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Special Report

The Torture Debate: Interrogating Terrorist Suspects

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Dec. 9, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Torture is a term that is defined by law. We rely on our law to govern our operations. The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: Now, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took that message to Europe this week and seems to have satisfied at least some European concerns. But the debate rages on here in Washington over whether to change current laws governing torture and interrogation.

What is torture, exactly? And what tools, short of torture, can be used to get information from captured terrorists? It is one of the most important debates the nation can have in the face of al Qaeda’s determination to kill more Americans.

To help us sort it all out, we’re joined by David Rivkin, a member of the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. He also worked in two administrations. And is now a lawyer here in Washington. David, thanks for joining us.

DAVID RIVKIN, ATTORNEY: Nice to be with you.

ANGLE: There seems to be a lot of confusion about what torture actually is. I hear people describing torture as all sorts of things. What is torture as it’s defined by the U.N. Convention?

RIVKIN: Torture is a situation where you are inflicting severe pain and suffering on somebody, either physical or psychological. If it’s psychological, it has to be protracted. So torture defined more or less precisely. And indeed, as Secretary Rice mentioned, the ban on torture is pretty strong and pretty absolute. But of course not everything -- not every stress technique is torture.

ANGLE: Right. Now, this would be the kind of things the North Vietnamese did to our POWs, breaking bones, that sort of thing.

RIVKIN: Right. Beating, per se torture, breaking bones, inflicting pain, a psychological pressure, again, capable of producing protracted harm, saying we killed your family there are they’re pictures, staging fake executions repeatedly, that sort of thing.

ANGLE: Now look, the problem is, captured terrorists are unlikely to be cooperative. So you get them in there, and you sit them down and we’re not going to torture them. What can we do? What are the things that are legal to do, both under U.S. law and under international conventions?

RIVKIN: As a matter of fact, I think that’s an excellent question. I think the legal parameters, the legal box is much wider than the policy box. We’re not engaged in torture. As far as cruel, degrading and inhumane punishment here again, the definitions are wide. We should have a serious policy debate in this country. What kind of techniques are we comfortable with as Americans in the 21st Century dealing with people whom we try to illicit knowledge to prevent future attacks. And I think it’s useful to look, for example, at the kind of other techniques they use in military life, like basic training, for example, to at least provide us with some understanding of what is clearly permissible when we’re using our own people.

ANGLE: Well for instance, when I was in basic training, you didn’t get much sleep for weeks on end.

RIVKIN: You didn’t get a great diet.

ANGLE: They manipulated your food, obviously, to keep you off -- you would stand for hours at a time sometimes.

RIVKIN: Especially if you mess up, right.

Drop down and give me 200 pushups. You get yelled -- people get in your face. It’s done for a season, it’s not being sadistic, it’s to break sort of soft habits of civilian life and mold you into a warrior. And if you go into specialized training for special forces, it’s even tougher than that.

ANGLE: Now, look -- we should make clear, this is not the sort of thing that’s done to P.O.W.’s.

RIVKIN: No. P.O.W.’s, honorable combatants, happen to be caught -- and very importantly, they have a right, they have a privilege to keep their secrets, so you cannot really pressure them. In fact, it’s so stringent, you can’t offer them cigarettes as an inducement. So you treat them with dignity.

ANGLE: But we’re talking about, particularly, high-value terrorists, the dozen, two dozen, three dozen people, captured terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. We hear that things are used like water boarding, which is basically simulated drowning. Is that considered degrading or inhumane?

RIVKIN: I think it is the most difficult technique to justify. I think you have to look at the context. But again, to me if you move away from torture into cruel, humane and degrading, it’s very much a matter of context. It’s what we lawyers call all facts and circumstances. To put somebody in a stress position for several hours is one thing. To deprive somebody of sleep for 10, 12, 14 hours is one thing. To do it for days at a time is a different thing.

Unfortunately the critics, I call them moral absolutists, the legal absolutists, would like to just throw everything out and basically treat these people as criminal defendants. Let’s be clear, as you said earlier, we’re not going to get any information from those people, because you’re not going to appeal to their humanity, you’re not going to say to them, look, would you like to see your family again? We’re going to relocate you like a Mafia don. And we’re going to put you in the witness protection program. That is a disastrous way to deal with this.

ANGLE: Well, and the other thing about degrading that strikes me is, look, some of the Muslim terrorists that we have believe that women should be in a lower position than men and would certainly be offended and feel it was degrading to have a woman interrogate them, to be in a position of responsibility over them. Would degrading mean that women couldn’t interrogate Muslim terrorists?

RIVKIN: Of course not. As a matter of fact, being able to use a weakness of an individual -- let’s say somebody is afraid, for example, of a particular surrounding, particular music. As a matter of fact, you do it to a criminal defendants.

One thing I would say about this fastidiousness about women, aside from it being revolting, we’re talking about people who doing the hijacking of the plane in Pennsylvania slit stewardesses throats. So, I frankly don’t understand the logic to hear people of cultural inhibitions against the woman interrogating them or leaning closely to them, have no inhibitions about slitting her throat. That’s just nonsense.

And what sad is the critics of the administration are giving credence to that kind of stuff.

ANGLE: I’ve got to go. David Rivkin, thank you very much.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.

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