O'Reilly Debates Christopher Hitchens About Coerced Interrogation, Water-Boarding

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," January 12, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Unresolved" problem segment tonight: the controversy over coerced interrogation of captured terror suspects.

According to a Pew poll, 48 percent of Americans say tough interrogation methods are justified. About 50 percent say they're not. As far as water-boarding is concerned, a CNN poll says 69 percent of Americans consider that torture; 29 percent do not, including Dick Cheney.

Now last night on the program "24," rough treatment of captured terrorists took center stage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you torture Mr. Haddad?

KIEFER SUTHERLAND, "JACK BAUER": According to the definitions set forth by the Geneva Convention, yes, I did. Ibrahim Haddad had targeted a bus carrying 45 people, 10 of which were children. The truth, senator, is I stopped that attack from happening. Please do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions that I have made, because, sir, the truth is, I don't.


O'REILLY: Joining us now from Washington, a man who was water-boarded himself, Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair magazine.

Now you hang out with some liberal people — I want to be polite tonight — writing for Vanity Fair. And do you think that the people who object to any use of coerced interrogation, anything at all — they want Army Field Manual — really believe their theory trumps human life, or is it just posturing?

Click here to watch the debate!

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, VANITY FAIR COLUMNIST: Well, you could put the same question to Senator McCain after all if you think about it. I'm not dodging your question, but I will point out though there that attitudes to things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are not very neatly aligned or allotted.

I, for example, strongly believe — whereas most of my colleagues don't — that the war in Iraq was — the intervention in Iraq, I'd rather say, was both just and necessary. And if — it's main thought was being overdue and delayed. But I'm very strongly opposed to what happened at Abu Ghraib, where people weren't even trying to get information.

O'REILLY: Yes, Abu Ghraib is — nobody's justifying that.

HITCHENS: They weren't even trying for information. That was recreational sadism.

O'REILLY: Well, our position is clear.

HITCHENS: And I think…

O'REILLY: Our position here is very clear. Only the president of the United States should have the authority to order coerced interrogation when lives are at stake or he deems or she deems they are. That's all. No…

HITCHENS: As long as they'll take responsibility for what they've ordered.

O'REILLY: That's correct.


O'REILLY: They should have the legal authority to do so, but the left does not believe that. The far left does not believe that.

HITCHENS: But then, let me ask you, perhaps you think it's ill-mannered to reply to a question with a question. But if you establish this basis at Guantanamo on the soil of a foreign country, you know, in other words, away from any known jurisdiction, doesn't it look as if you're trying to evade both American and international law? And the point about the Geneva Conventions just mentioned in that clip of yours is we don't just sign those conventions. We're the reason other countries sign it.

O'REILLY: Well, there's two things in play, and I'm glad you asked the question.

HITCHENS: We made it a condition that other people sign it, too. It's not just…

O'REILLY: OK, but the Geneva Convention clearly states we're dealing with people in uniform, not terrorist civilians targeting civilians, No. 1. And that's something the left just ignores all the time.

As far as Guantanamo's concerned, I've been there twice. There's an international Red Cross office right by the wire. It's inside. So that there is an international monitor there to see if there is any problem, any abuse. And the prisoners have access to those people.

HITCHENS: Yes, I have been there, too. And I've got — that office is there, but it wasn't there at some rather questionable moments.

O'REILLY: All right. But let's advance the story.

HITCHENS: There are two issues here. One is, is it moral? The other is, is it any use? Now the Bauer point just being made is the old ticking bomb question, almost never comes up. You almost never know, but practically I don't think there's ever been a proper instance of it.

O'REILLY: But it did with Khalid Sheik Mohammed. It came up with Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

HITCHENS: We know — no, we don't know this to be true.

O'REILLY: Well, that's what George Tenet told me.

HITCHENS: He knew of a bomb about to go off. We do know that.

O'REILLY: George Tenet told me, the head of the CIA at the time, that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was water-boarded only one of three, according to Tenet, who knows, obviously. And that they did it because lives were in imminent danger. And because they water-boarded and broke him doing that, they saved tens of thousands of lives. That's what Tenet says.

HITCHENS: Now suppose — yes. Now, OK, now suppose, I think Mr. Tenet is the man who's first reaction to seeing the World Trade Center go down was to say gee, I hope it wasn't those guys in the flight schools in the Midwest. Mr. Tenet said the whole existence of the CIA was a disgrace. I wouldn't take his word for anything. But suppose it to be true…

O'REILLY: But he's on the record.

HITCHENS: Suppose it to be true. You can't make a general practice out of an exceptional case. Suppose you did find a ticking bomb case, it doesn't mean you can make water-boarding part of your routine. It's the same.

O'REILLY: The president was only one man. And he should have the legal authority to do so. And you, as a level-headed guy who understands the danger, I don't know why you'd object to that.

HITCHENS: In the second World War, the British had a special prison for captured Nazi spies. And you were fired in that prison if you even raised a hand or you even threatened violence.

O'REILLY: All right.

HITCHENS: This was a time — London was being bombed every single night.

O'REILLY: All right. Mr. Hitchens, listen, we respect your point of view. I'm just putting forth mine. And we'll let the folks decide as always. And we thank you for coming on.

HITCHENS: We should — we barely got our trousers off. We should pursue this.

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