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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interview With Charlie Wilson, Interview With Frank Gaffney

Aired December 27, 2001 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, another bin Laden videotape hits the airwaves. Are we any closer to catching him? What's the next step in the war on terrorism? And could a Secret Service agent be the latest victim of racial profiling?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, Charlie Wilson, former U.S. congressman and Frank Gaffney, former Assistant Secretary of Defense. And later, James Zogby, president of the Arab- American Institute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. "Blessed terror," that's Osama bin Laden's term for the attacks of September 11. A new bin Laden videotape aired today on Al-Jazeera television. In it, a pale bin Laden accuses the United States of waging war on Islam. The Bush administration fears the diatribe will provoke anti- American sentiment in the Islamic world. It's certain to make bin Laden even less popular here in the U.S., which raises once again the question, where is the world's most wanted terrorist?

Do we declare victory without him? And after him, whom? Is Saddam the new Osama? Joining us, former Congressman Charlie Wilson of Texas, who has spent time in the very caves bin Laden may now call home and Frank Gaffney, who is former Assistant Secretary of Defense. Ably filling the Bill Press chair on the far left tonight, Paul Begala -- Paul.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Tucker, thank you. Frank, welcome.

FRANK GAFFNEY, FMR. ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Thank you.

BEGALA: The new bin Laden tape, aired by Al-Jazeera today. When he began sending these tapes out, the President's national security adviser told the networks they shouldn't run these because she feared, first, that he would whip up anti-American views. But then second and probably more ominously, that there were secret coded messages potentially in these tapes.

Now they had clearly these tapes for eight weeks. We have the best cryptographers in the world, just the slightest shred of evidence that she was right?

GAFFNEY: Well, nothing has been blown up so far. So you might deduce from that, no. I don't think this is a matter of cryptography. I think this is a question of whether people have gotten instructions who are here in this country, or perhaps elsewhere in the world, and will be prepared to operate on them. So far, so good. But I don't think for a moment, that we should either let down our guard or discount the possibility that Al-Jazeera's operation is, in fact, fomenting overt messages to these people, as well as perhaps covert ones.

BEGALA: Well, there's no doubt that they're sending overt messages.

GAFFNEY: No doubt about it.

BEGALA: But what I'm...

(CROSSTALK)

Well, it certainly is, but we have a First Amendment here. We are being asked to keep legitimate news from the American people in a free society on what -- I'm a little skeptical frankly. This may be like another Air Force one was under attack. We remember that from September 11, which was a complete fiction and fabrication.

I just want to know if you think the White House is leveling with us when they say there are secret messages in these tapes?

GAFFNEY: I don't have any way of knowing whether there are, but I do think it's a distinct possibility. And I don't think this is a First Amendment issue. The quality of news in all of this is minimal. This is enemy propaganda. And it is being disseminated throughout communities, both here and abroad, in which it could well do enormous harm to American citizens and interests. I think that's good enough reason for not only discouraging its replication in our media, but shutting down Al-Jazeera, frankly.

CARLSON: Congressman, I want you to brace yourself. I'm going to outline a position, characterize it for you, that is so perverse, I think you may have trouble believing that anyone espouses, but nonetheless, I go forward.

The whole world is looking for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. And yet, there are people, one of whom mentioned in "The New York Times," who believes that they, or at least Mullah Omar should be set free.

I want to read you a line from an op-ed that ran yesterday, written by Nicholas Cristoph in "The New York Times." He says the United States should not go after Mullah Omar, essentially because we don't have the moral standing to do it. "It's hard to avoid charges of the inconsistency since America has not sought punishment for worst dictators, like 'Baby Doc' Duvalier of Haiti or Mr. Mbutou of Zaire." Do you buy is this, that we're not in a position to judge, we're not in a position to bring him to justice? Let him go. CHARLIE WILSON, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: No, of course not. I think -- I, of course, think we should go get him, but I'm stumbling a little bit here, but I think we're a little bit obsessed. I think we're a little bit obsessed with him. I think the Taliban is gone. I think we should never stop looking for him, but I don't think we should be a major obsession with us, dead or alive.

CARLSON: But it seems to me that there are two real issues here. One is the fact that these guys are armed and dangerous. I mean, from you know, using virtually no resources, they causes September 11, so they -- and second, isn't there the symbolic matter, that it's important to bring to justice the people responsible for these acts of terror? And this is a way of telling the rest of the world you do this, you're in trouble? We'll bring to you justice?

