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McCain, Rooney & Ruppersberger on Bin Laden

McCain, Rooney & Ruppersberger on Bin Laden

By John King, USA - May 12, 2011

KING: The death of Osama bin Laden has revived the debate over the use of waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques to glean information from terror detainees. An array of former Bush administration officials say some of the intelligence that led the United States to bin Laden came from such interrogations.

The current CIA Director Leon Panetta plays down the role of enhanced interrogations, though he says it's impossible to be completely sure they didn't contribute some to the intelligence gathering. In an essay published yesterday in "The Washington Post" Republican Senator John McCain said some of those tactics like waterboarding amount to torture and that the death of bin Laden should not be used to re-open a debate about using them.

Senator McCain with us now from Capitol Hill -- Senator, when you see former Vice President Cheney, former Attorney General Mukasey, other former top Bush administration officials say we would not have gotten bin Laden without the use of these tactics, are they lying?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well I think those allegations here are not substantiated by the facts. As I pointed out in my piece, the first information concerning this courier, Abu Ahmed, was obtained through -- from another source, an individual who is as far as we know not subjected to these coercive techniques, in other words, torture.

The fact is even though Khalid Sheikh Mohammed mentioned the individual's name, he also gave false information. See, this is one of the problems of torturing people, John, is you get good information and you get bad information. Also I think it's pretty clear you could have gotten the same good information through using standard techniques which don't entail waterboarding and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment.

KING: In an interview with "NBC News" in the days immediately after the killing of bin Laden, Director Panetta said you know you can't be completely sure that some, a crumb here or a piece of information there didn't come from enhanced interrogation techniques. You had an exchange with him, exchanges with him as you were preparing to write this essay. Was he more definitive with you?

MCCAIN: Well he pointed out again you know that the first mention of the name was from these non-coercive techniques. He also pointed out that the misleading information was provided by KSM and others. He also pointed out that there may have been information gotten from the use of torture, but we also got more reliable information from the standard interrogation techniques.

KING: Did you write this because you just wanted to put an exclamation point behind your position that what happened in the past should not happen in the future or do you sense and feel a genuine reviving of the debate, some people saying well maybe we got something here. We should do it again.

MCCAIN: Well that was the main reason, John, is because this flood (ph) including former attorney general's statement that they got a quote "flood of information", the first information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that was false and so I felt -- and I had some reluctance, frankly, to get into it that we had to -- had to speak out because I do feel strongly because it really is about the moral standing of the United States of America and the world.

KING: Increasingly when we talk to administration officials, they say they have almost no doubt left that somewhere in the Pakistani government or intelligence services, bin Laden had a support network. What should happen now?

MCCAIN: It's pretty clear there was some level of knowledge. We're not exactly sure what that is and I think we better set up some benchmarks for the Pakistani government and the military and ISI to meet as a contingency to our further cooperation or assistance. John, it's a complicated issue. They are a nuclear -- they have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

They can provide a safe haven even more so to -- for Taliban and al Qaeda elements. A failed state in Pakistan is not in the United States' interests. There's a downside. There's a downside to a failure of the Pakistani's government -- Pakistani government so we're going to have to be very careful how we approach this and -- but yet the status quo is obviously not acceptable.

KING: Because of your role as the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee you are among a select group of members of Congress who can, if you want to sir, go to the CIA headquarters and look at the pictures of bin Laden to prove to yourself if you need proof conclusively that he is dead. Will you take advantage of that?

MCCAIN: No, John. I've lived a long life and I've seen enough dead bodies and pictures of them. KING: You think it would serve no purpose for yourself personally or it's just that you have no doubts therefore why do it.

MCCAIN: Both, I have no doubts that this was Osama bin Laden and in my view there's no need and I've seen enough of it.

KING: You have been particularly critical of the case of Syria. Secretary of State Clinton said today that the crackdown in her view, the unacceptable crackdown is a sign of remarkable weakness, those her words, a sign of remarkable weakness of the Syrian government. What do you think this administration should do more to pressure the Assad regime?

MCCAIN: Well, I think long ago we should have done away with this idea that Bashar Assad was some kind of reformer. I mean, there was no basis for that whatsoever except wishful thinking. I think, second of all we should be identifying him, himself as a subject of sanctions, as you know, we have three others and some others, but he is the one that's responsible. We should be standing up for the people of Syria who are literally sacrificing their lives in the name of democracy and freedom.

Ronald Reagan proved to anyone's satisfaction during the Cold War, you stand up for people, you tell them you're with them. You don't -- we can't use military force there now. I don't know of any, frankly, viable option, but we could certainly tell these people that we are with them and that happened with Natan Sharansky back during the Cold War as you might recall and it's so important that we lend our voice especially that of the president of the United States in support of these people and that's what they're asking for.

