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Meet the Press Transcript - December 14, 2014

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2014

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Senate's torture report.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN:

We have failed to live by the very precepts that makes our nation a great one.

CHUCK TODD:

The report concludes that the CIA misled the public, Congress, and the Bush White House over the use of these controversial interrogation tactics.

JOHN MCCAIN:

It produced little useful intelligence to track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.

CHUCK TODD:

There is no shortage of CIA critics, but former Vice President Dick Cheney is unapologetic. He insists, the program saved American lives.

DICK CHENEY:

We did exactly what we needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty of 9/11 and to prevent a further attack.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll be joined by Dick Cheney for an exclusive network TV interview.

Plus the drone program, killing suspected terrorists. Could we view drones years from now the same way some of us are viewing interrogation tactics today

MICAH ZENKO:

Infact most of the individuals who we kill we have much less information about than the individual, the 119 that we captured.

CHUCK TODD;

Also, thousands gather in cities across the country to protest police treatment of black men.

AQUIL SAAFIR:

As a young black man, you're pulled over constantly.

CHUCK TODD:

Why is there such distrust between the police and African Americans?

CHARLES BECK:

To think that those flight and fight instincts aren't going to be present in police officers is to deny humanity.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm Chuck Todd and joining me to provide insight and analysis are former senior adviser to President Obama David Axelrod, NBC's Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Helene Cooper of the New York Times, and former chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq Dan Senor.

Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. Some late news, last night this Senate approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill. It will fund the government through next September. Bottom line, no government shutdown this year or perhaps next as well. But let's get to our big story, the Senate report on what some call torture, what others call enhanced interrogation techniques.

The report put together by Senate Democrats on the intelligence committee. It's a detailed and, in some cases, shocking indictment of the methods used to interrogate detainees. There's no shortage of critics of what C.I.A. did. And there's has been no more forceful defender of the tactics than our first guest, former Vice President Dick Cheney. So let's get right to it. Vice President Cheney, welcome back to Meet the Press.

DICK CHENEY:

Morning, Chuck. It's good to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me start with quoting you. You said earlier this week, "Torture was something that was very carefully avoided." It implies that you have a definition of what torture is. What is it?

DICK CHENEY:

Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There's this notion that somehow there's moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that's absolutely not true. We were very careful to stop short of torture. The Senate has seen fit to label their report torture. But we worked hard to stay short of that definition.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, what is that definition?

DICK CHENEY:

Definitions, and one that was provided by the Office of Legal Counsel, we went specifically to them because we did not want to cross that line into where we violating some international agreement that we'd signed up to. They specifically authorized and okayed, for example, exactly what we did. All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me go through some of those techniques that were used, Majid Khan, was subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration. It included two bottles of Ensure, later in the same day Majid Khan's lunch tray consisting of hummus, pasta, sauce, nuts and raisins was pureed and rectally infused.

DICK CHENEY:

That wasn't--

CHUCK TODD:

Does that meet the definition of torture?

DICK CHENEY:

--that does not meet the definition of what was used in the program as--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I understand. But does that meet the definition of torture in your mind?

DICK CHENEY:

--in my mind, I've told you what meets the definition of torture. It's what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. What was done here apparently certainly was not one of the techniques that was approved. I believe it was done for medical reasons.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, medical community has said there is no medical--

(OVERTALK)

DICK CHENEY:

If you go and look, for example, at Jose Rodriguez book, and he was the guy running the program, he's got a very clear description of how, in fact, the program operated. With respect to that I think the agency has answered it and its response to the committee report and I--

CHUCK TODD:

--but you acknowledge this was over and above.

DICK CHENEY:

--that was not something that was done as part of the interrogation program.

CHUCK TODD:

But you won't call it torture.

DICK CHENEY:

It wasn't torture in terms of it wasn't part of the program.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this, we've got Riyadh al-Najjar. He had handcuffing on one or both of his wrists to an overhead bar, would not allow him to lower his arms. Twenty-two hours each day for two consecutive days in order to break his resistance. Al-Najjar was also wearing a diaper and had no access to toilet facility. Was that acknowledged? Was that part of the program that you approved?

DICK CHENEY:

I can't tell from that specific whether it was or not.

CHUCK TODD:

And then--

DICK CHENEY:

I know we had--

CHUCK TODD:

--page 53 of the report.

DICK CHENEY:

--the report is seriously flawed. They didn't talk to anybody who knew anything about the program. They didn't talk to anybody within the program. The best guide for what in fact happened is the one that's the report that was produced by the three C.I.A. directors and deputy directors of the C.I.A. when this program was undertaken.

And, in fact, it lays out in very clear terms what we did and how we did it. And with respect to trying to define that as torture I come back to the proposition torture was what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. There's no comparison between that and what we did with inspect-enhanced interrogation.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess--

DICK CHENEY:

So not true.

CHUCK TODD:

--but some of these tactics went above and beyond what was improved.

DICK CHENEY:

But--

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, here's another one. Let me read you another one here. With Abu Zubaydah, over a 20-day period, aggressive interrogations. Spent a total of 266 hours, 11 days, two hours, in a large coffin-sized confinement box, 29 hours in a small confinement box, width of 21 inches, depth of 2.5 feet, height of 2.5 feet. That's on page 42.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Is that going to meet the standard--

DICK CHENEY:

I think that was--

CHUCK TODD:

--of the definition of torture?

