Transcript: Gen. Hayden on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the April 19, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: The controversy over the methods used to question top Al Qaeda operatives ignited again this week with the release of Justice Department memos authorizing tough interrogations.

Joining us now is General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA until just three months ago.

And, General, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."


WALLACE: The White House says that four former CIA directors, including you, all advised against the release of these so-called torture memos. Specifically, what were you asked and what did you say?

HAYDEN: I wasn't asked. We weren't asked. We were informed as a courtesy by the agency that this was a pending decision, and all of us self-initiated, voluntarily, to call the White House and express our views.

I should add, too, that the current director, Director Panetta, shared our views. I mean, if you look — if you look at what this really comprises, if you look at the documents that have been made public, it says top secret at the top. The definition of top secret is information which, if revealed, would cause grave harm to U.S. security.

And you had the current director and, according to the press accounts, his four previous predecessors all saying that those documents were appropriately classified, which means that they viewed the documents as — the release of them would be a grave threat to national security.

Now, the president made a different decision fully within his authority. The president is the ultimate classification authority.

WALLACE: I just want to make this clear. Who did you speak to at the White House?

HAYDEN: I called the White House counsel, the national security adviser, the deputy national security adviser.

WALLACE: You spoke to them all?


WALLACE: And you said this would be a grave threat to national security to...

HAYDEN: I probably didn't use those words, but I marshaled the arguments as to why I thought it would make America less safe.

WALLACE: Now, we should point out that you were CIA director starting in 2006, which means that you came in after these memos, and you came in after almost all of these interrogations took place.

But I do want to ask you — explain the practical effect that you believe of how the release of these memos will help Al Qaeda train its recruits, train its operatives, to stand up to future interrogations.

HAYDEN: Sure. At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an Al Qaeda terrorist. That's very valuable information.

Now, it doesn't mean we would always go to those outer limits, but it describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond.

To me, that's very useful for our enemies, even if, as a policy matter, this president at this time had decided not to use one, any, or all of those techniques. It still reveals those outer limits, and that's very important.

WALLACE: Now, the president says, and his people say, this has basically all been in the press already.

HAYDEN: There's a difference. There's a difference of leaks, and rumors, and rumors of this and that, and going out there and defining in an absolutely clear way what the limits are.

I mean, if that were the rationale — "Oh, it's already out there" — any time there was a leak of classified information, you would seem to argue then that we have to go out there and give the full story. I mean, that doesn't make sense on its face.

WALLACE: Now, President Obama has ordered a review of interrogation techniques beyond the Army Field Manual. Can they find some techniques that meet his standards and that will still be effective in getting the information we need?

HAYDEN: I don't know. What — I mean, it's not an unlimited universe of techniques that we would find acceptable as a people.

And what we have practically done is taken this body of techniques off the table even while this study is under way. That was one of the things that I discussed with White House officials.

This seems to moot the president's own commission to decide whether or not the techniques of the Army Field Manual are adequate in all cases.

WALLACE: So are you suggesting that we no longer will have, whatever he decides on, the ability to extract the information we need?

HAYDEN: I think that teaching our enemies our outer limits, by taking techniques off the table, we have made it more difficult in a whole host of circumstances I can imagine, more difficult for CIA officers to defend the nation.

There's another point, too, that I have to make. And it's just not the tactical effect of this technique or that. It's the broader effect on CIA officers.

I mean, if you're a current CIA officer today — in fact, I know this has happened at the agency after the release of these documents. Officers are saying, "The things I'm doing now — will this happen to me in five year because of the things I am doing now?"

And the answer they've been given by senior leadership is the only answer possible, which is, "I can't guarantee you that won't happen, but I do know it won't happen under this president."

Now, think what that means. The basic foundation of the legitimacy of the agency's action has shifted from some durability of law to a product of the American political process. That puts agency officers in a horrible position.

