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CNN Crossfire - Transcript

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CNN

SHOW: CNN CROSSFIRE 16:30

HEADLINE: Failure of Leadership in Iraqi Prison?

GUESTS: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Harold Ford

BYLINE: Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala

HIGHLIGHT:
The man behind the Iraqi prison abuse report testifies to Congress.

BODY:
CARLSON: Welcome back.

Major General Antonio Taguba wrote the report on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. And today, the Senate Armed Services Committee got to hear his testimony. Taguba says there was no leadership, no discipline, no training, and no supervision at the Baghdad prison where the alleged abuse took place. And at today's hearing, political tempers flared, as one Republican lawmaker accused President Bush's critics of seeking political gain from the uproar.

And just after the testimony, word from Iraq that an American has been beheaded by his captors.

In the CROSSFIRE today, Democratic Congressman Harold Ford from Tennessee, whose birthday it is today, and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, the best member of that state's delegation.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Thank you both very much.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN ®, FLORIDA: Happy birthday.

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: Thank you.

BEGALA: Happy birthday.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Feliz cumpleanos.

FORD: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: A really outrageous news statement. Tucker mentioned it. I want to ask you about it. It's obviously not a political or partisan issue.

But these animals-and that's what they are-from al Qaeda beheaded an American today. And they used as part of their propaganda the prison abuse scandal. Now, we know that al Qaeda was trying to kill Americans long before there was any prisoner abuse, so I don't buy their line. But isn't it particularly outrageous, though, that we've given them this recruiting tool, this propaganda tool?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think it's outrageous that they should use what is a terrible practice that was going on, but it was not part of the military structure, as an excuse, as a cloak to hide their obvious egregious behavior.

They are anti-American. They hate our values. They hate our way of life. And it has nothing to do with the abhorrent prison abuse that was going on. And that's the excuse that they're using. What would have been their excuse a month ago or two months ago? They hate our way of life. They hate our Democratic values. And they're going to use whatever means they want to advance their terrorist plot.

BEGALA: I agree with all of that. That may surprise you. I agree with all of that,. But what should our response be?

The man's name was Nicholas Berg. Let's not just-let's put a name on this face. He's an American citizen murdered by these animals. We've already invaded Iraq. A lot of us thought that would be a distraction from the war on terrorism. I think I've been proved right in that. What do we do now, invade again?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that we have got to stay the course. I think that we have got an important mission in Iraq.

No one, I don't think, in our leadership, Democrat or Republican, is saying we should cut and run. We're going to turn over sovereignty to the Iraqi people. We do have a coalition in place. We need to make sure that we have a better place for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi children deserve that. And I think that our values are the correct values. They will be the Iraqi values.

Everyone wants their children to live in peace, to have a better life and to improve their way of life, and that's what the Iraqi people deserve. They didn't have that with Saddam Hussein. We're helping them to get that opportunity now.

CARLSON: Congressman Ford, doesn't this, this event, the beheading of Nicholas Berg, put into perspective a little bit the alleged abuse that took place at the prison in Iraq? Not in any way to excuse that abuse, which I think hurts American interests.

But you have, on the one hand, humiliating Iraqi prisoners, some of whom are accused of killing Americans, and you have on the other a beheading of an American citizen. They're not really comparable, are they?

FORD: You know, both sides are going to try to draw comparisons in what may have inspired one group to do another thing. We're the United States of America and we have rules and practices that we follow.

By no means do I want to protect prisoners any more than we have to. But the fact that a major general testified before the U.S. Senate today and said there was no training, no discipline, no supervision raises not only questions about that operation, I think raises other legitimate questions that need to be answered.

Now, I share your outrage at al Qaeda doing what they did today. And they would have done it anyway. It's clear they have a mission to destroy us. But we need not kid ourselves. The message that this horrific treatment sends, the images that are broadcast around the world are being viewed by Iraqi children, are being viewed by children all across that region, who we hope one day would grow up and not only have a better way of life, but think of us in different ways.

And we need not kid ourselves. We've hurt ourselves in that regard.

(CROSSTALK)

FORD: And I heard what Senator Inhofe and I heard what Senator Allard said today, as they mentioned, invoked John Kerry's name and invoked the idea that they're more outraged at the way our prisoners-what the prisoners did to actually find themselves in prison. We all are, but we need to be honest with ourselves about what this does, what it means, and the accountability

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But I wonder if it doesn't hurt-I don't even necessarily disagree with you, but I wonder if it is really so shocking in the Arab world, the treatment of those Iraqi prisoners. This is a part of the world where people behead each other. And I wonder if the real effect here isn't to soften American support for the war.

In other words, I wonder if those who are really shocked by this treatment at the prison aren't Americans. That's the real problem with it, isn't it?

FORD: Well, I think Americans are shocked and I think others around the world are shocked as well.

One of the things the president invokes often-and I happen to like this about the president-when he invokes the moral authority of this country. The moral authority of this country has been damaged a bit. We have to repair it. And part of that reparations or part of repairing that has-part of that is being honest about what happened and taking the steps to ensure that it does not happen again.

And, hopefully, the hearings that occurred today and yesterday will allow us to get closer to that and get back to the effort of dealing with the larger war policy, because I happen to think we need a different policy in Iraq, not to cut and run. And my colleague said it well. There are many of us who believe we should travel a different path, bringing in more troops, perhaps, and even finding ways to invite-create a more inviting place for our allies to join us to help shoulder the burden of paying for this war and shoulder the burden of sending troops there to relieve some of ours.

