Return to Transcripts main page
PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Bin Laden's Hideout; Inside the White House Situation Room
Aired May 3, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, dramatic new details of life in Osama bin Laden's secret compound. And the raid that took him out. The story that you haven't heard. I'll talk to Navy SEALs.
Then the story behind this picture. One of the president's top national security advisers on what you can't see. What really went on in the White House situation room, behind closed doors.
And the tough questions we need to answer now. Does torture work? Is that what led to the killing of Osama bin Laden? What did Pakistan know about bin Laden's whereabouts? And more importantly, when did they know it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Some of us raised the issue, does the ISI spend more time tracking down members of the CIA than it does members of al Qaeda?
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: I'll ask the man who heads the House Homeland Security Committee.
And the race for the White House. Where's President Obama's bin Laden bounce?
This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
Good evening. Just a short time ago, Vice President Joe Biden praised the Navy SEALs who carried out the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: No brave professionals who tracked and killed Osama bin Laden. It was just a -- it was actually breathtaking. It was a staggering undertaking and there was no one else, I believe, other than an American group of military warriors who could do it.
And the world is a safer place today. Not only for the American people, but for all people.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: That's Vice President Biden.
We're also learning tonight that President Obama, who's visiting Ground Zero here in New York on Thursday, invited President George W. Bush to come along, but President Bush declined the offer.
Now we go to CNN's Nic Robertson who's in Abbottabad in Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, perhaps for years. And Nic has the latest details on what went on.
Nic, tell me what you found out about life in this compound.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very secret. Local neighbors who lived as close as 50 yards away, just across the sort of cabbage fields that there are right up to the wall of compound, described the family living there as very secretive.
They didn't come out. Nobody knew who they were. There were late-night visits to the compound by SUVs, these sport utility vehicles, which are very up-market vehicle to be seen in this kind of neighborhood.
And the people say that they came to the conclusion that the people who lived in the compound were rich Pakistani businessmen, gold merchants was the rumor that they heard, sort of shady businessmen, and people around here don't get involved in other people's business unless they're invited to.
And everyone just pretty much ignored them and let them get on with the secrecy that they wanted to have. They had no idea who they were, really.
MORGAN: And Nic, they've seized a large number of computer hard drives and evidence of this nature. What do we know about this? Anything yet?
ROBERTSON: We don't know what's there. We just know that there's a lot of it. But if we look back to bin Laden's house in Kandahar in 2001, when he vacated that house, he left behind a massive trove of video material on videotapes. It was a library, it was an archive of all the material that jihadist groups have sent to him of his best moments, things that he wanted to remember.
The only thing connecting him to the outside world that we saw at the compound here is a satellite dish for watching television. No telephone, no Internet. It's not improbable to believe that he may have been recording material, like he did before from the television, and storing it, rather than on videotapes as he did before, storing it on hard drives and such like.
It's not clear. But this is a man who was using the Internet through couriers, certainly using computers to get out his message. Either audio messages or video messages. So it may have been part of that mechanism as well, Piers.
MORGAN: And Nic, given all what you've found out there, I mean is it -- is it credible that no one at any high government level or military level in Pakistan had a clue that bin Laden was in this compound?
ROBERTSON: You know I think the best clues that we have come from the neighbors. Described how they view this family and the family was very secretive. But just to give you another idea about it. They said local kids, when they kicked their soccer balls into that compound, in all the other compounds around here, the families say that they -- children would be able to go in, find their balls, take them, and leave.
But when they went to the bin Laden compound, the people who met them at the door gave them money, told them they couldn't come in, and just to go and buy another soccer ball in the market.
So you can get this picture that this family was incredibly secretive. And although there's a military base half a mile to a mile away from the compound, it would seem to be out of sight, out of mind. But how could this larger than all the other buildings in its area building, in a large compound, in an expensive compound, with these sort of nefarious nighttime activities going on, with no telephone connection, how could that have been overlooked by Pakistani authorities?
Why would people, the local police chief, or the local mayor, or local counselors, turn their back to a compound that raised quite a number of questions with the local population. This is how it seems to have slipped through the net here. So it does raise a lot of questions -- Piers.
MORGAN: Well, like most people, I'm not buying a word of it, but Nic Robertson, thank you very much, indeed.
The undisputed heroes of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden are the Navy SEALs who risked their lives. But what really went on during that raid?
Lieutenant Commander Eric Greitens is in the Navy SEALs reserves, also the author of "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of the Humanitarian, The Making of a Navy SEAL."
And also joining me is former Team 6 Navy SEAL, State Senator Ryan Zinke of Montana.
Senator, let me start with you. You've been at the sharp end of the Navy SEALs for a very long time. You're quite a renowned figure in the Navy SEALs. When you saw the detail of this operation, what were your thoughts?
