This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, May 10, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Hi everybody. This is THE BIG STORY. I'm John Gibson. President Bush standing, literally and figuratively, beside his defense secretary today. The commander in chief at the Pentagon for a progress report on the war and to publicly state support for Donald Rumsfeld. The president also getting a look at more pictures of our troops abusing Iraqi prisoners...
Sen. John McCain (search) says Donald Rumsfeld (search) needs to set the facts straight on what happened at Abu Ghraib (search) and it's not time to demand his resignation. Sen. McCain is here to talk about the behavior of those soldiers and more, including his new book. It's called, "Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life." Sen. McCain, today's big question, where should the buck stop with the Iraqi abuse scandal?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: I don't know that John. That's why we need to have a full accounting. I tried to get answers to some of those questions on Friday at a hearing. We will get those answers. Congress will exercise its oversight responsibility, and I'm sure that the administration will respond. Who was giving the orders to the guards? Who was giving orders to the interrogators? What were those orders? What was the role that these so-called private contractors played, and how far does it go up the chain of command? I think those are legitimate questions. Let me add one more point. We got to get all this information out quickly so that we can move forward, because I think we have to win this war.
GIBSON: There's a CD-Rom ...
GIBSON: ... that members of Congress can look at. Do you think that should be out now?
GIBSON: That shows the worst of it?
GIBSON: I don't know what's on it.
MCCAIN: I don't either.
GIBSON: But Lindsey Graham (search) said it is bad and it's much worse than we have seen.
MCCAIN: Well, the reasons why it's got to get out — one practical reason is it's going to get leaked. Have you ever known of any situation where it didn't get leaked? I want it all out. The American people are mature. They'll make a judgment. And then we can assign responsibility and move on. What I fear is the weekly leak of one picture, one — whatever it is over a period of months. And we can't afford that because we've got a war to win.
GIBSON: You pressed the secretary of defense on Friday. Who was in charge of the interrogators? Now we see this USA Today report that says Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld required Pentagon approval for coercive techniques to be used on the 55 that they had captured, and that maybe even his personal approval on some of those people. Do you suspect, therefore, that he clearly was in charge of the interrogators? There was a DOD operation?
MCCAIN: I do not know that, and I'm — I am an admirer of Secretary Rumsfeld. I think he is an honorable man, but I think it's clear that — and it's totally premature it call for any change in his status, but I do believe we need to get these answers and get them quickly. And Congress's responsibility — it's not our privilege. It's our responsibility to oversight and I think it's time we — we did it and we get over our bruised egos because he didn't tell us about it earlier. The point now is to get a full accounting as to what happened.
GIBSON: We are talking about what was happening in this prison last fall. Now, last October there were 33 U.S. service deaths in Iraq. In November, it jumped to 70, and more than twice. Does that give you some context, some explanation as to what might have been going on and why the pressure was being ratcheted up?
MCCAIN: I would have to speculate. I don't know what went into the decision-making process. I don't think there's any doubt that we need intelligence, we need a capability to find out what's killing young Americans and wounding them, and that's an understandable situation. But we also have to observe human rights. We have to abide by the Geneva Convention (search) as far as the Iraqi prisoners are concerned. The Al Qaeda are in a different category. By the way, torture doesn't work. Torture — ask the French in Algeria, ask anybody. Torture does not work.
GIBSON: Were you tortured?
MCCAIN: I would say I was ...
MCCAIN: Yes. I was mistreated. I wasn't treated quite as ...
GIBSON: It certainly didn't work with you.
MCCAIN: No, but the Vietnamese were trying to get propaganda more than military information.
GIBSON: But your statement is torture doesn't work based on your personal experience as well as the French?
MCCAIN: Yes, yes, yes, but based on both, yes, as well as other experiences. I don't know where the line is exactly between sleep deprivation and some other things, but it's — we are defined by how we treat our enemies as well, and I know that — I respected my friend Joe Lieberman who said Al Qaeda never apologized and people who killed our American soldiers never apologized, but we're different. We're different.
