CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Iraq: The Weapons Hunt
Aired December 15, 2002 - 10:04 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now, to our special coverage of IRAQ: THE WEAPONS HUNT. More inspectors are arriving in Baghdad today to beef up the U.N. presence there. Our Nic Robertson is keeping track of the situation from the Iraqi capital -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. Twenty more weapons inspectors arrived here a few hours ago. That brings a total to 113. The inspectors have been out and about today. One team visiting the Al Taji (ph) Chemical Complex to the north of Baghdad, another team going to the south, to the Um Al Mariq (ph), the Mother of All Battles, a very large heavy industrial complex there.
Now, this is a site that they visited before. Many of the sites that they're going to now have indeed been visited before. This particular site, we went with weapons inspectors there a few weeks ago. When we could see heavy industrial equipment being put to use, making large water tanks. Also, they have precision engineering equipment. That is the type of equipment, the computer controlled, that can work to high specifications that the U.N. weapons inspectors have been paying particular attention to there.
Also, the Iraqi news agency here noting that many of the sites that weapons inspectors are going to relate to Iraq's missile programs. Iraq, of course, only allowed to produce missiles that have a range of less than 90 miles.
Over this weekend, too, a letter from Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, to the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan complaining about violations of Iraq's air space. Now, this -- these violations, Iraq says, are taking place in the no-fly zones in north and south of Iraq, below the 33rd parallel, north of the 36th parallel. Iraq's foreign minister says between that between the ninth of November and the sixty of December, 1,141 violations. And this comes less than 24 hours after coalition aircraft believing that they were being locked onto, targeted by aggressive air defense systems, fired at three different locations in the south of Iraq.
Iraq's news agency saying that the three different facilities hit were indeed civilian facilities. The foreign minister's letter to Kofi Annan requesting that the United Nations does something about what it calls a violation of its air space -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, Nic Robertson from Baghdad, thank you very much. Well, actor, Sean Penn is inside Iraq on what he calls a personal fact-finding mission. CNN's Nic Robertson talked to Sean Penn. A little bit later on this morning, we're going to allow you to hear a bit more of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN PENN, ACTOR: But I feel is a talk kind of -- dominantly talking head media in the United States that, in many cases, it seems to have a bias that just never made sense to me, humanly, specifically, relative to the people of the country and not necessarily as specific to things I know less about, which is the geopolitical aspect of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: You can hear Nic Robertson's complete interview with Sean Penn coming up at the bottom of the hour.
Well, the drums of war beat a little louder. The Pentagon has issued an alert for National Guard and reserve troops to stand by for active duty in what may be a practice run for an invasion of Iraq is under way in Qatar. We go there now live where our military analyst, Major General Donald Shepperd, is standing by with us.
Good to see you.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET), U.S. AIR FORCE: Hello, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, well, General, this week in particular, with the buildup of the military forces in that region, this week there were computerized simulation war games going on. How important and how pivotal is that in the continuous build up in that region of U.S. forces?
SHEPPERD: Well, it's pivotal in one sense, Fredricka and that is it's pivotal at checking out the new deployable headquarters for Central Command. Now, this headquarters established in the country of Qatar could be used to conduct a war. But a lot of people thought it was a cover for getting people over here and kicking off a war. That's clearly not the case. The equipment will be left in place, but it looks like the people are going to go home. It does look to us like combat is imminent from where we sit in Qatar, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, the feeling of war and whether it is indeed imminent, does it seem to resonate now in that region, particularly now that there's been an alert put out for 30,000 National Guardsmen?
SHEPPERD: No, not yet. If you talk to people on the street, there's no feeling that war is imminent. As you talk to the troops taking part in the exercise, it's very clear that they could stay, but there's no indication that they are going to. There's no feeling that the war is imminent.
On the other hand, the alert -- the alert now not the call up for mobilization of 30,000 additional guardsmen and reservists -- is prudent preparation because there's a lot that has to play out at the U.N. politically having to do with the inspections, I believe, before the country is ready to go to war. If and when the country decides that there's material breach and decides to go to war, it's going to take a month to two months to move the reportedly 250,000 troops over here that are going to be necessary to conduct military operations. So it appears to all of us that we are a while away from combat here, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And you mentioned 250,000 troops already there, somewhere between 40 and 50,000 troops in the region right now?