RYAN ZINKE, MONTANA STATE SENATE: Well, you know, obviously, I was elated the SEALs, you know, were involved, and at the pointy edge, but also, you know, I look at it and I understand it's a team effort. You know?
An operation of this complexity, you know, while there are SEALs on the ground, there were at least 100 people behind them, you know, from intelligence gathering to fuelling the birds to, you know, looking at what was going on.
This is truly a team operation. And I've got to hand it to, you know, the military and JSOC forces. This is a very complex operation. I think it was a complete success and I'm very happy and what a great day for America.
MORGAN: I mean some people are trying to make political capital out of the fact that bin Laden may have been unarmed when it was first thought he was armed.
I mean do you care either way?
ZINKE: Well, these guys are pros. You know, they engage a target that's a threat. If there isn't a threat, they don't engage. And I'm absolutely convinced they viewed bin Laden as a threat and they took appropriate action.
You know, these guys are war-hardened. They've been at war for 10 years. They've had hundreds of operations under their belt, and they represent the best of the best. And they're going to hit what they're going to -- you know, what they're going to aim at. And I'm sure that they felt a threat, otherwise they would not have fired.
MORGAN: Lieutenant Commander Greitens, I mean, you've been involved in these operations, you know these SEALs and what they're capable of. Obviously, a very dramatic operation. But from your point of view, is this the stuff that you train for?
LT. CMDR. ERIC GREITENS, NAVY SEAL RESERVE: Absolutely. This is what they train for every single day. These men had made it through the hardest military training in the world. The basic underwater demolition CO training, and then on top of that training, they've got years of experience under their belt, and they would have relentlessly prepared for this specific operation so that they could react to any contingency and guarantee success.
MORGAN: The whole thing took 40 minutes. The only casualty was a helicopter of the four helicopters. It stalled and was then destroyed deliberately. I mean a remarkably cost-free operation in terms of the SEALs.
GREITENS: There are three principles that they would have used in order to bring about that kind of cost-free operation in their planning. One was surprise and then speed and violence of action. So the idea is to hit the enemy when they're not expecting it, hit them fast, and hit them hard. And they clearly did that to great effect when they took out bin Laden.
MORGAN: I mean this whole issue, whether bin Laden was armed or not, seems to me kind of superfluous. I mean we're dealing with one of the world's most wanted terrorists who's openly admitted committing atrocities. Would it have bothered you in that situation whether he was armed or not?
GREITENS: It wouldn't have bothered me a bit, Piers. These are warriors who went out to attack Osama bin Laden, a man who is a known criminal mastermind, and he had been declared a hostile threat. He was a hostile threat. We're never going to know the specific details, probably, of exactly what happened inside the mind of that operator, but who are we to question what they were doing thousands of miles away, highly trained operators?
I trust the judgment that they made on target.
MORGAN: Senator Zinke, I mean, you've been involved in training SEALs. These guys, as you say, are the best of the best, the cream of the American armed forces. What does it take to make a SEAL? Why are they special?
ZINKE: Well, just look at the basic training. When you get to be, you know, a normal SEAL, which is a mouthful. Because, you know, being a SEAL in itself is difficult. You know we take about 3,000 students, we narrow them down to about 800 of which 200 graduate.
And then after five years of additional training, they may get selected to go through the screening process for SEAL Team 6, and then 50 percent of those don't make it. So by the time you reach SEAL Team 6, you are truly the best of the best.
And there is an army counterpart, Delta. And both of them are nearly interchangeable in today's warfare. And they represent the tier one, the nation's 911 force, and you don't get any better than these guys.
MORGAN: And let's say, Commander Greitens, I mean this will be a stunning coup for this group of SEALs. What would their reaction be when they get back? I mean are they -- they're only human. I mean there must a lot of celebration, I would have thought.
GREITENS: My understanding is when the target was announced that it was bin Laden, that great cheers went up. And I can only imagine that when they all returned from that operation, that they had successfully killed bin Laden, and that all of them had come off the target safe, that they must have been elated. It was a fantastic success for them and for all of the United States.
MORGAN: You've been involved, as I said, in these sort of things before. When these guys landed and they get into this situation, this compound, despite all the prep that they've had, the nerves must be going.
You know how do you operate in that situation where you're not quite sure what you're going to find? What goes through your mind?
GREITENS: Well, you know, as Ryan had mentioned, one of the most important things, is that these guys had been trained time and time again, and so they have built up a level of inoculation to stress, so that they're able to rely on their training in those moments.
They can go back to that training, it's a solid foundation that they can rely on, even in a situation of great chaos and change. It's also true that they have a fantastic team, an incredible team dynamic, and they're able to rely on each other. They know where they're going to be and what they're going to do. So as a team, they can accomplish the mission.
