'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
May 23, 2013
Guests: Jameel Jaffer, Jeremy Scahill
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us.
In August 1996, a man who was not a religious official of any kind, a
man who had no authority to do it, decided he would issue a holy order, a
religious command. He would issue a fatwa. That man`s name was Osama bin
Laden. And in 1996, he issued this self-styled fatwa which he called a
"declaration of war against the Americans occupying the land of the two
The land of the two holy places is Saudi Arabia, the two holy places
being Mecca and Medina.
Osama bin Laden was, of course, a Saudi citizen, and his whole first
declaration of war on the United States hinged on the fact that the United
States had military bases in the land of the two holy places, in Saudi
Arabia. So, that was 1996.
Then two years later, the second bin Laden and al Qaeda fatwa, the
first one I against had been a little rambling. This one spelled it out
much more directly. It said everybody should try to kill Americans, both
American military personnel and civilians, and the justification for doing
that started in the same place as the fatwa before. The one in 1998 says,
"First, for over seven years, the United States has been occupying the
lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula."
So, this one was 1998. And since the first Iraq war, since the first,
you know, the Gulf War, serve years earlier, the United States had been
maintaining military bases in Saudi Arabia which he calls the Arabian
Peninsula, the land of the two holy places. And that fact that there were
U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, that apparently drove Osama bin Laden nuts. So
Drive the infidel armies out of our holy Saudi Arabia. Wage war on
the Saudi rulers for letting the Americans be here.
So, it was fatwa in 1996 saying get U.S. bases out of Saudi Arabia.
Then, it was fatwa two in 1998 saying get U.S. bases out of Saudi Arabia.
And then, three years later, in 2001, it was 9/11.
And we do not talk about this very often. One of the things the
United States did after 9/11 was get the U.S. bases out of Saudi Arabia.
And they did it at a time when honestly the world was sort of distracted.
We invaded Iraq which had nothing to do with al Qaeda or 9/11 on March
19th of that year. And then we announced that we were pulling bases out of
Saudi Arabia on April 29th, that same year. In fact, you might remember
something else happening that same week in the news, because we very
quietly announced that we were pulling U.S. bases out of Saudi Arabia on a
Tuesday. And then, on Thursday, President Bush declared mission
accomplished in our very young war in Iraq.
Osama bin Laden`s big demand was we pull U.S. forces out of Saudi
Arabia. And President George W. Bush pulled U.S. bases out of Saudi
Two decades earlier, we`d gone through a similar kind of thing. In
1983, there was a huge suicide truck bomb that was driven into the U.S.
Marine barracks at the airport in Beirut in Lebanon.
Six months earlier, there had been another big suicide car bomb
attack, not on a barracks, but on the U.S. embassy in the same city.
Sixty-three people killed at the embassy including 17 Americans.
At the barracks bombing, the toll was almost unimaginable, 299 dead
overall, including 220 U.S. Marines, 18 American sailors, three American
soldiers, nearly 60 of our allied French troops. The Americans and the
French and troops from a lot of other countries were there. They were in
Beirut as part of what was supposed to be an international peacekeeping
force. Trying to stop or at least mitigate the effects of a civil war that
was raging in that country.
And the bombings were a terrorist message that those international
troops should get out.
Get out, you infidel occupying armies. We do not want you in our
country. Pull out the peacekeepers.
Then, President Ronald Reagan responded by pulling out the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an NBC News special. Reagan pulls back
the marines. Here`s NBC news correspondent Tom Brokaw.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Good evening.
President Reagan tonight ordered a major change in his Lebanon policy,
a phased pullback of American Marines from their positions to ships just
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ronald Reagan pulled the Marines out of Lebanon. George W.
Bush pulled the bases out of Saudi Arabia. Those presidents have not gone
down in history as guys who surrendered to terrorism, but that is part of
the way they responded.
It`s important to think of this in terms of the overall spectrum here,
right? I mean, terrorism is incoherent. It`s not like Osama bin Laden
after 2003 said, hey, look, I told America to get the bases out of Saudi
Arabia and they did. So, now, we`re cool and I`m ready to hug it out,
Pulling the bases out of Saudi Arabia did not assuage him, even though
he`d been demanding it, did not assuage his desire to kill Americans for
whatever point he was trying to make with his vocation, right?
Yesterday, we got a lecture from a guy covered in blood and holding a
meat cleaver saying his beef with the West is he felt unfairly labeled as
an extremism. The man covered in blood holding a knife said that.
