Transcript: Sens. Bond, Levin on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the April 26, 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 debate over the CIA's interrogation program intensified this week with President Obama opening the door to possible prosecution of top Bush advisers.

Joining us now, two men at the center of the debate — from Detroit, the Democratic chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, and here in studio, the top Republican on Senate Intelligence, Kit Bond.

Well, the Pentagon now says that it's going to release hundreds of photos of alleged abuse of detainees by U.S. personnel, this after, of course, the release of the interrogation memos.

Senator Bond, how serious is the threat of a backlash in the Middle East and the recruitment of more terrorists, possibly endangering U.S. soldiers in that part of the world?

SEN. KIT BOND, R-MO.: I think it's very great. I agree with Secretary Gates, the secretary of defense, who said essentially that this past week.

Any time we give them more information, particularly when we put the president's stamp on it, it will have the same impact that the rogue criminal acts of our soldiers at Abu Ghraib had.

WALLACE: So you believe that this could endanger U.S. military personnel.

BOND: I don't think there's any question it would endanger all of us, because I think it will enhance recruitment for all kinds of terrorists willing could come after us.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, Defense Secretary Gates favored the release of the memos, but he, too, worries about the possibility that the release of this — and he wasn't asked, but I'm sure he would say the release of those photos next month could endanger U.S. troops.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: What happened at Abu Ghraib is what endangers our troops. It's the practices that were authorized by high-level civilian people in the Bush administration which endangers our troops. That's why people like General Petraeus are so much in favor of using proper techniques when it comes to interrogation, and so the threat to our troops came when these techniques, these coercive and abusive techniques, were authorized by top- level administration officials.

Rumsfeld specifically authorized these kind of techniques of nudity, use of dog handlers. In Guantanamo, they went directly to Abu Ghraib. Our bipartisan report, 200-page report, directly connects the authorization for the use of these techniques in Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib. That is what endangers our troops.

WALLACE: Senator Bond?

BOND: First, Carl, I would say that there's a very strong dissent from five members of your — of your committee who said that your report was fallacious, it's counterproductive, and your report itself is the one that offers the greatest opportunity for negative publicity and the high- level abusive techniques that you talked about — standing for — one detainee was — authorized to keep him standing, put him on MREs. And I hardly think that has anything to do with the illegal acts at Abu Ghraib.

WALLACE: Well, in any...

LEVIN: I — I've got to...

WALLACE: Let — let — wait, wait...

LEVIN: ... I've got to answer that. I've got to answer that...

WALLACE: Well, Senator, we can go back and...

LEVIN: ... because I've got...

WALLACE: ... forth. You already made the statement, and he — let me ask you a question. You can answer it this...

LEVIN: No, no. I want to — I've got to answer that specific thing, because I'm chairman of the committee. There was no objection to this report. Seven Republicans were there when we voted on it. Not one dissented. We had months and months of opportunity for any dissenting views.

That's the report. It's a unanimous report of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republicans specifically were there when this was approved, had every opportunity to file a dissent, did not do that.

And it seems to me that it is clearly the action of a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee. And they now, a few Republicans...

WALLACE: Senator...

LEVIN: ... specifically say they disagree. They've got a right to do so. But they had an opportunity which they didn't use.

WALLACE: All right. Senator Levin, you praised the release of the memos, and you've called for prosecution of anyone found to have broken the law.

In the middle of a war on terror and two shooting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the midst of a financial crisis, do you really think it's good for the country to have trials of top Bush administration officials?

LEVIN: You know what I think is that that decision should not be made by politicians, by partisans, by Democrats or Republicans. It is made traditionally by a Department of Justice who is supposed to make these decisions independently.

I have recommended that the Department of Justice select one or two or three people outside of the department who will have credibility, perhaps retired federal judges, who will make a recommendation to the Department of Justice as to whether or not anybody ought to be prosecuted on this matter or any other action ought to be taken against lawyers, for instance.

But I've got to tell you what I deeply object to, and that is that so far the only people who have borne the brunt of these actions, particularly at Abu Ghraib, are some low-rank people in the military.

I object strongly when the president of the United States says that a few American troops dishonored us at Abu Ghraib. I — when it was the policies and practices specifically approved by Secretary Rumsfeld after going to the National Security Council, which went to Abu Ghraib and authorized the use of these dogs, and the use of nudity, and the use of stress positions.

To lay that off on a few bad apples, as Judge Gonzales did for the Bush administration, for the president of the United States to say that a few American troops dishonored us at Abu Ghraib — no. What dishonored us were the policies and practices that were authorized that went to Abu Ghraib, and there ought to be accountability.

But how that is done should be done by an independent person, not by elected politicians...

WALLACE: Well, all right. Let...

LEVIN: ... such as me or anybody else.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, let me get Senator Bond into this.

Let's talk about this issue of accountability, the possibility of prosecutions of top administration officials. You've heard Senator Levin talk repeatedly now about Defense Secretary Rumsfeld — and I'm not talking just about Abu Ghraib. I'm talking about the CIA interrogations.

You made the following statement this week, and let's put it up on the screen. "Our terror fighters need to know whether the president has their back or will stab them in the back." Senator, is that how you view any prosecutions, as a stab in the back?