DICK CHENEY:

--I think that was, in fact, one of the approved techniques. In terms of torture I guess what I do, I was struck, for example, by the statements by Bud Day and Leo Thorsness and Admiral Denton. These are three folks who were captured by the North Vietnamese, held for a year, subject to extreme torture. And all of whom said that waterboarding was not torture.

Now you can look for various definitions. We did what was, in fact, required to make certain that going forward we were not violating the law. And the law, as interpreted by the justice department, the Office of Legal Counsel was very clear. And the techniques that we did, in fact, use that the president authorized that produced results, that gave us the information we needed to be able to safeguard the nation against further attacks and to be able to track those guilty for 9/11 did, in fact, work. Now the Senate committee partisan operation, no Republicans involved, no interviews of anybody involved itself--

CHUCK TODD:

It's all C.I.A. documentation--

DICK CHENEY:

It's, Chuck--

CHUCK TODD:

--in here. It is all C.I.A. documentation.

DICK CHENEY:

--Chuck, if you look at it and you look at what the people running the agency said and what Jose Rodriguez said who ran the program, he's a good man, that, as I said the other day, I won't use the word on your show. It may be family, it's a crock. It's not true. And it's not--

CHUCK TODD:

Have you read more of the report since?

DICK CHENEY:

--I've read parts of it. The whole report hasn't even been released.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Right, all you've gotten is the 500 page.

DICK CHENEY:

Yeah, all you've got--

CHUCK TODD:

This is the executive summary.

DICK CHENEY:

--is the summary. Go read what the directors of the agency said about the report. They were extremely critical of it as were the Republicans who served on the committee. It's a flawed report. It didn't begin to approach what's required by way of responsive oversight.

CHUCK TODD:

Does it plant any seed of doubt of you in though?

DICK CHENEY:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

No seed of doubt at all? All this--

DICK CHENEY:

Absolutely not.

CHUCK TODD:

--all of this information in here, no seed of doubt that whether this worked or not.

DICK CHENEY:

It worked. It absolutely did work.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, what do you say to Gul Rahman, what do you say to Sulaiman Abdula, what do you say to Khalid al-Masri? All three of these folks were detained, they had these interrogation techniques used on them. They eventually were found to be innocent. They were released, no apologies, nothing. What do we owe them?

DICK CHENEY:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.

DICK CHENEY:

--right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. Of the 600 and some people who were released out of Guantanamo, 30% roughly ended up back on the battlefield. Today we're very concerned about ISIS. Terrible new terrorist organization.

It is headed by named Baghdadi. Baghdadi was in the custody of the U.S. military in Iraq in Camp Bucca. He was let go and now he's out leading the terror attack against the United States. I'm more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.

CHUCK TODD:

25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.

DICK CHENEY:

Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm asking you.

DICK CHENEY:

--you going to know?

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Is that too high? You're okay with that margin for error?

DICK CHENEY:

I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States. I was prepared and we did. We got authorizing from the president and authorization from the Justice Department to go forward with the program. It worked. It worked now for 13 years.

We've avoided another mass casualty attack against the United States. And we did capture Bin Laden. We did capture an awful lot of the senior guys at Al Qaeda who were responsible for that attack on 9/11. I'd do it again in a minute.

CHUCK TODD:

When you say waterboarding is not torture, then why did we prosecute Japanese soldiers in World War II for waterboarding?

(OVERTALK)

DICK CHENEY:

For a lot of stuff. Not for waterboarding. They did an awful lot of other stuff to draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that's an outrage. It's a really cheap shot, Chuck, to even try to draw a parallel between the Japanese who were prosecuted for war crimes after World War II and what we did with waterboarding three individuals--

CHUCK TODD:

I understand.

DICK CHENEY:

--all of whom were guilty and participated in the 9/11 attacks.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a reason these interrogations didn't happen on U.S. soil? Was there concern that maybe these folks would get legal protections--

DICK CHENEY:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

--from the United States and that's why it was done at black sites?

DICK CHENEY:

--we didn't read them their Miranda rights either. These are not American citizens. They are unlawful combatants. They are terrorists. They are people who have committed unlawful acts of war against the American people. And we put them in places where we could proceed with the interrogation program and find out what they knew so we could protect the country against further attack. And it worked.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you to respond to John McCain and David Petraeus. General Petraeus said this in 2007 to his troops about these interrogation techniques, "Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. That would be wrong." And of course here's what Senator McCain said earlier this week.

JOHN MCCAIN (ON TAPE):

I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies. Our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights which are protected by international conventions, the United States not only joined but for the most part authored.

CHUCK TODD:

Your reaction?

DICK CHENEY:

My reaction is the same as Leo Thorsness. He was on the air this week. Captured pilot shot down over Vietnam, held in captivity for many years, subjected to torture who this week said, "Waterboarding is not torture." He also holds the medal of honor as did Bud Day who was also captured and tortured and subsequently made it clear that he did not believe waterboarding was torture.

CHUCK TODD:

So if an American citizen is waterboarded by ISIS are we going to try to prosecute for war crimes?

DICK CHENEY:

He's not likely to be waterboarded, he's likely to have his head cut off. It's not a close call.

CHUCK TODD:

If another country captures a U.S. soldier, the Iranian regime, water boards--

DICK CHENEY:

Chuck, he--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--is that going to be an accepted--

DICK CHENEY:

--you're trying to come up now with hypothetical situations. Waterboarding, the way we did it, was, in fact, not torture. Now when you're dealing with terrorists, the likes of Al Qaeda or the ISIS, I haven't seen them water board anybody. What they did is cut their heads off. What they did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11, that was brutal, bloody murder. It absolutely can't be compared with what we did with respect to our enhanced interrogation program.