Terrorism is incoherent. And as such, there is no magic policy that
you should obviously and definitely do in response to it that you can be
assured will have the desired effect of stopping it. You can try to
capture or kill committed terrorists. You can try to disrupt their plots.
You can try to disrupt their organizational structure and means of
communication, to screw up their planning to try to catch more of them.
You can sneak spies into their groups, the way the FBI in the great
gangster movies flips a mole into the mob, or flips a guy in the inside to
try to get all the evidence and wrap them all up in a big sting operation.
You can try to reduce the appeal of their ideology so they have fewer
new recreates. And so, you increase the chances that anyone anywhere in
the world who finds terrorist groups are operating in their midst will feel
more likely to turn them in. You can do all of that.
You can try to take away some of the things they are complaining
about. You can try to harden yourself as a target so you are less easy to
hit and so the casualty numbers will be reduced if they do hit again.
There is stuff you can do. But you can do all of those things. You
can do things people think are a mistake. You can do things that people
think look like surrendering. You can do things that people think are
very, very, very tough.
You can do a whole range of things, but you will find no matter what
you do that there is still terrorism in the world. And you will find that
there is still anti-American terrorism in the world, borne from more or
less ideologies, borne out by more or less practitioners. And it will be
sometimes less and sometimes more, and never entirely will it be
susceptible to counterterrorism policies and strategies.
There`s no one policy or strategic response that is compelled by an
act of terrorism because it`s guaranteed to work. Nothing is guaranteed to
work. And there`s a lot of terrorism all over the world. And in our own
history, there`s a lot of terrorism.
I mean, terrorism on U.S. soil did not start with 9/11. I mean, as
President Obama noted in his landmark speech today, calling for an end to
the Bush era construct of the global war on terror, the continuum of
terrorism that we have faced, as Americans, includes things like the
Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and that barracks bombing in Lebanon, and
the embassy bombing there a few months before, the Boston marathon bombing,
the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, the Ft. Hood attack, the Sikh temple mass
shooting, the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985. And, and, and, and, and.
It`s not like America has never been confronted by terrorism before.
But when 9/11 happened, when that specific instance of terrorism
happened, the previous presidential administration decided that the
response this time around was going to be war. War that would be
indefinite, that would be geographically unconstrained and war that would
be waged in a way that was sort of designed to be as low impact as possible
for our civilian population.
We got a huge round of tax cuts in this country a few weeks before
9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts
How did we think we were going to pay for that war? Did we think it
Then, when we started a second simultaneous war in another country, we
gave ourselves a second huge round of tax cuts. After that second war
started. The wars, I guess, we thought would be free, don`t worry about
it, civilians. Go about your business.
But it wasn`t just the tax cuts and other implicit means of insulating
all of us civilians from the war so the war could go on without us much
noticing or caring. It was also the direct shielding of us from knowledge
of the war by waging a lot of it in secret.
And so, after the Bush and Cheney years when we got a new president,
he came into office. Some new decisions were made. One of the two
conventional wars that started after 9/11 was ended. They said they would
end the war in Iraq and they did. The other war, the war in Afghanistan,
is still ongoing. But it also is slowly, slowly, very slowly being ended.
Outside those two conventional battlefields the new administration did
not just keep up. They expanded the use of lethal action around the world
in the name of fighting terrorism. Operationally, they kept that up more
aggressively than ever. That aggression made it possible to find and kill
bin Laden, himself.
But while they operationally kept it up and expanded it, they also did
sort of get less secret about it, over time, incrementally.
March 2010, just over a year after their new administration took
office, the famous human rights lawyer from Yale, who the administration
had put in as the top legal adviser to the State Department, he gave the
first speech explaining why the administration thought it was legal to kill
people without a trial. He said, effectively, because it is war.
Then, March 2012, the attorney general, Eric Holder, he gives another
speech explaining that, yes, that applies to even American citizens.
April 2012, the top lawyer at the CIA gives a speech saying that even
if the CIA does it and no one in the U.S. government will, therefore, admit
to it, they still think it`s legal.
Later that same month, the president`s counterterrorism adviser, who`s
now the head of the CIA, he gives a speech for the first time admits that
when we are killing people, we are killing people with drones.
November 2012, the top lawyer at the Pentagon, Jeh Johnson, goes to
England to give a speech in which he makes the case everything the
administration has been doing is legal under the laws of war, but he says
this war cannot last forever. It has to end.
