MSNBC "Interview With Senator Lindsey Graham" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: May 14, 2009
Location: Unknown

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MS. O'DONNELL: Let's get right to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of the Armed Services, Homeland Security and Judiciary Committees.

Senator, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you for having me.

MS. O'DONNELL: I heard your comments yesterday about Speaker Pelosi. She decided today to directly address this issue. She once again reiterated that she was not told on September 4th, 2002 that the CIA was using waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah.

I spoke with the CIA myself today, who said they stand by their records, which indicate that was discussed on that very day. Now Speaker Pelosi says it's Congress -- excuse me, it's the CIA that is misleading Congress. Essentially, when we asked, is the CIA lying, she said yes. Your take on that.

SEN. GRAHAM: She ought to stop digging a hole. She's been all over the board. Jane Harman in 2003 wrote a letter to the CIA objecting to some of the interrogation techniques or some of the practices they were considering, so obviously people were told about it.

This is only important if you look back with the eye of trying to prosecute Bush officials or calling lawyers unethical -- and the reason we're talking about this -- that you can't have it both ways. You can't accuse Bush administration officials right after 9/11 of coming up with legal theories that you disagree with and are calling that a crime, and disavow any knowledge you have of what they were up to.

So I think the country would be better of and the speaker of the House would be better off if we move forward understanding that we've fixed the law, that we have stopped these practices, and that those who engaged in coming up with these policies were trying to defend the nation, not commit a crime.

MS. O'DONNELL: Well, Senator, she seemed to address that very question that you're raising because some people have questioned whether Speaker Pelosi was complicit because she did not speak up and object to waterboarding if at time she knew about it. Here's her response to that question. Listen.

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From videotape.) No letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they're going to do. My job was to change the majority in Congress and to change -- to -- to fight to have a new president because what was happening was not consistent with our values, certainly not true, and -- and something that had to be changed.

MS. O'DONNELL: Senator, she says rather than object with a letter or something like that, that it was more important to change the power tilt in Congress.

SEN. GRAHAM: That's pretty lame.

The bottom line is that the Bush administration looked at a set of laws, and took in a very aggressive view of them. Right after 9/11, we thought we were going to be hit again, so they were pushing the envelope. But the test of criminality is, did they intend to commit a crime or come up with policies to defend the nation? If you're about to commit a crime, the last person you would tell is a bunch of lawyers, including judge advocates, "Give me your opinion about this" and read your political opponents into the crime. And if it was a crime, she was read into it.

So I think that it would be best for this nation to move forward and go forward with new detainee policy, find a way to close Gitmo that will make us safe, and work together to make sure that we have interrogation techniques that will keep us safe. And if we keep looking and come with the wrong conclusions -- if we look back and say, "The only way you can interrogate somebody is through the Army Field Manual," we've made a huge mistake and compromised our national security.

MS. O'DONNELL: Let me ask you about -- the CIA, we also learned today, has turned down Vice President -- former Vice President Cheney's request to have more of those memos released --

SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah. (Laughs.)

MS. O'DONNELL: -- that he says --

SEN. GRAHAM: Right.

MS. O'DONNELL: -- would indicate that these tactics actually worked. Do you side with the CIA on that, or do you think that they should have released these memos?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think we need to go forward. I believe that some of these techniques may have yielded good information, but waterboarding was a net loss for this country. It was a technique that we should not have been using, but I cannot say, given the law in 2001, '(0)2 and '(0)3, the Geneva Convention didn't apply, that you couldn't make a reasonable argument that it did not violate the Convention Against Torture. But it was a bad policy. The law has been changed.

MS. O'DONNELL: So --

SEN. GRAHAM: I helped write the law. It's clearly illegal now.

MS. O'DONNELL: So should we -- I mean, do you agree then with the actions taken by our government to prosecute soldiers for waterboarding during World War II and in Vietnam? I mean, why not do that again now?

SEN. GRAHAM: Because when you're in -- a member of the military, you're covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And we were a signatory to the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention did not apply to the war on terror until 2006. The CIA is not covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They would have been covered by the torture statute. And there are all kind of cases talking about activity of the British army in Northern Ireland, where techniques that were more aggressive than waterboarding did not constitute torture under that statute. It is a gray area of the law. In the military, it is not a gray area. If you're a military member and you slap a detainee, you can be prosecuted. That's a different set of laws than intelligence gathering by the CIA.

MS. O'DONNELL: All right. Senator Lindsey Graham, who's also been working to prevent the further release of those abuse photos. Senator, you're good to join us.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.

MS. O'DONNELL: Thank you so much for talking about those topics. We appreciate it.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you very much.