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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Battle Over Terrorist Surveillance Bill

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 10, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-TEXAS: The Democratic leadership has been calling this a compromise. It is a compromise all right, because it compromises our national security.

REP. JOHN CONYERS, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: To those who would claim that this bill is weak on terrorism, I only have this to say — protecting the civil rights and liber ties of Americans does not show weakness, but strength.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: And therein are the battle lines over the shape of a new bill to authorize surveillance by the National Security Agency, this high-tech surveillance which allows phone calls, internet commerce, and so forth to be listened in on from overseas, sometimes into America, sometimes merely through America.

Some thoughts on this controversy now from Fred Barnes, executive editor for The Weekly Standard Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

So there is a bill now that is in place, it was a temporary measure. The president was for that and would like to see it extended. What has changed in the new version of the bill that has the president concerned — Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, that bill expires in February and so you are going to need new legislation. The president would be happy to have it merely renewed permanently, but the Democrats have come up with something else, House Democrats — a bill that would just make the gathering of intelligence electronically a lot harder.

It would require for the first time terrorists making calls are making or sending e-mails or working on the internet from overseas, but you need a warrant if they contacted an American.

Well, the problem is, as Heather Wilson, the Congresswoman from New Mexico said, you do not know when they're going to call an American or not.

HUME: So if you are eavesdropping on somebody, they pick up the phone, you do not know who they are going to call.

BARNES: Sure. So you would have to have a warrant these terrorists from overseas period, because you wouldn't know when they are going to call Americans.

Secondly, the president has said one of the requirements is that the telecom companies that after 9/11 worked without a warrant in helping on this surveillance, they should be immune from lawsuits, and there are some lawsuits already, and then it adds layers of bureaucracy.

It adds this question that the if the surveillers (ph) at the National Security Agency have to distinguish between national security and foreign policy. If they're listening to a call and it gets into foreign policy —

HUME: Are they supposed to hang up?

BARNES: Well, they do not know what to do. They have to make a decision whether to hang up or not.

So it just creates all sorts of difficulties in gathering this intelligence in the one area that has been so fruitful in thwarting terrorist efforts.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: In all these tussles over these laws, in the end, the Democrats have given President Bush authority. Maybe not every single thing he wants, but, in the end, they have come to some kind of compromise.

And at least on this immunity question about the telecom companies, the Democrats are saying we at least want to see the documents about who they were and what they did before we give them some kind of blanket retroactive immunity. That seems to be at least a potential compromise.

HUME: What about the other —

LIASSON: The other ones, it is unclear right now what the compromises would be, but I find it hard to believe that this law would expire without any kind of replacement.

HUME: I know, but do you think there will be a replacement along the president's lines or along the lines of —

LIASSON: There will have to work something out.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think in the end the president will hold about for something near or almost identical to renewal of the existing law, and otherwise they will dare the Democrats to let the law expire and to leave us with a huge gap.

And number one would be listening in on a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed calling someone in Miami. You do not want to require a warrant, you don't want to have to demonstrate probable cause. It would be incredibly cumbersome, and it would hinder our intelligence gathering.

And secondly, on the suing of the telecom —

HUME: Do we have any evidence that in any case of this phone surveillance that American has been caught up in it because the call came to him from outside the country, that the information gained from that has been abused in any way?

KRAUTHAMMER: There is no evidence of that. And you think this is like the scandals of the 1960's of the FBI listening in and blackmailing the people and using stuff against Martin Luther Kind and other.

There is no evidence of that. You would have heard of that. That would be on the front page if there were stories like that. It is a theoretical issue, and as far as the real world, you have not had that kind of abuse.

I think it has been handled incredibly responsibly, especially after 9/11, a time when the law was unclear, when we were in an emergency, and blind — 9/11 hit us out of the blue.

We had no idea what Al Qaeda was up to, and we approached the telecom companies who agreed to help the president, assured by the president and the head of intelligence how important all this stuff is. And they acted their patriotic duty as helping us in preventing attacks.

We have not had an attack in six years, and now you are going to sue them? That is astonishing. And that really is unwarranted. It is a typical example of criminalizing a policy difference and abusing the courts and the tort system in a situation where it is completely irresponsible.

HUME: Let's talk about the politics of this issue. Mara suggests that the political leverage on this really doesn't rest with those House Democrats.

BARNES: It rests with Bush, and the Senate is not going to take quite this radical position that the House Democrats have.

You have to hunt around for a political reason. There is no national demand for this kind of legislation that they're proposing. As Charles mentioned —

HUME: There is on the left.

BARNES: I know, but the left is a small part of the political community in America.