CHUCK TODD:

Now there is an implication here that you, yourself, were misled by the C.I.A. In particular, it has to do with Jose Padilla. A memo that was prepared for you by the C.I.A. said, "Use of DOJ authorized enhanced interrogation techniques as part of the comprehensive interrogation program has enabled us to disrupt terrorists' plots. Dirty bomb plot, Operative Jose Padilla, and Binyam Mohamed plan to build and detonate a dirty bomb in the Washington D.C. area.

Plot was disrupted the source with Abu Zubaydah. In this same report, two pages later this is what the Senate Democrats found, "A review of C.I.A. cables and other C.I.A. records found that the use of the C.I.A.'s enhanced interrogation technique played no role in the identification of Jose Padilla or the thwarting of the dirty bomb or the tall buildings plot." Do you feel as if they were telling you what you wanted to hear?

DICK CHENEY:

No, I think--

CHUCK TODD:

What's the implication here?

DICK CHENEY:

--well, the implication is just wrong. And, again, the C.I.A. directors make it very clear that they got it very wrong time after time after time. The notion that we were not notified at the White House about what was going on is not true.

I sat through a lengthy session in '04 with the inspector general of the C.I.A. as he reviewed the state of the program at that time. The suggestion, for example, that the president didn't approve it, wrong. That's a lie, that's not true. We were, in fact--

CHUCK TODD:

How was he briefed? How was the president briefed?

DICK CHENEY:

--he was briefed--

CHUCK TODD:

By C.I.A. or by you or by--

DICK CHENEY:

--I was heavily involved as was especially the National Security Council, Condi. The president writes about it in his own book.

CHUCK TODD:

--so you were directly--

DICK CHENEY:

Wrote it in his book.

CHUCK TODD:

--right, well, three pages in his book he talks about it. But you were briefed directly, he was briefed indirectly most of the time. Is that fair to say?

DICK CHENEY:

That's not fair to say. What happened was he and I met every single morning with the director of the C.I.A., with the National Security advisors six days a week and reviewed everything basically in the intelligence arena. That's where we got most of our information, that and the written PDB.

There would be special meetings from time to time on various subjects that he would be directly involved in. This man knew what we were doing. He authorized it, he approved it. A statement by the Senate Democrats for partisan purposes that the president didn't know what was going on is just a flat out lie.

CHUCK TODD:

But back to--

DICK CHENEY:

It's a cheap shot piece of political business that was not bipartisan nor was it involved any discussion of the people involved in the program.

CHUCK TODD:

You have--

DICK CHENEY:

Why would you even give that credence?

CHUCK TODD:

--well, let me ask you this, why do you not have some doubt in the C.I.A.? This is the same intelligence community that didn't get it right on WMDs in Iraq. Why are you so confident that they're telling you the truth in these memos?

DICK CHENEY:

Well, because I know the people involved because I've worked-- five out of the six former directors and deputy directors are men I've known for years and trust intimately with the difficult problems they'd dealt with. Jose Rodriguez is one of the outstanding officers in the agency.

I know what they were asked to do and I know what they did. And I'm perfectly comfortable that they deserve our praise, they deserve to be decorated. They don't deserve to be harassed. Can you imagine what it's going to be like if you were out there now as an officer in the agency and you were undertaking a complicated, difficult, dangerous task and you had the view that ten years from now even though the president approved it, even though the Justice Department signed off on it, some politician on Capitol Hill is going to come back and want a piece of your fanny.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it--

DICK CHENEY:

That's an outrageous proposition that we're going through here that it's even being discussed.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's interesting you bring that up because here's a United Nations, this is Ben Emerson, special envoy in human rights and counterterrorism. And he wants a criminal probe here. This is what he said, "It's now time to take action. Individuals responsible," what he calls a, "Criminal conspiracy revealed in the report must be brought to justice. Must criminal penalties." And then he ends with, "U.S. legally is obliged to bring those responsible to justice." I know how you feel on this. You think the president's should issue a blanket--

(OVERTALK)

DICK CHENEY:

I have little respect for the United Nations or for this individual who doesn't hear a clue and had absolutely no responsibility for safeguarding this nation and going after the bastards that killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the president should issue a blanket pardon to C.I.A. agents involved here?

DICK CHENEY:

There's no pardon needed. No crime was committed.

CHUCK TODD:

But just to--

DICK CHENEY:

No crime.

CHUCK TODD:

--make sure?

DICK CHENEY:

Who wants to sanction or satisfy some executive at the United Nations who doesn't have any say or responsibility on a claim that some kind of pardon is required, Chuck? This is, again, I come back to the proposition. One of the things I'm really worried about is what this is doing long-term.

We're still at war. The terrorists that are out there today is as bad as it was on 9/11. We've got ISIS talking about attacking the United States, having created a caliphate. We're in a situation at least as bad as we had on 9/11 when after the attack we had word that Al Qaeda was trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

Now we're sitting here today. We are castigating the C.I.A. for doing what the president ordered them to do and the Justice Department said was legal. We're doing enormous damage to our relationship overseas with our friends and allies who've supported us and worked with us. We're making it very, very difficult to be able to go recruit foreign agents to work with us because they're likely to be hung out to dry by politicians on Capitol Hill who've got some kind of political axe to grind.

