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Florida Senator Marco Rubio On the Death of bin Laden, and Concerns Over Pakistan.

Monday, May 2, 2011

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HH: I’m joined in studio today by Townhall.com’s chief political editor, Guy Benson, and we begin the show with Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Rubio, welcome. What’s your reaction to the killing of bin Laden?

MR: I think probably the same as yours, and it’s been a long time coming, an important development in the war on terror, a recognition of the important job that our men and women have done overseas all these years in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in that region, but also a reminder that the battle continues, that although bin Laden is off the battlefield now, and is facing the ultimate justice, the world is still a dangerous place, and our enemies continue to plot against us. And we need to see this to fruition. We need to see this mission through. But I think three things I’d like to say. I mean, the first is I want to congratulate the President and his national security team for carrying this mission out with high level of confidence. But the ultimate recognition of course goes to the brave men and women of our special forces and our intelligence community that actually went to the ground and did this. I think as the administration decides to declassify portions of this mission, it’ll become increasingly apparent to the American people that the extraordinary competence and bravery of these young men and women that fight on our behalf, and keep us safe. And I think it’s also an important moment to stop and recognize the hard work of George W. Bush when he was president, who put in place many of the policies and tactics that led us to this moment. And I think we need to remember that as well.

HH: Now I want to ask Senator Rubio, then I’ll let Guy Benson ask a question here. Hamas is probably the only voice I can find on the planet outside of the terror network itself, but it really is part of the network, to mourn bin Laden’s death, and to denounce the United States for removing him. My question is given that, is there any way that the United States can continue to support, in your view, a coalition government in the West Bank and Gaza that includes Hamas?

MR: Well, I never thought that that was possible before this. I mean, Hamas’ stated objective is the destruction of the Jewish state, the destruction of Israel. And I’ve always wondered how is Israel supposed to negotiate peace with an organization whose stated goal is their destruction? I mean, what are you going to negotiate? The rate of your destruction? I mean, what are you negotiating? And I think Hamas today shows its true colors, as its done repeatedly. If the world ever needed a reminder of what a despicable organization Hamas is, and what its true intended purpose is, I think this shows us a reminder of it.

HH: Guy Benson?

GB: Senator, speaking of true colors, I’m wondering if we’re starting to get a better picture of what the true colors of the Pakistani regime might be. There’s a lot of mounting evidence today that perhaps the regime, or elements within their internal security forces, harbored, knowingly, Osama bin Laden for upwards of ten years. How does this change the United States’ relationship with Pakistan?

MR: Well, it’s always dangerous to speculate without all the information. And that’s why obviously, you know, I know why people have those questions. Let me say two things. Number one, in the past, and maybe even now, Pakistan has cooperated with the United States in its war on terror, and has contributed in support information and support to our efforts there. On the other hand, the most wanted man in the world lived in a uniquely constructed multi-million dollar compound in a military neighborhood on the outskirts of the capitol city of Islamabad. I think there should be some questions that need to be answered. And I think they need to be answered, because we need to understand, number one, have a better and clearer picture of what our relationship with Pakistan is, and number two, because I think it’s important to assess it for purposes of this ongoing war on terror.

HH: Go ahead, Guy.

GB: Well, because one other report that I’m reading from ABC News today, Senator, is that Pakistani forces, they sent fighter pilots, they sent fighter jets out when they knew that our helicopters were in the vicinity. They scrambled jets. And I’m wondering, is that an open act of hostility or aggression? Do you have any insight into what happened there?

MR: Well, look, I don’t want to speculate about that publicly. I think I’ll leave that to the folks that determine when certain information should be revealed, and for purposes of national security. I would just say we have a very complicated relationship with Pakistan. There’s no doubt about it. And I think it’s one that has a lot of questions that need to be answered, legitimate questions, and questions that go to the nature of what their true intentions are, not just in this effort, but in particular what’s happening in Afghanistan. And I think that look, without violating anything I shouldn’t be saying or doing, let me just say this. The most wanted man in the world lived in a uniquely constructed compound, large, uniquely constructed compound in a military neighborhood, just a handful of miles outside the capitol city. And there are some legitimate questions that that poses.

HH: Senator, it’s Hugh Hewitt again. Do you want the Foreign Relations Committee to be holding hearings soon into the circumstances of bin Laden’s death, and the circumstances of his being harbored in Pakistan?

