This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 24, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a general view, I think that we should look forward and not backwards. I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Well, that's what the president said back in April. Today, as you see, the Justice Department handing out an inspector general's report about interrogations. The attorney general has announced that federal prosecutor John Durham will be appointed to investigate alleged CIA abuses.
Now, they are supposed to be specifically about allegations of interrogations that went south, went wrong, but will it be limited to that or will it expand?
Let's talk about this and the politics behind it a little later. Let's bring in the panel, Steve Hayes senior writer for "The Weekly Standard," Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Charles, there were thousands of documents released today, and then late in the day we had word that the attorney general was appointing this special prosecutor. What about this decision?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, we just heard the president say that he didn't want something like this because it would hamper our national security operations in the future, and this surely will. Who would want to be an interrogator after what has been happening now?
Look, the cases that are going to be looked at are cases that were looked at by career prosecutors, not political appointees, in the eastern district of Virginia where the CIA is and where these cases are handled.
And they looked at about 20 of these cases of people who allegedly went beyond the four corners of the law, and recommended are in all cases except one no prosecution. The one case was brought to trial. The person was a CIA contractor who attacked a detainee with a metal flashlight, and was found guilty. His case has just been reviewed, appeals court upheld. All the others recommended again.
So what happens? You have a new administration, a new wind in the White House, a president who ran against George Bush and who now decides it's a good time to run against him again. And these interrogators are going to be relooked after by a special prosecutor, which means unlimited license.
And if you think it is going to stop there, it's not. The great white whale here is the lawyers in the White House. These interrogators are going to say "I was just obeying orders." You are going to go to the White House and end up where they want to end up, with Cheney, who is the great white whale of this investigation.
BAIER: Juan, just a few moments after this announcement came out, we had a release from the house Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and the subcommittee chairman Gerald Nadler, both Democrats who said that this is a good first step, but we must go further, and said that this prosecutor should be given a broad mandate to investigate these abuses, follow where the evidence leads, and prosecute where warranted.
Is that what Charles is talking about there, that there is not going to be an end to this?
JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: No, but that political pressure coming from the likes of Conyers is well-known. He has wanted to investigate these things all along. And he's not trying to push Eric Holder.
Even as we hear, you know, Charles and others might say this is ready, it is problematic for people in the intelligence business to have this probe going forward, you have to stop and realize that people on the other end of the spectrum are saying you, no, you must in fact begin an investigation.
It is not just about — all that John Durham has a mandate to do is to look and see whether or not there were crimes committed that would justify such an investigation. He is not in charge of such an investigation yet.
And I think that there are people who say forget that intermediate step, let's just go to the meat of it. That is the Conyers, that's left- wing position here.
BAIER: Steve, what about the argument that this does have a chilling effect on the intelligence community and perhaps even foreign countries that work with the U.S. in intelligence matters?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I spoke with someone today who works and talks regularly with our interrogators on the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq.
And he said there is no question that if you are an interrogator now, all you're going to do is read the questions from your card. You're not going to press to get additional information out. You're not going to challenge in any way that could be seen as remotely threatening.
I think this could have a serious chilling effect on the interrogators themselves.
But if you pull back a little bit and look at this in the broader context, here is the problem, I think. You have an administration that is expending tremendous amounts of political capital to have known Al Qaeda operatives, or at least Al Qaeda-trained operatives released.
Bin Jan Mohammed, released in England, a known Al Qaeda operative or someone who has trained in the Al Farouq camp. Now you have then going after the American who are on the front line of the car?
It is one of these moments where you stop and you think am I really seeing this happen?
BAIER: OK, the other part of this release of thousands of documents are two important documents that former Vice President Cheney asked for that they be released.
We are still going through these documents as of this hour. A lot of them have been redacted, but we'll say that there are parts of them that say detainee reporting has helped thwart a specific number of Al Qaeda plots to attack the west and elsewhere, and they've stopped essentially — they've gone after potential targets and learned techniques from this interrogation.
Steve, you have looked at these documents. Anything in your cursory look at them that strikes you?
HAYES: I thought the title of the one "Pivotal reporting from Al Qaeda detainees" tells you everything you need to know.
There is an interesting thing in the Cheney documents. I have not gone through them as exhaustively as I will.
The inspector general document which was supposed to blow a hole in the idea that enhanced interrogation techniques were effective, in fact, I think, makes the opposite point, sometimes rather emphatically, both in the text of the report and in the appendices.
In one appendix, there is a memorandum for the record from July 17, 2003, and it's a person describing his meeting with the inspector general, and said, "I judge the program to be by the quality of information, it's a success."
And then says, "Using the quality of the intelligence as the yardstick," quote, "the program has been an absolute success." And that's pretty categorical. There is not a lot of gray area there.
BAIER: Juan, any thoughts on this?
WILLIAMS: It is not a matter of whether or not you got the information if you were sawing some guy in half. OK, you might have gotten the information. You might have also gotten bad information.
What is known is that oftentimes these Jack Bauer-type techniques do not result in useful information. What
So what you're talking about here is —
BAIER: But Juan, this says that after the techniques they did use, they did get useful information.
WILLIAMS: We don't know when it worked or when it didn't work, Bret.