MORGAN: Senator, these guys are heroes. Are we ever going to know who they are?
ZINKE: Well, I hope not. You know I think in this case, to remain faceless is appropriate. There are still -- you know, this may be the end of a chapter, but it's not the end of the book. There's still, you know, very evil, very dangerous people out there that we need to address and to bring a face to the individual that pulled the trigger, I think -- you know, this is new ground.
We have never really in the history of the United States gone to this point where we look at an individual, you know, dispatching, you know, such a notorious, you know, what I would say criminal or terrorist. And so we're entering a new ground with technology and I have to say, I'm feeling it's probably better to make it faceless.
I was surprised, quite frankly, that SEAL Team 6 made the headlines so early. But I think in this case, it'll probably be prudent to keep it faceless. We know which team they were involved with. We know to a degree, you know, which members are on the team. And that's probably enough.
MORGAN: Lieutenant Commander, I mean, you're a SEAL. I've just heard the kind of training you have to go through. What kind of people are these? I mean, describe your colleagues to me.
GREITENS: I think what really makes SEALs special is that they have not only the fist, but they also have a heart. And it's that combination of the heart and the fist that really makes them great warriors. You know everybody concentrates on the fist, on their courage, on their physical power, on their tactical proficiency.
But keep in mind, these are men who really have a warrior's heart. For the last decade, they've been out there serving, at great personal sacrifice. It's sacrifice for their families. They've lost colleagues. Others have been carried off the battlefield wounded and disabled.
These are people who've sacrificed themselves in service to others, and that's really what makes them special, is that combination of the heart and the fist.
MORGAN: And Senator, obviously, this is going to be a great, I thought, recruiting drive for the Navy SEALs now. Is that what you would hope would happen?
ZINKE: Well, you know, it's surprising that the numbers have remained relatively stable. You know, when I first came to the SEALs, very few people knew what a SEAL was. They were just men with green faces from Vietnam. And then throughout, you know, the last few years, it's been in the movies and notoriety of the actions that they have done.
But surprisingly, it's still difficult to get people that want to dedicate that much time and want to be the very, very best and are willing to have the sacrifice to do it. So, you know, while it's a recruiting tool, you know, I think the numbers are going to be fairly stable. There are about 2200 SEALs in the inventory.
It's a tremendous amount of dedication and sacrifice. You know, and also, as you start getting older and some of them have families, and when you're gone 200 to 300 days out of the year for year after year after year, I mean, that's a terrific amount of sacrifice, what we're seeing, and hats off to them. Because these guys are not only tough.
You know, I read an article today that I absolutely agree with. You know one day they can be in battle, the next day they can be home mowing the lawn. And you have to do both.
MORGAN: I mean, finally, Eric Greitens, forget the fact you're a Navy SEAL for a moment. As an American, this has been one of the great coups, isn't it? I mean to take out bin Laden and the fact that it was a SEAL team that did this, pretty special day?
GREITENS: It's a very special day. And it's a day that all Americans should be proud of. You know, as Ryan said, it wasn't just this SEAL team, it was years of service on behalf of millions of Americans who served in the military. And then there were millions of Americans who were also supporting people in the military.
All of that support, all of that investment, all of that patient courage is what finally brought about justice.
MORGAN: Lieutenant Commander and Senator, thank you both very much.
ZINKE: You're very welcome, Piers.
MORGAN: When we come back, one of President Obama's top national security advisers, what he saw and heard in the situation room as the commander in chief learned Osama bin Laden was dead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the room with bin Laden, a woman, bin Laden's -- a woman, rather, bin Laden's wife, rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg, but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: The scene in the White House situation room as news of the death of Osama bin Laden came in may have been the most dramatic moment of the Obama presidency, and Denis McDonough was there. He's the president's deputy national security adviser and he joins me now.
Mister McDonough, when it comes to those extraordinary scenes that we saw in those photographs, and what a moment they must have been. But first of all, bring us up to speed with the news of the photographs of a dead Osama bin Laden.
What is the current situation with regard to those?
DENIS MCDONOUGH, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Why, I think as we've indicated during the course of the last several days, we're making some consideration of the potential ramifications of the release of any such photos.
I think it's important to put it into context of all the information that has been put out in the last 36 hours or so to include a DNA analysis, facial recognition analysis, a lot of the intelligence that has gone into and come out of the raid that night, and then, of course, to keep in mind that does not seem to be any credible refutation of the basic fact that Osama bin Laden is dead.
Nevertheless, we have taken a look at the potential ramifications of this, of inserting new images, which we know will be misused and propagandized by our enemies, and made -- trying to make some decisions about the ramifications of that for the safety of our troops and our allies' troops, the safety of our diplomats and our intelligence professionals, and the safety of, you know, private Americans who are overseas, and including private citizens of our allied countries.
