The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/6/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:58 A.M. EST


Q    Jay, thanks.  I want to go back to the drone strikes.  The New York Times is pointing out that a number of military and intelligence officials have expressed concern that the drone strikes might actually be creating more militants in areas like Yemen than they're killing.  Is that one of the effects?  Are they having the reverse impact?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would -- in terms of the broader effort, I would refer you to the Pentagon -- the broader effort in terms of dealing with al Qaeda.  But the fact is, as John Brennan and others have made clear, our counterterrorism efforts are designed -- including our targeted efforts -- to limit civilian casualties.  And I think any fair assessment of those efforts would draw you to the conclusion that they have significantly limited civilian casualties, I think.

Q    Civilians have been killed.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again I’m not disputing that necessarily, although I won't talk about specific instances.  But the fact is, is that the methods that we use are designed specifically to avoid civilian casualties.  I think it’s fair to say that far fewer civilians lose their lives in an effort to go after senior leadership in al Qaeda along the lines that we are discussing here as opposed to an effort to invade a country with hundreds of thousands of troops and take cities and towns.

So I think that these are issues that obviously concern everyone involved in the effort to combat al Qaeda and to deal with the region as a whole.  So that aspect of it is one that is very much in the front of everybody’s minds when they make these decisions and move forward with actions.

Q    Stanley McChrystal was quoted as saying that these strikes contribute to a perception of “American arrogance.”  How concerned is the President about that, that these strikes are making America seem arrogant?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that the President takes a very serious approach to these matters and has, as I said yesterday, two responsibilities in mind, and that is his absolute responsibility under the Constitution to protect the United States and to protect American citizens, and his responsibility in carrying out the first to do so in a way that's consistent with our Constitution and our laws and our values.

And on the broader objectives, we obviously take the fight to al Qaeda in a way that we believe serves our national security objectives.  And that means eliminating senior al Qaeda leadership, and it also means working with countries around the region to encourage a process whereby the populations in some of these countries recognize that choosing the ideology of al Qaeda is ultimately disastrous for them and their futures and their country’s future.  And so it’s an effort that includes a lot of different elements to it that is not just military.


Q    Jay, on the drones, why are you dancing around the question of whether or not we kill civilians?  Why can't the government at least admit that civilians have been killed?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't think that I'm dancing around it.  I didn’t dispute it.

Q    You said I’m not necessarily disputing it.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'm just not going to -- what I can't do or what I'm not --

Q    Civilians have been killed, right?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't disagree with that.

Q    Okay.  Do you think this is going to imperil John Brennan’s nomination?

MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that John Brennan is uniquely qualified as a 25-year veteran of intelligence work -- a 25-year veteran at the CIA -- to lead that agency.  And as the President’s top counterterrorism advisor these past four years, he’s done extraordinary work in the effort to combat al Qaeda, and through that work we have seen a significant decimation of senior al Qaeda leadership, including the elimination of Osama bin Laden. 

Mr. Brennan brings I think not only a vast amount of experience but a significant perspective on the battles that we wage in this effort and the right way to conduct them.  So the President believes that the Senate should and will confirm John Brennan expeditiously.


Q    Does the President owe the American people a clearer explanation about the standard or the threshold for killing Americans overseas?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s an excellent question and it’s the one the President -- and it is one that the President takes very much to heart and very seriously.  He thinks that it is legitimate to ask questions about how we prosecute the war against al Qaeda.  It is something that he has discussed internally.  It is his belief in these issues, his belief that we need to move forward with more transparency as well as create, in his words, a "legal framework" around how these decisions are made that has led to, I think, unprecedented levels of information provided to the public about how we do this, including the speeches that I talked about yesterday from John Brennan and the Attorney General and others -- Jeh Johnson and others. 

And the President fully expects that that process will continue, because these are issues that he believes are very important.  As I said before, his high responsibility here as Commander-in-Chief is to protect the American people and to protect the United States from threats like the threats posed by al Qaeda. 