Now, today, last in a long series, we get the culmination. We get the
president, himself, stating that, yes, the war`s got to end. War cannot be
forever or it`s not war anymore. It`s something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our commitment to
constitutional principles has weathered every war. And every war has come
to an end.
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.
A perpetual war through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments
will prove self-defeating and all to our country in troubling ways.
Our systemic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must
continue, but this war, like all wars must end. That`s what history
advises. That`s who our democracy demands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is a big historic speech. This is a turning point for
the way America talks about its role in the world -- a turning point that
we knew would have to come someday and that finally did come today, at
least in terms of the way we`re talking about it.
In terms of what`s going to happen next, the president had some
specifics. Specifically, the president said today he wants to refine and
then repeal the authorization for the use of military force. That was
signed after 9/11. And that is still in effect. He says he will not sign
laws to expand that thing.
He said he will lift the moratorium on sending prisoners home from
Guantanamo to Yemen. That`s most of the prisoners left at Guantanamo.
He says he wants Congress to lift the barriers that Congress has put
in place to transferring other prisoners out of Guantanamo.
He says he has told the Pentagon to pick a site in the United States
for military commissions to be held here. They will be held here and no
longer at Guantanamo.
He says he has ordered a review of Justice Department guidelines for
spying on reporters as part of leak investigations. He says he wants a
review of proposals for more oversight when we kill people outside of war
zones like with drones. He`s putting a senior envoy in charge of trying to
close the prison at Guantanamo, again, even though that didn`t work the
last time he did it.
All of those plans and the president declaring that the global war on
terror has got to be ended someday, this is a big deal, what happened
today. This has been a long time in coming.
Joining us now is someone who has been working since the first day of
this president`s first term on pretty much every big national security and
civil liberties issue that the president talked about today.
Jameel Jaffer is deputy legal director of the ACLU. He`s currently
representing the families of three American citizens killed by drone
strikes in Yemen, including Anwar al-Awlaki`s family, and their lawsuits
against the Obama administration.
Jameel represents a detainee who has been held in Guantanamo since
2002. And he recently won a big victory in courts when the D.C. circuit
court of appeals ruled that the CIA can no longer deny the fact they play a
role in the government`s targeting and killing people abroad program.
As such, he is the one person I really wanted to talk to tonight after
hearing President Obama`s speech.
Jameel Jaffer, thank you for being here.
JAMEEL JAFFER, ACLU: Thank you for inviting me.
MADDOW: I feel like rhetoric I important and in terms of politics and
rhetoric and the way we talk about our way in the world, it is important to
talk about this war ending.
But in terms of policy, did you feel like there were things that were
new from the president in this speech that you felt like were progress?
JAFFER: Well, first, I agree with you about the rhetoric. I think
that`s important. I think that the president did something very
significant by saying we can`t stay on a permanent war footing without
compromising our democracy.
So to the extent, that level of generality, I think the speech is
powerful and compelling and overdue. It`s one thing to commit to end the
war, and another thing to end the war. And when you get to the level of
detail here, a lot sort of slips between your fingers, it`s very difficult
to pin down the language in this speech.
There are some positive things that the president committed to do on
Guantanamo. Appoint a new envoy to negotiate transfers to other countries.
Lift the moratorium on transfers to Yemen. Use the existing power under
statutory law to transfer people who can be transferred.
These are all very important things, and they are not the ultimate
step. The ultimate step is releasing people from Guantanamo. But these
are necessary steps toward that end.
So on Guantanamo, I think there have been some positive developments.
We have to see how they play out.
On targeted killing, I think it`s more complicated. Targeted killing,
the administration has said that it`s narrowing the authority to carry out
strikes. To the extent, that`s true. That`s obviously a welcome
The administration is still claiming the authority to carry out
strikes away from actual battlefields. It`s claiming the authority to
carry out strikes against people who don`t present truly imminent threats.
So, it`s a strange situation where you have the rhetoric of peace but
the reality of war. And, you know, which maybe there will be some
convergence there. Maybe eventually the reality will catch up with the
rhetoric. But right now, I feel like the rhetoric of peace is way in front
of the actual policies.
MADDOW: So on the Guantanamo issue, there was a couple of
quantitative issues that came out. On Guantanamo, the president talked
about essentially picking the low-hanging fruit. Clearing people out of
Guantanamo who have been cleared for release and for whom the barriers to
release are political, they`re not seen as security barriers. Talking
about reducing the number of people.
When in comes down to people who he says cannot be released, he
essentially expressed faith, that if we narrow it down to them, and it`s
only a few people left, we will come up with the resolution.
