymore. we don't do that. we got rid of the chart thing last year and nobody complained. we also no longer have this. this is the google street view of one of the secret prisons we used to have in romania . the associated press did an overhead satellite view so you could see how snubbed up it was against the railway lines in a densely populated area. that was ours. we are a country with 2 million people in prison or jail on any given day. america has thousands of prisons and jails here at home, but we decided to open up something in romania too in secret. also in poland and a bunch of other places. we don't do that anymore either. they emt tid them out in 2006 and in 2009 it became official policy that we don't do that anymore. for years do you remember there was a ban on taking photos at dover? a ban on taking photos of flag-draped coffins of americans kill killed in war having their bodies brought back home to the united states . we the public were banned from seeing those pictures for years. but that ban is over now. we do not have that ban anymore. we don't do that anymore. we're now allowed to see. for awhile top level u.s. policymakers approved torturing people. and americans did torture people based on policy advise that it was legal for them to do so. but the current president put a stop to that right when he took office. we don't do that anymore. some things we stop doing. some things that we were told, yeah, maybe this is unprecedented, maybe this sunt seem like the thing america does, but we have to do that. some of those things from the past decade are things that we have stopped doing. that said, some of the things we still are doing are still pretty hard to get your head around. we're still fighting the longest war in u.s. history and still has two-plus years on the clock. it's the longest war in u.s. history and we were fighting it at the same time as another one of the longest wars in u.s. history . . if you told anybody in advance of that plan that that's how our country would spend the first decade plus of the 21st century , you would have been laughed at. before we started doing it, you could not have convinced anyone that after we closed our secret prisons in places like romania , we'd keep one in a nearby communist country that doesn't want us there. in advance of us starting to do that, how would you have convinced somebody we were going to do these things? how would you convince them that the united states would consider it it legal to find a wanted american citizen living abroad, track him down, and then for the u.s. government to kill him with a missile in that other country? the man's father went to court to try to stop the u.s. government from doing it. the father sued to say in advance that his son should be arrested instead of killed on the spot if he was found, but he was found and he was just killed on the spot with a missile. u.s. citizen . then a month later, we killed his 16-year-old son too. also an american citizen . same cause of death . we have done things in the past decade or so that if you asked anybody in advance of us starting to behave this way, whether the united states would be a country that behaved this way, no one could have predicted that. the response of a massive terrorist attack in 2001 would be we would declare we were at war. congress passed an authorization of military force against the group that attacked us and associated forces. and the power granted by that authorization to use force undergirds a lot of the things we have done. things that constitute unimaginable behavior for the united states of america . we're on a war footing . and is that war footing forever? that's the question, right? when does it end? it's not a philosophical question, it's an empirical question . it's not a war we planned on winning. we planned on fighting it for awhile and eventually stopping, maybe. i'm not just saying that because that's my take on it. i'm saying that because it's been the understanding all along from the people who declared this war in the first place this was never something we were going to know it was over because we had a winner. it was never planned that way.
>> you said to me e a second ago, one of the things you will lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror . that phrase strikes me a little bit. do you really think we can win this war on terror ? for example, in the next four years?
>> never in four years.
>> can we win it? do you see that?
>> i don't think you can win it.
>> your daughters are how old now?
>> they are approaching the age, president bush , they will have their own children. when their kids are teens, are they going to those grandchildren to be reading about al qaeda in the newspaper every day.
>> if we're resolute and i say those words seriously, it's less likely that your kids are going to live under the threat of al qaeda for a long period of time.
>> definite end. i don't think you can win it. our country has used the idea that we are at war. not just in iraq or afghanistan, but all over the globe. we have used the idea we're in the global war as the justification of us doing all kinds of things and all kinds of power that would otherwise be not just indefensible for a country with a constitution like ours, but almost unimaginable. in this global war of ours, they said would not end because there was going to be a winner declare declared. it's not that kind of war. if that's the case, and being in a war footing is what justifies this behavior we wouldn't otherwise be participating in, when does this war end? when do we say that the global war we e declared more than 11 years ago is now over? today for the first time, a u.s. government official started talking about how this ends.
>> now that efforts by the u.s. military against al qaeda are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves, how will this conflict end?
>> this is it the top lawyer at the pentagon. the general counsel of the defense department , jay johnson , speaking today at oxford university in britain broaching a subject that nobody at a high level of government has been willing to officially broach since 9/11.
