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Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive?

Aired November 23, 2001 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, Osama bin Laden. Should he be taken dead or alive? If alive, should he be put on public trial? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. If you thought O.J. was big, imagine the trial of the new century: The United States versus Osama bin Laden. It would be great for ratings but would it be good for America? All of a sudden, it's a real question.

The American and Northern Alliance forces closing on the strong the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. With a $25 million bounty on his head, bin Laden may not be able to hide much longer. What happens if he is captured?

Some academics and civil liberties groups insist bin Laden should be tried in open court, a la O.J. Others -- the Bush administration very much included -- say a military tribunal is as close as he will ever get to trial. What do we do with bin Laden now?

Both sides are represented here tonight. Joining us from Detroit, defense attorney Geoffrey Fieger. And from New York City, Ann Coulter, a legal reporter for "Human Events" magazine. Sitting in here for Bill Press this evening, the capable if mistaken Peter Fenn -- Peter.

PETER FENN, GUEST CO-HOST: Well, thanks a lot, Tucker. I hope I'm not mistaken.

Ann, I hope you had a good turkey day yesterday.

ANN COULTER, ATTORNEY: Yes, I did, thank you.

FENN: Good, good, good. Well, we will make you a little indigestion here, maybe, in this -- in this edition of CROSSFIRE.

Let me -- let me ask you this question. Isn't a trial really bin Laden's worst nightmare? All the truth coming out, the -- the whole al Qaeda organization up in front and for everybody, the whole world to see? I mean, isn't this precisely what would bring down these terrorists?

COULTER: No. I think death will bring them down, and I think what is what will happen. That's the whole point here, to kill them. And we will kill them. And you know I don't really care what Osama bin Laden wants. I mean, these arguments that if we kill him we will turn him into a martyr, I -- I just think this is a never ending argument.

We have-- our objective is to kill him and we kill him. And that is apparently what our Green Beret forces are doing right now with all of these crazies.

I mean, it was -- it's really a wonderful opportunity. They've all concentrated themselves in one place right now, despite the nay saying of -- of American journalists suggesting they should be allowed to surrender or -- allowed peaceful passage.

We are at war with people who are crazed fanatics, who want to destroy the Great White Satan. And they're all in one -- and a bunch of them are in one place right now. So we need to kill them and we are killing them.

FENN: Well -- well there's a lot of them. But there's no question that probably he will go the way of Adolf Hitler in the bunker. I think we all might agree with that.

But let me take you about back about a half a century to a -- to a memorandum from the president of the United States in January of 1945 talking about Nuremberg.

And what he says -- and I don't know if you can it see on your screen. But what it says is: "After Germany's unconditional surrender, the United Nations could, if they elected, put to death the most notorious criminals, such as Hitler or Himmler, without trial or hearing. We do not favor this method. This would encourage the Germans to turn those criminals into martyrs."

Isn't that precisely what we don't want to do with bin Laden? Turn him into any kind of martyr?

COULTER: Well, I'd really like to put him a zoo, so little children can go and throw things at him. But I don't think that's going to happen either. I am pretty confident they're going kill him.

And I do think -- I mean, that statement does militate for what I'm saying, which is to kill all these other fanatics who are running over there.

I mean, there's a much stronger argument -- it seems to me -- even more than killing conscripted German soldiers to be killing these crazies, you know, fleeing from Pakistan and other countries to go fight for their beloved Taliban. These are -- these are the equivalent of Hitler. Not even of a German soldier.

These are the fanatics who want to kill us, to destroy the Great White Satan. There is no reforming them. There's no changing. They aren't just, you know, doing their jobs, even. These are precisely the people we want to kill, including Osama bin Laden.

CARLSON: Now, Geoffrey Fieger, answer this. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, let me...

GEOFFREY FIEGER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What Ann Coulter just is nonsense. I mean, the word kill came out of her mouth more times than I think out of Osama bin Laden's.

CARLSON: OK. Well, here. Let me give you -- let me give you a framework, Geoffrey Fieger, to answer that question. Why shouldn't we kill him? And what precisely -- as a lawyer, why don't you tell me specifically what rights Osama bin Laden has?

