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All In With Chris Hayes, Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

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May 23, 2013

Guests: Keith Ellison, Spencer Ackerman, Pardiss Kebraei, Hinna Shamsi, Joshua Foust

CHRIS HAYES, HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. And thank you for joining us tonight.

The president, you might have heard, gave a speech today. It was in the middle of the day. And I`m sure many of you missed it while at work.

And there are many days in which the president gives a speech. We come in every day and write on the board the president is giving a speech today. Often, well, it`s not really that newsworthy.

Today was different. Today, the president gave one of those speeches, an Obama speech -- one of those signature speeches by this person at this moment in history that somehow rise up out of normal politics and address a taboo with an uncommon level of frankness and clarity and nuance. One of those speeches so rare in politics that opens up a truly vital public conversation in this country, the kind of public conversation we want to have.

The president started off today with the end of the war on terror. Not just that there needs to be one, but what it might look like.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we have to recognize that the threat has shifted and evolved from the one that came to our shores on 9/11. With a decade of experience now to draw from, this is the moment to ask ourselves hard questions about the nature of today`s threats and how we should confront them.

America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison`s warning that, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

We must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror, but rather as a series of persistent targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.

In the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, r definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don`t need to fight. Or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.


HAYES: Making a case for a tangible foreseeable end to the what was previously called global war on terror, the president was highlighting there the very real danger of being baited into needless perpetual war by any old extremist group that hangs the al Qaeda shingle outside their door.

And his plan to insure that doesn`t happen includes working with Congress to eventually repeal the otherwise potentially indefinite mandate behind the authorization for the use of military force was passed just right after 9/11. In other words, what the president did today was he told Congress that he wants to give up power. He wants them to take it back.

He also defended in stark, forthright terms one of the most controversial aspects of the way his administration specifically has been waging the war on terror -- the use of targeted drone strikes.


OBAMA: It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war. And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss.

For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.

But as commander-in-chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties -- not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places, like Sana`a and Kabul and Mogadishu, where terrorists seek a foothold. Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes. So doing nothing`s not an option.


HAYES: The president`s defense of his administration`s drone policy did not end with his justification of enduring civilian casualties that will haunt him until the end of his days. He also addressed and defended the targeted killing of American citizens abroad. Specifically this American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in an American drone strike in 2011.


OBAMA: For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen -- with a drone or with a shotgun -- without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil. But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America, and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.

That`s who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill people.


HAYES: Then just as the president was pivoting to the thorny issue of the prison at Guantanamo and the rule of law, a protester stood up and started shouting questions about that very issue and kept on shouting at him for several minutes.


OBAMA: There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.

PROTESTOR: Excuse me, President Obama, you are commander-in-chief.

OBAMA: So today, once again -- so today --

PROTESTER: There are 102 people on a hunger strike, these desperate people.

OBAMA: I`m about to address it, ma`am, but you`ve -- you`ve got to let me speak. I`m about to address it.

Ma`am, let me finish. We went --

PROTESTOR: Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old --

OBAMA: He went on to -- we went on...


OBAMA: We`re addressing that, ma`am.


HAYES: It`s really a pretty remarkable change.

And there was an end to that when the president spoke about these questions from the protester that was unlike anything I`ve seen from a sitting president. We`ll talk about more of that later on in the show.

But one of the most remarkable things about it was the way the president did react to it, after the protest, the protester was led away. President Obama didn`t disparage her or tell a joke about being interrupted. Even in the middle of it all, as he struggled to finish his point about Guantanamo, in between interruptions, he sort of gave his heckling protester, Medea Benjamin, props for being a heckling protester about as something as important, as vital, as passion inducing as what is going on right now as we speak in Guantanamo prison.


OBAMA: And I know the politics are hard, but history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future -- 10 years from now or 20 years from now -- when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are -- being held on a hunger strike.

I`m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it`s worth being passionate about.

Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?