SHEPPERD: Yes. They say between 40,000 and 60,000 depending on what you count and you know that's counting all the people on the aircraft carriers. You could not launch a military operation of any size with that number of troops. We think it will take 200 to 250,000 military troops to launch combat operations against Iraq if that comes and they're not here yet, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And as that buildup then continues, they're also needs to be a buildup of support, doesn't there, in that region? Kuwait is on board. Obviously, Qatar, there as well and Turkey, who has said, "We will allow bases of air, Navy ports as well as ground troops." But there still needs to be a greater support in that region, correct? And is there going to be that?
SHEPPERD: Well, all of the nations in the region are making it very clear that they do not want war. The rhetoric having to do with whether or not we can use bases is mixed among all of the countries. Now, Kuwait clearly has said that we can and of course, we're there. Qatar, we're here on the bases, but they have not said what will happen in case of war.
These countries are not going to answer questions in advance about what they're going to do, including Saudi Arabia, which is very important. We have bases in Saudi Arabia that are key and their air space is key. And they have not asked that -- answered that question yet because they really haven't been asked because war is not really imminent. As we get closer to it, they'll all be asked, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, General Shepperd, thank you very much for joining us from Qatar.
Well, this programming note now. Coming up on CNN's "LATE EDITION," an exclusive interview with Qatar's foreign minister on Iraq and the war on terror. That begins at noon Eastern Time. And tonight, "CNN PRESENTS" takes a look at al Qaeda, the new threat. That's at 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN.
The murder of an American diplomat in Jordan is linked to al Qaeda. Coming up, a live report from Amman and a reaction from Jordan's government on the hunt for terrorists and later, from Hollywood to Baghdad, Sean Penn's controversial visit to Iraq.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: Well, welcome back. Now, to the Middle East for the latest on the suspects in the killing of an American diplomat. Jordan says the two men arrested yesterday for the killing now face the death penalty after a trial in a secret security court. And Jordan's information minister says the diplomat was not the main target. CNN's Jane Arraf is with the minister now in Amman.
JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Thank you, Fredricka. Mr. Al-Adwan, you've told us, as Fredricka has said, that the killing of the American diplomat wasn't really what al Qaeda and their people here were after. What were their targets?
MOHAMMED AL-ADWAN, JORDANIAN INFORMATION MINISTER: No, they were after obviously American diplomats and American targets as well as Jordanian targets. I think they had on their list foreign embassies, foreign diplomats, Jordanian institutions, Jordanian personalities. And they -- obviously they started with Mr. Foley. I think they found him the easier target at the time. But they were planning to continue their operation after the murder of Mr. Foley.
ARRAF: Now, you've had these men in interrogation for some time now. What have you learned about al Qaeda itself and its presence in Jordan? How entrenched were they in this country?
Al-ADWAN: No, they are -- we don't believe they are that entrenched. They have small cells probably in every country in the world, including Jordan. However, in Jordan, we have been able to abort all their operations so far and to capture all of these terrorist cells in the past few years.
ARRAF: So essentially how safe is Jordan? Now, the killing of this U.S. diplomat really shocked a lot of people because it was the first time. Has Jordan taken measures since then to ensure the safety of Americans particularly?
AL-ADWAN: Yes, our security measures are very good. I think everyone can testify to that. We believe Jordan is still one of the safest and most secure countries in the world, not only in the region. And the -- I think the capture of the killers of Mr. Foley will testify to the security record. So far, all of al Qaeda cells have been unsuccessful in Jordan. We have been able to abort all of their operations.
ARRAF: And now, according to authorities, these men have confessed but they're in prison now. What happens to them next?
AL-ADWAN: They have been turned over to the state security court. Now, the prosecutor of the court is in charge of the case. We believe they will be turned over to trial probably in a month or so after the investigation is complete.
ARRAF: And then what do they face?
AL-ADWAN: Well, they face several charges. Of course, the maximum penalty will be the death penalty if they are found guilty. ARRAF: Now, the late King Hussein used to say that Jordan lives in a tough neighborhood. It's essentially sandwiched between Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank. How vulnerable is your country to these attacks and this kind of presence?
AL-ADWAN: Well, all I can say, we are definitely in the eye of the hurricane, so to speak and we are always surrounded by these political storms. But we have been able to overcome all these challenges around us. And it makes it tough, but we have been successful in overcoming all of this.
