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'The Abrams Report' for May 7

Read the complete transcript to Friday's show

Guests:  Jed Babbin, Nancy Soderberg, Robert McFarlane, Mamoun Fandy, Ellen Tauscher, Duncan Hunter

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  

Mr. Secretary, if this day is difficult for you and for our troops and for members of Congress, it is an especially difficult day for the family of Nathan Brukenthal (ph).  I attended his funeral this morning at Arlington Cemetery.  He was the first member of the Coast Guard to be killed in action since Vietnam.  He was killed by a fanatic.  He was killed by a suicide bomber.  He was killed by a maritime improvised explosive device by a culture that values death over life.  I am, as we all are, as you are, very concerned about the implications of this abuse on force protection.  Instead of seeing images of empathetic soldiers, right now the Middle East is being bombarded with images over Al-Jazeera and elsewhere of the most grotesque distortions of what we‘re about. 

There was an article in “The New York Times” this morning that said that within Iraq, these images so far have not had a particularly virulent effect, but outside of Iraq throughout the rest of the Middle East, they are very damaging.  So my question is, as a matter of force protection, what is your assessment of how these—this media crisis is playing out through the Middle East?  How are we responding to those images, and do you agree that if it takes the resignation, not necessarily yours, but resignations and the rolling of heads at the most senior levels in order to correct those images and create the contrast between a culture that condoned and considered torture commonplace versus a culture that demands resignations and departures when there are abuses, if that‘s what it takes, would you agree that we ought to head in that direction? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, I‘ll let General Smith (ph) respond to your question as to what the effect in the area is.  He‘s just landed this morning from there and can speak to it better than I.  Those are—it‘s a tough balance.  It‘s a tough question to answer.  What will help?  What would be the most effective?  I serve at the pleasure of the president, and I‘ve responded on that issue. 

There is no question but that—I don‘t believe that it would be right for me to run around looking for scapegoats so you can toss someone over the side and I‘ll be damned if I‘m going to look at that list and pretend that I think it was badly done.  I don‘t.  I think they did a darn good job.  Perfect?  No.  But a good job. 

They announced it to the public.  They told the world.  They started the prosecutions, and—so what am I supposed to do?  Look for someone down there and say hey, let‘s heave that guy over the side.  That isn‘t the way we do business in this country.  That‘s all I have to say. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thank the gentleman.  And the—we have a good friend of the committee who used to serve on the committee and now serves on defense appropriations and also happens to be one of—in fact the only (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Vietnam and a gentleman who was recommended for the congressional medal of honor for his service to our country, Mr.  Cunningham, and he‘s been with us all day and Duke, we‘d like to give you an opportunity to ask some questions.  The gentleman is recognized. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I sat here for nearly three hours because I believe this is important, critically important.  And Mr. Secretary, not exaggerating, I‘ve spoken to thousands of our enlisted and our officers, military, active duty, and our veterans.  And they would follow you into hell because they know you‘d get them back.  You got us through two wars, you did it efficiently, you fought tooth, hook and nail against the enemy and I would follow you and you have my full support. 

You know something?  I saw the Congressional Black Caucus press conference.  When they talk about minimum politics on this, I sure hope somebody prays for me as they try and slip the knife in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know, that I‘d like to allude a little bit to what Mr. Taylor (ph) said and why all of us feel so bad in this thing and all of us do on both sides of the aisle and out there.  But I‘ll tell you, it comes down to a word—un-American, what happened.  It‘s not this country.  But what is American is the results that are going to come out of this.  The world is going to see just how fair under a free enterprise, under a free nation, that justice will come about.  And that the leaders themselves will take measure. 

One thing that does bother me is the word I think scapegoat.  Because you know, there was another event that I lived through, it was called Tailhook, and I beg you, Mr. Secretary, I know 100 officers that were tied up in that that shouldn‘t have been penalized but because of politics, many members of Congress dug their heads in and ran for cover and would not stand up for those kids.  You know, penalize the guilty ones, but by God, protect those fine kids. 

RUMSFELD:  You can count on it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.  You know, the—I got a recommendation for you.  It‘s I think an advantage sitting here listening to other people and that‘s why I wanted to sit in.  I wanted to get kind of a feel and a tempo.  When I was in the service, I had an admiral, one of the best guys I ever worked for, we had a problem with DUI, DWIs in the military.  I mean it‘s in the regulations, it‘s in the rules, you get trained, hey, don‘t do it, but we had a rash of them.  This admiral was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of our pack brought all of us C.O.s in and he said, guys, any one of you get a DUI or DWI, probably like that guy on TV, you‘re fired. 