HAYES: Again, the president not only offering a stark critique of the way the war on terror is being waged under his own watch, but also some concrete steps to help change it to move toward closing the prison at Guantanamo, even against opposition from Congress.

President Obama announced today he`s asking the Defense Department to designate a location inside the United States to hold military commission and he`s appointing a new envoy to be in charge of transferring prisoners from Guantanamo to other countries and that he is and perhaps significantly lifting his own moratorium on transferring prisoners to Yemen. The bulk of those for transfer are indeed Yemeni.

It was a big, revelatory speech full of news, flawed, I think, very flawed in a number of ways, but unquestionably important.

Joining me now, Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat from Minnesota and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

And, Congressman, first, I want to first get your reaction to the speech today.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Well, you know, that`s the -- that`s the Obama that I voted for and worked so hard to get elected. Was, I mean, repealing and revising the AUMF, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, is something that me and people like Barbara Lee and others in the progressive caucus really believe is important. And we`re joined by a lot of others including some conservatives.

You know, closing Guantanamo, absolutely. I mean, this is what we believe is so important.

But the real question is what`s next? Because the president has articulated, I think, a lot of great points, and I agree with you. His treatment of Medea Benjamin I think is a credit to him and I think her passion is a credit to her.

But I like the fact he didn`t just try to diss her. And I was proud to see he didn`t do that.

But at the end of the day, it`s about execution because the president has articulated some good views. But there are people who are going to try to stop him.


ELLISON: There are people who don`t want to change the AUMF. There are people who don`t want to close Guantanamo.

And so, now, the question becomes, how do we work with the president to make sure that some of these good ideas get carried out and it won`t be easy and we`re going to need all of that passion across America?

HAYES: Do you think the politics on this issue have changed? I mean, I was struck today by the president saying, you know, this is not -- this war needs to end, and his very specific point about getting out of a framework of being in perpetual war. Even saying some group of thugs that call themselves al Qaeda doesn`t mean they`re a credible threat to the U.S. is something you don`t -- you haven`t heard high officials say in a very long time in this country.

ELLISON: That`s right. And that has the virtue of being true. But here`s the thing.

You know, I wonder if somebody like Senator Paul might actually have watched this speech and said, well, yes, I can get behind some of these ideas.

I do believe there`s a chance, at least, that some of these conservatives who, you know, tout the Constitution might be willing to come in and we can maybe to some of these things the president is talking about on a bipartisan basis.

I mean, because, I mean, at the end of the day, you know, these -- it is execution. You know, the president has given me good speeches and I love him for all the great words, but carrying out his vision is going to be a big lift. Excuse me. I remember very well Congress passing legislation to stop him.

HAYES: Right.

ELLISON: From --

HAYES: From closing Guantanamo, which is --

ELLISON: Closing Guantanamo.

HAYES: So, Congressman, stay with us.

ELLISON: That`s right.

HAYES: We`re going to spend a lot more time on this. There`s so much that`s sort of central to what America looks like right now. What President Obama`s legacy is going to be.

One Republican senator this afternoon said the speech will be viewed by terrorists as victory. We`ll talk about that.

And the amazing exchange between the president and Medea Benjamin, the protester there, when we get back.


HAYES: Howard Fineman and Spencer Ackerman join us for reaction from the president`s speech next.

Plus, a response from a lawyer representing Guantanamo detainees and the president`s statement on Gitmo.

And my take on that stunning moment when the president was confronted by a protester mid-speech.

Stay with us.


OBAMA: Our systemic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue, but this war like all wars must end. That`s what history advises. That`s what our democracy demands.


HAYES: That was the president speaking earlier at the National Defense University in Washington. President Obama giving the kind of intricate sweeping speech he is known for, addressing a whole host of issues, touching on everything from our drone policy to closing Guantanamo.

Let`s bring in Howard Fineman, NBC News political analyst and editorial director of "The Huffington Post" media group. Spencer Ackerman, senior writer for "Wired" and incoming national security editor for "The Guardian."

