'Special Report' Panel on Obama's Comments About Waterboarding and VP Biden's Swine Flu Gaffe

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from April 30, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. That's why I put an end to these practices. I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways.


BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: One of the president's answers to one of many questions on waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques. What about this and these subjects from last night's news conference? Let's bring in our panel, Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, let's start you with.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, when you hear him airily say that we could have gotten the information from other means, you have to ask yourself, isn't that exactly what was attempted. And the reason they resorted to the enhanced interrogation is because it didn't work.

And in the case of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the guy who they knew was the mastermind behind 9/11, the man who boasted of personally beheading Daniel Pearl with a butcher knife, he was asked politely about the plans that he knew about, and his answer was "Soon you will know," meaning you will be looking in the morgues, counting the American dead, looking in hospitals at those who were destroyed, bodies destroyed in a future attack of which he will tell you nothing right now. That's why they used enhanced interrogation, which worked.

There was also a question of timing. It is true that you can use the good cop routine, in which you earn the trust of the prisoner over time and get information. Nobody denies that.

The problem is it can take weeks or months or longer. And after 9/11, we did not have the luxury of weeks or months or longer in a situation in which America had been attacked and we knew almost nothing about Al Qaeda and its plans. That was a matter of urgency.

And to airily say today we might have used other techniques I think is incredibly irresponsible.

BAIER: Mara, intelligence officials says 14 of the 16 high-value targets we captured were trained to resist interrogation. Isn't the president opening himself up with this answer?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: You know, this is the most controversial decision the president took. And I thought his answer last night was really interesting on a lot of levels.

He said at one point he thinks that the American people over time will recognize that he made the right decision, that it's better to stick with who we are even when we are taking on an unscrupulous enemy and not use these techniques.

That was a recognition that the public is split on this, unlike some of his other issues where he's way ahead of the Republicans. People be approve of what he is doing on big margins. On torture, it's about half and half of what people think about this.

And I think in terms of him opening up, he also said he knows that in the end he will be judged as commander in chief by whether he keeps the American people safe.

If there is another attack, of course he is opening himself up to this. Did he do everything he possibly could to prevent this? Was there someone in custody who could have had the information?

He knows that this is a really difficult area for him, and that it is impossible to prove his argument that we could have gotten this information from other means. Maybe we could have. Maybe we couldn't have. There is no way of knowing.

And to make the argument that we're safer now, it's also impossible to prove, unless we just continue to go on without another attack.

All he can say is I have put this nation on a stronger moral standing because this country doesn't torture, and kind of leave it at that without the other arguments.

BAIER: Bill.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think it's a little worse. I mean, the president says he believes we could have gotten this information without using the enhanced techniques.

The CIA in the memos that the president released, the Office of Legal Counsel of Justice quotes the CIA saying you have told us that you would have not been able to obtain this information from these detainees without these enhanced techniques.

The actual legal memos tell the CIA you can't use the enhanced techniques unless you only think you have to, and you only can think you have to if the regular techniques don't work.

They tried the regular techniques first. I don't know if the president has not read the memos that he released, but he is not just saying who knows, it is hard to say. Now he is saying that I suppose these CIA agents were inept in using the regular techniques, didn't want to use the regular techniques.

They tried the regular techniques. They didn't work. That's why they went to three instances of waterboarding. That's why they went to a few dozen instances of the enhanced interrogation techniques.

BAIER: I want to turn the corner to another answer play a quick sound byte from the president last night.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am always amused when I hear these criticisms of, oh, Obama wants to grow government. No. I would love a nice lean portfolio to deal with. But that's not the hand that's been dealt us.

BAIER: Charles, do you buy it?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, that's a very clever answer. Look, it's true he's not interested in running GM or Chrysler. He was not elected in order to be charge in AIG or Citicorp.

However, he's announced over and over again he wants to run American healthcare, a sixth of the U.S. economy. He wants federalize education. And he wants to have control of our energy, decide by the federal government what kind is used, how much, and at what price, which is essentially a way of controlling the entire economy since it all depends on energy. So he wants to expand government and make it large, except not in these small areas in which he mentioned. A clever answer, as always, but slightly disingenuous — actually, largely disingenuous.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: That was in answer to the question about what he was going to do now that he is going to be a majority shareholder in a number of companies — automakers, financial institutions. In some cases, the U.S. will be the majority shareholders, and shareholders have some rights and some responsibilities. And how is he going to exercise them?