And then we went down to our division officers and officers and enlisted and said, if you do this, you‘re fired.  And my concern was at that prison, I don‘t feel that someone came across—yes, they were trained.  They had the rules.  They had the regulations, but in my own mind, I don‘t know if someone told them, said, these are the consequences if you act in a certain way.  Small recommendation. 

Second recommendation.  When I—the day of my change of command, I pulled my squadron together because I had women in it too, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I know how important the chain of command is.  People that have never served in the military don‘t understand that many times, said it‘s chaos without it.  But I told my squadron mates that there were some exceptions to the change of command.  One of those was anything known racial and that included verbal, because I saw an aircraft carrier lose its mission capability because of it.  And it wasn‘t something that I wanted to wait on over a period of time. 

I wanted to know about it.  They could bypass my chief.  They could bypass my division officer.  They could bypass my department head, my executive officer, my command master chief and they could walk right into that office.  The other one was any known use or sale of drugs.  The third was any sexual abuse, because I had women in there.  And the fourth, which I think would be applicable to this hearing especially, that if any of my kids, enlisted or officers, did anything that reflected negatively on my unit, the Navy, or the United States, they could walk right through that door. 

Let me give you another good example.  I never went to Tailhook without my wife.  She went right along and so did my daughters go along with me.  And this was actually before the blowup, Mr. Secretary.  I told my squadron that I was going to paid for our admin, where everybody could go.  It was going to be a place where the wives, the girlfriends and your daughters or your sons could go and there would be no alcohol in our admin suite, but yet I didn‘t restrict them from going to the other activities, but I said if you do anything that violates the rules, if your conduct reflects negatively or if you get a DUI or DWI going or coming, I paid for the bus to get them there, I‘m going to fire your butts. 

You know, not one of my kids had a problem and that‘s leadership I think.  And then you know, I was so proud, one of my lieutenants that just took over as a commanding officer, sat his squadron down and did the same exact thing, but he gets down, right down to the nitty gritty that it may be in rules, it may be in regulations and I hear it over and over, one of the big concerns we have is the timeliness.  And I think maybe in the future, something like this, especially even at a lower level, if we know that these things are available, that they go right straight to the top and they walk through that door to the C.O. 

Thank you. 

RUMSFELD:  That‘s good advice.  Thank you.  And thank you for your wonderful courageous service also. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you very much Duke and Mr. Secretary, we have a somewhat unusual question, but our vice chairman, Mr. Weldon was unavoidably detained in his district, he wanted to be here, he‘s on the telephone.  He‘s got a question for you, so...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Secretary...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Curt, we can hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone):  Mr. Secretary, thank you for your service to the country.  General Myers, thank you for your service to the country.  I led a delegation of our colleagues from the committee to Iraq and Afghanistan a few short weeks ago and I want to tell you that every stop that we made, we were impressed and proud of our troops and the leadership from Baghdad to Tikrit, from Kabul to our K2 (ph) base in Uzbekistan.  We saw nothing but pride and dignity and positive feelings about the leadership structure, the mission and role and their dedication...

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  The House Armed Services Committee, over three hours of questions for Donald Rumsfeld and some of his senior staff, this following three hours of questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, a whole host of issues that they were answering questions about, from issues of when did they know about these photos, what did they do about them as soon as they heard them.  What is the chain of command?  Who is directly responsible for the prison? 

Numerous senators and congressmen asking very specific questions about who was in charge, what was done with regard to investigations of those people, questions about the perceptions of both in the United States and in the Arab world.  And finally, questions about whether Donald Rumsfeld should resign. 

We are going to take a break.  When we come back, our full coverage of the Armed Services Committee hearings continues. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, a special edition of the program, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld making his case to Congress.


RUMSFELD:  If there‘s a failure, it‘s me.  It‘s my failure for not understanding and knowing that there were hundreds or however many there are of these things, that could eventually end up in the public and do the damage they‘ve done. 

ABRAMS (voice-over):  Secretary Rumsfeld, falling on the sword, taking the heat for failing to do more sooner in connection with the Iraqi prisoner abuse.  Congressional leaders on both sides asking tough, pointed questions.  Like, did the defense secretary set a precedent, which encouraged military officials to ignore the Geneva Convention?  And what exactly did he know and when did he know it? 

The program about justice starts now. 