FIEGER: Sure. He has the rights -- if we want to -- really what we are talking about is a -- is a wholesale attack by Mr. Ashcroft. Really, he's behind it, and some of the radical right on some of our constitutional protections.

This has to be looked at in context, Tucker. This is -- in the context of last week Mr. Ashcroft saying that conversations between accused and attorneys would be listened into, violating the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments to the Constitution.

Now they're talking about these secret military courts. Only last week Mr. Ashcroft felt necessary also to say that he was going to start going after Oregon doctors who helped patients end their suffering.

CARLSON: Now, now, wait.

FIEGER: No, you have got to look at this in context.

CARLSON: No, I'm not. My question to you is fairly simple. Very simple. What rights does Osama bin Laden have? You appear to believe he has rights. What are they?

FIEGER: I think our rights -- in terms of protecting...

CARLSON: No, his rights. His rights.

FIEGER: Forget his rights. What we are more interested in is protecting our freedoms and if we are not willing to -- to show the rest of the world that our judicial system works and that what we are fighting for are the freedoms that we are going to provide to everybody, then we are as bad as they are.

If we are willing to get down into the mud and say we will do everything just like you do it then what -- how are we better than them?

CARLSON: You are not answering my question.

FIEGER: Yes, I am.

CARLSON: Let's just put one finer point here.

FIEGER: Yeah, I am answering it.

CARLSON: U.S. forces are in the process as we speak of killing members of the Taliban.

FIEGER: And I don't think we are ever going to be in the situation of having to try Osama bin Laden.

CARLSON: And that may be. But please, let me just ask you the question.

FIEGER: But I will tell you, we have a thousand people...

CARLSON: Hold on.

FIEGER: jails in the United States...

CARLSON: I understand that. But let me...

FIEGER: ...who are subject to these problems.

CARLSON: Oh, please. Please. We are killing members of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

FIEGER: Right.

CARLSON: But there -- there seems to be this hand wringing over the idea of killing Osama bin Laden.

FIEGER: I don't have any hand wringing.

CARLSON: The head of al Qaeda.

FIEGER: No, there's no hand wringing over that.

CARLSON: So you have no problem with him being executed just summarily.

FIEGER: Of course I have got a problem with that. I think we...


FIEGER: We didn't do it at Nuremberg. We took the entire Nazi leadership and we put them forth before an international tribunal and it was filmed and we gave them at least a semblance of due process.

There were defense attorneys. It wasn't what was proposed now with these secret military tribunals, no unanimity in the sentence, the evidence can be illegal, the -- the sentence can be handed down virtually without anybody doing any cross-examination.

That type of thing -- why do we want to involve ourselves in that? I thought we are above that. I thought that's why we are over there fighting. If we are like them, then we're not -- we shouldn't be over there.

FENN: Here's -- here's the best example, Ann, of exactly what Geoffrey is talking about. Adolf Eichmann -- 40 years ago, a televised trial -- first one in the -- in the civilized world, 15 weeks of testimony, 3,500 pages of his detailing exactly the horrors and atrocities of killing six million Jews.

And -- and you know, that trial which resulted in his death -- if we are talking about killing somebody -- and resulted also in something very much more important, and that is the whole world understood the atrocities and that we will never forget happened. Why would that not happen if we tried al Qaeda?

COULTER: I don't think al Qaeda's motives are particularly complex. I can tell them to you right here. They want to destroy the Great White Satan. I don't think I really need to hear that said 17 times over 15 weeks.

And I do find it interesting that the only people Geoffrey Fieger wants to kill are little old ladies with Alzheimer's. But you can't just go around and say that, you know, everything you like is in the Constitution.

FENN: Geoffrey, you might want to jump in there.

COULTER: And there is no attorney-client privilege in the Constitution. Lawyers waive it all the time. This is as for the taping of -- for national security purposes.

FIEGER: What? What law school did you go to?

COULTER: Well, attorneys waive -- attorneys waive attorney- client all the time. For example...

FIEGER: How about due process of law? How about the right to counsel?

COULTER: To get their fees or if they are sued for malpractice. There's no mention of the attorney-client privilege in the Constitution.

FIEGER: Did you go to law school?

COULTER: And to say -- that's an excellent point. I must reconsider my position. And to say that we are going to have certain processes that are required for, you know, particular sorts of prosecutions, OK, one of them is a military tribunal. That happens to be one of the processes.

