Interview of Secretary of State Clinton With Bob Schieffer of CBS Face the Nation

Lisbon, Portugal–(ENEWSPF)–November 21, 2010.  

QUESTION: And the Secretary of State is speaking to us from Lisbon, Portugal. Madam Secretary, thank you.

You and the President met with President Karzai of Afghanistan while you were there. Is he still wanting to reduce the American presence in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bob, first, I think that what happened in Lisbon by the NATO ISAF alliance was extremely important. It was basically a resounding vote of confidence in President Obama’s strategy, which, by all accounts, is making progress.

As part of that strategy, we are trying to balance two imperatives: on the one hand, going after, killing, and capturing the Taliban; on the other hand, maintaining the support of the Afghan people. And I think what President Karzai has raised with me and others is that we constantly have to be asking ourselves, “Are we getting that balance right?”

He is fully in support of the strategy. He is fully in support of the fact that it is making progress. But he is very sensitive, as you would expect the president of any country to be, as to whether or not, when we engage in night raids or other offensive actions, we are actually getting the bad guys, and not conducting actions that result in a lot of civilian casualties.

And so, General Petraeus understands that, and they are working closely together to make sure that they stay in sync.

QUESTION: Well, that doesn’t sound exactly like what he told the Washington Post just a week ago, when he said U.S. forces were becoming too intrusive in Afghan life, he wanted to stop the nighttime raids, which is kind of the heart of General Petraeus’s strategy. Are you telling me he has changed on that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. What he has said to me and to others is if you have a night raid that kills a Taliban leader, he is all for it. If you have a night raid that kills five or six innocent civilians and maybe some really low-ranking 19-year-old kid who joined the Taliban, he is asking us to evaluate whether or not that is an appropriate balance.

So I think sometimes the very legitimate questions he is raising get blown out of proportion. And I think what we do, in talking with him — and I do it on a regular basis — is to make sure we listen well, and we understand exactly what the root of his concerns are. So we just — I met with him twice, and President Obama met with him, and we have had very in-depth conversations about the way forward. And what I described to you as the example that he gave is exactly what I think he means.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask you. What do you say to the parents of an American 19-year-old, the parents who have lost a 19-year-old in Afghanistan, when they hear that the President of Afghanistan says we’re being intrusive there? What do you say to those people?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we say it — and the President, of course, signs a letter to everyone — every family that loses someone in Afghanistan — we say, “We are making progress in the ground.” That is indisputable. It’s not only something we believe; the Afghans believe it, and all of our NATO ISAF allies believe it.

Number two, because this is a war against an enemy that doesn’t fight fairly, that is picking off civilians, using IEDs going after our troops, we have to be always as clear as we can that we are going after the real enemy, and not just making an offensive move that doesn’t have a positive military reason behind it.

But that 19-year-old who is out on an outpost in Afghanistan is standing up for American national security interests. And maybe there is always a question when you are trying to win the hearts and minds of a population while killing an enemy that lives and hides amidst that population, how best to do it. But I think our young men and women on the ground understand that better than perhaps those who are far from the fight. So this is something we always are asking ourselves, “How can we do it better? How do we protect our people? How do we protect the innocent Afghans? And how do we keep doing what we are doing successfully,” which is degrading and reversing the momentum of the Taliban?

QUESTION: All right. Well, let’s talk about this START Treaty. You know, Madam Secretary, on the President’s recent trip to Asia, he was totally blind-sided when he thought he was going to get a trade agreement in South Korea and the thing fell apart. Now he is saying that getting this START Treaty ratified by the Senate is — he is putting the highest priority on getting that done in this lame duck session in the Congress.

How — isn’t he risking another serious embarrassment? Because, frankly, he doesn’t have the votes to get it ratified in the Senate right now. Why has he said this is the highest priority right now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bob, first, I don’t think those are two analogous situations. I mean the President didn’t finalize a deal in Korea because he was not satisfied that the deal was in the best interests of America. And that’s what a President is supposed to do. And so he did the right thing. Obviously, he is continuing to negotiate to get a deal that is in the interests of the United States.

