The Politics of Torture

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," April 24, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Moments ago, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich went "On the Record." The Speaker and former vice president Al Gore both gave testimony to Congress today about climate change.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: So you were, what, duking it out today with former vice president Al Gore on Capitol Hill?

GINGRICH: Well, he went first, and then I tried to correct the record, so...

VAN SUSTEREN: Of course!


VAN SUSTEREN: Of course I knew you'd say that. Actually, he should have gone second. That would have been smarter to do. It's always better to go second.

GINGRICH: Well, I would have thought so, but they, I think, wanted -- they started off with him and then Congressman Barton asked if I could also speak, and they put me on as a second panelists. So I was -- you know, I was honored to talk to the committee about the bill they're trying to do and to point out to them that it probably is a $1.9 trillion tax increase that...

VAN SUSTEREN: You're talking about cap-and-trade.

GINGRICH: Cap-and-trade actually turns into an energy tax, and it's probably about a $1.9 trillion tax increase on the American people over the next decade.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, do you agree with former vice president Gore that we should have a lot of focus, or at least a significant amount of focus on our environment?

GINGRICH: Oh, sure. I...


VAN SUSTEREN: You disagree on how to get there, right?

GINGRICH: Well, it's kind of funny. I used to teach environmental studies. I wrote a book called "Contract With the Earth." I actually (INAUDIBLE) the second Earth Day. But the question is whether you try to get there by incentives and rewards and by better science, or you try to build a giant bureaucracy and punish people. There's a 646-page bill which actually has a section on jacuzzis. Now, you know, maybe I'm just too conservative, but the idea that the federal government, with everything we got going, is going to worry about regulating jacuzzis...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if any...

GINGRICH: ... just strikes me as nuts.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any -- I mean, since both you and the vice president agree that we should pay a lot of attention to issues involving our environment, you just have different ways on how you get there, what about the two of you just talking to each other and working it out?

GINGRICH: I think it would be great. I did a commercial with Speaker Pelosi that shocked some people.

VAN SUSTEREN: I got the picture of it!

GINGRICH: Yes. I mean, at -- you know, at Al Gore's request. I mean, he called me and said would I do this, and I said, Sure. I think it's an important topic.

I have suggested that we have an inquiry on every high school and college campus in October this year -- and I am asking Vice President Gore to join me in sponsoring it -- and have young people talk about their future, talk about the facts of the environment, and look at multiple paths. There's not only one way to solve this. There are three or four different tracks that have different consequences. And this is so central to the future of young people, I think they should be involved in the dialogue. So I'm hoping that Vice President -- I mentioned this today, and I hope that Vice President Gore will decide to join us in a totally non- partisan inquiry and encourage every high school and every college in the country in October to spend some time looking at the facts about both the environment and what the options are.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so the code word (INAUDIBLE) "solutions."


VAN SUSTEREN: So it's -- OK, that's your code word. All right, now, waterboarding -- is that torture?

GINGRICH: I think it's something we shouldn't do.

VAN SUSTEREN: Should not do.

GINGRICH: Should not do. I've been very deeply influenced by John McCain, who was a prisoner, by Chuck Boyd, retired Air Force four-star general, who was a prisoner, and by Jim Jones. And Boyd and Jones and I talked about this at length several years ago.

I do think the United States should be very careful about the things we do. I think, frankly, releasing the documents last week was a big mistake. Releasing the pictures is, I think, a dumb mistake. But I want to see the United States run the risk, at times, of not learning certain things in order to establish a standard for civilization.

Now, remember, the people we're talking about are criminals. They're outside the law. They're not wearing a uniform. They're not part of a regular army. They're not engaged in anything that's called the law of warfare. Historically, they have been automatically subject to being shot because if you're not in uniform and you're an enemy combatant, you are deemed automatically to be the equivalent of a spy. The same thing goes with piracy, which is historically outside the law.

But I think as a matter of our own self-respect, we historically have been very careful about this. I'm just finishing a novel that'll come out in October about George Washington crossing the Delaware and winning a huge victory on the day after Christmas in 1776. Washington issued very strict rules, to be charitable towards prisoners, to be careful about treating them humanely, to draw a distinction between the way the Europeans mercenaries dealt with our men and the way Americans deal with other prisoners.

And I think Washington was closer to right. So I'm not going to defend any of these practices, but I do think the way the administration has approached it weakens the United States And I think that they have gratuitously done things that were not needed.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, I'm going to ask you specifically about whether or not you think we should have a commission to investigate this because, obviously, this is -- it's a huge controversy that has now consumed -- you know, consumed the nation about this very issue. We'll be right back.


VAN SUSTEREN: More with speaker Gingrich coming up.

Plus: Is he using his son as a prop? Sergeant Drew Peterson trots his son out to get asked this question: Do you believe your father murdered your mother? Well, what did his son say? You will hear the son yourself. We're going to show you the tape.


VAN SUSTEREN: Continuing now with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, it seems like right now in Washington, everyone's sort of, like, you know, diving for cover on this whole issue of waterboarding, torture, hearings, independent commission. Earlier today, you -- at least you were quoted earlier today. It says, "I think the White House should adopt a resolution that no documents relating to any of the briefings to the House should be destroyed until there's a thorough investigation." That what you said?