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  Donald Rumsfeld lived up to his title of defense secretary today on Capitol Hill, facing senators and representatives in two separate hearings on the Iraqi prisoner abuse.  From the beginning, Secretary Rumsfeld offered a mea culpa.


RUMSFELD:  In recent days, there has been a good deal of discussion about who bears responsibility for the terrible activities that took place at Abu Ghraib.  These events occurred on my watch as secretary of defense, I am accountable for them, and I take full responsibility. 

I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees.  They are human beings.  They were in U.S. custody.  Our country had an obligation to treat them right, we didn‘t, and that was wrong.  So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.  Further, I deeply regret the damage that has been done first to the reputation of the honorable men and women of the armed forces who are courageously and responsibly and professionally defending our freedoms across the globe. 


ABRAMS:  Let‘s get right to it with the panel—Jed Babbin, former deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, Robert “Bud” McFarlane, the former national security advisor under...


ABRAMS:  ... President Reagan, former Clinton administration National Security Council member and former U.N. ambassador, Nancy Soderberg and Mamoun Fandy, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.  He‘s also a former professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian politics at the National Defense University. 

All right, Deputy Babbin, let me start with you.  Let‘s just get an overview here.  The secretary of defense taking some level of responsibility, saying the buck stops with me in effect.  Did he do enough, do you think, to assuage the critics? 

JED BABBIN, FMR. DEPUTY UNDERSECY DEFENSE:  No, and there‘s nothing he could do short of suicide to assuage the critics.  What Mr. Rumsfeld is doing is exactly the right thing to do.  He‘s running the investigations.  He‘s making sure that the abuses are going to be punished and it doesn‘t happen again.  He‘s administering the Department of Defense exactly as it should be, and the calls for his resignation are completely off base. 

This man is a symbol around the world of American strength, not of American abuse of power.  He is someone who the liberals love to hate.  He is someone who is not very respectful of the United Nations.  He‘s not very respectful of Old Europe, but he is also very comfortable with exercising American power in the defense of the United States.  To remove him now would be a great damage to our country. 

ABRAMS:  I want to focus less on the politics of this.  Chris Matthews will certainly deal with that later.  But Ambassador Soderberg, just in terms of how he dealt with the senators and the Congress people‘s questions, do you think that he did as expected? 

NANCY SODERBERG, FMR. U.S. REP. U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL:  I think he was actually more contrite than expected.  I mean Secretary Rumsfeld is known for his combativeness, his refusal to admit any mistakes and that‘s why he‘s got such a strong following in so many circles.  I think he was contrite and very much apologizing, very forcefully.  It took President Bush a week to do it.  This is his first real appearance before the Senate and he did it upfront. 

I think there will be some criticism that he was saying, well, you know focusing on the fact that the pictures came out rather than the failure to provide strong instructions to how these detainees should be handled, but that will all come out in the investigation.  I think the larger picture here is that Secretary Rumsfeld is becoming the point person for the mistakes that have been made in Iraq of which the mistreatment of prisoners is only the last one.  And I think from day one, the rejection of the U.N. role, the debabification (ph), the disbanding of the Army...


SODERBERG:  ... all of those have caused great problems that are coming back to haunt him. 

ABRAMS:  Well, but the bottom line is that this problem is related to a very specific issue.  I mean you can say that the critics have been out there criticizing him for—on various issues, but today there was really a fairly single issue, although...

SODERBERG:  No, but they wouldn‘t be calling for his resignation with such vehement...

ABRAMS:  Oh...

SODERBERG:  ... had it not been for the lead up to these mistakes. 

ABRAMS:  All right, that‘s—maybe, maybe not.  Mr. McFarlane, let me let you listen to this because I think this is one of the issues that came up again and again and that is when the secretary and General Myers saw all of the photos and we learned today there‘s also videotape out there.  They said in a sense that the worst is still to come and we heard that they only really got a chance to see all of the photos last night.  Let‘s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Secretary, when did you first see the photos? 

RUMSFELD:  Last night about 7:30.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Secretary...

RUMSFELD:  I should say, I had seen the ones in the press.  I had seen the ones that are doctored slightly, to suit people‘s tastes.  We‘ve been trying to get one of the discs for days and days and days. 


ABRAMS:  The question—is that troubling?  Is the fact that this has been out there for a week, and that‘s out there in the public, and yet it‘s something that they‘ve known about—they said that they knew about pictures as of late January, early February—is it troubling that they only got to see those discs the night before the hearings? 

