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John Kerry on Hardball: “There is No Appropriate Torture”

by Pamela Leavey

John Kerry was on Hardball tonight with Chris Matthews talking about Bush’s latest speech in his series of speeches on the global war on terror. Kerry covered a wide range of topics including Bush asking “Congress to approve a legal framework for the trial of terrorist suspects.”

Watch the exclusive interview here:

Or Watch on YouTube.

Here’s a couple of quips from the interview (I’ll post the transcript when it is available):

MATTHEWS: What do you think is appropriate torture?

KERRY: The is no appropriate torture. Period.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe the president’s speeches are timed for political purpose?


UPDATE: Here’s the transcript of the interview:

Tonight, to kick off our coverage, an exclusive interview with Senator John Kerry.


MATTHEWS: Senator, what did you make of President Bush really throwing the hot potato up to Capitol Hill and to the U.S. Senate to set the rules on torture of our prisoners in Guantanamo, on holding and creating tribunals to try these people, especially the really bad guys. Were you surprised he threw that to you guys to decide?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I don‘t think it‘s a hot potato, and I welcome it. We ought to do it. We‘ve been urging to do it for a long time. We want to do the standard that Lindsey Graham, the Judge Advocate Corps, John Warner, former undersecretary of the Navy—

Republicans have been advocating that. What the president did was capitulate to common sense and is finally doing something we‘ve wanted to do for a long time. We ought to do it quickly and get it done.

MATTHEWS: Which is to legislate the authority of the tribunals?

KERRY: You‘re darn right. You‘re darn right. These people should have been brought to justice a long time ago. But what it also underscores is that the president had an illegal, unconstitutional structure for detaining people that he was destroying, in a sense, the reputation of our country and hurting the values of our country in other lands where we need people‘s support.

And, finally, he admits what all of us have known under the ground for a long time, that we have these secret prisons which the United States doesn‘t condone. So, finally, he is adopting a policy of common sense that is in keeping with our values and the Congress ought to move rapidly and we ought to do what is appropriate under appropriate standards.

MATTHEWS: What do you think is appropriate torture?

KERRY: There is no appropriate torture, period.

MATTHEWS: What is appropriate …


KERRY: And we‘ve been arguing that for a long time. They have been arguing to be allowed to torture. This is the first administration in American history the vice president of the United States says we should be allowed to torture. They argued for torture, for a loophole that allowed them to do it. Now, the president stands up and says the United States doesn‘t torture.

Well, I think that they have ignored the fact that the Geneva Conventions were not in place because we are nice. They weren‘t put in place to be soft. They were put in place to support and defend the interests of our troops in the battlefield, so that if young Americans are captured, we know that we‘ve done the best to be able to have them treated properly.

MATTHEWS: The president—maybe it‘s a matter of wording. The president said he‘s using tough interrogation techniques? How do you read that?

KERRY: Those are legitimate, if they‘re not torture. I mean, there are techniques which are legitimate under military practices. I mean, it‘s not a—you know, it‘s not a—I mean, this is not softball.


KERRY: It‘s war, it‘s tough, and the fact is that there are tough situations.

MATTHEWS: Is waterboarding in or out, as you see it?

KERRY: But there are things that are short of torture.

MATTHEWS: How about waterboarding? You make a guy think he‘s drowning?

KERRY: If we start going down a whole series of …

MATTHEWS: But isn‘t that what he‘s asked to do in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, to basically legislate what‘s in and what‘s out in terms of how we treat prisoners in terms of interrogation?

KERRY: Well, if they want us to do every single particular practice, we can do that. We can write the manual for them we‘re happy to do it. And it shows, again, the ineffectiveness of this administration that they‘re unwilling to do that in keeping with American values. I‘m happy to do it.

The bottom line is that we need to prosecute these people, we need to bring them to justice, we need to be tough in the world. I think what‘s happened is this administration has lost that toughness, in a real sense, because they‘re more rhetorical than they are substance in their ability to be able to do things.

Other countries won‘t follow them. Other countries don‘t listen to them. Other countries aren‘t there in and supportive. They‘ve divided the world. They‘ve taken our own allies, many of whom were there ready to do almost anything after 9/11, and they‘ve pushed them away from us.

What I think they ought to be doing is figuring out how to fight the real war on terror, which is not in Iraq. They need to get out of Iraq and get our troops focused on the real war, and use some military special operations in order to go after people, but also do a much better job of law enforcement and intelligence—which I said two-and-a-half, three years ago—is the real core way in which you‘re going to stop terror activities and stop terror activities and find terrorists.

MATTHEWS: As a senator, you‘re going to have to legislate the new tribunals to try these people.

KERRY: Terrific. We should get it done and we should do it in a week.

MATTHEWS: Should they be susceptible to capital punishment? Should that be in line with this?

KERRY: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the president, the timing of these almost daily—these daily now scheduled events involving terrorism. It‘s September, late in the single digits of September. We‘re coming up on September 11th, the fifth anniversary. We‘re coming up on an election. Do you believe that the president‘s speeches are timed for political purpose?


MATTHEWS: Do you believe he‘s sincere in what he‘s saying?

KERRY: Mostly.

MATTHEWS: Where not?

KERRY: Well, I think the president knows full well that he‘s exaggerating success. I‘ll give you a classic example. Today, the president of the United States said that the terrorists are on the run. Today—in Afghanistan. Today, the NATO commander said we need more troops because of the way in which the Taliban have re-taken over the southern part of the country, which is real.

The president is saying they‘re on the run or the NATO commander on the site, in country, commanding the forces saying I need more people because the Taliban is resurgent. I‘ll take the NATO commander.