And so I wonder why Democrats are wasting their time on this issue. It is not popular issue, and it is so clear, I think, that the narrow, tiny threat to American civil liberties, where there is no evidence that this threat, where there have been abuses is so outweighed by the national security gains which we know have occurred.

LIASSON: But they're not saying they want to shut down the program. Charles, they're not saying they want to be able to sue these companies. They are saying that in the effort to guard against abuse — not that there has been any — but they want to know what, exactly, these telecommunications companies did before they grant them some kind of retroactive immunity.

KRAUTHAMMER: We saw in the clip earlier in the show Chairman Nadler, a Democrat, saying if they broke the law they have to be punished. That is as clear as day.

BARNES: That is not the biggest issue. The biggest issue is whether you have to get these warrants for the first time ever of terrorists overseas, a warrant to target them.

HUME: Next up with our panel, the congressional resolution to declare the Armenian slaughter a genocide. It is a big deal. No administration has ever done it. Why do the Democrats in the House want it? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We all deeply regret the tragic suffering of the Armenian people that began in 1915. But this resolution is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO, and on the global war and terror.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN, D-CALIF.: We cannot provide genocide denial as one of the perks of friendship with the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That is Congressman Brad Sherman of California, one of a number of California lawmakers, there are Democrats and Republicans alike on this, who want the United States to condemn a slaughter of Armenians that happened at the hands of the Ottoman Turks back staring in 1915, as you heard the president say.

The Turks are very sensitive about this. So we can call it "mass killings," we can call it "slaughter," we can call it a lot of things, but they are very sensitive about is being called "genocide."

So what are the equities here — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I am sympathetic to the Armenians. There was a terrible massacre. And I think if members of Congress are serious about this, the would encourage people to contribute to the Armenian genocide Museum and Memorial in Washington.

But the bill here is incredibly irresponsible. We are in the middle of a war. Americans are being killed, and Turkey is helping us against it. And Turkey is very sensitive, and when the French passed a similar resolution in parliament, Turkey cut off the military assistance and cooperation with France.

We heard one congressman say friends should not help friends to commit crimes against humanity. Has there ever been a more idiotic statement ever said in Congress? Does he know anything about American history?

At the time of the massacres, it was Henry Morgenthau who was a U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who did the most to intervene on behalf of the Armenians and who publicized the massacre itself and spent the rest of his life helping Armenians. So if any country helped, it was the America.

Secondly, the massacre isn't happening now — it was 90 years ago. And we are the ones fighting against people who commit crimes against humanity- -the jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan — and Turkey is helping us. And this is going to hinder our effort in preventing real crimes against humanity.

LIASSON: I think that this does not get passed. First of all —

HUME: It looks like it has something like to under 229 co-sponsors in the House.

LIASSON: It has 226 co-sponsors in the House.

Yes, I don't think this is going to get passed. George Bush, as Wendell Goler pointed out in his piece, called this a genocide when he was a candidate, but not as president. And I predict that any Democrat would do the exact same thing.

In other words, once they get to be president, they will not do something that would jeopardize an important relationship with an ally.

It is like Taiwan and China. Why don't we have relationships with Taiwan? It is a democracy, why not? The geo-strategic of the United States have decided they are more important, and that is what is happening here.

I think this is a statement of sentiment, but this is not going to become law, nor do I think that in the end any Democratic president will —

HUME: This is veto-able, isn't it, Fred?

BARNES: A resolution? I don't know whether it is or not.

HUME: We asked Wendell tonight, and he said if Congress passes —

BARNES: I don't know if congress passes a resolution?

KRAUTHAMMER: It is non-binding anyway.

HUME: It is just a statement.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: The Armenians, there is every reason to be sympathetic with them. It was genocide. The Turks have never come to grips with it. It was 92 years ago for sure, but it is a problem that historically that they should have come to grips with.

I agree with Charles, though that — some good could come of this. It would validate for Armenians, and there are a lot of Armenian Americans, that there was genocide and the Turks were to blame. But when you see at this time what the downside, what it would be —

HUME: But they call it mass killings and massacre. Why is that not good enough?

BARNES: Because "genocide" is such a powerful word. After the holocaust it really is.

LIASSON: It is a purposeful eradication of a people, which is what it was. We're just not going to officially call it that.

BARNES: When you are just talking about historic mass killings, or, as Bush says, the tragic suffering of the Armenians, it is not specific as if you say there was genocide in this case.

KRAUTHAMMER: In the middle of a war, to make an issue of this one word at a time when our soldiers are in jeopardy and a lot of innocents are in jeopardy is simply irresponsible.

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