We're in big trouble partly because of the irresponsible content, is the way I would describe it, with respect to this act. And if the Senate will go forward, the Senate Democrats would go forward, not with a bipartisan approach, not with an approach that takes into account the views of the people who were involved, goes forward for some political reason, trashing a very, very good program that worked, that saved lives, that kept us from another attack.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me ask you a couple of quick questions. I want to play for you an interesting clip of you 20 years ago about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Take a look.

DICK CHENEY (ON TAPE):

That's a very volatile part of the world. And if you take down the central government in Iraq you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of Eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds. And the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It's a quagmire if you go that far.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, you look good there. Didn't look like much--

DICK CHENEY:

How old were you--

CHUCK TODD:

--didn't look like 20 years.

DICK CHENEY:

--twenty years ago?

CHUCK TODD:

What was I? I think I was 22 at the time. Let me ask you this, you could arguably, somebody hearing that today says, "Boy, that's what Iraq looks like today." Right now it looks like it might split up. It looks like it's ungovernable. It looks like pieces of Syria and pieces of Iraq are, you know, I mean, everything you described is happening today.

DICK CHENEY:

So what's your question?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I guess I ask you, do you regret pushing Saddam Hussein out, do you regret the Iraq--

(OVERTALK)

DICK CHENEY:

No, a lot has happened. A lot has happened between that time, 9/11, for example, happened. We got to the point where we were very concerned about the possible linkage between terrorists on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other. Saddam Hussein had previously had twice nuclear programs going. He produced and used weapons of mass destruction. And he had a ten-year relationship with Al Qaeda. All of things came into play.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, some of the Al Qaeda stuff is questioned in here.

DICK CHENEY:

When it was time to get into the business of deciding the importance to go after Iraq, we did the right thing. I believe the it was, in fact, the right action then and I believe it now.

CHUCK TODD:

Last question, Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton, whose foreign policy are you more comfortable with?

DICK CHENEY:

Well, I don't think either one of them's going to be president.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, but you didn't answer the question. Who's foreign policy would you be more comfortable?

DICK CHENEY:

I'm comfortable with my own views. And I've been very forthright about them. And frankly I don't support either Hillary Clinton or Rand Paul.

CHUCK TODD:

How's your health?

DICK CHENEY:

Great. I got a new heart almost three years ago. Tell my wife my hair's even growing back.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, fair enough. Former Vice President Dick Cheney--

DICK CHENEY:

Good to see you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

--thanks for coming to Meet the Press. Thank you.

DICK CHENEY:

You bet.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there you go. We'll be back in one minute with a key Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Ron Wyden. I think Vice President Cheney brought up a few questions that he would like to see Senator Wyden answer. He's been one of the most outspoken critics of the C.I.A.. He'll be here after the break.

ANNOUNCER:

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CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back, more on the story that has dominated the news this week, the Senate, what the Democrats call the torture report. I'm joined now by Senator Ron Wyden. He's a Democrat from Oregon, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and somebody who, frankly, was pushing your leader, Senator Dianne Feinstein to get this report done and be made public. Senator Wyden, welcome back to Meet The Press.

RON WYDEN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

First, let me get your reaction to Vice President Cheney who obviously has not a lot of respect for this report. What do you say?

RON WYDEN:

First of all, with respect to waterboarding and the Vice President is obviously comfortable with it, I consider it to be torture. And just to correct the record, when the Japanese were prosecuted for using it against our guys in World War II, it was at the Tokyo trials. So I think it's important to set the record straight.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you though, he says this thing is partisan. That has been some of the criticism even from folks that agree with some of the conclusions who say, "You know what though, you have no chance to see real reform at the C.I.A. because the C.I.A. can now easily dismiss this as a partisan report."

RON WYDEN:

Facts aren't partisan, Chuck. We reviewed six million pages of documents, the full report has 38,000 footnotes. And what we've thought to do was very careful. And that is to take the statements the C.I.A. made to the American people, made to the Congress, made to the Justice Department, made to the president, and we compared it to their own internal communications in real time. There are a mountain of contradictions.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that you use nothing but C.I.A. material, C.I.A. provided material. But no interviews. The C.I.A. says Director Brennan said that he would have been pleased to talk to Senate Investigators. That plenty of C.I.A. agents were even talking to the Justice Department. Why didn't you take up the C.I.A.? I know for a while they weren't giving you access. But eventually they said they were going to give you and decided not to take them up on it. Why?

RON WYDEN:

It's a little more complicated than that. The report and the Justice Department inquiry went on at the same time. So we weren't able to interview the C.I.A. So we thought that it was important to get materials that can be verified and documented.

So we looked at the communications that C.I.A. officers were making in real time about torture. Now during that period, everybody knew that we were having this inquiry and certainly none of the people writing op-eds have come forward and said, "Oh, we would have liked to be interviewed at that time." Suffice it to say, I'll speak for myself and my colleagues, we would be happy to have talked to them.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think there should be criminal prosecutions?

RON WYDEN:

The Justice Department has been clear with respect to that there are not going to be. I hope they'll review the new facts. But I--

CHUCK TODD:

You want them to change their mind?

RON WYDEN:

--I want them to review the new facts. But what I'm especially troubled by is John Brennan on Thursday really opened the door to the possibility of torture being used again. And that's why it's so important that our report come out. And what I intend to do with my colleagues right when we come back is I intend to introduce legislation to make it clear, for example, that if torture is used in the future there would be a basis to prosecute.

