BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…

MATT TAIBBI: The rule of law isn’t really the rule of law if it doesn’t apply equally to everybody. I mean, if you’re going to put somebody in jail for having a joint is his pocket. You can’t let higher ranking HSBC officials off for laundering eight hundred million dollars for the worst drug dealers in the entire world.


VINCENT WARREN: There is not a country in the world that believes that the U.S. drone attacks that we are doing on countries that we are not at war with is the right and sustainable solution for us.

VICKI DIVOLL: All we have is the president interpreting his own powers and the limits on his own powers. And that is not the way it's supposed to work. We need more oversight.

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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. This week, two United States senators insisted that the Justice Department come clean. Why are Wall Street’s big banks not only too big to fail but too big to jail? Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Democrat, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a Republican, are outraged that the giant banks violate the law with impunity -- laundering money, cheating homeowners, falsifying information -- every trick in the ledger book. They sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding to know why the banks get away with fines instead of jail time.

Maybe they had their anger roiled by “Frontline,” Public Television’s premier investigative series. The other night, “Frontline” broadcast a report called “The Untouchables,” on how the Department of Justice allegedly has looked the other way for fear that prosecuting the banks would do even more damage to the American economy.

ELIOT SPITZER in Frontline: The Untouchables: It was a definite sense that justice backed off.

NARRATOR in Frontline: The Untouchables:Did the government fail?

MARTIN SMITH in Frontline: The Untouchables: A number of people told us that you didn’t make this a top priority.

LANNY BREUER in Frontline: The Untouchables: Well I’m sorry that they think that because I made it an incredibly top priority:

BILL MOYERS: That’s Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division at the Justice Department. A week after the Frontline report, he stepped down and is now expected to return to private corporate practice -- one more government appointee spinning through the lucrative revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.

That door could be a big reason why government treats the banks with kid gloves. A man who once worked for Citigroup, Jack Lew, the president’s chief of staff, has been picked to be the new Treasury Secretary. And Mary Jo White, the newly named head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is a chief litigator at a top law firm representing big investment banks like Morgan Stanley.

With all this happening, it’s time to talk with journalist Matt Taibbi. You’ve seen him on our broadcast before. A contributing editor at “Rolling Stone,” he’s been tracking the high crimes and misdemeanors of Wall Street and Washington for years.

Welcome back to the show.

MATT TAIBBI: Thanks for having me.

BILL MOYERS: You're working on a story right now that'll come out in a couple of weeks on the HSBC settlement. That's the, tell me about that, why it interests you.

MATT TAIBBI: Well, the HSBC settlement was a really shocking kind of new low in the history of the too big to fail issue. HSBC was a serial offender on the money laundering score. They had been twice given formal cease and desist orders by the government. One dating back as far as 2003, another one in 2010 for inadequately policing the accounts in their system. They laundered over $800 million for cartels in Colombia.

BILL MOYERS: Drug cartels?

MATT TAIBBI: Drug cartels in Colombia and Mexico. They laundered money for terrorist connected banks in the Middle East. Russian gangsters. Literally, you know, I talked to one prosecutor who's, like, "They broke basically every law in the book and they did business with every kind of criminal you can possibly imagine. And they got a complete and total walk." I mean, they had to pay a fine.

BILL MOYERS: $1.9 billion, a lot of money.

MATT TAIBBI: It's a lot of money. But it's five weeks of revenue for the bank, to put that in perspective. And no individual had to suffer any consequences at all. There were no criminal charges no individual fines, which was incredible. Incredible.

BILL MOYERS: Lenny Breuer also forced the Swiss bank UBS, as you know, to pay a big fine in the LIBOR, the price fixing conspiracy. And that outraged you as well, didn't it?

MATT TAIBBI: This is the, I think the biggest financial scandal of all time. It was a price fixing scandal where, essentially, some of the world's biggest banks got together and they conspired illegally to artificially rig the global interest rates which are based upon this London inner bank offered rate, which is a rate that measures how much it costs for banks to lend money to each other.

This LIBOR rate affects the prices of hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial products. And it goes from everything from credit cards to mortgages to municipal bonds. Basically everything in the world the price is, you know, is somehow connected to LIBOR. And these guys were monkeying around with this for individual profit. And they got, again, a complete and total walk on this. There were no criminal charges, which is just unbelievable.

BILL MOYERS: Did you see the Frontline documentary “The Untouchables?”


BILL MOYERS: Then you're familiar with Lanny Breuer's testimony.

MARTIN SMITH in Frontline: The Untouchables: You made a reference to losing sleep at night worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution. Is that really the job of a prosecutor to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?

LENNY BREUER in Frontline: The Untouchables: I think I am pursuing justice and I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice, but in any given case, I think I am prosecutors around the country being responsible should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case there’s some huge economic effect. If it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly counter-parties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly, it’s a factor we need to know and understand.

MATT TAIBBI: Think about what he's saying. He's essentially saying that some individuals are so systemically important, that they can't be arrested and put in jail. Now, it's only a few steps forward to the corollary to that, which is if some people are too systemically important to arrest, other people may safely be arrested. So we're creating a class of people who are arrestable and another class of people who are not arrestable, which is crazy. It's a crazy thing for the assistant attorney general to say, to admit out loud that he's dividing Americans up into these two classes. There's no reason they couldn't have taken a number of individuals from some of these companies and put them on trial.

Historically, we've always done this. Even under the Bush administration, if you go back just ten years, you know, WorldCom, Enron, you know, Adelphia. We took the leading individuals of these companies and we put them on trial to make an example out of them. And this is exactly what we're not doing in this case. Those companies were systemically important then. I don't see why they can't do the same thing now.

BILL MOYERS: You were shocked when you heard that President Obama had named Mary Jo White to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. And you wrote that she was a partner in a law firm that represented a lot of these big banks. You know, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Chase, AIG, Morgan Stanley.

You said, "She dropped out and made the move a lot of regulators make, leaving government to make bucket loads of money, working for the people she used to police." And I gather your great concern is that you don't want to see the country's top financial cop being indebted to the people who created the bank role?

MATT TAIBBI: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's just simple common sense. I mean, you're sitting on $10 million, $15 million, however much money she made working there at Debevoise and Plimpton when she was a partner and you owe that money to this specific group of clients and now you're in charge of policing them, just psychologically think of that. It doesn't really work, you know? It doesn't really work in terms of how aggressive a prosecutor should be, what his attitude towards the people he's supposed to be policing should be. It's just, the circumstances just aren't quite right. You'd much rather see a career civil servant in that in that situation.

BILL MOYERS: She was once a tough prosecutor. What's your beef?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, you know, I have people who are telling me that I'm wrong about this, that Mary Jo White was an excellent prosecutor and she's a good choice. But, you know I've done stories in the past about an episode, you had an SEC investigator named Gary Aguirre who was pursing an insider trading case against the future CEO of Morgan Stanley. He asked for permission to interview that future CEO. His name was John Mack. It was denied. And it was because there was communication between Morgan Stanley's lawyer, who at the time was Mary Jo White and the higher ups at the SEC who included the director of enforcement, Linda Thomsen. Aguirre was later fired for complaining about having this investigation squelched.

BILL MOYERS: Blowing the whistle.

MATT TAIBBI: For blowing the whistle. But the SEC was later forced to pay a $750,000 wrongful termination suit to Aguirre in that case. But what's so interesting is that Aguirre's boss, the guy who killed that case went to work for Mary Jo White's firm nine months after the case died. And he got, you know, a multi-million dollar position. It's a classic example of how the revolving door works in Washington. You know, you have these regulators at the SEC. And they know that there's that job out there waiting for them. So how hard are they really going to regulate these companies when they know they can get that money?

But in Washington, you know, people kind of shake their heads at it because it's so common you know, that these people, they move from government back to, you know, these high priced legal defense firms that represent the banks. And then they go back to government again. And it's this sort of, this coterie of, you know, 100, 200 lawyers who really run this entire thing. And it's all the same people on both sides.

BILL MOYERS: Lanny Breuer was one of them. He was in a very prestigious Washington law firm. Jack Lew, the new incoming secretary of the Treasury if he gets approved, served three years at Citigroup. His record there, according to “The Wall Street Journal” was not very lustrous for a man who's about to take over the Treasury Department. But “The Wall Street Journal” suggests that he got his job, not because he had the experience, but because he was a crony of Robert Rubin.

