Even Stephen Colbert paused for a second on Monday after journalist and documentarian Jeremy Scahill suggested even he might not be exempt from President Barack Obama’s policy on unmanned drone strikes.
“It doesn’t trouble you that the President of the United States is asserting the right to kill American citizens without any actual evidence, or indicting them at all?” Scahill asked the Colbert Report host.
[Ed. note: The video below has an autoplay function we cannot turn off. Please scroll down to pause while you read.]
“Well, I’m not on the list,” Colbert answered dismissively.
“How do you know?” Scahill countered.
“How do you get on the list?” Colbert asked.
“I mean, I like this show,” Scahill said. “You could be on the list.”
After a long second, Colbert asked, “Is it hard to get on the list?” When Scahill explained that drone policy is set by the administration in regular “Terror Tuesday” meetings, Colbert broke in again.
“Do they serve tacos?” he asked, getting a laugh out of Scahill. “So you get on the list. Can you get off the list?”
“Only from a drone strike, it seems,” Scahill answered.
Scahill, who covers national security for The Nation and also co-produced the feature film adaptation of his book Dirty Wars, reiterated his position that the U.S. is engaged in a “secret war” in Afghanistan involving drone strikes and nighttime raids, killing civilians as well as administration targets.
“What do you mean, we’re killing a bunch of innocent [people],” Colbert interjected. “I haven’t heard much about that.”
Scahill responded by sharing his experience working in Yemen, where one of the first unmanned strikes killed 46 people.
“Fourteen of them are women, 21 were children,” Scahill told Colbert. “Who was the target in that action? The White House has not provided any information. We’re doing ‘pre-crime,’ like Minority Report, where we say, ‘If you’re a military-age male, in a certain region of these countries, we’re gonna kill you, and later say that you were a terrorist without ever providing any information that you were ever actually involved with a terrorist group.”
“They have information on these people,” Colbert said in response. “They just can’t tell us.” He went on to explain that the administration can’t tell the public about its evidence because then enemies will know how the U.S. acquired the information.
“So, you have an undying faith in the Obama administration’s ability to tell the truth on these issues?” Scahill asked, pushing back.
“No, no, I believe in our troops, the finest in the world,” Colbert answered.
“This is about analysts sitting in a trailer in the southwest of the United States operating drones that are bombing Pakistan and Yemen,” Scahill responded before Colbert interrupted, asking, “Are you saying that an unmanned drone is not a troop?”
Scahill told Colbert about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision in April 2013 to rescind a proposed Distinguished Warfare medal for drone pilots, following objections from other soldiers.
“The troops actually disagree with your position that a drone is a troop,” Scahill said.
“I guess I support more of the troops than the troops do,” Colbert responded.
Watch Colbert and Scahill spar over drone policy, aired Monday on Comedy Central, below.