June 9, 2009

Joan Walsh and Liz Cheney in Campbell Brown's "Great Debate" segment. Good on Joan Walsh for not allowing Liz Cheney to talk over for the entire segment. More pundits who go up against her could take a few lessons from Joan. She hit back at Cheney for interrupting her right out of the box and never let up for the rest of the interview.

BROWN: Time for our time for our "Great Debate."

And tonight's premise: Bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to America is a security risk.

Some Republicans say that is exactly what happened today, when Ahmed Ghailani was brought from Guantanamo to New York to face trial.

And joining us to debate tonight, Liz Cheney, the former vice president's daughter, who also served in President Bush's State Department. She thinks Gitmo prisoners do not belong on American soil. On the other side, Joan Walsh, who is editor in chief of Salon -- Salon.com.

And we want your opinion too. Vote by calling the number on the bottom of your screen.

First, we're going to have opening statements from each, 30 seconds on the clock.

Liz Cheney, the premise is: Bringing Guantanamo detainees to America is a security risk. Make your case.


Well, I think that it's clear that al Qaeda operatives and terrorists have spent a lot of time and have expended a lot of effort to get into the United States. So, I think it's impossible to argue that, when our government actually helps them get into the United States, as we would do in this case, that it doesn't make us less safe. Of course that makes us less safe.

Secondly, you have had the director of national intelligence and the attorney general talk about the fact that some of these detainees will, in fact, be released in the United States.

So, faced with a situation where you can either have terrorists detained...


CHENEY: ... in a secure facility in Guantanamo or in your neighborhood, I think it's clear that you're less safe if they're in your neighborhood.

BROWN: Joan?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: Campbell, I just think that's really silly.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, before Barack Obama was inaugurated, said, we have to close Guantanamo. It's a recruiting symbol. Secretary Robert Gates agrees. General Petraeus agrees. They are -- these are all high-ranking military figures in the Bush-Cheney administration. John McCain agrees. We did not have a debate about Guantanamo last year because everyone agrees, except Liz Cheney, and Dick Cheney, I might add.

CHENEY: Well, I think, actually, there are also 90 -- 90 U.S. senators...



WALSH: The fact is, we already...


WALSH: We already -- Liz, don't interrupt me. That's outrageous.


BROWN: Come on, guys. Come on.


CHENEY: The bell rang. There are 90...


WALSH: Well, Campbell, she took some of my time. May I finish?

BROWN: OK. A couple of seconds, Joan.

WALSH: Thank you, Campbell. I appreciate it.

There are 340 convicted terrorists already in American supermax prisons, including Ramzi Yousef, who planned the World Trade Center bomb in '93, and the Unabomber...

BROWN: All right.

WALSH: ... and plenty more.


WALSH: We can do this. We have done it. We will do it again.

BROWN: Joan, I...


BROWN: Let me let Liz respond.


CHENEY: Several things. I think, first of all, it's outrageous for you to say that it's just the Cheneys who think that terrorists shouldn't be in the U.S. Actually, 75 percent of the American people don't want to see terrorists from Guantanamo brought here. And 90 U.S. senators...


WALSH: It depends on how you frame the question.

CHENEY: Now, Joan, are you going to interrupt me, or are you going to let me -- let me talk here?


BROWN: Let -- let her make her point.


CHENEY: Secondly, Joan, I think it's very important -- I recommend to you, if you haven't read it yet, a book called "Willful Blindness" by Andy McCarthy, who prosecuted the blind sheik.

And, in his book, he goes through in great detail the -- the very real failings of the criminal justice system when dealing with terrorists. Our criminal justice system is simply not set up to handle the kinds of classified information that would have to be turned over to terrorists in order to prosecute them.

You have got a real potential that you get the terrorists here, and judges will decide that they have got to be released, that they can't be held indefinitely in U.S. maximum-security prisons.

WALSH: Liz, the top -- the top military leaders of our country want Guantanamo closed. President Bush, in June 2009, gave a speech where he said he would close it, and he would bring people home and try them here.

CHENEY: No, I'm sorry.

WALSH: President Bush said that.

CHENEY: He did not say he would bring terrorists onto the homeland. Joan, no, he didn't say that.

WALSH: We also -- Ahmed -- Ahmed -- Ahmed -- Ahmed Ghailani, who came to the United States...


CHENEY: It's a very different thing to say...


BROWN: Hold on, guys.

(CROSSTALK) WALSH: If you're not going to stop, Liz, I won't stop.

BROWN: Hold on for a second. I -- because I want to clarify this.

Joan, let me ask you this, because we have heard President Obama himself say that there are some detainees that will not be able to be tried in regular courts and that can't be released. What do you do with these people, then?

WALSH: You know, that's a hugely, hugely divisive issue, Campbell.

