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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Obama Administration's Plan for Guantanamo Bay

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from January 6, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The vast majority of those who have been transferred have not returned to the battle. That said, even one is a problem, and so we are taking extraordinary measures to try to mitigate the risk associated with transferring these detainees.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are committed to closing Guantanamo Bay. You heard the president enunciate clearly that one of the explicit reasons mentioned in very early recruiting material from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was the existence of Guantanamo Bay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Several senior sources now confirm to Fox News that one in five detainees held at Gitmo who have been released have returned to the fight against the U.S., or are suspected of returning to the battle, according to these sources. That's a significant jump from April when the last report about recidivism came out.

And two of them have taken over leadership positions in the operation of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That is the group in Yemen that is claiming responsibility for the attempt to bring down flight 253 on Christmas Day.

What about all this and the closing of Gitmo? Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: When you hear Gibbs talk about Guantanamo as a recruiting tool, this is what we hear over and over again. I mean, it's as if he knows no history at all. The list of grievances that Al Qaeda has is endless and replenishing.

When Usama bin Laden declared war on the United States officially in a fatwa 1996 and 1998, the two top reasons were, a, the occupation of the holy places, Mecca and Medina, and, second, the suffering of the Iraqi people under anti-Saddam sanctions.

Well, there are no soldiers, American soldiers in Saudi Arabia anymore, and there are no sanctions obviously on Iraq. But the war continues. These excuses are endless.

Bin Laden sometimes starts the speech by saying in the name of Andalusia. Andalusia is Spain and Portugal, which was Muslim until it fell to Ferdinand and Isabel in 1492. Guantanamo Bay isn't going to undo that.

The idea that we ought to send people when we have a rate of recidivism of 20 percent over all, but probably extremely high, much higher than that, for Yemen and Saudi Arabia who will rejoin the fight as a way to eliminate excuses, which are all that these are, these are not — these are excuses and not at all grievances, is absurd.

The reason the way is on is because Al Qaeda hates our way of life, our independence, our tolerance, our respect of women, and the threat it poses to the fanatical kind of Islam that they are advocating.

BAIER: Mort, the administration, the president has promised to close Guantanamo Bay has but stopped sending Yemeni nationals back. Nearly half of the remaining detainees at Gitmo are from Yemen.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Right. There are 200 remaining, and supposedly 80 are from Yemen.

But so we're going to have a stated policy that we're going to close Guantanamo Bay. It's clearly not going to happen in Obama's first year as he promised. It's going to be an indefinite, probably never-to-be-completed goal of his.

BAIER: You really believe it will never be closed?

KONDRACKE: On the basis, where is he going to put these people?

BAIER: Thompson, Illinois.

KONDRACKE: You're going to put 200 people all around the country? Maybe. But Congress, I don't think Congress is going to want them in the United States. So it's going to be — it's a not-in-my- backyard problem.

So I think that he is going to have this stated policy and he'll get rid of those that he can get rid of and parcel them out here and there. But ultimately, I think Guantanamo Bay is going to stay open for the foreseeable future.

BAIER: Steve, here is what the administration has just told Major Garrett about this recidivism: "We have been presented no information that suggests any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the flight."

They have released, apparently, 42 detainees under the Obama administration, pointing back to the Bush administration's releases.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It's clearly a political point. At one point in March when President Obama appeared on "60 Minutes," he criticized the Bush administration for being too lenient and too lax in releasing detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Why then would they exacerbate the problem by continuing to release detainees from Gitmo? It doesn't make any sense.

Robert Gibbs said something else from the podium today that is simply not true. He said that there was never a plan from this administration to send back Gitmo detainees to Yemen — to a Yemen that couldn't handle these detainees.

It's simply not true. Ambassador Steve Seche, who's the U.S. ambassador in Yemen said, "Certainly we would like to be able to bring them back to Yemen and have them integrate themselves back into their own societies with their families."

He's talking about quote, "a majority of the detainees," and said that they could make a future for themselves here.

When we reported that in The Weekly Standard back in January of 2009, January of this year, we thought Seche's comment was so alarming we went then to the State Department and said is Ambassador Seche actually speaking for the administration? Is it administration policy to repatriate a majority — repatriate and release a majority — of the detainees from Yemen back to their country?

And the comment that we got from the State Department at the time was: "Ambassador Seche's comment that you refer to lay out well — lay out very well [sic] — the U.S. government's position on the situation of the Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo."

It's not that difficult to understand that.

So what Robert Gibbs is saying today that there was never this plan to send these detainees back is simply not true.

KONDRACKE: One other point: If the Christmas attempted bombing complicates the Guantanamo situation, there's another complication. The fact is that the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula agent who tried to kill the Saudi interior minister did so with a bomb hidden in a quote-unquote "body cavity," which complicates this whole idea that we're going to be able to stop terrorism by having these body scanners.

BAIER: And apparently John Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser, was briefed on that particular attack, by the Saudis. Charles, wrap it up here.

KRAUTHAMMER: In the end the issue isn't Guantanamo. That's a question of location. You can ultimately have it in the U.S., an abandoned air base in Alaska — who cares? It's the question of defending the idea of detention without trial.