So I think the really dangerous effect of this, Chris, is that you will have agency officers stepping back from the kinds of things that the nation expects them to do. I mean, if you were to go to an agency officer today and say, "Go do this," and, "Why am I authorized to do this?"

And I say, "Well, it's authorized by the president. The attorney general says it's lawful. And it's been briefed to Congress." That agency officer's going to say, "Yeah, I know, but I see what's going on here now. Have you run it by the ACLU? What's the New York Times editorial board think? Have you discussed this with any potential presidential candidates?"

You're going to have this agency on the front line of defending you in this current war playing back from the line.

WALLACE: Now, is this just you saying this, or is this what — you have talked to current CIA officials and operatives who are saying that this is their mindset?

HAYDEN: I don't — I don't want to betray any particular confidences, but I am confident this is the thought process going on in the agency now.

WALLACE: Not only, as you point out, did the president go against four former directors of the CIA, as you point out he also went against the current CIA director, Leon Panetta.

And here's how White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded this week to the claims that the release of these documents makes the country less safe. Here it is.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is the use of those techniques, the use of those techniques in the view of the world, that have made us less safe.


WALLACE: What does that tell you about President Obama's approach to the war on terror?

HAYDEN: It's difficult for me to judge the president. I don't think I would do that. But Mr. Gibbs' comments bring another reality fully in front of us. It's what I'll call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, a really inconvenient truth.

Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, "I don't want my nation doing this," which is a purely honorable position, "and they didn't work anyway." That back half of the sentence isn't true.

The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work. The president's speech, President Bush in September of '06, outlined how one detainee led to another, led to another, with the use of these techniques.

The honorable position you have to take if you want us not to do this — and believe me, if the nation says, "Don't do it," the CIA won't do it. The honorable position has to be, "Even though these techniques worked, I don't want you to do that." That takes courage. The other sentence doesn't.

WALLACE: Let me — let me get directly to this, because I think it is one of the key issues. Did these techniques work? In Friday's Wall Street Journal, you and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote an article. And let's put up what you said.

You wrote, "As late as 2006, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations."

But the New York Times reports that all the information that Abu Zubaydah, the first one who went through all of these techniques — all of the information he gave up came before he was subjected to waterboarding, before he was slapped, before he was slammed against a wall. And it says after the harsher enhanced interrogation, he gave up nothing.

HAYDEN: I should correct you — before he was slammed against a false flexible wall with something wrapped around his neck so that he would not be injured.

In September 2006, President Bush gave a speech on the Abu Zubaydah case. He pointed out that he — Zubaydah gave us nominal information, probably more valuable than he thought. He clammed up. The decision was made to use techniques.

After that decision was made and the techniques were used, he gave up more valuable information, including the information that led to the arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh. After the New York Times story yesterday, I called a few friends to make sure my memory was correct, and I guess, to quote somebody from your profession, we stand by our story.

The critical information we got from Abu Zubaydah came after we began the EITs.


HAYDEN: The enhanced interrogation techniques.

WALLACE: Not before.


WALLACE: One of the concerns about the memos is the lengths to which the Justice Department went to justify some of the techniques.

I want to put up a 2002 memo that defended waterboarding. "Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of immediate death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition on infliction of severe mental pain or suffering."

Question: Are you satisfied that waterboarding is not torture?

HAYDEN: I'm satisfied that the Justice Department, in a series of opinions — '02, '03, '05 — said that it was not. Now...

WALLACE: Well, we know that.

HAYDEN: But keep in mind, waterboarding had not been using since the spring of 2003. Waterboarding was one of the techniques that I took off the table formally and officially when I became director and reshaped the program.

WALLACE: Because you thought it was torture?

HAYDEN: No. I reshaped the program because the legal landscape had changed, the operational landscape had changed, and we knew more about Al Qaeda, all right, and the sense of threat under which we were operating had changed.


HAYDEN: I never — I never committed the agency to using waterboarding, and I've been asked this question before. I had to make my own tough decisions. I thank God I didn't have to make the kinds of decisions that my predecessors had to make in 2002 and 2003.