MATT TAIBBI: Jack Lew served in the Clinton administration. I think he worked in the OMB in the, you know, Office of Management of the Budget. And he was one of the key players in helping pass the repeal of Glass-Steagall. And, you know, this is kind of the way it works. It's not a one to one, you know, obvious connection. But, you know, Glass-Steagall was repealed specifically to legalize the merger of Citi Group. And, you know, coincidentally Bob Rubin, who was the Treasury secretary and Jack Lew end up working at Citi Group five, ten years later. And they make enormous amounts of money. And then they go back to government. And again, this is just sort of this merry-go-round that everybody in Washington knows about. And that's the way it works.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain President Obama's attitude in this? When he was running for president, he promised the close the revolving door. And he seemed genuinely shocked at the collapse of the financial system and the banks' role in it. But he also was raking in massive campaign contributions from these very people. Did those investments, did those contributions turn out to be good investments, or do you think he's just overwhelmed by the system that's controlled by these guys?

MATT TAIBBI: I think that they genuinely accept the explanation that they're probably hearing from all these people who run these Wall Street companies. You know, people like Bob Rubin and Larry Summers who are close confidants of the Obama administration are probably telling them, "Look, if we start prosecuting all kinds of people for you know, X, Y and Z, there's going to be major instability in the markets. People are going to flee America. They're going to withdraw capital from the American financial system. It'll be a disaster. Jobs will be lost." But it's just not an acceptable it's explanation. I think they're--


MATT TAIBBI: Well, just because the rule of law isn't really the rule of law if it doesn't apply equally to everybody. I mean, if you're going to put somebody in jail for having a joint in his pocket, you can't let higher ranking HSBC officials off for laundering $800 million for the worst drug dealers in the entire world. People who are suspected, not only of dealing drugs, but of thousands of murders. I mean, this is an incredible dichotomy. And eventually, you know, it eats away at the very fabric of society when some people go to jail and some people don't go to jail.

BILL MOYERS: But do you ever have the sense that those guys are, you know, are and their lawyers are up there laughing at all of us on their way to the bank, no pun intended? I mean, the fact of the matter is they are immune. There was a story in “The Washington Post” the other day by Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas. With the lead, "Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of attempted recovery, which the banks helped bring on. "And a tough industry lobby effort. Big banks, insurers and other financial giants remain intact and arguably too big to fail." I mean, nothing really has changed.

MATT TAIBBI: No, no, definitely not. And in fact, if you want to look at it objectively, since 2008, you know, the companies that we're talking about have become bigger and more dangerous and more immune to prosecution than they were back then. And you might even say by a lot. I mean, you know, the first factor was that you had a series of mergers in 2008, which you know, made companies like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, you know, double in size.

Or they were much bigger than they were before. So therefore they're more dangerous. And so you have these companies, like Barclays, like Royal Bank of Scotland, like UBS, like HSBC, which are, you know, they can't be regulated. We can't get an accurate accounting of what's going on in their books. And apparently now we can't even criminally prosecute them for laundering money like HSBC does. I mean we just keep setting the bar lower and lower and lower. And it's getting scary I think.

BILL MOYERS: There's a new analysis out just the other day from the Economic Policy Institute that shows the super-rich have done well in the economic recovery, while almost everyone else has done badly. And the economist Robert Reich says, "We're back to the widening inequality we had before the big crash." Are the financial and political worlds just too intertwined and powerful for anything to change?

MATT TAIBBI: I mean, it's a concern, I would worry about. But it doesn't mean you can't, you know, try to stop the problem. I definitely think though that there is this connection now between political power and financial power that's just becoming more and more overt. I mean, what Lanny Breuer is saying in that video is these people who have an enormous amount of power, destructive financial power we can't prosecute them.

On the flip side what they're essentially saying is that people who don't have any money at all, it's politically safe to put them in jail. And so, you know, we're creating this kind of dual class. And it's a very upsetting and disturbing situation.

BILL MOYERS: Matt Taibbi, we'll be looking forward to your next expose in a couple of weeks. Thank you very much for being with us.

MATT TAIBBI: Thanks for having me on.

BILL MOYERS: If you’ve seen or only heard about the film “Zero Dark Thirty” you know that it’s triggered a new debate about our government’s use of torture after 9/11.

DAN in Zero Dark Thirty: Right now, all this is about simply is you coming to terms with your situation. It’s you and me bro. And I want you to understand that I know you. That I’ve been studying and following you for a very long time.

BILL MOYERS: Some people leave the theatre claiming the film endorses and even glorifies the use of torture to obtain information that finally led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. “Not true,” say the filmmakers, but others argue the world is better off without bin Laden in it, no matter how we had to get him. “What’s more,” they say, “there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. If we have to use an otherwise immoral practice to defend ourselves against such atrocities, we’re okay with it.” Or so the argument goes.

But torture is only part of the debate over the fight against terrorism. What about the undermining of civil liberties here at home? The rights of suspects? The secret surveillance of American citizens? The swollen executive powers first claimed by George W. Bush and now by Barack Obama? Soon after he succeeded Bush, President Obama announced he would not permit torture and would close down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. He also said this:

BARACK OBAMA: Our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause. And that we the people will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again America’s moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership.

BILL MOYERS: Four years later, Guantanamo not only remains open, but a few days ago, the State Department announced it was eliminating the office assigned to close the prison and move its detainees. Meanwhile, President Obama has stepped up the use of unmanned drones against suspected terrorists abroad.

Those drone attacks have killed a growing number of civilians and have prompted the United Nations to launch an investigation into their legality and the deadly toll on innocent people:

BEN EMMERSON: The central objective of the investigation I’m formally launching this morning is to look at the evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of States to conduct thorough independent and impartial investigations

BILL MOYERS: A key player in our government’s current drone program is this man, John Brennan, a senior official at the CIA and head of the National Counterterrorism Center during the Bush presidency. Reportedly, Barack Obama considered offering him the top job at the CIA in 2008, but public opposition caused Brennan to withdraw from consideration. Obama kept Brennan on as an adviser, and last year, when Brennan became the first official to formally acknowledge that the drone program even existed, he again encountered protests:

PROTESTER: How many people are you willing to sacrifice? Why are you lying to the American people and not saying how many innocents have been killed?

MODERATOR: Thank you ma’am for expressing your views. We will have time for questions following the presentation.

PROTESTER: I speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz. A 16 year old in Pakistan who was killed because he wanted to document the drone strikes.

BILL MOYERS: Now, despite Brennan’s past notoriety, Obama officially has nominated him to head the CIA. This time, there’s been little criticism of the decision. So, we’ll watch Brennan’s upcoming confirmation hearings to see if any Congressional critics press him on whether the Obama administration is fighting the war on terror within the rule of law. Which brings me to my guests for this discussion. Vincent Warren is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Vicki Divoll served on the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in the White House counsel’s office for President Clinton, and as a legal advisor to the CIAs Counterterrorist Center. She practices law in Washington and recently published this op-ed in The New York Times provocatively entitled, “Who Says You Can Kill Americans, Mr. President?”

Welcome to you both.


BILL MOYERS: As I said in our opening, the torture debate is back, because of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty”. You've seen it. Where do you come down on whether the film glorifies, condones, or misrepresents the use of torture?

VICKI DIVOLL: I think it's for the viewer to decide whether it glorifies it. I did not find it glorifying in any way, shape, or form. One could argue that the film is so disturbing that it will, in fact, aid in the movement to not enable the United States to engage in those practices in the future.

BILL MOYERS: From your own experience at the C.I.A., did any of it ring true?

VICKI DIVOLL: Well, I left the C.I.A. in January of 2000. And was on the committee for 2001. When I worked in the Counterterrorist Center and we worked, I worked directly on the hunt for Osama bin Laden the programs that would capture and or kill him, pre-9/11. And harsh interrogation, detention, and certainly killing were not on the table. You would have been laughed out of a conference room if you brought up any tactics such as those, at that time.

VINCENT WARREN: I think that the film condones torture and misrepresents the facts about what torture actually does. It condones torture in the sense that the arc of the film really shows that that methodology, which really happens in the first part of the film, according to the film, leads to the killing of Osama bin Laden at the end.

You know, the idea is that for, in a narrative, that people are supposed to cheer when the bad guy gets it. But nobody is really figuring out how to feel about the bad guys in the beginning. Because, torture is a tremendous problem. It's one of the big three things that countries cannot do.

One of them is slavery, another one is genocide, and the third one is torture. The human rights law sees these as the crimes that human beings should never commit to each other. So one of the questions, really, is does torture work the right question? That's what the film seems to say. And that's really not the moral question. The question is should we be doing it at all?