WILLIAMS: What it says is in some cases you might have gotten information. By the way, we don't know if, for example, it was a legitimate technique in the army field manual that was used as opposed to something else.
BAIER: Waterboarding wasn't in the field manual.
WILLIAMS: No, it was not. That is something over the line.
So again, it is just not clear. And I think we would like to know some of the redacted information to be very specific. When you went over the line and you were engaged in, let's just be blunt about it, torture, did torture, in fact, advance the U.S. interests?
And I don't think — that's not clear to anybody. In fact, what we have now is the president saying, you know what, let's locate this kind of questioning among an elite group.
BAIER: I think reading this document would tell a different story, but go ahead, Charles.
KRAUTHAMMER: What you are positing is an alternate universe in which we had not done any of this and in which miraculously we also would not have had had a second attack since 9/11.
If you want to conduct such an experiment, go ahead. I prefer the experiment in which it what was done and we didn't have a second attack. And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, after he endured simulated drowning, opened up his rolodex, as people have explained it, and told us about operatives all over the world.
We have had every CIA director since 9/11 testify that these interrogation techniques, the excessive ones you are talking about, yielded extraordinary information that saved Americans.
BAIER: We have another panel on this, so you will have a chance to respond.
The politics of all of this — the president will put together a new unit to oversee all of these interrogations. We'll talk about all of the politics behind this day, next.
BAIER: Well, here is the latest gallop daily tracking poll about the president. The job approval rating, there you see, 52 percent approve, 40 percent disapprove, a little uptick in the disapproval in the last couple of days.
And Rasmussen has a tracking poll that is tracking about the same, pretty close, 49 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove.
Now, this is the backdrop for today's, all the discussion about the CIA interrogations, the release that happened, and, while the president is in Martha's Vineyard, that was really pretty much all the briefing was dominated by that instead of health care reform.
We're back with the panel. Charles, what about the politics of all of this today?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it is a hell of a coincidence, isn't it? The administration is in a deep health care debate, a national debate, and every hour that passes, support for his plans are diminishing and his own popularity is tanking.
All of a sudden, this issue explodes on a Monday. Friday, the administration met at 5:00 after hours, releases a $2 trillion error in estimates of deficits, and on bright Monday, you get this re-litigation of the Bush administration all of a sudden exploding upon us.
Look, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I'm not a child. It's not a coincidence.
And secondly, you get the president pretending he is against all this and that it is Holder, the attorney general whose initiative all of this is about, as if Holder isn't an employee and under the direction of the administration.
So, the president is the good cop who is magnanimous, who really wants to look ahead as the messianic visionary he is, and Holder is the bad guy.
Obama knows exactly what is happening and this serves his purposes wonderfully.
BAIER: Is this a good thing, this topic change to the CIA interrogations for this administration?
WILLIAMS: I don't know if it is a good thing. I think this is a highly polarizing topic, as you can tell by our panel tonight. I think this is something that really angers people because people are concerned about the nation's security, and I don't think anybody differs about the need to protect America.
But people have strong, strong moral feelings about whether or not you should torture people, even if you are touring a monster.
And so here we have the Justice Ethics Office saying something, and President Obama himself has said we lost our moral compass. That's his opinion, his perspective on this.
There are other people, let's say Vice President Cheney, who said we should do anything possible to protect our country in this moment of crisis.
So this is a highly polarizing thing. I don't think it is something that you put out and say it is a happy face to put on difficult new on health care.
BAIER: Even turning the topic from health care.
WILLIAMS: Health care is in danger. It is troubled. But here is the thing. Every administration does news dumps on Friday afternoon. Every administration uses August — I don't understand why you would want to pick on the Obama administration. The Obama people are just doing what they learned from the work done by other administrations.
KRAUTHAMMER: Are we saying a word about health care, or is that a coincidence today that we're not talking about it?
WILLIAMS: That's not news.
HAYES: Let me make a point of clarification. Dick Cheney absolutely did not say we should do anything that we need to do to extract information. I mean, there were specific guidelines. That's what this whole discussion is about, what were the guidelines and how far they went.
If Charles is right and this is a political calculation, or at least in part a political calculation, I think they have so badly miscalculated what this is likely to do.
I mean, taking people's eyes or health care for days or even for longer at the expense of this kind of national — protracted national debate on how to protect the country I think is a loser for them.
Poll after poll after poll of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents during the campaign, showed that voters by and large did not have tremendous sympathy with, you know, the civil liberties of would-be terrorists or suspected terrorists, and are far tougher on terrorism issues generally than the Democrats are.
And then president Obama does...
WILLIAMS: If we live in a country of laws, we have to obey laws. You don't have a choice of let's prosecute this and not prosecute that law.
And I think it's really important to say here when we got into a situation where the attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, was seen as making it possible for these things to take place, having his hand forced by the White House, everybody screamed that's not right!
KRAUTHAMMER: I think Obama is reflexively reacting here. He rose on the back of Bush hatred and resentment and opposition to Bush, and he thinks that when he is in trouble, he reverts to it.
I think that you are right that in the end it will probably hurt him, because people looking at the facts are going to decide that we had to do, and what we're doing now undermining our ability to interrogate in the future.
BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned to see some of the high-tech improvements in health care that could be coming.
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