MADDOW: Similarly, on drone strikes, he`s talking about narrowing the
scope in which drone strikes can happen. But he also said, you know, after
we leave Afghanistan, there`s going to be less, there`s going to be fewer
because we will not have the justification of needing to use drone strikes
to protect our troops.
I thought that -- I mean, he`s making a principled argument, but
bringing numbers into it that way, I wondered what your response to that
JAFFER: Well, I mean, less is better than more, you know? But, you
know, ultimately there`s an underlying theory here that`s a real problem.
The underlying theory is we are war all over the world, and that the
battlefield is everywhere.
And that theory is that the -- it`s the problem with our indefinite
detention policy. It`s the problem with our targeted killing policy. A
lot of the most controversial and unconstitutional policies that the last
administration put in place and this administration has continued or
expanded flow from that basic idea.
MADDOW: And if that basic idea changes, do those policies have to
change as a result? If the authorization for use of military force gets
repealed, as the president said he wants to do today --
JAFFER: I do think they have to -- I absolutely think the policies
will follow. But we should be clear about what happened today. What
happened today is not that the president declared an end to the war. The
president declared an intent to end the war. That`s a much different
And, you know, I don`t want to -- I don`t want to dismiss the
significance of the rhetoric. I agree with you that the rhetoric is
important, but I also don`t want people to think that this rhetoric is
enough. The rhetoric has to lead to actual action on Guantanamo, on
targeted kill, and thus far we`ve seen small steps in the right direction
but only small steps.
MADDOW: Talking about planning for an end comes with defining that
there will be an end someday. So we`re sort of that -- I guess we`re at
the beginning --
JAFFER: The beginning of the end.
MADDOW: There you go.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the ACLU, and a guy who`s
absolutely at the center of all this -- thank you very much.
JAFFER: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Robert Gibbs is with us tonight as well, coming
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. It was May 2007. Republicans across the country were in
the process of trying to figure out who their nominee for president was
going to be in the upcoming election to succeed George W. Bush. One guy
who really wanted the job was a former governor from Massachusetts who that
year sort of tried to run on the "I`m a tough guy" platform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m glad they`re at
Guantanamo. I don`t want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo and
they don`t get the access to lawyers they get when they`re on our soil.
Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is we
ought to double Guantanamo. We ought to make sure the terrorists --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Double Guantanamo. Yes. Mitt Romney lost that Republican
primary. He lost to this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: For closing Guantanamo Bay because
it`s become a symbol. It may be one of the nicest places in the world to
live in, but it has become a symbol and we need to close Guantanamo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: John McCain won the Republican primary that year. And at the
time, he was really vocal about his desire to close the prison at
Guantanamo. That position was also held by the man who was president at
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I`d like to end Guantanamo. I`d
like it to be over with. One of the things we will do is we will send
people back to their home countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So that was the position on the Republican side in the lead-
up to the `08 presidential election.
Here`s how Democrats were dealing with the same issue at the same
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should shut
down -- I would the first days president, I would shut down Guantanamo.
JOE BIDEN (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I voted to not build the
new $36 million part. I called for closing it three years ago.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will close
Guantanamo which I think is a national embarrassment.
OBAMA: We`re going to lead by shutting down Guantanamo and restoring
habeas corpus in this country, so that we offer them an example.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: That last guy, of course, when on to win the Democratic
nomination, but he didn`t competition on his close Guantanamo position.
All the Democrats thought that. All Democrats, including their eventual
nominee, said close Guantanamo.
The Republican president said close Guantanamo. The Republican
presidential nominee said close that Guantanamo.
Heading into the `08 presidential election, there was a clear national
consensus, left, right and center, that closing Guantanamo was not only the
right thing to do, nobody really was against it, at least nobody who was
going to be in power, right? It was going to happen.
So, to nobody`s surprise, on his second full day in office, the winner
of that presidential election signed an executive order calling for the
prompt closure of Guantanamo. In that executive order, President Obama
noted that 500 Guantanamo prisoners had already been sent home or to
another country under President Bush. President Obama set a deadline of
one year to get the rest of them out, send them home, or release them, or
put them in the U.S. justice system, whatever the most appropriate. But
the idea was take one year to close the thing down.
Closing Guantanamo was a foregone conclusion. It was the one area of
absolute bipartisan consensus on national security. There was no pushback
on the Republican side. Even if there had been, Democrats controlled the
White House and both chambers of Congress by a lot after that election.
Guantanamo was definitely going to be over. It was going to be closed.