CHUCK TODD:

Is Director Brennan fit to serve the C.I.A.?

RON WYDEN:

Director Brennan, particularly on Thursday, said some important things and also left out some things that were important. For example, he indicated that he would no longer be using the terms with respect to torture that the information would be otherwise unavailable.

That's a real vindication of the committee because we showed that we were able to find Bin Laden, find KSM without torture. So that would good. What I was troubled also about was that he undercut the Panetta Review. The Panetta Review really agreed with what the committee found.

CHUCK TODD:

But I go back, Director Brennan, you're comfortable with him running the C.I.A.?

RON WYDEN:

Not at this point.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the president should fire him?

RON WYDEN:

I want to give him the chance to end this culture of denial, to deal with the misrepresentations. If he doesn't do that we're going to go have get somebody who will.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there photographs in your reports that you guys redacted?

RON WYDEN:

I'm not going to get into what was redacted. I lost some battles with respect to redactions. But I think the report does tell an important story, it tells it accurately. And it is a particularly timely report now given the fact that John Brennan really opened the door to the possibility of torture. Again, when he was asked, in effect, what he thought and he said, "That's for future times."

CHUCK TODD:

Is there more of this report that you think should be released?

RON WYDEN:

I would like to see the entire report--

CHUCK TODD:

--six thousand --

(OVERTALK)

RON WYDEN:

--declassified.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from Oregon, thanks for sharing your view.

RON WYDEN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's get some reaction now from the panel, David Axelrod, Andrea Mitchell, Helene Cooper, Dan Senor. Woo. Dan? I'm going to start with you.

DAN SENOR:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously this debate isn't going to end anytime soon. But this is a pretty, pretty tough report. The facts in it are C.I.A. based. The conclusions, I understand, what Vice President Cheney was against. But the facts are pretty damning and at least plants some seeds of doubt, does it not?

DAN SENOR:

Well, look, I think the actual program, the integrity of the program, the report does not actually produce anything that undermines it. Most of what is criticized in the report is what happened outside the program, these rogue operators.

Now reasonable people can disagree on, you know, what happened in those rogue operations. But the actual integrity of the program, the actual totality of the program, it's indisputable that it pulled Al Qaeda operatives off the battlefield and got out information to disrupt future plots.

CHUCK TODD:

If it's indisputable, John Brennan said it's unknowable. Why, I mean--

DAN SENOR:

Oh boy.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, and that, even John Brennan who I think supports the program could not come to the conclusion that it's indisputable.

DAN SENOR:

Well, what--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I mean--

DAN SENOR:

--Brennan said was unknowable is he says, "Look, we got information. What's unknowable is that we could have gotten the same information had we not used these techniques." That's an experiment. How long do you want to try that experiment? KSM wasn't talking. They used the techniques, suddenly he was talking. Maybe he had a chance of heart or maybe the techniques worked.

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

How long were you going to wait to see if he actually is going to talk?

CHUCK TODD:

Director Brennan's view of this report, Andrea, he obviously doesn't like how it was done. Thinks that, as he said, over the top when it comes to transparency. Does he disagree with the facts in it?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

He does?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

He disagrees with the facts.

CHUCK TODD:

He disputes the facts and the conclusions.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I was out there at this lengthy, you know hour that we spent with him. And he disputes the fact that information on Bin Laden was obtained by other sources, by other foreign intelligence agencies before any of the torture, which he would not call torture, took place on Abu Zabaydah and on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the information that they got was that he was lying.

But other confirming sources indicated that he was lying. The question is could they have gotten it from other ways? And he says that it was unknowable whether or not that information, that train of evidence. What he also disputes is whether this analysis based on memos can lead to the proper conclusions that what analysts do, and this is what the former directors say, what analysts do is look at lots of different pieces of information. And that the Senate investigators looked at it too linearly.

But let me just say the former directors, I think many would say, as the vice president said, should have been interviewed. They were not worried about prosecution. They were willing to come forward. I think there are other issues here, for instance, Jose Rodriguez. This report would not have happened had Jose Rodriguez not in contradiction to what the White House lawyer, the Justice Department and the C.I.A. was ordering him to do. Had he not destroyed the videotapes of those interrogations that was what tipped it over. And there was a 14 to one vote in favor--

CHUCK TODD:

At the time to start--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--of the investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

--the investigation. No doubt.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And there was a lot of push back and resistance to getting the facts that they needed from the Republicans and from the C.I.A..

CHUCK TODD:

Now David, you were in the White House when the president essentially decided despite where so many in your base wanted you guys to go prosecute somebody, to hold somebody criminally responsible even some saying, "You got to go get the vice president," do you think President Obama did the right thing in not allowing the Justice Department to investigate, to see if we have rogue agents, perhaps, that went above and beyond--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

The Justice Department did look into it, Chuck. But I think he did the right thing in rejecting what was the major call which was for a commission that would go back and essentially, you know, accentuate the roles of every player. And we've had a big national airing of this. His view, as he expressed the other day, was that we have to move forward and learn from this.

But let me just comment on Brennan because I watched that press conference that you were at, Andrea, very, very closely. And what I heard, the vice president invited us to talk to the former directors. He said, "Abhorrent things were done. He said, "The C.I.A. was unprepared to run such a program." And he said at the end of the press conference that he strongly believed that this was on balance not a good program for the country because it violated our relationships, it spoiled our relationships overseas with our allies.