With respect to START, there is no doubt that the START Treaty is in the interest of the United States. Don’t just take it from me or from the President. Look at what Europeans, people like Angela Merkel or the foreign minister of Poland or the presidents of any of the Baltic countries or so many others are saying. They live next door to Russia. They know that this is in their interests. And they also know that, because we have no treaty, there is no inspection going on, there is no verification going on —

QUESTION: But, Madam Secretary, he doesn’t have the votes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but it’s always difficult to get these treaties through. It always takes a lot of presidential effort. And we are making the case that, number one, this is in America’s national security interests. Our friends and allies around the world support it. We need to get inspectors back on the ground. Remember what Ronald Reagan said when he was passing an arms control treaty with Russia? “Trust, but verify.” Right now we cannot verify. And this is the kind of important national security agreement that the Senate needs to be encouraged to stop and really study and focus on.

And, to be fair, Bob, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted it out on a big bipartisan vote. It couldn’t get the attention it needed before the election. The President is saying, “This needs to be dealt with in the lame duck session.” Senator Lugar, who knows more about arms control treaties than anybody else, I would argue, in our country probably at this point has said very passionately, “This must be done for the United States.”

QUESTION: But do you think you can get the votes? I guess that’s the question I have.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but that’s what politics is about. And I have to say I am proud of the President for making this a priority, because he is putting it above politics, which is exactly where it needs to be. He believes so strongly that this is an important treaty to get done this year, that he is putting his enormous office efforts behind it. And, obviously, we are all doing everything we can.

Now, at the end of the day, the senators have to decide. But I would hope that this treaty would be treated as others — whether it was a Democratic or a Republican president — saw their treaties in arms control with the Russians treated, and that is this is beyond politics. Let’s pass it by an overwhelming bipartisan vote.

QUESTION: All right, but let me ask you quickly about this terror trials. We saw one of these people from Guantanamo. He almost walked out of a courtroom here, someone who was charged with blowing up our embassies in Kenya and another place in Africa. And he was acquitted of 284 criminal counts, convicted on only one. Now, mind you, I know he is going to pay some prison time.

Is it time, Madam Secretary, to start rethinking whether we ought to put these people in these civilian court rooms, and think about putting them before a military tribunal?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bob, I don’t believe so, and here is why. The terrorists who are serving time in our maximum security prisons are there because of civilian courts, what are called Article III courts. Our Article III courts have a much better record of trying and convicting terrorists than military commissions do. And, in fact, this defendant, having been convicted, will be spending somewhere between 20 years and life.

And some of the evidence that was presented could not be used. But the rules of the military commission — which, remember, operates under military law — similarly would be disqualifying certain evidence. I believe that the vast majority of the defendants can be tried in Article III courts. But there are some who should not be. And they should be reserved for military commissions, for a variety of reasons. But I think that —

QUESTION: What about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? Do you think he ought to be tried in a civilian court?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that that is a case that is a very difficult one, because of all of the security issues and the other problems. There will be a recommendation made by the attorney general. But if you look at the case that was finished last week, a lot of the counts were related to evidence that, because it was connected in some way to the use of inappropriate interrogation methods, could not be used. And, as experts in military law have pointed out, that would also be a problem in a military commission.

So, I have no difficulty with people looking at this, expressing their concerns, expressing their opinions. But I would like to see us get a common basis of understanding of the facts as to what can and already has happened — and you can go and look at the roster of maximum security prisons in this country and see a lot of people who are there because of terrorism, compared to what hasn’t yet been proven to be possible within the military commission.

QUESTION: Let me ask you one final question. There is a big uproar in this country now about these new pat-downs that are going on as people try to get on airplanes. Now, do you think that this is necessary in the war against terrorism, or should we take another look at this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bob, I think that we have to be constantly asking ourselves, “How do we calculate the risk?” And sometimes we don’t calculate it correctly; we either overstate it or understate it. Clearly, as Secretary Napolitano has said, we are doing this because the terrorists keep getting more creative about what they do to hide explosives, and crazy things like underwear. So, clearly, there is a need.

Now, if there is a way to limit the number of people who are going to be put through surveillance, that is something that I am sure can be considered. But everybody is trying to do the right thing.


SECRETARY CLINTON: And I understand how difficult it is, and how offensive it must be for the people who are going through it.

QUESTION: Final question. My time is up. But would you submit to one of these pat-downs?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Not if I could avoid it, no. I mean, who would?

QUESTION: All right. Thank you very much.