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Bush Holds News Conference on Iraq, 9/11 Commission; Interview With Richard Ben-Veniste

Aired April 11, 2004 - 12:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. I'm Candy Crowley, sitting in for Wolf Blitzer, who is off today.
The president of the United States is about to talk to us about both Iraq and 9/11.


It's our honor to have celebrated this holy day with family members, loved ones in Iraq. Fort Hood has made a mighty contribution to freedom in Iraq, security for the country. I value my time with the family members and those who have sacrificed on behalf of the country.

Today I ask for God's blessings for our troops overseas, and that he protect them, and may he continue to bless our country.

I'll answer a couple of questions.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. We're coming off a week in which dozens of American soldiers have died. We've seen images of incredible violence and chaos. Should Americans brace for weeks and months of this? Do you expect it to abate soon?

And also, what's General Abizaid telling you about how many more troops he needs, if any?

BUSH: Yes, I've spoken with General Abizaid twice in the last four or five days. He knows full well that when he speaks to me, that if he needs additional manpower, he can ask for it.

He believes like I believe, that this violence we've seen is a part of a few people trying to stop the progress toward democracy. Fallujah, south of Baghdad, these incidents were basically thrust upon the innocent Iraqi people by gangs, violent gangs.

And our troops are taking care of business. Their job is to make Iraq more secure so that a peaceful Iraq can emerge. And they're doing a great job.

And it was a tough week last week. And my prayers and thoughts are with those who paid the ultimate price for our security. A free Iraq will make the world more peaceful. A free Iraq is going to change the world.

And it's been tough. And our troops are performing brilliantly and bravely.

QUESTION: Do you think it's going to end soon?

BUSH: It's hard to tell. I just know this, that we're plenty tough. And we'll remain tough.

Now, listen, obviously we're open-minded to suggestions. Members of the Governing Council wanted a chance to move into Fallujah and see if they could bring some order to the gangs and violence. And, as you can tell, our military is giving them a chance to do so.

Obviously I pray every day there's less casualty. But I know what we're doing in Iraq is right. It's right for the long-term peace. It's right for the security of our country. And it's hard work.

And today, on bended knee, I thanked the good Lord for protecting those of our troops overseas, and our coalition troops, and innocent Iraqis who suffer at the hands of some of these senseless killings by people who are trying to shake our will.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. President, could you tell us, did you see the president's daily brief from August of '01 as a warning?

BUSH: Did I see it? Of course I saw it. I asked for it.

QUESTION: No, no, I'm sorry, did you see it as a warning of hijackers, and how did you respond to that?

BUSH: My response was exactly like then as it is today. That I asked for the Central Intelligence Agency to give me an update on any terrorist threats. And the PDB was no indication of a terrorist threat. There was not a time and place of an attack.

And it was -- it said Osama bin Laden had designs on America. Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to?

As you might recall, there were some specific threats for overseas that we reacted to. And as the president, I wanted to know whether there was anything -- any actionable intelligence.

And I looked at the August 6th briefing. I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.

But that PDB said nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America. Well, we knew that. Yes, Dave?

QUESTION: But, to follow up on that, Mr. President, there was, in that PDB, specific information about activity that may speak to a larger battle plan, even if it wasn't specific.

So I wonder if you could say what specifically was done. And do you think your administration should have done anything more?

BUSH: David, look, let me just say it again. Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack. I would have done everything I can. My job is to protect the American people.

And I asked the intelligence agency to analyze the data to tell me whether or not we faced a threat internally, like they thought we had faced a threat in other parts of the world. That's what the PDB request was. And had there been actionable intelligence, we would have moved on it.

I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to in the PDB, but if you're referring to the fact that the FBI was investigating things, that's great. That's what we expect the FBI to do.

QUESTION: But wasn't that current threat information? That wasn't historical. That was ongoing.

BUSH: Right. And had they found something, they would have reported to me. We were doing precisely what the American people expect us to do, run down every lead, look at every scintilla of intelligence and follow up on it.

But there was -- you know, again, I can't say this plainly as this. Had I known, we would have acted. Of course, we would have acted. Any administration would've acted. The previous administration would've acted. That's our job.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied, though, that each agency was doing everything it should have been doing?

BUSH: Well, that's what the 9/11 Commission should look into, and I hope it does. It's an important part of the assignment of the 9/11 Commission. And I look forward to their recommendations, a full analysis of what took place.

I'm satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America at a time and a place of an attack.

Of course we knew that America was hated by Osama bin Laden. I mean, that's -- that was obvious. The question was, you know, who was going to attack us, when and where, and with what?

And you might recall the hijacking that was referred to in the PDB. It was not the hijacking of an airplane to fly into a building.

