'Special Report' Panel on Obama Administration Releasing Documents from the Bush Era That Were Once Classified Top Secret

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from April 16, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I want the administration to do well. This is fundamentally and at a very deep level a very disappointing decision. It provides assistance — no matter how you look at it, it provides assistance to the enemy.


BAIER: What's he talking about there? As President Obama arrived in Mexico today, his administration was releasing a host of documents from the Bush era. They were once all classified top secret.

They outlined many of the controversial techniques used to gain information from Al Qaeda operatives.

Here is what the president said in a released statement — "Withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time.

In releasing these memos it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. This is a time for reflection, not retribution.

I respect the strong views and the motions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history."

That, plus an issue of surveillance, all on the table today. 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 with these documents, their release. What does it mean?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it does harm the United States. It gives away a lot of our techniques. And I disagree. I don't see it as a dark chapter in our history at all.

You look at some of these techniques — holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning.

I would concede that one technique, simulated drowning, you could call torture, even though the memos imply that legally it didn't meet that definition. I'm agnostic on the legalism.

BAIER: You're talking about waterboarding?

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. But let's concede that it's a form of torture. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use it in two cases, that the ticking time bomb, if an innocent is at risk and you've got a terrorist that has information that would save that innocent and isn't speaking. That's an open and shut easy case.

A second case is a high-level Al Qaeda operative, a terrorist, who knows names and places and numbers and plans and safe houses and all that, and by using techniques to get information, you're saving lives.

If I have to weigh on the one hand the numberless and nameless lives saved in America by the use of these techniques, and we had a CIA director who told us that these techniques on these high-level terrorists was extremely effective in giving us information.

If you have to weigh on one hand that the numberless and nameless lives saved, against the 30 seconds or so of terror in the eyes of a terrorist who is suffering this technique, I think the moral choice is easy.

It's not a dark chapter in our history. It is a successful one. We have not had a second attack, and largely because of this.

BAIER: Mara, what about this decision to release these notes?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: First of all, I don't think the White House had much choice. They did have a judge who was ruling in a lawsuit on this —

BAIER: Brought by the ACLU.

LIASSON: The White House view is that sooner or later these memos were going to have to be released.

There is really two parts of what happened today. One was the release of these memos, and two was the fact that the president said now, officially, on the record, that nobody will be prosecuted for having participated in these interrogation techniques, which I think is really significant.

He has said all along he wants to look forward and not backward, but now he has made it official.

It is not clear that the Obama administration has outlawed each and every one of these practices. Now, clearly they have said that they think waterboarding is torture and we can assume they won't be doing any more of that.

But it is not clear to me that there will never, ever be a time when some CIA operative working under the Obama administration does any number of these things.

When Leon Panetta testified at his confirmation hearings and he was asked about enhanced interrogation techniques and whether he would ever go further than what's proscribed in the Army Field Manual, or whatever it is, he said that if he didn't think that the techniques were working to get information from someone who he thought had knowledge of an imminent attack, he would ask for more authority.

In other words, I don't think that the ban on these practices is as across the board as it seems.

BAIER: And from the memos, Bill, we learned about a caterpillar in a box. That's a new one, from what I've seen — you?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": One of the high-value terrorists was scared of insects, so they put a caterpillar in the box , the small cell he was in.

I agree with Charles. This was not a dark and, what did Obama say? A dark and painful chapter in our history. I think it's just moral preening on the president's part. He releases — it's also pandering to his left wing and to the ACLU.

He could have contested this in court. I think he had a good chance to win the court case. There is not much precedent for courts ordering administrations to release previously classified Office of Legal Council memos.

This administration doesn't release unclassified LOC memos. Remember that memo that said that the Washington D.C. legislation to give the Washington D.C. a seat in Congress would be unconstitutional. They haven't released that memo. They don't routinely release internal government documents.

This is a pander to the left. I think it's really pathetic for an American president to do that, and to disavow, in effect, the good faith efforts of a previous administration to protect us in ways that I think were entirely appropriate.

BAIER: I want to ask about this other story. There was the front page of "The New York Times" about surveillance. And it raised a lot of eyebrows here in Washington, got a lot of people fired up that the U.S. was listening in to more Americans in this surveillance program.

KRISTOL: It was on the front page of "The New York Times." "The New York Times" has been on a crusade against this perfectly legal surveillance program for three or four years. They have done some damage, I suspect, to our national security by releasing information about it early on.

And now they have gotten a few wrong numbers and have surveilled a few people that they shouldn't have, and they reported that, and they stopped doing it. And nothing was done with any of this information anyway. It is utterly ludicrous.