BEGALA: Congresswoman, I want to play you a piece of videotape from that testimony today. This is General Taguba answering what I think is maybe the ultimate question from the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER: In simple words, your own soldiers' language, how did this happen?

TAGUBA: Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down, lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: General Taguba was authorized to investigate only from the brigade commander on down. He found everybody in that chain of command to be lacking. Who should investigate from the brigade commander up?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think...

BEGALA: Donald Rumsfeld? Should he be investigating himself or shouldn't we have an outside independent investigator to get to the bottom of this?

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: There are going to be a lot of investigations going on.

BEGALA: Who should do it? Right now, Rumsfeld is doing it, Congresswoman.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Who should do it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: There is probably going to be a call for a congressional investigation.

But what is interesting about this testimony is that this is going on in the light of day, that we're having congressional hearings that are being aired.

BEGALA: I understand that, but who should investigate Rumsfeld?

ROS-LEHTINEN: How different that is from what is going on in other part of the world.

BEGALA: Should Rumsfeld investigate Rumsfeld and Bush? Or should we get a credible outside investigator to do it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: We have got right now a myriad of different investigations. Let's wait to see. You might be surprised.

Look at what this person is saying. He's being very frank. He's talking about a breakdown in command, a lack of discipline. It shows that our system works, our system is transparent. We will investigate. We will prosecute. We're about to start a trial in just a couple of days. Our system is transparent and it works. Let's give it a chance to operate. Let's not hang everyone right this moment. Let's have the trial and then the verdict.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Now, Congressman...

FORD: Yes.

CARLSON: You and I-you and I look at these photographs of abuse at the prison in Iraq and we see a real tragedy for American interests. And it's stomach-churning. The John Kerry for president campaign takes a look at those images and sees a fund-raising opportunity.

And don't just take my word for it. "Dear friend," reads a new e-mail from the John Kerry campaign, "over the past week, we've been shocked by these photographs. We've also been appalled by the response of the Bush administration," etcetera, etcetera. And then, at the bottom, you see, donate now. Now, the Democratic National Committee sent out a similar e-mail trying to leverage this tragedy for financial gain.

That's pretty disgusting, isn't it? I can't imagine you would support that.

FORD: I think both campaigns, at the bottom of all their releases, at the bottom of all their petitions, have an opportunity-they give everyone an opportunity to donate. So I think it's kind of hard to paint that as...

CARLSON: Really? Because I have it right here.

BEGALA: As opposed to, say, selling photographs of the president on 9/11 or using the picture of a dead body from 9/11?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's an outrage.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You'll notice that it says, keep the ball rolling. Donate now.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Actually, then, why not take that out when you're talking about something like this? It actually hurts American interests.

FORD: But, I mean, it goes both ways. We've reached the point campaigning in this country where money unfortunately is a dominant factor. The president has about $200 million of it. We're trying to raise a lot of it. I wish we didn't have to have donate any of the doggone things, but we do.

I think the issue-I would say one thing to my colleague. We're about to court-martial a 24-year-old kid and he's about to go on trial and the world is about to witness it.

CARLSON: We're almost out of time.

(CROSSTALK)

FORD: I do hope that, at some point, as we investigate this whole thing, that we figure out where in this chain of command this happened. I know that you have great

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: I have faith in the system. And I know that the people have it.

CARLSON: All right, now, we're just going to take a quick break and we'll be right back to continue talking about it. We'll ask our guests if they agree with one Democrat who says our troops aren't safe if Secretary Rumsfeld stays in office.

And then later, find out whether one of your hosts managed to avoid humiliation last night on "Jeopardy."

We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for "Rapid Fire." We're talking about the firestorm over the Iraqi abuse scandal and today's testimony on Capitol Hill by the man who wrote the report on the abuse, Major General Antonio Taguba.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Harold Ford from Tennessee and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida.

CARLSON: Congressman Ford, the other night on "LARRY KING LIVE," Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York attacked Donald Rumsfeld and said-quote-"Rumsfeld has demonized Saddam Hussein." Is that a sin now, demonizing Saddam Hussein?

FORD: I don't know what context he said, but Saddam Hussein is a demon.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Congressman Ros-Lehtinen, Richard Clarke, the president's former top terrorism aide, months ago said that he was very opposed to the war in Iraq because he thought it would distract us from the war against al Qaeda and in fact be a recruiting tool for al Qaeda. Hasn't he been proved right?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, absolutely not.

These are a group of people who are already there. To say that Iraq has created terrorism, to say that Iraq created anti-American feeling is naive. Those groups have been breeding grounds. Those areas have been breeding grounds for these terrorist groups forever. We had been living under eight years of the Clinton administration with our heads buried in the sand, figuring out that the World Trade Center was bombed. We're not going to do anything about it. USS Cole bombed, not going to do anything about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So we go and we create a recruiting device for al Qaeda?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I'm sorry. I just want to get one last question in here to Congressman Ford. It's his birthday, after all.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a "USA Today" op-ed-quote-"Our troops will not be safe as long as Rumsfeld is our defense secretary."

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: That's an appalling thing to say, isn't it?

FORD: No, I'm not part of the chorus calling on him to resign, but I do think, as these next few weeks move-we move forward in the next few weeks, we may learn some things that not only may question his credibility and integrity, but may prohibit him or prevent him from doing his job well. Now, it will be a decision he'll have to make and the president will have to make.

BEGALA: And, as that story develops, we will be on it.

I hope you'll come back. Congressman Harold Ford from Tennessee, happy birthday.

FORD: Thank you.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

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