June 27, 2004 | Broadcast

CNN Sunday Night

Interim prime minister Iyad Allawi says the idea is to divide the left committed fighters from the hardcore leaders. Joining us now from Washington, Cliff May of the conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. And from New York, Phyllis Bennis of the more liberal Institute for Policy Studies.

Good evening to both of you.



LIN: Cliff, let me start with you. Do you think amnesty is a good idea if it means that it reduces the number of fighters out there and that Iraq can claim some sort of victory in tamping down the violence?

MAY: Well, I think the first thing you have to say is that after Wednesday, this will be an Iraqi decision. And it’s not going to be an easy decision for Iraqis to make. There are millions of Iraqis who have had someone very close to them, who was killed, tortured, raped by the Ba’athist regime. And if we’re talking about insurgents who represent Saddam Hussein loyalists, the former ruling class, they may not want to see those people have amnesty.

Now in terms of what I would advise if I were asked, I would say that no one with blood on his hands should be given amnesty. And nobody who’s still a believing Ba’athist. The Ba’athist party was modeled on Nazism, except instead of Aryans being the master race, Arabs are the master race.

But will there be former Ba’athists possibly in the government or in high positions? As there are former communists in Russia and there were former Nazis in Germany after World War II? But it’s got — the emphasis has to be on former and no blood on their hands.

LIN: All right.

MAY: And again, it is an Iraqi…

LIN: Well, here’s the standard, Phyllis. It says those who provided shelter, supplied weapons, maybe did some media campaigning for the insurgency, what do you think? Do you think these people should be left off the hook?

BENNIS: Well, first of all, I think again it should be an Iraqi decision. Unlike Cliff, I’m not persuaded that it will be. I’m very much afraid that among other things, the fact that the U.S. still has more than $16 billion it has not spent yet of money promised to Iraq for reconstruction, that that’s going to be a very good pressure point for the new American pro consul ambassador John Negroponte to use as pressure to convince the Iraqis to make decisions his way.

Whether it be about keeping the troops, giving amnesty or not, it should be an Iraqi decision. If they choose to go the South African route of…

LIN: Do you think it’s a good idea? I mean, what does it say to the world if the guy who didn’t necessarily cut off my son’s head, but was the one who handed him the knife…

BENNIS: Right.

LIN: …is the guy who qualifies for amnesty, is that a good thing?

BENNIS: I think that we have to distinguish between people who commit war crimes and people who fight against occupation. Not every military action is a war crime. I think people who are responsible for war crimes, whether they’re from the Ba’athist regime or American troops, whoever they are, should be held accountable.

I don’t think that people who are fighting without committing war crimes, but fighting against what I believe to be an illegal occupation, are in the same category.

LIN: Cliff, I think that sounds like a lot of paperwork to me?

MAY: Well, there is this to say. And although I don’t agree with Phyllis mostly, I do agree with this. There’s not one insurgency going on.

If you’re talking about people like Abu Musab Zarqawi, he is a foreigner. He is a jihadist. He is associated with bin Laden and al Qaeda. He’s been in there since before Saddam Hussein. You wouldn’t want to give any amnesty to him after he slit the throats and cut the heads off of a South Korean and two Americans.

Now there are also those like the followers of Muqtata al-Satr, who is a Shi’ite cleric who was very radical. Some of his followers are protesting. And they don’t have blood on their hands. What you want to tell them is they’ll be a democratic political process. People like you can be part of that democratic…

LIN: So you think amnesty actually helps the country?

MAY: I think what you can’t do is say to huge numbers of people who don’t have blood on their hands you cannot be part of the political process any way.

In fact, you have to sort of say we want those who know about people who are committing crimes to come forward and cooperate with us. And if they do so, they will have a future in Iraq.

You can’t say to millions of people there’s no future in Iraq. That said, and on this I think Phyllis will agree, people who are terrorists, people who are war criminals are excluded.

Where Phyllis and I disagree is I don’t apply those labels that are applied to Zarqawi…

LIN: All right, Phyllis.

MAY: …and al-Sadr to American soldiers who are over there to liberate and help the reconstruction.

LIN: OK, Phyllis, let me turn this — the question around here. Do you think that Iraq today is better off after the U.S. occupation than it was 15 months ago?

BENNIS: I think we have to look at what Iraqis are saying. Certainly everyone in Iraq, virtually everyone in Iraq, was thrilled with the demise of the Saddam Hussein regime. That’s not the same as supporting the U.S. occupation.

The most recent poll taken by the U.S. occupation authorities indicates that 55 percent of Iraqis believe they would be safer if all American troops were out immediately.

Now the occupation forces didn’t publicize that poll last month when they took it. Luckily, it was leaked to “Newsweek,” so we got to see it.

But I think that that is an indication, that people are not liberated. You know, we talk about the liberation of Iraq. This has not been a liberation. The government…

LIN: Cliff, why are you smiling?

MAY: Because Phyllis is missing the most important part of the poll, which is the Iraqis are very optimistic about their future, incredibly supportive of the interim government, looking forward to voting, looking forward to democracy…

BENNIS: No, Cliff, that’s not really the case.

MAY: Something like 70 to 80 percent support the interim government and have support for Iyad Allawi, who was picked really by other Iraqis. That’s in the poll. You know it.

BENNIS: No, but the other — but the same 80 percent say they have no confidence in the U.S. occupation. And unfortunately…

MAY: That’s — the occupation…

BENNIS: …people are prepared — Cliff, let me finish my sentence please — the U.S. occupation authority is not going away. And the fact that we’re calling it a transition of new sovereignty doesn’t mean that sovereignty is going to be real with all the amount of power that the U.S. is going to be maintaining.

MAY: Iraqis are going to take increasing responsibility. They already have. They already are. We are going to help them.

BENNIS: We can’t be a little bit sovereign, Cliff, any more than you can be a little bit pregnant.

MAY: No, no…

LIN: I think we’re going to find out certainly…

MAY: Really? Carol, we have troops in Germany.

LIN: We are certainly going to find out.

BENNIS: They don’t have the right to…

LIN: Ladies and gentlemen, we are certainly going to find out as of Wednesday. Thank you very much.

BENNIS: Thank you.

LIN: We’re going to follow up with you guys. Cliff May and Phyllis Bennis.