ARRAF: Now, what do you think Jordanian authorities and American authorities will be able to learn in coming interrogations of these two suspects about al Qaeda itself and perhaps its presence in the Arab world after Afghanistan?
Al-ADWAN: You know, Jordan was the first country to stand up against and identify al Qaeda network years ago. And we have been alerting both the United States authorities and the European authorities about possible operations that they were planning way prior to September 11.
So we know we have been on their target and we have been victims of their terrorist acts in the past. I think in this regard, all I can say; terrorism does not have one country or one culture as the enemy. Their enemies are all of humanity and, therefore, we all should stand together in this war against terrorism.
ARRAF: Mr. Al-Adwan, thank you very much. That was Mohammed Al- Adwan, who is the Jordanian minister of state for political call affairs and the minister of information. Back to you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, thank you, Jane, appreciate it.
Well, coming up, strangers in their own land. Iraqi exiles meet to plan for a future free of Saddam Hussein. The report live from London coming up next.
WHITFIELD: For the second day, Iraqi opposition groups are meeting in Britain's capital to talk about their homeland's future and what they'd like to see if Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, is removed from power. From London now, CNN's Jim Bittermann.
JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Good morning. In fact, this is kind of a crucial day for the delegates here because they've actually got to name some names. They're going to try to come up with somewhere between 30 and 45 names of people who will sit on a standing committee, a kind of steering committee that will speak in the name of the Iraqi opposition between the breakup of this meeting and the downfall of Saddam Hussein and election of a -- or selection of a transitional government. So this committee is going to be very powerful. And I'd like to bring into the picture here, Hoshyar Zibari, who is one of the conference spokesmen, also one of the conference organizers.
And Hoshyar, exactly what are going to be the duties of this committee? Are they going to be as powerful as some say, a government in exile?
HOSHYAR ZIBARI, KURDISTAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It would not be a government in exile. It would not be a national assembly. It would be a coordinating committee to coordinate the words of the opposition, to represent the opposition in the international arena, to speak for the Iraqi people and to be broadly the representative committee.
BITTERMANN: And how much are you -- how are you going to reflect the delegates here? This is a very ethnically and culturally and religiously divided group. How are you going to reflect that makeup?
ZIBARI: Well, at the moment, we are engaged in bilateral, trilateral, multilateral discussions, debate and negotiations in order to reach an understanding on forming this committee, which has to be done today until the conference ends this evening and then tomorrow, to announce it. I think it would be a major achievement because we want to include all the chains of the Iraqi opposition whether religious, ethnic, independent, in order to be truly a representative body for the Iraqi people.
BITTERMANN: You've also got plans for an office for this committee, right? There would some kind of a secretariat?
ZIBARI: Well, definitely. I mean we cannot work and operate within a large committee of 45 and so on. But this decision, I think, will be taken later to form some subcommittees on international relations and secretariat, on outreach, to other opposition groups and parties who have, for one reason or another, stayed that way. But this would be the most representative of all Iraqi opposition setups or structures, so far this new committee that will be coming up.
BITTERMANN: Very good. Thank you very much. Hoshyar Zibari, one of the spokesmen here and members of the organizing committee of this event -- Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: All right, Jim Bittermann in London, thank you very much.
Well, a check of the top stories straight ahead, plus the hunt goes on in Iraq for hidden weapons. Coming up, we'll look at the U.N. mission with a former inspector. Call him Penn, The Peace Activist. Actor Sean Penn visits Iraq and joins us -- joins up, rather with anti-war efforts. CNN's Nic Robertson has a one-on-one interview coming up.
WHITFIELD: Weapons inspectors are keeping up the pressure on Iraq, visiting four sites today looking for banned weapons of mass destruction. Today's sites include a missile plant south of Baghdad. David Albright is a man who knows the weapons hunting process firsthand. He's a former U.N. weapons inspector.
Good to see you.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Good morning.
WHITFIELD: All right, well, good morning to you. If the IAEA is now saying it could take months before they're able to get through all of those 12,000 pages of documents, in what way does this hurt or even hinder the inspectors' job on the ground?
ALBRIGHT: No, they're actually through those 12,000 pages, I'm sorry, their portion, which is about 2,500 pages. I mean what they have to do is design an inspection strategy to check basically whether the story Iraq has provided is complete. And on the nuclear side, what that often -- or what that may mean is they have to incorporate information about procurements by Iraq overseas and then check those out.
