Panel: Could Iraq Be Linked to the Terror Attacks?

This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, September 18, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.


QUESTION:  Do you have evidence of state support for this attack? 

RUMSFELD:  I think I will leave that to the Department of Justice, they and the FBI and the intelligence-gathering agencies. 


BRIT HUME, HOST:  One reporter called that the most pregnant pause ever heard. 

Some insights on that and other things now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio.  All are Fox News contributors. 

Other guests and topics for September 18, 2001 included:
• Carl Cameron's report on possible Iraqi links to World Trade Center attacks
• Rita Cosby's report on the investigations into the terror attacks
• Jonathan Serrie's report on army war preparations
• Greg Palkot's report on the Taliban's debate whether to hand over Usama bin Laden
• Footnotes to the story of America united
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Fred, do you have any sense of why Donald Rumsfeld -- this came, it should be noted, on a day when we now learn that Mohamed Atta had apparently met last summer in Europe with a senior Iraqi official, and when the State Department noted -- I think just by chance that it happened on this day -- that they had received a message of support or condolence or something from every nation on Earth except one, Iraq. 


And, of course, Atta was, I believe, one of the pilots on American Flight 11 from Boston that hit the World Trade Center. 

HUME:  Right.  Exactly. 

BARNES:  Flew into the World Trade Center.

Well, there is a disagreement there.  What that pause meant was:  I think, yes, there is evidence, but I can't talk about it publicly. 

And there seems to be a disagreement between the Defense Department...

HUME:  But you sense that he couldn't talk about it publicly, but he might have wanted to. 

BARNES:  He might have wanted to, but he couldn't.  But there's a disagreement between the Defense Department and the State Department, between Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell over, one, how extensive the war against terrorism should be, and whether -- in the first place, whether you can have a war on terrorism if somehow terrorist-sponsoring countries such as Iran, Syria, and Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians are a part of your coalition.  The Pentagon opposes that. 

And the other question is, whether you do, once you defeat, capture, kill Usama bin Laden and destroy his network, do you then move on to the other chief sponsor of terrorism in the world and particularly against America?  And that, of course, is Saddam Hussein of Iraq. 

HUME:  Who might indeed even have been involved in this. 

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:  Well, it's worth saying what he said after we cut him off there.  He said: "I mean, I know a lot.  And what I have said as clearly as I know how is that states are supporting these people.  And what constitutes evidence and who wants to present it at what time, I will leave to people in the Justice Department."

I think that it's a matter of what you do about it, not whether there are states supporting them.  I think there's a consensus that there is state support. 

HUME:  Yes, but you've got to know which ones. 

LIASSON:  Yes, you've got to know which ones.  And I think the fingers point to Iraq.

But, as Fred said, it's a question of:  When do you do this?  It's going to be a tougher job to get the international support you need to go after states vs. just going after a terror network -- and one step at a time. 


HUME:  If you are looking for targets, there are more of them in Baghdad than there are in Kabul. 

LIASSON:  Sure.  Sure.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL:  What Colin Powell said yesterday was that al-Qaeda was our first target.  He did not say it was our only target.  And I can't prove this, but what I divine the strategy of the State Department is, is to gather as many people together to do as much as they're willing to do in the way of intelligence and cutting off financial support and so on and telling us as much as they know about the Taliban and so on while we have them.  And then, if we can get rid of al Qaeda -- which is a big job -- it is not just getting Usama bin Laden's head on a plate, as has been said -- then we move on. 

Then we move on to the rest of them and try to work them down the line.  And I would get that Iraq is target No. 2. 

BARNES:  Well, it should be.

But how do you then turn against states that have joined you in this so-called coalition against Usama bin Laden?  If you get Iran and Syria and Palestine, how do you then turn against them?  It would seem to be, if you wanted Yasser Arafat to be part of your coalition against terrorism, first you would say:  Well, get rid of terrorists in your own country, Hamas and Islamic

Jihad.  That would be a good place to start for him, rather than have him join in a kind of hypocritical way in your coalition.  And, look, I'm not so sure it is going to be quite as hard as you make out, Mort, to get Usama bin Laden and his network.  Remember this, we're not the Russians attacking -- we're not like the Russians in Afghanistan.  They were trying to hold Afghanistan against the rebels.  Now the rebels, the Taliban, they hold Afghanistan.  We can be the guerrillas and go in with special forces after Usama bin Laden.  It's a different situation


KONDRACKE:  Except that guerrillas classically operate -- they're fish swimming in the sea, but they know the sea.  Our special forces operators don't know the sea.  I would say that our best bet is to somehow buy or threaten cooperation out of Taliban. 

