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The Capital Gang: Human Cloning; Military Tribunals; Renaming the Justice Department Building

Aired November 25, 2001 - 19:00   ET


AL HUNT, HOST, THE CAPITAL GANG: Welcome to a special edition of "Capital Gang."

I'm Al Hunt with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Karen Tumulty of "Time Magazine."

A breakthrough in human cloning was revealed today by Advanced Cell Technology, a company based in Worcester, Massachusetts.


MICHAEL D. WEST, PRESIDENT & CEO, ADVANCED CELL TECHNOLOGY, INC.: We sat down to decide, look, if we publish this result, we're making it that much more easy for someone to clone a human being, and the concern about cloning in humans, given that we have regulations in the United States to prevent that, we felt that we should go forward and publish this scientific result, so scientists can have this data.


HUNT: At Camp David, President Bush, through a spokesman, said he was 100 percent opposed to human cloning. He called on the Senate to enact House-passed legislation, which would prohibit embryo cloning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we wouldn't break the law, of course. It -- it'd be a tragic day in the history of medicine.


HUNT: Congressional reaction to the breakthrough was cautious, but generally negative.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: It's disconcerting, frankly. I think it's going in the wrong direction.


HUNT: Kate, are the President and Majority Leader Daschle really opposing medical progress?

KATE O'BEIRNE, THE CAPITAL GANG: Al, they're reacting to the fact that the ends, medical research, don't justify the means of this grotesque assault on human life.

This is not -- this is entirely different from what we were talking about last summer. The question last summer about stem cell research was, what to do with cells from existing embryos?

And the President decided that existing stem cell lines, where an embryo has already been destroyed, can be experimented upon with federal money, but he would not permit federal money to destroy additional embryos.

What was announced today was, the cloning of human embryos -- read, human people -- with the express intent of destroying them in order to harvest cells.

And Senator Daschle and the President, are in an awfully good company. They have a lot of company. Polls show over 80 percent of the public is opposed to cloning human embryos for the purpose of research.

And the vote in the House, 265, reflects the fact that even members who aren't traditionally pro-life, like Senator Daschle reflects this, have a visceral objection to the cloning of human embryos.

These research advocates will try to pretend you can a draw a bright line between cloning for research purposes, which still destroys the human embryo, human life, and cloning for reproduction.

But you can't draw that line. Once there are farms harvesting human embryos, we're going to have reproductive cloning.

HUNT: Karen, do you agree it's that clear cut?

KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think that that vote in the House last summer was overwhelming, but it was also for show. The issue came out of nowhere. It only had three hours debate.

Senate Daschle had already announced that this was never going to come up in front of the Senate. And as a result, it was a free shot. Everybody could cast a pretty easy pro-life vote and know that it was never going to become law.

Now I think, we've moved beyond the theoretical into the real. And I think the debate goes right back to square one. And you're going to see a lot more people like advocates for diseases like spinal chord injury than Parkinson's, showing up and lobbying as they did very effectively, I think, in the stem cell debate.

When you have to weigh, you know, the potential risks against real-live people, who are living with real-life illnesses who could be helped, it's going to become a little more difficult, I think, to decide what side of this you're on. HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ROBERT NOVAK, THE CAPITAL GANG: Karen, it is going to come in the Senate now, because of this development.

This is one of the scariest days of my life, it really is. This scares me a lot more than the terrorists, because these are, these are arrogant people in white suits. Dr. West is really -- he calls himself obsessive and committed to this issue.

And what this is really about is, people who don't believe in God. They really don't. They can't if they're doing this. And they're throwing up, Karen, with all due respect, as you do, my goodness, do you want to have Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease?

Well, what we, what you have to do is destroy human life. Well, there's other ways of doing that, but anything -- I really believe spiritual people, their own, their only conception is not to prolong indefinitely each individual's life, because they believe in an afterlife.

So this is really a test of the spiritual against the basely material. So it is a, is a really tough issue.

And I would say this, Karen, that when that came up in the House people said, this was passing something for something, for a problem that didn't exist. The problem does exist.

