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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld Restating Administration's Hard Line on Detainees

Aired January 28, 2002 - 07:36   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Getting back now to the question of the detainees. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has been out front restating the administration's hard line. He says the detainees, the -- quote -- "unlawful combatants are terrorists and should not be entitled to prisoner of war status."

Meanwhile, there are reports that Secretary of State Powell wants the administration to state that the detainees will be treated in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Why is that important? And what kind of line will the administration continue to hold?

Joining us now with a law enforcement perspective from Washington, former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder -- good to see you, sir. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER DEP. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning.

ZAHN: The president will be meeting with his National Security team this morning to talk about, well, the apparent discord here. Give us a preview of what this discussion might entail. When you have Secretary of State Powell saying, "Let's abide by the Geneva Convention," and then folks on the other side, we are told, saying "Wait a minute. If we hold them to that kind of status, then all they'll be required to give us is their name, rank and file number."

HOLDER: Yes, it seems to me this is an argument that is really consequential. One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.

It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohammed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.

And yet, I understand what Secretary Powell is concerned about, and that is we're going to be fighting this war with people who are special forces, not people who are generally in uniform. And if unfortunately they somehow become detained, we would want them to be treated in an appropriate way consistent with the Geneva Convention.

ZAHN: So is the secretary of state walking a fine line here legally? He is not asking that the United States declare these men as prisoners of war right now. He's just saying let's abide by the Geneva Convention in the meantime.

HOLDER: Yes, and I think in a lot of ways that makes sense. I think they clearly do not fit within the prescriptions of the Geneva Convention. You have to remember that after World War II, as these protocols were being developed, there seemed to be widespread agreement that members of the French Resistance would not be considered prisoners of war if they had been captured. That being the case, it's hard for me to see how members of al Qaeda could be considered prisoners of war.

And yet, I understand Secretary Powell's concerns. We want to make sure that our forces, if captured in this or some other conflict, are treated in a humane way. And I think ultimately that's really the decisive factor here. How are people, who are in our custody, going to be treated? And those in Europe and other places who are concerned about the treatment of al Qaeda members should come to Camp X-ray and see how the people are, in fact, being treated.

ZAHN: The administration this morning playing down any discord among its team, but if you could, help us understand how you reconcile this.

HOLDER: Well, I think you've got people on the one hand saying that these are folks who should not be treated pursuant to the Geneva Convention, and at the same time, you're going to have people saying, "Well, you know, what does that mean for our forces down the road? What does that mean for people who are going to be doing what we tell them to do throughout the course of this conflict, which is worldwide and which is going to be taking years to ultimately resolve?"

I can understand the tensions that exist, but I think the way to resolve it is, in fact, the way Secretary Powell has proposed, which is to say these are not people who are prisoners of war as that has been defined, but who are entitled to, in our own interests, entitled to be treated in a very humane way and almost consistent with all of the dictates of the Geneva Convention.

ZAHN: Final question for you, moving onto the issue of John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban. How much pressure should they put on this man to get information out of him as they interrogate him?

HOLDER: Well, I mean, it's hard to interrogate him at this point now that he has a lawyer and now that he is here in the United States. But to the extent that we can get information from him, I think we should. I would expect that this is not a case that ultimately is going to go to trial. I'd be very surprised if the case went to trial. It seems to me that he is different from other people like Moussaoui, obviously the people who went into the World Trade Center. I suspect this is not a young man who is a zealot, who now, with a good lawyer and here in the United States once again, is likely to try to reach some kind of an agreement with the United States. And if in reaching that agreement with him, we get information from him, I think that makes a lot of sense.

ZAHN: I am hearing you say, "Plea bargain, plea bargain." Right? I'm not reading too much into what you just said?

HOLDER: No. That would be my guess. I would be very surprised if at the conclusion of this whole process, after you have gone through discovery, after you have gone through the pretrial hearings, I'd be very surprised that there's actually a trial on this matter.

ZAHN: Erick Holder, again thanks for dropping by A.M. -- appreciate your time this morning.

HOLDER: Thank you.

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