Fox News "Fox News Sunday" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Feb. 14, 2010
Location: Unknown

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Joining us now with the Republican view on national security is Senator Lindsey Graham, who's in his home state of South Carolina.

Senator, you just heard the national security adviser, General Jones. Your reaction to what he said about how this administration is handling terror detainees in this country?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Well, I think we're off on the wrong foot here. I don't question their motives. I didn't question Dick Cheney's motives. He understood that we were at war with a vicious enemy, and he understood the threats that they presented, but that was no reason to turn the legal system upside down and to have an overly aggressive view of executive power.

They're trying to start over. They're trying to basically improve our image. But their policies make no sense. It makes no sense to get a guy off an airplane who just tried to blow up the airplane and read him his rights within 50 minutes.

It makes no sense to say that 20 percent recidivism rate is not that bad.

Putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, in the middle of New York City in civilian court criminalizes the war. And if he's not an enemy combatant worthy of military trial, who would be?

So I think their -- really, these policies are ill-conceived and they need to stop and start over.

WALLACE: Let's pick up on -- because this is the latest news, Mr. Brennan's comments yesterday that the 20 percent recidivism rate isn't that bad compared to the 50 percent recidivism rate in U.S. prisons in general. Your reaction to that, sir?

GRAHAM: Just astounding, just absolutely disconnected from the world in which we live in and the threats we face. He's also the same guy that assured us that within 50 minutes we got all the information we needed from the Christmas Day bomber.

He's also the guy that says, "Hey, he's now talking." But can you really have a system where the parents of the terrorists will encourage the terrorists to cooperate with the FBI? Is it any way to fight a war to read Miranda rights? And do you want someone in charge of counterterrorism who finds a 20 percent return-to-the-fight rate is acceptable? He has lost my confidence, and it's the best evidence yet how disconnected this administration has come from the fact that we're at war.

We are at war. And these statements just are mind-boggling and unnerving.

WALLACE: When you say that John Brennan -- and again, we should point out this is the president's top counterterrorism adviser...

GRAHAM: Right.

WALLACE: ... in the White House.

GRAHAM: Yes.

WALLACE: You say that he has lost your confidence. Do you believe that he should...

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

WALLACE: Wait, go...

GRAHAM: I don't see how -- I don't see how most Americans can feel safe when the head of counterterrorism tries to tell us you can get all the information you need within 50 minutes of an interview of a guy right off the airplane who tried to blow it up, and tries to tell us that the process did finally work, and say that a 20 percent recidivism rate's OK in the war on terror.

He's lost my confidence, and I think he's disconnected from the threats we face.

WALLACE: And you think he should resign?

GRAHAM: I think it'd be better to have a new person in that job.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about the White House argument, because they say, "Look, if you treat Abdulmutallab, for instance, as an enemy combatant, he..."

GRAHAM: Right.

WALLACE: "... he still gets access to a lawyer and, in fact, that we have gotten" -- and there's some evidence of this in the record -- "better intelligence and more convictions through civilian courts than we have in military commissions."

GRAHAM: That's not true. You get a lawyer when you go before a habeas judge and the habeas judge decides whether or not the evidence justifies you being confined as an enemy combatant. Under military law you don't give an enemy prisoner a lawyer.

In World War II, when we captured a Nazi in Germany -- German prisoner or a Japanese prisoner, we didn't give them a lawyer. Military law should apply here. You capture the enemy, you get them off the battlefield, you question them about what the enemy's up to. You don't provide them lawyers.

To say that giving an enemy combatant a lawyer within 50 minutes after he tried to blow up the plane makes us safer is crazy. We've never done this in any other war. We're criminalizing the war. And it is a huge mistake that will come back to haunt us.

Get them off the battlefield. Find out what they know. Then decide what to do with them.

WALLACE: Senator, you met in the last few days with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. And there are some reports -- and I want to ask you directly about this -- that you are discussing a compromise with the White House in which they would agree to try all of these detainees in military commissions, in return for which you would support the closing of Guantanamo. Is that true?

GRAHAM: I've been talking with the White House about my view of how to handle these difficult issues. Some people within the White House agree with me. Some don't. This is President Obama's decision to make.

But my comment to the White House and to the viewers of this show is that this war will last long after President Obama. It's not his war. It is our war.

And I'm trying to create a system that will allow us to fight this war within our values, capture enemy prisoners, find out what they know about enemy operations, keep them off the battlefield, then decide what system to put them into, military or civilian, but always focused on the fact that we're at war.

