Where Does Good Intelligence Come From?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Sept. 13, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Many Americans are divided about how to interrogate suspected terrorists. Some believe they should be afforded Geneva Convention (search) protections, others say no, they are not lawful combatants. Now, controversy is at the heart of the Abu Ghraib (search) scandal, where seven American service people have been charged so far with abusing captured Iraqi prisoners, most of whom were not in uniform.

With us now is journalist Seymour Hersh, the author of the brand new book "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib." Mr. Hersh has been investigating the Abu Ghraib situation from the very beginning. He's made two previous appearances to tell us about his investigation. Here he is.

All right, anybody who writes a book brings a point of view to the book, you know that. You're a reporter, you bring a point of view. I write my books. They're not straight reportorial opuses, but I bring a point of view. Do you believe that Guantanamo Bay (search) prisoners should have Geneva Convention rights — name, rank, and serial number, that's it?

SEYMOUR HERSH, "CHAIN OF COMMAND" AUTHOR: I believe we should get intelligence from them. And unless you treat prisoners humanely, you can't do it. Every expert in the world will tell you the way to get good intelligence is not by coercion. It's by establishing rapport. This is not me, this is everybody in the business.

Every professional person in the business, in the FBI, in military intelligence, in the CIA says you've got to get rapport. That's the core. Otherwise, if you gang up on people and beat them up, particularly people who are willing to fly in our airplanes, willing to die for Allah, you're not going to get what you need.

O'REILLY: But you are aware coercive interrogation has worked in some cases. You are aware of that. And Khalid is one where they used coercive, and they got the Brooklyn Bridge thing out of him. At least that's what they say. So you believe no coercive interrogations, no dogs, no sleep deprivation, none of that.

HERSH: That's not what I believe. I've talked to a lot of people about this book and it's with people who are experts in the community, in the FBI, in the military intelligence community, in special ops — I know people in all these fields. They all say, in general, if you get a rapport with the guy, if you convince a guy that you're cause is the right cause or you're humane to them, you can get information — but getting intelligence that's totally reliable.

Al Qaeda has published manuals as long as — oh, I've seen some dated 1998. Our intelligence community has manuals where they advise their people, if you get caught by the infidels, they're going to strip you, they're going to do this. Get your story ready. Be ready to handle some very rough stuff.

O'REILLY: It's an open question. I wouldn't say that every intelligence expert believes the way you do, but a lot of them do. Now, in your book, you basically say that because Guantanamo Bay was set up in a punitive way, this carried over to Abu Ghraib. Do I have that correct?

HERSH: What I said was there were people very early on in the summer of 2002, long before we went to Iraq, who were telling people in the White House, Condoleezza Rice and others — somebody from the CIA, the kind of guy we want to be in the CIA, a guy who knows Arabic, born in that part of the world, in Palestine.

We don't name him in the book, because you don't do it. As I say, you want somebody like that operating. A really good, smart guy was troubled in the summer of 2002 that we weren't getting anything really useful. The really good stuff wasn't coming. We weren't getting advanced information on what these — again, these are people that want to hurt us, there's no question about that. We want to know what they're doing, so he goes down there.

He goes down there and spends some time, talks to people, comes back and writes a blistering report. One of the things he was some 80-year-old men living in their own excrement, chained...

O'REILLY: This is in Guantanamo.

HERSH: Yeah, what does this do for us? And also, his main point was that we weren't differentiating between those who belonged there and those who did not.

O'REILLY: OK, so...

HERSH: But let me just continue. His point was we also weren't getting good intelligence.

O'REILLY: But see, that's disputed by the Bush administration, which says it did get good intelligence, intelligence to disrupt Al Qaeda operations, to capture a number of these people, which they have captured, to disrupt operations that would have blown up the Brooklyn Bridge, other sites here in New York City and around the country. So it's disputed.