And I think a lot of people in Washington are fed up with this public relations campaign on terror. The president is busy doing exactly what they did in 2002, exactly what they did in 2004. You know, the president is more interested in ginning up terror, scaring the America people, and not really fighting the war on terror in a way that protects the American people.

I think there is a better way to fight the war on terror. I believe we can do a better job of protecting America. And the test of whether or not they have made us safer is very simple. There are more terrorists now in the world who want to kill Americans than there were on 9/11.

MATTHEWS: How do you know that?

KERRY: We know that from all the intelligence reports. We know that from our own intelligence and the comments of the president, who is now saying al Qaeda is in 65 countries. Why are they in 65 countries? Because this administration failed to stand up at Tora Bora when they had him surrounded. You read any number of books now that talk about how the CIA and others were urging the surrounding of those mountains.

They didn‘t tell the truth during the 2004 campaign, where they lied, literally, about whether or not they knew where Osama bin Laden was. They knew where he was, but for purposes of the election, they avoided responsibility for that and now they‘re trying to pretend that they‘ve got them on the run.

They don‘t have them on the run. Al Qaeda, notwithstanding the capture of a number of people, which we applaud—that‘s important. But what‘s more important is guaranteeing that you‘re changing the minds of people in the world who are moving away from democracy, away from aligning themselves with the United States and with our allies.

Look at Iran. Here‘s a test. Iran is more powerful and more of a threat today than it was at 9/11. Both of those comments I just made, the numbers of terrorists and Iran, underscore the fact that this is a failed policy, a failed administration, and Donald Rumsfeld is, I think, significantly accountable for many those failures.

MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about a new policy. Your colleague, Senator John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has talked about—he‘s considered the idea that Congress may need to issue a new authorization to the president to continue our activities, our military presence in Iraq, because of what looks to be an incipient or active civil war over there.

You were famous back when you were a soldier, back when you came back from Vietnam to say, well, how can you ask a young man to be the last person to fight for a war—I forget the rest of it.

KERRY: To die for a mistake.

MATTHEWS: To die for a mistake. You believe now going into Iraq and staying there the way that we are is a mistake. What mission right now would justify further death by American soldiers? I mean, Democrats don‘t want to say bug out or cut and run, but what is the remaining, residual mission over there for us that justifies the loss of more soldiers?

KERRY: To provide the ability of the Iraqis to stand up for themselves, with the proper incentives to stand up for themselves so that they achieve a level of stability and we can leave without chaos. And I have provided a plan that allows us to do that, Chris, and I‘m tired of these Republicans who just play games with these legitimate efforts to get this right for young Americans who are dying.


KERRY: I mean, we‘ve got young kids over there who are putting their lives and limbs on the line for a policy. We have a responsibility to get it right. And the fact is, this administration does not have it right. Why are our troops, four years later, driving down roads looking for IEDs, improvised explosive devices?

You go up to Walter Reed or to Bethesda, almost all the kids who are up there are the result of IEDs. What are our troops supposed to do about IEDs? IEDs are not a reflection of a set piece war. IEDs are a principal weapon of people involved in a civil war, in an insurgency, and we need to fight this differently.

Our troops ought to be providing the training and logistical support. We ought to be in the backwater. We ought to be garrisoned. We ought to redeploy. We ought to be over the horizon. We ought to be sustaining our interests in the region.

No one has suggested abandonment. No one has suggested quitting. What we‘re talking about is how to win and you can‘t win unless the Iraqis resolve the political differences between them.

MATTHEWS: One last question. The president—I hear through the grapevine that the administration had sent a message to Maliki and the others running the government in Iraq, we‘re getting out eventually so you guys do the job. But you are suggesting in a different way. Get it done, we can‘t keep doing it. But do they seem—they don‘t seem to be reacting to that urgency.

KERRY: I heard they don‘t because when the president stands up and says publicly, oh, you got to have patience, and when the president stands up and say publicly, no we‘re not going to leave while I‘m president, and when the president says publicly that this will have to be resolved by future presidents, you have given the Iraqis a signal that completely countermands against anything else, and they know they have a public hand to play.

You have to be clear to the Iraqis. They had a date for the transfer of provisional authority, they had a date for elections, they had a date for the constitution. Why can‘t you set a date, which is, in fact, the very date that General Casey has floated publicly, that says we‘re targeting to be out by next year in June?

If you can‘t get there, Chris, we‘re all capable of making judgments when you get to that point, uh-oh, this isn‘t working quite as well as we thought. But they want to turn it into a purely political debate and I think the American people are fed up with that. They see through it.

This administration is selling fear, not hope about how you win. And they‘re not selling an election strategy—I mean, a winning strategy on the war. They‘re selling an election strategy and we ought to hold them accountable.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator.

KERRY: Thank you.


7 Responses to “John Kerry on Hardball: “There is No Appropriate Torture””

  1. Now that was an OUTSTANDING interview!! And especially from Matthews who likes to shot questions one right after the other.

    You wouldn’t see shrub answer questions like that!

  2. Blue W

    Yes, it was outstanding. Matthews didn’t seem all that pleased with Bushie tonight. JK was on his game. I expect his speech on Saturday to be one hell of speech given this week.

  3. I love this man and it just PISSES me off that he is not my President. How people could beleive that idiot over a man like this is just mine boggeling.

  4. I saw it as well. I thought Matthews was very respectful—like he realizes that this man would have been such a competent President.

  5. Here’s a transcript:


  6. Dear God, please, pretty please, let this man be our President as soon as possible! And please send the bastards who operated the Diebold machines in 2004 straight to hell! These scum-bags deprived America of a great President!

  7. Javelin

    Thanks for the link – I posted the transcript in the post!