Joining us again, Congressman Keith Ellison.

Howard, I want to begin with the why now of this speech? You know, this is a speech people have wanted for a while. Subordinates of the president have given versions of this -- Harold Koh is legal adviser at State Department; Jeh Johnson, who is a general counsel of Department of Defense.

Why did the president give this speech now?

HOWARD FINEMAN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Well, I think it`s something that he wanted to do to set the framework for his second term. I think this is -- don`t forget, we`re still fairly new into his second term and I think this is a thing that he had on the table. I think there`s been increasing controversy about the drone program and especially about Gitmo. And especially about those detainees who are now being force-fed and I thing there are more than 100 of them.

So, I think it`s a combination of his feeling of what he needed to lay out by way of a grand strategy in a second term as well as more forcing events like Gitmo.

HAYES: Spencer, how surprising was the speech to you? How much was it what you anticipated? And how important to me -- how important do you find this idea of the end of the war on terror?

SPENCER ACKERMAN, SENIOR WRITER, WIRED: That was really the surprising thing. In some ways it`s two speeches, Chris. One was a fascinating speech where he outlines that the war has to end, and the other is a frustrating speech where he doesn`t quite take the implications of what he`s saying into the proposal stage.

For instance, when he`s asked -- when he`s trying to answer, rather -- what the end of the war looks like toward the end of the speech, he starts saying things like it`s when families go to a ballpark, it`s when veterans start businesses. Well, that`s happening right now.

So, what could he really do to more adequately crystallize the circumstances that have to pertain for the war to no longer actually exist?

HAYES: Well, that`s the question. The question is, there`s two questions here. There`s a political question of how do you broach the political topic of the fact that we are no longer at war or at war with terror or the war on terror is ending? And then, there`s the operational question of how do you actually bring that thing to a close?

And my question for you, Congressman, and, Howard, Spencer, any of you who want to weigh in on this is, let`s talk about where we are on the politics of that. Because to me, the operational can only come once there`s political leadership and there`s political will and there`s a democratic citizenry that is ready to be honest and clear-headed about the fact that we cannot perpetually be in a state of war forever.

FINEMAN: Well, on a clear -- to clear away -- go ahead.

ELLISON: One of the things I think -- oh, sorry about that. One of the things that I think we ought to also take into consideration as to why now -- is that last week, there were some military leaders who when asked when this thing was going to end and how long the authorization for military force might last, they said it could be, you know, decades into the future.

I mean, I think that is important event, too, because he`s got to see testimony like that and say, wait a minute, you know, we cannot be here decades from now. We`ve got to do something now.

And I do believe that there is -- there could very well be a bipartisan consensus. Not from everywhere, because we`ll see people who want to attack the president no matter what. But there could be a bipartisan consensus to try to bring some of these things that really mark the war on terror and bring it to a close. So I think that it, politically, there`s room to do that right now.

HAYES: Howard?

FINEMAN: On a functional level, clearing away some of the grand thematics here, he gave a pretty spirited defense of the drone program.

HAYES: Yeah.

FINEMAN: He`s saying, OK, the global war on terror is over, we`re not going to be pushing daisy cutters -- you know, 500 pound daisy cutters out of the back of C-5 airplanes on downtown Baghdad.

But the drone program he described as essential to his view of how you fight this new type of non-war war that he described. So that`s one key thing.

And I think he also defended, although not as fulsomely, he defended domestic surveillance. He said that, yes, we have to do it in cooperation with the community, with the Muslim community in the case of jihadists. But he did -- he said he would support a shield law for reporters but did no-- and said he would look at the guidelines and asked Eric Holder to look at the guidelines.

I didn`t hear him apologizing for saying he would take another look at the investigations that are already under way.

