Transcript: Sens. McConnell, Biden on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is an excerpt from FOX News Sunday, May 2, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: For more on Iraq, we turn now to two key senators: from Kentucky, Republican Mitch McConnell, the majority whip, and here in Washington Democrat Joseph Biden, his party's point man on foreign policy.

And, gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

MCCONNELL: Glad to be with you.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, let me start with you. I want to ask you about these reports that I was asking General Myers about, that this abuse may have gotten a lot higher than just these six Reservists. Your reaction, sir?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's hard to improve on what General Myers said. We're dealing with this ourselves. The Iraqi Army probably wouldn't have done it that way. Misbehavior within the American military, there's a procedure for handling it. We have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. And I have total confidence in our military commanders to work this case appropriately and to bring these American soldiers to justice.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, does it bother you that we are only learning now, after "60 Minutes" first broke this story last week, that the dimensions of this abuse may have been a lot greater, might have gone on a lot longer, been a lot worse and involved a lot higher people?

BIDEN: The answer is, yes, but I agree with Mitch, I'm confident we'll deal with this.

The degree to which I have a disagreement a little bit is, I don't get the sense that they understand what an incredible sense of urgency there is here to get this straight, to let the whole world know who, names, places, times, who.

No one's going to believe in the Arab world, no one's going to believe in Europe, no one's going to — many people are not going to believe in the United States of America, that in fact we are earnest about this until they see somebody, somebody, even the names. Look, if there was a criminal defendant arrested, we give their name.

We should demonstrate to the Arab world that this is urgent. This is the single most significant undermining act that's occurred in a decade in that region of the world, in terms of our standing, in my view.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, Senator McConnell, because we do know now that this report, this internal Army report that was very damning about what went on in that prison, was submitted in February. Do you feel that the Pentagon has acted with the sense of urgency that Senator Biden is talking about?

MCCONNELL: Well, I don't know the answer to that, but these defendants are entitled to due process. We don't waive procedures in this country just because it's inconvenient.

And I'm confident that these defendants in this investigation will be treated like any other defendants in any other investigation in the American military. We don't waive the rules simply because it's a delicate or sensitive matter.

I do think they ought to move forward with dispatch, and we don't have any evidence that they're not doing that. So I don't think we ought to criticize them prematurely here.

BIDEN: I'm not — the point I'm trying to make, Chris, is, everybody understands the phenomenal damage this accusation has caused in that part of the world. It seems to me this warrants, at a minimum, the president praising the people who turned them in and saying — and what he did say a couple of days ago, he's indignant, he is angry about it. That anger that he, I believe, feels must be demonstrated and shown.

I'm not asking anybody's civil rights to be violated. I'm not suggesting that at all. What I am suggesting is, there be a much higher profile, in terms of the indignation, anger, and an explanation of the process that's under way, so people don't think — because right now, every day on the ground, there's some young Marine there who in fact the rage of an indigenous person is being generated as a consequence of Al-Jazeera television covering this.

BIDEN: There has to be a greater showing of indignation, in no way compromising. And there has to be a promise.

For example, I have great faith in General Myers. The only thing I wish he had said was, "If this goes to the Pentagon, whomever is responsible will be held accountable." I mean, there has to be this sense that we understand without in any way, in any way, violating anybody's rights.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, let's turn to Fallujah. And I'd like to get your reaction to what General Myers had to say today about decision to turn over some of the security to a Sunni Muslim militia. It appears that General Saleh may have lost his commission on our air today...


... but it appears that there is going to be a Sunni Muslim militia, and clearly an effort to have them put an Iraqi face on this.

Do you really think that's the best option, at the point?

MCCONNELL: Well, I had a chance to talk to Ambassador Bremer about that this morning and Dr. Rice last night, and we're not turning the security of Fallujah over to these 500 to 1,000 Iraqis. What we are doing is responding to a request from the local townspeople there that the introduction of these troops and their recommendation, actually, of this particular general might be a way to defuse the situation and get these folks to turn themselves in and their heavy weapons.

We're taking no chance in terms of — the mission is ultimately the same. The Marines are still there. They'll still go in, if that's what it takes. But the local citizens thought that this might be a way to defuse the situation and get the weapons turned in and the people turned in. And General Conway thought that that was a reasonable risk to take.

WALLACE: Well, Senator McConnell, with all due respect to the local citizens there, do you really trust a Sunni Muslim militia to go in and rout out the insurgents? As you must know from the news accounts, the people of Fallujah are acting like this is a victory, that they basically won over the U.S. Marines and resisted them?

MCCONNELL: Well, Ambassador Bremer tells me he's confident that the overwhelming majority of people in Fallujah are not sympathetic with these gangs that are in there and do want their city to return to normal. And they have suggested this as a way to do it that might not engage a lot of people in firefights.

And, look, why not try it for a few days and see if this can defuse the situation? It doesn't change the goal. We're going to disarm these people. We're going to return Fallujah to normal. The Marines are on the outskirts prepared to do that if indeed we do have to engage in that kind of military action.

The feeling of General Conway, General Myers, Ambassador Bremer, Dr. Rice is that this is worth giving it a shot.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, if this is the way to go, to bring back some of the old guard — and General Myers made it clear today they're going to vet them and make sure there aren't people there with blood on their hands — have we wasted the last year in all our efforts to build up a new Iraqi army?

BIDEN: You know, it's easy to Monday morning quarterback, and I'm going to say yes, and people are going to say, well, God, that's easy to know now. But at the time I said, and others said, speaking with Mr. Bremer in Baghdad, that we thought it was a serious mistake, Democrat and Republican alike, to completely disband the Iraqi army, anyone who had been had any part of being a member of the Baath Party. And I think we're belatedly correcting that mistake. Hopefully, we don't over-correct that mistake.

But I happen to agree with Mitch. I think that, in fact, unless we — look, there is no way you're going to bring stability to Iraq unless you invest the 20 percent of the population that is Sunni in the deal. So you have to assume somewhere along the line you've got to build some legitimate Sunni support for a new Iraqi state and a legitimate Sunni support for doing away with these incredibly divisive elements in the community.

So, I'm not on the ground. I tend to — I trust those guys on the ground. I think it's worth the try of doing this. And I agree with Mitch. I don't think it's something that takes away the ultimate option of what may have to be done.

But the bottom line is we cannot want stability in Iraq more than the Iraqi people. And unless we can find over the next year a significant portion of the Sunni population that's ready to invest in a idea of a democracy in Iraq, we're in real big trouble.

WALLACE: Senators, we're going to have to leave it there. Senator Biden, Senator McConnell, thank you both so much for joining us today.