On Sunday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on CBS's Face the Nation. The interview is the latest round in an ongoing battle with other Bush Administration officials, notably the former Vice President Dick Cheney, over national security issues, the Republican Party, and attitudes toward President Obama.
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SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. On this Memorial Day weekend, former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell is with us in the studio this morning. Thank you, General. It has been quite a two weeks, as you know. It was on this broadcast that your old boss and colleague, Dick Cheney, accused this administration of putting the nation's security at risk.
He finalized that argument in a speech last week. Said he had no regrets about the terrorist -- the methods in dealing with terrorists that the administration took. He criticized the closing of Guantanamo. I'm going to ask you about all of that, but I want to start where he ended his interview here on FACE THE NATION when he said some things about you. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIEFFER: Rush Limbaugh said the other day that the party would probably be better off if Colin Powell left and just became a Democrat. Colin Powell said Republicans would be better off if they didn't have Rush Limbaugh out speaking for them. Where do you come down?
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.
SCHIEFFER: So you think that he's not a Republican?
CHENEY: I just noted he endorsed the Democratic candidate for president this time, Barack Obama. I assume that that is some indication of his loyalty and his interest.
SCHIEFFER: And you said you'd take Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell.
CHENEY: I would.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIEFFER: Well, there you have it, General. So I guess the first question, are you a Republican?
POWELL: Let me answer it this way, if I may, Bob. Rush will not get his wish. And Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican. And I'd like to point out that in the course of my 50 years of voting for presidents, I have voted for the person I thought was bestqualified at that time to lead the nation. Last year I thought it was President-now Barack Obama. For the previous 20 years I voted solidly for Republican candidates. Voted for Ronald Reagan twice. George Bush 41 twice. George Bush 43 twice. I spent eight years in Bush administrations. I served Ronald Reagan for two years. I spoke at the 1996 convention and I spoke at the 2000 convention. What the concern about me is, well, is he too moderate? I have always felt that the Republican Party should be more inclusive than it generally has been over the years. And I believe we need a strong Republican Party that is not just anchored in the base but has built on the base to include more individuals. And if we don't do that, if we don't reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base. And I believe we should build on the base because the nation needs two parties. Two parties debating each other. But what we have to do is debate and define who we are and what we are and not just listen to diktats that come down from the right wing of the party.
SCHIEFFER: Well, why do you think the former vice president said what he said?
POWELL: Well, I assume that was his point of view. But he was misled if he thought I left the party. You know, neither he nor Rush Limbaugh are members of the membership committee of the Republican Party. I get to make my decision on that. And so I will continue to work in a way that I think is helpful to the country and helpful to the party. And there are good reasons for this. I mean, in the military we have something called afteraction reviews. After a battle or after a training exercise you bring all of the leaders in. And you say, what's going right? What's going wrong? What did do right or wrong? And how do we move forward? It's a no-holds-barred candid discussion of where we are. That's what the Republican Party needs now. When you look at the results of the election last year, lost the presidency by 10 million votes. Lost that campaign by 10 million votes. We saw both houses of Congress switch to the Democrats. We saw whole sections of the country move to the Democratic column, Virginia, my state, Democratic. Florida, Nevada, other places. We looked at all of the demographics of it, a Gallup poll had a series of indicators. And in almost every demographic indicator, the Republican Party is losing. North, south, east, west. Men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics. And I think the Republican Party has to take a hard look at itself and decide what kind of party are we?
POWELL: Are we simply moving further to the right, and by so doing opening up the right-of-center and the center to be taken over by independents and to be taken over by Democrats? You look at the statistic in Pennsylvania that Arlen Specter has cited -- 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania switched their allegiance to become Democrats in the election of 2008. That kind of leakage cannot continue if the Republican Party is going to play a major role in the life of our country. And if you look at the other statistics that is around these days and the number of people identifying themselves as Republicans has dropped significantly, into the low 20s. And among those low 20s, they're not all conservatives. A lot of them are fairly moderate or right-of-center Republicans, who are concerned about the right wing. And they're not that vocal about it, because if you are vocal, you're going to get your voice mail filled up and you're going to get lots of emails, like I did.
SCHIEFFER: What about Rush Limbaugh? A lot of people who are Republicans say, hey, people are taking him too seriously. He is just an entertainer. But he's been on your case for quite a while. When you announced you were voting for Barack Obama, he said the only reason he's doing that is because Barack Obama is black. Was he calling you a racist?