KING: Senator John McCain earlier from Capitol Hill, the senator mentioned his concern about Syria. We want to show you tonight some vivid evidence of the extent of the crackdown. Here's the map of Syria and most of these cities highlighted there have been some demonstrations. We want to show you particularly right up here, this is a six-by-three-mile area of this northern city along the coast. OK, we'll close this map down and I want to show you just how this works.

We'll bring up these -- right here -- close the map here -- bring up -- watch these images. Watch these images. Look at the streets -- right, streets are pretty clear. You see a little bit of normal traffic. This is a before. Now, watch this. As we come across military trucks here, armored personnel carriers here, armored personnel carriers here -- tanks up on the road right there. One snapshot right there of the crackdown.

Here's another one right here. You see this street right here. Let me bring this over here -- you can see the before image -- that doesn't want to come up, there we go. If you come across, the street is clean. You come across here, look at that, two, four, six, seven tanks, military vehicles along the side of the road here, evidence that's just one city alone of the Syrian government bringing in the military and heavy vehicles as part of its crackdown on its own citizens. We'll keep on top of that story. And still to come here tonight, Mitt Romney versus Mitt Romney on health care. The former Massachusetts governor first obstacle in campaign 2012 is a health care plan most conservatives can't stand.

And next two lawmakers who viewed the photos of Osama bin Laden today join us to describe what they saw and how it felt to know for sure the al Qaeda leader is dead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The Obama administration still says it sees no reason to release photographs of Osama bin Laden's body taken during and after the raid on his compound in Pakistan. But it is allowing select members of Congress to see them. Joining us now, two who saw the pictures just this morning, Maryland Democratic Congressman and ranking member on the Select Committee on Intelligence Dutch Ruppersberger and Republican member of that committee Florida's Tom Rooney.

Congressman Ruppersberger to you first -- just take me through the sequence. How many photos and what do they show?

REP. C.A. "DUTCH" RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: Well we went to the CIA. There are probably about six -- total. What we had were photos, facial shots of bin Laden alive and then bin Laden dead and then there were arrows that showed the facial features that were relevant to make sure that this was the right person, arrows to the nose, to certain areas -- body marks, that type thing, but clearly when you look at these photos, my first thought is -- without any doubt at all this was Osama bin Laden.

KING: And Congressman Rooney, Congressman Ruppersberger just said photos of Osama bin Laden alive. Are those photos taken during this raid or are they previous photos?

ROONEY: No, they're older photos that are just juxtaposed next to bin Laden after he had been killed.

KING: OK and I'll stick with Congressman Rooney. Do you share your colleague's view that absolutely no doubt this is Osama bin Laden?

ROONEY: Absolutely no doubt.

KING: And one of the controversies now, one of the questions now is are they too graphic? Congressman Ruppersberger to you first -- are they too graphic? You understand the pressure on the administration. There are still some doubters in the Arab world, even one of bin Laden's sons said I don't believe you. Should they be released?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, anytime that you see someone who's been killed and shot, it could be considered graphic. The bottom line is, though, is that we do not want to inflame people who support bin Laden or because we don't want to put Americans at risk throughout the world. We have Americans in all countries all over the world including our military, and we're concerned that this could inflame individuals who support bin Laden. So, I think the president, at this time, has made the right decision not to release these photos.

KING: Congressman Rooney, do you agree with that?

ROONEY: I do. I agree with the ranking member for now. I think that, eventually, though, we should consider -- reconsidering and to see if, you know, after there's been a cool-down period, if it would be appropriate for the American public to see them. But they are extremely graphic.

KING: What do the photos, Congressman Rooney, to you first, what do the photos do? How do they help you, if they do, understand what happened? As you know, there's been some mixed signals. Early on, the administration said there was a firefight and bin Laden himself may have fired shot. And after, they said, no, actually, he was not armed -- although we have been told there were some weapons in the room and perhaps some motion toward them.

Do seeing the photos and narrative you get with them -- Congressman Rooney, to you first -- did it help you at all understand exactly what happened?

ROONEY: It did, and I know that Dutch was a former prosecutor as well. I mean, you sort of, when you see evidence like this and you kind of try to replay what would have happened or what might have happened in the room that night, you can see how when the shots were fired, what he was probably doing at the time the shots were fired and how he got shot in certain angles and how he fell and that kind of thing.

So, yes, it's pretty consistent with the way they reported it, you know, from the White House. But part and parcel to our job is being on the intelligence committee is actually to serve -- as Dutch and I were talking about earlier -- as a check to the administration, to make sure that everything that they're telling you we can see and would agree with or question if we don't agree with. So, this is really a checks and balances exercise that Dutch and I participated in today and I think that we're both satisfied that, you know, right now might not be the best time to release these photos, but maybe eventually we could reconsider.

KING: Well, Congressman Ruppersberger, keep going on the point your colleague was just making. What was he doing? What do the angles tell you? In your prosecutorial experience, what was bin Laden doing when they shot him?

