Return to Transcripts main page


Examining President Obama's Speech on National Security; Interview with Donald Rumsfeld; Soldier Hacked to Death Now Identified; Obama's Legal Argument for Drone Strikes

Aired May 23, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Drones, Gitmo, military commissions, and a narrowing definition of the terrorist threat, mix it all in with a CODEPINK protester, and you have yourself a presidential speech on all the actions -- actions the government is taking purportedly to keep you safe.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. President Obama defends his secret drone war and fends off a protester after a string of controversy raised fears about the reach of his power. We will get the reaction of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The world lead. His name was Lee Rigby. He's the soldier who was hacked to death in the middle of the street in London. British authorities almost immediately labeled this an act of terror. But how did they draw that line?

And also in national news, more awful weather battling the tornado- ravaged people of Oklahoma, who have already suffered so much. Today, we're learning more about the victims of the storm, the moms who lost their children and the children who lost their moms.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

We are going to begin with the national lead. The secret kill list, the squadron of flying death bots, the American citizens killed with his OK, but without anything even approaching a trial. President Obama today defended his administration's counterterrorism policy, specifically his covert drone war, and he admitted publicly for the first time in his own words that he approved the 2011 drone killing of American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the suspected face of al Qaeda in Yemen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen with a drone, or a shotgun, without due process.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.


TAPPER: The president did not discuss at any length the three other Americans his administration this week acknowledged it had killed in drone strikes, including al-Awlaki teenage son. The president asserted that the core of al Qaeda is gutted, but he says the menace of terrorism has mutated in the time since 9/11 to al Qaeda affiliates and wannabes and homegrown extremists and threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses overseas, and that drones are often the safest way to conduct the fight.

The president says the civilian deaths in drone strikes outside war zones will haunt his chain of command for -- quote -- "as long as we live," but he also asserted that they're legal because the U.S. is at war with al Qaeda. As an olive branch to critics, he says the administration will consider options for making drone strikes more transparent, such as an independent oversight board or a special court to approve the attacks, but no promises.

The president ran into some trouble as he moved on to another longstanding controversy in his speech, a heckler slamming his failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, despite signing an executive director to do so in his very first hours in office. More than 100 of the 166 detainees at Gitmo have been on a hunger strike for months now.

Before he could address that, Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the group CODEPINK beat him to the punch.



MEDEA BENJAMIN, CODEPINK: ... these desperate people...


OBAMA: I'm about to address it, ma'am. But you have got to let me speak. I'm about to address it.

BENJAMIN: You are commander in chief.

OBAMA: Let me address it.

BENJAMIN: You can close Guantanamo today.


OBAMA: Why don't you let me address it, ma'am. Why don't you sit down and I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do?



TAPPER: Benjamin interrupted the president several more times, eventually bringing the entire speech to a complete standstill. It took several minutes to haul her out. Then the president said this.


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


OBAMA: Obviously -- obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said. Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school, immigrants coming to our shores, a citizen shouting her concerns at a president.


TAPPER: The president tried to underline today how his policies are not the same as those of his predecessor.

And joining me now is a member of that administration, Donald Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary for President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2006. He's the author of the new book "Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life."

And he joins us now.

Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Secretary.


TAPPER: So, President Obama started his speech by laying out the history of the wars and this policy. And he said something about the Bush administration I want to get your reaction to. Let's take a listen.


OBAMA: I believe we compromised our basic values by using torture to interrogate our enemies and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.


TAPPER: Your reaction, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's of a kind.

He has blamed the Bush administration for practically everything since he took office. It seems to me that the people kind of conflated the Department of Defense with the CIA. The Department of Defense at Guantanamo water-boarded no one. Three people were water-boarded by the agency with the authority of the Department of Justice and the president.

And it seems to me that the president said some things. I believe the phrase I heard earlier was something to the effect that al Qaeda has been gutted. And that just simply isn't true. Al Qaeda is still effective. We have killed or captured any number of al Qaeda leadership, and they get replaced. Someone comes on behind them. And...

TAPPER: But you think the threat is the same today as it was 2001- 2002?

