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Should Interrogation of Terror Suspects Include Torture?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," November 8, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: In response to reports of secret CIA prisons, President Bush says we do not torture and he defends U.S. interrogation practices in the War on Terror. And the Pentagon just approved a policy directive demanding detainees be treated humanely while Congress considers a ban on the inhumane treatment of U.S. prisoners.

Joining us now to talk about it all, California Congresswoman Jane Harman, a Democrat, is a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. So Congresswoman, why should we codify this in law? Why don’t we just issue executive orders — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — tell these guys to not be bad to our prisoners?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA), HOUSE INTEL. COMMITTEE: Well, let’s start with what matters here, John. Interrogations matter. We want to get accurate and actionable information out of these detainees so we can prevent the next attack against us. I’m all for that.

But we also know that torture doesn’t work and we know — and we are learning this more and more — that our interrogators are becoming totally risk averse because they don’t know what the rules are, and they’re afraid they are going to read about themselves on the front page of The Washington Post.

So we need a legal framework that gives good guidance to interrogators, so that they are empowered to get information from these detainees. That’s where I start from.

GIBSON: OK, well — OK, but Congresswoman, as I often expect from you, you have put the best smiley face on this as you can, but the fact of the matter is, Mr. Al Qaeda is also going to know what that interrogator can or cannot do. He will know that he can’t be water boarded. He will know he can’t be hung by his heels. And when some interrogator threatens it, he will say, no, you can’t, because I read the law.

HARMAN: Well, I see it — I do see you differently. I appreciate the smiley face. We could use some of those in Congress, but my point is, John, that if we don’t have interrogators who are sure they know what the techniques are and are trained to do the right thing, we are not going to get the information that’s accurate. And what’s more, hanging someone by his heels, we may get a completely unreliable story and that’s not going to prevent the next attack.

GIBSON: No, and I understand that. Sure, and I understand that. And if you read the New Yorker today, you see what happens when things go afoul and I’m not for the interrogators having no rules or not being trained. But when the U.S. Congress makes a law, are we wandering down the road of the church committee, we’re letting our enemies know what we will or will not do and that will work to our detriment?

HARMAN: Well, I suppose there is a risk but I think the bigger risk is we are creating risk-averse interrogators. There is a fog of law like the fog of war, and nobody knows what they’re supposed to do, and it’s open season with foreign countries when they capture any of our soldiers because if we can do it to them, they can do it to us.

GIBSON: Yes, but Congressman, I mean with all due respect, you know I like you, but when did anybody ever obey the Geneva Accords when it came to our people? I mean that — it strikes me as an empty argument, no offense.

HARMAN: Well, it’s not just about what they do; it’s about who we are. What are our values? What does our constitution provide?

GIBSON: No, I understand that stuff too, but if you tell — if you tell interrogators, you may not do anything to this guy that violates rules X, Y and Z. And so what happens in that one occasion when there is a ticking bomb someplace and this guy knows where it is and our guys can’t extract that information?

HARMAN: Well, I don’t think we will get to that. I think in the ticking bomb — ticking time bomb situation where someone has — one person has all the information about a nuclear attack tomorrow, we will be able to do something about that situation.

But what I worry about is hundreds of people or maybe even more people who are not treated in any reasonable way for no particular reason, giving is a moral black eye in the world and hurting our efforts to win the argument with millions of young Muslims decided whether to become radicals.

GIBSON: Maybe if we — every time somebody tried to give us a black eye we showed a picture of Nick Berg with a severed head, and what they do to us.

HARMAN: I hear you. John, I take this very, very seriously.

GIBSON: Congresswoman Jane Harman, I know you do.

HARMAN: I want us to have the best rules.

GIBSON: I just want to be on your shoulder whispering in your ear as you vote on this. Thanks Congresswoman, I appreciate it.

HARMAN: Yes, OK. All right. McCain’s going to win on this.

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