ROBERT MCFARLANE, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Well, Dan, having been in the military for 20 years myself, it may sound a little bit surreal, but allowing—bending over backwards in the military to allow protection of individual potential defendants‘ rights is well beyond the civil standard in our country.  However, I think probably that the secretary ought to have been able to judge the seriousness of it and to have engaged the Congress and the press, the president at an earlier time.

But you know, Dan, I think in the middle of a firestorm like this, it‘s normal that we focus on these issues like this, but I think the more penetrating question is what will be the lasting effect on our ability to sustain what we‘re doing in Iraq, and the broader struggle against terrorism in the world?  And I think there we really do need a very different approach, and we‘re not talking here any longer about trying to sell this on the basis of weapons of mass destruction.  The president has to reach out in Asia, in Europe, and here in our country, and make the very profound case that he‘s trying to establish some pluralistic model in the Muslim world...


MCFARLANE:  ... and that that is worth mistakes, because unless we do that, we‘re going to face the hundreds of thousands that are being generated daily of potential suicide bombers from targets to attack from Tokyo to Washington.  And unless the president can make that case, however, with allied support, congressional support in the coming weeks and months, this does risk the unraveling of the policy. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Mamoun Fandy, you know, I‘m not surprised that you know all the questions I‘m asking are very specific related to what‘s happening today and yet, many of the answers are much broader because there is a big picture out there...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s correct.

ABRAMS:  ... that I think a lot of people are interested in and I do understand it, but I want to try and stick to today‘s testimony.  In terms of the Arab world—look, this was on Al-Jazeera live.  This was on Al-Arabiya live...


ABRAMS:  ... is this going to help at all the fact that the defense secretary seemed much more contrite than anyone has ever seen him publicly before? 

MAMOUN FANDY, SR. FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE:  Well, I think the early comments from the Arab world that there are basically two faces of America that they saw today.  It‘s the face of a very effective Senate and Congress that was grilling the secretary of state.  But still the image of the secretary of the state did not go very well over there because of the idea that he was actually caught with these pictures.  I mean he‘s terribly worried that these pictures came out.  Not necessarily contrite because abuse happened, but the concern as his language was translated and expressed in Arabic was that really, if it weren‘t for CBS catching him, he would not have come out with these things. 

ABRAMS:  Are they mistranslate—I mean did they editorialize in the translating too? 

FANDY:  I‘m not sure if these—I‘m giving you the early...

ABRAMS:  Oh, all right.

FANDY:  ... reactions of people...

ABRAMS:  That‘s how they perceived it...

FANDY:  ... that the concern came across as it‘s about really the pictures coming out...

ABRAMS:  Got it.

FANDY:  ... rather than being apologetic.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me take a break here.  There was a very important issue that came up today and that is whether Donald Rumsfeld and this secretary of defense and this Defense Department set a precedent that led all of this to happen.  A lot of questions about that.  That‘s coming up.  Our continuing special coverage of the testimony of the secretary of defense...



SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  You‘ve made some controversial statements early on after Afghanistan that said the Geneva Convention was not relevant here.  That by and large, and I‘m quoting generally, American military interrogators, prison guards, would try to carry out the rights of prisoners and detainees according to the Geneva Convention, but I want to ask you today as you look back to that, do you think you were right? 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Mr. Secretary, in January 2002, when you publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by U.S.  and allied forces in Afghanistan did not have any rights under the Geneva Convention that was taken as a signal. 


ABRAMS:  Ambassador Soderberg, do you think that was a signal and was this fair questioning criticism from some of the senators? 

SODERBERG:  Absolutely.  I think it‘s inevitable that these questions are going to come up not just in Iraq, but how are we treating prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo.  And I think as Secretary Rumsfeld made clear today, I think the era of us abusing these prisoners is over and that‘s something that I think clearly is coming out of these.  There will be a very high command from secretary-general—Secretary Rumsfeld on down that this type of activity is no longer acceptable. 

ABRAMS:  You know, Mr. Babbin, it seems to me a huge leap, though, to go from saying we‘re going to hold people as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay and not give them necessarily the same rights as a POW to saying that effectively that was an OK from the Defense Department to do these horrible things, which are depicted in these horrible photos. 

BABBIN:  Well, Dan, that‘s exactly right.  I mean the leap that‘s being made here is just absolutely illogical.  The Geneva Convention covers prisoners of wars.  It does not cover terrorist, but from the very beginning, from the very minute the president made a determination to not treat al Qaeda prisoners, for example, as prisoners of war, that was not licensed to abuse these people.  All that meant was we could hold them in communicado (ph).  That they would not necessarily have the right to counsel and that they would not necessarily have the right to visitation.  It does not give anybody a license to abuse them and nobody in the military chain of command could have possibly misunderstood it that way. 