FIEGER: No, it isn't.

COULTER: It's one that has always been used in wartime, going back to the Revolutionary War, including, you know, under the god liberals worship, Franklin Roosevelt. The Supreme Court upheld military tribunals for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) American citizens who were spying on the United States.

FIEGER: Excuse me, Franklin Delano -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn't the president during the Revolutionary War. And that was a... COULTER: I said, including in every armed conflict. It was July 31st, 1942.

FIEGER: And that was an act...

COULTER: And the Supreme Court said in ex-party queren (ph) that even an American citizen can be tried in a military tribunal.

FIEGER: We had declared war under those circumstances.

COULTER: The same way we have here.

FIEGER: It was done -- and it was done with the Nazi saboteurs actually entering American soil. And it was done only once.

COULTER: Right. That wasn't the logic of the Supreme Court.

FIEGER: That doesn't justify...

COULTER: They didn't say you need a declaration of war. All they said was an armed conflict. And they cited the Revolutionary War and they cited the War of 1812.

FENN: I'm not too interested, guys, in redoing the Revolutionary War.

COULTER: No, I'm just saying in every armed conflict you have military tribunals.

FENN: Well, especially when you've got military folks. But here's the -- here's the situation right now, Ann. You have for two and a half years, you conservative lawyers were all over Bill Clinton. Oh, my God, we had to have the rule of law.

FIEGER: Right.

FENN: We are a government of laws, not of men. How many times did you guys say that?

COULTER: Right, we are very proud of that.

FENN: Are we ready to throw-- I know you're very proud of it, but now you seem to want to throw it out the window when it comes to due process, in something that could seriously reflect on the United States.

COULTER: No, but that's what I'm saying. There -- we are -- we are not throwing anything out the window.

Just because liberal lawyers who want to kill little old ladies with Alzheimer's don't like something doesn't mean that, you know, it's a constitutional right not to have it that way. This is what I'm trying to convey.

In every armed conflict, we have military tribunals to try any belligerents. All we need is the intent to commit a belligerent act. Unfortunately, in my opinion, President Bush's order for military tribunals of terrorists in this country does not apply to citizens.

According to the Supreme Court it can apply to citizens. It did in 1942 against Herbert Hans Halt. He was an American citizen and the Supreme Court found no, he came to American soil -- not wearing a uniform -- with the intent of committing a belligerent act.

And we're in an armed conflict, he gets a military tribunal. The Supreme Court decided in two days. These guys were tried in about five days and executed.

CARLSON: That's right.

COULTER: That is due process.

CARLSON: Now Geoffrey Fieger -- now Geoffrey Fieger, let me -- let me ask you something.

You hear again and again and again our current condition compared to Nuremberg or the Eichmann trials and those held up as examples of what we ought to do to Osama bin Laden because it will show that we're advanced, that as you put it we are not like them, we're above them, et cetera et cetera.

But both those cases -- I mean, Nuremberg took place a year after the war ended. Eichmann almost twenty years after it ended. And isn't that the point, that we're still at war? And why should we -- when the Supreme Court says we don't have to -- give a megaphone to our enemy in war? Why should we allow Osama bin Laden...

FIEGER: Who said we are at war? First of all, I don't know what you define as a war.

CARLSON: Oh, but...

FIEGER: But we've had terrorists on our soil.

CARLSON: There are actually planes at the moment with American insignias bombing Afghanistan. If that's not war, I don't know the word.

FIEGER: I understand that. We've been -- well, we've been in conflict in Korea and Vietnam, but we didn't feel the necessity of start pulling in people in military courts.

We've had terrorists before. We've had domestic terrorists, we've had foreign terrorists. In fact, we just tried this summer several terrorists who were abducted out of Pakistan and accused of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

And we didn't have any problem with putting them on trial in Manhattan and convicting 10 of them and sentencing them to prison for the rest of their lives.

Since when do we now have to start in this time with Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Bush and their cronies constraining? And really, believe me, the dangers here aren't so much Osama bin Laden or some terrorists over in Afghanistan.

The dangers here are what they had can do to Americans and people who are legally here in America and people who are going to be held subject to these military tribunals because we have got a thousand people in jails right here in the United States and those are real problems.

