• With: Michael Mukasey

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 10, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," 10 years after the September 11th attacks, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey reflects on the nature of the terrorist threat today and our policies for combating it.

    Plus, President Obama lays out his latest jobs agenda. Will any of it work? And can any of it pass a Republican house?

    And Rick Perry's debate debut. The Texas governor mixes it up with his chief rival and defends his views on Social Security. Will it hurt him as the campaign stretches on?

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    As America prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks tomorrow and in the midst of new terror warnings, the debate continues over the nature of the al Qaeda threat today and the policies being used to combat it, including those employed over the last decade by the Bush and Obama administrations and by the New York City Police Department.

    Michael Mukasey is the former attorney general of the United States. And as a federal judge, he presided over the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers.

    Judge, great to have you back on the program.


    GIGOT: So, Leon Panetta, now the defense secretary, former CIA director, said recently that al Qaeda is on the verge of strategic defeat. How does that sound to you? Plausible? And what does it say about the ongoing nature of the threat?

    MUKASEY: Sounds completely plausible. But regrettably, it doesn't say enough. We are not fighting a motorcycle gang called al Qaeda where there's some limited bunch of guys with the --


    -- with the jackets that say al Qaeda on the back. As long as we get all of those, we are done. It's a very potent force, lots of assets, a great organization ability, obviously a great attraction, particularly when Usama bin Laden was alive, even under Ayman al Zawahiri.

    That said, they have been dealt an enormous blow, not only with the death of bin Laden but with the elimination of a cadre of upper echelon people. A lot of their best people are gone. But al Qaeda is not, by any means, a limited threat.

    GIGOT: So what have we done right since 9/11 to help us reduce the threat from at least some of al Qaeda?

    MUKASEY: A number of things. I think we have in place a robust intelligence-gathering system, thanks to Congress and the Bush administration. The Bush administration pushed it through. Congress passed it. Our intelligence gatherers are more enabled today, certainly, than they were on 9/11. And they have in place tools to use and they use them very effectively.

    GIGOT: So that terror surveillance program, in your view -- that was so controversial -- has been crucial?

    MUKASEY: It has been crucial. And it was initially implemented outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

    GIGOT: Right.

    MUKASEY: It was folded within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and continues to this day and continues to save lives. We had an interrogation program run by the CIA that also saved lives. We scrapped that. I think that's regrettable. Luckily, we don't need it as much today as we did then because we know a whole lot more about al Qaeda and other organizations than we did then. That was done to gather intelligence, a lot of which we already have.

    But what we don't have is a classified interrogation program that would allow us basically to say to anybody we capture, you better disclose information or else.

    GIGOT: So the attacks on that politically, which have reigned it in to where we can just use the Army Field Manuel basically, which is very limited. That is a setback in your view?

    MUKASEY: Big setback. That's been available on the Internet for years. It's used as a training manual by terrorists.

    GIGOT: So they know exactly what they're being trained --

    MUKASEY: Absolutely.

    GIGOT: -- to avoid?

    MUKASEY: Correct.

    GIGOT: So but you're saying that we don't have -- we may not need it now, but since the threat changes, evolves, we could, in the future, need it as much as we did in 2003?

    MUKASEY: At any minute. It depends on who we capture.

    GIGOT: So what else have we done wrong, do you think?

    MUKASEY: I think part of what we've done wrong is not to confront some very basic issues. We don't have a coherent detention policy. We don't --


    GIGOT: But we have Guantanamo. That's still open. We have Bagram.


    MUKASEY: Nobody is checking into Guantanamo. And that is, in part, due to a standoff between Congress and the president. The president tried to bring some people over here from Guantanamo to be tried in the southern district of New York and you'll recall the uproar.


    GIGOT: I do, indeed, yes.

    MUKASEY: And Congress passed legislation making it impossible to bring anybody. As a result, nobody goes to Guantanamo. The last fellow we captured, Warsami (ph), was put on a ship so that he wasn't brought to Guantanamo. He could be taken off the ship and brought to the United States for trial. So now we have this binary choice. It's either military commissions or an Article III trial.

    GIGOT: Where should we go on that? Do we need -- obviously, you're suggesting we need a greater political debate on this and a new consensus.