WILSON: Well, I think that Mohammed Omar pretty well knows that by now. He's been in hiding a long time. He'll be in hiding a lot longer or else he'll be dead.

I do think that we should give a little bit of thought, and I don't think many people really have, and I don't think I have to defend my qualifications and my past history on this sort of thing of people that do violence or to do violence to our country.

But I think we should think ahead a little bit. Do we really want Omar to be prisoner of the United States? Do we want Osama bin Laden to be a prisoner of the United States. Do we want Osama bin Laden to be tried by an American military tribunal and perhaps put to death? I don't think so.

I would like to see them both dead. Dead, dead. I don't say dead or alive. I say dead or dead. But I don't really want them as prisoners. And I'd just as soon that it not be an American that pulls the trigger, because...

GAFFNEY: As a practical matter, if the choice is between having him on the loose and having him as a prisoner, I think we'd all agree we'd rather have him as a prisoner. It's not an enviable proposition. And I think you're right to be concerned about it. We'd prefer to have him dead. We sure don't want him out running around doing more damage.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The question is, though, which him, right? There are two -- we're deflating two very different entities. There is a Taliban, who clearly...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me make my argument. The question versus the Taliban. Clearly bad people are sheltered and encouraged and harbored the worst sort of terrorists. And we have exacted massive vengeance and justifiable vengeance on them, but Mullah Omar is a one-eyed, 12th century lunatic who is no longer any risk to anyone, unlike bin Laden and al Qaeda, which remain a clear and present danger all around the world.

Isn't it risky to waste a single American life now going after Mullah Omar, when the Taliban is gone, when we ought to be going after al Qaeda?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Anyway, I also point out that Mullah Omar had a very tough childhood.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFNEY: My heart goes out to him.

CARLSON: Good, I'm glad.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I think we ought to be clear about this. Who's going to call the mother of that Marine who gets killed, going after a guy who's no long a threat to America?

GAFFNEY: Let me answer. I think it'd be a serious mistake to write off these guys, because as a practical matter, you've got terrorist operatives, whether they were in government positions, whether they were in extra governmental positions, that have been collaborating with one another that consider each other to be allies, and who I'm quite sure have not given up the lunatic of messianic vision of bringing as much violence to this country as they can, whether it's under the guise of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

BEGALA: You don't think they should be equal priorities, because whatever their lunatic vision, they don't have the means that al Qaeda has. And my argument is we ought to focus relentlessly like a laser beam on al Qaeda. And now that the Taliban is out, to hell with them.

GAFFNEY: I think you're making a distinction without a difference. I really believe that the Taliban, at this point, is now synonymous with al Qaeda. And we're looking at enemies of this country, who will continue to work their evil will against us, if they're on the loose. We should be rolling them up. This isn't an obsession. This is part of a military mission. And it won't be completed until that's done.

WILSON: There's a little bit of difference. And this requires a little bit of thinking ahead of the situation. And it may go against our instincts, particularly mine and yours. But there, for instance, bin Laden, everybody wants him dead. But if the United States pulls the trigger, and obviously we would if we had the opportunity, or could, or perhaps. But the last thing we want to do is take him prisoner. The last thing we want to do is to have a trial. The last thing we want to do is have him in the Hague.

Americans would be taken hostage all over the world. And besides that, I would ask you to have a little bit of sensibility for the Muslim friends that we have that are doing their best. CARLSON: Ah, I'm glad you brought that up, congressman. Our Muslim friends who are doing their best, particularly Pakistan. Now you've heard today from a number of experts, even from government officials, the sentiment that probably bin Laden is probably still in Afghanistan, because if he had crossed the border in Pakistan, he would've been caught by now, either by the government or someone in search of the $24 million.

WILSON: $25.

CARLSON: But I'm wondering though, if it isn't so plausible that he's in Pakistan, being sheltered by sympathetic elements within the Pakistani government or the ISI, the security service?

WILSON: Not the ISI, absolutely not.

CARLSON: Hold on, wait a second. They created the Taliban. As late as October, there were armed shipments crossing Khyber Pass from Pakistan to Afghanistan, on their way to the Taliban, with the knowledge of the Pakistan government. How -- why do we have any assurance that they've switched sides?