So, within -- within his sort of aspirational desire to get rid of this term about the global war of terror and maybe give back power, he used the word "ultimately." He didn`t say immediately. Don`t expect to see a bill tomorrow to get rid of all that power that he`s got. I think it was pretty calibrated to say we`re in this for a long time. It`s only going to look different.

HAYES: Spencer?

ACKERMAN: Yes. Except there are some bills that are happening, and that`s really kind of the fascinating thing right now.

The Congress can reference something called the authorization to use military force. That`s basically a 2001 law passed shortly after 9/11. It`s the wellspring, legislatively speaking, for the entire war on terror, for surveillance, for detention.

Before I came here, I was talking to one of congressman`s colleagues, Adam Schiff of California, who`s not, you know, a flame-throwing liberal or anything like that, and he`s talking about introducing a bill soon that would sunset the war on terror after the majority of troops withdraw from Afghanistan. That`s something that even on the right you`re seeing with Rand Paul and others starting to pick up some momentum.

FINEMAN: Yes, but I didn`t hear President Obama say that he would sign something like that, either. I thought I heard him say that he wanted to engage in Congress with a discussion -- in a discussion about this to limit and ultimately eliminate it.


HAYES: Congressman?

ELLISON: Howard, I think that is an opening of a door. I mean, the president has said in the past that Congress, he wants to work with Congress to get a legal architecture. So you`re right, the technology of a drone as opposed to a shotgun or troops on the ground. He`s sort of saying it`s all just the difference of technology. But he is saying that we are going to have to have a discussion about how these things are used to fit in and work within international law, our own values, due process, and transparency.

I hear him calling for that conversation.

FINEMAN: Yes. I agree.

ELLISSON: So, we`re here to oblige him.

HAYES: Saxby Chambliss today, his reaction. "The president`s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities. They`re changing course with no clear operational benefit."

How much political blood does that draw, Spencer, do you think?

ACKERMAN: It`s going to draw a lot. At the same time, you have some more surprising statements like from John McCain.

HAYES: Yes, very surprising.

ACKERMAN: Right before.

HAYES: Who actually Obama called out in his speech for sort of shifting his position on Guantanamo Bay. And McCain had a perfect opportunity to go all red meat like Chambliss did.


HAYES: Which he usually does after these kinds of foreign policy speeches from the president.

ACKERMAN: Almost as a matter of road.

HAYES: Right.

ACKERMAN: On this one at one point, McCain said that shuttering Guantanamo Bay and coming up with some sustainable framework for a war on terror against shadowy al Qaeda affiliates in whatever mutation in the future would be a fitting legacy both for the president and for the Congress.

So, it seemed like McCain was receptive to the message even if it`s a more hawkish version of what Obama said and Obama would have articulated themselves.

FINEMAN: Yes, I think the country is ready. I think, you know, the president is maybe pushing the envelope here a little bit. I think the country is ready for some kind of way to think about this in a different way. That`s Obama`s gift.

I think he was at his best tonight with this aspect of his presidency.

HAYES: I agree. I hope we start that debate on --

ELLISON: The national -- you know, the National Defense Authorization Act may be an upcoming vehicle we could use to deal with Guantanamo, the AUMF and these kind of things. This is a live issue and will be in front of the Congress in the next few months.

HAYES: Congressman Keith Ellison, "Wired`s" Spencer Ackerman, thank you.

Howard Fineman, we`ll see you again in a few minutes.

The exchange between President Obama and a protesters who interrupted his speech today was one of the ages. We will play the whole remarkable episode, next.


HAYES: All right. On the scripted moments in politics are very rare. You don`t get that that often.

And, arguably, the most dramatic part of the president`s incredible speech today was this incredible unscripted moment toward the end of the address when he was interrupted by a protester.


OBAMA: So today, once again -- so today --

PROTESTER: There are 102 people on a hunger strike, these desperate people.

OBAMA: I`m about to address it, ma`am, but you`ve -- you`ve got to let me speak. I`m about to address it.

PROTESTER: You are commander in chief.