It is also his high responsibility to perform that function in a way that is consistent with who we are, our values and the Constitution.  And he believes that it's wholly legitimate to examine these issues and to have conversations about them.  And he is engaged here internally in a process that I think reflects his views on this.  I think he said late last year, in the fall, one of the things -- this was in an interview, and I'm quoting the President -- "One of the things that we've got to do is put  a legal architecture in place, and we need congressional help to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any President is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we're making."

So we're talking -- he's talking about this in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about how we move forward as a nation on these issues, because, obviously, this is a -- these are questions that will be with us long after he is President and long after the people who are in the seats that they're in now have left the scene.

Q    And can we expect him to address this in a public way any time soon?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make or remarks to preview.  But I just wanted to convey to you the seriousness with which the President approaches these issues, and he respects the questions being asked. 

I think, again, while the white paper that was produced by the Department of Justice for senators was not a public document, as I noted yesterday, it does -- it did represent an effort in our providing of information to the applicable members of Congress to explain the legal concepts and legal theories that undergird the decisions that are being made.

Q    Jay on that question --

MR. CARNEY:  Can I just -- I'm still with Dan.


Q    Jay, on that question of the drone strikes, Senator Wyden today is saying he’s going to “pull out all the stops” to force the administration to turn over the actual legal analysis behind the justification for the drone strikes -- not the much discussed white paper, but the actual legal memos.  That sounds to me like a senator raising the possibility of a filibuster.  What is your answer to Senator Wyden?  Will the Intelligence Committee, will the Congress get the actual legal analysis used to justify those strikes?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, without discussing specific actions or cases or memos, I can say that the President has been and is committed to working with Congress on these matters and to providing information to Congress, and that process continues.

I think it’s important to note -- and I should have said this yesterday -- that when it comes to some of these matters, the information that is kept secret is kept secret for national security reasons not to keep it from the American people, but to keep it from those who plot daily and continually to do harm to the United States and do harm to the American people.  That is the premise behind which decisions like that are made.

Having said that, again, broadly speaking -- not referring to any specific operation or possible memo or memos -- the President is committed to continuing to work with Congress to provide Congress information on these important matters as he has been in the past.

Q    So Wyden will get his -- the information he wants --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to -- I can't and won’t talk about specific operations or specific memos that may or may not exist.  What I can say is that the President and this administration will continue to work with Congress, as it has, to consult with and provide information to appropriate members about these important, weighty matters.


Q    You mentioned a minute ago that the President wants to put a legal architecture in place for the drone strikes.  What steps is he taking to do that?  Is he proposing something to Congress?  Is he asking them to come up with it?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think this is -- I was quoting the President and this is something that he and others have talked about.  Mr. Brennan has said in the past that we’re trying to right now -- “What we’re trying to do right now is to have a set of standards, a set of criteria and have a decision-making process that will govern our counterterrorism actions so that irrespective of the venue where they're taking place, we have a high confidence that they're being done for the rights reasons in the right way.”  So this --

Q    Would you agree to getting Congress involved in it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that the answer is yes.  Again, quoting the President, he said last fall that there is a -- that it requires consultations with Congress that this -- and that's why going to Jon’s question, that we have been and will continue to be engaging with Congress on these important matters.

What that structure looks like and timelines on it, I don't have information for you today about, but it is something that the President considers a lot and takes very seriously.

Q    But are these deliberations underway? 

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, they are.

Q    I mean, have you gone to Congress and opened these discussions?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don't have any modalities to report to you in terms of specific conversations or meetings.  But as Mr. Brennan and the President have discussed, this is something that has been underway and will continue to occupy a fair amount of time for people involved here, because it is the desire of this President to make sure that we have an architecture in place that governs these issues not just for this President and this administration, but for the future.

Q    But just to clear, he wants to write rules for this kind of --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don't have -- to use that fancy word, I don't have the modalities here.  I don't know -- or I don't have for you today what that looks like.  It has been described as a playbook.  It has been described as a set of standards.  But what it does represent, the effort itself represents I think the thoughtfulness and seriousness with which this administration, led by this President, approaches these issues.


12:45 P.M. EST

Source: The White House

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