GIBSON: What is the difference between humiliation and torture? I think you have to get a person like the International Red Cross to tell you the exact perimeters which are acceptable. I'm not that much of an expert. But I believe that if you do some of the things that are rumored then, obviously, you are beyond the Geneva Conventions, which we are signatories of for the treatments of prisoner of wars, but we need to get more information before we make judgments.
GIBSON: All right. We're going to come back right after this break with more from Senator John McCain, his thoughts on Iraq, the prisoner abuse story and the future of the war on terror.
Plus, the chain of command, were the Americans who abused Iraqi prisoners following orders, or did they act on their own? Justice, military-style, straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: We came to Iraq to install a regime or just replace one authoritarian regime with another that's not quite so bad, it's not worth the sacrifice of over 700 American lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIBSON: We're back with Arizona Sen. John McCain. Senator, you were in Iraq last August, and you got a prediction about what would happen if we didn't get more troops in there, and we didn't.
GIBSON: What was the prediction?
MCCAIN: I talked to sergeant majors, and lieutenant colonels and colonels, and I also talked to the British. They said unless you get some more people in here very quickly to bring the situation under control in some of these places like Fallujah and others, you're going to face a serious insurgency six or seven months from now. We need more troops in, need more troops now. Yes, there are more troops that are going to stay there, but we may even need more than that, and we have to expand the size of the military. We really do.
GIBSON: Is the question of Donald Rumsfeld resigning purely a question of what went on at the prison in Iraq, or is it a political question that makes it much more difficult to face? In other words, if the president said, you know what, Rummy, you did a great job on the war, but this is awful, and somebody has — it's your fault, out. Doesn't that become a huge political liability for him and, therefore, make it hard for him to make that decision?
MCCAIN: I think it might, but, first of all, I think the president will do the right thing because I think his priorities are correct. I also think that there are some Democrats, obviously, who want to make a partisan issue out of this. But I also know that there are some who don't, and I believe that the majority of Americans want us to move on and to get this thing fully accounted for. I don't believe that Secretary Rumsfeld can be judged yet. We don't have that kind of information yet. We need to get it.
GIBSON: Who is it that has it to give it out?
MCCAIN: I think the Pentagon has more ...
GIBSON: And so does Secretary Rumsfeld.
MCCAIN: Yes, and I think they'll be forthcoming. I think we in Congress will demand it. But I do believe that Secretary Rumsfeld has done a good job transforming the military. I believe he has done a good job in the early stages of the war. We've had our disagreements, but it's very premature to call for his resignation.
GIBSON: At this point, would you even recommend such a thing? There are two wars going on.
MCCAIN: No, no. The fact that there are two wars going on is — complicates it some, but I just wouldn't call for his resignation at this time. And I think that those people that did made a mistake because it looks political.
GIBSON: Let's go back to mid January when the reports first got to Abizaid who then called Myers and so it was in the Pentagon. That was also right at the moment that we were going to have the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses. Do you think the political climate here had anything to do with that report staying under cover for a few more months?
MCCAIN: I know Abizaid, and I know Myers, and I know these people. They're honorable people, John. I don't accept that they would cover up anything. The burden of proof is not on those ...
GIBSON: They went on with their investigation, and apparently the Pentagon has no obligation to hold a news conference and say look at the bad things we've done. They went on with their investigation.
MCCAIN: And I'm glad they went on with the investigation. I wish we had been better informed, those of us in Congress, particularly on the Armed Services Committee. These are honorable, decent people. I believe that we need it get all the facts out. And I will assume that they were not doing anything for political reasons until the evidence proves that they are.
GIBSON: What do you think would have happened if that news had broken during that Democratic primary season?
MCCAIN: I don't know because I don't know what action they would have taken at that time. It's hard to predict, but it certainly wouldn't have impacted the Republican primary. As far as how would it have affected the Democratic primary? I don't know, because by that time John Kerry (search) had come out very strongly about the war.
GIBSON: Sen. John McCain will get to the bottom of it.
MCCAIN: I hope so.
GIBSON: And by the way, his book "Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life." And this may be exactly what gets us to the bottom of the prison scandal. Senator, it's always good to see you.
MCCAIN: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.
GIBSON: Thanks for having me.
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