OBAMA: Let me address it.

PROTESTER: You can close Guantanamo today.

OBAMA: Why don`t you let me address, ma`am?

PROTESTER: You can release those 86 prisoners.

OBAMA: Why don`t you sit down and I`ll tell you exactly what I`m going to do?


HAYES: Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war organization Code Pink, interrupted the president as he began to talk about detainee transfers from Guantanamo.

For those who aren`t familiar with Medea Benjamin, this is what she does. Recently, she interrupted John Brennan`s confirmation hearing for CIA director. She`s shown up to protest dozens of hearings, speeches and events throughout the Bush and Obama administrations.

And today, she interrupted President Obama three separate times. First, the president was frustrated, which is the moment you just saw. Then, Benjamin came back at him and the president still frustrated started to engage her.


OBAMA: We will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee. Now, ma`am, let me -- let me -- let me finish. Let me -- let me finish, ma`am. This is part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also you listening, and me being able to speak.


All right? Thank you.



So that exchange you`ve seen before with people in power and protesters, but then Medea Benjamin came back at the president a third time and this time, the president stood there and she spoke mostly uninterrupted.


PROTESTER: How about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, 16-year-old American?

OBAMA: When we -- we went -

PROSTESTER: And killed by drones?

Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old American? Why was he killed? Can you tell us why Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki was killed? Can you tell the Muslim people their lives as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities?

OBAMA: We`re addressing that, man.

BENJAMIN: -- apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer here at home. I love my country. I love the rule of law. Drones are making us unsafe. And keeping people in indefinite detention in Guantanamo is making us less safe.


HAYES: Then after Benjamin was escorted away, when the customary thing to do is to make a joke at the protester`s expense, the president did something I have never seen -- never seen -- which is acknowledge that the person who interrupted him had a point.


OBAMA: And I`m going off script, as you might expect here.



OBAMA: The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously --


OBAMA: Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn`t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues. And the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.


HAYES: Just before he wrapped up his speech, the president went off script once more and recognized that voices like Medea Benjamin`s cannot be ignored.


OBAMA: Our victory against terrorism won`t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship, or a statue being pulled to the ground. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school, immigrants coming to our shores, fans taking in a ball game, a veteran starting a business, a bustling city street, a citizen shouting her concerns at a president.


HAYES: Joining me at the table is Pardiss Kebraei, senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents Guantanamo detainees. Let`s welcome back the "Huffington Post`s" Howard Fineman.

Pardiss, I thought that moment was remarkable. Part of the reasons I thought that moment was remarkable was because here`s the president of the United States. He`s the commander in chief. He`s the architect of this vast program. And here`s a protester shouting her concerns, a citizen shouting her concerns to the president. And the subtext of the way the president reacted was to basically take the opportunity to say, yeah, she had -- like, we should be listening to these voices, particularly when she talked about Guantanamo.

I mean, he basically said, yeah, is this who we want to be? And it just struck me that there was part of the president there that was channeling something from before he was the man who commanded the vast edifice of power that is the United States government, and was a community organizer, and was in an anti-war protest himself, that was the thing that made him the president of the United States? What did you think about that moment?

PARDISS KEBRAEI, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: I think it was remarkable. I think it was absolutely right for him not to silence her, particularly when she`s talking about Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki and the drone program. It would have been absolutely the wrong thing to do to silence her about a program that we needed to be talking about. We have needed this discussion for years. We are finally having it. Her concerns are absolutely valid.

Abdul Rahman was a 16-year-old American citizen boy who was killed eating dinner with his cousin. It took two years for the Justice Department to acknowledge his killing. So certainly her criticisms are valid.

HAYES: Well, there`s -- what was interesting yesterday -- and Howard, the government yesterday admitted for the first time -- declassified that there are four American citizens who have been killed through the targeted drone program. It was interesting to me, the president only addressed one of them. And that was part of what made that moment so intense, was that Medea Benjamin was talking about the elephant in the room, which is Anwar al Awlaki, it seems there`s a reasonable and credible case that he was actively involved in plotting attacks against the U.S.