ABRAMS:  But Mr. McFarlane, what the argument is, is that it may have sort of created an environment whereby human rights weren‘t a concern, and as a result it made it easier for something like this to happen. 

MCFARLANE:  Well, Dan, I don‘t think you can tie the secretary‘s earlier remarks to the people involved at Abu Ghraib prison.  The people there clearly did enjoy rights and this is clearly an aberration.  This is not the way that people in that status are to be treated or that the people in charge were told to treat them.  This was wrongful conduct and I expect it will be identified, punished and corrected in terms of chain of command and people accountable for it.  But no, there is no defending what was done at all, nor is it related to what the secretary said earlier on.  Terrorists are different—in a different category. 

ABRAMS:  Ambassador, how do you make that link?  I mean is it just that sort of created an environment whereby human rights were not a priority, but how does that—you go from that to somehow sanctioning or ignoring something like what happened in Iraq? 

SODERBERG:  Well, this has been a tension in international law forever, which is why you have the Geneva Conventions.  Even terrorists have rights, even though some have tried to deny that.  Every time we‘ve tried to deny that throughout history, it comes back to haunt us as this has happened.  So there has got to be...

ABRAMS:  But what‘s the link...

SODERBERG:  ... an international standard. 

ABRAMS:  But I‘m still not clear as to what...

SODERBERG:  Well you...

ABRAMS:  ... the link is. 

SODERBERG:  ... you can‘t say that because someone is a terrorist they have no rights.  If they‘re in the United States custody they have to be treated with dignity.  You also have what will come out on top of this is some of the people who we‘ve held as terrorists may end up being innocent in the long run, so it‘s a tension and always a principle that despite the emotional trauma of terrorism and the righteousness that we have, it‘s always a mistake. 

ABRAMS:  But how is that an OK, though?  I mean, again, I understand that argument, but how—what is the theory behind how that attitude leads people to have their thumbs up behind naked tied up prisoners? 

SODERBERG:  Well, I think 9-11 was traumatizing for the American people and we feel like we‘re victims, and so those who might have had a link to that, although Iraq didn‘t, there are some who still believe that they did, are lesser human beings than we are and therefore, as victims we have the right to mistreat them and that‘s always the responsibility of the commanders to send that signal that no that‘s not acceptable.  We have standards here and unfortunately, the Pentagon failed to do this in the case of Iraq.  We‘ll see if it happened in the case of Guantanamo and Afghanistan as well.  We hope not.

ABRAMS:  Mr. Babbin, is that the problem?  That the commanders...


ABRAMS:  ... sort of weren‘t told in specific enough language, hey, we‘re not going to tolerate any violations of human rights?

BABBIN:  Not at all.  I mean no one ever said that there was a license to abuse people.  And Ambassador Soderberg is—unfortunately, she‘s just dead bang wrong.  The third Geneva Convention of 1949 defines who is entitled to prisoner of war status.  That includes certain rights to visitation, identification and things of that nature.  POWs are not terrorists. 


BABBIN:  The Geneva Convention is very clear and the commanders in Iraq did not do their jobs.  There‘s a military intelligence colonel that‘s probably going to be court-martialed, there‘s a brigadier general on the military police that‘s already been relieved of duty.  Those people didn‘t do their job.  They knew darn well they shouldn‘t be...


BABBIN:  ... abusing these people. 

ABRAMS:  Let me again bring it back to today‘s testimony.  I want to play something that Donald Rumsfeld said; also General Myers pointed this out as well.  They both kept saying that they may not be able to talk about the specifics of this case as much as some would like.  Here‘s what Secretary Rumsfeld said. 


RUMSFELD:  Let me say that each of us at this table is either in the chain of command or has senior responsibilities in the Department of Defense.  This means that anything we say publicly could have an impact on the legal proceedings against those accused of wrongdoing in this matter. 


ABRAMS:  Mr. McFarlane, isn‘t there an argument to be made that yes, the ongoing criminal proceedings are very important, but maybe there‘s a greater importance here and that is that the secretary has got to answer questions to the world and that may involve changing the rules a little bit when it comes to dealing with the court-martials the way he ordinarily wouldn‘t make comments that maybe here he has to? 

MCFARLANE:  Well, Dan—no, I don‘t think so.  I think the secretary does have to be able to tend...


