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Special Report Roundtable - September 14

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there's not clarity, if there's ambiguity, if there's any doubt in our professionals' mind that they can conduct their operations in a legal way with support of the Congress, the program won't go forward, and the American people will be endangered.

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am trying to find a way to work with the administration to protect CIA operatives, protect the classified program, and at the same time not be seen as withdrawing from the Geneva Convention.


HUME: So, what are those two gentlemen talking about? What they're talking about is what is called the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which governs the treatment of certain kinds of captives. Outrages -- it prohibited what are called "outrageous upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

The administration says look, we got a secret CIA program to question detainees, it has worked like crazy, it has gotten valuable information that has headed off, what they now say, eight specific terrorist attacks, and that language is so vague that this program cannot go forward if it isn't clarified in some way if we don't set forth in law some kind of specific language that says what that common law article three actually means.

Members on the Hill say we start doing that, the world will think we're pulling out of Common Article 3. So, that's the controversy. Some analytical observations now from Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the "Weekly Standard"; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call"; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, FOX NEWS contributors all.

I have expended all of my knowledge or understanding of this. I must say I find the whole thing utterly bewildering. Is it really the case that this effort by the administration to get clarifying language is -- would really -- that these members -- these Republican senators and Democrats believe that that would be taken as tanment to a withdraw from or an amendment to the Convention?

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": I spent 20 minutes talking to Lindsey Graham, one of the responders today, and he insists that their bill, the McCain Bill will adequately protect CIA operatives from prosecution or lawsuit, which -- and that the law -- the war crimes statute, which they are -- could be liable under, it's the felony conviction, which now has Common Article 3 language in it, this very vague language applies at the moment, and it's got to be changed, and they're going to change it.

On the other hand, separate issue -- the bottom-line question here, and they're saying that the administration also wants to change Common Article 3, and that that would be bad for international relations and a lot of other countries...

HUME: Administrations' saying, we're not trying to change it, we're trying to clarify it.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, I understand that, and I cannot answer that question. It seems to me that bottom line here is, can the CIA program that saved us, allegedly, from attacks because of our questioning of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, be done. That's the question. We don't know what they did. You know, presumably they water-boarded them, presumably they applied sensory deprivation, put him in cold rooms and stuff like that.

Well, if you say, then, Mort.


KONDRACKE: I want us to be able to do that.

HUME: But if you say, however, that you can't do anything that would be degrading or humiliating. That would mean -- I mean if someone had said, would that mean, for example, that you could not have a female interrogator question an ardent Muslim suspect?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, we don't know that. Look.

HUME: But, but, but given the language, general as it is, couldn't it be interpreted that way easily?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know, I mean, whoever would be trying these cases would be -- would have to interpret it. The three senators that are holding this up, the three Republican senators, really now four, Susan Collins, believe the CIA program could continue under their language and that the CIA people would be protected.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I mean, the CIA doesn't think so. The military, judge advocate to the Pentagon, they don't think so, the White House doesn't think so, and more important, I don't think so. I mean, when you read, look, an offense against.

HUME: That settles it, Fred.

BARNES: An offense against personal dignity? I don't think water- board under that, or isolate people or change temperatures on them or things like that. Look, for some reason they misunderstand, these senators, what their obligation is. Their obligation is not to satisfy international opinion. Their obligation so to protect America, secure America, and protect American citizens. That has to be their first obligation, so what I think they need, which was exactly what Mort was saying, they -- President Bush and Congress should make sure that whatever restrictions they have on interrogations, they would allow, specifically allow, the kind of things that were done by the CIA against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others, the high-value al Qaeda people who are captured after seven -- after 9/11. That's what's important. So that can be done. It worked. It prevented eight attacks.

HUME: Let me ask you a question here about John McCain, who I think is clearly the driving moral and intellectual force behind resistance to the president on this issue. The others are following, I think, his lead. He's running for president of the Republican Party, just from that standpoint, is this wise for him to be resisting the president in an issue where it looks like he is trying to make sure that the terrorists or the suspected terrorists are not treated too roughly?

LIASSON: Well, that's the argument that the White House wants to tee up against Democrats, that anyone that disagrees with him wants to be nice to terrorists. I think John McCain is doing this because he really believes, but I don't think he's thinking about.

HUME: I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not being.

LIASSON: I think John McCain can still run for president for the Republican Party and not be hurt by this debate. I think, I really.

KONDRACKE: I think he has enough standing and is regarded as enough of a -- independent thinker that people will follow, but he will.


BARNES: Look, as good as John McCain's been on the "War on Terror" and the war in Iraq, this will hurt and this will be used against him. It would be one thing if he had no serious hawkish opponents running for the Republican nomination, but he will, including Rudy Giuliani, and especially Rudy Giuliani.

LIASSON: Oh, my goodness.

HUME: Well, go ahead Mara, quickly.

