CBS’s Smith Hits Obama From Left On Military Tribunals

Harry Smith and John Dickerson, CBS On Friday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith took a critical tone against the Obama administration’s decision to reinstate military tribunals for terror suspects: "President Obama will resume the controversial military tribunals for some terror suspects." Smith later discussed the decision with John Dickerson from Slate.com and wondered what the hard left would think: "Let's talk about this decision by the Obama administration to go ahead and have tribunals for some of these terror suspects. The whole part of the -- a huge part of Obama's campaign was repudiation of this Bush policy in Guantanamo. What are Obama's supporters going to think of this decision this morning?"

Dickerson responded by attempting to explain that the decision was not a reversal by Obama: "Well, they have a lot of reason to be upset with him for a variety of decisions he's made recently. But Obama always said that he would take a look at these tribunals...He never said he would do away with them completely...So they will probably be upset. They would like the President to do away with the tribunals altogether. But in terms of matching what he's done now with his previous statements, he's still in line with what he said before."

Rather than ask if some Bush administration counter-terrorism policies were vindicated by Obama reimplementing them, Smith instead fretted that the President was betraying his supporters: "Because you add to this, 'I don't want those photos released. I'm now going to go back to tribunals.' There have got to be a lot of people on the left who say 'I can't believe this is the same guy I voted for.'" Dickerson replied: "That's exactly right. I mean, they're comparing him to President Bush, by saying also he uses the state secrets privilege, which is basically arguing that in certain court cases even judges can't look at what the national security measures are. That they can't even evaluate them at all. And that is another major legal move that the Bush administration used."

Smith also talked to Dickerson about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claiming that the CIA lied to her about the use of waterboarding in interrogations of terror suspects: "Nancy Pelosi seems to be digging herself into a hole. Is it a hole she can get out of?" Dickerson agreed: "Well, it is a big hole. Usually, when you have one opponent, in this case the Republicans, you kind of stick to one. She's added a second, taking on the CIA. Now the CIA's job, in some ways, is protecting itself, and it's very good at this...So she's in a tough spot."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: President Obama will resume the controversial military tribunals for some terror suspects, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accuses the CIA of lying.

NANCY PELOSI: Yes, I am saying that they are misleading -- that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

7:04AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: A big surprise from the Obama White House this morning, and a surprise decision on their attitude toward tribunals for suspected terrorists. That and a hot button debate over waterboarding goes into overdrive today, courtesy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA lied about it. CBS News justice correspondent Bob Orr is in Washington with the latest. Good morning, Bob.

BOB ORR: Good morning, Harry. Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as you mentioned, is trying to rebut charges that she knew about waterboarding years ago and took no steps to try to stop it. And the speaker's accusing the CIA now of lying to Congress.

NANCY PELOSI: So yes I am saying that they are misleading -- that the CIA was misleading the Congress in that meeting.

ORR: Pelosi says she was only briefed once on harsh interrogation techniques. And was never personally told the CIA was using waterboarding against top Al Qaeda detainees. But recently released documents raise questions about her account. A Justice Department memo reveals Abu Zubadeyh was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. And CIA records show Pelosi was briefed the following month, in September 2002, about the use of 'EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] on Abu Zubadeyh.' While the document does not use the word 'waterboarding,' Republicans say top Democrats were fully in the loop and Pelosi's accusations against the CIA are out of line. Meanwhile, today the administration is expected to announce it's restarting the controversial Bush era military tribunals for a small number of Guantanamo terror suspects. Pelosi now wants a so-called truth commission to sort out all of the facts. But the President and Democratic Senate leaders are against that idea. So this whole debate over who knew what, when, will go on for some time. Harry.

SMITH: Bob Orr, this morning, thanks so much. Joining us from Washington also this morning, CBS political analyst John Dickerson. John, good morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning.

SMITH: Nancy Pelosi seems to be digging herself into a hole. Is it a hole she can get out of?

DICKERSON: Well, it is a big hole. Usually, when you have one opponent, in this case the Republicans, you kind of stick to one. She's added a second, taking on the CIA. Now the CIA's job, in some ways, is protecting itself, and it's very good at this. And if she wants to, she can talk to the Bush administration officials who spent a good portion of the last administration fighting an internal war with the CIA. So she's in a tough spot.

SMITH: And the CIA, of course, came back and said, 'on the contrary, you knew exactly what was going on here.'

DICKERSON: That's exactly right. They said that she was briefed in September of 2002 about what was going on. And also they've said that, you know, that she should know -- I mean, she's -- what's important here is that she said that the CIA lied in September of 2002. They're not telling the truth now about what happened at that meeting. And then she made a broader claim that they basically lie regularly to the Congress.

SMITH: Let's talk about this decision by the Obama administration to go ahead and have tribunals for some of these terror suspects. The whole part of the -- a huge part of Obama's campaign was repudiation of this Bush policy in Guantanamo. What are Obama's supporters going to think of this decision this morning?

DICKERSON: Well, they have a lot of reason to be upset with him for a variety of decisions he's made recently. But Obama always said that he would take a look at these tribunals. And when he came into office he put them on a kind of hold. He never said he would do away with them completely. So he's brought them back now, and he's added some protections for the prisoners. They get more legal rights, their information obtained through torture or abusive methods won't be allowed in these tribunals. So they will probably be upset. They would like the President to do away with the tribunals altogether. But in terms of matching what he's done now with his previous statements, he's still in line with what he said before.

SMITH: Because you add to this, 'I don't want those photos released. I'm now going to go back to tribunals.' There have got to be a lot of people on the left who say 'I can't believe this is the same guy I voted for.'

DICKERSON: That's exactly right. I mean, they're comparing him to President Bush, by saying also he uses the state secrets privilege, which is basically arguing that in certain court cases even judges can't look at what the national security measures are. That they can't even evaluate them at all. And that is another major legal move that the Bush administration used.

SMITH: John Dickerson this morning. Thank you so much for your help. Do appreciate it.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC