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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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We start, however, with the news that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 suspects will be tried in federal court in New York City. U.S. congresswoman Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland, Republican congressman Michael McCaul of Texas is a member of the Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. McCaul, I want you to start. What would you have done, had you been president and had to make this decision, along with the attorney general? Where would you try these guys? Or would you not try them?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL ®, TEXAS: Well, first let met say it‘s a sad day when the mastermind of 9/11 is brought on American soil, to the very spot where 3,000 Americans were killed. If I were president for the day, I would have tried these not as criminal defendants in the United States but treat them as enemies of war before a military tribunal, as we did in World War II. We were going down that path...

MATTHEWS: And then do--and what would you do with them if they were convicted? What would you do with them then? If you didn‘t execute them, what would you do with them?

MCCAUL: Well, I--it‘s my sincere hope that they do get the death penalty in this case. But I think bringing them...

MATTHEWS: But if they got some other penalty, what would you do with them then? It‘s a tricky question. I answer (ph) is because the whole thing‘s tricky. What do we do with these people? You see them as war criminals, some other people as criminal suspects. What do you do with them if they‘re war criminals? What do we do if this war goes on and on and on forever, basically, against terrorism? What do we do with these people?

MCCAUL: Well, again, military tribunal. They were getting ready to go forward. The president came in, stopped the process, said we‘re going to close down Guantanamo Bay. We should have gone forward with these top cases, where the evidence would be...

MATTHEWS: OK, what do we do with them?

MCCAUL: ... sufficient to convict and get the death penalty, execute them.

MATTHEWS: Well, if we don‘t get them on the death penalty, what do we do with them then--if they don‘t get the death penalty? A lot of them may not be guilty of the death penalty.

MCCAUL: Well, they‘re...

MATTHEWS: What do we do with them?

MCCAUL: I was a federal prosecutor in the Justice Department. They will either get life in prison or the death penalty. The risk of bringing...

MATTHEWS: OK, where would we put them?

MCCAUL: ... them in the...

MATTHEWS: Where would we--sir, I‘ve asked you three times. What do we do with them if we don‘t execute them?

MCCAUL: I--they should stay in Guantanamo (INAUDIBLE) that‘s the mistake...

MATTHEWS: So keep Guantanamo there.

MCCAUL: ... that was made.

MATTHEWS: OK. So you say...

MCCAUL: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... the smart move would have been to keep Guantanamo there as a place a to put war suspects when we convict them, execute them there. If we don‘t execute them there, keep them there. That‘s your policy.

MCCAUL: Right. We should not...

MATTHEWS: OK, that‘s smart.

MCCAUL: ... be importing them...

MATTHEWS: I mean, that‘s a view I...

MCCAUL: ... into the United States.

MATTHEWS: It‘s very clear, sir. I like clarity.

Let‘s go to Congresswoman Edwards. Your view? You‘ve got that one view, which is to keep them on Guantanamo. Keep Gitmo there. Prosecute them. If you can‘t execute them, if you get them on a lesser charge, keep them there until they--until they rot, I suppose. What are your thinking?

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Well, let‘s start...

MATTHEWS: What‘s your thinking?

EDWARDS: Let‘s start with first things first, Chris. I mean, first thing, I think it was the right call by the attorney general and by the president to make sure that we go to trial in New York, in a place where we‘re actually used to these kind of prosecutions. And I think, you know, once we go through trial and there‘s a conviction, it sounds like, obviously, the death penalty is on the table, the federal death penalty. I‘m not a big supporter of the death penalty, but that‘s what the law is, and...

MATTHEWS: Well, what would you do?

EDWARDS: And I think that...

MATTHEWS: What would you do?

EDWARDS: You know what? That‘s what the law is. And I think that we

· this is the--this is the challenge here. We need to make sure that we follow our own judicial process, follow our own constitutional mandate, try these people, let the victims get their justice and the American people get their justice. And if they‘re found guilty, you know, they‘re put to death under the law. And if it‘s life in prison, I think that we can secure them, even here in our borders.

MATTHEWS: So you trust the jury system in this regard. You would trust a jury for a unanimous vote in all these cases?

EDWARDS: You know why I do? Because we actually have a history of federal trials and federal prosecutions for terrorism. I think something like 190 of these cases have actually been tried in the federal courts, with that number of convictions. And unfortunately, the military tribunals process, even with the revamped Military Commissions Act, actually hasn‘t worked. But our federal courts actually have worked. And so that‘s why I‘m actually really glad that the president and the attorney general...

EDWARDS: ... are moving forward in this direction.

MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at what Rudolph Giuliani--who‘s clearly thinking about running for governor of New York. He put out this statement today. Quote, "Returning some of the Guantanamo detainees to New York City for trial, specifically Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has now brought us full circle. We have regressed to a pre-9/11 mentality with respect to Islamic extremist terrorism. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should be treated like the war criminal he is and tried in a military court. He is not just another murderer or even a mass murderer, he murdered as part of a declared war against the United States."

Your thoughts on that, Congressman McCaul? Explain to me, as a former prosecutor, the distinction between somebody who kills as part of a war and someone who just kills because they‘re murderers.

MCCAUL: Well, in the Clinton era, we prosecuted Ramzi Yousef as a criminal defendant. It seems like we‘re going back to that policy. In my view, these--Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, these top operatives, are enemies of war and should be treated as such with a military tribunal. I completely agree with Rudy Giuliani‘s assessment in this case. And the admissibility of evidence is very different in a military tribunal versus a federal court, when you‘re dealing with intelligence. I think that‘s a better route.