And then it did not happen. Less than a month after the president
signed the order to close Guantanamo, Republicans in Congress started
trying to block any of the prisoners there from being transferred to
prisons in the U.S. -- not in my backyard.
In response, Democrats in Congress folded. They caved. And they,
Democrats as well as Republicans, took away the money the White House
needed to close Guantanamo.
The next year, Congress, again, took away money for closing
Guantanamo. In the last month when Democrats still controlled both the
house and the senate, they voted again to block the president from
transferring anyone out of Guantanamo and into the real U.S. justice
And so, now, more than four years after the president signed the order
to close Guantanamo, which everybody thought was a foregone conclusion, not
only has the White House not closed Guantanamo, but Congress with the help
of the president`s own party put up a series of barriers to keep that from
That is what happened four years ago. But, today, this president
charged back into that fight, explicitly calling on Congress to get out of
his way this time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Given my administration`s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda`s
leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to
prevent us from closing a facility that should have never been opened.
Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on
detainee transfers from Gitmo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Why is President Obama doing this now? What goes into the
decision about that kind of timing?
And for people who were there in this administration the first time
around, people who were there when the president tried to float this policy
before and it sank, what is their understanding of what went wrong the
first time? Do they get what the problems were the first time around so
they`ll be able to get around them now and get done now what they could not
get done before?
A man who could actually answer those questions because he was there
and saw it from the inside joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Imagine a future ten 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 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?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: More on the young lady who interrupted him in just a second.
It`s an interesting point there, right? I guess we have sort of gotten
used to it. But when you step back from it, it is kind of wacky to think
our country is keeping a prison in another country and that`s where we put
people in prison forever without charging them with any crime. Then, when
they all started to try to kill themselves in protest, we physically forbid
them from killing themselves by forcing food into them against will.
The president trying to show how difficult that will be to explain to
history when we are inevitably called to do so.
The president today in this speech in some ways is picking up where he
left off in `09, calling for the closure of that prison that we keep in
Joining us now is somebody who was there the last the president tried
to close that prison and saw how it went, Robert Gibbs, former White House
Robert, thank you very much for being here.
ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having
MADDOW: So when you were in the White House, and the president set
the goal of closing Guantanamo within a year after he took office, did the
failure of that policy sneak up on you guys? Or could you tell early on
that it was going to be in trouble?
GIBBS: Well, I do think you had a political situation where different
parts of the political spectrum were trying to test what they wanted to
convince the American people was an inexperienced president. I do think
the politics of it were maybe not as easy as we thought, and I think it got
away from what we were trying to do pretty quickly.
But I do think you have a reelected president who`s hunted down and
rid the world of Osama bin Laden, who`s in fundamentally a different place
now than he was even four years ago.
MADDOW: Do you have faith as the president pushes forward with this
again that this time, he`ll be able to hold even his own party? I mean,
the thing that was surprising the first time around was not the Republicans
deciding to change their minds and decide they were against closing
Guantanamo, all of a sudden. The thing that was surprising was to see the
Democrats tuck their tail between their legs and run.
GIBBS: Right. Well, I do think the Democrats are in a fundamentally
different political position in dealing with terrorism, again, because of
what has happened over the last few years, in decimating senior al Qaeda
leadership, in hunting down and ridding the world of Osama bin Laden.
So, I do think there is that. I still think there`s an enormous
communications campaign, if you will, that has to take place. You saw the
letters that were being sent to the White House with don`t send Guantanamo
prisoners here, don`t send them there. And I think there will certainly be
some of that.
And I think we have to also really get some folks out there,
particularly from the military. I`d like to see Colin Powell and General
David Petraeus, again, reiterate why they think Guantanamo Bay`s detention
facility should be closed, because as John McCain eloquently said in the
clip you showed, it is a blight on our foreign policy. It`s a recruiting
tool to this day. It`s been exacerbated by this hunger strike.
So, I think there`s a long way to go. But let`s be clear. You know,
we have a super max facility in Florence, Colorado, about 110 miles south
of Denver. Some of the worst people on the planet are housed there with
absolutely no danger that they`re going to escape.
We keep everybody from Ted Kaczynski, to Richard Reid. He`s the shoe
bomber, the reason we still take our shoes off at the airport, to the
underwear bomber on Christmas Day of 2009, and a host of other bad people.
We can house bad people in this country and shouldn`t be afraid as
Mitt Romney said in that clip that you showed, to demonstrate our values to
the world in trying them, and if they`re guilty, imprisoning them. If
they`re not, releasing them.