POWELL: I don't know what he was doing by that, and I don't want to exchange insults with him. But I thought it was unfortunate. I laid out a very specific set of reasons as to why I was voting for Barack Obama. Mr. Limbaugh saw fit to dismiss all those reasons and put it into a racial context, that the only reason I did it is I was black and I had never voted for a Democrat before. Well, yes, I have. I voted for John Kennedy. I voted for Lyndon Johnson. I even voted for Jimmy Carter. And I've always tried to vote for the best man. But he put it in that racial context, and I thought that that was very unfortunate. What about the 69 million people who voted for Barack Obama? Did they all do it on the basis of race? Why doesn't he sort of comment on those? But Mr. Limbaugh is entitled to his opinion. And I don't say he shouldn't have a opinion. The nature of our country is we ought to debate these things. But he shouldn't have a veto over what someone thinks. And he's an entertainer. He is a radio figure, and he is a significant one. But he's more than that. When the chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele, issues the mildest of criticism concerning Mr. Limbaugh, and then 24 hours later the chairman of the RNC has to lay prostrate on the floor apologizing for it, and when two congressmen offer the mildest criticism of Mr. Limbaugh, they too within 24 hours have such pressure brought to bear on them that they have to change their view and apologize for criticizing him -- well, if he's out there, he should be subject to criticism, just as I am subject to criticism. Let's debate the future of the party. And let's let all segments
of the party come in. You know, my model for the Republican Party is a great man we just lost, a man by the name of Jack Kemp. Jack was as conservative as anybody. We all know Jack. And Jack also was a man who believed in inclusiveness, reaching out to minorities, reaching out to the poor, sharing the wealth. Which became a bad term last fall, but sharing the wealth of the country not only with the rich, but with those who are least advantaged in our society. It's that kind of Jack Kemp Republicanism that I like, and I would like to see the party move more in that kind of a direction.
SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a little bit about Guantanamo. The vice president came out very hard against the Obama administration and his policies. He said it would be a mistake to close Guantanamo. Others have said it would actually pose a danger to this country if these people are brought back. Do you think Guantanamo should be closed, General?
POWELL: Yes. I felt Guantanamo should be closed for the past six years, and I lobbied and presented reasons to President Bush. And Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama's policy. He's disagreeing with President Bush's policy. President Bush stated repeatedly to international audiences and to the country that he wanted to close Guantanamo. The problem he had was he couldn't get all the pieces together. Secretary Rice, Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Gates had come forward with plans, but the plans ran into difficulties with Department of Justice and others. So it is a complex problem, and President Bush wasn't able to close Guantanamo on his watch. And President Obama came in saying he would close Guantanamo, and he has run into some of those same sorts of problems. So I think we need to kind of take the heat out of this issue. I think President Obama didn't handle it very well by going up to the Congress and asking for $80 million without a plan. And by, frankly, giving enough time to opponents of it to marshal their forces as to why we shouldn't do this. But Guantanamo has caused us a great deal of trouble throughout the world. And Mr. Cheney the other day said, well, we're doing it to satisfy European intellectuals or something like that.
POWELL: No. We're doing it to reassure Europeans, Muslims, Arabs, all the people around the world that we are a nation of law. It isn't so much Guantanamo. It's the people at Guantanamo. How do we deal with them? We can't keep them locked up forever. This business about making the country less safe by bringing these people to our prison system, we have got two million people in jail in America. The highest incarceration rate in the world. And they all had lawyers. They had all had access to the writ of habeas corpus and they're all in jail. And I don't know, Bob, if you've ever seen some of these prison reality shows on television where they show you what a super lock-up is. I'm not terribly about worried one of these guys going to a super lock-up and being ...
SCHIEFFER: So you think they can be brought here and kept safely without posing any damage?
POWELL: Yes. Yes. I think it should have been done immediately and not start looking for $80 million to build prisons. Look, we're talking about roughly 240. The hard-core problem is that there are some of them that you really do not have cold evidence on that you could put before an Article III court. That's the problem that President Bush struggled with. It's the problem that President Obama is struggling with. We may have to find new legislation or have the Congress assist us with this. But let's get it into our system of laws with an executive and a legislative and a judicial branch all working it together.
SCHIEFFER: Have you talked to President Obama about this?
SCHIEFFER: You have? And what have you talked to him about?
POWELL: The views I have just expressed to you President Obama has heard from me.
SCHIEFFER: He has heard from you on this.
POWELL: I have been public on this.
SCHIEFFER: Do you think that he can get the Congress to go with him on this? I'm told there are people like Lindsey Graham and maybe even John McCain who might be willing to help him with this but only if he presents a detailed plan.
