The following is a transcript of an upcoming discussion between Sam Seder and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the un-American use of torture and drone strikes by American forces. The full discussion will be aired this weekend on Ring of Fire.
Sam: Bobby, when we broke we were talking about the real tragic story of Aaron Swartz and how it relates to the differing levels of accountability in our society. We were talking a little bit about … we touched upon the tremendous assault on our constitution, on our civil liberties that took place under the Bush administration, that has frankly, in many respects, been extended in what turned out to be a very surprising degree by the Obama administration, because after all, one of the things that president Obama really ran on was his perspective as a constitutional professor, and this option where he was critical of things like the NSA spying program; where he was critical of things like torture.
Just this past week, I’m sure that you’re aware that Senator Ron Wyden, a democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demanded that he and other committee members be allowed to review the Secret Justice Department legal opinions that justify the killing of American citizens in Counter Terrorism Operations.
We know this: It is popularly, I should say, or unpopularly known as the “Kill list” that was developed under the Obama administration. They’ve developed an entire regime of where they would use, targeted killing by drones in particular, and they’ve developed a kill list under the guidance of John Brennan, the President’s Counter Terrorism, Chief Counter Terrorism Adviser, and now nominee for the CIA.
We have members of the Intelligence Committee … I know that you have probably talked about this with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who also sits on this committee, I’ve spoken to him about this too. We still have not had our elected representatives look at the justification that is used to legally justify putting American citizens on that kill list.
What constitutes proper due process to get on that list? While we know it from Eric Holder is just that it doesn’t have to involve judicial review, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Bobby: Yeah, this is really a shocking problem. What’s most shocking, Sam, is the indignation that most American would have felt about this kind of activity 10 years ago or 5 years ago or 15 years ago, has not …this is the new normal, that people are actually accepting it.
We have an 800 year old right, a Habeas Corpus that is part, that’s one of the key foundations on some Western Law, what’s in the Magna Carta, it’s something that we all assume that we’d have forever, and during the Bush administration it was suspended.
The Bush administration began eavesdropping on Americans illegally: that’s been illegal, it was always illegal; but after Watergate, we passed the FISA laws that made it absolutely illegal, to standardize it, to say, “Yeah, if you need to do it, here’s a process for getting a warrant. If you can’t get a warrant, if you need to do it before you can get warrant, you can do it and then you have to get a warrant afterwards.”
The Bush administration that eavesdropped we know on hundreds of thousands of Americans illegally without complying with FISA, without getting a warrant, they began extraordinary renditions on other thing that is still going on; something that Barack Obama condemned repeatedly during his first campaign and that is still happening.
The closing of Guantanamo Bay, on his second day in office, Obama, in compliance with a year of campaign promises, signed a bill that declared the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the end of torture by Americans of other people around the world, and yet all of that is continuing. We thought, also, the drone attacks would stop, but since he’s come into office we’ve actually killed Americans.
The irony of this Sam, the irony of this is that we … Americans somehow were unable to put ourselves in the shoes of these other nations. We assume that if we do it, we’re doing it for good reasons, and it’s okay. But if somebody else sent drones, if Canada or Mexico sent drones over Arizona or Montana or Wyoming or Vermont, and started blowing up people’s houses, and they said, “Well, we did that.” Canada said, “We did it because we knew there were some French Quebecois terrorist, there was one of them in that house and we had to kill them.” If we said to them, “You killed a family and women and children who had nothing to do with that terrorist.” What would happen? It would be an act of war.
We’re doing this day after day in Pakistan. We’ve killed hundreds and hundreds of children, innocent children. We’ve killed 438 people since President Obama took office, 182 of them have been civilians, 112 have been children. In the second term, the strikes have killed even more, 2,152 people including 290 civilians, 64 of whom were children.
During the 9/11 attacks, there were 3,000 innocent Americans killed, but that does not give us the right to go into the nation of Pakistan, which had nothing to do with 9/11, which is not at war with us, that has not committed any act of war against the United States of America, and to fly drones over that country and kill innocent people.
Even if we have a right to get at the terrorist, to do that with no judicial review, we don’t know how they’re doing it, there’s no transparency in this process, we don’t know, and we’re killing American citizens too. There’s something really strange about the acceptance of that because we don’t kill people without a trial.
Sam: I wanted to touch on that because you raised that earlier, that when this stuff happened under the Bush administration, when extraordinary rendition, when torture took place under the Bush administration, people across the political spectrum, but particularly on the left, we’re outraged.
Now we have a situation where John Brennan, who at the very least, endorsed extraordinary rendition publicly, who we do not know exactly what his involvement was in torture techniques, but he endorsed all of them but, for waterboarding publicly, is slated to be the head of the CIA.
I don’t know how much more lack of accountability there could possibly be than to sort of give this guy a medal – which we all complained about when George Tenet got one. What do you think accounts for this? This notion now that we have more Americans who favor torture, we see this piece of propaganda out … just went wide release this week, Zero Dark Thirty which completely propagandizes torture and misrepresents the efficacy of it in tracking down Bin Laden. What accounts for this in your mind Bobby?
Bobby: I think the principle problem here is just the lack of scrutiny by the American press. The fact that we seem to have lost touch with the essential values that our nation has preached to the world, that we’ve been the template for, that we’ve been the paradigm for, for hundreds of years.
Our nation … I’ve talked about some of this history before, but during the Revolutionary War George Washington was asked to torture British officers who knew strategic information. He said, “I would rather lose this effort than to bring such shame upon our cause.”
He implemented rules for human treatment of POWs and they were so strong that the Hessian soldiers that we captured on New Year’s day were so shocked about how well they were treated by the American soldiers, that they agreed to walk unguarded all the way to prison camps in Western Pennsylvania and not a single one escaped during that Civil War.
Again, Lincoln was under tremendous pressure to torture confederates. He refused and he was so shocked and offended by the idea that he ordered a commission to draft a document that, would again implement the rules for inhumane treatment of prisoners of war. That document in 1924 became the Geneva Convention. That came out of America.
During World War II, Eisenhower … while the Nazi’s were torturing everybody that they could get their hands on, and he said, “We’re not going to do that, we’re American’s.” During World War II, thousands of Germans surrendered to America because their fathers who had fought in World War I told them, “Always surrender to an American because Americans don’t torture people.”
It’s just part of our culture, part of our history, part of our traditions; it’s a legacy for our children. It’s part of the pride we have of being American, and for some reason, we have lost our mourning and was drifting.
You can catch the full discussion this weekend, only on Ring of Fire!