WILSON: I don't see how you could possibly expect President Musharraf to do any more than he's done, and to do it any better than he's done, or to do it any quicker than he's done it. He has walked the line of doing all he can do and maintain control of country.

I think that we -- and also, I would ask you, can you possibly imagine in that great fertile mind that you've got...

CARLSON: Thank you.

WILSON: Can you possibly imagine a better government in Pakistan than the one we've got right now?

CARLSON: Oh, I don't know.

WILSON: Hell, you think...

CARLSON: But let me...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY: We just have to close on this point.

WILSON: All right.

GAFFNEY: The idea that the last thing we want is bin Laden captured and imprisoned, and being tried and so on, mistakes the point that the last thing we want is bin Laden still on the loose. That's really...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Let me ask you this question, congressman. Now you said can we imagine a better government. First, we can imagine a democracy and not a government run by a general...

WILSON: How many Muslim democracies can you cite?

CARLSON: Zero, but we hope for one.

BEGALA: Turkey.

CARLSON: Turkey, that's right.

WILSON: Except that the army can...

CARLSON: Let me ask you this. Wait a second. It is well known, it's admitted within Pakistan that terrorists train within Pakistan. They fight in Kashmir. They don't call it terrorism, but the rest of the world recognizes it as such.

People from Pakistan just went and attacked the Indian parliament. If we were not at war with Afghanistan, if we didn't need Pakistan as an ally right now, don't you think we and the rest of the world would recognize Pakistan for what it is, a sponsor -- a state sponsor of terrorism?

WILSON: I don't think so. And I also think that you can't ask a guy to take on more, you know, more than he can take on and still serve our interests. I think that what we've done would have been impossible without Pakistan. I think it takes a great deal of courage to do it. I think he's turned the ISI around. And in my judgment, the Kashmir situation, he's doing the best he can.

He's got the head guy under house arrest. He's frozen all the bank accounts. And there remains, as you say, some support, probably a significant amount of support in Pakistan, brought on largely, to a great degree by all of the Afghan children of the mujahedeen that did the heroic war because they had no places to go to school, other than the madrasa schools. And we had no help for them.

GAFFNEY: But we are at a point where we're saying pretty much what people were saying before. We can't press Musharraf to stop supporting the Taliban. We can't press him to help us with al Qaeda. The truth of the matter is, we have to press him if what he's doing is inconsistent with...

WILSON: He's done it. He's done it. He's done it.

GAFFNEY: He's done it now, but there were a lot of people who were, just a couple months ago, saying oh, he can't do that. He'll lose control of his country. All these guys are...

BEGALA: Listen, September 11 changed things for Musharraf.

GAFFNEY: Of course, it did. But initially, right afterwards, people were saying we can't do this to Musharraf. He's going to be at risk. The whole thing will...

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: I want to take you to the next, the supposed next step. Many, particularly on the right, Frank Gaffney, are already calling for a war against Iraq. Now I do think former President Bush, Dick Cheney made a big mistake in wimping out, not getting Saddam Hussein 10 years ago when they had him do. But do we need open a second front in a war now? When I say again, Osama bin Laden is still alive and al Qaeda is still active in 60 countries? Isn't it bad timing to open a second front of war, when we have just begun real war against al Qaeda?

GAFFNEY: We should be doing Iraq and a number of other places, including some of these 60 countries that you're talking about, the groundwork that will change the facts on the ground. We need to be helping the Iraqi opposition right now, so that we have people to work with in Iraq, when the time is right to move against Saddam Hussein. We're going to have to do that.

WILSON: Were you on the Defense Department during Desert Storm, Frank?

GAFFNEY: I was not. I was outside of it.

WILSON: Well, I think, in defense of the senior Bush, President Bush, the first President Bush, I was in Congress at the time. I supported Desert Storm from the word "go." And I think that you have to put yourself in President Bush's position a little bit. His chief of staff, Colin Powell, Schwarzkopf, every single -- the Secretary of State, every single military adviser he had, including Dick Cheney, wanted him to do what he did. And advised him and they advised him to do what he did. And it's -- hindsight's easy. Hindsight's easy.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Let's leave it right there. Frank Gaffney, Charlie Wilson...

WILSON: I'll defend the father of the current president.

CARLSON: Amen, I like his spirit.

BEGALA: You're along on that one there.