POWELL: I think that's the message that came out of Congress. We can't give you $80 million. There's a lot of internal home resistance to bringing these people into the country. So you come forward with a plan that makes some sense and you tell us how you're going to resolve all of these cases and do it in a way that we can support and then maybe we can move forward. So I think it was premature to ask for the money. It was premature to say we're going to give it to work out and then immediately ask for the money for something. John McCain has been a strong supporter from the very beginning of closing Guantanamo but in recent days he's been saying, I haven't moved off that point but you have to give us a plan. This has become very, very political. And so I think after we have had these dueling speeches and the controversy of recent days, things will settle down and the president can go off and spend some time with his staff thinking it through all the way and coming up with a plan just as he said he would do in his speech. And one point I have to make. It really comes out of the things that have been written lately. That is in the first year after 9/11, we did everything we could to stop the possibility of another 9/11. We put in place the PATRIOT Act. We used enhanced interrogation techniques. I shut down for the most part the visa system until we could fix it. But after about a year-and-a-half when it looked like things were relatively secure and we were doing a better job, then we started to relax the visa system once we fixed it because we can't keep moving in that direction with putting people in jail forever without resolving their cases. We're not letting people come to our country. So it was natural to start shifting back to our more normal ways of doing business and dealing with the rest of the world after we had achieved a level of security. We are more secure. I mean, my Republican friends sort of get mad when I say we need government. People want effective, responsible government. Republicans have not cut much government even though talk about limited government and cutting government. We created the Department of Homeland Security. Needed. We created the Transportation Security Agency that guards our terminals where people go in and out. Needed. We created a director of national intelligence. Needed. The American people want to see a FEMA that takes care of us in hurricanes and tornadoes. The American people want to see federal regulators making sure we never get into the kind of financial problem we had last year. And we're working our way out of it. So there is a need for government. What the American people want not just slogans, limited government. They want effective government. Government that works and just as much as we need. But if we need it, let's have it.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Let me ask you this. The former vice president said he had no regrets about the methods that were used including waterboarding. He actually authorized it. He says they may have saved thousands of lives. I want to ask you two questions. Do you agree with that? That these techniques were effective? And number two, when did you know about this business, general?
POWELL: When we started to examine these techniques I was in some meetings where they were discussed.
POWELL: I was not privy to the memos that were being written or the legal opinions that were being written.
I think it was unfortunate but we had a system that kept that in a very compartmented manner. And so I was apart that these enhanced interrogation techniques were being considered. And they were judged not to be torture at the time. And when you were facing the possibility of a 9/11, you had to give some -- some flexibility to the CIA. But it was under the Bush administration that they stopped using these techniques back in 19 -- in 2003. So obviously the CIA did not feel that we had anybody else in our custody that would need to have these techniques used. And as a result...
SCHIEFFER: Do you think they were effective?
POWELL: ... they haven't been used -- I have no idea. I hear that they were. I hear that they weren't. You see people from the FBI who come out and say, we got all of that information before any of that was done. I cannot answer that question. And the problem is, I don't know what I don't know.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you this. Jan Crawford Greenburg of ABC News reported last year that the top people in the administration, you, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser, were actually brought in to meetings in the White House where these things were outlined. But you're saying you don't know -- at those meetings you're saying that nothing was (INAUDIBLE)?
POWELL: They were outlined. We were aware that these techniques were being discussed. And we were aware that legal opinions were being given that said they met the standard of the law. But over time, now that we look at it, it's easy now in the cold light of day to look back and say, you shouldn't have done any of that. But as Mr. Cheney has said very, very often, as has President Bush and all of us, if we had another attack like 9/11, say on 9/11 a year later, nobody would have forgiven us for not doing everything we could. And the CIA thought we needed those kinds of techniques but now we see that these are not appropriate. And I saw a guy on television being waterboarded yesterday, this correspondent, this television commentator, and in six seconds -- he thought he could take it. He thought it was just like swimming. In six seconds he was screaming that he had be released from this kind of waterboarding. And remember waterboarding comes out of your Survival, Evasion and Escape techniques. And those were intended to be torture to show our guys what they should be subjected to.
SCHIEFFER: We have just a second left. Memorial Day weekend. I know this is a meaningful weekend for you.
POWELL: This is a time when we reflect on the privilege we have had as citizens to have had other citizens willing to put their lives on the line. And so let's remember all of those who served their nation. Remember their families. And remember those who were injured and are still with us. And there will be another wonderful Memorial Day concert this evening on the West Lawn of the Capitol. And I will be there with a number of other people to celebrate the sacrifice of our young men and women, especially those who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today. They are also a greatest generation.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much, General. Thanks for being with us.