BILL MOYERS: But, let me ask you, Vicki, do you know if the torture that was introduced after 9/11 produced usable intelligence?

VICKI DIVOLL: Well, no, during the period of time after 9/11 that I was general counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I personally, was not privy to those programs. To the extent that they were going on, at that time, and to the extent that they were briefed to Congress, they were briefed to a tiny gang of four, or gang of eight, group within the Congress.

So staffers didn't know about it. There was no oversight of it. So, I don't know. I do know, though that Senator Feinstein has finally gotten, she's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has finally gotten a report out of the committee, through the Republicans and Senate vote, allegedly it’s 6,000 pages long. And it covers all things torture. And she's very upset about the film. And she believes that whatever you want to say about torture and its human rights violations, that it did not produce the intelligence that the film suggests that it did.

BILL MOYERS: And she says the use of these harsh interrogation techniques was quote "far more systematic and widespread than we thought." But how do we ever know if that report isn’t published?

VICKI DIVOLL: This is one of the problems with oversight of national security matters. Some of these things have to remain secret. You can debate over which ones should and which ones shouldn't. But someone has to decide that this information can be released without harming national security. And I don’t see that happening any time in the near future. It is possible that some of the findings could get out, though, in a declassified version.

VINCENT WARREN: Clearly the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to and needs to keep some of this stuff classified. But we run into this problem where if you look historically, the only way that a country and certainly a country like the United States can torture is if they do it in secret, right?

There was a connection between the secrecy and the torture. It was not a mistake that George Bush created secret black sites, some of which appear in the film. It's not a mistake that even the names of the people who the government was torturing became classified information. The Senate for Constitutional Rights is an organization that has represented many of, many torture victims, knows that very well.

So what we're left with here in the age of President Obama, who really sees himself as the transparency president, is this question about how transparent will or should a government be in order for the rest of us, the fourth branch of government, the people, to make sure that this type of torture and these types of crimes don't happen in our name?

BILL MOYERS: The European Court of Human Rights found last month that C.I.A. agents tortured an innocent German citizen named Khalid El-Masri, who was arrested in Macedonia and then handed over to a C.I.A. rendition team, taken to Afghanistan, where he was severely beaten, sodomized, dealt severe pain and suffering. It's the first time the European court has described C.I.A. treatment of its terror suspects. Do you know about that?

VINCENT WARREN: Well, the El-Masri case is a very interesting one. And not just because of the factual circumstances that you laid out, but also because of the legal journey. Khalid El-Masri also had cases here in the United States. And the U.S. courts actually refused to look into the merits of those claims, looking at things like the state secrets privilege or different types of immunities that would keep him as a torture victim from being vindicated in U.S. courts. So in fact what I think is the lesson here is not so much that the European courts could make those findings. It's that the European court did make those findings.

BILL MOYERS: You mean he couldn't have gotten a fair trial or the courts wouldn't at least give him a trial in this country?

VINCENT WARREN: In this country, very few of the post-9/11 torture victims have ever had their day in court. And in fact, until recently the Center for Constitutional Rights has been successful in a settlement. We got $5.2 million from U.S. corporations who were involved in harsh interrogation and torture in Abu Ghraib for 72 torture victims.

But none of those cases have gone through adjudications. No court has made a finding the way that the European court did about the circumstances of their torture and their abuse. That's a problem here in the United States. And when you couple that with an aggressive policy from both the Bush and the Obama administrations, where the Obama administration is now making the arguments that courts should not hear these types of cases, that's when you really want run into problems.

VICKI DIVOLL: It's a great point. And it feeds into all of the issues we've been talking about, involving presidential power to conduct these kinds of programs, whether it be a secret detention program, a black site, harsh interrogation. They prefer not to call it torture in the Bush administration, because torture's just a word. And it has a definition that they don't agree with.

BILL MOYERS: In the Bush administration?

VICKI DIVOLL: Yes. The Bush admin, well, the Obama administration doesn't torture. And he's said that.

BILL MOYERS: He said that soon after he came into power.

VICKI DIVOLL: Yes, he did, in fact--

BILL MOYERS: And you believe him?

VICKI DIVOLL: I do. And in fact, he was instrumental in arguing for and then, as president, releasing the legal justifications that the Bush administration had relied on to conduct the program and opened them to the light of day. And they were reviewed and harshly criticized. In fact, some of the authors were even considered for censure.

The fact of the matter is the two branches of government set up to keep a watchful eye on the president in these areas, have a lot of trouble doing it for a variety of reasons. The courts have trouble taking these cases. There are so many constitutional and common law and statutory limitations on their ability to hear, even hear these questions, never mind resolve them, that we're not, we don't know what the constitutional outcome is, because the courts aren't ruling on it.

VINCENT WARREN: I'm not convinced that the U.S. doesn't torture at this moment just because President Obama said that we don't. One of the reasons why I'm not convinced is because there is so much information that still is remaining classified, that there's so much work that the Obama administration could have done, particularly in the last term, around pursuing accountability for the Bush administration that they're not doing.

So the courts, the problems in the courts are not just a question of court inability to do something. But there's a structure in place that actually, I think, was, has been protecting the U.S. government from these types of inquiries. And they're being utilized now. But we're in a situation moving forward where the people really need the ability to hold our government accountable moving forward for these types of violations.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think the president, President Obama is fighting the war on terror within the rule of law?

VINCENT WARREN: I do not. In fact, I know that he is not.

BILL MOYERS: What about you?

VICKI DIVOLL: I am concerned that he may not be. But I'm not going to go quite so far as to say that he is not following the rule of law. I think his lawyers have told him he is and he believes them.

VINCENT WARREN: Let's look, example number one is the U.S. drone program. And that the drone program is something that has been, the Bush administration and the Obama administration say are authorized by the authorization of use for military force that was passed by Congress. And the way that the Obama administration is using that is that they're dropping bombs, targeting for killing of terrorist suspects in countries in which we are not at war, including Yemen, including Pakistan, including places in Africa.

There is no legal authority for these types of drone attacks. The U.S. cannot drop bombs on people in places that they cannot send troops. It is a mechanism, I think my, in my view, a political mechanism that says, "It is so much easier to talk about how the wars are over and we're bringing troops home and that we're not putting more troops in harm's way by dropping bombs"

There's no legal authority for that. There's no judicial oversight for how they determine who they're going to kill and who they don't want to kill. There's a, right after 9/11, there was, on the, on this kill list, there were approximately nine people, Al Qaeda operatives that the military, the C.I.A. said that they wanted to get. Now this is something that is going to expand. And there's no legal authority. And there's no judicial oversight.

And I would say that here where we have, by latest reports 3,000, both people who are classified as militants and people who are classified as civilians that have been killed by drones since these programs started to happen, that is way, way, way too many. And in fact, on the day of the inauguration, three people were killed outside of Sana'a in Yemen by drones. This is a real problem.

VICKI DIVOLL: Well, I take a little bit of a different approach to this than Vince does, in the sense that the use of drone attacks throughout the world against foreign persons, I think, is troubling from a moral, ethical, and policy point of view. But I don't subscribe to the fact that it's illegal under U.S. law.

And that's the law that the president is bound by the Constitution to follow. My focus has been primarily, and I'm not saying it's a good program. I'm just saying that I think it's a moral policy question rather than a legal one primarily for the president. I focus primarily on the targeted killing of American citizens, which does bring into play the United States Constitution and the rule of law in the United States. And I'm very troubled about that aspect of it.

BILL MOYERS: Can you help us understand how this official program of targeted killing works?

VICKI DIVOLL: Apparently, the agencies, primarily the Pentagon and the C.I.A. nominate people to be on the list. And it goes through a, what the White House promises is a very rigorous process of review to determine if those people should or should not be on the list. We don't know exactly what the standard is. But it involves a number of criteria, including whether the host country, the country in which this person, particular person is cooperative or not vis-à-vis capturing the person. In any event, they have a standard. Names are nominated. It goes through an interagency process. And finally it makes it to the president. And he makes the final decision who is or is not on the list. Does that sound like what you understand?

VINCENT WARREN: I think that's certainly what the government has said happens. And, of course, this is the problem is that the only thing that we ever know about the counterintelligence stuff over the last 10 or 11 years has been, you know, what the government has been forced to say, what journalists have been able to find out, or what human rights organizations like ours have been able to find out on the ground. That's certainly what they're saying.