HUNT: Let me just say this. I believe in God, Bob. And I believe in cellular cloning. And I think it's a really, really unfair remark to assert that anybody who believes in cellular cloning doesn't believe in God. That is reprehensible and I don't think you really believe that.

NOVAK: I do ...

HUNT: I don't believe, I think -- because I do believe in God. I don't believe in human cloning. I think that -- and I think the question is, can you draw a line. The National Academy of Science says you can.

It's a debate that we ought to have. But I don't think we ought to say, everybody who's for this is Godless, and everybody who is against it is a believer.

That's not what the issue is. The issues are much tougher than that.

O'BEIRNE: One thing the House vote did show last time, though, was -- first of all, this has been in the works. People have anticipated we're going to come within a short period of time to somebody announcing, like the announcement today, that they have now cloned human embryos.

The members of Congress were afraid to be on the wrong side of this, because public opinion is so overwhelmingly opposed to human cloning.

And people will play semantic games out. You know, you see these scientists trying to call this pre-embryotic embryos. Well, there's no such thing. Or they'll try to call it some sort of cellular life.

But the researchers who are claiming credit for this themselves, in their own papers call it embryos, human embryos. It is human life.

The -- Bill Clinton's national law bio-ethics advisory committee explained, these are human embryos. This is human life we're now creating.

So that's what the stakes are. This is going to be the most -- even we're at war -- and this will still be the most important issue Congress will take up next year.

NOVAK: (INAUDIBLE), I think it's more important than the war against terrorism. And Dr. West, I thought was just reprehensible, in which he said, well, there's, if there's regulations against what we're doing here, we've got to put out the information so people around the world will do it.

And this is, this is the kind of games that are going to be played.

HUNT: Well, it's going to happen, if it doesn't happen in this country. But, Karen, doesn't this -- (INAUDIBLE) -- I mean, if you take this to its extension, that means we have to ban in vitro fertilization and things of that sort, too, don't we?

TUMULTY: Well, and one of the, one of the ramifications of this research is, now, every single cell in your body has the potential of becoming human life. The debate gets much cloudier.

And it's a fact of, it's a fact of life and science that if it's possible to do something, somebody somewhere is going to do it.

NOVAK: I don't -- I don't like to make predictions, because I'm very often wrong ...

HUNT: You're not alone.

NOVAK: ... but I'm going to tell you something. They will not permit this, and not in the, in the Congress, and this is going to -- this House bill, I'll imagine it is going to sail through the Senate.

HUNT: Kate, you probably would agree with that.

O'BEIRNE: I wouldn't be surprised, given the votes in the, given the votes in the House already, and given the debate we had over stem cell research.

There were an awful lot of members who wanted to go further than President Bush did with respect to permitting stem cell research on existing embryos, but they were always very careful to say, absolutely no cloning for either research or reproduction. So I agree. The vote is much -- I think -- this vote is much broader.

HUNT: Final word on this segment, but I think the topic will probably not go away.

The Gang of Four will be back with what to do about captured Taliban.


HUNT: Welcome back. A bloody battle resulted today in northern Afghanistan from a revolt by 3,000 non-Afghan Taliban fighters, who had surrendered with concealed weapons.

They were cut down with the help of U.S. warplanes.

The U.S. diplomat, speaking for the coalition in Islamabad, was asked, what happens to captured Afghan Taliban?


KENTON KEITH, U.S. DIPLOMAT: Most of the Afghan Taliban will probably just go home.


HUNT: Will the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, be tried by the military tribunal?


KEITH: That military tribunal is an option for the President. He has not said that he was going to use it.


HUNT: Military tribunals came under fire from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


PATRICK LEAHY, CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: When we're talking about setting aside, largely setting aside our criminal justice system for something like this, we end up looking to the people we've asked to be our allies, more and more like some of the things that we are fighting against.


HUNT: Senator Leahy also attacked Attorney General John Ashcroft's proposed eavesdropping on client-lawyer conversations.


LEAHY: It is bothering a great number of people, Republicans and Democrats. I think the Attorney General owes the country -- certainly owes the Congress -- an explanation.