RUMSFELD: No, of course, it's evolved somewhat. The problem we have got is that the -- we don't know precisely what the situation is, and the reason is we don't is, we know the number of people that have been killed or captured. We don't know the number of people that have been recruited. We don't know the number that are being trained. We don't know the amount of money that the al Qaeda and their affiliates are raising every year from supporters.

We don't know the number of madrassas that are teaching people to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children. And that is unfortunate. Second, we have not even begun to engage from a philosophical standpoint, an ideological standpoint. The problem that we face in the world of terrorists.

And you can't defend against terrorists because they can attack anywhere any time using any technique. You can't protect everywhere against terrorists at every moment of the day and night against every conceivable technique.


TAPPER: ... haven't begun to engage?

RUMSFELD: Ideologically. The space that we occupied, for example, during the Cold War, where we competed against the ideas of communism, to my knowledge, our government is not competing in that space at all.

TAPPER: Have we ever? Did we during the Bush years?

RUMSFELD: No. I was asked in the press, and I gave us a D-minus, and I'm an easy grader. I would give this administration an F, because they won't even use the words. Until today, I haven't heard people use the word jihad. I haven't heard the people in the Obama administration talk about the fact that there are people that are determined to kill innocent men, women, and children that are attacking the whole concept of the nation state.

They avoid those words.

TAPPER: Well, he used the word jihad today.

RUMSFELD: He did. That's my point, until today.

TAPPER: Yes. Yes.

RUMSFELD: But the attorney general has testified before Congress and he wouldn't even talk about those things.

TAPPER: Let's talk about -- and I want to get to your book as well, of course, but let's talk about the drone issue.

RUMSFELD: Yes. TAPPER: Drones were not -- they weren't started by the Obama administration.


TAPPER: There were drone attacks during the Bush years. Do you think that there is a problem with what the president has done in terms of going after al-Awlaki?

RUMSFELD: The -- a drone is nothing but an airplane without a pilot.

TAPPER: Right.

RUMSFELD: And the pilot is on the ground, instead of in the airplane flying that thing.

So drone -- the technology is here. It is going to be used by countries. It's going to be used by private organizations.

TAPPER: But you used it, right?

RUMSFELD: Yes, indeed. We had very few when I came into office. They were increased and this administration has the benefit of those unmanned aerial vehicles.

Now, he made a point. And I would say, you know, the United States had a Civil War. When someone took arms against the United States in the United States, we had a Civil War; 600,000 Americans were killed. It is a very tough issue. And he's talking about some sort -- I didn't hear the speech or have a chance to read it, but I saw the clip that you just showed.

He mentioned the possibility of a judicial board of approval of some kind. I would personally -- we do that for some things now. The FISA board, we go to the courts and ask permission. I personally think that going to the Congress and discussing it with them and getting them on board for some policy that makes sense to the American people, so that he has that kind of support. He will need it.

TAPPER: Let's talk about this book, "Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life."

First of all, what do you say to critics who say that they don't really have a great feeling about your leadership when it came to the wars and they wonder why you would write a book?

RUMSFELD: Well, these are not all Rumsfeld's rules. These are rules from people that are a lot wiser than I am. And I have collected them over my lifetime.

And I guess what I would say to people like that is read the book.

TAPPER: Read the book.

Is there one particular rule that you would wish that you would give to President Obama and that he would heed it? RUMSFELD: Well, I think that the -- I would.

When I was a Navy pilot, the rule if you're lost is to climb, conserve, and confess. Get some altitude. Take a deep breath, and get on the radio and say, you're lost. You need to heed...

TAPPER: You think he's lost?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness. They keep saying things that are different week after week after week, whether it's Benghazi or whether it's the Internal Revenue Service.

What you need to do is get the people in the office, sit them down, and find ground truth, because the currency a leader has is credibility. And to the extent that credibility gets eroded over time, you lose your ability to lead. And I guess that's the name of your program, THE LEAD.

TAPPER: THE LEAD, that's right.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, best of luck with your book. Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up in our world lead, a horrific terror attack where just like the Boston Marathon bombing, the suspects were known by police. What good is a watch list if no one is watching?


MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: I been playing this boogie-woogie in eight beats to the bar. I can try playing it now at 16 beats to the bar.