VICKI DIVOLL: Or what the government chooses to tell us.

VINCENT WARREN: What the government chooses to tell. And very often what the government chooses to tell us is forced by media work or litigation work from human rights organizations.

VICKI DIVOLL: That’s right. There are U.S. citizens who've been put on the same hit list, the same targeted killing list, high-value target list that foreigners have. And so far that we know of, three of them have been killed. One of them, I don't know if all of them were targeted. I know one of them was, because it was, that information was released.

BILL MOYERS: That was--


VICKI DIVOLL: Anwar al-Awlaki, he's a United States citizen born in New Mexico. I'm not saying he's not, probably wasn't a very bad man. But that's hardly the point. We have lots of very bad people, who perhaps we would like to put behind bars or even execute, depending on your point of view on those things. But--

BILL MOYERS: There was plenty of evidence that he was a suspect.

VICKI DIVOLL: I think that's right. But there's plenty of evidence that lots of people are suspected of doing lots of things. And that doesn't mean we shoot them from the sky.

VINCENT WARREN: I agree with Vicki on that. And on the al-Awlaki case, Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU, we both have a legal challenge. We've actually had two. The first one was in 2010, to seek to prevent the killing of al-Awlaki when it was made plain that he was put on the list. And the second case after al-Awlaki was killed, he was also killed with another U.S. citizen. And then two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, about 400 kilometers away from where his father was killed was having dinner in an outdoor café with his cousin. And he and, I believe, seven other people were killed, because they were looking to target somebody else.

BILL MOYERS: By a drone?

VINCENT WARREN: By drones. And that person that they were looking to target, reportedly, was not among the dead.

BILL MOYERS: And isn't the center, your center, representing that boy's grandfather?

VINCENT WARREN: We're representing the families of the people who were killed, which includes Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, that's the grandson, we're representing his grandfather who's bringing these cases and these claims.

BILL MOYERS: On what constitutional grounds are you resting your case?

VINCENT WARREN He is a U.S. citizen. He was a US citizen. He was born in Colorado. He went to Yemen with his family in 2002. As a US citizen, we all have a right not to be summarily killed by our government without a trial. That's the legal just--

VICKI DIVOLL: Maybe not a trial, without some process.

VINCENT WARREN: Without due process. Without some process, whatever process is due to us.


VINCENT WARREN: But certainly not in an extra-judicial killing by a drone.

VINCENT WARREN: Under international law there is no legal justification for targeting people without any meaningful oversight or articulable reason. There are rules that have been established in terms of the law of war and otherwise that keep governments from just dropping bombs randomly on other folks in different countries at which it is not at war.

And then the second piece is the piece that Vicki brings up, which is the constitutional issue, that we certainly cannot and should not live in a country where the U.S. is targeting its own citizens for killing without any due process at all. So we've moved from the Bush administration, where we started out with detention in Guantanamo without charge or trial. And now we're in the era of killing without charge or trial.

BILL MOYERS: Someone said to me on the day of the inauguration, you know, "How can you fight a war against terror any other way than meeting the assassins on their ground, who are willing to kill or be killed?" And trying to make a point that it was very difficult for a president to know where to stop, given the nature of the enemy.

VICKI DIVOLL: But war is difficult under all circumstances. And they're the ones, the Presidents Bush and Obama, who want to call it "war," because it enhances their own powers in, by doing so.

BILL MOYERS: The war powers.

VICKI DIVOLL: War powers. But the fact of the matter is for centuries we studied the just war ethics. And we've looked at the fact that sometimes our enemy doesn't fight fairly. That does not give us the right to do the same. Just because the enemy is ugly and vicious and does awful things does not allow you to do the same. It’s a basic tenet of just war ethics.

VINCENT WARREN: I completely agree with Vicki on this. And I, you know, I, it's troubling to me that in this great country, where we can send people to the Moon. We can have these great debates about gay marriage. And we can really be invested in our own progress as human beings as a, and as a nation. It's troubling that the only way that we can seem to resolve, the way that the public seems to want to resolve the current terrorism problem is by turning our nation into a country that out terrorizes the terrorists. That is precisely the wrong thing to do. And I agree with Vicki. It is not easy. It has never been easy. And what we should not be looking for are easy solutions that are going to test well in the public. Those aren't the smart solutions.

BILL MOYERS: But we haven't experienced a major terrorist attack since 9/11, doesn't that fact suggest to a lot of people that the war on terror fought on the terms you two are skeptical about is working?

VINCENT WARREN: It suggests that. There's no question about it. You can't disprove a negative. But I would also point out that right now, we've killed as many people, almost as many people in the last ten years with drones as Al Qaeda killed here in New York on 9/11. And I'm not looking to try to create some sort of proportionality. That's not my point.

My point here is that there is a methodology by which we can actually become our own worst nightmare and that the work that we're doing to keep ourselves safe in the short term actually makes us less safe in the long term. And we are very much on that axis. There is not a country in the world that believes that the U.S. drone attacks that we are doing on countries that we are not at war with is the right and sustainable solution for us. It just, the popular opinion around the world is very clear on that. And in this country, we seem to have a problem with it.

VICKI DIVOLL: There are many commentators who believe, and some in government who are concerned that the reaction in these villages, in these tribal areas to the drone threat, which is constant over their heads is radicalizing some who might not have otherwise been radicalized. So I think there's certainly a concern that we're making the problem bigger.

BILL MOYERS: In your op-ed piece the other day in “The New York Times,” you called on the president to tell us where in the Constitution, in effect, he finds the authority to secretly target and kill American citizens , the people he suspects are involved in terrorist activities. What are you asking him for? What's the issue here?

VICKI DIVOLL: Well, the issue in that particular op-ed is focused primarily on the fact that there are legal memoranda in the Department of Justice that explain in great detail the legal support that Obama believes he has for conducting this program. And he won't, the Justice Department won't release them. And he won't order them to be released.

Even though he himself released the same type of memo about President Bush's program, you know, "Tell us what your legal theory is. Congress isn't doing anything. The courts are having trouble doing anything. You're the only one who knows what your legal theory is. Tell us what it is so that we can decide if we think you're right or not."

There are two issues in terms of whether Obama can be doing this. One is does he have the power to do it? And that's what Vince has been talking about, in terms of the authorization for use of military force and the laws of war and that kind of thing.

The other is there some constitutional protections of the individual that stops him from doing it? Due process, right to counsel, any of those kinds of protections that we as citizens have against our government. They have determined in the White House that those don't stop President Obama from engaging in these activities. I don't know if they're right or not. The Supreme Court has never been asked that question.

VINCENT WARREN: One of the main problems here is. Is that, you know, when we talk about the legal justifications and legal memos and things like that, we are now in an era where even the government's interpretation of the law becomes something akin to a state secret. That we have to go through legal hurdles to get the government to articulate the legal theory by which they have the justification for doing things. That's a problem in a democracy. That is probably one of the deepest problems in a democracy.

VICKI DIVOLL: Remember, there are no court cases out there to look at. The lawyers for President Obama are speculating about what the law is. The executive branch is supposed to implement and enforce the law. The judicial branch is supposed to tell us what the Constitution says. We have been unable to get the judicial branch through, though you're trying mightily to make that happen. So all we have is the president interpreting his own powers and the limits on his own powers. And that is not the way it's supposed to work. We need more oversight.

BILL MOYERS: You said Congress has a hard time pressing the administration on this. Why?

VICKI DIVOLL: Well, not to be too cynical, but we have a Democratic Senate and we have a Democratic president and we have a Republican House. So on issues of aggressive national security, a Democratic Senate, who might, if President Bush were still in office be jumping up and down and taking action of all sorts, effective or ineffective, that depends on your view, is not doing that now.

They are not. They don't want to criticize a sitting president that is of their own party. They didn't do it during the first term, for a variety of reasons including he had another election coming up. I don't know if they're going to do it this term either, even though he does not. Senator Wyden seems to be agitating in that direction. And we'll see what comes with that.

BILL MOYERS: Democrat of Oregon. He's actually been pressing for greater transparency and oversight.

VICKI DIVOLL: He has indeed.

BILL MOYERS: But not getting anywhere, even among--


BILL MOYERS: --among his Democratic colleagues.

VICKI DIVOLL: That's right. And he's been, he's on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was on the committee when I was there. He's been on the committee for a very long time. And he is willing to press a Democratic president on these issues, but he hasn't gotten any traction yet. Senator Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee has, in my opinion, very feebly pushed also without result.