MCFARLANE:  ... that dimension of his responsibilities.  That is accountability to the American people, the Congress, and to allies.  However, I think today what he was saying is that he did make a mistake, that not withstanding the protection of the individual rights, that he should have found a way to engage the Congress and others to alert them to what was coming, so he acknowledged that. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me take a quick break.  When we come back, we‘re going to talk two members of Congress who were doing the questioning.  Our continuing special coverage of Donald Rumsfeld making his case to Congress when we come back. 



REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA:  You‘re telling us that you never heard of any suspected abuse prior to Specialist Darby coming forward in January of ‘04? 

RUMSFELD:  I‘d have to think.  There had been other charges of abuse at different locations around the world.  It happens from time to time. 

TAUSCHER:  But you heard of no terrible abuse or questions of criminal behavior...

RUMSFELD:  In Abu Ghraib...

TAUSCHER:  ... in Abu Ghraib...


TAUSCHER:  ... prior to Specialist Darby coming forward.

RUMSFELD:  I recall no indication.  Do you, Dick? 



ABRAMS:  We‘re joined now by the Democrat that you just saw asking the questions, Ellen Tauscher, a representative on the House Armed Services Committee, as well as the committee‘s chairman, Republican Duncan Hunter.  Thank you both very much for joining us. 


ABRAMS:  All right, Representative Tauscher, I mean it seemed based on your questioning that you really didn‘t buy the notion that the secretary of defense had not gotten any indications before this whistleblower came forward. 

TAUSCHER:  Well it seemed implausible to me that after reports in the media for the last week that Secretary Powell, Dr. Rice and other members of the State Department team, Jerry Bremer in Iraq, had all been told by the International Red Cross and other human rights organizations, back in the fall of 2003 before the January report by Specialist Darby, that there were significant, bad events going on at the prison.  And it seemed implausible to me that the secretary of defense, who was in charge of the whole thing hadn‘t heard about them. 

ABRAMS:  But you got to understand, I mean there are a lot of—you know I‘m not sort of putting down the human rights groups, but they have issued complaints about just about everything that the U.S. government has done in the context of the war on terror. 

TAUSCHER:  Well, I don‘t disagree with you, but I think if Secretary Powell turned to me in a cabinet meeting and said, hey, Don, I think that there‘s some problem at that prison, I‘m hearing from the International Red Cross, it would not be to me a specious set of charges.  It would be something I would look into it and clearly they were not taken seriously when they were raised up to Secretary Rumsfeld‘s level and then thank God we had Specialist Darby, but because without him where would we be right now. 

ABRAMS:  Chairman Hunter, you were overseeing more than you were asking questions.  Let me just get your general sense of how you think things went at the House.  Did they go as expected?  Did the various committee members ask the sort of questions you expected? 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well I thought the main questions elicited what Ellen is getting to and that is what did you do.  And I thought that the chronology as we walked down through the actions, not words, but actions, that were taken by the Department of Defense, you may have noticed most of the members liked the answers, because in—January 13, Specialist Darby came forward and said, something is going on that‘s bad, it‘s wrong, gave that evidence to his commanding officer, that was January 13. 

By January 16, just three days later, General Sanchez started an investigation and we announced to the world on January 16 with a press release—while we‘re fighting a war, we announced that we‘re investigating ourselves for abusing prisoners.  Now we did that both in General Kimmitt‘s press conference and in a written press release that we put out to the world and beyond that as the investigation walked down through March and April, we then started criminal procedures and we found out as members of the Armed Services Committee, that three people were bound over and are now waiting the decision of the court-martial convening authority to be court-martialed, as to whether or not they‘re going to be court-martialed for prisoner abuse, assault, and dereliction of duty...

ABRAMS:  So was the issue...


ABRAMS:  ... the under—that the secretary of defense kept coming back and saying that he underestimated how powerful these pictures were really going to be...

HUNTER:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... and how much of a disaster it was going to create? 

TAUSCHER:  He said he hadn‘t seen them...

HUNTER:  Yes, in this sense.  What you have—it‘s true that you have literally 18,000 investigations a year in DOD and you have 3,000 court-martials a year, so while you have a shooting war where our people are being shot at on a daily basis and you‘re trying to—you just did the biggest—you know in March, April, and May, we did the biggest troop rotation since World War II, so the secretary is doing this massive troop rotation, you‘ve got thousands of investigations, I don‘t think anybody anticipated when you see—well, there‘s investigations of abuse, you say OK, investigative officer handle that, you have no idea that you‘re going to have these monster pictures coming out inflaming half the world and I think the breakdown and the problem was that once that exploded, it became more...

