June 13, 2005 | Broadcast

American Morning

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Morning, Soledad.

O’BRIEN: Thanks for talking with us. CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Good morning, Soledad.

O’BRIEN: Good morning to you.

Cliff, let’s start with you. Mel Martinez, he’s a Republican. He is asking whether or not the political costs are starting to outweigh the benefits. Do you think there’s a chipping away of support for Guantanamo right now?

MAY: Possibly, but I think it’s a mistake, and I think Senator Martinez is mistaken in this. Look, you have enemy combatants that we managed to arrest on the battlefield. They need to go somewhere. If we close down Guantanamo, we’d open up someplace else. There, as in Guantanamo, we would have the strictest possible rules for the military, including such things as giving Korans and having a call to prayer and good medical care. All that would be there.

But some people might break the rules. It happens in prisons all the time. Some people might mistreat a prisoner. What are you going to do? Then close down the next place and the next place? Eventually, you’re going to say, well, we just don’t take prisoners. So what do you do them? You release them or you execute them. I don’t think this has been thought through very carefully.

O’BRIEN: That’s kind of question for Victor. Victor, another question to add to that. Dick Cheney even said — in remarks that are going to air a little bit later on Fox today — he said these are bad people who are captured at Guantanamo. These are not Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, right?

KAMBER: Yes, I agree. And no one’s questioning the fact that we need prisons and that we need to contain people. I think — I think and it should not be a political issue, and this is where I think this administration goes crazy sometimes, when somebody makes a suggestion that they don’t make, they put their back up.

Guantanamo may have outlived its usefulness, and I think that’s what Senator Martinez is saying. As a political force, it’s stigmatized. It has an aura about it. has a connotation about it. Let’s open up another camp. It may take the next six months to do it. Let’s put the detainees someplace else. I mean, there’s plenty of prisons out there that could do it. And let’s close down.

MAY: Everything is off…

KAMBER: You know, Guantanamo is off…

MAY: Victor…

KAMBER: … is off the United States. It’s on the island of Cuba. It’s been used in the Cuban period of time. It’s now used for the terrorists. I mean, close it.

MAY: Victor, it’s very easy to stigmatize Americans. Next, they’ll say, OK, we’ve opened another facility. And you know what they’re doing? You just heard it. They’re making people shave. Oh, isn’t that terrible? Isn’t that inhuman? What if…

KAMBER: But Cliff…

MAY: We pay more attention to making people shave in prison camp than we do to cutting people’s throats on video film.

KAMBER: Cliff, obviously that’s…

MAY: You cannot win a war like this.

KAMBER: You can cite the shaving. We obviously have heard there are abuses there, and Guantanamo Bay has been compared with…

O’BRIEN: Cliff, in all fairness, shaving is one of a litany of things that people have complained about at Guantanamo. It’s not an issue of only shaving, right?

MAY: No. There are rules, and I think they’re the best rules and most disciplined that any military in the world has. If you want to make tougher rules, that’s Congress’ jobs. When they’re not in front of the cameras, they can actually pass legislation. And there will be people in any prison, anywhere in the world, including America, who will break those rules on occasion. If so, they will be and are being investigated and then prosecuted. But the idea that every time some guard yells at somebody, we’re going to close down the facility and…

KAMBER: It’s not every time, Cliff.

MAY: … open up another one, it’s not going to happen. Every time somebody tries to stigmatize the Americans, we are going to say we’re so guilty, we’re so sorry. Let’s shut down and start again. Eventually, you’re going to have no prisons. Let me tell you, you could not have won World War II like this, and we didn’t win the Vietnam War. And if you want to lose this war, this is the way to do it.

O’BRIEN: Before we run out of time, I want to throw another question. You guys see this article on the front page of the “New York Times.” It talks about Iraqi forces and they basically say it could be years before the Iraqi forces are in any shape to really protect the citizenry of Iraq. Which means, of course, that American troops would have to be there far longer a year than some predict. Many years is what they’re thinking of. The article, in fact, makes them not only sound, you know, inexperienced, but absolutely incompetent.

But here’s my question for you, Cliff. Don’t you think someone should be able to spell out how long American forces are going to be there?

MAY: American forces are still in Japan. They’re still in Europe. American forces are still South Korea, they’re still in Bosnia. We should be there as long as the Iraqis need us to kill the al Qaeda terrorists and the Baathist terrorists who are fighting Americans and who are fighting Iraqis. The idea that we should be out of Iraq when we’re still in Europe and South Korea and Japan strikes me as crazy.

O’BRIEN: At the same time…

KAMBER: American forces…

O’BRIEN: Should they be saying that American forces are looking for early withdrawal, which is what we’ve heard of late from the government?

MAY: I don’t think we should be looking for an early withdrawal. We should be looking for a successful withdrawal. We should be there as long as it takes. When FDR was asked how long will World War II take, how long will it be, we be over there? He said, for the duration. That’s the only answer if you want win, not lose, the war you’re involved in.

O’BRIEN: Victor, is “for the duration” good enough for you?

KAMBER: No, it’s not and it speaks, again, to failed policy, a president that entered a war, claimed the mission accomplished, without a plan how to escalate or how to get out of the war. We need other troops, we need the rest of the world to participate. And the fact that we have troops in Japan, they’re not losing their lives every day as they are in Iraq. Iraq is ill-prepared to take over. We have to be there. I don’t disagree with Cliff, we cannot pull out, we have to be there. because Iraq is unable to self serve themselves.

MAY: Victor, if we only send troops where there aren’t wars, we’re not going to win wars.

KAMBER: We created the war. This is not a war that we’re sending troops to stop. It’s a war that we went after and created, and then claimed it was over.

MAY: We’re fighting Al Qaeda right now.

(CROSSTALK)

O’BRIEN: I have a feeling we’re not going to wrap this up this morning, and we’re certainly not going to wrap it up in the next few seconds.

Gentlemen, you can continue fighting off camera.

KAMBER: Thank you.

MAY: We will.

O’BRIEN: Cliff May, Victor Kamber, as always, nice to see you guys, because you’re both in D.C. this morning — Ali.