MR: Well, I sit on two committees that I think are going to look at this. The first is the Intelligence Committee, and I know we meet twice a week, and we’ll be meeting tomorrow, and I think there’ll be some questions answered there. Obviously, much of that will never be discussed publicly. And then the other is kind of our relationship with Pakistan, on an international level, the aide packages we put together to Pakistan, and that ongoing relationship. And I do think that that’s something that Foreign Relations should look at, and I hope the chairman will hold hearings on our relationship with Pakistan. I was in Pakistan in January, and left with some pretty strong impressions about what a difficult road we have to hoe there.

HH: How close to Islamabad were you, Senator?

MR: How close to where?

HH: Did you go to Islamabad when you were in Pakistan?

MR: Oh, yeah. We spent the night there.

HH: So not too far from Osama then, it turns out.

MR: Yeah, I would not…in fact, the hotel we stayed at wasn’t very far at all from the place that it ultimately sounds, winds up he was staying at. So it’s, you know, it’s an amazing turn of events. I mean, it’s certainly, as I said, and I can’t repeat enough, the most wanted man in the world was living in a military neighborhood on the outskirts of the capitol, not in some cave somewhere.

HH: I’ve got to ask you, how do you feel this vindicates or diminishes President Bush’s promise ten years ago to either bring them to justice, or bring justice to them?

MR: Well, I think we have continuity of government in the United States. And I think that the President, to his credit last night, pointed that out when he talked about how this effort began under George Bush. I think this will be part of history’s vindication of George Bush’s efforts in this regard. I think one of the things that hasn’t been talked about, and I think over the next few days and weeks, it’ll become more apparent, is that some of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States led to this mission, many which began under the Bush presidency, which he has been roundly criticized for. Let’s remember that, and understand that that’s, this mission that happened in one day took years to put something like this together, and a lot of intelligence gathering and sifting, and so, much of which began under the policies and procedures put in place by the Bush administration.

HH: Senator Rubio, what time did you first learn of this as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, when did you become aware than an operation was underway?

MR: Well, believe it or not, the news is usually ahead of the curve on many of these things, and I think was as well here. And as a member of the Intelligence Committee, I’m always kind of cautious about talking about operational things. But what I will say is that I’m very comfortable with when I knew and how I knew, and more importantly, what we know. I think it was appropriate for a mission of this magnitude, and as delicate as this one was. And what we’re all happy about is that it was successful. And now the role of Congressional oversight begins when you kind of come in and look at the things that made this possible. What were the technology, what were the assets, what were the methodologies that were put in place that brought this to be, because those are the things that we need to have oversight over. Those are the things we fund, those are the things we authorize, and those are the things we need to encourage more of.

GB: Senator, last night, there were a number of doctored, fake photographs swirling around the internet, purporting to depict Osama bin Laden’s corpse. Those turned out not to be authentic. However, the White House is, according to multiple reports right now, engaging in a robust debate over whether or not to release real photographs of Osama bin Laden’s body. Where do you come down on that debate?

MR: You know, I don’t know, because I don’t know all the information of the pros and cons. And I think when I get to Washington tomorrow and get into a secure setting, and able to discuss it with some of our folks in the intelligence community, I may have a more solid opinion about it one way or the other, what are the ramifications of doing one thing versus doing the other. So I’m not sure. I know that what people need to know is that Osama bin Laden is dead. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, and his supporters acknowledge it. And as I said earlier today, if he’s not dead, let him produce another video. He is dead. He’s facing the ultimate justice, and rightfully so.

HH: Senator Rubio, time for one more question, thank you for spending time with me and Guy Benson today. Senator Graham, Lindsey Graham, voiced some criticism or concern about the disposition of the remains of bin Laden at sea. Do you share those concerns? Do you think that was a good move on the part of the United States?

MR: I think, whether I would agree with him or not, I don’t have a problem with it. And I don’t know if I should. I mean, I haven’t heard any arguments as to why. It’s interesting you ask me that. I was just having that conversation with a member of our family. Let me just say this. This is a very special country. What country in the world does that? What country in the world goes to those lengths to respect someone that really doesn’t deserve respect? I mean, can you imagine what these animals, these terrorists would do if they ever got their hands on an American president or an American leader? And compare that…that’s all you need to know about the difference between us and them. And so people may be troubled by it, but I think it’s partially, what you should be very proud of is the country that we live in, that goes to these extraordinary limits not just in protecting innocent lives, but even to respect people that are not deserving of respect.

HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you so much for the time today. Good luck getting back to D.C. on this historic day in the United States.

End of interview.

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