RUPPERSBERGER: What I saw was trauma to the face. So, there was a wound that clearly killed him right around the eye. But getting back to what Tom was saying also, I think our role on the intelligence committee in Congress is the oversight of the intelligence committee -- intelligence community.

When I first came to Congress, I saw that there wasn't a lot of cooperation, that CIA, NSA, FBI, they weren't cooperating. They weren't working together.

Right now, though, I think we're as good as we've been based on our research, technology. They're working as a team, with the military. And I think the message can clearly be sent out right now to the world: if you're going to kill Americans, if you're going to attack us, that we're going to find you and bring you to justice.

KING: Well, let me -- let me jump in on that point. What message would you send to bin Laden's son, Omar, who has said that the United States violated international law by gunning down an unarmed man?

RUPPERSBERGER: I would say that when you come and kill Americans, we're going to find you and we're going to bring you to justice wherever you are.

KING: Congressman Rooney, should you the administration arrange some sort of a private viewing if bin Laden's son wants to see these photographs, if he wants proof? Does the family deserve that?

ROONEY: No, I would not accommodate. You know, if he doesn't believe that he was shot and killed -- you know, that's too bad. And, you know, I hate to sound heartless, but this is Osama bin Laden we're talking about. This isn't just some run-of-the-mill guy on the streets of America that deserves constitutional rights. He doesn't.

As Dutch said, he killed over 3,000 of our people. He's been wanted. We've been living in somewhat fear of the guy over the last 10 years of what's going to happen next. We have the right of self- defense and we took that away -- took any future engagement away from Osama bin Laden, hurting us here in the future.

So, if his son has a problem with that, you know, my response would be: too bad.

KING: Let me ask you each. Congressman Rooney, to you first -- just what's your personal reaction when you saw this? This is America's and perhaps the world's most wanted man. Did it give you -- forgive me, it's a bid morbid -- a sense of satisfaction to see him dead?

ROONEY: It was sort of like when you're looking at him, kind of vulnerable and helpless and kind of, honestly, pathetic he looked laying there. It was like, you know, this is the big bad wolf over the last 10 years and he almost took on, you know, this mythical embodiment because we could never find him and we thought he was in some mountain region.

And we found him in Pakistan, in Abbottabad. We went in there. We took him out. We had no casualties -- you know, lying there dead, you know, with his head half blown off. You know, you just sort of wonder why it took so long.

But, you know, there was satisfaction in the sense that we don't have to worry about the next videotape or, you know, what he might is planned because he was still very, very much engaged as the intelligence is showing.

KING: How about you, Congressman Ruppersberger?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, first, my elation came when the director said, Leon Panetta called me. Remember, Chairman Rogers and I were briefed starting sometime in last February about this mission. But -- I've been on the intelligence committee now for over eight years and we had a lot of leads like this before.

But as it developed, went forward and when Leon Panetta called me, I had elation. I felt like this is so tremendous that we've come this far.

KING: And when you saw those photos?

RUPPERSBERGER: When I saw the photos, I looked at it more in my role as a professional, that everyone has a role in this mission and our role is oversight. So, my role as not a part of the administration, but a part of Congress representing my constituents was to make sure that we confirm and did our oversight.

Again, maybe because I was a former prosecutor and had been involved in homicide cases and seen pictures like this, but I felt the job is done. Clearly, from my point of view, this is Osama bin Laden.

KING: Let's move past the photographs. You mentioned your oversight role. You are getting briefings on some of the material, this treasure trove that was seized from the bin Laden compound. We hear about his handwritten personal journal. We hear about the thumb drives with instructions and advice to people out in the field.

Congressman Ruppersberger, to you first, as the ranking member, what is the most important significant thing you have learned that you now know that whether it's the CIA, the FBI or some other government agency is scrambling in a race against time to stop?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, it's accumulation. The first issue is that we want to get as much information as we can to go over other leadership in al Qaeda. And we want to do that right away. So, that has to be the first priority.

The second priority is to find out who the leadership is. Was our intelligence correct? Are the people that we didn't know that were involved? That's the second phase.

The third phase is we have to make sure that we keep moving ahead. We know like in Yemen, I just came back from Yemen a couple of weeks ago.

And we know there's an individual, American-born, he knows our culture. His name is Awlaki. He's very dangerous. His focus is to attack the United States. He's recruiting homegrown terrorist, what we call a lone wolf.

And we have to make sure we are diligent for continuing our battle and what we have done. But I can say this: We are the best in the world at what we do right now. We came together and took us 10 years and the Americans can feel very good about our ability to protect our country and to go after al Qaeda and other terrorists who want to attack or kill Americans.

KING: Congressman Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida; Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat of Maryland, from the Intelligence Committee -- gentlemen, thanks for your time.

ROONEY: Thanks, John.

RUPPERSBERGER: Thanks.

 

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