No one has made that case about his 16-year-old son, and there -- that part of what the drone program is was left unaddressed in the speech.

FINEMAN: Well, it was only indirectly addressed, in which the president said the killing of innocent civilians is an unfortunate and horrible side effect of any war, including this one, which is why he wanted to make sure he calibrated it down as tightly as he possibly could.

I agree with you, Chris. I think it was remarkable. I think it showed an aspect of President Obama, Barack Obama, that people found appealing initially. And even though I said earlier he gave a spirited defense of the drone program and defense of domestic surveillance, I would add, and in some ways there`s a steel core to a piece of this speech, it`s also remarkable to hear a president talking about giving up power.

HAYES: Well, and here`s --

FINEMAN: -- about narrowing his own powers, about wanting to get rid of the authorization for use of force law from right after 9/11, which is way too sweeping in today`s context. Really remarkable. And one of the best uses of Barack Obama`s skill I`ve seen him deploy as president.

HAYES: Well, and here is the other thing about that moment, in particular, is that I have been in an ongoing conversation with folks on social media and folks who watch my last show "UP" about this, right? And it`s a real point of contention debate among liberals, the drone program, targeted killing. People feel that the president -- or there are certain steps he needs to take. They -- and that this is kind of carping from folks that want to find something to pick at in the president.

And the grand irony is that the reason that the president was giving that speech today is because there have been critics that he has been pushed into this position. And no one knows that better than a person who used to do that pushing as a community organizer. And so when that moment came together, what I thought was really interesting, too, was the moment that Medea Benjamin stood up was when he was about to make a point about Guantanamo and what`s happening there, about the force feeding, that was as raw as anything that you would read in, you know, "The Nation" magazine.

KEBRAEI: That`s right. I mean, I think you`re right. This -- about the drone program, we are having this discussion actually because of a leaked memo and criticism. But there has been silence for a very long period of time. So absolutely we need to be having that debate. And Medea`s voice is a valid part of that debate.

On Guantanamo, in terms of the steps the president outlined today, I think he said some of the right things. I think that he wants to close the prison. He`s stated his commitment to it. We need to remember the crisis that actually gave rise to the inclusion of Guantanamo in this speech right now.

HAYES: Right. That also was forced onto the agenda.

KEBRAEI: The reason why we are talking about Guantanamo, and the president has come out and made these statements and included it in his speech today is because of a fact that over 100 men are starving themselves to death at Guantanamo as we sit here now. These are people who are being held without charge, most of whom the administration has approved to leave. And I think what we wanted to hear today was a response that recognized the urgency of --

HAYES: And you feel you did not get that?

KEBRAEI: I think we got some of the right steps. We got lifting the ban on Yemen. Absolutely. That was a self-imposed ban that discriminates against people on the basis of their national origin. Case-by-case determinations are absolutely the right thing to do and the logical thing to do. We got the appointment of a special envoy. Absolutely, we need somebody to spearhead the process of finding countries of resettlement and negotiating repatriation.

We needed to also hear him make the case for the existing authority that he has under the NDAA and to make the case about the 86 people, for example, that his administration has approved for transfer. He said transfers will resume.

HAYES: Right.

KEBRAEI: -- to the extent possible. We needed to hear him say, I will do this now.

HAYES: And that is of a theme, Howard, with parts of the other speech, which you were saying in the opening conversation, which is there`s that St. Augustine line about lord grant me chastity, but not just yet. That this was -- there was something about this speech that was a little bit lord grant me chastity, but not just yet, particularly when it cams to Guantanamo, where he said everything right, but he didn`t say, OK, this is what we do tomorrow.

KEBRAEI: Let`s remember, I don`t want to be too much of a cynic, but he has said the right thing.

HAYES: Before. Right.