TAPPER: Plus, a lighter note on our pop culture lead, Michael Douglas as Liberace. Is that really him playing the piano? We will get the inside skinny from the Hollywood legend behind the latest HBO film. That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now it is time for the world lead. We are learning more about the soldier hacked to death in the middle of a London road in a brazen daylight assault. His name was Lee Rigby, a member of the British army's drum corps, who also served as a machine gunner in Afghanistan in 2009. Rigby leaves behind a 2-year-old son.

Disturbing would be an under statement. We are going to show you part of the rant that one of Rigby's two alleged attackers made to a bystander who caught it on tape. We have to warn you what you are about to see is graphic.


MICHAEL ADEBOLAJO, SUSPECT: We swear by the almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.

I apologize that women had to witness this today, but in our land, our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don't care about you.


TAPPER: CNN is now able to name Michael Adebolajo as the suspect who appears in that video. He has been identified widely by British media and numerous independent sources.

A friend of the suspect who knew the attacker through their shared Islamic belief says he was not surprised by the attack.


ABU BARRA, ACQUAINTANCE OF MICHAEL ADEBOLAJO: What happened yesterday does not require a lot of organization from abroad. It doesn't require big organization to plan something like that. It just takes one person who just had enough of seeing the violence and atrocities, just enough of the British foreign policy.


TAPPER: The suspect actually encouraged a passerby to record his rant. The man that made the video talked to news affiliate ITV about that surreal moment. For his own safety, the network did not show his face.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he saw me filming that, he came straight to me. He said, no, no, no, it's cool. It's cool. I just want to talk to you.


TAPPER: Another witness to the violence, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a 48- year-old mother, tried to reason with the two attackers. She says despite his horrific crime, he seemed quite lucid at the time of the stabbing.


INGRID LOYAU-KENNETT, WITNESS: I know it's big today -- I mean, for me he was just a regular guy, just a bit upset. He was not on drug, he was not drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what did he say to you? What did he say to you?

LOYAU-KENNETT: I asked him, he said, don't touch. I killed him. I said, why? He said he's a British soldier. He killed people. He killed Muslim people in Muslim countries and I have nothing to do here.


TAPPER: The suspects lingered at the scene until police arrived and gunned them down. They are in the hospital under guard. British authorities, while they were not quick to the scene, were very quick to label this a terrorist attack.

Today, President Obama released a statement reading in part, quote, "I condemn in the strongest terms the appalling attack. The United States stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror. There can be absolutely no justification for such acts."

I want to bring in CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He's live in Woolwich, the neighborhood where this took place in London.

Paul, thanks for joining us.

As horrific as this attack is, why is it considered by the British government, an act of terror as opposed to a random street crime carried out by a deranged lunatic?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This was a deeply political act. They targeted a British soldier. They appear to have been animated by al Qaeda's ideology, inspired by the al Qaeda terrorist network. It appears to be sort of like Boston, a lone wolf style of attack.

This is very much the new trend in terrorism in the West -- Al Qaeda encouraging followers in the West to carry out attacks in their name. Don't come and train with us but stay home and launch attacks here.

So, a deeply political act and that's why it's been labeled as terrorism. This is the first fatal terrorist attack in the U.K. since the London bombings in July, 2005, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Paul, you mentioned the justification -- you mentioned the Boston bombings and the justification for this crime as described on that tape sounds eerily similar to the one that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made. These cases of self-radicalization are getting a lot of attention here in the United States. President Obama talked about it today in his speech.

Is this an area of increased concern in the U.K. as well?

CRUICKSHANK: This has been for many years an area of concern in the U.K. People have been radicalized here. There is acute radicalization in the U.K. It's probably got the worst problem of any Western country. But in recent years, that problem has also come to the United States.

Many people have been radicalized on the Internet. There have been more English language Web sites, propaganda. This magazine put out by al Qaeda in Yemen called "Inspire", which appears to be accessed by the Boston bombers. Police here will look at whether these two individuals were also accessing this magazine "Inspire."

So this is an increasing trend and it's causing a lot of concern, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD, a 16-year-old American killed by the United States. Why are the details of his death still a secret?

Plus, she was the best kid anybody could have. One 9-year-old tornado victim is remembered by her father. We'll have her story and more on the rest of the Oklahoma storm victims, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In other world news, President Obama laid out his legal argument today for why drone strikes, ones that have killed four Americans, were not only legal and just but his presidential duty. He used the example of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and al Qaeda propagandist, killed by a drone strike in Yemen almost two years ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn't. And as president, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took him out.