The Bush administration will tell you that their detention policies, all right — they've got the big shots, Al Qaeda... we don't even know where they are. They're someplace in the world, OK. But they have been successful. And they can point to the fact that we haven't been hit since 9/11, and that they have disrupted a lot of Al Qaeda operations overseas. So I don't know if it's as cut and dried as you're making it out to be.

HERSH: Let me just give you another point of view on that, which is there is no question we have some special units operating, doing very good work, and we have done some stuff. We've snatched some people, and we've done some good stuff. But in general, I can say to you it's very clear, what do we know, really, about the insurgency in Iraq?

What did we know a year and a half ago? These people began to hit us, and hit us and hit us, and we couldn't get inside. We weren't able to get inside. We're not inside now.

O'REILLY: No, I agree with you. That whole thing took the administration by surprise. Now, from our analysis of Abu Ghraib, it was run by a weak General, Janet Karpinski, who did not impose discipline on those under her. Those under her heard words like "soften them up," and things like that and took it to an extent that was abusive and they're being prosecuted. You say there's more to it. What more?

HERSH: There's no question that Karpinski was not a top-flight officer. There's just no question about that.

O'REILLY: Right.

HERSH: The report's very clear on that. But I'll tell you what's very interesting about it. One of the things you do in interrogation is you find the weak point of your enemy. And one of the weak points of a Muslim man is his sexuality, his being photographed naked. This is the worst thing you can do to an Arab, worst than cutting off his hands in terms of his manhood.

And the idea of photographing... stripping them, photographing them, simulated sexual acts, homosexual acts, with the woman going "thumbs up," like that, if you're going to tell me a group of reservists in West Virginia thought up that idea, absolutely, the perfect way...

O'REILLY: Somebody could have told them that.

HERSH: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: You know, but do you think Rumsfeld...

HERSH: Oh, no, I would never say... Don Rumsfeld would have gone...

O'REILLY: Well, how about Sanchez, the general in charge of the Iraq theater?

HERSH: Sanchez may end up being the fall guy in this. But I can just...

O'REILLY: Well, wait a minute. Is he guilty or is he not guilty?

HERSH: Well, you know, one of the reports said... I'll tell what...

O'REILLY: But you've got to tell me what you know. Is Sanchez guilty of promoting torture at Abu Ghraib, or abuse, whatever you want to call it?

HERSH: They all looked away.

O'REILLY: So you think Sanchez knew that dogs were being in there, they were stripping them down, they were taking pictures of them naked and you think he knew that?

HERSH: I think the standard operating procedure for a prisoner was to... in the case of a recalcitrant prisoner, a prisoner you wanted to work on, was to do that, yes. I think that was the procedure. And by the way, can I tell you that Sanchez knew? I write in the book that his superior — I quote an officer, who's a very senior officer, anonymously...

O'REILLY: Yeah, a blind source.

HERSH: Hold on, let me just finish. I quote him as saying, having told Abizaid, the Cent Com commander, that there were problems there, and Abizaid looked at him with a steely look, "Don't bring this to me."

Look, the whole source thing is complicated...

O'REILLY: It is...

HERSH: And you raise a great point. It is a great point. And let me tell you a couple of things about this...

O'REILLY: We only have about 45 seconds, but go ahead.

HERSH: The magazine I work for, The New Yorker, the editors, know who my sources are. They do more than just know. They're independently checked by fact checkers. These people talk to my fact checkers. My fact checkers let them know what's being written, for two reasons — one, to verify this stuff and the other thing is I'm dealing with guys who go to meetings, high-level meetings. And you never know when a guy's going to say something to me that I quote that he said at a meeting two nights ago.

O'REILLY: Right.

HERSH: So they want to protect them.


HERSH: So we're very sensitive about the issue you raised and I'm totally with you. It's complicated.

O'REILLY: It is very complicated.

HERSH: But that doesn't mean you throw out the baby with the bathwater.

O'REILLY: No, we want everybody to decide on their own. The book is "Chain of Command," about Abu Ghraib. And Mr. Hersh, always nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.

HERSH: Glad to be here.

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