And the efficacy of the data of the intelligence we got was in question. In fact, one of the points that we apparently derived from some of these coerced was that the war in Iraq, that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda which was one of the pretexts for going into this war. There is not -- He did not back up the vice president's points here.

CHUCK TODD:

Helene, obviously there are a lot of people, vice president brought it up, I've even had some Democrats who are supportive of the report who brought this up saying, "Releasing this has put America's intelligence capabilities, has sort of shackled them a little bit." Are you getting that sense from people you talk to on your beat?

HELENE COOPER:

Not so much that. It's much more a sort of when you look, I mean, David touched on this just now, when you talk about the reaction around the world, there's a lot of chatter right now about, you know, the United States trying to have things both ways.

And there's this belief that we're, at the same time that you saw Former Vice President Cheney sitting here and saying again and again that this wasn't torture. So we're going, for instance, in China, there was the whole, this has been a huge case, the reporting in China has been huge all week looking at the United States, talking to us about human rights and, you know, lecturing us on this, that and the other. And look at what they're doing within the United States. And, you know, the idea that we don't--

CHUCK TODD:

But we're the only country that would have a debate like this--

(OVERTALK)

HELENE COOPER:

--that would actually release it.

CHUCK TODD:

--so this is what makes America America.

HELENE COOPER:

It really is.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, for better or for worse this is what we do.

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

It's one thing to release the report. It's another thing to release those graphic details, those very vivid descriptions which I do think will have implications for American fighting men and women overseas in the battlefield to provide that fodder for our enemies that, you know.

DAVID AXELROD:

So here's the question, Dan, is it the release of that information that endangers those troops? Or was it the practices that endangered them? I mean, what the vice president seems to be saying is, "We did bad things in dark places. But what's wrong is that we told people about it."

DAN SENOR:

We did bad things--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

And I just totally reject that.

DAN SENOR:

We did things in dark places that resulted in us disrupting mass casualty.

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

That part of it is beautiful. All we have done, what Brennan said is--

DAVID AXELROD:

There's one other point, Dan--

DAN SENOR:

--we're not sure if other things would have worked.

DAVID AXELROD:

--we've not had--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

--we've not had these tactics for six years. So we haven't had a major attack in six years.

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

No, you know what we have been doing? We've been using drones to blow up terror operatives--

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

--and their families at picnics and weddings--

DAVID AXELROD:

Okay, so you're not going to answer that question. Why haven't--

DAN SENOR:

--I'm answering the question.

CHUCK TODD:

David and Dan, the good news is you guys provided a segue to our next segment which has to do with drones. We'll take a pause here. We will be right back.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

As promised we'll be getting to the drone war in a moment, but up next race and policing in America, we'll show you why the divide seems to be growing.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

In recent weeks the failure of grand juries to indict police officers for killing unarmed African-American men in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City has provoked outrage and dismay. Yesterday tens of thousands of gathered in cities across the U.S. to protest those killings and the treatment of black men by law enforcement.

In New York protectors shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for about an hour and two police officers were assaulted and sent to the hospital. To help us understand why there's so much distrust between African-American men and police officers we brought together three people with first-hand knowledge of the situation. L.A.P.D. Police Chief Charles Beck, Civil Rights Attorney Constance Rice and Aquil Saafir, an African-American man who has been on the right side of the law but the wrong side of some cops.

(BEGIN TAPE)

AQUIL SAAFIR:

As a young black man, you're pulled over constantly. Couple times, three, four times a week, you know? For no reason whatsoever.

CHARLES BECK:

We recruit from the human race. And, you know, because of that we have all the foibles that humanity suffers.

CONSTANCE RICE:

The cops are who's dealing with, many of them told me of their fears. "Miss Rice, can I tell you I'm scared of black people. I'm afraid of black men, what do I do?"

AQUIL SAAFIR:

When a police officer approaches a black man he comes into that situation with these prejudices that has been implied into his mind for many years.

CHARLES BECK:

We have spent, you know, 500,000 years developing these fight or flight instincts to protect us. And to think that those flight and fight instincts aren't going to be present in police officers is to deny humanity.

AQUIL SAAFIR ON VIDEO:

Put your hands on the hood and with lights on you and everyone driving past can see you. Humiliation at another level.

CONSTANCE RICE ON VIDEO:

The community had great fear of the cops. And the cops had great fear of the community.

AQUIL SAAFIR ON VIDEO:

They asked us the question had we ever been arrested for NIP? I said, "Well, what's NIP?" It's the N-word in public. Just for being black.

CONSTANCE RICE:

My job was to break down the fear and build the trust.

AQUIL SAAFIR ON VIDEO:

One of the police officers actually with his flashlight commenced to hitting me in the head. So I asked him what was he doing? And he told me to shut up and just take it.

CONSTANCE RICE:

What they were saying to me was that, "My actions might not look right to you because you don't understand, I'm scared." When people are scared they have a hyper-reaction. They overreact.

AQUIL SAAFIR:

There needs to be systems in place so that the police officers have to conduct themselves in a way no matter who they're policing.

CHARLES BECK:

It was very important for us to change that attitude. We have made tremendous progress. I think you have to build trust every day. Policing can't just be about an absence of crime. It's got to be about a presence of justice.