CARLSON: Thank you very much joining us. We will be back to talk about one of the touchiest subjects in American life, racial profiling. Did it happen to a member of the Secret Service? We'll discuss it. We'll be right back on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Paul Begala, sitting in on the left. An Arab-American Secret Service agent, heading to Texas to protect President Bush, was barred from a flight on Tuesday. The pilot who threw the agent off the plane says there were major discrepancies in the forms the agent filled out in order to carry his service revolver on the plane, but civil rights groups say it appears to be racial and religious profiling. Joining us to discuss this situation is Dr. James Zogby. He is the president of the Arab-American Institute -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Jim Zogby, thanks for joining us.

Seems pretty simple to me. The airlines says that his forms didn't match. The guy was trying to bring a gun on a plane. And something wrong with the forms. Then these groups, these professional grievance vultures jump in, and claim discrimination. Why muddy the waters with that when it just seems a pretty simple matter?

JAMES ZOGBY, ARAB-AMERICAN INSTITUTE: Well, the agent himself was upset and has registered a protest about it. The fact is that I have difficulty believing, as I think you might as well, that a Secret Service agent, not just any agent, but one assigned to the President's detail, which as we know is the cream of the crop, in that service had problems filling out forms.

He, in fact, says he filled out the forms correctly. He was passing -- he passed through security. He was sitting on the plane, approved, and then was taken off by the pilot at the pilot's discretion.

Now look, let me make a point.

CARLSON: Wait a second...

ZOGBY: Before I start getting hate mail coming in because people say I'm not sensitive, we believe scrutiny is going to be important. And we understand what September 11 meant in terms of people looking and taking a second look at people of Arab descent. But a Secret Service agent? A guy who has passed...

CARLSON: No, you're missing the distinction. He said he was a Secret Service agent. Mohamed Atta said he was a crop duster. The point is, we don't know. And the guy's forms didn't work out. And the guy -- I feel sorry for the pilot, who's responsible for safety for everyone on the plane.

ZOGBY: Wait, the guy's form did work out, number one. And number two...

CARLSON: The airline says they didn't.

ZOGBY: Wait, wait. And he said he said just call the Secret Service office here in Baltimore or in Washington and verify it. He sat for an hour and 15 minutes. And they never made the call.

It would seem to me to be common sense that if they did not discriminate, that they would have simply called Secret Service to vouch for the guy. This is a big deal. I think it's a serious deal. A guy comes in with badge, not just a gun, but badge ID, the whole deal, and all of the accouterments of being a Secret Service agent. He says call my boss.

CARLSON: He's walking on a plane with a gun. ZOGBY: He was on the plane. He had passed through scrutiny. They had taken him off the plane, held him for an hour and a half, and did not...

CARLSON: You could certainly see why he had a gun on him.

ZOGBY: You can also, though, you do have some empathy for the feelings of the pilot.

CARLSON: Of course.

BEGALA: Most commercial pilots also have military experience. And this guy is entrusted with the security of a couple hundred people.

ZOGBY: Absolutely. And there's no question that pilots are going to be insecure and are going to be sensitive right now. They've had one too many of these mishaps. And frankly, we understand their insecurity. And we understand -- and our anger's focused on the 19 folks who did September 11. That's not the issue.

The issue here is scrutiny, yes, security, yes, but discrimination, no. And do not take a guy who is a Secret Service agent, who was the badge, the ID, and the whole works. The bigger problem here is not that this guy was on plane with a gun. The problem is somebody might have been impersonating a Secret Service agent. The first place I'd call is Secret Service and find out. Why didn't they do it?

BEGALA: Let me -- well, I'm sure we hear from the airlines in the first...

ZOGBY: And I have every bit of confidence. I should say that President Carty at American Airlines is going to work this out. This is the first guy to come out of the box after September 11 with a very profound statement, saying there should be no discrimination against people of Arab descent. And he would not tolerate it.

BEGALA: Well, let's test the level of scrutiny you're comfortable with. What about profiling? And let's call that it. Profiling, that includes ethnicity and also gender and age. These are young Arab males in the main, exclusively so far. But then add some behavior element, right, that they bought their ticket in cash or it was a one-way ticket or. Now are you comfortable with a mix.

ZOGBY: And we understand that to be the case. The Justice Department in the past, under your administration...

BEGALA: President Clinton and Vice President Gore suggested this.