HUNT: Karen, are the judicial elements in the war on terrorism running into trouble?

TUMULTY: Probably not. This country has a long history of giving presidents extraordinary powers in extraordinary times, going back to John Adams and the Sedition Act.

By the way, it also has a long history of taking away those powers when those extraordinary times pass.

But I do think that it is incumbent upon the administration now, to be a little more forthcoming about just exactly how and where they want to use those powers.

And Ambassador Keith's statement was just astonishing, that he would suggest that we might, if we capture Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, we might just ask him a few questions and let him go?

I mean, look. If you're drawing up a list of people who are likely to end up in front of a military tribunal, Mullah Omar is in the top two.

HUNT: Kate, I'm going to agree with that one. You ...

O'BEIRNE: Absolutely. He'd be at the top of my list.

HUNT: Maybe number two.

O'BEIRNE: Karen's -- Karen's, of course, exactly right. There's a long precedent for using such military tribunals at time of war.

And in each case, when the threat passed, our civil liberties were intact. There wasn't any threat to the rest of us.

We face a military threat, not a law enforcement problem. I think Senator Leahy is just dead wrong here.

What we want to avoid, it seems to me, in the typical federal court setting, for foreigners who either already have waged war on civilians, or a part of a conspiracy to do so, are all the exclusionary rules that apply.

All probative, credible evidence would be admitted in a military tribunal. That does not happen in a typical federal case.

We are -- truth is not the highest value. In order to prevent police misconduct, exclusionary rules, in the typical setting, very often keep the truth from coming out. And, we're simply not going to, in certain cases the President himself will have to identify, let that happen in the case of foreign terrorists who pose this lethal threat to American civilians.

HUNT: Well, Robert, I think the chances of capturing Osama bin Laden alive are about as good as you voluntarily giving up your tax cut. So I don't think it's going to be a real problem as far as he's concerned.

But tell me how you view the Leahy-Ashcroft exchange in the last couple of days in general.

NOVAK: Well, it distresses me any time when I disagree with Kate O'Beirne and agree with Pat Leahy. But ...

O'BEIRNE: There's a time to reconsider, Bob.

NOVAK: ... but, that ...

O'BEIRNE: Right now, you could reconsider (ph).

NOVAK: ... that's where I am. I think, Karen, that John Adams and the Sedition Acts are kind of a bad precedent. It's a blot on his record.

And the United States does go a little batty (ph) at time of war. And there's a tendency of a certain kind of lawyer to want to restrict -- and policemen -- to restrict freedoms.

And any time freedoms are restricted, I get very worried about it, because, Kate, I really distrust government, I think, a lot more than you do. And I just don't like them with all that power.

Now, Senator Leahy said something today on "Meet The Press," that I thought was very apt. And what he said was, that they haven't used the powers to get a single terrorist that we have already granted them -- we being Congress -- and they want more authority, like this eavesdropping would -- on lawyers and clients.

And I, I just -- I just think that the use of -- these things are in somebody's drawer, all these plans of military tribunals. They don't just make them up ad hoc.

And when an emergency comes along, and the emergency is an excuse for using them.

HUNT: Karen, picking up on Bob's point a minute ago, not only, as you said, are these powers used in times of emergency and then taken away, but they do usually end up a blot on one's record, certainly with John Adams and the Alien Sedition Act. I think Roosevelt with the internment of Japanese and Lincoln with the suspension of habeas corpus.

TUMULTY: But on the question of whether he's likely to get them, ...

HUNT: Yes, but that's ...

TUMULTY: ... he's likely to get them, because no politician right now wants to stand up and raise his hand and say, I'm against something that might help catch a terrorist.

NOVAK: Leahy has and, maybe there's more people out there who are concerned about ...

HUNT: Leahy and Novak ...

O'BEIRNE: Bob, Bob ...

HUNT: ... is that historic?

O'BEIRNE: ... Bob, but we're not talking about American citizens, which are the examples you've just given. We're talking about foreign belligerents.

The government you're so suspicious of, and the power you so distrust, at the moment, the kind of people who would wind up in a military tribunal are subject to shoot to kill orders in a wartime setting.

I mean, that's what's so profoundly ...

NOVAK: Well it ...

O'BEIRNE: ... different about -- than the cases you're bringing up.

NOVAK: ... well it isn't just, it isn't just Leahy and me. It's Senator Richard Shelby, who is a very strong conservative. He's very worried about these -- eavesdropping on lawyer-client conversations.

You surely can't think that that's a good idea, Kate.

O'BEIRNE: I guarantee you, though, if it comes to a vote, and it probably won't, you're not going to see a lot of people getting out there and casting a vote that would put them on record.

NOVAK: Well, I was ...

HUNT: I think ...


HUNT: No, I think Karen's right about that, but Kate, I don't understand, why bring it up? Why have they -- why -- one does get the feeling that John Ashcroft, as Bob said, has reached into his drawer, and his aides over there, and they've kind of tossed out everything they wanted to get under normal circumstances, and they're going to use this as an excuse.

O'BEIRNE: In this case, in the case of military tribunals, I think that, in fact, is not the case. I think in the case of military tribunals, it was the White House working with the Defense Department, anticipating how they might handle some of the, some of the foreign terrorists who fall into their, into their custody.

HUNT: Before we end this, I think Karen's position on this Ambassador Keith, who was a new star on the, in the firmament, I believe.

TUMULTY: Where did they find that guy?

HUNT: But this idea about saying we're just going to have a little chat with the Mullah Omar and all that, that shocks me, (INAUDIBLE) ...

NOVAK: Well, ...


O'BEIRNE: (INAUDIBLE) not the usual policy.

HUNT: Will they read him his Miranda rights, Karen? Mullah, you have the right to remain silent.

On that, we will take a break, and next on Capital Gang, George W. Bush honoring Bobby Kennedy.


HUNT: Welcome back.

More than 50 Kennedy family members were present as the Justice Department building was renamed in honor of Robert F. Kennedy.


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: He devoted the Department of Justice, and finally devoted his life to upholding justice for all Americans.

Today we're not merely re-labeling this building in the memory of Robert Kennedy. We are rededicating this Department of Justice to the causes he served.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: He was a strong man who understood weakness, a man who knew privilege, but also suffering.

He fought to gain power. He chose to use it in the defense of the powerless.


HUNT: Before the ceremony, one of Attorney General Kennedy's children took issue with Bush-Ashcroft policies, addressing her six- year-old daughter.


KERRY KENNEDY CUOMO: Cara, if anyone tries to tell you, this is the type of justice system your grandpa embraced, you just don't believe it.


HUNT: Bob, do you see anything inappropriate about this administration honoring Bobby Kennedy? NOVAK: Totally inappropriate. The whole -- perhaps to every Republican I talk to gagged over that whole exhibition.

Not that Bobby Kennedy was a bad man. He was a politician with good and bad about him. But part of our system allows we do have differences -- different values, different positions.

And Bobby Kennedy was not, particularly in his later years, was not a Republican. He would support a lot of things that Republicans were against. His values were different.

But what was really inappropriate, bad tempered, was his daughter, Kerry Cuomo -- I guess you -- and hearing it, some of that had it, too, from her husband, Andrew Cuomo, taking a shot after Bush is slobbering all over her father. And she takes a shot, a shot at him because of the policies that I've been criticizing.

I knew Bobby Kennedy. I covered him when he was -- I used to have long talks with him when I was a young reporter for the AP and he was a chief counsel in the Senate Rackets Committee. And I can say one thing he was not, was a civil libertarian.

He believed that Jimmy Hoffa should go to jail, and forget about Anglo-Saxon methods of juris prudence.

So, that may be irrelevant to her highly political remark, but I think the whole renaming of the Justice Department was a mistake and in bad taste.

HUNT: Smart politics on George Bush's part, I thought, Karen.

TUMULTY: I was going to say the same. I mean, I hate to introduce cynicism into this conversation, but the fact is, that one of the people who's been oddly silent about some of the things that have been happening in this Justice Department over the last few months is Teddy Kennedy.

And we know that this, that this was in the works, now, seven to eight weeks before it happened. And Senator Kennedy had refused to comment on a lot of the things that Attorney General Ashcroft was doing.

And this has been smart politics on Bush's part all year, starting with his first week in office, where he ushers Teddy Kennedy into the Oval Office and points out that he's sitting behind his brother's desk.

He's been in -- it's been almost a slow dance with Teddy Kennedy all year, and it's usually worked out to Bush's benefit.

HUNT: Kate, I didn't think it was inappropriate when Bill Clinton signed a bill with, naming National Airport after Ronald Reagan.

NOVAK: This passed (INAUDIBLE) Congress ...

HUNT: And ...

NOVAK: ... your were fine (ph) ...

HUNT: ... but, you know, Bill Clinton signed the bill, and I don't think this was inappropriate, either.

O'BEIRNE: Well, Congress had a chance to pass this bill to rename the Justice Department for Bobby Kennedy, and they didn't. So it didn't have the kind of broad bipartisan support that renaming National Airport did.

This is like a lot of the bipartisan gestures that President Bush is inclined towards.

It seems to me he -- he runs the risk of doing more long-term harm among his supporters, than long-term good among his opponents.

Latest example in this instant case is the graceless and ungrateful sneer by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo. And I -- this charm offensive with Teddy Kennedy, seems to be a one-way street.

He's sitting on nominations that are critically important to -- single-handedly -- to the President. He hasn't helped in any way in that respect.

I'm not so sure it would have mattered had he criticized some of the changes the Justice Department has made in military tribunals, given public opinion. I'm not so sure we won't hear from him in the future.

It just looks like a one-way street. I'm not sure what the President's gotten from Teddy Kennedy as a result. And Republicans were really disheartened with the renaming of this ...


O'BEIRNE: ... of the Justice Department. They've watched ...

NOVAK: ... just gagged over it.

O'BEIRNE: ... this go for a couple of years for a couple of reasons. And one minor point, of course, is they don't much -- they're not much charmed by the Kennedys in their midst serving on Capitol Hill.

But more importantly, they didn't want to contribute to this myth about Bobby Kennedy, that while Attorney General he was any big champion of civil liberties, because the evidence is just not there. If (INAUDIBLE) ...

HUNT: Well, let me just say a word here. And I say, let them gag if they want to gag. I think Robert Kennedy was that rarity in American politics. He was both compassionate and he was tough. And that's why he was a threat to a lot of people on the right and some people on the left. But I think he was two things that John Ashcroft is decidedly not. Number one, he was a champion of equal justice for the downtrodden and the poor. And secondly, he was a very able prosecutor.

TUMULTY: And ...

HUNT: I mean, whether you liked him or not, he was a very able prosecutor ...

TUMULTY: Hey, Al, ...

HUNT: ... yes, he -- and nobody's ever accused ...

TUMULTY: He's never (INAUDIBLE) ...

HUNT: ... John Ashcroft.



NOVAK: He never ...


NOVAK: ... he never was in court.

TUMULTY: Well, it's a simple (INAUDIBLE) ...

HUNT: The Attorney General of the United States is a prosecutor, Bob.

TUMULTY: And we do have an FBI building named after J. Edgar Hoover, so we -- it isn't exactly like (INAUDIBLE) ...

HUNT: But it doesn't have pictures of his pumps out front.

NOVAK: Let me say one thing, that Bobby ...

HUNT: Final quick word.

NOVAK: Kennedy was not really Attorney General of the United States. Nick Katzenbach, his deputy did (ph) it. Bobby was deputy president. And he did a lot of things involved with secret deals, and taping, tape recording people, interfering in lives.

(INAUDIBLE), you know, I'm surprised you're not (INAUDIBLE) ...

HUNT: And he saved us all from thermonuclear destruction during 13 days of the Cuban missile crisis.

This is Al Hunt saying good night for "Capital Gang."

Join us next Saturday night at 7 p.m. eastern, for our regular "Capital Gang." Next, on CNN, Larry King Live.




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