WALLACE: But here, I think, is the question that some of the critics, some of the people who don't like what was done, would say. The international standard is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The CIA standard is treatment that would shock the conscience. According to a report that's out today — and maybe you can confirm this. Is it true that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month?

HAYDEN: The president has made public some aspects of the CIA interrogation program. Other aspects he has not. And these — this is one of the operational details that has not been declassified, so I'm not at liberty to talk about it.

WALLACE: Can you say honestly that waterboarding does not shock the conscience?

HAYDEN: Well, first of all, you said the CIA standard is shock the conscience. Actually, that's not quite correct. That's the American standard.

If you look at the legislative history, the international treaty obligations were all tied in to the provisions against cruel and inhuman punishment in the 5th, 8th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which collectively are described as do they or do they not shock the conscience.

That isn't our standard. That's the standard in American law. We are a customer of the Department of Justice.

WALLACE: So answer my question. Does it shock the conscience?

HAYDEN: It would depend on the circumstances. That's why Judge Mukasey could not answer the question during his confirmation hearing. It shocked — you have to know the totality of circumstances in which something takes place before you can judge whether or not it shocks the conscience.

WALLACE: Meaning how important the information is?

HAYDEN: Right, all of those things. What is the imminent threat to the nation? Look, again, I thank God I never had to make that tough decision.

WALLACE: Let me ask you a couple of questions. We're beginning to run out of time. One more on this, and then on a couple of other subjects.

President Obama says there will be no prosecution of CIA officers who relied on these memos. Is that the end of it, or do you expect something further in terms of congressional investigations and more lawsuits?

HAYDEN: Oh, God, no, it's not the end of it. If you look at the letters that Director Panetta and Director Blair put out to the intelligence community workforce, near the end of both letters they make it very clear — I mean, literally, explicitly say — this is not the end of it.

In fact, they suggest it's just the beginning. There will be more revelations. There will be more commissions. There will be more investigations. And this to an agency, again, I repeat, that is at war and is on the front lines defending America.

WALLACE: I want to turn briefly to the president and his meeting at the Summit of the Americas right now. Some people see a possible thaw in relations with Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro late this week talked about that his country is willing to discuss human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners.

Having left the CIA just three months ago, how seriously do you take the idea that this regime in Cuba might relax its repression of its own people?

HAYDEN: I wouldn't be overconfident about it. But I do think increased contacts with the United States will actually create the kinds of pressures on the regime that we would like to see anyway.

WALLACE: So you would favor engagement.

HAYDEN: I would.

WALLACE: And when you say you wouldn't be overly confident, are you saying that you see some pressures to increase — to relax repression?

HAYDEN: I've seen — I've seen no relaxation of oppression. All right. Now, we've used some of the tools that we have available to us as a nation to try to effect that kind of change.

Additional contacts, exposure of the Cuban people to the American people — all those kinds of things may actually increase the pressure on the regime to relax its oppression and to change its behavior.

I think we ought to go about this step by step. We shouldn't jump into the deep end of the pool right away. But it will be interesting to see how this play out.

WALLACE: And finally, Hugo Chavez, meeting with the president, is now talking about the two countries, the U.S. and Venezuela, restoring their ambassadors to each other's capitals.

From your time in the CIA, do you see any indication that there might be a change of heart on the part of Mr. Chavez?

HAYDEN: Here's a case where I would watch for behavior, not for rhetoric. And the behavior of President Chavez over the past years has been downright horrendous both internationally and with regard to what he's done internally inside Venezuela.

WALLACE: So you don't buy it.

HAYDEN: Well, there are a lot of options out there, but I wouldn't say I'm overconfident about this.

WALLACE: General Hayden, we want to thank you for coming in. Thank you for sharing your views with us. It's always a pleasure to have you, sir. Please come back.

HAYDEN: Thanks. Thanks, Chris.

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