It actually, in terms of the time to show noncompliance, it doesn't actually have to be that long at all. I mean if they have good information from member states that shows that Iraq has hidden something, they confront the Iraqis with it -- the answer's unsatisfactory, end of story. Where it can take months is to establish that Iraq is complying. That what they're actually saying is true, which is that they haven't had a nuclear weapons program or, in fact, any weapons of mass destruction program since 1991.
WHITFIELD: In any way is there a direct correlation or is there an impact being made on the inspectors' job on the ground to the continuous military buildup in that region?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the inspectors shouldn't be driven by the military schedule of the United States. And I think the inspectors should be given some time. I mean it's the -- they shouldn't be under some, in a sense, a gun to come up with an answer because the U.S. military has a certain fixed schedule. I think this issue is too important for that.
I think the inspectors are probably going to be the final judge on whether Iraq is cooperating and intends to comply. This is in the short term. And I think the international community, the American public, is going to listen to the inspector inspectors. And I think that they should be given a chance to do their job. Now, that doesn't mean they're going to be continuing to do their job or need more time than February, March. But I think they shouldn't be put in a position where at the end of January they're supposed to have finished everything.
WHITFIELD: All right, you talk about the nuclear programs being really the nucleus of the inspections there. Iraq is saying their nuclear programs are primarily to generate electricity. The U.S. of course doubting that. What's the procedure or where do the inspectors go from there?
ALBRIGHT: I'm sorry, Iraq's program you said?
ALBRIGHT: No, no. They're not allowed to have that kind of program. They can have some very fundamental research in the nuclear area, but they're actually prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions from having any nuclear power program at all. And so, it's a very primitive program that they have and that's all they're allowed to have.
WHITFIELD: OK. Go ahead. I'm sorry.
ALBRIGHT: Yes, so that it's actually -- what the inspectors are looking for is any sign of significant nuclear activity. And that it's often -- I think there's a common misunderstanding that somehow the inspectors are supposed to find the hidden nuclear site. But in fact, that's not what you're trying to do. You're trying to show that what Iraq has provided is not the complete sorry.
And if I can use North Korea as an example -- in the early '90s, the nuclear -- international nuclear inspectors were able to show that North Korea hadn't -- or had produced more plutonium than it said it produced. We still don't know where that plutonium is. But the international community was clear that North Korea violated its commitments under, in that case, the Nonproliferation Treaty.
So I do think the job for the inspectors is easier than is often portrayed. And I do think that they can wrestle with this question of noncompliance over the next couple of months and come up with an answer that meets their criteria of noncompliance.
WHITFIELD: All right, former U.N. weapons inspector, David Albright.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Well, to keep up with all the latest developments on the inspection process in Iraq and the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, you can go to CNN.com on the web any time. The AOL key word is CNN.
Straight ahead, Sean Penn in a controversial visit to Baghdad. Coming up, hear why Penn thought he had to go and what he has seen.
Well, before we take a break we want to update you on the on going fallout involving incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. We want to go to John King who's at the White House with the latest reaction from there -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, dramatic, new pressure on Senator Lott now, who's long-time number two in the Senate Republican leadership, Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, is now calling for new elections. He wants Republican senators to have another round of elections to see if Senator Lott can survive as their leader.
Senator Nickles issuing a statement this morning saying that he accepts Senator Lott's apology about racist remarks or remarks many believed to be racist, but he also goes on to say, "I am concerned Senator Lott has been weakened to the point that it may jeopardize his ability to enact our agenda and speak to all Americans. There are several outstanding senators who are more than capable of effective leadership and I hope we have an opportunity to choose."
Senator Lott's current key deputy, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, have been out this morning on the Sunday talk shows saying they see no need for new elections. They believe Senator Lott should stay.
But if Senator Nickles can win a new vote in the Republican caucus, that would change the political dynamics dramatically. Republican senators would not simply be saying whether or not they think Lott should resign. They would have to vote for him again as their leader. That could be a very tough vote to defend for many senators from states with significant African-American populations.
We are told by sources that Senator Nickles informed the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, last night of this development. No reaction from the White House as yet, but privately, senior administration officials are saying very much what Senator Nickles is now saying publicly that they worry that Senator Lott, if he survives as the Republican leader, as the majority leader in the United States Senate, they are wondering whether he can be an effective champion for this president's agenda in the coming Congress, especially given the very narrow majority that the Republicans hold in the Senate -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, John King from the White House. And in response to the ongoing fallout involving Senator Trent Lott, tomorrow he is committing to go on the air with black entertainment television to respond to continuing questions about his most recent comments. We're going to take a short break for now.