LIASSON:  And I'm sure we'll be doing that, as well as working with the anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan. 


 HUME:  How serious is this disagreement between State and Defense?  Is this now an administration badly divided on this issue?

BARNES:  No, I don't think so.  There is a disagreement over how -- obviously, the Defense Department wants to guarantee a more extensive attack on terrorism against America.

HUME:  Which is in contrast to recent administrations. 


LIASSON:  Well, when Colin Powell -- watch the migration of Colin Powell from one building to another and then you can see some of this happening.  At the Defense Department, he didn't want to have military action unless it was very comprehensive and guaranteed to succeed. 

Now he's at the State Department.  And you have got...

HUME:  The same ideas. 

LIASSON:  The same ideas, right.  But you've got different people at the Pentagon


KONDRACKE:  The line that's controversial is the one that Paul Wolfowitz used about ending states.  And that's been interpreted...

HUME:  You've never heard that out of Rumsfeld's mouth.


BARNES:  That means Iraq. 

KONDRACKE:  But some people are interpreting that to mean that we somehow have to take over these countries and set up a new government and stuff like that.  I don't think that that's what's in the cards.  I don't think that on anybody's agenda at the moment.

HUME:  All right.  Let's talk a little bit about the other issue that was in sharp focus here today in Washington.  And that is the dire financial condition, apparently, of the airlines.  We've gotten a couple of e-mails which sample the kind of public opinion that may be there.  I'm not saying it's a majority.  But let's just take a look at a couple of these e-mails that have come in.

"I am vehemently opposed," write a John Taylor, "to the reports that our government is considering using the taxpayers' money to bail out the profit-oriented airline industry."

Another one says, "I want us to get to terrorists who dreamed this nightmare up, but I don't want money poured into an already greedy airline cartel."


BARNES:  It sounds like people who either got a middle seat or a bad lunch. 


LIASSON:  There is justifiable anger at the airlines.  They're responsible for security.  Now, maybe that should be changed.  Maybe the government should take it over.  But until now, they've been responsible for security.  And they did a terrible job. 

KONDRACKE:  They did, except that you don't put them to death for the


HUME:  ... the victims of the kind of attack that nobody at any level of security, including the Pentagon, or even intelligence had ever even thought of. 


KONDRACKE:  That's not true.  That is not true. 

LIASSON:  The Pentagon has thought of it. 


HUME:  ... warning about hijacking and flying it into the side of...

KONDRACKE:  No, but...

LIASSON:  No, but there have been...

HUME:  That's what I'm talking about. 

KONDRACKE:  There have been airlines security commissions that have said that those doors to cockpits are too flimsy and that


BARNES:  You're talking about throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  We need this transportation system that the airlines provide. 

Maybe the government ought to take over the security at airports and so on and who gets on an airline.  Look, airlines are going to have to get a lot of money.  The White House is talking about $15 billion.  The airlines are talking about $24 billion.  I think the White House figure is right.  But they need money right now to keep going. 

They're not the ones who shut down all air service in this country for a number of days, costing the airlines billions of dollars.  The government did that -- and properly. 

LIASSON:  But the bigger problem is that they have to come up with a plan that will make Americans feel safe to travel on an airplane.

KONDRACKE:  Right.  And it is going to cost a lot of money.  And the government is going to have to spend some of it.  And we need this industry.  This is a vital industry.  And in a war situation, you don't let it wither and die just because you are mad at them. 

BARNES:  Look, most of the airlines were losing money in the first place because of the economic turndown.. 

HUME:  It's notoriously cyclical and has never been a particularly profitable business to be in.  So there is that as well.  So what you figure, you figure it will pass, right? 

KONDRACKE:  Sure.  It will pass.  

LIASSON:  I think so, but...

BARNES:  Look, there's a $12 billion surplus in the aviation and airport trust fund that comes from the fees that are attached to your plane tickets.  Use it.

HUME:  All right.

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