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'Special Report' Panel on Whether Photos of Alleged Mistreatment of Terror Suspects Should Be Released

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from May 12, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Recapping our top story, hundreds of new pictures showing alleged mistreatment of terror suspects by American personnel are expected to be released within the next two and a half weeks.

Critics warn the images will incite terrorists and tarnish the American military. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs seemed to suggest today that the decision to release is not a done deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has great concern about any impact that pictures of detainee — potential detainee abuse in the past could have on the present day service members that are protecting either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or throughout the world.

We are working currently to figure out what the process is moving forwards.

QUESTION: Does that mean the decision could be reversed?

GIBBS: I don't want to get into that right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Much different answer today.

Let's bring in our roundtable about this — Bill Kristol, Editor of the "Weekly Standard," Kirsten Powers, columnist of the "New York Post," and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Bill, to hear Robert Gibbs answer that question from Major Garrett, it was much different than we've heard over the past couple of weeks.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I think the administration is going to reverse itself — I should say, the president is going to reverse his administration's decision to release the photos.

I think he will appeal the second circuit ruling which grants the freedom of information request by the ACLU to release these photos. He will appeal to the Supreme Court.

And I wouldn't be surprised if he went further, and as he can under the Freedom of Information Act, issue an executive fire department he went further and issue an executive order specifying that certain things would be deleterious — the release of certain documents of images would be damaging to our national security, and try to turn it around.

BAIER: But how you could make that argument, and then defend the release of the CIA memos that came under fire — Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, "NEW YORK POST": That was actually going to be my point —

BAIER: Sorry.

POWERS: Well, it is a little hard to follow what can be released and what can't be released. Also, they are telling the U.K. that they can't release some information in the trial over there. One of the detainees that was sent over there is saying they were tortured, and the U.S. has essentially told them if you release that information, we may not in the future share information with you, which is a pretty serious threat. We may not share information that could help you thwart terrorist attacks, for example.

So I think that's a problem. I understand that they have a very serious issue here, that they're concerned about possibly this being used as a recruiting tool.

The flip side of is that I think the people who would like to see the pictures released feel that the Bush administration said that this was an aberration, Abu Ghraib was an aberration. And what this will show is that it wasn't an aberration. It wasn't just a few bad apples. It actually was something that happened elsewhere.

And I think that that is a pretty strong argument.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, when a war is over, you can release everything. When a war is ongoing, as this war is ongoing, it is utterly unconscionable to do anything that would increase the danger our soldiers are facing. There is no question that a release of inflammatory pictures like these will endanger our soldiers. And we know the power of the picture. I mean, we're right now on a medium that is built on that premise.

The reason that Obama, I think, originally decided that he would release, and the reason the administration had released the memos, is because Obama has this idea that there is a distinction between Obama and Obama's America on the one hand, and on the other hand, everything that came before, the United States of America before 2009, anno domini, the year of his ascension.

And that somehow it benefits him politically if he keeps Bush out there as the bogey man. He ascended to the presidency running against Bush, and this keeps the agitation against Bush alive.

However, that fine distinction between Obama's America and Bush's America is not something you will expect from someone who captures an American soldier.

And that's why I think it's finally dawning on the Obama administration that this would be an awfully dangerous and irresponsible act, and they are going to walk it back.

BAIER: Vice President Cheney talking to Neil Cavuto today said that the administration appears committed to putting out information that favors their points of view, opposing enhanced interrogation techniques, but so far they have not put out the memos that he wants released, which he says tell what the CIA was able to do and get out of that information. Do you think, Bill, that those memos will be released by this administration?

KRISTOL: I think they will have to release the two memos that Vice President Cheney remembers having had in his office and reading.

They released the memos that they wanted to release from the Justice Department. How can they not release these evaluations? Obviously, they will have to take out a few thinks, perhaps, about sources and methods. But I do think — I am against the release of any of this, certainly of the original memos. But having said that, the photos are more indefensible to release. Releasing legal memos is one thing. If you think the previous administration has legal arguments that need to be reversed. Obama has repudiated them, after all. He said we're not going to act according to this understanding of what we can do. OK, maybe that's — I'm not for it, but I can see why they thought it was reasonable to release these.

What good are the photos? The photos are ridiculous. There is no argument in the photos. They're purely for propaganda use by our enemies.

And I think the president can defend, therefore, having released legal memos, but say "Upon rethinking this, I have overruled my Justice Department. I am not going to do something that will harm our soldiers."