TAPPER: The Obama administration identified Awlaki as an operations chief. I want to bring in someone who has been covering this topic expansively, Jeremy Scahill. He's the author of the book "Dirty Wars", on the U.S. covert wars. It's now a documentary that's premiering next month.

JEREMY SCAHILL, AUTHOR, "DIRTY WARS": Thanks for having me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air strikes, targeted killings, (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How had a covert unit taken over the largest war on the planet?


TAPPER: An exciting little scene from "The Dirty Wars" documentary. He is the national security correspondent for the progressive magazine, "The Nation". He joins me now.

Jeremy, thanks so much for being here.

I know you question the legal justification for these strikes. President Obama today gave a lot more information than we've heard about al-Awlaki in terms of the role he allegedly played with the failed Christmas day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

What did you make of the president's argument today?

SCAHILL: I thought it was interesting that the president said that he would have detained and prosecuted Anwar al-Awlaki. If that's the case, why did he never seek an indictment against Awlaki?

I mean, al-Awlaki may have been guilty of all sorts of heinous activities but no public evidence was ever presented against him, just pronouncements usually in the form of leaks from the White House.

So, if you're going to say that you intended to prosecute a person, you probably should seek an indictment against them. And, you know, my reaction to the president's speech is that it really is a sort of just a rebranding of the Bush era policies with some legalese that is very articulately delivered from our constitutional law professor, Nobel Peace Prize-winning president. But effectively, Obama has declared the world a battlefield and reserves the right to drone bomb countries in pursuit of people against whom we may not even have direct evidence or that we're not seeking any indictment against.

TAPPER: Well, I think our former guest, Mr. Rumsfeld, would disagree that this is a continuation of Bush policies.

But just to move on. Do you think there's any legal justification for drone strikes on Americans?

SCAHILL: No, I don't. I mean, I -- look, the fact of the matter is that the Americans that have been killed in these drone strikes, with the exception of one man who was killed in Pakistan who the U.S. did actually have an indictment against, Jude Mohammad, one of the four Americans, none of the others had actually been charged with any crime. In fact in the case of one, Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American who was killed alongside Awlaki, my understanding is that the government sought an indictment against him and failed to get it and he was killed anyway.

And, you know, the killing of Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, really to me is just shameful that this administration will not explain why they killed this 16-year-old kid. And to use this Orwellian phrase that he was not specifically targeted and what does that exactly mean? I mean, that he was not specifically targeted? Was he killed in one of these signature strikes? Are they implying he was collateral damage?

I mean, that family and the American people have a right to know why this kid was killed.

TAPPER: Lastly, Jeremy, you have a documentary coming out, "Dirty Wars", which is based on your book. You traveled the world investigating what you called the covert operations of this administration. Tell us either generally or most specifically what was the most interesting thing you found? SCAHILL: Well, the most interesting thing is that the Obama administration, while saying that they shut down the black sites, and they did, and saying that they don't torture anymore, are actually using in a country like Somalia, a network of war lords to do the killing for America and are actually utilizing a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia's national security service.

So, that's sort of a work around to the torture and rendition program so Obama can say, well, we're not running the show, but instead they're outsourcing and directing foreign nationals to do it. And I think that is really a metaphor for how little things have changed on this particular front.

TAPPER: Jeremy Scahill, the book is "Dirty Wars." The documentary is coming out next month, the same name, we'll have you on again soon. Thank you so much.

SCAHILL: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, our political panel. They're hanging out in the luxurious CNN green room. There's free coffee. Hillary Rosen, Carly Fiorina, Mark Leibovitch.

Carly --


TAPPER: In totally unnecessary news, we now know what President Obama wore to his prom in 1979. "TIME" magazine obtained these photos exclusively. Congratulations, "TIME". Big get.

Let's hear your grade on the white jacket. Thoughts?

FIORINA: Well, I actually think he looks pretty adorable in this picture I must say. I profoundly disagree with him on many things, but this is a great picture of a very handsome young man.

TAPPER: All right. Somewhere, Ricardo Montalban wants his suit back.

THE LEAD continues, next.