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Transcript: Senator Ron Wyden. Nov 15th 2005

His Water Bill, funding for the Columbia River channel. Taking away the tax breaks for the oil companies. Habeas Corpus rights for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court, Alito.

Thom Hartmann, Heidi Tauber interview with Senator Ron Wyden on KPOJ November 15 2005.

[Thom Hartmann] And Senator Ron Wyden is with us. Senator, welcome to the program.

[Ron Wyden] Hey Thom, I was just reading about article 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta in your analysis.

[Thom Hartmann] Ah! You tracked down my piece on Common Dreams.

[Ron Wyden] It's good stuff.

[Thom Hartmann] Well thank you, thank you. I, in fact I wanted to talk with you about that. First of all, though, I wanted to congratulate you on getting the water bill through. I have given it to Heidi, here. So, here we go. Just saw this on your web site this morning. Fifteen million bucks in funding for the Columbia River channel, 17 million for jetties, at the mouth of the Columbia.

[Heidi Tauber] It's 2 pages long.

[Thom Hartmann] It looks like you're doing some good work here.

[Ron Wyden] Well, got a lot to do. In a few minutes I'm going to go to the finance committee and try to take away the tax breaks for the oil companies. These are the ones the executives said that weren't needed last week.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, in fact we played some audio clips of you taking these guys on. I thought it was a marvelous job you did, and I...

[Ron Wyden] We'll see how they handle my amendment. They said they don't need it. I'm going to try and take several billion dollars away over the next few weeks.

[Heidi Tauber] How possible do you think that's going to be?

[Ron Wyden] Well, it's going to be a battle, but I don't know how they can credibly oppose what I'm doing. I mean, the fact of the matter is that even the President, the President is not exactly hostile to oil interests, says they don't need these breaks, so the Congress keeps stuffing these tax goodies down the backs of big oil and I'm going to try to take them away.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. It'll be interesting, good luck!

[Ron Wyden] Thanks.

[Thom Hartmann] See how that plays out. Tell us why you voted with, you and four other Democrats voted with, a whole bunch of Republicans, although still not a majority, it was only 49 votes, to essentially reduce, or cut back on, on Habeas Corpus rights, presumably intentionally for the folks at Guantanamo, although it seemed to me that the legislation was writ a little more broadly than that.

[Ron Wyden] Here's my sense of it, folks. I mean, first, the issue doesn't lend itself to a bumper sticker and I'm going to try and block people ...

[Thom Hartmann] Sure.

[Ron Wyden] Always supported reasonable Habeas Corpus rights for the detainees and certainly after I went to Guantanamo. Now last Thursday the Senate essentially had two choices. There was the Graham amendment and the Bingaman amendment. Both of them had some protections for the detainees with respect to access to fair treatment in the courts but at the time the Graham amendment was essentially too limited in terms of its right of appeal and the Bingaman amendment, the way it was then written, would have essentially invited, in my view, frivolous appeals. Now, over the weekend we made some progress. And the first vote that's going to be held today will be on the Bingaman amendment which includes the important protections for fair treatment for the detainees. But it has been rewritten so as to ensure that there won't be frivolous appeals. And frankly, I think a lot of the progress we've made has come about because the discussion forced a good compromise.

[Thom Hartmann] Now, I'm not sure what you mean by a frivolous appeal. There are...

[Ron Wyden] Things that...

[Thom Hartmann] Certainly remedies at law for abuse of legal process.

[Ron Wyden] The frivolous appeals are essentially the ones that don't relate to why the detainees are held, you know. There have been a host of them, and they are all on the congressional record. But I mean, you know, the bottom line, is we ought to have fair procedures for the detainees. People talk all about the Supreme Court decision, and the Supreme Court decision gave the detainees essentially only a right to wait around for a court date. And so what the United States Senate ought to be doing is setting in place a procedure to evaluate why detainees are being held, determine whether they ought to be held. Otherwise the detainees just, you know, rot in these places. Second, anybody who's responsible for detainee evaluation ought to be confirmable by the Senate. And third, you ought to ban the use of evidence obtained through torture. And I think that as a result of all this thrashing around we've made some headway. My intent today is to vote for the Bingaman amendment which has been advocated by those who've been concerned about the rights of prisoners. There will also probably be another amendment that Carl Levin, who is also voting for the Bingaman amendment, has championed, that gives the detainees a right to automatic review of a death sentence and the appealing part of that is it may be linked to John McCain's overall anti-torture amendment. And so I think we're finally, as a result of all this complicated thrashing around, starting to make a little progress.

[Thom Hartmann] I'm wondering if you share my, well I don't want to put words in your mouth, let me just lay this out. My take on this is that one of the reasons why the Republicans, and the Bush administration in particular, are so emphatic about keeping these guys under wraps in Guantanamo Bay, is that the five or six of them that have been released so far have told stories that have actually made headlines in their home countries that have been very embarrassing to the administration. They shouldn't have been arrested in the first place, they were treated poorly, it may have been torture actually in some cases, and my sense of it is that the Republicans are concerned that if these guys get loose, they'll tell stories that will make the administration look bad. Do you think that that's an issue here?