You do that in all wars, all countries do. You hold an enemy combatant until the war is over. And you have to argue that that is legitimate.

When Obama denies that this is a War on Terror, he takes away the legitimacy of that stand, and thus he has to end up releasing people.

BAIER: Down the road, how big a problem politically is this for this president.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's endless and it's insoluble.

KONDRACKE: It's going to used against Democrats for sure in the 2010 election.

HAYES: It will be unless he reverses himself.

BAIER: Democrats are losing two long time senators. We will look at who's not running this fall, what it means politically after the break.

Plus, later after this show, the online show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS DODD, D-CONN.: I have been a Connecticut senator for 30 years. I'm very proud of the job I've done and the results delivered. But none of us are irreplaceable. None of us are indispensable. And those who think otherwise are dangerous.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J., DEM SENATORIAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I am convinced, having spoken to both of these gentlemen, that these are very personal decisions about this point in their life, their families and a decision to ultimately choose new opportunities in their personal lives. And so therefore we look forward to the races.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, the second key Democrat to announce he's retiring in the Senate, you saw, Chris Dodd; Byron Dorgan, as we reported last night, announcing they are retiring.

That's not all: The Colorado governor, Bill Ritter, also said today that he is stepping down, as is the lieutenant governor in Michigan, who was thought to be a frontrunner for that race, the Democrat Cherry stepping down there as well.

We are back with the panel. This is what Republicans are saying about it: Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, just released this statement, saying "These should serve as a major wake-up call to the Democratic leadership that members of their own caucus don't want to be held accountable to the voters they have ignored for the past year."

Mort, let's start with you. What is, do you think, behind some of these moves?

KONDRACKE: Well, both Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan were trailing in their races. Chris Dodd was the number one most vulnerable Democrat running, and Byron Dorgan was probably number two. Harry Reid is probably number three.

So when Chris Dodd steps aside, he lets Dick Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, take his place and that's probably going to save the seat for the Democrats. Blumenthal is very popular. He's running 30 points ahead of the two probable, likely Republican nominees — the two rivals for the job.

It's practically a lead pipe synch that North Dakota will go back Republican if Governor Hoven runs. So now you have a situation where conceivably the Republicans could pick up as many as seven seats. There are seven seats that are now held by Democrats that are in play, but there are also about four that Republicans hold that are in play.

So the days of 60-vote Democratic majority are numbered, but how big the pick-up is going to be depends on the unemployment rate.

BAIER: Steve, Republicans are obviously trying to jump on this and these retirements, the switch of Parker Griffith in the House to become a Republican. But there are some discontent with Republicans as well. It's kind of an anti-incumbent, anti-Congress feeling out there.

Do you see the political winds shifting to the Republican way?

HAYES: I do, but only because I think people are expressing a more conservative sentiment. And you've got an issue set that you've dealt with in 2009 that we're going to be dealing with again in 2010 and I think exactly the kinds of issues that appeal to independents when you're talking about a dramatic growth in government that frustrate and concern people you're talking about.

Sort of the bigness of government generally is the kind of thing that makes independents more likely to side with Republicans. You've seen that in the past, you're seeing it again and you're seeing it in numerous polls.

The question I think becomes from Republicans, what can Republicans do to distinguish themselves from Democrats and how can they nationalize these elections as Newt Gingrich did so successfully in 1994.

BAIER: Charles, Republicans are leading in most generic ballot polls for the first time this early since 1994 when they took back the House of Representatives.

How much do you think health care has played a part? We had Ben Nelson, the Democratic senator from Nebraska say this to a newspaper in Nebraska: "I think it was a mistake to take health care on as opposed to continuing to spend time on the economy." This is a senator who was on the fence who voted for health care reform.

KRAUTHAMMER: Nelson is right on two counts: A, it was a distraction as the citizenry sees it from the main issue, which is the recession and unemployment. And secondly because the bill itself, the proposals themselves are so appalling that on the merits, on the substance, there's huge opposition. And I think that really hurts.

And of the two senators who stepped aside, Dodd is more of a personal issue in the sense that he had stains on his own record which were peculiar to him: His involvement with Countrywide, the failed sub-prime lender and the fact that he moved the family out to Iowa in '08 when he ran for the presidency, a run which discredited him in many ways.

Dorgan I think is more representative of the national trend and the winds blowing, because he's been hurt because of the huge opposition in his state on the health care issue, which all the liberal Democrats are tied to the mast on this one, and there's no escaping.

And so I think it does indicate that the Republicans have a chance of nationalizing this election.

BAIER: Quickly, Mort, do you think more retirements could come, because the Dorgan punch was a little bit of a gut punch to Democrats who perhaps thought that he was going to run.

KONDRACKE: Well, Harry Reid says he's not quitting, and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas says that she's not quitting, and so far we don't know.

I would just add or reinforce what was said about the Republican problem is that they have nothing positive to say. They have not put forth an alternative agenda and Newt Gingrich did in 1994 and they've got to come up with one.

KRAUTHAMMER: With Obama out there, who needs it?

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