Video: Question of torture

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updated 11/16/2005 9:03:27 AM ET 2005-11-16T14:03:27

Sen. John McCain says he wants to ban cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment of detainees .  Though Vice President Cheney has been lobbying for language that will not limit the president's power in prisoner treatment.

Is there a right and wrong way to treat an alleged terrorist?  Rick Francona, a retired Air Force Lieutenant colonel and MSNBC analyst, and Dana Priest, a reporter for The Washington Post, play Hardball on the issue.  Priest recently broke the story on the CIA so-called black sites. 

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Let me start with Colonel Francona here.  It seems to me there's four levels of hell if you get captured by the United States.  There's how you're treated by the military, how you might be treated by the CIA, how you might be treated if you end up in one of these black sites in Eastern Europe and what happens to you if you have to go one of these rendition sites like Egypt.  Am I right, Colonel Francona?  There are four
levels of hell here for treatment. 

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): You're exactly right, Chris, and that's in about the right order.  Of course, the military operates under a strict series of standards that were set up by the Department of Defense.  Basically they're adhering to the Army Field Manual on interrogation.  And that's pretty cut and dry.

Then you get into this kind of murky world of what happens if you fall into the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency?  If you're held in one of the Central Intelligence Agency's facilities, there's a lot of oversight and restriction on that.  But as we've seen reported, and I think Dana had some information on this, was when you get into the black sites that are in
other countries, then you get outside of U.S. supervision, outside of real oversight. 

The CIA is in charge but they're offshore and they're, you know, out of sight, out of mind and then the worst is, of course, what we call these extraordinary rendition, is when you are handed over to our foreign service and you're at the mercy of that service. 

MATTHEWS: OK, Dana, your review of the four levels of hell yourself.  What do you know about them? 

DANA PRIEST, THE WASHINGTON POST: The one that I'm most familiar with although it's very vague, is the CIA site, the black sites.  You know, they are not operating without guidelines.  In fact, their guidelines are approved by the Justice Department and the White House and the CIA General Counsel's Office.  But we don't know much about them, contrary to the military interrogation techniques that we have got lists and lists of and we see what's being debated in Congress. 

The CIA has refused to turn over anything about those.  We know, however, there have been some techniques used.  Water boarding is the most familiar where a detainee is made to believe they're going to drown. 

MATTHEWS: Are they?  Are they going to drown?  I mean, I'm wondering if that isn't just the real thing. 

PRIEST: No.  I mean, the whole point of having somebody in that site is not to kill them.  It's to interrogate them so that you can get information out of them. 

MATTHEWS: Well, how often do they get out of hand and how often do they actually drown somebody?  Like every tenth time?  Enough times to make you think they might be doing it? 

PRIEST: No.  I think we would hear.  We know about seven or eight investigations involving CIA people linked to deaths of detainees.  We have not heard of any in the black sites yet and I we would.  

MATTHEWS: How would we hear?  If somebody is over in Poland or somewhere, somewhere else in Eastern Europe at some old gulag site, would we actually get a report of someone who died over there? 

PRIEST: Well, we, the people, would not.  The public.  I mean, the only way that we've known anything about the sites is through press reporting.  Because the members of Congress who know about this, there are perhaps four, they're sworn to secrecy.  They violate a law if they tell you about it, and that's catch-22 for them. 

MATTHEWS: Well, here is what Senator Hagel said.  I don't know if
this is catch-22 or not.  Here's what he had to say.  We're going to watch the reports of these secret CIA jails, the story you broke.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R), Nebraska said, "The recent media reports of a worldwide American system of secret black hole jails run by the Central Intelligence Agency and developed explicitly to circumvent our obligations under the Geneva Convention soils further everything America represents.  It further erodes the world's confidence in America's word and our purpose."

OK.  Colonel Francona, what do you make of that?  You're a military man.  What is your personal sense of what's right and wrong in the area of treating prisoners?

FRANCONA: I don't have the problem with the CIA running a series of overseas detention facilities and interrogation sites.  I'm more concerned about what goes on in them and how it's overseen from headquarters.  If there are guidelines that are adhered to and those guidelines are within the framework of the law, I don't have a problem with that. 

MATTHEWS: Why would you take somebody over to Poland if you weren't going to treat them differently than you would in Georgia?

FRANCONA: Because you could do things in Poland that you can't do in Georgia because you are out of sight.

MATTHEWS: That's my point.  Dana, is that your assessment?  There's a reason why these are black sites?  Because they want to do things in the dark? 

PRIEST: Well, yes.  And the only reason they took them overseas is because they didn't want U.S. courts and U.S. law to apply. 

The only reason that they're secret where they are is because they would be breaking the laws of democracies, where these black sites are located.  Because they have laws like we do, that gives detainees certain rights. 

MATTHEWS: I don't want to be a complete goo goo here, a good government type, Colonel Francona, but what about the United Nations declaration of human rights, which outlaws this kind of torture of any kind, really? 

FRANCONA: Well, here we're going to get into semantics.  What constitutes torture?  What constitutes, you know, aggressive interrogation? 

MATTHEWS: How about it hurts real bad?  Let's keep it simple.  It hurts real bad, that's torture. 

FRANCONA: That's torture.

MATTHEWS: It hurts real bad.

FRANCONA: Threatening with a loaded weapon, threatening to kill their family, I don't regard that as beyond de pale.  When you start breaking things, forcing joints, that's beyond the pale, that we shouldn't be doing. 

MATTHEWS: Dana? 

PRIEST: The bottom line is, we don't know.  Senator Hagel is on the intelligence committee.  He doesn't know about these black sites and that's because they won't brief members who are even supposed to be doing oversight to give them any comfort about what might be going on there.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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