AQUIL SAAFIR:

These things that happens to black men is something no one should go through.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Putting it all in their own words. It's a tough conversation but you know what maybe we need to have uncomfortable conversations like that. When we return back to the war against terrorists and the U.S. drone program that many see as being every bit as wrong as the controversial interrogation tactics that we're debating today.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back. Taking on the threat posed by terrorism is now one of the top priorities of any American president. And President Obama has adopted a different approach from his predecessor, George W. Bush. While he has gradually withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan he has rapidly escalated America's drone war. It's a highly controversial tactic aimed at taking out terrorist targets without military casualties.

The critics argue that it's killed thousands of innocent civilians in countries like Yemen and Pakistan. Here's our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.

**BEGIN TAPE**

RICHARD ENGEL:

It's become the weapon of choice in the war against Islamic terrorists. A U.S. drone flies over a target thousands of miles away, the C.I.A. tracks the location, receives authorization, pushes a button and a small missile is fired. But some are asking whether years from now we'll debate drones the way we're debating torture.

JOHN BRENNAN:

The use these unmanned aerial vehicles that you refer to as drones in the counterterrorism effort has done tremendous work to keep this country safe.

RICHARD ENGEL:

The C.I.A.'s clandestine fleet of armed drones has become central to its counterterrorism mission. The secretive nature of the program means no one can tell for sure how many of the estimated 3,500 people killed mostly in Pakistan and Yemen were insurgents and how many were innocent civilians.

MICAH ZENKO:

In U.S. public opinion there is greater support for killing people than torturing them.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Why?

MICAH ZENKO:

It's hard to know why. I think we believe that individuals we can see with this high technology, precise, discriminate weapons platform is better at identifying who they are. But in fact, most of the individuals who we kill we have much less information about than the individuals, the 119, we captured.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations has been following and criticizing the drone program for years.

MICAH ZENKO:

One of the reasons the C.I.A. became so active in drone strikes was out of concern that they would be prosecuted for torture.

RICHARD ENGEL:

So they were worried about holding them and torturing them and decided, "Eh, better just to kill them instead."

MICAH ZENKO:

This is what the C.I.A.'s response to torture report makes very clear.

RICHARD ENGEL:

In the past 12 years the U.S. has launched hundreds of drone missions. About 50 under President Bush, an estimated 400 under President Obama.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

The use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists. Our preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Polls show about 70% of Americans support the drone program.

Why? Why is it more acceptable and more popular to kill people than to hold them and torture them?

MICAH ZENKO:

Antiseptic drone strikes which is the video image that you see from things released by the Pentagon, it always looks precise and antiseptic and clean. And we assume that those are militants who want to kill us, right? But torture's something we feel directly and personally and we think is morally wrong.

RICHARD ENGEL ON VIDEO:

But there is nothing antiseptic about a missile that hits a village. So as officials do the rounds to admonish the previous administration for condoning the secret torture program, they would do well to keep in mind that old saying about glass houses and stones.

**END TAPE**

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Engel is in studio with me now. Richard, first of all, it's good to have you stay tied--

RICHARD ENGEL:

Good to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

--December visit here. What's creating more terrorists, Bush interrogation program or Obama's drone program?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Creating more terrorists?

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

RICHARD ENGEL:

It's very hard to know. People are radicalized--

CHUCK TODD:

But there's worry that--

RICHARD ENGEL:

--for a variety of reasons.

CHUCK TODD:

--both do that.

RICHARD ENGEL:

Yeah, that both can radicalize people. There's a whole history of why people are being radicalized. It goes back to U.S. support for Israel, what's considered to be a war against Islam. But the drone war is certainly part of it. The torture program is certainly part of it. I don't know if you could say one is more influential and creating more of a problem than the other.

CHUCK TODD:

Now you were telling me before and you didn't bring it up in the piece that there's obviously various ways that the drone program is used, in a sense, you know, going after a known terrorists. There's no other way to get them and they kill that terrorist. But then there's something you say that are called signature strikes. Tell me about them.

RICHARD ENGEL:

These are probably the most morally problematic. There's a desire right now to criticize the previous administration for its morally questionable practices, this administration's carrying out some morally questionable practices. And--

CHUCK TODD:

Signature strikes are those.

RICHARD ENGEL:

--signature strikes are those. So there's two ways to carry out a drone strike. You follow the target. You know who that person is. You know more or less what they've done or what they're accused of doing. You watch them for weeks, months. You find the right location where they are. You order the drone strike and they're killed or they get away.

Signature strike is very different. Signature strike you follow a target. But you don't exactly know who that person is. You just know their signature, their profile. And if they have the profile of a terrorist, that's good enough. So if a vehicle, a pickup truck has four or five people in it they're driving from a known Al Qaeda headquarters, they look like terrorists.

CHUCK TODD:

So this is--

RICHARD ENGEL:

But we don't know exactly who they are.

CHUCK TODD:

--this is where we're going to find out ten years from now we could be finding out we droned--

RICHARD ENGEL:

And that--

CHUCK TODD:

--innocents.

RICHARD ENGEL:

--and I know people who are involved in these kind of programs and they're worried about that. They're saying, "Well, we're being asked to do this. We're being told it's legal. Are we going to face some sort of persecution, prosecution down the road?

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Engel, our chief foreign correspondent. Like I said, good to have you here for your December visit. Stay safe out there, my friend. All right, we're back in less than a minute. Big battle in Washington over the weekend. And it may wind up playing a big role. And of course the 2016 presidential race. We'll be right back.