So we'll make those -- those decisions based on the assessments that we're getting and we'll do that in the next several days.
MORGAN: I mean, all that is perfectly understandable, but clearly, there's another side to this coin, which is that there are already elements within the Islamic world beginning to question the voracity of Osama bin Laden's death, and clearly the best way to establish that he is dead is to release one of these photographs.
MCDONOUGH: Oh, I don't know that that's the best way to establish it, Piers. I think there's probably a number of different ways and that's why we've put the kind of information -- made that kind of information available that we've made available in the last 36 hours.
So I also -- I don't know that you've seen it -- maybe you have, I haven't really seen anything credible that's doubting the fact that Osama bin Laden is dead. And so, again, we'll consider the context and we'll consider the ramifications and make that decision.
But I do think it's important to keep in mind the brilliance of this operation, as a result of the gutsy decision the president made, but the brilliance also comes from the bravery of those operators that did this, and also the case that the intelligence professionals put together over the course -- painstakingly put together over the course of several years. The president's very proud of and gratified by that great work.
MORGAN: I mean one final question with regard to the pictures, have you actually seen them yourself?
MCDONOUGH: I've seen some pictures, yes. MORGAN: And what do they depict?
MCDONOUGH: I'm not going to get into trying to describe them. I think it leaves no doubt the basic fact that Osama bin Laden is dead.
MORGAN: Moving to the extraordinary photographs that came out yesterday, from what happened on Sunday, you were there, right in the middle of this, next to Hillary Clinton, next to Barack Obama. You know, in the end, you're human beings witnessing this extraordinary event unfurling.
Were you able to actually see any video footage from the scene as it happened?
MCDONOUGH: No, we weren't able to see video footage from the scene. We were following, getting real-time updates in a variety of media, but such video footage was not available.
I do think it was quite remarkable that the president maintained his steely demeanor throughout this notwithstanding. John Brennan depicted yesterday the anxious moments that I think occupied many of us during those -- during that time, but I also think that what's important in my mind about that picture is I think it's emblematic of the kind of teamwork that went into the generation of the options for the president, around this operation.
I think that's also emblematic of the president's leadership and the leadership of Tom Donilon who ran a very steady end process throughout this to try to tee up the options for the decision to the president.
MORGAN: But tell me, when you're in that kind of situation, I mean, it must be incredibly tense. Describe for me, paint a picture of what it was like for you all.
MCDONOUGH: Oh, I think it is tense, but what I witnessed from the president in those couple of hours in the situation room was the kind of decisiveness that informed his decision making throughout this process. Since, frankly, in late May, 2009 when he called in his CIA director and underscored -- ordered him to rededicate additional assets to the hunt for bin Laden.
And then, also, as we considered options over the course -- he considered options over the course of the last several months to finally effect the final operation here. I was informed, really, by two big issues. One is, bringing to closure this issue for the country, this issue of bin Laden, now obviously was front and center in his mind.
And then, the next issue, which was equally important to the president, of course, was the risk that these operators, these assaulters were undertaking in this very daring raid. And those are the two factors that not only informed his decisions heading out to Sunday, but also were obviously quite evident in his mind and then the discussions he was having on Sunday in that room.
MORGAN: Do you know if the president had spoken directly to the Navy SEALs involved in this mission yet?
MCDONOUGH: He has not yet, no.
MORGAN: Does he plan to?
MCDONOUGH: I anticipate he will.
MORGAN: What kind of thing would you imagine he'd say?
MCDONOUGH: I think they'll have an opportunity to talk directly to them.
MORGAN: In relation to Pakistan here, I mean, clearly, absolutely nobody with a brain cell believes that they -- the Pakistani authorities knew nothing about this, because the proximity of bin Laden's compound to military -- Pakistan military and intelligence services is absurdly small here, isn't it?
I mean, how can you trust them after this?
MCDONOUGH: Well, it's not a matter of trust, it's a matter of finding common interests and working together with them. I think over the course of 10 years or so, here and now, we've had moments of great collaboration and cooperation in this fight against al Qaeda.
Pakistani civilians, Pakistani troops have sacrificed a great deal because of the hateful and heinous terrorist acts of al Qaeda. And we saw in 2007, when al Qaeda declared war on Pakistan, and we continue to see until this day with al Qaeda wanting to get its hands on Pakistan's weapons of mass destruction.
So Pakistanis recognize the extreme threat that al Qaeda poses to them and to the Pakistani's state. And so what we're going to do is continue to push to try to make sure that we're cooperating with them, collaborating with them as closely as we can, but doing so in such a way as to be -- make sure that we're all accountable, including Pakistanis being accountable for the outcome of that -- of that effort.