Again, are they--are these people, the terrorists, enemies of war or are they to be treated as criminal defendants? This administration has now made its decision that they are criminal defendants, to be given all the rights under the Constitution once they touch base in New York City, and not to mention the security risk that‘s going to be placed on a city that has been consistently a target of al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Congresswoman Edwards. Here‘s a problem. If you get into court and a smart defense attorney--I‘d think of it, and I‘m not even a lawyer. This guy was waterboarded 83 times, KSM, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He probably admitted all kinds of things under waterboarding. All that evidence is tainted. It‘s contaminated, even if you go find evidence elsewhere, based on that. A smart defense attorney can say it‘s all contaminated evidence. It‘s fruit of a poison tree, or whatever, whatever the term is. And you get the guy off.

EDWARDS: Well, I actually...

MATTHEWS: Wouldn‘t that happen if you were the defense attorney? Wouldn‘t you be able to make that case, that this guy admitted his guilt under torture, 183 cases of waterboarding? What kind of evidence is that?

EDWARDS: You know, they‘re going to be able to put up a defense, but I think I heard very clearly from the attorney general today that, in fact, there‘s independent evidence that he believes, as a former prosecutor, as a former high-level prosecutor, that will result in a conviction. And I think that on this one, we‘ve got, you know, really superior prosecutors who are going to take this case...


EDWARDS: ... all the way through. And I‘m actually convinced because of their record that the federal district courts and our federal judges actually can handle both the intelligence levels that we‘re dealing with and the trial and get a conviction.

MATTHEWS: But wouldn‘t you...

MCCAUL: Hey, Chris, the first...

MATTHEWS: ... as a defense attorney--let me ask you, Congressman, this question. Wouldn‘t you--forget--I know what you want to do, get these guys tried offshore and get them tried at Gitmo. That‘s your position. But if you were a defense attorney in New York City and you were on the other side of this fight, wouldn‘t you bring in Cheney? Wouldn‘t you bring all the guys who supported waterboarding and nail them?

MCCAUL: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: You‘d use this as a show trial opportunity, wouldn‘t you?

MCCAUL: The first motion I‘d file is a motion to suppress the evidence obtained through waterboarding. Then I would file a ton of discovery to find out all the classified information, you‘re right, regarding Cheney, regarding--and this is going to turn into a real circus. I think the military is better equipped to handle this in a professional way.

The southern district of New York U.S. attorney‘s office is one of the

finest in the country. It‘s some of the best prosecutors. But the point -

· the minute we put them on American soil and they get constitutional rights, this will turn into a showcase, a circus. And again, I‘m concerned about the security of New York City and what‘s going to happen when these top al Qaeda operatives set foot in the United States. The majority of the American people do not want to see this happen.

MATTHEWS: Well, what are you worried about there? Are you worried about we can‘t handle a bunch of troublemakers in New York? I think the--that‘s where I might disagree with you. Don‘t you think the American--the police, New York‘s finest, can‘t handle a bunch of bums causing trouble? I mean, what‘s the problem?

MCCAUL: I saw--I saw...

MATTHEWS: We‘ve got thousands and thousands of hardened murderers in federal prison right now. I don‘t but that--we‘ve got the scariest people in the world in federal prison right now, in maximum security.

MCCAUL: But...

MATTHEWS: These guys, once they‘re isolated, it seem to me they‘re--they‘re not anywhere near as dangerous as the guys we have in prison right now in this country. Americans can be much more frightening than these guys.

EDWARDS: Well, and Chris, I mean, the fact is that...

MCCAUL: Well, I saw--I saw Khalid Shaikh--I saw Khalid Shaikh Mohammed down in Guantanamo. That‘s another--that‘s very high secure. My concern about bringing him into the United States is not the security of the prison itself, but the mecca that that will create for potential either home-grown...

MCCAUL: ... or al Qaeda operatives to come to New York.

MATTHEWS: And bomb things. What do you think of that, Congresswoman, the fact that we might have--we might have a bombing target in Foley Square or someplace in New York...

MCCAUL: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: ... a courthouse where all the bad guys are going to come and just declare a military target, if you will?

EDWARDS: You know, Chris, the federal courts have actually handled these circumstances before, high-level security that‘s required. It‘s been handled in Arlington, with prosecutions in Arlington, Virginia, handled in New York, in the southern district of New York. I think our federal prosecutors and our judges are entirely capable of meting out the justice that‘s deserved and that the victims‘ families deserve and the American people deserve to see carried out.

And so I‘m actually glad that we‘ve moved to this point. And I, in fact, think it‘s a step forward. The military tribunals have actually only handled three of those prosecutions. The federal district courts have handled and gotten convictions in more than 190 cases. They can do this. We can do this...

EDWARDS: ... and our federal prosecutors are going to get the justice that the victims‘ families deserve.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, Congresswoman, and thank you, Congressman. By the way, one of the great things about America, no matter what side you‘re on in this argument, is that we have these arguments. This is a great country because we fight about this stuff.

MCCAUL: I agree.

MATTHEWS: Human rights matters, even in cases of the worst people in the world, but sometimes I think we got to treat them a little tougher than we treat your average criminal. Anyway, thank you.

Coming up: Here comes Sarah Palin. We‘re going to have some fun now, I‘m going to tell you. She‘s got a book out. I don‘t know if she wrote this thing or a ghost writer wrote it, but nobody‘s going to get a bigger ride than Sarah Palin. By the way, that‘s not Tina Fey, that‘s the real thing right there, the real genuine article. This woman, I think, is running for something like president. I‘m not sure. Can Sarah Palin do what Reagan did, unseat a Democratic president? I think she‘s got very high ambitions, and they may be in her case wildly appropriate.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


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