Roundtable I: National Security Reboot

Rep. Peter King, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ret. Admiral Dennis Blair, and Mark Mazzetti.
12:19 | 05/26/13

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Transcript for Roundtable I: National Security Reboot
We're joined now by the roundtable. Republican congress manning from new york, peter king. Florida congresswoman and chair of the democratic national committee, debbie wasserman schultz. Dennis blair. Mark mazzeti. Mr. Blair, you were a skeptic of the drone strikes. You had a lot of criticism during your time in government. You heard what rand paul just said. He's still not satisfied. Are you? I think the president's announcement has taken part of the way where we need to be with drone strikes. But I think after four years of experience, we need to have them turned over to the department of defense. Une rules of law, rules of war, they fit in with our overall policies, which have short-term and long-term needs. We would have a much better and more justifiable program. What would really be different if it's turned over to the pentagon, would we know more, would people know more about what's happening? I think two things. Number one, they would be better regulated, run and investigated, because the pentagon is the department that we set up to handle weapons, whether they be tanks or planes or anything else. And we have developed a long history of procedures and laws to deal with it. Number two, I think they would be much better integrated with overall instruments of national power, whether it's diplomacy or energy. When they're run by high-level people at the white house, their not worked in on a day-to-day basis with the other tools we have in afghanistan. Congressman king, does the drone program need to change? If it does change it shouldn't change for moral reasons. That's what bothered me about the president's speech. It wasal anguish that he was going through. Listen, every soldier, every cop who's faced with a decision to make, a life or death, does the best he or she can. They limit civilian casualties. That offended me. I think this policy has worked. And perhaps we can fine-tune it and we can put more emphasis on clandestine activity. To me, I don't think the president really addressed that in the speech. I think he was coming at it with more of a moral tone. I think it was misplaced. Entirely within the department of defense? I can't comment on that. I think it's worked fairly well up until now. I'll leave it at that. And I just know in the white house, the effort that goes in and wherever these decisions are made, as to limit civilian casualties in the history of the world. Mark, a lot of civilian casualties, I was struck by the fact that of the four americans killed weren't the actual targets. The president expresses this distaste for drone strikes. And yet, he has had more drone strikes than any other president, what is going on here? He's certainly embraced drone strikes as a tool for secret war, and the strikes have gone down in recent years, after a real surge in 2009, 2010, and he has said -- he said in his speech that he would like to tighten the rules and maybe not rely on them so much. It's still unclear the future of the policy. There's been this stated preference to move them to the military. Certainly, the president indicated that, for the time being, at least for another year and a half in pakistan, the cia will continue to run the drone program. So the rules -- the real change here, I think, is still a little bit unclear. Congressman wasserman schultz. The president also talked about the eventual end to the war on terror. How do we know when that's over, do you really see that something that were close to? I think what the president was saying in his speech, as we wind down the war in afghanistan, when we focus on how we can eventually our goal is not to be in a perpetual state of war. Much of it moving to the department of defense. Make sure it's more transparent. It comes at a time when we're going to end combat in afghanistan and rely more on special operations? That's why the drone strike program needs to continue in a targeted way. It has been in successful in making sure that people who are absolutely our enemy and who intend to do harm to americans are targeted by drones in a way that is going to not have widespread impact. And make sure that we can protect americans from the threat that is absolute terrorists who are bent on the destruction of americans. What their intent is. Let's move to guantanamo. The president wants to close down guantanamo. He said it before and he said it again. Let's listen to what he said. 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. Is this who we are? That's something our founders foresaw. Congressman king, what do you think? Close down guantanamo? I'm offended by the moralizing. Many experts believe that it did work. It was something that had to be done at the time. The president could have moved most of those prisoners out of the country. He could have sent them back to other countries. He's the one who suspended the detainees going to yemen. I have been to guantanamo. It's a model prison. Is it ideal? No. But we live in a very unideal world. I think for him saying, what people think 10, 20 years from now, mention the attacks on the homeland, to me is the main obligation of the commander in chief. Everyone wants to close guantanamo ultimately. He has the power to do it. He hasn't done it. He could have done a lot more than he has done about it if he were serious about it. The real issue here is the unlimited detentions, is it not? Admiral blair, you were in government, you were part of the decisionmaking group to send some of the yemenis back to yemen, from guantanamo, that was halted after the underwear bombing attempt. Where do you think we should go now? I think conditions in yemen have changed from that time to the point that those -- and i think there were almost 100 yemenis -- determined in fact, ought to be sent back to yemen. The history is that, about a fifth of those whom we were released in the past go back to the battlefields. We're taking the chance that some we release will try to kill american servicemen or americans. But I think that this is a current situation is a price worth paying. And that rice goes downover time. That's a chance we should take? We have a 160 individuals, cost $150 million to hold, the problem with guantanamo and the president believes rightfully is that it's -- it's incites our enemies. It puts our intelligence members overseas in jeopardy. It's used as a rallying cry. Do you think it's going to en? Do you think it will really be closed down? Congress, particularly, the republican leadership in congress, has been absolutely opposed to closure of guantanamo. We need to sit down and the president wants to do is work with congress, to sit down and find an orderly way to eventually close guantanamo. But ttom line here is, we need to understand the president's position, he's not suggesting any one of these 160 prisoners should be released. The plan that he has is to make sure if they're sent to another country is that they either be imprisoned or rehabilitated. And that we make sure that those who should be tried need to be tried by military commissions. I mean, we have to balance our values. Quickly, congressman? It's actually closer to 30% of detainees come back at us. The situation in yemen has improved. I don't trust the government, the new government, I don't think it's strong enough to send that many detainees to go back and kill americans. And what has the effect been of guantanamo? It seems it has been a rallying cry? It is. The only time we used troops under president clinton was to defend christians by muslims. Always going to be some reason. They stir up guantanamo. We should proud to defend what we're doing and stop apologizing for americans. I want to move to the leak investigation. Which was quite extraordinary this week. Mark, you cover national security, you cover intelligence, what we had this week is a reporter james rosen from fox news who was looked at as a co-conspirator. What's the chilling effect there? The big threat here is, ultimately, the reporters themselves that are seen as the ones who are breaking the law and that there could be prosecutions. They haven't gone down that road yet. The chilling fact is, with these leaks, whether they're successful or not, is that people who might be -- have been previously inclined to talk to reporters are less so now. So, it does affect the work that you do and all of us do. And -- and I guess we should say we're not just talking about specifically classified material -- all sort of things. The general climate of speak to a reporter and you could go to jail, this has sort of a cascading impact, not just real cases of highly classified information but sort of low-level information as well. And there's the feeling that the government shouldn't talk to people in the press, and then that's a big problem. You heard the press' side there. Admiral blair, you were in the white house. The leak investigations have been quite intense in the obama white house. Right. Mostly against u.S. Employees who were talking with reporters, which is where I think they should be directed. No institution better able to defend itself than the press. I think that will work out okay. But what I think is the leaking at the top of this administration, and it's a secular trend, is what sets the tone for those below and I think that most of the -- most of what the administration's spokesman should talk about with reporters with their names attached to it. Those further down the line don't think leaking is the way it's done. Quickly, congresswoman, on the leaks. The important thing is to make sure people should not be leaking classified information. They're committing crime. Ensuring they're a huge disincentive to committing a crime. No reporter should be gone after for doing their job. But we do have to make sure that there's a way to hold accountable individuals who are leaking and committing crimes and jeopardizing the united states.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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