BILL MOYERS: So would both of you agree with one of President Obama's counterterrorism advisors in his 2008 campaign, a man named Michael Boyle, who said that the, Obama has been quote "just as ruthless and indifferent to the rule of law as” President Bush? He goes on to say, "President Obama has waged his war on terror in the shadows, using drone strikes, special operations, and sophisticated surveillance to fight a brutal, covert war against Al Qaeda and other Islamist networks." Essentially, he's saying there's no difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. And you’re shaking your head.

VICKI DIVOLL: I do not agree with that at all. On the Bush, the very premise underlying the Bush administration's actions in all of these areas was that the rule of law does not apply to him. That if Congress enacts a law and says, "Don't do that," that he can do it anyway. That's the unitary executive theory. That was the basis for all of his activities. President Obama does not subscribe to that theory. If Congress passed a law tomorrow that said, "You may not target with drones," I believe he would obey that. But Congress isn't doing it. So who do we look to? I look to Congress.

BILL MOYERS: But who's going push Congress to do it if, the Democrats are skeptical about taking on that White House and they want to cooperate with the White House? And the Republicans are on the other side?

VICKI DIVOLL: The media, the American people, the voters. It's not a perfect system.

VINCENT WARREN: I agree with Vicki that there really is a fourth branch of government here that is probably the most important one.

VICKI DIVOLL: And they've been too quiet.

BILL MOYERS: But President Obama was reelected with the public knowing that he was using drones in the war on terror. There is a consensus that since there has not been a major terrorist strike on the United States since 9/11 something must be working out there. And his popularity is actually up over what it was even a few months ago. Where is your constituency for these constitutional arguments?

VINCENT WARREN: This has been the George Bush mantra. "You can tell that I'm doing great stuff, because nothing bad has happened." And when something bad does happen, whether it's big or small or minor, they grab more power. They don't give back more power. They grab more power.

It, this is a cycle in which the lack of terrorist activity is a justification for the methodologies and any terrorist activity that does happen is a justification for grabbing more power. So, you have a situation now moving beyond the Obama administration, what would it look like for us if every country. There are roughly 50 countries that I believe have drone technology. What if they were allowed to take their terrorist suspect, wherever they happen to be, and just to drop bombs on them? What would that look like? That's really where we're going. That's what's at stake here for us. It's really not a question about whether people like President Obama or whether he doesn't, whether they don't. And I frankly think that President Obama has done great disservice to what his ideals were and why we elected him in the first place in 2008, which was around the questions of transparency and human rights. And that's the piece that we actually need to keep our eye in the next four years.

BILL MOYERS: You mentioned Senator Ron Wyden a moment ago. He is on the Senate Select Committee. He's allowed to know the legal rational that's being offered for targeted killing, as well as all the countries where the killing is where it's happening. But even he can't get answers. And he's promised to bring these issues up at John Brennan's confirmation hearings for CIA director coming pretty soon.

What questions would you put to John Brennan when he goes before the Congress to testify on behalf of his nomination for director of the CIA?

VICKI DIVOLL: I'm not going to quibble with them on the fact that they are really, really, really careful before they put someone on the list. I'm sure they are. And I would not doubt that the people they put on are threats to us.

I'd like to move to the other point and say, "Okay, what about the process? Why can't the process include another branch of government? Why do you think that you should own this issue?" Now the Bush Administration would say, "Because it's war. And we own war." I don't think the Obama administration would be quite that broad in their statement.

I would like to ask Mr. Brennan, "Have you considered putting forth with Congress the idea of perhaps legislating in this area, having a regularized system that involves other branches of government? We don't want to just trust one branch with this awesome power."

VINCENT WARREN: I would love for John Brennan to answer the following question. "The legal justification for us to drop bombs in places that, like Yemen and places like Pakistan and North Africa, places at which we are not declared to be at war, is the following."

I would also like to know what he thinks the line is between assassinating, target killings extra, outside of the United States and within the United States? Is there actually a line that can be drawn? What if there was a foreign person within the United States? Does the authority that is invested in the Obama administration is claiming, does that allow them to kill people within the United States who are foreign? Does it allow them to kill people within the United States who are U.S. citizens? There's no meaningful line that has been articulated.

VICKI DIVOLL: Anwar al-Awlaki's cell phone had more protections than his life.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

VICKI DIVOLL: If we had wanted to target his cell phone, because he's a US citizen in a foreign place, the Obama administration had to go to a judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and get an order authorizing the eavesdropping on his cell phone. If they want to kill him, they don't have to. So his cell phone's more valuable, has more protections, because of Congress's action. Congress gave that review to the court. And the president has to go through it. To kill him, they don't have to. This is the kind of thing we're talking about.

VINCENT WARREN: That's right. The public narrative, I think, really is "The government must, we trust President Obama. The government must know what it's doing. So when these people died, there was probably a good reason for it. And you actually don't have to tell us what it is. We trust you." That's where democracies die. That's where we go wrong. You should never ever trust that the government is being completely and totally honest about the mistakes that it's making-- And the stakes are so high for both the, for the law, for our foreign policy, and for civilians in a killing program that it should, we should be doubly concerned in getting that information out there, so that we make sure that we don't make those mistakes or we correct them when we do.

BILL MOYERS: Let's close with a brief discussion on the issue of surveillance and eavesdropping. On the 31st of December, the president extended this controversial wiretapping act until 2017. The FISA act?

VICKI DIVOLL: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

BILL MOYERS: Right. Are you both troubled by the seeming lack of oversight for this extension of surveillance and wiretapping of suspected terrorists in this country? Do you think there's a real danger here?

VINCENT WARREN: I think there's a tremendous danger. And I think, you know there has been a codification of the expansion of power under George Bush. And so any time that Congress or through policies that are happening now that we're institutionalizing, codifying, making hard into our infrastructure things that were literally unthinkable ten or 11 years ago is of tremendous concern to us.

It shows our slippage. And we don't always realize that that's what's happening because we can say, "Well, that's what the law says." And, you know, where I come from and I think where we come from in the Center for Constitutional Rights is that we find that there is virtually always a gap between what is legal and what is just and what is right.

And that the problem that we have in this next four years is narrowing the gap between what the law says and what the law should be in order for us to be safe, secure, free citizens within this country and to treat other countries and other people around the world with the same amount of respect. Narrowing the gap between what's legal and what's just is what the big battle is.

BILL MOYERS: What's your greatest concern about this next four years in terms of the issues we've been talking about?

VICKI DIVOLL: We need Congress to step up and do its job. Which is to conduct oversight of this president and all presidents, the presidency, not just President Obama, in order to get some of these issues, in fact it's a golden opportunity to do it while you have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President. It's harder if you have a Republican President because it looks partisan.

Here the two sides could work together. In fairness to President Obama, presidents don't like to acknowledge the giving up of power, no president does. On their watch they don't want to be the guy that shrunk the job. But I do think that the Senate, in particular, because it's still in Democratic hands, has a golden opportunity to get some of these things back under control so that when the next president comes in we'll have some laws and some standards that we can follow.

VINCENT WARREN: I very firmly believe that President Obama, that he's our best chance that I can see for the foreseeable future to do exactly what Vicki said, would be to shrink that pie of presidential power. He's inherited more from George Bush and George Bush took more than anybody else. If he doesn't do that, the next president will have more power than the previous two and that we'll be back on this show in four years talking about how we've slipped even more and that there's more egregious policies. And we will be looking at the ramifications for these policies. I want to see that change. And it's going to take people here in this country to be able to make that happen.

BILL MOYERS: Vince Warren, Vicki Divoll, thank you very much for being with me.


VICKI DIVOLL: Thank you very much, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. At our website there is a Q&A on the morality of the drone program with a political scientist who studies the ethics of war. There is also data on the number of people killed by American drones since 2002 when the attacks began. That’s all at I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here next time.

Watch By Segment

  • Matt Taibbi on Big Banks’ Lack of Accountability

    Bill explores the moral and legal implications of using drones to target our enemies. Also, Matt Taibbi on big bank privileges.

    Air Date: February 1, 2013Length: 15 minutes
    Matt Taibbi on Big Banks’ Lack of Accountability
  • Vicki Divoll and Vincent Warren on Drones and Democracy

    Bill explores the moral and legal implications of using drones to target our enemies. Also, Matt Taibbi on big bank privileges.

    Air Date: February 1, 2013
    Vicki Divoll and Vincent Warren on Drones and Democracy

Are Drones Destroying our Democracy?