QUESTION: You, too.

BUSH: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Once again, we want to orient you, that is the president. He was at Fort Hood, Texas. Still is there, as far as we know. He is, in fact, visiting the troops there for Easter Sunday.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has reaction now. She is at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Suzanne, the first time we've heard the president talk about that daily briefing. Did you pick up anything new, as regards that August briefing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was certainly interesting that he avoided the question, when asked whether he was fully satisfied there was a follow-up, he said -- or anything could have been done, he said that he was, but then he also put that task on the 9/11 Commission, saying that's their job, they'll find out what other types of things could have been done, which agencies would have been involved in actually getting the kind of information that was needed to predict or prevent a September 11th.

But the president maintains that there was nothing that he knew, that the information wasn't specific enough to foresee that attack coming.

What was interesting, as well, the comments on Iraq, it has become very clear that this administration feels that it has to do two things: That it has to show that the president is involved, that he is countering the perception that perhaps he is removed or out of touch. He is visiting with those troops. He is talking about the suffering and loss after this week.

And then secondly, that he has to really convince the American people to maintain with this strategy inside of Iraq, that it is the right thing to do.

We know that this week he's going to be meeting with major allies, three world leaders, the leader of Egypt, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israel's Ariel Sharon. All of these men very important players when it comes to solidifying that international support in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Now, Suzanne, let me ask you, getting back to that, the briefing that the president got, how much political damage does the White House think it's suffered through that memo, through the 9/11 hearings? Politically, how do they view this?

MALVEAUX: Well, there are certainly some commissioners who have been vocal about that brief. They say that they feel the administration, if you look at it, yes, there were some specifics, there were some vague references, but they believe that the administration had enough information about bin Laden's intentions and his capabilities that, at the very least, the administration could have issued some sort of warning to the public saying that an attack was possible. There are others who take the other view and say, well, there's nothing in this brief.

I think what the 9/11 Commission is going to do is try their best to answer the question whether or not, in totality, with that brief, and some of the other agencies, some of the other warnings, if there was something the administration, had they connected the dots, been able to do to prevent the September 11th attacks.

The White House clearly saying that they're not responsible for this. We heard last week, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice acknowledging that she thought it was structural problems that dated back several administrations.

CROWLEY: Our Suzanne Malveaux in Crawford, covering the president this Easter weekend.

Now to Iraq. Although a cease-fire between U.S. Marines and Iraqi insurgents appears to be holding in the city of Fallujah, there is also more grim news. A U.S. Apache helicopter was shot down today, its two crew members killed.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is following all the developments from Baghdad.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy. Yes, I'm sure that President Bush, during his visit to Fort Hood, Texas, today would have been fully briefed on that helicopter crash. It was an Apache helicopter, attack helicopter, that was from the First Cavalry Division. They're based out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Senior coalition spokesman here, General Mark Kimmitt, told us that both pilots on board that helicopter were killed when it was brought down by fire from Iraqi insurgents during a battle for control of the major highway that leads west out of Baghdad, out through the desert toward Jordan.

Now a little further west than where that helicopter went down, of course, the city of Fallujah, a city of around 300,000 people, where over the last six days there's been very intense fighting between Iraqi insurgents and U.S. Marines.

Over the last 12 hours or so, we have heard that there's a tentative cease-fire in place, and members of the Iraqi Governing Council have been trying to broker some kind of political settlement there, or certainly have made efforts to extend the cease-fire.

U.S. Marine sources, though, on the ground do tell us there has been sporadic exchanges of gunfire during the day. And we understand that two Marines have been wounded, and possibly one Iraqi insurgent has been killed.

But General Kimmitt has told us Marines will not pulling out of that city, as the insurgents have demanded. They will be holding positions in case they have to storm insurgent positions and opt for a military, not a political, solution. Candy?

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. CNN's Karl Penhaul in Baghdad, watching that ever-changing conditions in Iraq. We thank you very much.

We will be back right after this. We will be here with the 9/11 commissioner Ben-Veniste. Thank you.


CROWLEY: U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission this week shifted the spotlight to that August 2001 presidential daily briefing, the PDB that's now been declassified.

Joining us to talk about the September 11th investigation is 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste.

Welcome to "LATE EDITION."


CROWLEY: You're having another busy week and starting another busy one, I know.


CROWLEY: What do you make of what's in this memo? Have you learned something? Was there something in it we didn't know was there?

BEN-VENISTE: Yes, very much so. When we first talked to Dr. Rice in February of this year, we did not have access to the PDB, at least seven out of the 10 commissioners did not have access to it. So this was our first opportunity to question Dr. Rice about it, and frankly, I didn't know whether it was our last opportunity to question her about it.