Obviously, there's been a lot of questions raised about this particular compound. We're working to get to the bottom of it. I know that Congress here is doing the same thing. And my hunch is that there's a public debate in Pakistan about the same issue.
MORGAN: I mean you're being very diplomatic there. But let me spin this on its head. If Pakistan was hunting a terrorist who had killed over 3,000 of their people and they discovered after 10 years that he was residing in a compound right next to an American military base where your senior intelligence people were also working, they'd be entitled to be pretty cheesed off, wouldn't they?
MCDONOUGH: Well, it's kind of a perfect hypothetical, Piers, that I'm going to not -- I'm going to choose to not answer. But here's what I do know what we will do, including to the Pakistanis to the greatest extent possible, which is we're going to take al Qaeda and the current state it's in, with its leader now dead, and we're going to drive even harder now to ensure that the rest of al Qaeda is buried with its leader.
MORGAN: And finally, what was your personal reaction the moment you heard that the mission was successful and bin Laden was dead?
MCDONOUGH: My personal reaction was threefold. One, tremendous appreciation for the hard work from our intelligence community that went in to build the case. As you, I'm sure, have heard. Going into this there's no guarantee that bin Laden was going to be at that facility.
So one, great appreciation for the intelligence community. Two, great administration for the bravery and patience of the operators, the assaulters who carried out the mission that day. And then, three, great relief that so many of the families of the victims of 9/11, of the embassy bombings in Africa, the families of the victims of the bombing of the USS Cole, that they can now get some closure on this issue.
Obviously those are the issues that as I said weighed very heavily on the president as he considered this, and why at the end of the day he took the decision that he did, because he thought it was very important that we come to some closure on this matter.
MORGAN: I mean I don't doubt for a moment that all those thoughts were in your mind, but I kind of hoped for a slightly more spontaneous one-liner when you heard that he was dead, something along the lines of "got him" or something?
MCDONOUGH: Well, that's exactly what the president said, but that spontaneity is not my strong suit, and spontaneity is not a big characteristic in the situation room.
MORGAN: Well, that's probably just as well, that's why you're there and I'm here.
Denis McDonough, thank you very much indeed.
MCDONOUGH: Piers, thanks for the opportunity. I appreciate it.
MORGAN: I appreciate it, too. Thank you.
When we come back, how long was Osama bin Laden hiding in Pakistan and did the Pakistanis know about it? I'll ask the man who heads up the House Homeland Security Committee.
MORGAN: In the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, the question now is what will it take to truly defeat al Qaeda? Joining me now is Representative Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Congressman, thank you for joining me. Before we get to that big question, tell me what your view is about pictures of a dead bin Laden. Would you release them?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This is not a major with me, but I have spoken to people who have seen the pictures. And I think it is important to get out the picture of his face. My understanding is that it does not look ghoulish or it's not going to terrify people.
And like you -- you know, you mention the conspiracy theorists. I think one way to head that off or at least to minimize it would be to put the picture out, so it doesn't look as if we're hiding anything.
Again, if it were something that were particularly brutal to look at, I would say, no; it might be offensive. But from what I've heard from people who have seen it, I think it's probably the right thing to release it.
But that's up to the administration. I'm not going to make a major issue with them on it. But again, from what I know, I would say yes.
MORGAN: I don't really understand the difference, to be honest with you, in terms of potential propaganda use, between killing bin Laden and releasing a picture of him dead. I mean, it's the same thing, isn't it?
KING: I agree. Again, if it were horribly distorted or something really brutal, I could see why people may find it offensive. It can stir up emotions.
But to me, it should be out there and it would, again, cut off the conspiracy theorist, or at least minimize it. And -- but there's no doubt he is dead. We killed him. We should be proud of it.
MORGAN: Obviously, with bin Laden gone, the question now is what is left of al Qaeda? And the general view seems to be it still exists; it's quite an amorphous kind of organization. No one's quite sure where its head now is.
But it's still dangerous. It's still out there. It's still active. One of the big issues that's come out of this is the suggestion that the -- let's call it torture -- and we can come to the distinction in a minute -- of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo Bay may have led to information which led to the identification of bin Laden's courier, and therefore bin Laden.
Do you believe that that's what's happened? And do you believe, if that's the case, that vindicate the case for interrogation methods like waterboarding?
KING: Let me say, first of all, I don't consider it torture. We can have that as an separate debate. I consider it enhanced interrogation.
But from my understanding, speaking to people who were very much involved, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, obviously. Not in Guantanamo. This didn't happen. It happened in Europe at a site in Europe. He was waterboarded.
And after the waterboarding was finished, he did give us information on the courier. That's the first significant information we had on the courier, which ultimately led to the shooting and the killing of bin Laden.