KEBRAEI: Two weeks ago, when he made that important statement about Guantanamo closing, it`s the first time he had spoken since the hunger strike, I was -- that was welcome. That was encouraging. Today, I expected a step.

HAYES: Howard?

FINEMAN: Yeah. I think maybe some of the urgency got lost in his desire to present an overall framework, which is both something good and sometimes limiting about the president. He wanted an elegant framework here to say that, look, as a matter of our own national security, we have to close Guantanamo because it fits into this post-global war on terror framework. And so he was viewing it more intellectually within the context of global strategy, as opposed to the human drama that`s going on among those 100 people there, which gives it the special urgency that we`ve all been talking about.

HAYES: Howard Fineman of the "Huffington Post," Pardiss Kebraei of the Center for Constitutional Rights, thank you both.

KEBRAEI: Thank you.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

HAYES: The exact part of the president`s speech that has met with the most vocal opposition, coming up. Stay with us.


HAYES: Earlier today, President Obama gave his most full-throated defense of the targeted killing program to date, arguing the program is not only effective, legal and moral, but also his presidential duty. He said it`s legal because the United States was attacked first, and effective not only in the eyes of the United States but also from the perspective of al Qaeda, itself.


OBAMA: Don`t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden`s compound, we found that he wrote "we could lose the reserves to enemies` air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives."


HAYES: The president spent much of his speech trying not to convince the American people of what the program has done to harm al Qaeda, but to convince the American people that it is just.


OBAMA: To say a military tactic is legal or even effective is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.


HAYES: He centered his argument, the program is, indeed, moral and wise, around an assertion that it saves lives, both at home and abroad, and that the United States only authorizes an attack when there is near certainty that no civilians will be killed. He gave a forthright defense of the killing of the U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki, saying --


OBAMA: When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.


HAYES: The president made no defense of the other three American citizens who have been killed, including Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al Awlaki, but did acknowledge the strikes have killed civilians, despite claims from previous administration officials to the contrary.


OBAMA: It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war. And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.


HAYES: The robust defense of the program that has come to define his national security legacy is a signal the president is listening and in some cases responding to his critics. Now the big question is, what changes in how the administration actually acts?



OBAMA: It is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world. The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.


HAYES: That was the president making his case in defense of the drone program. For more on that, let`s now turn to Hinna Shamsi, director of the ACLU`s National Security Project, and Joshua Foust, former senior intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, currently a columnist for "Need to Know."

Hinna, I`ll begin you. So the president laid out a long argument about why drones are justified. He started out by talking about why they`re legal -- they`re authorized under the laws of war, then about why they`re legal. They clear the due process Constitutional bar in his mind.

Then he got to this part about why they`re OK to do, why they`re wise, prudent policy. The argument he laid out is an argument that I`ve heard from a lot of people. Look, you can do nothing about, let`s say al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. You can invade Yemen to go after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And both of those are terrible ideas.

The thing in between those two, the Salamanca approach, is targeted drone strikes. What`s wrong with that argument? I think a lot of people find that argument compelling.

HINNA SHAMSI, ACLU: I think the difficulty with that argument is it assumes there`s no other alternatives to nothing, all-out war or killing. There are a lot of other alternatives.

HAYES: What are the alternatives?

SHAMSI: Well, there is capture, for example. Last couple -- last month, there was very compelling testimony by a young man named Freya al Muslimi (ph), who you had on your program, who talked about the fact that a recent drone strike in his village had targeted someone who could easily have been captured. So I don`t think we`re willing to take it on faith alone that capture isn`t going to be possible.

I also think that this ignores how absolutely hated the drone program already is in the countries in which it is being carried out. When we`re talking about claims of effectiveness, wisdom, legality, that has to be taken into account.

HAYES: Josh, what do you think of that?