MADDOW: But given -- so, you`re making the case right there why this
should be possible. But you`re also saying that work needs to be done.
Communications work needs to be done in order to sell this so it won`t fail
again like it did in 2009.
Given the work that needs to be done, why do you think the president
is taking on this fight now? Why pick now as the time to do this? Given
that it`s going to take a bunch of political work to get it done?
GIBBS: Well, I think a few things. One, I think this is what the
president would consider one of the main unfinished pieces of business from
his first term. One of the others, probably immigration reform, which I
think is on track to get done at some point in the next year or so.
The second thing I think you mentioned is this is simply an
unsustainable policy. We cannot continue in perpetuity to keep prisoners
at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. It`s just not sustainable.
And third, I think, again, it goes to the un-sustainability, which is
the geopolitical reality of what this means as a blight to our foreign
policy and a recruiting tool to al Qaeda and its dangerous extremist
So, for all of those reasons, now is the right time. But, again, I
think it will not be an easy thing to do, but, you know, I was heartened by
what some people said in Congress today. Certainly there were those that
said, oh, you know, try to scare and do the predictable boogeyman. But
there were certainly some that said, you know, we do need to close it, now,
we just need to work through or we need to find a plan for how to do that.
And I think that is encouraging.
MADDOW: Robert Gibbs, former Obama White House press secretary --
Robert, thank you for your time together. I appreciate having you.
ROBERTS: Rachel, thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Hold on. We got more ahead.
MADDOW: Today at the president`s big deal foreign policy, national
security, civil liberties speech, an activist who has been a thorn in the
side of two White Houses now, Medea Benjamin from Code Pink, she wheeled
into existence that rarest of things in presidential speech, an unscripted
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So today, once again -- so today --
PROTESTER: There are 102 people on a hunger strike, these desperate
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 it?
OBAMA: Why don`t you sit down and I will tell you exactly what I`m
going to do?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President at first seemingly flustered by the interruption,
Then nobody quite knew how it was going to end because the heckling
did not stop. She stopped for a second, but then she interrupted the
president again and again and again.
And eventually he just let her speak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROTESTER: How about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, 16-year-old American?
OBAMA: When we -- we went -
PROTESTER: And killed by drones?
Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old American? Why was he killed?
Can you tell us why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed? Can you tell
the Muslim people their lives are 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, ma`am.
PROTESTER: Will you 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. The drones are making us less safe and keeping people in
indefinite detention in Guantanamo is making us less safe. Abide by the
rules of law. You`re a constitutional lawyer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All that while, this was the look at the president`s face.
Listening. Standing there listening at what is supposed to be his own
But the look of a maybe flustered president being heckled at
extraordinary lengths --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We`re addressing that, ma`am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: -- eventually seemed way to give way to something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The activists at Code Pink and Medea Benjamin are not trying
to make friends. They are out to be disruptive to those with whom they
disagree. And the president today reacted in a way that was so surprising
in part, I think, because he thought he was saying something in which anti-
war protesters would agree.
Essentially the moment was there, hey, stop interrupting me and you
might like what you`re hearing. At least only some of it, you might like
what you`re hearing.
MADDOW: These look like printer cartridges but they are not. They`re
explosive devices. Taken apart and packed with bombs. They contain the
explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate, more commonly known and more
commonly pronounced as PETN.
In 2010, two bombs concealed like this in printer cartridges were
mailed from a UPS and FedEx office in Yemen to addresses in Chicago. The
packages delivered through four different countries, and at least four
different planes, two of which were carrying passengers before they were
intercepted in Britain and Dubai, following a tip from Saudi Arabia`s
intelligence service. That was in 2010. That was an interrupted plot.
We`re now being told by the government that Anwar al-Awlaki, an
American cleric, who was a leader in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, not
only helped plan and oversee that plot to detonate the cartridges onboard
those two U.S.-bound cargo planes, he was also, they say, directly involved
in the details of its execution. The government now says he took part
directly in even the development and testing of the explosives that were
placed on the planes.
And while we`re on the subject, in 2009, a Nigerian businessman walked
into the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. He said he was concerned about his son.
He said his son was being radicalized.
At the time, U.S. intelligence officials deemed this concern over his
son`s radicalization to be insufficient to pursue at the moment. They did
add the young man`s name to a half million other names in a computer
database. But for the most part, the tip was sort of forgotten. Until a
month later in December 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a jet
going from Nigeria to Detroit and he had about 80 grams of that same kind
of explosive material, PETN, hidden in his underwear.