I will help this administration, but we will never be able to close Guantanamo Bay going down the road they have chosen. The American people don't understand putting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court in New York. I don't understand it.

They don't understand reading a terrorist his rights within 50 minutes of capture. I don't understand it. There is a better way to fight this war within our value system.

WALLACE: But -- but, Senator, if I may just press the question, you seem to be suggesting that if they were to change the way they deal with these detainees -- specifically, to put them all in military commissions -- that you might or you would support closing Guantanamo.

GRAHAM: I've always believed that closing Guantanamo Bay, if you did it right, was in our national security interest. I have talked to Al Qaida members in Iraq who said that Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were great recruiting tools for them.

This is an ideological struggle we're in. Image matters. Guantanamo Bay is the best-run prison in the world. It is a secure location. But it has an image throughout the world that's hurting us. I would support closing Guantanamo Bay. President Bush said he would support closing Guantanamo Bay if we did it right.

The way to do it right is to make sure that terrorists are considered enemy combatants; they're questioned by intelligence agencies under the law of war, not criminal law; they're held off the battlefield and tried in a transparent system where the military are civilian, and we not criminalize this war.

It would be better for this country to close Guantanamo Bay if we started over with a national-security-centric system. The way they want to start over, it would be better to keep it open.

WALLACE: Let's turn to Iran. Should the administration -- this is the conversation we just had with General Jones. Should the administration continue to pursue sanctions through the United Nations, or should we go outside and either impose more unilateral sanctions or find, as I said, a coalition of the willing who are willing to go with us right now on tough sanctions with teeth?

GRAHAM: We should do everything we can to change Iran's behavior at the regime level, support the people at the people level. The Congress has voted unanimously to give the president authority to restrict refined petroleum from going into Iran.

The U.N. is letting the world down. The U.N. seems to be an ineffective body when it comes to dealing with rogue nations. So I support a coalition of the willing. I support going to the U.N. But at the end of the day, I want behavior to change.

One thing we might consider is what President Kennedy did with Cuba -- a quarantine, if you get that far down the road. I'd rather do this through sanctions than military force, but if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, everything in the Mideast changes for the worst and we're running out of time.

So the sanctions route doesn't seem to be bearing fruit in the U.N. I hope we'll consider other things.

WALLACE: All right. Well, we're running out of time, too, and I want to ask you a couple of more quick questions on domestic policies, Senator. Do you view President Obama's new call for bipartisanship as genuine or a political ploy?

GRAHAM: I think health care will determine that. What will this meeting be like? Will it be a lecture to us as Republicans as to why we should support this big bill with a few changes? Or will it be a desire to start over and get our input? That will be his first test.

Will he work with a guy like me to find a way to close Guantanamo Bay that's national-security-centric?

Will he be willing to change course on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial in New York City? It would be welcomed by the public at large and there would be bipartisan support.

If the president's willing to change course on these major issues, then he will get bipartisan support and he will get the confidence of the American people. He's losing bipartisan support and he's losing confidence of the people because these policies are overreaching on health care and they're confusing when it comes to the war on terror.

WALLACE: But -- and we only have a minute left, Senator Graham. Let's talk about the Republican role in all of this. It turns out this week that one of your GOP colleagues, Senator Shelby, had a hold on 70 Obama nominations because he opposed some Pentagon cuts in his state.

And I wanted you to take a look at this. The number of cloture votes to stop filibusters soared in the last few years. Republicans are now using the filibuster not just to block major legislation but routine business.

Doesn't your party owe -- own some of this gridlock and some of this lack of bipartisanship in getting things done in Washington?

GRAHAM: What Senator Shelby did, in my opinion, was wrong. He's changed and I'm glad he did. Harry Reid has put more bills into the hopper and filled up the tree (ph) shedding out Republican amendments than anybody that I know of, but we're all in this together.

And my plea on this program is to try to find ways to move forward on the war on terror. It don't want to politicize the war. I want to win the war. And you can't win the war if you're -- if you go back defining crime. We're at war.

I will meet the president more than halfway. I will help him close Guantanamo Bay, only if he creates a legal system that will make us safe, keep this enemy off the battlefield in a transparent way, living within our values. So I think we need to stop all this fighting among ourselves and direct our fight toward our enemies.

WALLACE: Senator Graham, we want to thank you. Thank you for joining us. It's always a pleasure to talk with you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.