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CNN "Piers Morgan Tonight" - Transcript - Enemy Combatants


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MORGAN: Good evening.

The stage is set for dramatic trial in New York City. Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and mouth piece is in a Manhattan jail after pleading not guilty to terrorism charges. It's the first time that New Yorkers got to see this member of the al Qaeda inner circle face- to-face, and it comes on a very busy day on America's security front.

There's also the stinging criticism of the TSA's new policy, allowing small knives and bats on planes. It comes as the former chief of the agency wants to go even further, saying passengers should be allowed to go on board with battle-axes and even machetes.

A lot of people are stunned by it, including my first guest, Senator John McCain who is making news right here about it.

Senator, welcome to you.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Piers. It's nice to be back.

MORGAN: You're all over the news again today, predominantly involving Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who plead not guilty today in a Manhattan court.

You're not happy at all that he's been tried in a criminal court. Why is that?

MCCAIN: Because I believe he's an enemy combatant, and according to the rules of war, he should be tried as such under a military commission and he should be in Guantanamo. And one of the questions that should be asked, if that is not the case, and it's clearly not, how soon was he given his Miranda rights, and that -- if he has been, his good lawyers will tell him not to talk. We need intelligence.

MORGAN: You said in your statement you issued this afternoon that you believe the American people did not want him to be tried in an American civilian criminal court. But I interviewed Jim Riches last night, a New York former fire chief, whose own son died on 9/11. And he said this.


JIM RICHES, FORMER FDNY DEPUTY CHIEF: These people played politics, the Republicans and Democrats, with the trials of these men. It's wrong. They should be brought to trial.

Two hundred fifty-four men have been tried in federal court, and it's gone well. Now, they try to play politics with this. And we have been held up. We're in pretrial motions with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Let's get these trials going in New York City. All that people that were affected that day can go and see the trials. And that's where they should be, in New York City.


MORGAN: What do you say to him, Senator, because he reflects the views of many of the 9/11 families feel. They want to see justice right in New York, right where that atrocity happened. And they're pleased that he's being tried there.

MCCAIN: Well, the last time that was contemplated, as you may recall, there were estimates of the cost of security in the millions of dollars.

But more importantly, these are enemy combatants. We're in a long struggle with the forces of al Qaeda and radical extremism. And if you give someone their Miranda rights, which means that if they're in civilian court, then they're not an enemy combatant, they're just an ordinary criminal.

But if you do that, and any good lawyer is going to tell them not to say anything, then that prevents us from having the ability to get intelligence -- without use of torture, by the way -- to get intelligence information that would probably prevent another tragedy and another father such as we just heard from.

MORGAN: Do you have any way of changing this? If they had gone behind Congress' back as you claimed, do you think you can get this overturned legally?

MCCAIN: Probably not. The president, I think, has those authorities.

But I'm sure that we will be trying to prevent that from happening because for the reasons that I just stated to you. We are in an ongoing struggle with these people. They are on the rise all over North Africa. They are in Iraq again in training camps. They are in field, coming to Syria in huge numbers.

So to somehow think that this isn't going to be a long twilight struggle with these people, of which intelligence is a vital aspect of, is a gross misreading of the situation as we see al Qaeda resurging all over the Middle East and in other parts of the world as well.

MORGAN: Let's turn to drones, and in particular, Senator Rand Paul's epic 13-hour filibuster which you have already gone very publicly on the attack about. You thought that he was effectively doing the American public a disservice by putting an unnecessary and unfounded fear into their heads.

Is that right?

MCCAIN: Yes, I think that to assume that the United States of America would use a drone and a hellfire missile to attack someone sitting in a cafe -- look, this goes back to our previous conversation. We want to capture people. We don't want to kill them.

The reason why we have to kill them in places like Yemen and other places is because we don't have the military force with the capabilities to do it.

Second of all, to -- for example, to compare killing a terrorist, an al Qaeda person who is trying to attack the United States of America with Jane Fonda, I mean, it is ludicrous. I'm not a great fan of Jane Fonda's, as you probably know, Piers, but the fact -- and she might have even given aid and comfort to the enemy in the view of some. But the fact is, to think that the United States would ever contemplate killing Jane Fonda with a drone if we had the capability is again -- I mean, it's not the world of reality that we are living in.

But there are threats. Suppose there's another airplane headed for the United States capital, such as the one that crashed in Pennsylvania. I can assure you that -- and I'm confident that we have the capability if necessary, the president, to shoot the plane down. There may be innocent Americans on that plane.

