Could Seven GIs Lose the War?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", May 11, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIAN WILSON, GUEST-HOST: Well, this has been a very tough day in the news business, as we here at Fox have been trying to bring you details of two inter-related stories. First, the Capitol Hill hearing about abuses at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison; U.S. lawmakers trying to discern where blame might lie. Then this afternoon, al Qaeda releases an unbelievably brutal videotape that shows the beheading of kidnapped U.S. civilian Nick Berg (search). The terrorists carrying out the murder claim it was revenge for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Tonight we're joined by two men who were involved in today's Hill hearing, Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, and Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas.

Gentlemen, let's start with this heinous video, which we cannot show, but trust me, I have had the chance to look at it. It's probably one of the most brutal things that I've seen, and we have learned if nothing else over the past few weeks, the power that images can have. As these images start to leak out and as people see, I'm sure, tidbits on the internet, what do you think the end result is going to be? Will it change people's minds about it? Will it harden opinions? Will it change minds? Senator Nelson, you want to start?

SEN. BILL NELSON, (D), FLORIDA: Well, first of all, there's no excuse for an evil act, such as this. It's terrorists. They're trying to strike terror, and they need to be hunted down and then dealt with.

Now, will it have an affect? To some people it will, and it will have the opposite affect. In some cases, people will say, all right, see, we told you so because of the abuses in the prison. On the other side there's no excuse regardless of what happened in a prison that's much, much less than this heinous act.

WILSON: Senator Cornyn.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, I think it does show the character of our enemy, as Senator Nelson has said. But I do think our enemy has underestimated what they have done. In other words, by showing the barbaric nature of their conduct and the way they beheaded this American, I believe they're going to see a backlash from America.

But in no way should I think what happened in the prison be connected with this. They did not it wait until after we did something to hit us on 9-11. And to me it's just an excuse for their barbaric act.

WILSON: Well, let's talk about the hearings that you had today. You had a whole host of generals, who came up and testified about what they knew and what they found, especially the general who did the inquiry. What was your sense of what you heard today? What do you walk away feeling about this whole story now?

CORNYN: Well, I think universally people complimented General Taguba on doing an outstanding job, and a really a fearless investigation. And although all of us were disturbed by the abuse of the prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, I think we were all very impressed by the investigation that General Taguba investigated. And the fact that now we have seven people charged with crimes. The first court-martial will begin later this month, and seven of their commanding officers who have suffered career-ending, disciplinary action as results of it.

WILSON: Some have suggested that this was very limited, small number of people. The Pentagon, the phrase going around is, "Seven morons who may have lost us the war." Is that where it ends, or how far up the chain should responsibility go?

NELSON: I don't buy the fact that seven privates could do all of this. It's up the chain. And what finally came out at the hearing -- and I was the last one to question late this afternoon around 6:00, was that there was a shift of command in that prison on November the 19 to military intelligence from the military police.

Now, most of the photographs were taken before November the 19. So the question is that we still have to resolve, why did it happen before and was the putting of military intelligence in control in reaction to that or for some other reason?

WILSON: And what do you think about that, senator? What was the reason?

CORNYN: Well, Brian, clearly we have got to take it wherever the facts lead us, and I don't think anybody is suggesting otherwise. But on the other hand, I do think we need to keep this in proper proportion and context.

WILSON: What is the context?

CORNYN: We are at war. We've seen the nature of our enemy; as a result of this terrible act of beheading of this American, broadcast across the world on the internet. And I think we need to make sure that these prisoners are treated humanely, as General Taguba said.

All of our standards of treatment of prisoners require humane treatment. But we also need to get actual intelligence out of them so that we can save American lives, both in Iraq and Afghanistan and here in America.

WILSON: But where do we draw the line, and where should that -- that's the really ultimate question. You need the intelligence. American lives are at stake. If you get that it intelligence you may well save lives, yet you have to follow certain guidelines. Where is the line drawn, and was the line clearly explained to those on the frontline?

NELSON: Well, what was the planning for us being occupiers and being occupiers to understand the sensitivities in the Muslim world? And had that sensitivity been there, then someone would have known immediately when the first reports in January came out about the abuses to stop it.

WILSON: I understand that tomorrow between 2:00 and 5:00 they're going to put all of the pictures, everything they have in a secure room and allow all senators who care to see it, come see it. The impression we're getting from hearing about this, it's going to get worse before it gets better. There's a lot more bad stuff coming out. Is that your sense, senator?

NELSON: Yes. As a matter of fact, I specifically asked General Taguba today about -- they've got films, videos of sexual acts occurring.

CORNYN: Well, clearly...

WILSON: I'm sorry. We're out of time, Senator. We're all out of time. We've run over. Thank you very much for joining us here.

CORNYN: Thank you.

WILSON: We greatly appreciate it.

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