And people like us will cheer him. And I'm sure he'll be happy to have that happen whenever he doesn't release the photos.

BAIER: I want to turn the corner about something else that the former vice president said. He was asked about Israel and possible action against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, (R) FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I think the Israelis look at developments in Iran, and they have stated publicly that they believe a nuclear armed Iran is something that fundamentally threatens their existence. So I would expect them to try to do something about it.

NEIL CAVUTO, ANCHOR, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK: Soon?

CHENEY: I can't predict that. I obviously don't know and can't predict what they will do or when they will do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Kirsten, surprised by that?

POWERS: Not in the least. I think that's something he would have said almost any time that he was asked that.

And, look, a nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to everybody. It's not just a threat to Israel.

And I think there is obviously disagreement among people on the right and the left here. There are some people on the left who are foreign policy experts who say that Israel would be happy if we were talking to Iran, because they can't talk to Iran, and they need somebody talking to them.

And I just want to quickly address something that Bill said. I think there is an argument, a defensible argument for releasing the pictures.

You can disagree, ultimately, but there is an argument, and it is one I made before, which human rights groups make, that you don't want these types of things happening, and you have to get this information out so everything is aired and in the future people in the future won't feel they can do this stuff behind closed doors.

And, you know, I take Charles' point that you could maybe wait and do it at a different time, but at some point, I think the information should come out.

KRISTOL: — release a narrative. If you really cared about that, which I don't really know how much it matters what one soldier did in one place and one time.

You can release a narrative of what happened. On September 23, 2004, in here and here, so and so place in Iraq, a soldier did something contrary to the laws of war. He held a gun at a captive's head and threatened to — and this is what we then punished the soldier.

You could release all the information without releasing the inflammatory photos. And that is what I think sticks in people's craw, and it's why I think Obama will reverse himself.

BAIER: On Israel, quickly, this is the head of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu arriving next week — there is concern about Iran.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think everybody understands that any Israeli government, even the previous, the more dovish, if you like, Ehud Olmert, the government in Israel, would have attacked if nothing is done by the end of this year.

It's not about the new prime minister. It's about Israel itself. No government will tolerate a nuke in the hands of Iran.

The only question is, does Israel have the capacity to actually destroy this nuclear capacity on the part of Iran enough to set it back about half a decade? If it doesn't, then it would be a futile and dangerous act.

BAIER: Vice President Cheney is in favor of the man Defense Secretary Robert Gates has picked as the new head of military operations in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: The focus here is simply on getting fresh thinking, fresh eyes on the problem, and how we implement the strategy and the mission going forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The panel talks about the new man in charge after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: With the approval of the president, I have asked for the resignation of General David McKiernan.

With agreement on a new strategy and a new mission and a new national approach, an international approach in Afghanistan, that if there were to be a change, this is the right time to make the change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, the Defense Secretary talking about a change in the middle of a war that is increasing, changing the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, currently David McKiernan.

Going in will be Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who had been taking over the joint special operations command and, really, a master of covert operations for years during both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We're back with the panel. What about this, Charles, this change?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, we used to have a tradition in wartime that if you're in the middle of a war you're not winning, you fire the commanding general. Lincoln went through McClellan, Burnside, Pope, Meade, and Hooker, before he found the Grant. I have the order wrong, but that's the five of them.

And we lost it. I must say, in the Iraq war, the Bush administration was slow in retaining Abizaid and Casey, who did not fight the right war. And I commend Obama on changing his commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has a reputation as the guy — he's been described in an account I read today as a "fiercely intense ascetic who eats only one meal a day to keep his edge." You need a guy like that in Afghanistan.

(LAUGHTER)

He ran all covert operations in Iraq successfully, and he's the guy who believes in Petraeus' strategy of population control and counterinsurgency. He's an excellent choice.

BAIER: Kirsten?

POWERS: Yes, I mean, this is one thing that everybody seems to agree on, that it was the right thing for him to do, and it's sort of an old guard versus a new guard thing.

As it's been described, we need somebody with fresh eyes and fresh thinking and to go over. And the timing is perfect because we are starting a new strategy. We have more troops on the ground.

And things haven't been going very well. And I do think we need to get somebody in there that they feel confident is going to take them in the right direction.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: I think that's right.