JOSHUA FOUST, PBS "NEED TO KNOW": I mean, I think she`s true. Drone strikes have encouraged anti-Americanism everywhere they`ve gone. What I find interesting about President Obama`s remarks, though, is this new path that he was putting forward, this comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that combines elements of nation building, economic development, political engagement, along with targeted killings, actually describes what he`s doing in Yemen right now.

It`s about 60 percent those other programs and only about 40 percent military training or targeted strikes. That`s already generating these failures that Hinna is talking about and all of these other concerns we have brought up, both about targeting American citizens, civilian casualty, the unfeasibility of capture or disputes about the feasibility of capture.

He wasn`t actually addressing the problems with that strategy, and the challenges he`s facing right now in trying to implement it.

HAYES: OK, so but here`s my question, when you`re talking about -- let`s talk about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They are -- it seems to be -- again, I`m not read into classified information. But from the reporting, they seem to be the most kind of hardcore, sophisticated, well organized network of violent extremists right now. And they are operating out of Yemen largely.

The question is, OK, what do you do about them? I mean, really, maybe in discreet instances one or two people could be captured. But this network as a whole, I think the fear, right, is that if they are left to do what they will, they will send more Abdulmutallabs. They will send more bombers.

So what is the broad strategy to deal with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, from your perspective.

SHAMSI: I think part of the aspect of it is -- and Josh and I are actually agreeing on this -- that you have to invest in a long-term strategy that takes into account all of the soft power things that the president rightly laid out. And one thing to look at, Chris, is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was a small organization when drone strikes started. And since the strikes have grown -- and I`m not saying that this is the only cause and effect, but it certainly is one of the major causes and effect -- the number of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula members apparently has grown exponentially.

And you know, part of the thing to look at also -- and this is what left me -- there were many positive things about the president`s speech. You`ve discussed a number of them. I think one of the positive developments was the president said that he was going -- or signaled an end to signature strikes, and signaled also that the same --

HAYES: Will you explain what a signature strike is?

SHAMSI: Absolutely. Signature strikes are perhaps what has become one of the most controversial parts of the targeted-killing program, which is the apparent targeting of people whose identity is not known, based on patterns of behavior.

HAYES: Right. So it`s one thing to say, OK, Anwar al Awlaki, we know who he is; we have intelligence he`s going to this specific meeting at this time; and we`re going to target him. It`s another to say, we`ve got intelligence, there`s a bunch of guys who are getting together in this part of a remote area of Yemen, and we have intelligence that they`re up to no good. We don`t know who those people are, but we`re going to go after them.

SHAMSI: Right. What that had done, and part of why we and so many other groups have concerns, is that it turned the presumption of civilian status on its head, right, in parts of the world these -- behaviors -- allegedly suspicious behaviors were hard to differentiate.

HAYES: So there was a policy bit of news today, which it looked like that is no longer going to be the case. It`s a little unclear if that`s --

SHAMSI: It`s a little unclear and that -- that part is unclear, as are a number of other parts. But I think that what`s important is that, to the extent that there are limitations being placed, that`s a positive development. But at the heart of the president`s program was a defense of what makes this most controversial.

HAYES: And yet at the same time that there`s a defense, Josh, what we are seeing is a real dramatic downward trajectory in the number of drone strikes actually. I mean, they are just really going down. They`re going down in Pakistan. They`re going down in Yemen. If you look year over year, it see like at the same time that he`s coming out to justify the policy, strategically they are moving away from the policy.

FOUST: Exactly. And I think a lot of this is a combination both of responding to criticism, also learning lessons from how the program has evolved so far, and also, a little more prosaically, running out of targets. There just aren`t as many senior leaders that they can actually be going after. It`s interesting looking at this in Yemen, though. Last year when the U.S. was trying to help the Yemeni government reassert its control over the center part of the country, they partnered with the local military. This was part of Obama`s plan.

HAYES: Hinna Shamsi of the ACLU and former defense analyst Joshua Foust, both talking about the speech today, thank you. Really appreciate it.

SHAMSI: Thank you.

HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.


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