GINGRICH: Well, that specifically relates to the fact that Speaker Pelosi claims she wasn't briefed. Other people claim she has been briefed. Now, it's possible that she was briefed and didn't understand it. But I think there are a number of Democrats who knew at every stage starting in 2000 what was going on. She was one of the people who would have been briefed. She has served on the committee of eight, which in -- which I served on as Speaker, and that committee leans everything that matters in intelligence operations. So it's not that people in Congress didn't know.

And I think there's something outrageous verging on suicidal about placing this issue where it is. The Taliban is making progress in Pakistan, and may, in fact, break the back of Pakistan as a country. And that's a country with nuclear weapons. The Iranians have announced they have 7,300 centrifuges. They're building nuclear weapons. The North Koreans have fired a missile. They have nuclear weapons. In the face of that kind of danger -- Hamas every day tries fires -- tries to fire missiles into Israel. In the face of that kind of world, there are people in Washington who think the most important thing we can do is go back and find out whether non-lethal -- remember, these were all non-lethal activities. They have been tough...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you said a minute ago...

GINGRICH: ... but they weren't...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... that it was torture, waterboarding...


GINGRICH: No, I said it's not something we should do.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Is it torture or not?

GINGRICH: I -- I -- I think it's -- I can't tell you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does it violate the Geneva Convention?

GINGRICH: I honestly don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about the Army Field Manual?

GINGRICH: Oh, it's different than the Army Field Manual. But remember, the Army Field Manual is designed to be used in the field by any soldier anywhere in the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm just trying to understand where you stand on it.

GINGRICH: I think -- I think that there -- I am exactly where Senator McCain was. Senator McCain said there are very rare circumstances where extreme measures should be used, and those circumstances should be personally signed by the president as commander-in-chief. And a good example is if you pick up somebody who has planted a nuclear weapon in Washington or New York or Los Angeles or Atlanta and you're trying to find out in the next three hours where is the nuclear weapon, the president of the United States may well authorize remarkably tough measures because a hundred thousand or a half million lives are at stake.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that your understanding of how it happened here? Because, I mean, frankly, there's so much confusion now because I -- it seems like everyone's sort of running for cover on this issue in terms of just trying to figure out, you know, who said what and did what and believed what, whether it's a good idea, bad idea. Everyone's running for cover on it.

GINGRICH: Well, it's a sad thing to watch President Obama crumble under pressure from his left. President Obama said publicly he did not believe anybody who was executing what they had been told were lawful orders -- the attorneys that the United States government used said these are lawful orders, so people engaged in defending the United States in the period of crisis immediately after 9/11, when there was a genuine fear that al Qaeda was trying to get a nuclear weapon. Now...

VAN SUSTEREN: Should lawyers be making that decision? I mean, lawyers...


GINGRICH: Lawyers have to make a -- you have to turn to somebody and say, Is this inside the law or not?

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it inside the law? I mean, that's (INAUDIBLE) Is it inside the law?

GINGRICH: I think -- I think it's debatable. Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law. Other lawyers say it absolutely is not. I mean, this is a debatable area.

But the deeper question I have is -- everybody's agreed we're not doing now. Everybody's agreed we've adopted a stricter set of rules. I would hope that President Obama would not give up whatever tools he needed to defend America if it might mean the loss of an American city.

And I think the question now is, why are they not willing to talk seriously about what North Korea is doing, what al Qaeda is doing, the Taliban are doing in Pakistan, what is happening in Iran, what is happening with Hamas? Anything which is a real threat, they don't talk about.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's talk about...

GINGRICH: But they're eager to talk about things that aren't a real threat.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's talk about Pakistan because things have heated up in Pakistan. The Taliban, at least -- now there's a report today that they're retreating a bit, but the fact that they've been moving in in Pakistan, in some areas, even moreso, extraordinarily disturbing.

GINGRICH: Well, what people have to worry about is not that the Taliban is going to come out in the open field with an army. What they have to worry about is that every week that goes by, more and more Islamist extremists in the cities are migrating to join the Taliban. And you may presently see an explosion of the cities.

VAN SUSTEREN: And which (INAUDIBLE) with a country that has a nuclear weapon and hates India next door, it's not a -- a...

GINGRICH: Well, hates India, doesn't particularly like Afghanistan because President Karzai was educated in India, has a deep distrust of the United States. I think people have to understand how dangerous this is. I think, personally, that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world. I think that they have more nuclear weapons available today than Iran will have in a decade or that Korea will have in a decade. We don't know what's going to happen there.

People I talk to say because the U.S. Congress cut off all military education for a decade, all -- there's a whole generation of younger officers who have no real connection to the United States. And so when you get below the general officers to the colonels and the majors and the lieutenant colonels, you're seeing people who are more extremist, more anti-American, more potentially capable of a coup. And I worry about what's going to happen in Pakistan, and none of the indicators are good. There's no indicator that we are gaining ground in Pakistan. And if you lose Pakistan, you're going to lose Afghanistan because you have no corridor to get there. You have no capacity to sustain your logistics.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, thank you, sir.

GINGRICH: Thank you.


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