And now, more information. Now, the government is saying that the
underwear bomber and Anwar al-Awlaki, same guy, were introduced through
text message. That Mr. Awlaki hosted the underwear bomber in his house for
three days before the kid went on to an al Qaeda training camp. We`re also
being told Mr. Al-Awlaki planned the suicide operation for the underwear
bomber in detail and helped him draft a statement in a martyrdom video that
would be shown after the attack.
We`re told that Awlaki directed the underwear bomber to take down that
U.S. plane. That his last instructions to him were to make sure he blew it
up when it was over American soil.
All these new disclosures about Anwar al-Awlaki came in a letter
yesterday sent by the attorney general to members of Congress. The same
points were reiterated by President Obama in his big speech today.
Basically, all of these new allegations against this American citizen
who was killed are part of an argument by the administration that it was OK
to kill him. It`s an argument this U.S. citizen was not targeted for death
and ultimately killed by his own government without a trial because of his
preaching or because of his beliefs or even because of his membership in an
organization with whom we have declared ourselves to be at war.
President Obama made the case today that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed
because of what he was doing. Because he said he was working all the time
to kill people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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
That`s who Anwar Awlaki was. He was continuously trying to kill
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: These new factual allegations about what Awlaki did are part
of a case the government is now making for why it was OK to kill him. Are
these new factual allegations true?
Joining us now is Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for
"The Nation" magazine and author of the new door stop that is available at
your local book shop. The book is called, "Dirty Wars: The World is a
Battlefield." He`s also the filmmaker of a new documentary called "Dirty
Wars", which explores America`s covert wars across the globe. It`s going
to premiere in select cities across the country June 7th.
Jeremy, thank you for being here.
JEREMY SCAHILL, AUTHOR, "DIRTY WARS": Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: So, those factual allegations are part of an important
political argument about why that targeted killing was OK. What do you
maybe of those factual allegations?
SCAHILL: You know, I find -- it was really interesting today, because
the president also said that if he had the opportunity, he would have
detained and prosecuted Anwar al-Awlaki.
SCAHILL: If that`s true, why didn`t they seek an indictment against
him? If they have all of this evidence, why not bring into a court of law,
why not bring it into a court of law? Why not get an indictment, seek his
And if you can`t get his extradition, well, then, you have all sorts
of options available to you. But they didn`t even try.
So, none of the allegations against Awlaki have been proven. They
haven`t produced any evidence, except for a declaration from the attorney
general, and now, assertions from the president.
For much of the past 600 days, and Awlaki died 600 days ago, his case
has been litigated posthumously through leaks from the administration.
I`m willing to concede maybe everything they say is true about Anwar
al-Awlaki. For me, it`s not about who Anwar al-Awlaki is. It`s about who
we are as a society. How we treat the most reprehensible of our citizens
says a lot about who we are.
So, if we had that efforts evidence against him, what was so dangerous
that we couldn`t seek an indictment and uphold the rule of law?
And I should say -- almost no one ever talks about this -- the first
time we know the U.S. tried to kill Anwar al-Awlaki was before the
underwear bomb plot, before any of the allegations that President Obama
made today. They tried to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24th, 2009.
This is before any of this had taken place, before any of the things in the
attorney general`s letter.
MADDOW: Having been to Yemen and spent time with the Awlaki family, a
lot of which is documented in the film, which is amazing, do you think it
is feasible that had an indictment and extradition proceedings been
initiated, that would have been a way too catch him?
SCAHILL: You know what`s interesting? Anwar al-Awlaki was in prison
in Yemen for 18 months, in part because of the request of the United States
government. John Negroponte was involved with facilitating his
imprisonment and actually said, we want Awlaki kept in this Yemeni prison
for four or five years so that young Muslims stop being influenced by him
around the room. Eventually, the president was put under pressure and had
to let him go.
I think that there are numerous cases where we have killed people in
Yemen where they could have been handed over to the United States in we had
negotiated with their tribes. In the case of Awlaki, I don`t know, he had
been -- they tried to kill him so many time that I think he was so deep
underground, it would have been difficult to apprehend him. But I don`t
know that we ever actually tried.
The tribal leaders from his region told me that had he had repeatedly
told the Yemeni president, if you present us with evidence that he is
guilty of any of these crimes, we`ll execute him ourselves. The head of
the Alak (ph) tribe told me, Shikh Saleh bin Farid (ph) told me that he
told a liaison with the United States government, if you show us the
evidence, we will execute him ourselves.