February 1, 2013

In the fight against terrorism, the American military’s escalating drone program has become the face of our foreign policy in Pakistan, Yemen and parts of Africa. And while the use of un-manned drones indeed protects American soldiers, the growing number of casualties — which include civilians as well as suspected terrorists — has prompted a United Nations investigation into both the legality and the deadly toll of these strikes.

Bill explores the moral and legal implications of using drones to target our enemies — both foreign and American — as well as other intelligence issues with Vicki Divoll, a former general counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former deputy legal adviser to the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, and Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Also on the show, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi on the shocking lack of accountability for big bankers who continue to act unethically, and in some cases, illegally.

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company.

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  • Tom

    Given the thousands of innocent persons around the world who have been killed by our drones, who among us,
    having members of our family in this group, would not swear revenge and become what America is trying to eliminate. As President Obama himself said, we cannot kill our way out of this

  • Judith Logue

    It is very easy to agree with the severe repercussions associated with drone strikes. However, is this not a way to save our children (troops) in that the only other options is to send in ground troops? You failed to mention the crimes, plannd and perpetrated by these targets, to their own people and ours.

  • Catherine Quinlan

    What undermines democracy is the focus on legal justifications rather than moral ones. And moral does not mean religious. We need to get to some major discussions about what is honorable, noble, moral, in a world of living beings. Making the conversation about technical legalities instead of moral ones, we minimize the damage, the horror, the sadness. The descent into using drones to sanitize killing is bringing us so far from any knowable, humane world. The USA has apparently become overwhelmed with its own rush to action, in the midst of mechanical, rapid media climate of challenges. Using faceless drones is immoral, cowardly. I feel safer in a world where human dignity is seen as a desired goal, assumed to be a value that all humans want. Rushing is not a moral solution. Focusing on seeking enemies is making it all worse – for whatever we focus on, we get more of.. I appreciate today’s show.

  • Steve Woodward

    Great show, Mr Moyers. As always.

    Rampant lawlessness by those in power –from banksters laundering money for terrorists and getting away with it (while fraudulently foreclosing our homes) to state-sanctioned international murder — seems to be the order of the day.

    If I were an alien, just now encountering our world, and watching this show from orbit, I’d have to shake my heads and say, “What a bunch of barbarians. I’ll stop back by in a few thousand years and see if they’ve learned to play by any rules yet.”

    If not, hey, free planet for someone else, ’cause we won’t be here anymore.

    And, if I may, a non sequitur (sort of): If the leading institutions of the day, government, finance, energy, insurance, don’t have to obey the law, why should any ordinary citizen?

  • Steve Woodward

    Not only have “You” failed to mention the crimes, but so have the Bush and Obama administrations. One category of drone strikes is called “signature” strikes, in which any activity which “looks like” it might be terrorist associated, as in any 15-55 year old male walking in a group of three or more in Waziristan, is considered a legitimate target. We’re creating another generation of people who, for good reason, hate us, and our children are not made safer this way.

  • Michael Haas

    The United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires due process in dealing with criminals, so drone attacks are clearly illegal in that context. However, Obama evidently believes that members of Al-Qaeda are “warriors,” not criminals, so that’s how he justifies drone attacks. But that stretches the meaning of “war” to include persons who merely hold hostile opinions. Even the International Criminal Court has failed to define “aggression,” so therein lies the legal ambiguity. Accordingly, someone on the program was needed to definitively present the evidence that drone attacks are counterproductive. Such persons do exist and have written the evidence into reports. We await a fact-based presentation on a future program.

  • Anonymous

    Great, profound gratitude to Bill Moyers, Matt Taibbi,Vicki Divoll and Vincent Warren for their work on the issues discussed here. I greatly appreciate being informed in this way. That said, many of us who read and listen as carefully as we can hear the discussions of these issues are left with the heartsick question: what do we do about these things? What do we citizens do? We write letters, call our elected representatives, vote for those who we can only hope will do the right thing, and in these matters the “right thing” is pretty obvious, and so on – but it doesn’t matter. Things get worse. Maybe too many of us have forgotten how to make change, but I ask again: what do we do??

  • Steve H

    Matt Taibbi is one of the most dogged and committed journalist of our times. I think the only reason he hasn’t been “silenced” is because too few people are following him while he connects the dots for us to see the Big Picture. Instead, it appears that the majority of the people in this country don’t mind being robbed blind as long as they can watch the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NCAA Tournament, “Reality” TV , CIS and drink beer.

    Bill Moyers is an gift to this country who’s been around long before Matt was born. He easily ranks up there with the greatest of all the populist journalists who really care about what this nation claims it is – a defender of law, justice, and equality.

    So when are we going to wake up as a nation and stop complaining about the economy while continuing to overlook the root causes of why the economy is the way it is?

    We’re not helpless. Some things we can all do is DEMAND that Congress pass laws and amendments that get Big Money out of our political system; end corporate personhood; outlaw huge, undisclosed contributions to 501c4s; prevent unlimited political campaign expenditures; overturn Valeo v Buckley; and return full control of campaign financing to Federal, State and local authorities. The only thing we have left after that is electing honest politicians through a publicly financed campaign system.

    For sure, if we don’t do this soon, then we may as well accept the fact that we’re lying to our kids about having a democracy and we are condemning them to being slaves to the oligarchy.

  • Jack Smith

    Are we fighting terrorism, or are we the terrorists or are creating terrorists so we can justify our need to conduct terrorism. In any event drones are terrorists where the are killing innocent children or spying on innocent citizens. The clock is ticking for all terrorists. It is impossible to conduct terrorism without the rest of the world catching up with you.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with what you say here totally, but Americans keep voting as a cult of personality, rather than pressing candidates on what they believe, what they stand for, what their principles and values are, and what they will do and how they will do it – then hold them to it. Obama’s strongest MO is that he says one thing and does another, and this is way beyond what his alleged opponents in Congress obstruct him from doing. I say “alleged” because I think they are almost all oligarchs working hard for the hard entrenchment of plutocracy. Bill Clinton was, and still is, King to the many who still worship at his feet as members of his cult of personality and already we are experiencing the sanctification of Hillary Clinton for being the next President, and reportedly her opponent will likely be Jeb Bush. Dynasties, aristocracy, cults of personality, cronyism, crooks and con-men/women at every turn. Matt Taibbi’s expression of deep worry and fear over not just the particulars of these many criminal cases but the state of our democracy and nation was moving, and I share his deep worry and see little hope for change. Perhaps blindly I actually hoped for change in 2008 with Obama but almost immediately saw that his suit was cut from the same miserable cloth as the rest of the oligarchs’ garments. Whether it’s these cases of fraud, the attacks on Social Security, the lies and dissembling about the Postal Service, the wars, FISA, you name it: this game is rigged in very big, very bad ways.

  • Anonymous

    We are the creating Terrorists along with Israel, demanding what we want or else. History will put the two on the same history page as other terroristic dictators.

  • Nitramo

    Drones aren’t destroying America, they are a symptom of the nation’s decay.

  • Charles Broming

    Judith, To see the how this program is so heinous, simply imagine that it happens in your neighborhood. You’re walking down the street whistling a happy tune when a drone appears about a mile away (doesn’t appear – it’s a “stealth” drone) and launches a missile that blows up the house you’re in front of and the five neighboring houses during the family dinner. Maybe, someone’s having a little backyard cookout. All of those people are killed or maimed and you are one of them. You may have just gotten off the bus to visit a friend. Maybe you’re on the way to that cookout. You are either killed or maimed (you know, launched across the street by the blast wave just like in films). Remember, none of the people in this picture are protected by due process. That drone could have been from any country’s military. If you lived to tell the story, what story would you tell?

  • Ted Donoghue

    A great program and compelling interviews with three individuals who know and care about these issues.

    We have become a country of distracted idiots who prefer the lesser of two, three, four, five etc. evils rather than looking in the mirror and questioning our government and ourselves about what and why we do and do not do things.

    It has becoming increasingly disturbing that you can be dubbed “un-American” or a “conspiracy theory freak” simply for openly and intelligently discussing these topics.

    I mean OWS has now become a cliche for something that is just too radical and not based in reality.

    Pity us fools on that belief.

    Congratulations corporate media on that one

    If restraints are not put on the limits of what the terrorist industrial complex, Wall Street, and the Big Banks, can do now soon we could see our fellow Americans be subject to the harshest responses our government and the corporations behind them could do.