WHITFIELD: One Hollywood celebrity has traveled to Iraq to look for ways to avoid war. Actor/director, Sean Penn, is in Baghdad on a three-day mission he describes as one of -- quote -- "personal concern and conscience." For that story, we go to Baghdad where our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is standing by live -- Nic.
ROBERTSON: Fredricka, well, Sean Penn arrived here on Friday. The first thing he did was visit a children's hospital. Now, that was his choice of site to visit. He's also been to a school. He's also been -- he teamed up with some peace activists here to visit a water treatment site and he's had a meeting with Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz. By now, he's had essentially two, two-and-a- half days here. He's getting ready to leave. But before he left, I sat down with him to find out what he'd seen, what he'd thought. And I began by asking him why he had come to Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
PENN: My position here is on the most -- in the most personal sense I feel as somebody who considers himself a patriot, considers himself obligated to my fellow he citizens, as a person of -- who has experienced privileges, who's prospered as a citizen of the United States, that I have -- that I will be partly responsible as a citizen who deserves the government that he gets -- and I do believe that -- that if I am to be partly responsible, which I will accept and if there is going to be blood on my hands, be it the blood of American soldiers or of Iraqis, be they military or civilian, that -- to live with myself, I don't want that blood to be invisible. I want to it have a human face on both sides. And so, that is entirely -- at the moment the purpose of this trip, to make human what I have not been able to find human in the media in the United States at this stage.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Was there any single image or single event here that really helped catalyze your interest in Iraq?
PENN: Single event here prior to my arrival? Well, again, I would just -- I would just, you know, repeat what I just said. It's this -- the impending doom that is consistently saturating our consciousness in the United States on this issue. So it -- like I think most Americans, most people in the world right now, it's as present as it gets.
ROBERTSON: You went to the children's hospital. That was your choice in the beginning. How did that make you feel?
PENN: Again, I -- you know, it's very moving to be at a children's hospital anywhere where you have these innocent, little people so sick. And as it plays to the context of the political situation, I'm trying to just absorb it with everything else that I'm experiencing here.
ROBERTSON: It is a very political situation and there will be people in the United States who will say, "Look, you've come here but you're only seeing a limited view of the country and that you're being perhaps manipulated by the government here. Is that the case?
PENN: I would say that the reason I came here is because I was seeing a limited perception of the country by, you know, what I feel is a talk -- kind of dominantly talking head media in the United States that, in many cases, it seems to have a bias that just never made sense to me, humanly -- a little more understanding on both levels while being here. And I think that it's, you know, a necessary thing as an American to do if you don't feel that you're understanding it as it's presented there.
ROBERTSON: Have you broken down any of those preconceptions from the people you've met?
PENN: I think that very cautiously I have. Again, it's something that I wouldn't want to analyze myself yet because I think it's going to take me some time to put the pieces of this trip together and see how much valid new information I have, you know, in my own gut.
ROBERTSON: You met with the Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Do you have any insights from that meeting?
PENN: The insight that I would have and I think for to it to be productive, I would hope that this would not be a political commentary on my part, but more a human commentary -- is that not surprisingly the meeting with him I felt would have been much more productively served by more knowledgeable diplomats representing the United States and that that is one of the things that I would hope to encourage, is more communication.
ROBERTSON: This is a very, very important time for the Iraqi government as they try and build support for their position. Do you fear that you can be used as a political tool by them?
PENN: Well, I cannot tell you that I didn't' feel I was being used as a passive political pawn in other circumstances prior to coming here and that by that, I don't necessarily mean administratively, but in terms of again media saturation that just seemed to be an incomplete picture to me. And if I -- I don't believe that my positions or my intentions or that I'm, you know, somebody who was born last night in terms of cautiousness about that, that I will anything but offer some additional insights into the debate.
ROBERTSON: When you return to the United States, what bits of the picture are you going to be able to fill in for people that they're not getting at the moment?
PENN: Well, that's hard to say. It's also something, you know, I would be cautious to presume that I'm going to fill in for others. The first stage of this trip is to fill in for me where I was not able to understand based on the information available.
ROBERTSON: Do you feel you'll be making more return trips here?
PENN: I wouldn't rule out anything.
