All-Star Panel: Debate over presidential approaches to terrorism

All-Star panel weighs in


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


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This administration's at attitude was that we don't have to worry about the Constitution. We've declared a war on terrorism, and that gives me, George W. Bush, the power to pretty much do whatever I want. So if I'm going to detain people in Guantanamo Bay without charging them, I can do that. If I want to declare an American an enemy combatant and suspend their civil liberties, I can do that.


JOHN ROBERTS, ANCHOR: That was then-candidate Obama back in 2008 during the campaign accusing the Bush administration of using extra-constitutional means of fighting the war on terrorism. And now they are assassinating would-be terrorists with drones. Let's come back to the panel. Steve Hayes, you know, he said that he was going to roll back the Bush administration policies in fighting the War on Terror. But in some ways he's using tactics that are even harsher than anything that the Bush administration used.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I would say the key word there is "some." And there's been sort of a rush to conventional wisdom that the Obama policy is really just a continuation of George W. Bush. I don't think that's true. There are a number of ways and I think very significant ways in which the Obama administration has changed the Bush policies. There's no more harsh interrogations. That ended sort of under George W. Bush, but now he's ruled that out -- it's Army field manual. You have law enforcement first approach to apprehending terrorists. If you look at what happened in Benghazi, as we were just talking about, one of the reasons that we haven't been able, I think, to capture more of the bad guys, the people who were involved, is because we're not snatching people off the streets. We're going to the Tunisian government and asking hat in hand if we might please have some access to these suspects.

And then I think you have other things like renditions, and, of course, you have this idea that we would send folks to war, to fight wars on these issues.  So there are some significant differences, but there's no question that on certain issues there is tremendous hypocrisy based on what the president said when he was campaigning, what he said in the early years of his administration.

ROBERTS: On that note, Stephen of hypocrisy, I reached out to John Yoo just before the broadcast – John Yoo the architect of many of the Bush anti-terrorism policies at the Justice Department. This is what he told me. He said, quote, and I cut this down a little bit. He said "It should be clear by now that President Obama and his terrorism advisors are hypocrites...But I'm glad they are hypocrites because they chose to keep the policies that have kept us safe for these 11 years instead of sticking to their misguided principles. If the Obama folks ever had the good graces to thank President Bush, I'm sure he would say 'you're welcome. '"
Kristin, is the Obama administration policy really that much different than the Bush administration policy when you look at it from the standpoint of transparency and bringing that power to fight the war inside the bounds of the White House?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Well, I think one of the issues is that even if you buy into the idea of using these -- assassinating an American citizen with a drone, for example, which I don't, but even if you do, Obama promised us transparency. He promised oversight checks and balances, not what George Bush had allegedly given us. And, look, in that memo, it goes beyond almost the torture memo in the sense that there's almost no situation where the president can't kill somebody, you know. It's not -- as a legal document.

I think the President Obama that ran for office, even if he came to the conclusion when he was in office that, look, there are people that are trying to kill us and we need to do this, would he have at least tried to do something like a FISA court, some sort of oversight. Something where you at least have to make a case to some other person or a panel of judges. This is so far removed from who he presented himself to be that I think that that should be of great concern to people.  And you know, hypocrisy is kind of endemic in Washington. We have much bigger problems going on here, such as no due process for an American who was assassinated.

ROBERTS: Jonah, what about the double standard here, particularly among Democrats, who were crying long and loud up and down Pennsylvania avenue about warrantless wiretapping, rendition, enhanced interrogation techniques. And yet up until this week were pretty silent on what the White House was doing in terms of assassinating people by remote control?

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Right, I mean, what the principal people will tell you on the left is either they've been criticizing it all along and there are some people on the real left who have been doing that --

ROBERTS: The ACLU actually has been consistent on this.

GOLDBERG: But then the other argument you get a lot is that somehow water boarding is worse than killing people, and that, although my brief, informal unscientific survey of asking people would you rather be water bordered or assassinated, so far water boarding is way ahead. So that's part of the problem, right.

But it's not just hypocrisy in substance, it's hypocrisy in tone.  In the mid-2000's this country was awash from Hollywood, from the mainstream media, from academia with this air of existential panic that George Bush was going to kick down their doors and eat their children. And now everyone's saying, well -- we had that clip earlier of Mika Brzezinski and she goes -- well, I was troubled by what Bush was doing so I'm compelled to feel sort of icky about Obama is doing. And that's all fine intellectually, but emotionally there is no comparison when it comes to the hypocrisy that we're seeing.

ROBERTS: We're definitely going to hear a lot more about this as the days wear on. Thanks so much for joining us, folks. Great to see you. Have a good weekend.

That's it for the panel. But stay tuned to see what happens when a presidential speech writer departs Washington for Hollywood.

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