And not just Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but also al Libbi -- he was also subject to very intense interrogation in Europe, I believe in 2005. And he also gave us information.
So I think it's fair to say that it was a long road to getting bin Laden. But the first major steps on that road resulted from the interrogation -- very intense interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al Libbi. I do support it.
And I'm only speaking for myself now when I say this. But I think it was the moral thing to do. I'm not defending it. I'm actually being very emphatic, being very proactive in supporting it.
I use the example, Piers, if on September 10th, 2001, we had captured Mohammed Atta, or one of the other 19 conspirators, and we knew that somewhere in the next several days, 3,000 Americans were going to be murdered.
I would say the moral thing to do to hold his head under water to save those 3,000 people, do it. And I went to so many wakes and funerals after September 11th. I would never want to go to a wake and funeral and tell a mother or a father or a brother or a sister of someone who was burned to dead, who had to jump 96 stories to their death, and say, we could have saved your son and daughter, but I didn't want to hold Mohammed Atta's head under water.
MORGAN: The problem is that that argument is perfectly valid. And people will agree with you, I'm sure, in large numbers. But what happens if American service members are captured? Say these Navy SEALS had been captured. Would you have been perfectly happy for them to be waterboarded and put through all the other things that you think are perfectly acceptable for the people at, say, Guantanamo Bay?
KING: Two things, one, Navy SEALS are waterboarded as part of their training. They go through it as part of their training.
Secondly, al Qaeda is going to torture and kill our prisoners no matter what we do. And again, if you're respecting the Geneva Conventions, and we're talking about POWs, that's one things.
But if you're talking about non-uniformed terrorists, then I think a different set of rules do apply. Again, I don't consider it torture. Again, it's done to our own Navy SEALS as part of their training.
MORGAN: How effective, though, is this information, when -- you know, when we talked about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was waterboarded 183 times. And apparently the information he gave about the courier was actually false. So how effective is it? KING: No, I've spoken to people on the ground, people who were involved in that. And that was the first significant information they got, was from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and from al Libbi. That's what started the process going, which with much more information obviously gained later on, part of a very long process, Osama bin Laden was killed.
But we would not have gotten there, I don't believe, if we had not gotten the initial information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I also have spoken to a number of people who are very familiar with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's situation.
We did get a large amount of information from him that was very useful.
MORGAN: Well, it's a very contentious issue. Congressman, thank you for joining me and sparking the debate. When we come back after this break, we're going to be talking about exactly this, you know, how far can you go in interrogating people like Osama bin Laden and his like.
MORGAN: The success of the mission to take out Osama bin Laden raises some difficult questions. Perhaps the most difficult, is torture ever justified to get essential information?
Joining me now is Alan Dershowitz, author of "The Trials of Zion," and Colonel Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo.
Let me start with you, colonel. You are firmly against the use of waterboarding. Why?
COL. MORRIS DAVIS, FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR AT GUANTANAMO BAY: We've always considered it torture. We're a party to the Convention Against Torture. We've prosecuted people in the past for waterboarding as an act of torture,
and we wouldn't condone it if others did it. We shouldn't condone it when we do it.
MORGAN: I mean, President Bush insisted that he did it within the law, and that if it hadn't been deemed lawful, he wouldn't have authorized it?
DAVIS: I think it's called plausible deniability, where John Yoo, who wrote the memo, said, look, I'm just a lawyer; I didn't make the decision. President Bush then says, look, I'm not a lawyer; I relied on their advice.
The buck has to stop somewhere. Someone has to be accountable for the decision.
MORGAN: And obviously many Americans in the emotion of bin Laden being killed, when they hear that potentially, you know, crucial information was secured from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed via waterboarding, they're going to be thinking, good, we should carry on using it.
DAVIS: Well, that's easy to say when it's somebody like Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, when the shoe is on the other foot. If we're not willing to condone it when it's done to one of us, we shouldn't condone it when we do it to others.
That's where Representative King said, you know, on September 10th, if we had information about September 11th, would we have used waterboarding? The fallacy in that argument is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in 2003. The raid took place in 2011.
It was eight years later, after a lot more work was done. So to argue that waterboarding is what led to this result is a real stretch in logic.
MORGAN: Alan Dershowitz, you disagree with this. You're in favor of these interrogation techniques. Where is the line drawn as far as you're concerned?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, "THE TRIALS OF ZION": First of all, I think waterboarding is torture. I don't condone the use of torture. But where I fundamentally disagree with the colonel is that I believe torture sometimes works.
It was Leon Panetta who said today on another news channel that it was waterboarding and other methods of enhanced interrogation --
MORGAN: If it works, should you use it?
DERSHOWITZ: I don't think it should be used, but I think we ought to know that we are sacrificing a great deal. We probably would not have gotten -- we would not have gotten Osama bin Laden if we would completely complied with all of our treaty obligations.