    I hate to imagine us living in a corporate dominated totalitarian plutocracy state but it is not something too far away if we do not demand more accountability now from our elected officials and ourselves

    Vincent Warren is right if we do not reign this in over the next four years the next President,and the special interests that influence this office, could assume even more power without any over sight…from anyone.

    The irony is that the majority of the country is now enraged in believing our 2nd amendment rights are at their greatest threat and that is the biggest threat to our democracy.

    Talk about ignorance and being distracted.

    A gun is not a right of freedom a government for and by the people is.

    Regardless of your political beliefs all we have to do is turn on the TV or listen to the radio as corporate media force feeds the American public more fear based beliefs while all these other stuff goes on with out a whimper from the Congress, the Courts, or the media. It is sad, and maddening, that the majority of these folks are clueless or could care less about these vital issues.

    The sins of a distracted, ignorant, and complacent citizenry.

    Wage on Mr. Moyers. Your work and the efforts of your staff is greatly appreciated.

    “War is peace.
    Freedom is slavery.
    Ignorance is strength.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

  • Anonymous

    A difficult and very important discussion with Ms. Divoll and Mr. Warren. I’d take brief exception to the title, agreeing with another commenter earlier that drone warfare is a telling symptom but not the disease per se. Mr. Warren nailed it: our efforts to enhance security in the short term are making us less safe in the long term. And we are in serious danger of institutionalizing actions that, while arguably legal (though never openly argued), are amoral and unethical. And all behind a curtain of secrecy and silence. That is how our democracy dies.
    Bill, the tension within the arguments by these two folks was extremely useful. Among you three I believe I saw the clearest outlines of these issues since the immediately post-9/11 hysteria. Many thanks for that.
    (P.S. And a very useful and timely follow up to the Frontline “Untouchables” episode.)

    And always a treat to see and hear from Matt Taibbi!

  • WOW

    We can do nothing until the next crisis, and maybe not even then.

    Since Sept.11th, we Americans have been under cyber attack by our own govt. They know our every thought. They can predict our every move. With this insight on steroids, they can create propaganda like ZDT and predictably, the majority of America will side with them.
    Drones are bad, but they may be the least of our worries.

  • DaveEddy

    The biggest problem is our lack of knowledge as we drone along with our drones and lack of personal human accountability. We drone along with a sad sad song as our nation falls down down down. The price goes up up up as the droning goes on on on and people’s lives go down down down as we go along.
    The world watches on as we drone along with no real accountability and our nation gone wrong wrong wrong. Too bad to sad we are going mad but the world is a mess and we think we do the best when we are really in a mess mess mess.
    we need a new song with better press to get us out of this messy mess mess but we keep on saying we are doing our best. Too big to fail is a fairy tale when it is the bigger you are the harder the fall. We dance along knowing things are going wrong but what can you do without a handle on the scandal.
    We need people in the know that can make the economy grow and people who will spend on the things that we depend. There are holes in our notions and holes in our motions and we have faulty motivation and slow locomotion. We go down down down when we think we are going up up up.
    What goes around comes around when we go around and around with no hope for the future with a world that is upside down not going to town.

  • Hap Klein

    Great discussion. It proves Gates’ warning that the USA creates enemies faster than we can kill them.
    I was taken by the point that what could we object to if one of the nations we kill people with drones decided their own enemies in the USA deserved to be knocked off and sent their own drones into our air space. We might be able to shoot them down but could we object?
    The UN has already declared us at fault in this killing game with drones.

  • Michael Pettengill

    We the People have ratified the endless global war on individuals in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012. This endless global war on individuals was openly declared by Congress in September 2001 with nearly 100% of Congress voting for this endless global war on individuals.

    Wars are carried out by the military over which the Constitution states is the President and Commander-in-Chief.

    Let’s look at the key part of the law that was passed by more that 525 members of Congress on September 14, 2001, and that remains as Public Law No: 107–40:

    “(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

    It can be boiled down to “…the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those…persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or …in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such…persons.”

    That is the law on the books today.

    No one has campaigned on repealing Public Law No: 107–40. No one has been asked if they support Public Law No: 107–40 in the more than 200 Senate campaigns, or well-over 2500 House races since it became law.

    It seems to me that We the People overwhelmingly support the endless global war on individuals and that requires the President execute that war as Commander-in-Chief. That is what democracy is about.

  • Michael Pettengill

    We the People clearly believe individuals that can e called terrorists should be killed by military force because that has been the law, Public Law No: 107–40, since September 2001, and in every election, not a single candidate for Congress has campaigned on repealing that law. If We the People objected to the law, then candidates running for Congress would easily win by campaigning on a promise to repeal the endless global war on individuals.

    We the People want war with no American casualties, so drones are the weapons of war preferred by We the People to execute the endless global war on individuals.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not entirely sure what you are talking about, and I’m not sure why you replied to my general question, but I’m pretty certain that I do not agree with your views as you somewhat obsurely expressed them here.

  • Harold Taggart

    Our rulers place graduated values on people just as the plantation owners did. Families of 9/11 victims were paid from $1 million to $9 million if they signed a statement promising not to sue the government or any corporations involved. Innocent victims in Afghanistan earned $1,000 for their families. What price does your government place on you? Over 7,000 U.S. soldiers were sacrificed. Apparently less valuable than the nearly 3,000 in the World Trade Center. Not one in a thousand Americans know why bin Laden attacked us. Most of us function at a stimulus/response level just as animals and insects do. The S/Rs want order and security. They will sacrifice any value to those ends just as Ben Franklin predicted. Most responders here are exceptions.

  • Dimes

    The program tonight (2/3/13) was up to our usual excellent
    standards for coverage of these items, except as indicated below:

    Matt Taibbi was excellent as usual. It’s too bad the powers that be in the
    government don’t consult people like Mr. Taibbi, Bill Black, and s number of
    others; we can’t expect the Reprobates
    to do so but even the so-called Democrats, that might be expected to do so from
    what they espouse, don’t so so. That’s
    why we, as a country, are going down the tubes.

    Mr. Vincent was also excellent, as always, despite some
    reticence on his part to be more explicit and direct. He, like his director and the other staff who appear on behalf of
    the CCR, are just excellent, concise and extremely knowledgeable and competent
    in their area of expertise.

    Ms. Divolli, I’m sorry to say since she seems to have a very
    good background and the probable and seeming qualifications, was a very mixed
    bag. She had some good opinions and
    made a few insightful and knowledgeable statements, shes seemed to play one side
    of the street followed later by
    statements that played the other side of the street. She also made statements which contained or were simply
    erroneous. This was very disconcerting
    for one who is a lawyer, was involved in the areas of government or misgovernment
    about which she spoke and one would expect to to be factually knowledgeable
    either from publically or
    professionally available to her. Her
    opinions in some areas simply did not back up her conclusions in some
    areas. An example from a number of such
    occasions is the following: she said that Obama was constrained by a number of
    laws and perhaps can’t do what he might like to do conflicts with something she
    raised with regard to drones. i.e., that the drones have been used by him and
    on his sole authority to kill American citizens without trial, thus denying
    them their guaranteed rights as citizens, no matter how bad they are or what they might do. For a
    lawyer, this ought to have smacked as a kangaroo court and anathema to American
    law, justice, morality, ethic, …. She
    must be a very conflicted lady and it seems she should sit down and get her
    thinking together in one direction or another.
    I was shocked at her opinions, etc. like this. Ite would take a few hours to detail other problems like this
    in her statements and I have gone on
    too long already.

    Incidentally, I was surprised that you did not express your
    dismay (as you have to others in past programs) with regard to drone killings
    of American citizens (and other considerations like international law) when she
    was essentially giving Obama a pass on drone use.

    In any case, thanks
    for your great work over the years in trying to educate the American people in
    many venues, including the threats to them, their democracy and this country’s
    very existence.

    (Hope you at least read the above even if you don’t
    include it in the comments.)

  • Who’s the terrorist

    A good question would be to ask which was first, american terrorism or the terrorism against america. If the same morals was allowed to be used against america, drones would be flying all over united states. How about one of the worst terrorist of the 21 century: Dick Cheney. Could for instance Iraq use drones on him?

  • John Amenta

    I think the core of the problem here is how Obama and his legal advisors are broadly defining what they’re doing as “War”. But in reality, there really is not two armies or two nation states trying to conquer each other here.

    What we have instead is more like worldwide “Gang” activity – that ought to be treated more like criminal investigations rather than defined as “War”.