ABRAMS:  All right...

HUNTER:  ... than just an investigation.

ABRAMS:  All right...

HUNTER:  It became a big deal. 

ABRAMS:  I think...

HUNTER:  And I think the secretary reassured people because the great thing is the Army acted and the Army is prosecuting. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  All right, let me just—I want to play a piece of sound from Senator McCain because I think he was asking about one of the key issues and that is the chain of command.  Let‘s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What were the instructions to the guards? 

RUMSFELD:  That is what the investigation that I‘ve indicated has been undertaking is determining...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But Mr. Secretary, that‘s a very simple, straightforward question. 

RUMSFELD:  Well, the—as chief of staff of the Army can tell you, the guards are trained to guard people.  They‘re not trained to interrogate.  They‘re not—and their instructions are to in the case of Iraq, adhere to the Geneva Conventions.  The Geneva Conventions apply to all of the individuals there in one way or another. 


RUMSFELD:  They apply to the prisoners of war and they‘re written out and they‘re instructed and the people in the Army train them to that and the people in the Central Command have the responsibility of seeing that in fact their conduct is consistent with the Geneva Conventions. 


ABRAMS:  Jed Babbin, undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, isn‘t this the biggest problem for this administration and that is explaining the issue of training? 

BABBIN:  I don‘t think so.  I think what you really have to look at is what went on in the Abu Ghraib prison, and I think the answer to Mr.  McCain‘s question is buried in the Taguba report.  I‘ve read the 50-page summary of the Taguba report and it came out later in the answer to one of the other questions.  The military intelligence people were put in tactical command of the prison and they were issuing orders in contravention of Army policy and contravention of apparently the Geneva Conventions. 

ABRAMS:  But...

BABBIN:  And you have a very big breakdown...

ABRAMS:  But the lay person is going to say but there‘s got to be a way for someone to know that.  I mean to suggest that somehow they‘re giving orders that an entire—it‘s not just one prison, it‘s as a matter of policy, I mean if that‘s the case...

BABBIN:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... that‘s a big problem...

BABBIN:  I don‘t think so.  It‘s not more than one prison. It‘s one place...

ABRAMS:  Well no, they‘re doing a lot of investigations. 

BABBIN:  There‘s a lot of investigations, but what we know now, the evidence we have before us now in the Taguba report talks about Abu Ghraib.  It talks about a half a dozen people, six have been bound over for court-martial.  I‘ll bet you my bottom dollar there will be more court-martials and at least one full colonel will be going to trial.  So these things are being handled.  The issue right now is called command influence.  You have to understand that the military justice system is fundamentally different from the civilian system because you have people in the line of command and they have to be very careful, like Mr. Rumsfeld was being today, to avoid trying to influence either pro prosecution or pro defense, the proceeding in any way.  So...

ABRAMS:  But see that just seems to me to be a very—and I understand that point, but—and I understand the differences between the civilian system and the military system, but there is still something a little bit disturbing when it‘s one of the first things that both General Myers and Secretary Rumsfeld want to get out there is hey, I want to just tell you.  I may not be able to talk about this because of this ongoing investigation.  The bottom line is it seems that this almost, and you know, I know that it doesn‘t quite, but it almost trumps the issue of the ongoing investigation. 

BABBIN:  Dan, that‘s the problem with these congressional hearings.  If they wanted to trump the investigations, which what you‘re going to end up doing is the worst possible result.  You‘ll prejudice the prosecution or the defense and these people who committed these horrible acts will get off.  I don‘t think we want to have that.  I think we want these people to be making license plates...

ABRAMS:  Well...

BABBIN:  ... for the rest of their natural lives...

ABRAMS:  ... I‘ve got to tell you, I‘m more concerned about the broad

·         the big picture even in terms of who—the system changing than even the individuals.  But you know, look, I understand the secretary‘s point and the general‘s point as well.  I unfortunately am out of time.  We had to start up late here.  Representatives Hunter and Representative Tauscher thank you very much for coming on...

TAUSCHER:  Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good to be with you.

ABRAMS:  Jed Babbin, Robert McFarlane, Mamoun Fandy, thank you all very much.  We really appreciate it. 


ABRAMS:  We are going to take a break.  Coming up, my “Closing Argument”. 