What we did is we waterboarded. That helped us. We wiretapped without warrants. That helped us. We invaded a foreign country. That helped us. We probably shot a man who was not resisting in cold blood. That resulted in the targeted killing.
We did a great many things that compromised our legal situation. And we have to have a great debate. What we shouldn't do is believe, I think, the Polly-Annish view that these things don't work.
MORGAN: I'm a bit confused where you sit on this debate. Are you in favor of it, then, or not?
DERSHOWITZ: I am not in favor of it, but I understand why many Americans would favor it. What I'm not in favor of completely is denying the reality that these work, That when we apply the Constitution, we give up efficiency and effectiveness.
What the colonel is suggesting is there's a free lunch. You can comply completely with the highest standards of all of these rules and you have no loss of efficiency. That is simply a false statement.
MORGAN: I mean, colonel, there are clearly very dangerous people at Guantanamo, not all of them. And I have big issues with some of the people being held there, where there's no evidence at all. But there are some where it seems to be incontrovertible. How do you get this kind of information out of implacable enemies who are prepared to dies for their cause, if you're not going to use some form of aggressive interrogation?
DAVIS: If you bought into the last administration's argument that everyone at Guantanamo was the worst of the worst, the kind of people that would chew through the hydraulic lines of the airplane to kill Americans, then maybe waterboarding perhaps would not be considered unacceptable. But as you know and as the world knows, there are a lot of people at Guantanamo that didn't fit that description.
So we don't have that 100 percent moral certainty that --
MORGAN: No, no, I understand that. But you know better than most, because you were one of the people running the place -- you must have felt in your guts that a lot of these people there were bad people and potentially, if they were released, would be plotting more atrocities. What do you do to get that information out of them?
DAVIS: Well, Piers, I agree. There's some incredibly bad people at Guantanamo that need to be there for as long as possible, or at least confined somewhere for as long as possible. But to engage in what we've always called torture -- we're a party to the Convention Against Torture that says there is no justification whatsoever for torture.
So if we don't mean what we say when we enter into those kind of commitments, we need to repudiate that treaty and just ignore international law, which is what we've been doing.
DERSHOWITZ: But let's then acknowledge that when we comply with these treaties, we're going to be the only world in the country that does it. Every country tortures. Every country --
MORGAN: But that doesn't mean it's the wrong thing to do. When you're fighting a moral war, as we have been against Saddam Hussein, against Osama bin Laden -- when we position ourselves as better people --
DERSHOWITZ: That's right.
MORGAN: Then surely we have to behave in a better way.
DERSHOWITZ: And we have to pay the consequences. And the consequences mean that we do not catch Osama bin Laden, that we do not prevent certain preventable acts of terrorism. If we're prepared to pay those prices, then we are really a better country.
We are not a better country if we pretend to be prepared to pay those prices, but hypocritically, below the radar, we actually do all of these things, because we want to have our cake and eat it too.
That's the position we're in now. We say we're against torture. We would torture if we had the 9/10 hypothetical that Congressman King set out. We did use the information we illicited from waterboarding. We continue to wiretap without warrant.
And we shot a man in cold blood without giving him an opportunity to surrender, and we all think that was terrific.
Let's face reality. We're a bunch of hypocrites. And that's probably necessary when you live in a real world with terrible people. You want to comply with the highest standards, but you also want to achieve the ends. You can't do that.
DAVIS: But respect for the rule of law has always been our strong suit. And for the last decade, we've run from the law to avoid it. This is an opportunity to reset and get back on the right track and quit living in fear.
DERSHOWITZ: So, colonel, let me ask you a question. Would you then have not authorized the shooting of Osama bin Laden if they found him unarmed and not resisting, which is apparently what really happened. Would you have said, we should not have shot him then? That's the rule of law.
DAVIS: I think you're making a huge assumption there. There's a 40-minute firefight. They've had suicide bombers. They've had any number of acts. To have to pat him down, I think, would be absurd. I think they acted in reasonable good faith to believe that he was a threat and took out the threat.
MORGAN: Colonel, I'm going to have to leave this fascinating debate there. What I want to ask you both very quickly -- let me start with you, colonel, should we publish the picture of a dead Osama bin Laden?
DAVIS: I don't -- as someone mentioned earlier, I don't think there's any debate about the fact that he's dead. And I think just putting the picture up doesn't do us any good.
DERSHOWITZ: We should publish the picture and we should not have buried him at sea. We should have brought his body to the United States. When people die in this country, they have autopsies, no matter what their religious rules are.
We are much too deferential to Islamic law in this issue.
MORGAN: Thank you both very much.
When we come back, will the killing of Osama bin Laden be a turning point in Barack Obama's presidency?