Here is the bottom line of both these stories. Are we fighting a war or not? President Obama said this is a time for reflection, not retribution. Isn't that nice, reflection? We are in the middle of a war! It is not a time for reflection to keep the country safe.

LIASSON: He was talking about not having retribution against CIA operatives —

KRISTOL: It's very big of the president of the United States not to take action against patriotic Americans who have been serving their country in the last six or seven years. This is the pass we have come to? We are grateful that President Obama isn't going to prosecute CIA agents? I mean, really.

KRAUTHAMMER: And not only cast aspersions on the CIA as a deterrent as people actually acting in good faith, but look what it does to lawyers in the White House, in the Justice Department in the future who are going to think everything I write in giving a recommendation is going to end up in public and I will be pilloried and hunted all of my life as a result.

What kind of honest information and advice are you going to get in those circumstances?

BAIER: Mara, very quickly, does this, everything that happened today in any way stymie the efforts in Congress to go after these efforts to look back at what the Bush administration did?

LIASSON: Yes, actually. I think the president is saying we won't prosecute CIA personnel for doing this. Yes, I think it does stymie them.

I think they can still have hearings if they want to. John Conyers or Pat Leahy can still have hearings. But nobody will be prosecuted.

KRAUTHAMMER: It will, in fact, stimulate hearings. I think it will occasion hearings.

BAIER: The president's head of Homeland Security is telling veterans she's sorry.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: To the extent veterans read it as an accusation, it is — an apology is owed. We greatly respect our veterans.


BAIER: So is the panel convinced? We'll find out next.



NAPOLITANO: The last thing we want to do is offend or castigate all veterans. To the contrary, let's meet and clear the air.

I was briefed on it. I'm not running away from it. But I will say it was an assessment. It was not an accusation.

REP. LAMAR SMITH, (R) TEXAS: The administration is way, way off base. And it looks like to me they're engaging in some kind of political profiling when it comes to conservatives. And that's what really disturbs me as much as anything else.


BAIER: What are they talking about? A report from the Department of Homeland Security warning that returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan could be recruits for right wing extremist groups.

Today the Secretary of Homeland Security apologized to veterans if they were offended.

We're back with the panel — Bill, your take?

KRISTOL: I think veterans have a right to be offended, and they should be offended.

And the Obama administration has put out a juvenile report which does reveal something, I think, about the way they think about veterans, you know, that based on all these movies from the Vietnam era these guys are pathological killers who are one step away from unleashing, and that this is something to worry about with the vets coming back.

For whatever it's worth, studies show that veterans are much less likely to commit crimes than male non-veterans of the same age group. And she really should apologize to veterans.

Steve Hayes, our friend, my colleague Steve Hayes, talked to a wounded vet who came back from Iraq today, who said to him — he dismissed that he was not going to get angry or indignant about it. It's just silly.

But he said I went to Iraq to fight terrorists who are trying to kill Americans and trying to kill Iraqis. And now I come back to my own country, and my government seems to think I'm a threat to become a terrorist.

BAIER: Mara?

LIASSON: Look, I think that her apology was correct and it was a real one.

There also was this report on left-wing extremists who might recruit among the environmental movement to do some kind of either animal rights or some kind of violent, extreme environmental activity.

But, the environmental movement didn't get upset, which they could have, you know. They could have felt that they were targeted too.

Look, I think any time you do anything with returning veterans who, of course, should be honored at every turn, it can cause controversy. But I think that Janet Napolitano did the right thing today.

KRAUTHAMMER: I love the way she says "I don't want to offend or castigate all veterans," as if she wants to offend or castigate some veterans, meaning the right wing ones or the conservative ones.

And then she goes ahead and cites Oklahoma City as an example, which I think is at demonstration of the paranoid style of thinking on the American left.

At the time of Oklahoma City, it was attributed widely, implied that that was a result of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, the angry white male, the '94 Republican revolution, and that somehow when you get those developments, particularly at the grass roots, it's an indication of insurrection or treason or extremism.

That's absurd. At the time, they were warning us about the Michigan militias, remember, who were going to come out of the hills, lay waste to American democracy. That was a decade and a half ago, and I'm still waiting for that Michigan militia. It's that same mindset all over again.

Look, at a time when Al Qaeda is out there, there are terrorists out there, jihadists out there who really want to get us and who have attacked all over the world since 9/11. When you worry about tree hugging environmentalists or soldiers returning who might end up as right wing extremists, I think your priorities are completely wrong and skewed.

BAIER: Mara, the administration was sensitive to it today.

LIASSON: There's a note out about it.

I think they should be. This administration has worked very hard to have good relations to with the military, to have good regulation relations with veterans. They don't want to repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton. And this would set them back.

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