CARLSON: OK. And we've also got a whole other segment of CROSSFIRE in which you can discuss all that. We will also ask the question, does Osama bin Laden and others who seek to destroy the Constitution have a right to be protected by it? We'll get to that when we return in just a moment.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the option to use a military tribunal in time of war makes a lot of the sense. We are -- we are fighting a war, Terry, against the most evil kinds of people. And I need to have that extraordinary option.


FENN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Peter Fenn, sitting in for the turkey-loving Bill Press. And that was President Bush arguing for a military tribunal.

We all hope the question is not if, but when will we track down the modern-day Adolf Hitler. Tucker and I are cross-examining two fine lawyers: from the right, Ann Coulter, who wants military tribunals dispensing swift justice; and from the left, Geoffrey Fieger, who is concerned about civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. Tucker.

CARLSON: Geoffrey Fieger, the order creating these military tribunals, as you know, specifies that they apply only to non- citizens. American citizens cannot be tried in military tribunals as it stands.


CARLSON: Now, I'm hoping against hope to an answer to a very simple question I've been asking all week, which is: do foreigners have the same rights under our system as American citizens?

FIEGER: Great question, Tucker. Next week I fly to Sarasota, Florida, to represent a German national who is accused of murder in Florida for murdering an American citizen.

And of course he has every single constitutional protection that is afforded to any other citizen under Florida law and under the United States law. And anybody who thinks otherwise doesn't know what our judicial system is all about. And our judicial system, Tucker, very simply, is as integral a part of our freedoms, our system of protecting the accused as our right to vote. And anybody who thinks otherwise...

CARLSON: Oh, I understand. Anyone who thinks otherwise -- OK. I understand that. So you're saying to me that if Osama bin Laden was taken into custody, he needs to be read his Miranda rights, afforded an opportunity to contact his attorney -- perhaps you -- and -- and afforded all the rights of anybody else who lives under the American Constitution.

FIEGER: I'm saying that we are better off as a country if we do that.

CARLSON: No, no. The question is...

FIEGER: Let me tell you one other problem we're going to have.

CARLSON: Are you saying yes? No, no. Please. Please answer the question. You're saying...

FIEGER: I'm saying we're better off.

CARLSON: As I understood you -- no, no. You said that it's required that non-citizens have -- you just said they have the same rights as citizens do. So...

FIEGER: Arrested on -- arrested on U.S. soil that's right, they do.


FIEGER: That's right. Now, overseas, there's another thing. What Bush does with them overseas I can't have much of control over.

But I tell you this. We are going to have real problems with other countries -- for instance, the 15-member European Union -- will not extradite any -- and if they could find real members of al Qaeda, they won't extradite them back here to the United States if we don't promise not to execute them. Spain right now has eight members...

CARLSON: That's a longstanding -- and this is a problem that's been going on for many years...


FIEGER: Well, that's not a problem -- that should be a -- we should recognize that if Spain is holding eight members who maybe actively participated in the September 11th plot and -- and won't give them to us because of our systems here in -- in providing for constitutional protections or at least not executing them.

I think that we've got to recognize that we are part of a world community. We are not a law unto ourselves.

FENN: Let's make that point, Ann, and see where you'll take it. Mary Jo White is doing a great job prosecuting -- in regular courts -- terrorists affiliated with the World Trade Center, with the bombing of the embassies.

Now the question is, do you favor secret trials? Do you favor trials where people aren't confronted with the evidence? Do you favor trials where lawyers are not to be chosen by defendants, and they may not even have a lawyer that they -- that they would like? Are you favoring trials here with no right to appeal? Is that -- is that where you're going?

COULTER: I favor military tribunals, and I wouldn't say -- there is one way in which Mary Jo White's prosecutions were really not all that smashingly successful and that is none of them did get the death penalty. That was also under that lawless president who was more interested in Monica under the desk than, you know, protecting America's borders.

FIEGER: You're obsessed.

COULTER: But this idea that due process requires all criminal procedures and that you must have a grand jury, you must have a trial by your peers and you must have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I mean, it's just crazy and you know it's crazy.