ROBERTSON: If you would do that, what would you be trying to achieve? What would be your motivation?
PENN: Well, you know, again, this is -- in the question of whether or not there's going to be war and human lives involved, I look first to my own children and think, you know, what is the world that they're going to face either by response to direct action here or by some other resolve to the conflict. And so as I go along I can only listen to my own conscious and be able to share with them, both in terms of information and spirit what I learned.
ROBERTSON: Do you have a better insight into whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?
PENN: Absolutely not.
ROBERTSON: And you say when you go back home you want to evaluate what you've learned here. Do you feel that there have been some significant gains on your part? It's been a very great personal trip, but has it been valuable? Has it been worthwhile?
PENN: Has this trip been worthwhile? Yes, of course, it has.
ROBERTSON: In what way?
PENN: You know, I don't know. I -- In my professional life, I function on impressions and they tend to start here and work their way up. And when they get up there, I'll let you know.
ROBERTSON: Does that take a long time?
PENN: I don't put a particular timetable on it. And I would hope that a particular timetable isn't put on the resolve to this conflict here.
ROBERTSON: Now, Sean Penn says he wants to go home, think more about what he's seen, but he really wants to be very cautious about how he proceeds. He wants to see what the public reaction is going to be to his visit here -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, Nic, thank you very much.
Well, right now we're going to get reaction from at least one gentleman who's joining me now about Sean Penn's mission and his statements. President of the Foundation For Defensive Democracies, Cliff May.
Good to see you, Cliff.
CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSIVE DEMOCRACIES: Good to see you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, your first impressions?
MAY: Well, Sean Penn is participating in a long tradition. It's a tradition that Vladimir Lennon, the father of the Soviet Union defined. He called such people useful idiots. Throughout the 20th century, we have had people like Sean Penn defending dictators from Stalin to Hitler to Idian Amin (ph) to Slobodan Milosevic.
What Sean Penn doesn't seem to understand is that he's getting no insight by being in Baghdad for three days, driving around in a limousine, getting feeded on kabobs and rice and getting taken to children's hospitals where he's told you see all this is the result of the terrible Americans and sanctions they've imposed.
WHITFIELD: So it sounds like your opinion is he is being used even though he responded to that question that Nic asked him, that he felt like he was very educated upon embarking on his journey and he doesn't feel like he's been manipulated at all.
MAY: I would argue he is being duped. He is being willingly duped. If he wants to learn about Saddam Hussein, he needs to speak to dissidents, which he can't do there, but dissidents who are abroad and exiles. There's no way -- he needs -- what Saddam Hussein is not doing is taking him into the dungeons to see the political prisoners.
What he's not doing is letting him see the people that Saddam Hussein has punished by having their eyes gouged out, having their tongues cut out. He needs to go to the Kurdish areas of the north, which are not under Saddam's control, but are protected by Americans under the no-fly zone and understand that 182,000 Kurds were slaughtered by Saddam Hussein, whole villages wiped out, men, women and children by poison gas. None of that he's getting to see. If he thinks that people in the streets of Baghdad are going to come up to him and say in English, "Let me tell you the truth," he's really missing the whole idea of what goes on in a totalitarian country.
WHITFIELD: Do you think there's a significant problem with celebrities using their celebrity to perhaps gain access, to be the eyes for America, as he put it, you know, in very political and very emotional issues such as this one?
MAY: Well, they -- let me be very clear. They have every right to speak out. Every American has a right to speak out and I'm not criticizing that. I'm criticizing the fact that he is being a willing dupe of Saddam Hussein. I don't think he is learning anything by being there. I don't think there's anything he can know. And this does go back to a long tradition.
I remember being in Ethiopia during the great famine of the mid 80's. Celebrities came like crazy. I was a "New York Times" correspondent there. Some of them were very good, but a lot of them were saying, "Look at this, it's all America's fault. We're not giving enough aid because this is a Marxist government." They were being used. It's -- again, it's a long and noble tradition.
There's nobody around Sean Penn you can bet who says, "Sean, you don't know what you're talking about. You're naive and this is no way to go." The people around him are either going to pick up his laundry or they expect to be invited to the pool party next Saturday night. I don't fall into either category, so I'm happy to tell Sean Penn, you're being used. You're being duped. You're learning nothing by being in Baghdad. If you want to learn about this situation, I commend you. This is not the way to do it. You're giving aid and comfort to a mass murderer, one of the worst mass murderers we have seen in the last 50 years.