>> how will this conflict end? it is an unconventional conflict against an unconventional enemy and will not end in conventional terms. we cannot, and should not, expect al qaeda and. its associated forces to all surrender, all lay down their weapons in an old field or to sign a peace treaty with us. they are terrorist organizations . nor can we capture or kill every last terrorist who claims an a affiliation with al qaeda . i can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end. or whether we are as winston churchill once described it near the " beginning of the end ." on the present course, i do believe, there will be a tipping point. a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the united states . such that al qaeda , as we know it, the organization that military to pursue in 2001 , has been effectively destroyed.
>> approaching a tipping point. i just want to jump in for a second to say this is the unprecedented part that we have been waiting pr. watch.
>> at that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered a " armed conflict against al qaeda and its associated forces." rather a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the remnants of al qaeda or are part of groups unaffiliated with al qaeda for which the law enforcement and intelligent resources of our government are principally responsible.
>> at some point, it will stop being war and go back to plg police work against terrorism as a threat that we fight, but we do not say we are at war with it anymore. how much would it change us back as a country to hit that point? can we go back? have we irreversibly changed ourselves for being at war for 2 years now? is this first word on how we might do it reasonably expect we are going to get there?
>> war violates the natch really order of things in which children bury their parents. in war, parents bury their children. we must not accept the conflict as the "new normal."
>> joining us is john suskind. thank you for being here.
>> my pleasure.
>> is there a window of political opportunity right now in washington after this election to change the footing we decided on after 9/11? some of the stuff the president carried over?
>> indisputingablindisputably. that's what people are hopeful abo about. is this going to be a predicate? an opportunity for the president now that he doesn't have to stand for reelection? to do some things people hoped he would have done in his first term. certainly shut down guantanamo . there are clear issues here of the presidency hopefully snapping back into the shape it had prior to 9/11. that's the hope of lots of constitutional scholars. it has not done that up to now. most of the powers granted or obtained by the bush administration have conveyed, if you will, to the obama administration. so the question is this the beginning of the president creating a new normal, as johnson says, in which we are not in a state of war and the president is not executing war powers in a consistent and endless way?
>> ron, you are a student of leadership, both a student of good leadership and bad leadership. i feel like leaders good and bad can generally be counted on to never give up power that they have been granted. if this president does draw a hard line under the war, the war on terror and say the war is over and the powers associated with this war are no longer the powers of this office, i mean, is that a fantasy? is this something you can imagine this president doing?
>> you know, if he's going to do it, this constitutional law president, it will be in this term. it might be to the end of the term. the issues, no matter what happens on some of these sort of legal sort of standards, the issues in a way don't change. small groups of people can get their hands on weapons that were once powerful and reserved for nations. that doesn't change. that's carried by technology and it's one of the great perils of the modern age . that rule of law dually designated to shape the u.s. policies. now here, let's be clear on what's at stake here. it's not so much drone strikes. that's been misinterpreted. the president under the powers of the articles can continue with essentially the kind of global war on terror , call it whatever you will, that he's been conducting. what he can do is kill, but he can't capture, interestingly enough. the being issue is guantanamo . this pronouncement by jay johnson really is about guantanamo . under the current legal framework that we're looking at, guantanamo , that won't work if we're not at war. they will have to come up with a different legal structure to make that operative. certainly, congress can do that at some point. but guantanamo is the question mark based on what johnson said. maybe him auditions for attorney general, but it may be mrp that. a little bit of groundwork by this administration to say we're thinking about this and this may be up ahead now that the president doesn't have to stand for reelection.
>> in terms of a political predica predicate, is there any significance of him delivering this speech not in the united states ? i mean he did this speech at oxford and did it right after the election. do you see that as important?
>> you know, i think time and place is always important. the british have a bit of a different position than e we do. they are a little bit ahead of us, you might say, on some of the issues of detainees, of how we conduct ourselves globally. i think we don't really know here, rachel, until we hear from the administration. people will be pressing the administration saying can you give us specifics? is this the start of a new way of thinking of policies that might be unfolding in the next couple months? or is this a trial balloon and you're seeing how it looks and how people react to it and it may fall under the category of we're trying, but not much is going to happen. the fact is if there's another terrorist attack in the the united states , many of these issues go right back to where we were back to the restart button. and be clear, under the article 2 powers of the presidency, this president can do a great deal. everything he does now and then some. the key issue is guantanamo . those prisoners, 166 prisoners including 50 hard-core, the president said we don't know what we're going to do with those people. they would be sitting without a legal framework if we pull back from this war powers declaration from 2001 . that's a big issue. that's a complex one.
>> ron, thank you. it's great to have you here.
>> my pleasure.
>> if you want to have a further gander of that speech, we're posting clips on our website if you want to check that out.
>>> you know the shady trickery from this year's election about who would get to vote and how hard certain states were going to make it to vote? all that trickery is still paying dividends today. that story is next. don't