One interested side in light of this is that this is a Nato force, of course. David McKiernan was in charge of a Nato command. For all the talk about Bush's unilateralism, I don't know that President Obama consulted with all 27 Nato countries before making this change, nor should he have.

This is a U.S. war. He put in the general. He has confidence in Stan McChrystal.

And equally important — Dave Rodriguez will go in as his number two. There has not been a kind of unity of command in Afghanistan.

In Iraq in 2008, there was Petraeus and then there was Odierno. And Odierno, if he ever visited Baghdad in that time, he had a huge staff figuring out who do we put where, what' the strategy, if we crack down on them here, what's going to happen here. There has been none of that in Afghanistan, partly because it is a Nato war partly, and there were different commands in different regions.

What this means with McChrystal and Rodriguez going in is they will fight it as a serious war with a core headquarters under Rodriguez, and McChrystal in charge of the whole thing.

KRAUTHAMMER: And it's not just America's war now. It's Obama's war. And that's why I think he understands his future depends on success in Afghanistan.

He claimed that it is the right war, the good war, and he is choosing his general, as he should.

BAIER: From a new leader to a current leader looking for a new job. Florida Governor Charlie Crist wants to come to Washington. The panel looks at his chances, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLES CRIST, (R-FL) U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I want to serve where I can serve the people of my state the very best, and I believe that to be in the United States Senate.

The people are the boss, and I think that, regardless of party, we have to work together to get things done. And that is what I would like to take to Washington D.C.

MARCO RUBIO, (R-FL) U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: What is Republicanism in the 21st century? Is it to be more like Democrats? Is our theme going to be, if you can't beat them, join them?

I disagree with that. I think the more we're like the Democratic Party, the less of a reason there is for us to exist as a movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: There is the Republican race for Senate, the seat of retiring Senator Mel Martinez in Florida. Charlie Crist has 60-plus percent approval ratings, and he is running against a 37-year-old former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. And you will see the battle as it is waged there in Florida.

Let's bring back our panel — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: If you have a governor with, as you say, 60 percent approval, who has a really easy shot at retaining the seat for the Republicans, I don't see how the Republicans have any choice but to support him and support him strongly.

The argument against him ideologically is he supported the stimulus package. Look, if Washington is offering to fly helicopters over your state and dropped dollar bills, I don't see how any government will deny them over-flight rights.

So I do not understand exactly why Republicans are going to be so ideologically fastidious as to say you have to be a movement conservative.

I would — the Republicans ought to be spending money in places like Connecticut, where Chris Dodd is very weakened by a lot of scandals surrounding his finances, and support somebody like Rob Simmons, a former congressman, who is going to be putting up a very strong race against him next year.

BAIER: That opens the door to a lot of races around the country. Kirsten, another one?

POWERS: I think a lot of people are interested in what's going on with Senator Specter, since, of course, switching parties can make it a little bit difficult —

BAIER: In Pennsylvania.

POWERS: Yes, in Pennsylvania. And it remains to be seen whether he will have a primary challenge, possibly, by Joe Sestak, who is a congressman from Pennsylvania.

And, I am of the opinion that Specter is in pretty good shape. He already has a lot of Democratic support in the state. He is a very moderate person as it is. He has statewide name recognition. He has been there for a long time versus a congressman who has not been there as long and obviously doesn't have statewide name recognition.

And, you know, on the flip side of this, you have to wait and see how he is going to come down on some issues — how is he going to be with the Supreme Court nominee? How is he going to be with the Employee Free Choice Act? If he does not vote the right way on that, he could have labor really coming after him.

So I think it's one to watch.

BAIER: Bill?

KRISTOL: I think given that the mood it in 2010 will be pretty antiestablishment, anti-Washington, I think some of these challengers have a pretty good shot. I think Rubio has a real shot against Crist. I would prefer him personally. I think he could win a general election. I think Sestak could beat Specter and Pennsylvania. I don't think the Democrats in Pennsylvania are all thrilled to have Arlen Specter defecting, that he's is not really with them on a bunch of issues. I think Sestak is an attractive younger congressman just elected for the first time two years ago, I think. He could win.

I think Trey Grayson could take out Jim Bunning in Kentucky.

So I think it could be an interesting year, much more than usual, with upsets in both parties in primaries, and some fresh blood, which I think is not a bad thing.

BAIER: Have Republicans abandoned Bunning in that race?

KRISTOL: I think everyone would like Senator Bunning, with all due respect to his excellent baseball career, to hang it up.

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