LIASSON: Well look, I think that if John McCain changed his position on abortion, gay rights, or gun control to Rudy Giuliani's positions, then he would be in trouble to get the nomination. Rudy Giuliani is not going to be able to go up against him precisely for those reasons.

HUME: Well, he can certainly criticize him for that.

LIASSON: He can criticize him, but he's not going to (INAUDIBLE) the nomination away from him.


BARNES: I didn't say that.

HUME: All right, next of the panel. President Bush gets a boost in the polls, more American's now approve of the job he's doing, even more disapproving, stop disapproving. Discuss that and other matters political in a moment.


HUME: OK, let's look at a few polls, poll numbers from this new FOX NEWS Opinion Dynamics Survey. The first one we want to look at is the president's job approval number, which, as you can see there it's -- he's at 40 percent. The current average of polls, about five or six polls, have him at about 42, so that's consistent with that disapprove, 49 -- go back, please. That's the average, there, we're (INAUDIBLE), OK.

The other one is the number that's most striking as the approval versus disapproval, there. There we go, as you can see, just about a month ago -- less than a month ago, the disapprove number was up at 56, that's declined to 49 and that's big. I mean, the other number, as you can see, is only a two-point increase, so the president appears to have gotten some mileage out of his recent round of speeches and focus on the war on terror.

And the generic ballot. This is a classic piece of -- question that's on many polls about, if you had to vote today would you vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress, just generally speaking, no names attached. Not long ago, it was 48 percent to 32 percent Democrat over Republicans, that's down from 16 points to three.

Now, the previous poll of registered voters. Republicans don't do as well with registered voters as they do with likely voters, but likely voters matter more. Those are those who, who through the polling technique have isolated most likely to vote. So, does this -- do we have something significant happening here? Is this a trend here or is this just flip or what do you think -- Mara.

LIASSON: Well, I think that's really the question and this -- this poll was -- some of this is an average, September 5 to 13, but the point is, it straddles the September 11 anniversary where there was tremendous attention to the president and he had a kind of spotlight that he doesn't have otherwise. Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Organization, took a poll that stopped right -- that, his polling stopped right before September 11 and didn't find these same dramatic changes. So, I guess the question, is this the beginning of a trend that will continue even after the memories of the September 11 anniversary fade or is it a blip?

HUME: The events on Capitol Hill and the focus on those issues will tend to keep I alive.

LIASSON: Yeah, well, I think that's the White House intention, of course. I mean, they're trying to recalibrate the entire debate on the "War on Terror" and I think they've done a pretty good job and I think it is reflected in some of these polls. I think they met a speed bump today, with these three senators -- four senators who are holding up the interrogation rules. But, I think that's what they are intend to do, trying to put Democrats on the other side of whether it's wiretapping or the tribunals, to set up these clear debates on the "War on Terror" where the president still has an advantage. Now, I have to say on those issues, however, Democrats aren't really falling for it, I mean, they're not actually standing in the way of these things yet.

HUME: Well, they all -- but they voted as a block against the -- didn't favor this bill that the president says is unacceptable today in the Senate.

LIASSON: Right, but, well, they have some cover.

HUME: Right, they did.

LIASSON: They had some cover.

KONDRACKE: They do have cover and they're going to hide behind the cover, too. They're going to use those three Republican senators to be there...

HUME: If those Republican senators are brought over, will the Democrats flip?

KONDRACKE: No. I think the Democratic contention is that they will follow wherever those will lead.

HUME: So, they won't flip.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, they will.

HUME: The answer is yes.

KONDRACKE: They will not be trapped on the this issue.

HUME: So, what about the overall picture?

KONDRACKE: Look, I still think that the overriding issue of the campaign is going to be Iraq. And on the Iraq war, the Republicans are behind. I think September 11.

HUME: By the way, did you se the number, by the way, on the Iraq war in this poll -- 51 percent to 44 percent support it?

KONDRACKE: I -- that is shocking. I can't believe that that's.

HUME: Now, a lot of -- look at -- here it is. It's the same polling firm. You know who these guys are.


HUME: They're not -- these are not a bunch of Republicans out there doing this poll.

BARNES: It is kind of an outlier, there, though.

KONDRACKE: Yeah it is.

HUME: No, no. But I'm not sure it's usually put that way. It's usually should we have gotten in. The same poll you get a bad number on that for the Republicans.

KONDRACKE: I mean, that could be do you support the troops, I don't know what people had in mind with that but.

BARNES: Let me answer, because I don't think you're going to mention it, Mort, I don't think. There is one thing that correlates exactly with the rise in presidential approval and handling of the economy and so on, it's gas prices. When they go up, the president's popularity declines, his -- people view how he's handling the economy declines, but prices have been dropping like a stone and those numbers have gone up. The president's in better shape because.

HUME: So you think that maybe had more effect those speeches in the (INAUDIBLE)

BARNES: They helped, but the main thing is the gas prices. If they continue to go down, or stay low, it's going to help Republicans a lot.

LIASSON: Yeah, I agree with that.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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