So it's -- to me, here we have the North Koreans testing nuclear weapons, threatening to attack the United States of America. Iran, the centrifuges continue to spin. Eighty thousand people killed now at least or 70,000 in Syria; the whole Middle East in a state of near chaos in many areas.

And frankly, my highest priority is not my concern that they may kill an American with a hellfire missile in a cafe in the United States of America. It's not my concern.

MORGAN: Some are saying that all Rand Paul was doing was trying to solicit that very confirmation from Eric Holder, the attorney general, and indeed he appears to have done that and that's part of a vigorous democratic process and he was behaving exactly the way a senator should behave.

Newt Gingrich, amongst other Republicans, has come down pretty tough on you personally, and I want to play you what he said on FOX and get your hopefully very volatile reaction back.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: When I first knew John McCain in the House, he was a maverick. In the Senate for years, he was a maverick. Of everybody I know in the Senate, I don't know anybody who had a better record of bucking the leadership, doing what he thought mattered, marching to his own drummer.

And I think that it's so unfortunate, but I think frankly it doesn't hurt Ted Cruz and it doesn't hurt Rand Paul. It hurts John McCain.


MORGAN: So the allegation is you're a bit of an old fuddy-duddy now, Senator, and the old maverick John McCain would have supported Rand Paul.

MCCAIN: Well, you know, I am always intrigued by the fact that when I disagree with my own party leadership, my own president, like saying that Donald Rumsfeld ought to resign, we need to do the surge, then I'm a brave maverick. When I'm taking on others, then he's just an angry old man.

Look, I'll always do what I think is right. I think I understand national security. I have been involved in it in one way or another since I was 17, and I believe that the priorities that we were just talking about are the ones we should be spending 13 hours on. Why isn't the United States of America helping the Syrians who are being massacred as we speak, and the million -- now over a million refugees? What are we going to do about the North Koreans who are now basically threatening to strike the United States of America? What are we going to do about the centrifuges in Tehran?

Instead, we spend 13 hours warning the American people that we may put a hellfire missile on an innocent American in a cafe. That was never the case.

But there may be an extraordinary circumstance where there's an impending attack on the United States of America that we would have to respond in any way possible to prevent another 9/11. I believe that's what the attorney general of the United States was trying to say.

MORGAN: Do you have any message for Newt Gingrich?

MCCAIN: Oh, listen, Newt and I have been friends for many, many years. I respect his opinions. He's a very bright guy. I'm not going to -- we'll remain friends.


MORGAN: Let's turn to the TSA. They have announced they're going to allow a number of pen knives and other implements of that nature back onto planes, and a former TSA chief who ran the TSA for five years until recently, Kip Hawley, has told CNN that he would go further. He said they ought to let everything on that's sharp and pointy. Battle-axes, machetes, bring anything you want that's pointy and sharp, because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It's as simple as that.

What is your reaction to that?

MCCAIN: I think maybe we need a congressional hearing on the whole issue of what is a danger to the entire flight and what we should -- I think we need to call witnesses since they have made this policy change.

To be honest with you, Piers, I think I'm an expert on a number of issues. I'm not that well-versed on that one. It might be good for the Homeland Security Committee to have an oversight on that.

My concern is that our TSA procedures have basically not changed in the last 12 years. They're still having to do invasive body searches. We still wait in long, long lines.

Couldn't we have a fast lane? Couldn't we have -- develop a technology where we could all just walk through?

I mean, in other words, I have not seen a single advance in technology in expediting people through airports since we put these procedures in place in 9/11. That's what I would like to know about.

MORGAN: It does seem --

MCCAIN: I'm sure I say -- I'm sure I say that for a selfish reason because of the frequency of my visits to airports.

MORGAN: I'm in the same boat, and I share you frustrations. Particularly it's when I board a plane, for example, in London at Heathrow to come to New York, I don't have to take my shoes off anymore. So there's no consistency now between countries and airlines on the same routes, which I find quite baffling.

In terms of this knife issue, I just can't for the life of me understand why the TSA's first relaxation of these very stringent rules would allow people to take onboard the very kind of weapon that the 9/11 hijackers deployed to take control of that plane. I mean, they used box cutters and pen knives.

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm.

Well, look, I think it's a legitimate concern. I think that you would have to make -- they're not obviously making the case to the American people in a way that Americans find satisfactory.

This is again a role of Congress to find out exactly why they're making the decisions that they are.

I'm very skeptical about that decision. But I have to tell you again, I'm not that much of an expert on this particular aspect of it. That's why we need to bring them -- haul them out before a committee and have them explain it, and ask the right questions that you're asking right now.

MORGAN: Senator McCain, always great to talk to you. Thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.


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