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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Destroyed Interrogation Tapes

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 7, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED KENNEDY, D-MASS.: Those tapes were not shown to Congress. They were not shown to any court. They were not shown to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. Instead, they were destroyed.

What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious — cover-up. The agency was desperate to cover up damning evidence of their practices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT BAIER, GUEST HOST: Senator Ted Kennedy talking about these videotapes of CIA interrogations taken back in 2002. They were destroyed in 2005.

CIA Director Mike Hayden wrote a letter to CIA employees. I'm going to read it. It is fairly lengthy, but I will read it here, a piece of it.

"The office of General Counsel examined the tapes and determined that they showed lawful methods of questioning. The office of the Inspector General also examined the tapes in 2003 as part of a look at the agency's detention and interrogation practices.

Beyond their lack of intelligence value, as the interrogation sessions had already been exhaustively detailed in written channels, and the absence of legal or internal real to keep them, the tapes posed a serious security risk.

Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers."

This is getting a lot of attention here in Washington. Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

So how about this controversy, Fred, and — well, first of all, it is kind of tough week for the CIA. The NIT comes in and it was wrong on Iran originally in 2005, and now this.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: A lot of people, and not just conservatives, are skeptical of that National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.

In this cease, these tapes — in the normal course of — in the normal practices at the CIA, you would think they would want to destroy these tapes. You wouldn't want them to fall into the wrong hands. You wouldn't want the terrorists to know, for instance, how they might be interrogated. You wouldn't want the media to get them. You wouldn't want to see these tapes played on Al-Jazeera or FOX, or CNN, or someplace like that.

So there is reason to destroy them. And you do want to protect the identity of the CIA interrogators.

On the other hand, however, if there was some legal obligation to turn them over, and the CIA says there wasn't. They say the 9/11 Commission never asked for them, and the Moussaoui trial, the so-called 20th 9/11 terrorists, that they never asked for these specifically either.

But if there was some legal obligation to turn them over that they evaded by destroying them, that is another story. But just destroying them, in fact, there is nothing wrong with that. And, in fact, that is the right thing to do.

BAIER: We should point out that tonight Jim Angle is reporting from a source that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was informed about the tapes and informed about the destruction of the tapes. That's according to at least one source from Jim Angle tonight.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Jay Rockefeller, who is the Democrat on that committee, says that there is no record of the committee, that they were ever informed that these were destroyed. And Pete Hoekstra and Jane Harmon, who are the Republican and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee strongly deny there was ever any information given countervailing Hayden.

I don't think that Hayden is credible either in saying they were destroyed in order to protect the interrogators. You could block out faces of the interrogators.

Frankly, if there was any trust in this town, you would have thought that the CIA would be proud to show these to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Allegedly, according to the president's statement, the harsh interrogation of Abu Zabaida(ph) led to the discovery of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and saved the United States from a terrorist mission.

Now, if I were a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I would like to see that tape, and see — and if the CIA would want to show it to me — in order to demonstrate that harsh interrogation measures work where others measures don't work.

So this whole business of destroying these tapes does look like a cover-up of some sort. I don't understand it and I think it should be investigated.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: As of now, we don't know the real story on what the lawyers would call the chain of possession — who had it, when it was had, when it was destroyed, who was told, and when.

We have two different stories, one coming out of the CIA, and the other out of the intelligence committees. We have to have an investigation. We're going to have it. We will find out who had it and who knew.

And I think Fred is right. That will tell us whether there was obstruction of justice in the Moussaoui case, and whether there was withholding of evidence in the 9/11 Commission. But that, I think, is a secondary issue. The real issue is should we have done this at the time? And I think the answer is "yes."

According to George Tenet and to General Hayden, we got more information out of the judicious use of these harsh techniques on a very small number of suspects, the ones who knew the real stuff, in the year 2002, when America was blind and had no idea about Al Qaeda, was waiting for the second shoe to drop, and that this information likely saved thousands of lives.

If that is the case, this is the one example, the one exception where I think everybody would agree if you ever are going to use a harsh technique, it would be in these specific circumstances.

So on the issue of the actual interrogation, I think it was a good faith in destroying the tapes — yes, because it is not a pretty thing, and you don't want it on You Tube.

KONDRACKE: There is a history here that I'm afraid we're repeating, and that is the CIA does something that is regarded as excessive, like trying to assassinate Castro. Along come the Church Committee, and they destroy the ability of the CIA to do intelligence.

Now what is happening is that Congress is considering passing legislation that would destroy the ability of the CIA ever to conduct harsh interrogation, which is in excess on the part of the legislation.

BARNES: That would get vetoed. Mort, don't worry about it.

KRAUTHAMMER: When a Democrat becomes president, no more harsh interrogation.

BAIER: We should point out that Jim Angle is reporting tonight that Senator Rockefeller says he was not at the briefing, told about the destruction of these videotapes, but his staff director was. So that's a clarification from earlier.

When we come back with the panel, Oprah Winfrey hits the campaign trail for her favorite guy, Barack Obama. So will her star power translate into an Obama win in Iowa? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: I want to clarify one thing. Jim Angle's reporting, according to a source, Senator Rockefeller was not at this briefing about these videotapes. Senator Rockefeller himself did not say that his staff director was there. The source is telling us that Rockefeller's staff director was there, and Rockefeller was not — clarifying that.

Now, the next topic for the panel — Oprah Winfrey is campaigning for Barack Obama this weekend. Of course, the talk show host can sell just about anything. Every time she talks about a book, it goes through the roof on every list out there.

But can she sell a presidential candidate? We are back with our panel. How much, Fred, is a surrogate to a presidential campaign, even if they are a super surrogate like Oprah?

BARNES: Well, normally, not much. But you would have to say you would rather have Oprah Winfrey out there campaigning for you than Barbra Streisand, who was out there for Hillary Clinton.

And Oprah is a unique figure in American life. And she is, as Mike Barone said earlier on this show, she is cross-cultural. She is someone who has a huge audience in every community in America — white, black, Hispanic — very much like Barack Obama himself, who is a very cross-cultural individual.

I think they may be overreaching, though, by renting stadiums in Columbus, South Carolina, that seat 80,000, and so on. She can help in South Carolina, where half of the Democratic voters in the primary are African American. She may help there, she will draw attention.

But whenever you have a celebrity come in, even if it's your husband, Bill Clinton, you have to be awful careful about what they say, because if they say something wrong or off color or something that's disputed, you will get blamed for it, and you will be explaining it away for days.

KONDRACKE: I think Oprah Winfrey is a lot smarter than Whoopi Goldberg, who famously campaigned for John Kerry last time and embarrassed him and her as well.

I think she is the best celebrity endorsement in America, entertainment celebrity. I think Colin Powell, or somebody like that, might, as a policy heavyweight, might be equal.

And she, at this moment, far outshines Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is old news. He has been on the stump for a long time. He is getting to be tiresome. He is getting to be self-indulgent. She is fresh. She is new. She is going to appear right at the beginning of the caucus process.

So she is going to attract a crowd for Obama.

BAIER: Charles, those polls are closing.

KRAUTHAMMER: It is, but I don't know how much — I'm a skeptic on the Oprah factor. Look, she sells stuff. Michael Jordan sold sneakers in the millions. She sells books, yes, but even Imus who is not exactly cuddly and beloved in America, can boost from Amazon 200 up to Amazon seven in 10 minutes.

When you invest in a book, you are investing in something that will last a week. A president will last eight years. I don't think she can sell a president.

BAIER: It will be interesting to watch. Thanks, panel.

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