And Liz may be closer to President Obama on it than I am. He has talked about for a hand -- well, we believe it's a handful. It might be more. We don't know. He has talked about creating a system of review for the relatively small number of people at Guantanamo who, A, seem like they want to harm us, but, B, can't be tried, either because we don't have the evidence or because we tortured them under the Bush- Cheney torture regime, and thus we can't use the evidence we acquired.

I don't know how many people there are. I think it's going to be a very divisive issue. But we shouldn't start there, Campbell. We should start with the vast majority of detainees who are, A, either innocent, like Lakhdar Boumediene, who ABC exposed the horror of his torture at Guantanamo, an innocent man tortured, or, if they did something, they will be tried, just like Mr. Ghailani.

Four of Mr. Ghailani's co-planners in the 1998 embassy bombers are in jail in prison for life, no parole.


BROWN: OK, Joan.

WALSH: The system works.

CHENEY: Your facts are just wrong. The vast majority of the detainees...

WALSH: Oh, really?

BROWN: Liz -- Joan, let Liz make her point.

CHENEY: Yes, really.

WALSH: Sure.

CHENEY: The vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo now, the 241 or so who are left, are the worst of the worst.

As you know, we released a number of them during the Bush administration, those that we thought actually could be released. And 14 percent of them returned to the battlefield.

So, it may be that, you know, sitting in Manhattan... WALSH: That's not true, Liz.

CHENEY: It actually is true, Joan.

WALSH: The Pentagon has refuted that number.

CHENEY: Joan, you going to let me talk here?


WALSH: The Pentagon has refuted that number. And "The New York Times" abandoned it.


BROWN: Joan, you got -- you got a lot of time here. I have got to let Liz finish her point.

Go ahead. You get the last word, Liz, before we take a break.

CHENEY: Joan, I think that, you know, it -- it may be the case that it's easy to sit in Manhattan or whenever you're sitting, Joan, and say, gosh, these people don't really want to harm us, and we really shouldn't detain them.

But, you know, we're at war. And the laws of war very clearly state that...

WALSH: I know we're at war, Liz.

CHENEY: ... while you're at war, you can detain enemy combatants to prevent them from returning to the battlefield.

Seventy-five percent of the American people do not think that our government should be bringing terrorists to the homeland. And they're right.


I know there are very strong feelings here on -- on both sides, but we're going to do what we do every night, which is try to find some common ground on this, an area where the two of you can agree. I'm hopeful.


BROWN: You have the commercial to think about it.

We will be back in a moment. Stay with us.


BROWN: We're back with tonight's "Great Debate."

And the premise: Bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to America is a security risk. Liz Cheney, the former vice president's daughter, has said yes to this, Salon.com editor Joan Walsh saying no.

We're going to try to find some common ground right now, guys.

Liz, do you think there's an area here relating to the policy where you and Joan can agree?

CHENEY: Campbell, I just don't think there is.

I mean, I think there are some issues on which...

BROWN: Oh. Ooh.

CHENEY: I know. I'm sorry. But I just think there are some issues -- you know, I firmly believe our government ought to detain terrorists, it ought to defend us against terrorism, and it ought to kill terrorists, when necessary.

And it shouldn't facilitate their entry into the U.S. And I think Joan and I just don't -- we don't see eye to eye on that. I mean, maybe Joan can suggest something.


CHENEY: But, sometimes, I think it's better to be very clear about what your position is and what your stand is on an issue as important as this one.

BROWN: Joan, any common ground here?

WALSH: Campbell, I actually had a couple of ideas.

BROWN: OK. Let's hear them.

WALSH: I had a couple of ideas.

First of all, we both love and admire our fathers. That's very important, foundational, gives us something in common. Second of all, I believe we both really and truly want to keep America safe.

Sitting here in San Francisco, a city that I love very much -- I won't be condescended to about that -- I care about the security of this country, and I believe that torture and illegal detention has made us less -- less safe.

Finally, I think...

CHENEY: You had me until the end there, Joan. You were good until the end.

WALSH: ... Liz is probably very, very excited that the pro- America party won the election in Lebanon, and that we're both looking forward to the possibility of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad losing on Friday, which would show that the Obama administration's approach of reaching out, rather than alienated the -- alienating the Muslim world, might be working.

BROWN: All right.

WALSH: I bet she's hoping for the same thing.

CHENEY: Well, actually, I disagree with you on the last part of that there, Joan.

I don't think it makes that much of a difference who wins the election in Iran at the end of this week. I think that the Iranian regime will continue to pursue the same policy.

But I will grant you that we love our fathers and we love our country.


WALSH: Thank you. All right. There we go.

BROWN: Liz, Joan, thank you, guys. Appreciate it. It really was a great debate. Many, many thanks.

CHENEY: Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you.

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