MORGAN: The mission to take out Osama bin Laden may turn out to be the high point of the Obama administration. So should the president expect a surge in his popularity?
Joining me now is Jennifer Palmieri, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and former press secretary to John Edwards, and CNN political correspondent Mary Matalin.
Let me start with you, Mary. I was expecting on the back of the death of bin Laden a big bounce in President Obama's poll ratings, but it hasn't happened. Why?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's gotten a measure of credit, which he deserves. It was a commendable decision and execution. But the larger credit really goes to the military and the intelligence communities, 86 and 70 percent respectably.
But he got the president -- the president rightly gets credit when things go well. I'll say, politically. I'm sure Jennifer will agree with this. The enduring credit for success is not as enduring as the negative to failure, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.
Jennifer will remember in the 1992 campaign, George H.W. Bush started out with a 91 percent approval and lost to her candidate, Bill Clinton. So these -- people expect their commander in chief to be able to be competent and execute. The president did and he'll get credit for it.
It's just not necessarily a sustainable credit. But it was good for him also in his commander in chief credibility, which he needed to do. So it was good for him.
MORGAN: Jennifer Palmieri, that seemed to me to be a given. The one thing it has done for him -- and it may come through in later polls -- is to remove one of the chief weapons against Obama from the Republicans, which is that he was a bit of a ditherer on foreign policy, wasn't decisive, didn't want to take drastic action when he had to.
Suddenly, in one fell swoop, we've seen a very audacious raid carried off in spectacular fashion.
JENNIFER PALMIERI, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Right. And I think when you look back over the last two years on his record on national security, I think what the American people see is when he makes a promise, he sets out to keep it.
He said he was going to take our troops out of Iraq and he met that deadline. And having some of the resources freed up from Iraq helped in having intelligence capabilities in Pakistan.
And he said that if he had actionable intelligence on Osama bin Laden, and if he were in Pakistan, that he would act on that with or without the permission of the Pakistani government and he did that.
There's not a lot of flash or drama, necessarily, but a very methodical process with this guy that -- and I think, you know, as Mary said, when the time was right, he had the courage to make the right -- the judgment to make the right call.
And I think it's probably the impact that that decision making process has on the American people that will be, you know, the ultimate benefit for him.
MORGAN: Mary Matalin, it's a fascinating time for both parties. We've seen the emergence of Donald Trump as a potential serious contender for the GOP nomination. And he's had a pretty rocky weekend. And you know, many people think that this latest series of events may be the death knoll for his campaign.
But we won't know yet until the next ratings come out, I guess. What's your gut feeling request?
MATALIN: The flip side of the commander in chief making the decision that he did, and being rightly credited for it, is that that decision was predicated on policies that he reviled. It was the intelligence and interrogation and security policies of his predecessor, the use of the validation of Bush policies.
So while he's liberated on that commander in chief bona fide, he's restrained by commending and validating policies that his base doesn't like.
As for conservatives, we're in a waiting -- this is a conservative version of Waiting for Gadot." We're waiting for the resurrection of a Ronald Reagan. And conservatives need to remember that the strength of Ronald Reagan and the source of his success was the power of his ideas.
And a Mitch Daniels holds those same philosophies and ideas. There are a number of candidates in, and probably some that will get in, that are attuned to those philosophies and those ideas, that the independents, which are going to turn this election one way or they other, they tend to be conservative ideas.
We're a long way to 2012's final throes.
MORGAN: We're not that far away. And that's what would concern me if I was a Republican, is that one of the reasons Donald Trump has been able to get a bit of steam up is precisely because of this sort of strange vacuum in the party, where nobody else has really come through.
MATALIN: To me, well, they're to -- this is a different kind of primary season. We don't have the primogenitor that we're used to since the 1950s. We have a different kind of Congressional dynamic going on.
There's real life, real-time consequences to the actions being taken in Washington. And people are rightly focused on John Boehner versus the president's position on the debt ceiling, on debt reform, and entitlement reform and all the rest of it.
And they're -- that's going to take precedent, and it's going to crowd out the conversation in the primary field. But I don't have any doubt, because -- and the polls validate this -- that the conservative message amongst not just Republicans, but independents, wins over all the Obama messages. Of course, you have to have a messenger to deliver it. I don't have any doubt that, in the end, we're going to have a candidate that is going to be far superior to the Donald.
MORGAN: Well, we shall see. Mary Matalin, Jennifer Palmieri, thank you both very much.
When we come back, the latest on photos of Osama bin Laden.
MORGAN: CIA Director Leon Panetta tells CNN tonight graphic photos of a dead Osama bin Laden will be released. He just didn't say when. As soon as they do, we'll show you. That's all for tonight. Now here is my colleague, Anderson Cooper, live from ground zero with "AC 360."