Brian Williams to Former CIA Director Hayden: 'How Are We Better Than Our Enemies?'

During an exclusive interview with former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden on Tuesday’s NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams felt that it was worth creating a moral equivalency by asking Hayden to explain “how” the United States is “better than our enemies morally” following the release of a report about the CIA’s use of “torture” following the attacks on September 11, 2001. 

Minutes later, Williams also attempted to bait Hayden into condemning the CIA and its actions by proposing a scenario where, “god forbid, members of your family, had to undergo some of the treatments we are reading about in this report." [MP3 audio here; Video below]

In both cases, Hayden clearly was prepared and responded firmly to William’s biased and fallacy-based questions. When Williams asked him “[h]ow are we better than our enemies morally in light of what we all read about today,” Hayden emphasized that the decisions made by the CIA concerning prisoners “aren’t taken lightly by anyone” and that: 

As bad as some people think CIA behavior was with regard to these 100 or so detainees, if everyone on the planet used CIA behavior as the model, the overall treatment of detainees on Earth would actually improve. 

When Williams followed up by questioning whether the CIA’s “standard” should be followed, Hayden succinctly fired back by reminding Williams and viewers of the greater context: “Well, Brian, the standard was what is lawful, effective and appropriate in a time of great extremists of the United States with 3,000 fellow citizens who have been murdered.”

After he was quizzed by Williams what his response would be if members of his family were subjected to harsh interrogation methods (like waterboarding, for example), Hayden slammed him and his question: 

I can, Brian, and clearly, look, Brian, we're people who like you and all your viewers, we have a soul and a conscience, too. We knew as bad as these people were, we were doing this to fellow human beings. So don't ever forget that. Now, you asked me about my family members. I actually think, Brian, that my concern or my outrage, if that were ever done to any of my family members, would be somewhat muted if my family members had just killed 3,000 of my citizens. 

In the final question of the interview, Williams wanted Hayden to make clear that he “was four square in defense of everything, all of the physical activities described as torture” in the report and “would do them again.” 

When Hayden was able to respond, he struck back by clarifying that this interview “isn't a response here about defending torture” and instead one about him “talking to you [Williams] about defending history.” He ended by explaining what a fair, substantive report (instead of a partisan one) could have looked like:

What we really could have used is a really nonpolitical look at the CIA program, the one that was launched when this report first got under way. This report was supposed to have conducted interviews, hearings, and give recommendations. It doesn't have any of those. I was in government for ten years after 9/11, and let me tell you a phrase I never heard from anybody in any position of authority. Whatever you guys do about this terrorism threat, please, please, don't overreact. Never heard it, Brian. 

The full transcript of the interview that aired on NBC Nightly News on December 9 is transcribed below.

NBC Nightly News
December 9, 2014
7:05 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Torture Report]

BRIAN WILLIAMS: A short time ago here today, we spoke with retired General Michael Hayden, accused in today's report of providing misleading information in the past. He ran the NSA and was CIA Director starting during the Bush era from '06 to '09. We talked to him about this torture report. He disagrees with the definition, for starters. Says what was carried out was not torture. We then talked about overall and global impact. [TO HAYDEN] How are we better than our enemies morally in light of what we all read about today? 

MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, let me give you a startling statement, Brian, and look, everyone knows these things were very tough. I got involved in this very late in the program. I endorsed their use going forward in a very minimized form. So, these decisions aren't taken lightly by anyone, believe me. Let me give you an odd calculus here, Brian. As bad as some people think CIA behavior was with regard to these 100 or so detainees, if everyone on the planet used CIA behavior as the model, the overall treatment of detainees on Earth would actually improve. 

WILLIAMS: Should that be the standard, however? 

HAYDEN: Well, Brian, the standard was what is lawful, effective and appropriate in a time of great extremists of the United States with 3,000 fellow citizens who have been murdered. 
                    
WILLIAMS: What if you, god forbid, members of your family, had to undergo some of the treatments we are reading about in this report? Can you personalize it in that way? 

HAYDEN: I can, Brian, and clearly, look, Brian, we're people who like you and all your viewers, we have a soul and a conscience, too. We knew as bad as these people were, we were doing this to fellow human beings. So don't ever forget that. Now, you asked me about my family members. I actually think, Brian, that my concern or my outrage, if that were ever done to any of my family members, would be somewhat muted if my family members had just killed 3,000 of my citizens. 

WILLIAMS: You are four square in defense of everything, all of the physical activities described as torture contained in today's document, support them then, support them now and would do them again? 

HAYDEN: Hey, Brian, this isn't a response here about defending torture. I'm here talking to you about defending history. What we really could have used is a really nonpolitical look at the CIA program, the one that was launched when this report first got under way. This report was supposed to have conducted interviews, hearings, and give recommendations. It doesn't have any of those. I was in government for ten years after 9/11, and let me tell you a phrase I never heard from anybody in any position of authority. Whatever you guys do about this terrorism threat, please, please, don't overreact. Never heard it, Brian. 

WILLIAMS: Part of our interview today with retired General Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and CIA. 

9/11 Foreign Policy Military Interrogation Techniques War on Terrorism CIA NBC NBC Nightly News Government & Press Michael Hayden Brian Williams
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