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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript: New Jersey Port Authority Scandal


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MATTHEWS: Emptying a jail full of hardened killers. I mean, Congressman Peter King, thanks for coming back on the show. You`re a Republican, of course, from New York, and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

This is one of those stark divides I see, and I find it -- personally find it very difficult to deal with this issue. What do we do with people we know are our enemies, who clearly have committed their lives for perhaps their idea of a religious reason to killing us in jihad, and yet we don`t have a case that we can take to a criminal court in the United States and put them away for life. What do we do with them? What`s your view?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, I`ve supported Guantanamo all along. I think it`s wrong when the president said this violates our values. He may have a different opinion, but somehow, that`s criticizing us before the world for something which I think is entirely legal.I`ve been to Guantanamo. It`s probably better than not only most prisons, probably any Army basic training camp in this country as far as they have soccer facilities, language skills they`re taught, art classes.

There`s I think one medical personnel for every three detainees.

So listen, it`s not an ideal situation, but the fact is, these people, many of them, are hardened killers. I mean, the president`s own advisers, his own experts have said that some of these people are too dangerous to release. So I think that, again, so long as they are in humanitarian -- held in humanitarian conditions, I don`t see any alternative to it at this stage.

Now, if the war does -- and I say the war -- the war with terrorism winds down, fine. But we`ve found -- I don`t have the numbers in front of me now, but a large percentage, like, 25 to 30 percent of the people that are released go back on the battlefield to kill us. And the most hardened ones are still in there.

MATTHEWS: I keep hearing from people who are lawyers and people who are civil liberties people who know the law, who keep telling me we can`t keep people at that facility, especially the Afghan people, after we pull out our combat troops. Do you hear that, or do you just ignore it? I mean, what do you do with the people who say, legally, you can`t just keep people in permanent stockade conditions unless you have got a case against them that you can take to a judge?

KING: Well, first of all, I don`t believe that foreign fighters, these detainee, these terrorists captured on the battlefield are entitled to the same constitutional rights as an American or anyone else who`s in our country.

These are people captured on the battlefield. And by the very nature of their being captured, it`s very difficult to get evidence that would hold up in a federal court. You can`t have the teams out there. You can`t be getting fingerprints. This is not the type of thing that lends itself - - but there`s intelligence on them that could not be used in a civilian court.


KING: And that`s just the nature of it. So I...


MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take that. Senator -- Congressman, let`s just take these five fellows.

KING: Right.

MATTHEWS: Obviously, they`re big shots. Four of them are real big shots. We have got another 12 apparently sitting in there. We have more Afghan prisoners sitting in Gitmo.

When do we release the rest of them? Would it be when we get all our combat troops out at the end of `15, entirely out, apparently everybody but a few Marines, I guess, who have the tough duty of standing around our embassy, by the end of `16? Where -- when do we let those guys out, the Afghan Taliban, not necessarily al Qaeda, but Afghan people who were on that side of the politics over there? When do we let them out?

KING: Well, just because we -- most of our troops are coming out, it doesn`t mean the war is going to be over.

The fact is, this war is going to go on and we do want to maintain some type of a civil society in Afghanistan after we leave so it`s not used as a sanctuary by al Qaeda and the Taliban to attack us again. And it`s going to make it much more difficult to do that.

Think of the Afghans that we have left behind, the police, the army, the civilians who have pledged to work with us, and we`re sending killers back there who can kill them, also who would put the troops we do have there also at risk. So, I -- just because the president says the war is over doesn`t mean it`s over.

This isn`t like World War II, where you have MacArthur the battleship Missouri.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.

Boy, I have made your argument before, Congressman, but I keep being hit with this, that we don`t have a British-style system where there`s some statute out of Parliament that says you have the right to hold people, like the IRA, forever.

And I don`t know whether the law -- yes, have you gotten an legal opinion on this from anybody that`s told you we have the right to bring in these people as foreign troops, as basically POWs and hold them as long as we want?

KING: That argument has been made before the Supreme Court. Basically, the courts have upheld our right to have Guantanamo.And so long as the -- to me, there`s engagements going on, certainly on the part of al Qaeda, I believe we have the right to hold them. And as far as the Taliban, again, we -- we`re going to have troops in there, even
f it`s a small number. And to send these Taliban back, it puts those men and women at risk.

MATTHEWS: OK, Congressman, it`s always an honor to have you on.Congressman Peter King of New York, thanks for coming on.

KING: OK, Chris, thank you. Thank you.


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