[Ron Wyden] My guess is that that is part of it, but I mean, the bottom line is, is you have to have some set of ground rules with respect to how these detainees are handled. When I was in Guantanamo, essentially what you get, and these people of course are restricted in what they can say, you know, military folks. But they're essentially are saying, "look, we need to have some guidelines. We need to have some rules". And so, what has kind of dominated the headlines is, the Supreme Court said there was a right to Habeas Corpus but I think that if the Senate does nothing more than just stay silent on it, people just have an empty piece of paper.

[Thom Hartmann] What about simply saying that the Geneva, Geneva 3 and Geneva 4, 3rd and 4th Geneva conventions apply?

[Ron Wyden] I think that...

[Thom Hartmann] They speak to this issue.

[Ron Wyden] I have generally said, to the greatest extent possible we ought to follow Geneva, but even in that area I think you need to be more specific. That the Bingaman amendment has rewritten so as to ensure that you aren't going to have things that don't relate to the reason why folks, you know, are being held, I think is the way to go. That is the best choice at this point. I will be voting for it today, and then I think we are going to have this other amendment which possibly may force the administration to go along with John McCain's anti-torture proposal.

[Thom Hartmann] Which would be a fine thing. I'm curious if you read Justice Scalia's dissent in the Hamdi case?

[Ron Wyden] I cannot remember.

[Thom Hartmann] OK, it's, let's ...

[Ron Wyden] Right now I'm thinking about Alito and the fact they've uncovered all these documents.

[Thom Hartmann] Oh, I know.

[Ron Wyden] How he's going to oppose a woman's right to choose.

[Thom Hartmann] I know, it's mind-boggling.

[Ron Wyden] Well, I'll tell you what it is, it's about that change in the United States Supreme Court, you know, the Roberts appointment was a replacement for Rehnquist. You know, if you put Alito on and he's going to not be concerned about precedent, a woman's right to choose goes out the window; that changes America.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, well before you vote on these amendments today, you may find it useful, or somebody in your staff, to go back and read Justice Scalia's dissent in the Hamdi case. He actually came out and essentially said, the right of Habeas Corpus is something that goes back 800 years and we mess with it at our peril, and he was essentially saying the same thing that I said in that article on Common Dreams that you were reading this morning. And I think you'll find it fascinating, from a conservative Republican's point of view. Just finally, to kind of wrap this up, Senator Wyden, with regard to this issue and this vote of yours a couple of days ago. Lot of folks just wondering, you know, it seems like, you know, you're moving in a direction that you've clearly laid out for us all here of trying to make sure that these guys' Habeas Corpus rights are protected and that our judicial process isn't tied into knots. Why did you vote for that first, you know, the Graham amendment in the first place?

[Ron Wyden] Cos I wanted to force a compromise, Thom. I mean, as I said, the Graham amendment, just as it was in front of the Senate in the first vote did make significant progress in 3 areas. It set up more transparency, it set up more accountability, it set up congressional oversight. It required the evaluation of the detainees, banned the use of evidence. I thought it was better than an empty piece of paper which is what the detainees had. But I thought you ought to go further, and I think as a result of this thrashing around now, we've made a significant amount of progress and I don't think it would have come about unless we started last Thursday.

[Thom Hartmann] So it was more of a procedural vote on your part in your mind.

[Ron Wyden] It was a desire to bring about a compromise. Both amendments in terms of the four provisions, got it right on three provisions, in terms of transparency and accountability. What the thrashing has been about is the right of access to the legal system. Jeff Bingaman, to his credit, rewrote his amendment over the weekend and I was attracted to it from the very beginning. Now I think it really does the job right and provides reasonable Habeas Corpus. I will be voting for it when it comes up this morning.

[Thom Hartmann] Good, well we look forward to reading that and finding out more about that. Senator Byden, just very quickly, you referenced just very briefly Judge, or Justice, I guess he's Judge Alito right now, what was it, 1985 or something like that? During the Reagan administration he was applying for a job basically, and he said that he was gung ho against affirmative action for either women or minorities and he was gung ho against abortion, essentially. That he thought that the constitution did not provide, or, you know, he couldn't find in the Constitution any sort of a right to abortion. Is that, you know, what are your thoughts now on Alito?

[Ron Wyden] I think it's very troubling, Thom, and Heidi. I intend to meet with them. I think I'll be meeting with him in a couple of days or before Thanksgiving. But I feel very strongly with respect to, you know, women's health, the government ought to leave women alone and, you know, when I met with Justice Roberts he talked a great deal about precedent and, you know, who knows how he's going to rule on these matters. But the fact is, he was replacing Justice Rehnquist who certainly had not shown a lot of sympathy to a woman's right to choose. Alito is going to be replacing Sandra, another judge, and I'm more concerned about how this would really change America.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. This is the swing vote. So do you think that this will make a filibuster more of a likelihood?

[Ron Wyden] Well, let's wait and see the hearings. But I will tell you I'm very troubled about today's news and this is a huge development on a very important appointment because this is one that could really change our country and dramatically alter the court.

[Thom Hartmann] OK. Great. Senator Ron Wyden, thanks so much for being with us, sir, today.

[Ron Wyden] Let's do it again soon.

[Thom Hartmann] Always good talking with you.

[Ron Wyden] Thanks.

[Thom Hartmann] Thank you.

[Heidi Tauber] Thank you, Senator. Particularly like, government ought to leave women alone.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah!

[Heidi Tauber] There's a nice quote of the day.

[Thom Hartmann] A nice phrase.

[Heidi Tauber] Thank you, Senator Wyden.

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