• With: Dan Henninger, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Matt Kaminski, James Freeman, Bret Stephens

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 9, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report" the Obama administration's drone policy gets new scrutiny as its architect faces congressional hearings. Will the left get its way and shut it down?

    Plus, it's being billed as a Republican Party civil war. We'll take a look at the debate over the future of the GOP and the candidates it needs to win elections.

    And the Wall Street Journal is just the latest American media outlet to report being hacked by the Chinese government. Why they do it, and what it means for our national security.


    JOHN BRENNAN, COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISOR & CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: The president has insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded and thoroughly anchored in intelligence, will have the appropriate review process, approval process before any action is contemplated, including those actions that might involve the use of lethal force.


    GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    That was John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism advisor, and his pick to lead the CIA, in his confirmation hearing Thursday defending the administration's policy on drone strikes. A key architect of that policy, Brennan's testimony came the same week that the White House reversed course and agreed to provide lawmakers with a classified Justice Department memos authorizing drone use to kill Al Qaeda operatives, including U.S. citizens abroad.

    Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and editorial board members, Dorothy Rabinowitz and Matt Kaminski.

    So, Dan, what did we learn about the drone policy that's been secret, semi- secret --


    GIGOT: -- for so long this week.

    HENNINGER: I think what we learned was an affirmation of what we know about the drone policy. It was stated pretty well I thought by John Brennan. The bottom line is that the drones are being used to kill al- Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Pakistan and Yemen, but nowhere else. And that there is, in fact, a Justice Department memo laying out the legal justification for the drone attacks. It's not clear to me why the Obama administration felt they had to keep that memo secret. It was going to come out eventually anyway, but they do have a justification. And so I think -- in that the drone attacks are being run by John Brennan.

    GIGOT: Right. And the justification goes back to the congressional authorization to use military force in the wake of 9/11 plus succeeding National Defense Authorization Acts passed by Congress.

    So, Dorothy, the left really does, however, dislike this program or the way it is operated because there was a big assault on Brennan in the hearing?

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: There was. If the administration had rented a town hall and announced the justification, it would still have not diffused the left because --

    GIGOT: Why? They want to kill this program?

    RABINOWITZ: Yes, of course. Because they have forever distorted the meaning of due process and are continually accusing the administration and the war on terror of violating all due process, when, in fact, due process is elastic theory. It's an elastic justification. You can't find the terrorists, there are ultimate means, you will get this person. You don't even, under due process law, have to tell who or what you are doing. Just provide the guidelines.

    GIGOT: But it's also not criminal justice we're talking about here.

    RABINOWITZ: That's right.

    GIGOT: This is wartime decision-making, which we're taking -- which they're doing this against enemy combatants, people that have taken up arms in the United States. This isn't somebody in Iowa or, for that matter, it's not even somebody around the world who we just decide, hey, we don't like him.

    You have to be, Matt, associated with Al Qaeda or associated forces and taken up arms against the United States. That is clearly in that legal memo.

    MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Going back to all time, you are allowed to kill your enemies under international standards of war and law. The Supreme Court established seven years ago that the U.S. government can kill a U.S. Citizen who has joined an opposing force. In that case, it was the Nazi military. In this case, it is Al Qaeda.

    I think the problem that we've come up against, they waited so long to make both the military and legal case for doing something that's clearly legitimate and clearly limited that they are now feeling that backlash from mostly from their own flank really on the left.

    HENNINGER: One more quick point. These terrorists' primary weapon is the blowing up of civilian populations using suicide bombers, whether in New York, London, Madrid or, indeed, in Pakistan or Libya. Wherever they fight, what they do is blow up innocent people going about their daily business. That is the enemy we're talking about.

    GIGOT: What about the charge, Dorothy, that the administration is too quick to default to drone distant killing, as opposed to trying to capture and then interrogate terrorists where actually you get the best intelligence to be able to prevent future attacks?

    RABINOWITZ: That is really a good question. There is a powerful suspicion that the drone serves the administration's effort to cleanse itself of the boots-on-the-ground danger. Cleanse itself of a place, where to put these people. We have no place. We have no camps. We have no --

    GIGOT: We have Guantanamo but they don't want to use it.


    RABINOWITZ: But they don't want to use Guantanamo.

    So here is this clean, astringent, completely -- how they thought that they could get away permanently with this without bringing down all of it on their heads? And I have to say, one has a sense of kind of just cause in this outburst of trouble that they are in right now.


    GIGOT: Even from the left, Dorothy? But you don't agree with the critics of the drone program do you? I mean, you --

    RABINOWITZ: Certainly not.

    GIGOT: -- you like the drone program essentially.

    RABINOWITZ: I like the drone program. I don't know anybody who doesn't, except Code Pink.

    GIGOT: So what is the administration doing -- what mistakes did they make?

    RABINOWITZ: They made the mistake thinking they could keep secret this program and they could justify it. And --