So it was very important that we received information about the title of the PDB as well as its contents. It provided information updating on the possibility that the strike, which was anticipated by bin Laden, could occur in the United States.

There was a lot of focus overseas, but the CIA author of this PDB, by stressing the fact that bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States, and was telling the president that we ought to look here as well.

And then provided a substantial amount of information as late as May of 2001, suggesting, among other things, that al Qaeda cells were in the United States and that individuals in those cells were behaving in a way consistent with possible hijackings.

CROWLEY: Now, had not the Clinton administration also received similar warnings that there were al Qaeda cells within the U.S.? And was it not public knowledge, in fact, that people were worried about planes? It is not new at that moment to the United States of America as opposed to the president.

BEN-VENISTE: Well, that's an interesting question, because Dr. Rice amended her earlier statement, where she said no one could have thought of the use of planes as missiles, to say she did not think about it, which is itself interesting because during the G-8 meeting in Genoa, there was a cap, a no-fly zone put over Genoa. And I think the reason for that was a possibility of suicide flights crashing into those buildings.

CROWLEY: To the specific question, though, of did not the Clinton administration have similar briefings about al Qaeda cells within the U.S.? This would have been nothing new to U.S. intelligence agencies. It might have been the first time that the president had seen this. But that the Clinton administration had also had similar briefings, correct?

BEN-VENISTE: Quite clearly, during the millennium period, there was a high alert period. And the Clinton administration, as Dr. Clarke said, went to battle stations. They convened the Cabinet. They shook the trees. They made sure that all of the information in the agencies, which traditionally did not talk to each other, was pushed up to the decision-makers. And in fact, the plot to blow up LAX was interrupted, and al Qaeda cells in Brooklyn and Boston were rolled up.

CROWLEY: I want to play you just a byte from James Thompson, who is a fellow commission member, and what he had to say.

BEN-VENISTE: And a good friend.


JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: This is not something that would have triggered anything in anybody's mind, from the president of the United States on down, about the possibility of September 11th.


CROWLEY: So he's says, look, you know, no one could have looked at this memo and thought, oh boy, 9/11 -- this shouldn't have triggered anything in anybody's mind. But you seem to be saying something different.

BEN-VENISTE: Well, quite clearly, this is not a silver bullet. I don't think the silver-bullet question is the right way to look at this.

Had we had information that was specific about an attack -- where it was going to occur, when it was going to occur, what the methods that might be used -- then if we had failed to prevent 9/11 under those circumstances, it would have been a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.

CROWLEY: But do you agree with the general premise, there was nothing in that that could have told the president, or anyone else for that matter, that a 9/11-type activity was imminent?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, look, here's what we knew in the context. The context was, we had a summer of extraordinary threat level, that bin Laden was saying that a calamitous event, a spectacular event would occur, that this...

CROWLEY: But could they have known from this memo that 9/11 was going to happen?

BEN-VENISTE: They didn't know that 9/11 was going to happen, but I think the author of this memo was alerting to the president to the possibility that the strike that we were all anticipating in the summer of 2001 might well occur within the United States. And the information about activities of sleeper cells, potentially leading to hijackings...

CROWLEY: I guess my point is, had they not had similar warnings in the Clinton administration? Were there not things in this administration sent out to the FAA, sort of warning them that this was coming around again?

I mean, can you make the case that both presidents didn't pay as much attention to these sorts of things as we now, in retrospect, think they should have?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I'm not really going to compare it. It's apples and oranges. It wasn't the same environment. That clearly the millennium plots, thank God, were interrupted. That LAX was not blown up, as Ressam intended and as al Qaeda had hoped. So, we're talking about the threat situation in the summer of 2001.

And I think it's a good thing if we have, by the commission's questions and requests to declassify this document, advanced the public knowledge, which is, after all, what these hearings are intended to do.

Sharp questioning or focused questioning is not an indication of partisanship. It is an indication of our determination to bring the truth forward.

CROWLEY: Well, I want to ask you about that in a second, but I also want to read -- the Wall Street Journal had an editorial Friday that I want to put up there and ask you about.

"A 9/11 commission interested in making a lasting contribution to U.S. security ought to be focusing on the need for proactive policies at home and abroad, rather than obsessing over the level of urgency within the pre-9/11 Bush administration."

It does seem, to those watching, that that was the key thing now, is like, what did you know, and when did you know it? We're hearing that Watergate kind of language, which is very familiar to you, I know.

And, you know, is that the point, really? Isn't the point, what are you doing now? BEN-VENISTE: Candy, you've got to look at what our obligations are under the statute that created the 9/11 Commission. They're twofold.

The first is to provide a full and complete accounting of what happened before 9/11. How was it that we were unable to prevent the worst catastrophe in American history, on American soil?