MADDOW: The Awlaki son revelation yesterday from Attorney General
Eric Holder, it had been known that Awlaki`s son was killed by a U.S. drone
strike, the U.S. finally admitted yesterday, but said it was not a specific
targeting. Effectively admitting that it was an accident.
How does that affect the ongoing case there and the family`s
relationship with that case?
SCAHILL: Well, I mean, first of all, what I find amazing -- your
previous guest, Robert Gibbs, had said when you asked about Abdulrahman al-
Awlaki`s killing, I mean, he did, he said he should have had a more
responsible father. Harry Reid said that not only Anwar al-Awlaki and
Samir Khan, the two men that were killed on September 30th, but Abdulrahman
al-Awlaki said that if there were three Americans deserved to be killed, it
was those three Americans.
And tried to get him to clarify, do you mean the 16-year-old kid?
There`s not a shred of evidence. I`ve got to know this family so
well. Not a single member of the family is like Anwar al-Awlaki. His son
was not Anwar al-Awlaki.
And for someone like Gibbs to say that or Harry Reid to say that,
without putting forth evidence, it implies the kid did something wrong.
This was a normal goofy kid, into comic books, Facebook, hanging out with
friends, had no relationship whatsoever to terrorism.
MADDOW: Does the admission he was not killed on purpose affect how
the family is going to proceed in terms of their relationship with the U.S.
government, getting recourse?
SCAHILL: Well, you know, if we`re doing these strikes and say they`re
targeted strikes and have satellite information, we should have known there
were a group of teenagers sitting there having dinner. That`s one part of
But the other is, I find that phrase and I watched your interview with
Jeh Johnson, which I found it fascinating, where he wouldn`t quite say it
was accidental. And they used this not specifically targeted.
Perhaps it was a signature strike where they`re going after a group of
military age males, and they`re hitting them. Maybe there was someone
nearby that they had been tracking or been in a mosque that someone they
were tracking with.
To me, it just opens the door to all sorts of theories. When you kill
the father and then the son two weeks later, I think the looming question
is, how could this have happened?
When I talk to a former senior administration official who was in on
this process, he said that John Brennan, when he was the senior adviser on
home land security and counterterrorism, actually believed it may have been
a direct hit. That he couldn`t believe that it was a coincidence and
ordered a review.
When I called the White House to ask about that review, they said they
wouldn`t comment and then sent me their boiler plate statement that they
send to all of us when we inquire about drone strikes.
So, to me how that kid was killed says a lot about who we are as a
I think that family is owed an explanation and the American people are
owed an explanation.
MADDOW: Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for "The
Nation" magazine, author of "Dirty Wars" and the forthcoming documentary of
the same name -- Jeremy, thank you.
SCAHILL: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: At the start of the civil war, the land that would eventually
become Arlington National Cemetery was only owned by General Robert E. Lee,
the Southern general, you know, General Lee.
Amazing story, super duper short version. The Union Army took General
Lee`s property and decided to turn it into the Arlington National Cemetery.
Century and a half, and eight wars later, more than 250,000 men
suspect women who have died in American conflicts are buried at Arlington
This afternoon, soldiers from the Third U.S. Infantry placed American
flags in front of every single one of those graves. It`s a ceremony that
happens every year. They call it Flags In. It happens every year just
before Memorial Day weekend. They did the same thing for all 14,000 graves
at the U.S. Soldiers` and Airmen`s Home National Cemetery across the river
A remarkable undertaking and a fitting reminder that the upcoming
weekend is not just a three-day weekend where you get an extra day off
work. As was the president`s speech today, the United States has spent the
last decade at war from which thousands of Americans will never come home.
The day for remembering all of the men and women who made the ultimate
sacrifice for this country is this upcoming Monday. The holiday is called
Memorial Day, held every year on the final Monday of May.
The thing about Memorial Day is this. It is not to be confused with
Veterans Day. Veterans Day is the 11th of November. It`s dedicated
officially to the cause of world peace that is held in honor of the treaty
signed at the end of the First World War that was supposed to be the end of
the war to end all wars.
It has not worked out that way. But Veterans Day is a celebration.
Veterans Day is a happy celebration and a thank you to veterans who have
served. That`s in November.
Memorial Day is different. Memorial Day may now be understood as the
unofficial start of summer, and it is, indeed, a fine day in which to hold
But just in the last 10 of our country`s almost 237 years, 7,000 men
and women have given their lives for this country. And Memorial Day is
about remembering that.
That does it for us tonight.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Have a great night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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