***Commercial Break***

TED CRUZ (ON TAPE):

Every Senator in this body should be put on record whether he or she believes that it's constitutional for a president to disregard, to ignore federal immigration laws and grant blanket amnesty to millions in defiance of both the laws on the books and the voters.

ELIZABETH WARREN (ON TAPE):

Let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi, I agree with you, Dodd-Frank isn't perfect. It should have broken you into pieces.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the panel is here. Cruz and Warren, by the way, they both voted no. We had bipartisan support for this deal, Andrea, bipartisan opposition for this deal. Strange bedfellows, we just painted two of them. They are both, by the way, could run for 2016.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Indeed, I mean, it was so interesting that I was actually watching C-SPAN on a Saturday night. It was ridiculous. Forty regular--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--forty votes against this, 20 and 20. The two-party wing. And you've got afterwards people are not being very, you know, vocal, the Democrats against Elizabeth Warren. It's a lot of angst about that. This was a deal negotiated by Harry Reid--

CHUCK TODD:

Well--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--and Barbara Mikulski and she went against it. But let's just talk about Ted Cruz for a second.

CHUCK TODD:

--yeah, very quick.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Bob Corker, Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham putting out statements criticizing Ted Cruz because, they say, he kept the Senate in and gave the Democrats, gave the White House confirmation votes on nominations that they wouldn't have had if they had gone home a couple of days ago.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's interesting both Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren went about their opposition in different ways. David Axelrod, I want you to respond to this, an anonymous senior Democratic aide talking about Elizabeth Warren said this, "If this party can't accommodate both its Clinton-era folks and its Warren-ites we're headed for trouble." Do you think this party can unite those two wings of the party?

DAVID AXELROD:

I do if Secretary Clinton comes out and sides for more a popular--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

She's got to move towards Elizabeth Warren.

DAVID AXELROD:

--and I think she will.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But does she have to disagree--

DAVID AXELROD:

But let's just say one thing about--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--with everything she said in her past, David.

DAVID AXELROD:

--Ted Cruz. I think he was delighted to be attacked by Washington.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

And I think that he got everything he wanted out of that--

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

By the way, two years ago when Ted Cruz shut down the government everybody said, "Cruz is finished. His career is finished. He's overshot." Republicans were saying, "This is going to be damaging to our prospects in 2014. Well, we did just fine in 2014.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But look at the 2016 primary, Dan.

DAN SENOR:

And Ted Cruz I think is going to be very competitive in the Republican primaries. I'm not saying I'm for Cruz. I'm simply saying it's difficult to say that this has set him back. And it's also difficult to argue that it set the party back. Helene, what--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But if Hillary Clinton becomes Elizabeth Warren she has to go against everything--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

She doesn't have to become Elizabeth Warren but she has to have a more popular--

DAN SENOR

But--

DAVID AXELROD:

--economic platform.

DAN SENOR:

--Helene, what does this mean for how Washington's going to work in 2015? These are, like--

HELENE COOPER:

I--

DAN SENOR:

--we're going to have, I mean, is this just a preview of crazy things to come?

HELENE COOPER:

--of course. It's going to be even crazier. But I'm looking forward actually to the human homeland security battle. And to watch it--

DAVID AXELROD:

In February.

HELENE COOPER:

--yeah. Because I wouldn't want to work there. But I also wouldn't want to see how--

DAVID AXELROD:

Well, you're not the only one with that.

HELENE COOPER:

--a lot of people are going to shut down this agency that's going to end up enforcing all our border controls which I think is going to be very interesting to see how the Republicans tie themselves up in that.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, if you're President Obama this morning you're getting most of your budget and everybody predicted doom and gloom. They're sort of doing a happy dance over there at the White House.

HELENE COOPER:

They're pretty happy.

CHUCK TODD:

They think they got more than what they expected.

HELENE COOPER:

Yes. But I think it's even actually more interesting is why is Andrea spending her Saturday nights on C-SPAN to go back in time in a room that you told me this.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But this program set me up for Homeland tonight. So at least there's that.

CHUCK TODD:

David, go ahead.

DAVID AXELROD:

Let me just point out, Dan, I think 2016's much different than 2014. And if Ted Cruz makes a stand on immigration I think he's going to doom his party for one more presidential cycle.

DAN SENOR:

Look, I agree. I'm not saying Cruz is our ticket. It could be Barry Goldwater, '64 all over again.

(OVERTALK)

DAN SENOR:

I'm simply saying the politics for him in the Republican primary--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID AXELROD:

I agree with that. Good primary politics.

DAN SENOR:

People said he was-- right.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly speaking of Republican partisan--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Jeb Bush.

CHUCK TODD:

--Jeb Bush does an interview with an old Miami staple, growing up in Miami, Michael Putney was the Tim Russert of Miami politics and other stuff. He's retiring, congratulations, by the way, to Michael. He gets this interview with Jeb Bush and Jeb announces that he's going to release all these emails, Dan Senor, write a book about his experience as governor. That's a guy running for president, no?

DAN SENOR:

I think he's going to run. I--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I don't think so six weeks ago, now I do.

DAN SENOR:

--this is going to be a fascinating-- Republicans have not had a primary like this in decades. It's wide open--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Look at the--

DAN SENOR:

--a lot of 800-pound guerrillas in the race.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--look at the Jim Baker quotes, he's running.

CHUCK TODD:

Yup, that's for sure. That's all for today. Quite a show. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *