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Interview With Frank Gaffney; Interview With Edward Peck

Aired December 6, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, John Ashcroft confronts his critics on capitol hill.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.


PRESS: Did he go too far? Plus the Taliban is set to surrender Kandahar. So is it time to stop bombing? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE and a giant step toward victory.

After almost nine weeks of bombing, it looks like the Taliban is finally ready to wave the white flag. They've agreed to surrender Kandahar, their last stronghold, tomorrow -- with reports that their leader, Mullah Omar, may also surrender.

But that leaves Osama Bin Laden still at large and still hiding somewhere. Will Taliban leaders now help the U.S. find him?

And speaking of war, in a heated hearing today, Attorney General John Ashcroft accused his critics of aiding terrorists and giving ammunition to America's enemies.

Nonetheless, he faced tough questions from both Democrats and Republicans about the administration's plan to try suspected terrorists in secret military tribunals and not public courts. Tonight we tackle both hot issues, starting with the war.

Should Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar be tried as terrorists or rewarded as newfound friends? And where does the U.S. go next in our war against terrorism?

In the CROSSFIRE, former Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Gaffney and former ambassador to Iraq, Edward Peck -- Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Ambassador Peck, the negotiations going on outside Kandahar, many of them concern the fate of Mullah Omar. There's talk tonight that he might surrender and be turned over to Pashtun leaders and live peacefully ever after, according to some accounts, if he renounces terrorism.

It strikes me he will be lucky not to be executed on the spot once American forces show up. But if in fact he is taken into custody by the United States, isn't he exactly the person for whom military tribunals were designed?

EDWARD PECK, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, yes and no. We can certainly do it, if they'll turn him over to us. Number one, he has to surrender. And number two, the people to whom he surrenders have to say, "you can take him." I don't imagine -- it's hard for me to envision him being taken by force. But suppose you do get him and then he has to be tried?

I think that America's interests -- I think America's interests would be best served if we let him be tried in an international tribunal. I think if we try him in the United States it's going to cause perhaps greater problems than it will solve. But because we have -- we've had in our own country situations in which people were believed to be guilty by overwhelming percentages of the American people and juries found them innocent.

CARLSON: That didn't of course make them innocent.

PECK: Yes.

CARLSON: I don't know if you're alluding to O.J.. Just because a jury said he's innocent doesn't mean he is.

And it turns out that Mullah Omar is not -- and why in the world would he deserve a hearing in an international court of some kind, where he could spend years spewing propaganda and perhaps give rise to more terrorist incidents in an effort to free him?

PECK: You see, you used the word appropriately. You said courts. That's what courts are for. Doing something vial -- you have to prove he did this. Otherwise it's merely an execution. And the United States is capable of executing him, yeah. But if you're going to do a legal process, then you go to a court and the court will tell you whether he's guilty or not.

PRESS: Frank Gaffney, I think we are getting ahead of the game here. First -- I mean, first of all, we don't have Mullah Omar. And you know, I'm not saying we bring him back here and give him a ticker- tape parade.

But I think we keep our eye on the ball. The guy we really want is the guy who authorized and funded what happened on 9/11 here in the United States. And certainly Mullah Omar knows a hell of a lot more than we do about where he is.

So my question to you is, wouldn't we first be wise -- assuming we get him -- to get -- ask, at least, for his assistance? Save us a lot of time and maybe a lot of lives in getting Osama Bin Laden. And if he does, shouldn't that have a serious consideration on how he's treated? FRANK GAFFNEY, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, we certainly don't have him yet. We certainly can't really resolve how we are going to dispose of him until we do have him.

PRESS: Right.

GAFFNEY: And I'm sure that if in fact he turns over Osama Bin Laden and helps us acquire him, that that would be factored into a military tribunal's deliberations about his fate.

But I must tell you I find it very difficult to understand how it is that people -- including the Mullah and certainly Osama -- who have made abundantly clear their determination to destroy our constitutional form of government should be the beneficiaries of constitutional rights and privileges that they certainly don't deserve.

PRESS: Well, of course, he's not the first one to have evil designs on the United States. So far as we know, Mullah Omar has not executed any of them.

But during World War II, there were certainly people who did. The Emperor Hirohito, who led the Japanese in the war in the Pacific against the United States, surrendered. He is still alive. He is still the titular head of his country.

And we seem to have survived as a people. Why today is this bloodlust to say because this guy surrendered but were once against us, we've got kill him?

GAFFNEY: Well...

PRESS: Hirohito was never even put on trial, correct?

GAFFNEY: I believe that's correct. I think that the decision was made at a time when the United States basically took over Japan that maintaining under very close control Hirohito as sort of a figurehead to preside over a transition was good idea.

We're awfully far away from that to second guess whether it was a good idea or not. Japan seems to have turned out OK. But I -- you seem to be excusing Mullah Omar...

PRESS: I'm not. I'm not.

GAFFNEY: a man who I think is at least an accomplice if not very complicit in what much of what Osama Bin Laden is doing here. And I think that we have to factor that into deciding his fate. Once again, if we get our hands on him.

CARLSON: Now Ambassador Peck, it strikes me that one of the things we learned two months ago is that it's better to prevent terrorism than suffer its consequences.

PECK: Nobody would argue about that. CARLSON: Nobody would. But we may in just a moment. We know that Saddam Hussein has -- in the past, in any case -- tried to prepare and create weapons of mass destruction. Now, he's not let our inspectors in for some time. But we know this about him, that he has evil designs on the United States and indeed the Western world.

Don't we therefore have an obligation to do something about it, whatever that means -- up to and including eliminating him? He is a threat we know about.

PECK: Well, you see, the thing -- the thing that interests me the most about this is that we have excluded the one option that we always encourage everybody else to explore, and that's to see if you can find some way out of the box by talking to people.

And here we have -- we just had last week in Israel and Palestine, we had General Zinni and Ambassador Burns out there for the express purpose of conveying the message that the Americans believe that these two sides should talk. Now, if they can talk, look at the problems that they've got.

CARLSON: Well...

PECK: Stand by. Stand by. If they can talk, the idea is that if you talk, you may find some way of accommodating your basic needs mutually. You don't talk to Iraq on any level in any subject anywhere. And I don't see why.

GAFFNEY: Well, I do. And I think -- you know, what amazes me -- as incredulous as you are that we are not exploring diplomacy is that you keep flogging it. We have been talking about this 10 years.

You keep pushing this idea that somehow we will convert Saddam Hussein.

PECK: No, no. No, no. I...

GAFFNEY: I don't think it's any more likely than converting Mullah Omar to a Democrat and to a man who we can live with.

CARLSON: Well, Ambassador Peck, let me just ask you this question.

GAFFNEY: He is no good and he must be removed.

CARLSON: I'm glad you brought up Israel, because Israel caught on to what Mr. Gaffney said almost 20 years when they blew up a nuclear facility. And thanks to the fact Israel did that, we are not looking at a Saddam Hussein who has the bomb. And at the time, as you know...

PECK: Well, we hope.

CARLSON: At the time there was outcry around the world. The United States condemned that action. But now I think there's a widespread recognition that that was the right thing to do. It saved the world, perhaps.

PECK: Well, perhaps. And of course that's the key word. Because you know, I remember very clearly in the Cold War, when we had negotiations going constantly with the Soviet Union -- which was at the time just that far from eliminating us from the face of the earth if they chose to do so. Mutually.

But we negotiated with them and talked with them not because we loved them and trusted them. You don't have to invite them to your cocktail parties or intermarry. But you ought to see if there's not some way to find your way out of the box by talking.

GAFFNEY: But in the end the thing that changed the threat from the Soviet Union was not arms control and was not detente and was not negotiations. It was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We are not going see real reprieves from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of one of the most murderous regimes -- I think you would agree -- on the planet, unless and until it's gone.

PRESS: I want to come back to Iraq in just a second, because in this week's issue of "the New Republic," Laurence Caplan reports it's a done deal, that the administration has already decided to take military action against Iraq next. The only question is whether it's to take him out or to tame him.

Two questions, quickly. Do you know from your sources that that decision has already been made? Can you confirm that? And two, do you think that's a -- a decision they should make?

GAFFNEY: I don't know that it has been made. I think it has been. I believe that the question is not so much are we going to tame him. I don't think there really is any belief in the administration and I hope around this table that we are going to tame Saddam Hussein.

I think the question is at what time will we use military force and will it be in the context of supporting an opposition, which we need in Iraq much as we needed the Northern Alliance and Southern Alliance in Afghanistan.

PRESS: Well, my question back to you then is we know -- I think -- I accept the evidence that Bin Laden is behind 9/11 and the Taliban are hiding him.

We have no evidence Saddam Hussein is there. What right do we have to attack another nation before that nation attacks us? And if we start in Iraq, where do we stop, Frank? This is dangerous ground.

GAFFNEY: It's not. We are looking at a war on terrorism, some of which is terror that has already been perpetrated against us. And there's circumstantial evidence that Saddam was involved in this one. There's circumstantial evidence he was involved in the first World Trade Center bombing.

And in any event, we have every reason to believe that he will use weapons of mass destruction and instruments of terror against us or our allies in the future. Prophylactic action is justified.

PRESS: So we just go around the world bombing everybody we don't like?

CARLSON: And then, on to Baghdad.

GAFFNEY: No, I think we ought to help liberate -- we ought to help liberate people around the world and in this case the Iraqi people are yearning for it.

PECK: See, what you want to do is prevent him from using these weapons. So you want to...

GAFFNEY: Yeah, you want to put him out of business.

PECK: No, no. You don't need to do that...

GAFFNEY: Yes, you do.

PECK: That's a dangerous thing.

GAFFNEY: It's the only way to prevent him from using them.

PECK: No, it isn't really. If you haven't explored the options you can't say that.


CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm afraid -- Ambassador Peck, Mr. Gaffney, on to Baghdad to you both. Thank you both.

PRESS: Now Ashcroft.

CARLSON: Thank you very much. On to Ashcroft and next: showdown on Capitol Hill. John Ashcroft versus Patrick Leahy. Who won? We will find out when we return. We will be right back.


Ashcroft: Our legal powers are targeted at terrorists. Our investigation is focused on terrorists. Our prevention strategy targets the terrorist threat.




SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: We can't be both tough on terrorists and true to the Constitution. It is not an either/or choice.


CARLSON: Blah blah blah blah blah. That, needles to say, was Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy this afternoon, one of the most vocal critics of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

It turns out the two men met on Capitol Hill today. The issue: civil rights in war time. The tone: contentious. The debate: how to protect the country without mangling the Constitution.

Everyone agrees it can be done. The question is, how? And how much should Congress have to say about it? Joining us tonight, a familiar face on CROSSFIRE, former White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis. Also Westwood One radio talk show host and former Supreme Court clerk Laura Ingraham -- Bill.

PRESS: Blah blah blah?

CARLSON: Blah blah blah blah blah. That's my summing up.

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That's the way to argue it.

PRESS: Summing up. A good way to sum up Ashcroft's testimony. Thank you. Laura Ingraham, I thought we were having a pretty good debate in this country, a healthy debate about whether you can go after terrorists and protect the Constitution.

And all of a sudden Ashcroft today threw a stink bomb in front of the Judiciary Committee, saying, quote, that anybody who questioned what he was doing, "your tactics only aid terrorists. They give ammunition to America's enemies." I mean...

INGRAHAM: I believe you left out the beginning of that quote, Bill, which was those who engage in fearmongering to say that because the president is taking an aggressive stand toward terrorism in this that somehow we are shredding the Constitution has to step back and look at what's happened, look at the history, look at the judicial precedent.

PRESS: But...

INGRAHAM: And he also said several times he was glad to be there today because Congress does have an oversight role. It is proper for the attorney general to be in the Senate and testifying and explaining things.

He explained today important things, Bill, like the attorney- client privilege, whether it applies to people who are being held and he said, "look, we don't..."

PRESS: OK. That's fine. But let me ask you my question.

INGRAHAM: Well, let's not let the facts get in the way.

PRESS: My question is -- my question is, can't you disagree with John Ashcroft without being accused of being a traitor? Without being accused of being against the United States?

INGRAHAM: Well, that works...

PRESS: Is that what we've come to?

INGRAHAM: Well, that works well on talk shows. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what he said. Or really what -- I mean, that's -- that's been said by some columnists. I would never say that.

I do think, however, that when you haul the attorney general of the United States up for an entire day of questioning and then his aides the week before and other -- other aides earlier this week, when this goes on and on and on -- if it does go on and on -- at some point it detracts from the business of prosecuting and finding the people who may still be in this country still willing to unleash terror on innocent civilians.

PRESS: But of course...

INGRAHAM: If that happens that will be a terrible thing for this country.

PRESS: Of course, it is the first time that Ashcroft has testified on -- with record to all of these military tribunals et cetera. I think he's got a long way to catch up to Janet Reno, by the way.

INGRAHAM: Oh, yeah. She was -- she was really forthcoming. Is that a joke?

PRESS: When I heard him this time...

INGRAHAM: Is this like April Fool's Day?

PRESS: When I heard him today, it sounded awfully familiar. I went to my little research file and sure enough, it was very familiar.

I just want to read the quote. It reminds me of Ashcroft here. Quote, "I would have the American people recognize and contemplate in dread the fact that al Qaeda has now extended its tentacles to that most respected of American bodies, the United States Senate, that it has made a committee of the Senate its unwitting handmaiden."

Do you know who said that?


PRESS: Take out al Qaeda and put in Communist party, 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy. That's John Ashcroft today.

INGRAHAM: Oh, Bill, you're -- you're telling me -- you're jumping from McCarthy to Ashcroft appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee? Where did you get that?

PRESS: And saying -- and saying what he said.

INGRAHAM: But none of the senators who were questioning him today indicated that. They in fact...

PRESS: They're too polite. INGRAHAM: No. They cleared up with Ashcroft. They said, "you're not in fact questioning my patriotism." And he said absolutely not.

CARLSON: Of course not.

INGRAHAM: You have a right to bring me here and that's why I'm here.

CARLSON: Now Lanny, if we could just bring the conversation to the present century just -- just for a quick moment.

INGRAHAM: To reality.

CARLSON: Now, you've been in the Democrat party a long time. And you know that basically one of -- one of the platforms, the plank in your platform is you always have to have a whipping boy, a designated monster. And that monster obviously is John Ashcroft. Good luck with fund-raising on that.

But, but don't you think what is really going on here when Ashcroft goes up to the Senate, gets a rough time from the senators, their feelings are hurt because he's not paying enough attention, because this administration hasn't asked Congress' permission?

I'll just give you one small piece of evidence. Last time he was up at Congress -- up on the Hill, he spent 90 minutes there. Not enough time. Today, Charles Schumer of New York, this is his whine. Listen. "I hope this time he will be here long enough for all the senators to ask questions," he said bitterly. They -- they feel snubbed. That's what's really going on, isn't it?


CARLSON: That's the question. Isn't it?

DAVIS: First let me start by saying that both Democrats and Republicans support the proposition that under some circumstances there should be secret military tribunals to try war criminals, and that in fact that device was used in the past and we are not disagreeing with it.

What we are disagreeing with is that under this circumstance, the president announced a very general, vague standard which we don't know what it really means. And we are just getting it filled in now by the White House.

First we were taught there's no right of appeal. Then the White House counsel said, "well, there may be habeas corpus." There's no right to choose your own counsel, there's no right to a jury, there are no procedural rights that guarantee truth that gets out during a trial.

So at this point in time we are looking to the Pentagon to fill in the blanks, and to make sure that there are due process procedures available even in the middle of a war criminal's trials.

Having said that, I think Ashcroft has thrown red herrings out -- just as my friend Laura has -- about show trials. We are aware that a private trial under some circumstances to afford people the right to due process without revealing intelligence secrets is necessary.

CARLSON: See, what -- Ashcroft is up against people who are really living in a prior decade. And I -- I think he summed this up today. Listen to John Ashcroft describe what the other side -- that would be the ACLU and maybe you -- would have terrorists go through. Here, this is John Ashcroft. Listen to this.


ASHCROFT: When we come to those responsible for this, say in -- in Afghanistan, are we supposed we supposed to read them their Miranda rights, hire a flamboyant defense lawyer, bring them back to the United States to create a new cable network of Osama TV or what have you? Provide a worldwide platform from which propaganda can be developed?


CARLSON: Now, at the core of that is this question. There's this assumption that -- that foreign-born terrorists or foreigners accused of terrorism have exactly the same rights that American citizens do.

DAVIS: With...

CARLSON: And that's just not true.

DAVIS: With all due respect, that's sheer demagoguery. Nobody is saying that we are bringing Osama Bin Laden back here for a show trial. We are saying he can be tried with a military tribunal in secret.

CARLSON: Wait a minute. People are saying bring him back here, put him on trial in New York.

DAVIS: It is absolutely demagoguery...

CARLSON: Dershowitz would defend him. People are saying that.

DAVIS: It is absolutely demagogic for Ashcroft to say something that he knows nobody is calling for.

However, that same attorney general refused to let the FBI look at police records. In his broad view of what he wants to do with military tribunals, all of a sudden he doesn't let the FBI look at the police records as to whether probable terrorists have guns that are illegal.

INGRAHAM: Now, let's get into gun control. Because that's really at the heart of the terror...

DAVIS: And he didn't answer the question about why he would support having those gun records looked at by the FBI.

INGRAHAM: No, no. That would make Sarah Brady happy.

The Bill of Rights says "we the people of the United States." What we have to do in this circumstance is we have to distinguish between foreign combatants who come to this one country with one goal: to incinerate as many Americans as possible.

And citizens of the United States -- even John Walker, who could be tried for treason, he may not be -- but the Constitution specifically lays out a civil trial for him, a civil criminal trial for treason. Applying the principles of criminal justice -- civil criminal justice -- to foreign combatants on American soil or abroad makes absolutely no sense.

PRESS: I think you're -- I think you're missing the most important point here. No American wants to convict anybody unfairly. Nobody is standing up for these terrorists. All we are saying is, whatever we do with them we want to know that it's done on the evidence.

I want you to listen to one exchange today about the military tribunals, which I thought revealed a great deal about either how little John Ashcroft knows or how far he's willing to go. This is John Edwards, senator from North Carolina, and John Ashcroft right here.


SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: You are the attorney general of the United States. You are an experienced lawyer. I'm asking you whether you believe it is appropriate for somebody to be convicted and receive the death penalty based on 51 percent of the evidence?

Do you or do you not? You, just you personally.

ASHCROFT: I'm not going to try and develop a set of rules or regulations on that evidentiary standard or other standards at this time.


PRESS: All he's asking is are we going to have beyond a reasonable doubt or are we just going to throw it away?

INGRAHAM: I happen to be pretty familiar with that clip, because I used it on my radio show tonight.

PRESS: About what...

INGRAHAM: There's a minimum of two thirds that's required to convict or sentence under the president's executive order. Don't nod your head. That's in the...

PRESS: No, I know. But that's... INGRAHAM: You want to read the executive order?

PRESS: No, I know that's right. But that's a different issue.

INGRAHAM: No, it's not a different issue. You read -- you have to have the executive order in front of you. The executive order gives the secretary of defense purview. He has the option of deciding what the rules -- it's not within the attorney general's delegation of authority to determine what war criminals will have to go through in trial.

This is a war criminal involved here. This is a criminal activity on a wartime level.

PRESS: But wait. Doesn't it...

INGRAHAM: It has nothing to do with John Ashcroft.

PRESS: Doesn't it concern you the nation's top law enforcement...

INGRAHAM: No, because it's not his decision.

PRESS: Will you let me ask a question before you answer?

INGRAHAM: It's not his decision. Because it's not his decision, that's why.

PRESS: The top law enforcement officer of the United States is not even willing to say...

INGRAHAM: No, not his decision.

PRESS: ...that he is unwilling to see somebody executed based on less than beyond a reasonable doubt and that does not concern you?

INGRAHAM: No, because that's not what the executive order says. And we are supposed to be talking about facts on this program.

DAVIS: Can I just make one point here? The standards of proof and the ability to find the truth comes from a due process system that has long stood and that we should trust. What I hear Laura and the attorney general saying is, "I don't trust our system of justice. We are going to rig the rules about what kind of evidence is necessary to convict and sentence somebody to death."

INGRAHAM: Military justice is different, that's why.

PRESS: Unfortunately, guys, this trial...

DAVIS: It is not. The uniform code requires unanimity.

PRESS: This trial is over. Laura Ingraham, thanks for coming. Lanny, thanks for coming. Tucker Carlson and I, closing comments. We'll find out who's guilty and who's not, coming up.


PRESS: Here's what he said, Tucker. "They give ammunition to America's enemies."

CARLSON: Oh, please.

PRESS: That's an outrageous statement by John Ashcroft. Bush ought to...

CARLSON: That's...

PRESS: Listen. Bush ought to fire him and put somebody in there who understands what America is all about.

CARLSON: He is just -- look. You know, the thing about the Democratic party, it virtually doesn't exist unless there's a bogeyman. It was Ken Starr before, it's John Ashcroft now.

You can't pick on the president. He's got a 90 percent approval rating. So poor John Ashcroft has to take the brunt of Democratic fund-raising fury. It's ridiculous.

PRESS: Bob Barr has been a critic of John Ashcroft. It's not just Democrats. Bill Safire has been a critic of John Ashcroft. It is not just Democrats.

CARLSON: Military trials are under the purview of the Pentagon. They've got nothing to do with John Ashcroft. But you'd never know that.

PRESS: He did it. Fire John Ashcroft. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. We'll be on tomorrow night with another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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