WHITFIELD: When you talk about Iraq specifically, this is a place where you don't see any celebrity, not just Sean Penn, but anyone does -- you know, really has no position or place, in your view, to get involved in this sort of debate.
MAY: Everybody should be involved in the debate. I have no question about that. Please be involved in the debate. And let me say, I think there are arguments that are pungent and that make -- and that one should listen to for not getting into a war with Iraq, although I would disagree with them. Everybody has that right.
What I am saying is that an actor from Hollywood going to visit with Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, going around with his minders in Baghdad, is learning nothing about the situation, learning nothing about the oppression of Saddam Hussein against his own people and the people of Kuwait, which he attacked, the people of Iran, which he attacked. He's also killed people in Saudi Arabia. He's also killed people in Israel.
WHITFIELD: Self-promotion is the only motivation you see that Sean Penn has?
MAY: No, no, no. I think he means well. I think he's well intentioned. I think he's incredibly naive and I don't think he understands the situation at all. And I think he's been mislead and misguided. I don't think it's a matter of self-promotion. I really don't. I think he's been mislead and he's making a mistake by giving aid and comfort to one of the worst dictators in the world today over the past 50 years.
WHITFIELD: All right, Cliff May of the Foundation For Defense of Democracies. Thanks very much for joining us from Washington.
MAY: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, we're going to take a short break right now. We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott apologized to the nation and told them that racism is the stain of the nation's soul. Still, the calls for his resignation seem to get louder. In his hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi, our Gary Tuchman is keeping an eye on things there.
Gary, what's the reaction there?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right now, Fredricka, we have been talking to many people here in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the reaction from Trent Lott supporters typically that we're hearing over the last 15 minutes is perhaps Don Nickles is doing this because he's opportunistic. Of course, Senator Nickles would be one of the favorites to assume the Senate majority post if indeed Trent Lott no longer had it. But there are certainly other people in the community, particularly members of the African-American community, who like the fact that Senator Nickles is saying that.
We are in Pascagoula. You know it's his hometown because of where we're standing right now. This gives you an idea of how revered his is in Mississippi and in this town by many people. We're standing in front of the Trent Lott Middle School, home of the Trent Lott Panthers. There's actually a bust of Trent Lott behind us in that fenced in area over there. The school was dedicated in 1996. There's also a Trent Lott airport here. And he's very revered by many members of the community.
But it's very important to point out that here, as in other parts of the United States, there is split opinion, particularly, as I said, among members of the African-American community. We've spent some time talking to people particularly the night after he made his comments, his news conference here in Pascagoula. We went to a tavern with a mostly white clientele. Virtually everybody there had very strong words of support for Trent Lott. We then went to a tavern with a mostly African-American clientele and virtually, everyone there felt the man was insensitive and should not be leading the U.S. Senate.
But so far, initial indications are we have a split among people about these latest words. Trent Lott, for his part, is laying very low. We expect him to leave Pascagoula and go to Washington tomorrow to appear on black entertainment television, where we suppose that will be a major question -- what he thinks about what Senator Nickles has said.
Fredricka, back to you.
WHITFIELD: And Gary, with Senator Nickles now of course saying that he thinks it's the time that Trent Lott step down, the congressional black caucus has been making their voices known over the past few days, in the past week, in fact, really reiterating the same thing. They were the first, in terms of a major brew, saying that Trent Lott needs to step down. The reaction there from Pascagoula you said has been along racial lines?
TUCHMAN: Largely it has. I think that's fair to say. And what you have here in a place like Pascagoula, Mississippi, frankly, you're much more likely to see whites and blacks together in taverns in places like Chicago, New York, Washington, Miami, Atlanta. Here in Pascagoula it's very rare for the races to socialize in bars. So we literally see that. We go to bars. There are all white people. Most of them support Lott. We go to bars where there are all black people. Most of them don't support Trent Lott.
WHITFIELD: All right, Gary Tuchman, from Pascagoula, Mississippi, thank you very much.
Well, coming up in 60 minutes, Iraq inspections, North Korea missiles and war games. Republican Senator John Warner, former secretary of the Navy and Christopher Dodd, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, are among Wolf Blitzer's guests on "LATE EDITION". That's at noon Eastern, 9:00 Pacific. The news continues in a moment.
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