    Using the pre-text of “War” all sorts of unintended dangerous consequences are taking place. Seriously dangerous is the unchecked power of our Executive branch of government. The eroding of US credibility when it comes to its ethic of defending human rights. And treating the worldwide criminals indiscriminately as we are with our drone strikes – and terrorizing entire populaces – in different countries – is putting out one fire and starting several others, and is just perpetuating the problem.

    What is being conducted is not a “War” – but is being called one for legal purposes and dangerously expands power of the Executive branch. It sets a dangerous precedent and has created a national climate of ever growing secrecy, unaccountability, and abrogation of human rights including our own US Constitution. What needs to be stopped is the legal arguments being used for calling this a “War”. But even the legal arguments are being kept secret.

  • Andrew

    About 2 or three months ago Justice Antonin Scalia said that there are some issues that are out of the scope of the supreme court (the highest court in the land), in reference to certain defense issues. The Supreme court has had to fight for power since the institution was started why would a member of the court purposefully lay down their right and responsibility to adjudicate some of the most important issues in America?

  • Brian Flaherty

    Ms Divoll and Mr Warren presented an excellent discussion of the current administration’s nonsense re: “hunting terrorists”. . .However, in referring to “pundits” and Government apparatchiks crowing about “Our efforts which have been successful in that there’s not been another incident since 9/11. . . “. . .a major point is (and, they’re not alone in this regard) that. . .Bin Laden and his cohorts WERE “successful” almost beyond their wildest dreams. . .The US has been turned upside down and sideways; democratic principles and the US Constitution have been tossed by the wayside; and, TRILLIONS of dollars have been wasted; resources have been squandered and diverted from other NECESSARY uses; and, thousands of lives have been lost. . .while We, the People have been; and, will continue for years to come, chasing ghosts!!!!

    It’s been like an Al Qaeda’s wet dream!!!

  • marianne

    are you stoned?

  • A New Yorker

    Another way to interpret the fact that there have been no major terrorist strikes against the US since 9/11: It’s time to end the “war on terror.”

  • Michael

    The only clarity that I can see about the current state of our democracy is that it is in deep trouble. Secrecy abounds in what is supposed to be a free and open democracy.

    Between the use of drones to murder who ever the president and his advisers deem worthy and the idea that corporations and even individual people with extreme wealth can be above the law, pretty much eliminates the very notion that we live in a democracy or that we abide by a rule of law.

    Trying very hard not to be too cynical I don’t see any light any where in this tunnel. The United States and subsequently the world appears to racing toward disaster in this endless pursuit of the mighty dollar and the misguided perception that violence and power are the only solution to our differences.

    I guess maybe it’s just a lot easier and maybe more reasonable to remain ignorant and enjoy your TV. drink beer and act like none of this has anything much to with us as individuals. It’s their fault so we aren’t responsible and don’t have to do anything about what being dome in our name.

  • Arianna

    The Ala-awaki assasination should have been a wake up call to all Americans. If not then, the death of his son. Both of them were American citizens regardless of their politics. The very fact that our government, which is supposed to represent us, has been trying this method of political manipulation for decades i.e. Castro and the poison cigar etc. and now just has a new toy to do it with should alarm each and every one of us. Drones are already in use in the US and attaching ordinance to them is a snap. If we don’t make it clear to our representatives that we will not stand by while women, children, and other “collateral” is damaged or killed whether or not they are a citizen then perhaps we too will know the terror of the silent death from above. Extra judicial killing is illegal according to the UN, Geneva Convention, International Commision on Human Rights, ACLU, etc. Slaughtering innocents is wrong whether in Sandy Hook or the Sahara.

  • Dave Gray

    It occurs to me…

    Ever since the spanish-american war The US has a long history of meddling in the affairs of all sorts of countries abroad in big and small ways.

    It really got kicked up a notch after WWII with the Cold War being fought by proxy.
    When that ended we had en opportunity to finally declare peace, but instead we expanded our efforts by an order of magnitude to become the policeman to the world & meddle in all sorts of new areas with the war on terror as our excuse. We became the worst type of corrupt cop, picking and choosing the “crimes” we will respond to. Yes to this genocide, no to that one, etc…

    In this role we have gone far beyond what has been needed to keep terrorism at bay and away from US shores, and paradoxically the blow back from our actions have created legions of new terrorists to create future problems – this is something that anybody could see, and yet everybody appears completely unconcerned about,

    We are fighting the war on terror with all the same mindset, thinking, & strategies that have been so successful in our war on drugs. They are likely to work just as well at eliminating terror as we did at keeping drugs off the streets, and eventually we will probably see the rise of the analogues to the drug mega cartels – as Iran and North Korea have both announced they are nuclear armed powers and seem quite comfortable with the idea of arming proxy groups like Hezbollah, et al.

    What we have done is create a self perpetuating institution dedicated to fighting terror, like we have in the DEA to fight drugs – that we will never be rid of, because they are not interested in stoping terrorism – that would eliminate the need for them, no, they will always need terrorism just like the DEA always needs for there to be an ever worsening drug epidemic (I am 50, this same drug “epidemic” has been worsening since at least 1978 – so why has it not destroyed us by now?)

    So they are only interested in fighting terrorists, the more terrorists they kill and the flashier the battles, all the better.

    They have no genuine vested interest in fighting or effectively ending terrorism. So, of course, they make sure to use methods which ensure that the stream of new terrorists will never dry up, and indeed we see new terrorist groups popping up everywhere. So many it is mind boggling and difficult to keep track of – requiring of course an ever expanding government agency to do so… Etc.

    So the next time you hear about a drone strike where a Pakistani or Yemeni School was “accidentally” hit, perhaps you will have cause to wonder if the strikes from these drones, which can read a license plate from a mile up and fly a missile into a window, are precisely as accurate as they are intended to be.

    Just a thought.

  • viewer

    all the programs are thought-provoking, but this discussion had my full attention. reminds me of the gwbush/cheney years. who can “legally” decide to kill.

  • RIchard

    I think one of the biggest dilemmas our government and society face today is the inability to understand issues from the ‘other side’ We usually fail to ‘walk a mile in another’s shoes.’ We blindly assert without thinking of the ramifications that American lives are more important than Middle Easterner’s lives.

  • Shelovestosail

    I couldn’t have said it better.

  • Jamie Edmonds

    Do we have to wait until 2267 to figure this stuff out?

  • MBrecker

    Considering the current laws, there’s nothing to stop Obama from using drones to track down and kill “terrorists” in the States within the States. How come nobody wants to publically admit that? Because that would destroy many peoples’ bliss. As long as Obama keeps me safe, do whatever you want to do. If he kills an American with a drone within the States, would anybody care?

  • Sidney Hatchl

    They are destroying our democracy and more than that the resort to killing without due process of any person whether US national or not in any place other than in actual combat in a declared war or to rescue a person in eminent danger is a step back beyond the civil era, at least prior to the reign of the Tudors in England

  • ken

    Matt Taibbi describes how the House truly operates in his book ” The Great Derangement “. Is this really true ? If so , every member of the House should resign today!!

  • DaveEddy

    We need to send President Obama a box of aroundtoits

  • davidp

    U.S. Creates Medal For Drone Attacks, Cyberwarfare..its getting to this now?

  • E. Nowak

    Steve H., Sosus, I agree with the both of you.

    The Republicans long ago abandoned conservatism and embraced radicalism. When that happened, the Democrats took up the conservative mantle of Big Business and Big Defense. The Dems are no longer looking out for the little guy anymore (except for a few token sops — like the repeal of DOMA and the Lily Ledbetter bill — to keep the base appeased).

    The solution is for liberals and progressives to coalesce around a new party — a political REFORM party.

    Until that happens, nothing will change.

  • E. Nowak

    Something that was overlooked by the media was how Obama quietly signed a bill allowing corporations and government to use unmanned droned WITHIN the U.S.

    This means your local Barney Fife can fly his little drone over your next backyard party so he can keep tabs on your activities. Is that a joint in your hand? Is that an underaged kid with a beer in his hand? Not to mention how he can now follow you around town and monitors your driving and activities.

    Google can take snaps of your house, car, patio, pool, etc. and collect your data and sell it to say, a bank to see if are a good risk for that loan. Messy yard? Ooo, that means you’re lazy. Declined! Playing hooky from work? Now your boss can see if your car is parked in your driveway.

  • E. Nowak

    Either way, the military-industrial complex — the last real manufacturing base left In the U.S. — wins.