Civil trials don't have that. Criminal contempt proceedings don't have that. Bankruptcy proceedings don't have that. The fact that something is not a criminal trial doesn't mean there's not due process. If any of our boys do something wrong in waging this war, they'll get a military tribunal. They'll be court martialed, they'll have everything you just said applies.

FENN: Our -- our State Department...

COULTER: And I don't see al Qaeda trials should be treated differently.

FENN: This is...


FIEGER: You don't even understand that. If -- if our boys are accused of a crime, you don't simply get a secret military tribunal. You get court-appointed -- you get lawyers, you get cross-examination.

COULTER: You don't get a grand jury indictment. You don't get -- you don't get a trial by your peers. You don't get proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

FIEGER: That isn't what -- what is would being proposed, Ann.

COULTER: You don't get a jury.

FIEGER: Ann, let me just ask you...

COULTER: As you don't in a contempt proceeding either. You don't get it in a bankruptcy proceeding. You don't get it in a civil court proceeding.

FIEGER: What do you think...

COULTER: The idea of due process is not that everything must be tried by a jury of your peers. It's a crazy idea.

FENN: What are we fighting for over there, then? What are fighting for over then if not the protection of due process of law and the freedoms we hold dear? What are we fighting for?

COULTER: Right. And military tribunals are due process.

FENN: One final question. Here's -- here's -- let me just make this one point, Ann, and that is right now, as you speak, the State Department has criticized other countries for having precisely these kinds of military tribunals.

FIEGER: Right.

FENN: So the problem is that what's OK for those folks may not be OK for us. But let me ask you one very simple question. You have written, and I quote, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity."

COULTER: Yeah, that was a good one.

FENN: Now, I just have one very simple question. Who is "they"?

COULTER: The sentence before that sentence says who they are. And that is the terrorists, the people cheering and dancing in the street.

FIEGER: Convert them to Christianity?

COULTER: The ones we happen to be killing right now. Thank God for the Green Berets.

FIEGER: What's the difference between you and bin Laden?

COULTER: And moreover, before we do...


COULTER: Let me say, not only do I think George Bush should -- should expand the military tribunals to citizens in this country who have come to commit acts of war against us, but I think he ought to consider expanding it to liberal lawyers. Military tribunals for liberal lawyers.

CARLSON: Now, Geoffrey Fieger, in just the -- in just the 15 or 20 seconds we have left, tell me. Would you -- if you got a call by satellite phone from, say, routed through al Jazeera from Osama bin Laden, "Will you represent me, Geoffrey Fieger?" Would you represent him?

FIEGER: No, because he will never make it back to the United States. They'll kill him before he gets here and I will never have to face that.

But would I represent some of the terrorists here? Probably not, because I get a choice. But I think they should be, and it's my duty to. Whether I do it personally is another problem.

CARLSON: OK. Geoffrey Fieger, thank you very much. Ann Coulter, thank you.

COULTER: Thanks.

CARLSON: Peter Fenn and I will be back in just a moment, neither of us facing a tough choice about whether or not to represent Osama bin Laden. we still have much to talk about. We will tell you about it when we come back with our closing comments. See you in a moment.


FENN: Well, Tucker I wore this bow tie in your honor because I thought maybe Ann Coulter might confuse us, you know, and answer the wrong question.

But her last -- her last comment really -- really put me out. I'll tell you. The notion that you're going convert these countries to Christianity. What could make them angrier? If you're trying to bring this world together, why come out with a statement like that?

CARLSON: Well, first off...

FENN: Kill them, convert them. And it wasn't off the cuff. She's obviously written...

CARLSON: First off, I'm not sure it would make them any more hostile. But she essentially lost her job over that comment. Notice that the huge outcry when she says that whereas Osama bin Laden all day long: Kill the Christians and Jews. And Geoffrey Fieger gets on his high horse and lectures us about his rights.

FENN: No, but he isn't defending Osama bin Laden. I mean, the idea is you take the high ground. And when you do stuff like...

CARLSON: Osama bin...

FENN: Why wouldn't you take the high ground on -- on military tribunals?

CARLSON: Because we are at war with him. And it -- if you really wanted to time warp, we can take the guy and read his Miranda rights. I mean, it's ridiculous.

FENN: From the left, I'm Peter Fenn. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again on Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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