ABRAMS:  ABRAMS:  Coming up, my “Closing Argument”—why it was not suppression of speech when the Pentagon asked CBS to delay airing the Iraqi prisoner photos.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why it is not improper for General Myers to have called CBS and asked them to delay the release of the pictures at the Abu Ghraib prison.  In some aggressive questioning of Secretary Rumsfeld in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota accused the secretary and the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Myers, of suppressing speech by calling CBS and asking them to postpone a little bit.  They wanted to air the disturbing photos they had obtained.  General Myers said American troops were engaged in particularly vicious fighting and he was concerned that releasing the photos at that time could be particularly troublesome for U.S. troops.  CBS agreed to wait and ultimately aired the photos two weeks later. 

There‘s nothing wrong with that.  There‘s no suggestion that CBS was threatened or coerced.  Government officials call leaders of media operations all the time and the most well known example, when President Kennedy called “The New York Times” asking it to refrain from revealing that the U.S was about to invade Cuba.  “The Times” agreed.

General Myers seemed to recognize that the release of the pictures was inevitable considering how many hundreds of the pictures apparently exist, remember taken by soldiers, not members of the media.  He just wanted extra time.  As long as the media operation is making the final call, that‘s not suppression.  In fact, we encourage them to offer input.  And remember, we often don‘t report information that officials say could or would put U.S.  troops in harm‘s way.  Troop movements, for example.  It is not in the words of Senator Dayton an pathetical (ph) to democracy.  There‘s nothing undemocratic about a general making a phone call. 

All right, I‘ve had my say.  Now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night in my “Closing Argument” I said making excuses or deflecting blame in connection with Iraqi prisoner abuse does not help our military or our country.  That media apologists saying it‘s terrible, but, are doing everyone a disservice. 

Frank Malinowski from Savannah, Georgia.  “Great closing argument tonight about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.  Shame on any American that tries to justify the actions of these soldiers.  Keep holding people responsible for their actions and fighting for justice.”  Will do Frank.

And Gregory Stone Curry, “I was pleasantly surprised by your thoroughly American comments on the subject of prisoner torture.  It is a wakeup for many Americans and is long overdue.  I welcome your editorial in that it refuses to allow apologists to hide behind their excuses.  To point out that, as Americans, we must hold our ourselves to a higher standard.”   Surprised Gregory?  Why? 

Also last night we asked why does it seem the standard is different for military leaders and for corporate CEOs that we all seem so intent on holding CEOs responsible for everything at their companies.  We asked why the standard is different when it comes to the military. 

From Texas, Marco Lopez.  “You show Bush talking about corporate crooks who knew their companies were misleading shareholders and then talk about someone, Rumsfeld, who had nothing to do with what occurred half way around the world.”  That‘s the point Marco.  In both cases, the CEO sometimes or secretary of defense would not have known.  And yet we only seem ready to hold CEOs responsible.  I‘m not saying one is right or wrong.  I‘m just pointing it out. 

Finally, last night we told about this week‘s “National Enquirer” headline, which says “O.J. Confesses”.  The article says O.J. Simpson‘s daughter overheard him confess shortly after being found not guilty, so we asked O.J.‘s attorney, Yale Galanter, if O.J. is innocent, does he plan to sue the tabloid? 

Lynda in Illinois, “It was great watching O.J.‘s attorney squirm while you pointed out the obvious.”

But Kenedria Kennedy writes, “The man was found not guilty in the court of law.  Whether he did it or not, he was found not guilty.  The whole country hates him.  Leave the man alone.”

Yes, but you know, he was also found responsible by a civil jury.  And so as I‘ve said before, if you accept both jury‘s verdicts, it mean the juries have said they‘re between 51 percent and 90-something percent he killed his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. 

And when Galanter said O.J. and his daughter had a good relationship, I played the 911 call from last year where she can be heard crying about how her dad doesn‘t love her.  Some said it was a cheap shot.

Candido Anaya, “When you played that tape, you should have thought not of O.J., but of the daughter.” 

All right.  It‘s true.  If it wasn‘t O.J., that 911 call would only demonstrate a bad night between father and daughter.  I was told by one angry parent that I—quote—“just don‘t understand because I don‘t have children.”  It‘s true.  I don‘t have children and maybe I don‘t understand.  But in addition to all the other things I now hope someday my children will and won‘t do, I‘ve now added not calling 911 on me to the list. 

Your e-mails, abramsreport—one word --  We go through them at the end of the show.  Please include your name and where you are writing from.

Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Chris is going to have continuing full coverage of Rumsfeld making his case. 


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