And I think what he was saying there was, you know, I have a lot of other things I want to do, transforming healthcare and energy and education. Running these companies is the last thing he wants to do.

And it comes with all sorts of conflicts of interest. Does he want to enact industrial policy through his ownership of these companies, or does he want to try to get the highest return for the taxpayers' dollars, who are now invested in this companies? It's going to be a lot of headaches.

BAIER: Bill, quickly, overall thought about the news conference — were you enchanted?

KRISTOL: It was an enchanting evening.

No, actually, I wasn't. The media is totally enchanted. The reviews are unbelievable. "The New York Times" reporter asked — was so enchanted that he asked Obama what he found enchanting. And then everyone was enchanted with each other.

I actually think, and Charles has pointed out, he is too clever by half. This is wearing thin. If he wants to say we need to take control of the auto companies, we can improve their performance. We need to take control of the banks, we need to change the healthcare system, say it and make the argument for it.

The disingenuous of "I didn't want to do any of this. I'm just forced to do it" is wearing a little thin. BAIER: The president has spent all week calling for calm about the swine flu. But was his vice president listening?


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, if anybody was unduly alarmed for whatever reason, we would apologize for that.


BAIER: Another Joe Biden gaffe, at least that's what they're saying. The panel weighs in after the break.



VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not that it's going to Mexico. It's that you're in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be at this point if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway. So from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation. If you're out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that's something. If you're in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it's a different thing.


BAIER: Roger Dow, head of the U.S. Travel Association, heard that and said, "Oh, my god." That's just one reaction today from the travel industry. American Airlines put out a statement as well. We're back with the panel - Mara?

LIASSON: Oh, my goodness. What can we say? Look, Joe Biden has been, I would say, remarkable for him, gaffe-free for these first 100 days.

But this was a big one, because talking points really matter in this public healthcare crisis. And President Obama has been out there very carefully giving the mantra, "This is cause for concern but not panic. No, people should not stop traveling."

And there's Joe Biden who completely expressed himself. He's just saying "That's me. This my opinion about what I tell my family," completely ignoring what he is supposed to be doing as the second highest elected official in the country.

And of course, as you saw, Robert Gibbs had to walk it back. And he issued a statement, his office issued a statement shortly thereafter, saying what he meant to say is if you're sick, you shouldn't do this.

Of course, that's not at all what he said.

BAIER: It started out that Vice President Biden was imprecise.

LIASSON: Yes, imprecise.

Look, the thing that is so interesting to me about Joe Biden is, despite the fact that his complete lack of verbal discipline annoys and irks the president at some times, their personal styles are so different, he still has a strong role inside the White House. He is given big tasks to do. This is a guy who isn't just going to funerals.

And I don't know what will happen after this, but so far we don't see any change in that.

BAIER: Bill, he was quarantined from the media at the beginning in the first 100 days. But now what happens?

KRISTOL: I would have loved to have been in the White House this morning around 7:20 a.m. when Rahm Emanuel was watching Vice President Biden on "The Today Show." And the chief of staff must picked up the phone and said "No mess privileges for the vice president."

Tomorrow morning he is taking the metro to the White House. He has lost his motorcade. He'll have a nice time. I don't believe he's a powerful player. His people have done a good job spinning that. I have been told he is not very influential. And now I think Obama is beginning to think about who should we replace him on the ticket in 2012? Don't you think that will be dramatic? Kathleen Sebelius if she handles this swine flu epidemic well, she would be a nice replacement for Joe Biden as vice president in 2012.

BAIER: OK, it started here — Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the single most important public health measure that we can take is to put Joe Biden in quarantine. The prognosis, unfortunately for him, is not good. There's no known cure for what ails him, which is a congenital inability to control his tongue. But the good news is that that researchers around the world are working around the clock on a cure. So they always is hope. I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself on that. As for the flu, I think what's really important is to see how virulent it is. What we really worry about is the flu epidemic of 1918, which killed in very high numbers. It looks as if, anecdotally, looking at the evidence in Mexico and elsewhere, that the death rate is relatively low. If this is like any other flu with a death rate of one in a thousand, it's not a catastrophe. There could be a mutation, but until it mutates and becomes like the 1918 epidemic, I think that what we're having now is a lot of panic without reason.

BAIER: Don't forget, our weekly online extravaganza is Thursday this week. Tonight we'll talk about the big stories, answer your questions, respond to your comments, starting 7:00 eastern right after this show. You can log on right now Foxnews.com/sronline.

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