ZOGBY: Approved of a form of profiling in which ethnicity is a part of the overall characteristic. But what we're finding all too often on airlines is that it is the only factor. Look, when somebody passes through the whole security profile, they're seated on the plane, and the pilot comes back and says look, I'm not flying with Mohammed on the plane, and that's the only reason given to the guy, that's happened in a couple instances, Tucker, that's wrong.

CARLSON: No, but you appear to be saying. Let's just see if we can agree.

ZOGBY: If we go down that road, then all of the dark guys are off plane and all the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: We haven't gone down that road. That's not true that obviously, as you well know, is not going to happen. But I'm just -- let me ask you this, part of the core of it. You appear to suggesting that because this fellow, this Secret Service guy, had an Arabic sounding name, that he didn't deserve or shouldn't expect or it's unfair to give him more scrutiny than if he would say a New Zealander.

And I would bet that the vast majority of Americans of -- the vast majority of Arab-Americans agree that a guy with an Arabic sounding name with a gun is going to get and should get more scrutiny than someone from New Zealand.

ZOGBY: If that were simply the case, we wouldn't be talking about it. But what we're talking about is the fact that the guy was taken off the plane after passing security clearance, was not only kept off the plane for an hour and half, but then was denied access to another plane and had to delay his entire trip for a day, risking his job as a Secret Service agent.

CARLSON: Now wait a second.

ZOGBY: Let's not argue about it. Let's understand the fact here. The fact is not that he was given scrutiny. The fact that he was given not only scrutiny, but he was patently discriminated against and was denied the opportunity.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: He wanted the airline -- err on the side of safety, jeopardize this guy's flight for a day, as opposed to jeopardizing the lives of everyone on the plane? I mean, this seems like...

ZOGBY: We wouldn't be talking about it if they were simply scrutinizing. Something different and bad happened here to this individual. And it shouldn't have happened. And I believe before it's over, they'll end up apologizing, as they did when they denied...

CARLSON: They'll probably get a million dollars.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let's do some profiling. Tim McVeigh, right wing White guy. Robert Hanson, right wing White guy. I want to profile the right wing White guys. I'm sorry, sir, you've listened to Rush Limbaugh today. Get off of my airplane.

ZOGBY: And we've done it in the past before.

BEGALA: That's profiling. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We're not going to do that though, because they look like you and me.

CARLSON: Next time they pull me over, I'll use that defense. You're profiling me. I'm a right wing White guy.

ZOGBY: No, listen. Again I repeat to you, and I think that most people out in the audience understand. If the guy's got a badge and the guy's got an ID and he's got the whole works says, and he says call Secret Service. Call my boss at Secret Service.

BEGALA: Next time...

ZOGBY: Simple solution. We wouldn't be talking about it tonight. They were stupid.

CARLSON: More scrutiny, not less.

ZOGBY: Right.

CARLSON: Jim Zogby, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up, you won't want to miss the stories that Paul and I think have fallen below the radar lately. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: And now, here are a few stories that might have flown below your radar screen this Christmas holidays. The Bush Justice Department announced last week that Barbara Comstock will be its new Director of Public Affairs.

Now Ms. Comstock has no experience in terrorism, no experience in law enforcement, but lots of experience in political mud slinging. She worked for the venomously partisan Dan Burton in the House of Representatives, then was the chief dirt digger at the Republican National Committee, where she was called a one-woman wrecking crew, targeting Democratic leaders. Does anybody trust this right wing Republican Justice Department to investigate the Bush/Enron scandal?

CARLSON: You calling Barbara Comstock or anyone else venomously partisan is so -- just on its face ludicrous.

BEGALA: Put me in charge of the Justice Department then.

CARLSON: I have to say, you know as well as I do, Barbara Comstock is a delightful person.

BEGALA: She is.

CARLSON: She'll do a delightful job well. You've been watching the war in Afghanistan and the whole face of the world change. The prune lobby, the people who represent plum growers, have pushed the Department of Agriculture to pay people who grow plums $8.50 for every plum tree they rip out of the ground. This, an attempt to artificially inflate the price of prunes. Good to know that even with wars going on around the world, vulgar interest group politics continue in Washington. It is a sign we're getting back to normal.

I don't think the Democrats ever actually left that state.

BEGALA: The Democrats leaving that state?

CARLSON: It's disgusting.

BEGALA: Well, we have to leave that state now. From the left, I am Paul Begala. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. It's going to be a great show. Tune in.

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