BOND: I think that would be a stab in the back. I think he has already demoralized the CIA, put them in a CYA mode. I think we're going to have a culture in the CIA which had access to very — in very limited circumstances, to enhanced techniques.

And what's worse, now the terrorists know that nothing can be done to them that wasn't done to our voluntary military enlistees in the Marines, the SEALs and pilots who went through these same techniques, and that is — has absolutely destroyed our ability to get further information from terrorists.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, let me just present a hypothetical to you. What if the next president decides that President Obama, in the decision he has made to continue these drone attacks over Pakistan, where they fire missiles on Al Qaida operatives and also innocent civilians — what if the next president decides that that is a war crime? Should he go ahead and prosecute the Obama team?

LEVIN: I think an independent person ought to make assessments on all Americans as to whether or not we committed crimes or not.

I don't think elected politicians — I don't care if it's the president of the United States, or whether it's me or any other senator — we should not be making decisions on who or if anybody should be prosecuted. That's why we have a Justice Department. That's why we have offices in the Justice Department, to make independent decisions.

I don't think it's right for me to say — look, I think these policies were an abomination. I think the legal opinions were abominable. But I should not make the decision. I should not say someone should or should not be prosecuted.

We should have independent people making those recommendations to the Justice Department. That's what they're there for.

WALLACE: OK. OK. Let me — let me bring in Senator Bond.

Is that where we're headed now, sort of what we've had in banana republics, where one administration sits there and says, "Well, I think these guys broke the law, and we're now going to take them and put them in the dock," and this will just go on from administration to administration?

BOND: Regrettably, what my colleague just laid out is that kind of action. We're going to criminalize past political and policy decisions.

That's why we have oversight to object at the time if we think they're wrong. There were a number of actions in the previous Democratic administration that could have been prosecuted, like Sandy Berger could have been prosecuted, could really have...

WALLACE: This is the former Clinton national security adviser.

BOND: Who divulged secure information. We have not gone down that path.

We have oversight responsibilities, and the — when moving to my area of intelligence, when the enhanced interrogation techniques were used, they were briefed to the chairs and ranking members in both intelligence committees.

And if Speaker Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller thought they were excessive, or should not have been done, they should have said something then. There was plenty of opportunity to do it, and they didn't. That's why we have continuing ongoing oversight by Congress. We take our role seriously.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we only have a couple of minutes left, and I want to ask you about some other hot spots, and I'm going to ask you both to be very brief in discussing them.

Senator Levin, there's been a spike in sectarian violence in Iraq. In 24 hours earlier this week, 150 people were killed just as U.S. forces start pulling out of major cities there. Will the U.S. timetable for pulling American troops out have to be slowed or stopped?

LEVIN: I don't think so. I think the purpose of that timetable is to force the Iraqi political leaders to reach political settlements. They've only reached a few. Some of the key political settlements have not been reached.

This is going to be very difficult, but only the Iraqis can save themselves. So we cannot do it any longer. We've been there long enough. We've got to make them make the political decisions, which is the only way to avoid all-out civil war.

WALLACE: Senator Bond, when you see this real spike in sectarian violence, does it give you second thoughts about slowing down the timetable?

BOND: I've always said the decisions on how and when we withdraw should not be made by politicians inside the United States Capitol Building, or even 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I think the commanders on the ground, in consultation involving our leaders and the leaders of Iraq, can decide how best to withdraw and when to withdraw. We've spent too much time, treasure and cost too many American lives to walk away and allow Iraq to crumble.

WALLACE: Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to spread its influence, Senator Bond, in northwestern Pakistan. Is there anything the U.S. can do to try to persuade, convince, force the Pakistani government to take the fight to the — to the Taliban?

BOND: We looked — I visited Pakistan and we looked in — great deal into what's going on. Number one, we need to convince India to move its troops off of the Kashmir-Pakistan border so we — the Pakistani military, under General Kayani, can move them back to fight the terrorists. The president has announced the good framework for a policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but he has to make it clear that it's going to be a full-fledged counterinsurgency strategy, where we don't just go in with the Pakistani forces to clear an area, but we go in with them to clear, and hold it, and build. And that's going to be...

WALLACE: I'm sorry, you're saying that the U.S. should put troops on the ground in Pakistan?

BOND: We should have — we should assist them if and when they want our troops. In the meantime, we have — we have the resources, and we are already using USAID dollars through that, to build.

But we need to get the Pakistani troop over there. We can provide them whatever guidance, logistics or intelligence they want.

WALLACE: Senator Levin — less than a minute left — you get the last word.

LEVIN: Well, I basically agree with that. Only the Pakistanis can save themselves. They've got to make a decision what kind of country they want. We can be of assistance to them. We can support them. We can provide intelligence. We can provide other kinds of support, particularly economic support, providing it's going to be effective.

But it's kind of like Iraq. We can be helpful, but we can't dominate. We can't dictate. Only the Pakistanis, like only the Iraqis, can resolve their own political issues and save their own countries.

WALLACE: Senator Levin, Senator Bond, I want to thank you both for continuing this debate.

BOND: Thank you.

WALLACE: And, gentlemen, both of you, please come back.

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