The second part is to provide recommendations that will make us safer. By learning the information, we can use that information to make recommendations going forward.

Our examples are the Pearl Harbor Commission and the Warren Commission. The Pearl Harbor Commission got it wrong. It didn't dig deep enough. It didn't get information regarding intercepted messages that we had in our possession. The Warren Commission had been criticized because it was so much behind closed doors that all these conspiracy theories have existed since.

We want to learn by that example. Our only focus, our obligation, is not in temporal partisan politics. It is in producing a credible report that the American public can rely upon.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the partisanship. You've got people in there applauding -- with the Rice testimony -- applauding your questions, sort of low-level hisses and boos to some of her answers. You have what, for you, was very gentle questioning of Richard Clarke and some very intense questioning of Condi Rice.

When this all gets put together in June, and the report is issued the same week as the Democratic convention starts, are the American people going to look at this as a partisan report?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I hope they won't, because it's not. Richard Clarke's testimony was consistent with our wonderful staff of 60 full- time professionals' conclusions.

And there wasn't a lot of error, other than the business about his book, where he was attacking the president's decision to invade Iraq. Now, that decision is not within our purview. And we did not question about it.

The questions put to Dr. Rice, in my view, were with respect to new information that we had received about which she had not been questioned and might not be questioned again in the future.

CROWLEY: So you wanted to get at it? This wasn't a matter of party to you?

BEN-VENISTE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CROWLEY: OK, I have to leave it there, I'm sorry. Richard Ben- Veniste, commissioner, 9/11 Commission, back at work next week. Thank you very much.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you very much, Candy. CROWLEY: We appreciate it.

We wanted to tell our viewers some good news out of Iraq. The British hostage, Gary Teeley, has been released to coalition forces. CNN has confirmed that it's a British father of five. He had been missing. But now apparently, according to sources -- and the British foreign ministry, actually, has announced that, in fact, he has been released to coalition forces.

We'll be back right after this.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We want to continue talking about Iraq and the 9/11 Commission with two leading senators. Joining me now, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators, thank you so much for being here.

I want to move, first of all, right into Iraq and what's happening on the ground. I look at this, and I see troops that aren't able to continue with their rotations, to rotate out. I see that we are using National Guard for longer periods than we've ever used them. I see that there are a lot of fronts we seem to be battling on.

I think a normal person sitting out there would say, "Well, why don't we send in more troops?" Senator McConnell?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, first, let's remember what a great success we've had to date since 9/11. We've liberated Afghanistan, liberated Iraq. There are 50 million people living in freedom who were not living in freedom a few years ago.

Sure, this has been a difficult week. And there may be, as indicated by the president this morning, the possibility of additional troops. But the main additional troops need to be Iraqi troops.

General Petraeus, the current commander of the 101st, is going over to Iraq to personally take charge of continuing the effort to build and train the Iraqi military. And obviously, ultimately, we want the more troops to come from the Iraq -- from the Iraqis themselves.

Although, finally, let me point out, there are roughly 30 countries that have 22,000 troops there, other than Americans. So we're not in this all by ourselves.

CROWLEY: You're absolutely correct. This is a coalition effort of the willing, as George Bush has called it.

Senator Nelson, let me talk to you about what Senator Mitchell just said, and that is: Do you think passing some of this over to -- Senator McConnell just said.

I'm sorry, Senator McConnell.

Senator Nelson, do you think that the Iraqi troops are capable of taking over some of this? We're hearing reports now that some of them don't want to fight fellow Iraqis. Is there an interim answer of more U.S. troops, more coalition troops?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: They're not prepared now, Candy.

As a matter of fact, in the battle for Fallujah last week, the Iraqi civilian defense force melted away, away from the Marines. They've had sporadic reliability on that defense force all over Iraq.

But your question to Mitch was whether or not the United States should have additional troops. And my answer to that is, yes. Whatever the commanders on the ground want is what they should have.

We're all in this together, Candy. We are there to continue to preserve the freedom of these people. We are there to provide for as much the safety of our U.S. men and women, but we are also there to make this a success.

Because, at the end of the day, we have to be successful. Otherwise Iraq is going to be convulsed into civil war. That's going to lead to a vacuum. That vacuum is going to be filled by terrorists. That doesn't do anybody in Europe, the region or the United States any good.

CROWLEY: Senator McConnell, on another question on the June 30th deadline to hand over power to some Iraqi entity, how feasible is that?

MCCONNELL: I think it's important, because I think turning the country over to some Iraqi body is important in making it clear to the dissidents that we're not there to run the country.

And let me say, Bill is exactly right. Failure's not an option. Iraq is going to be a success story, like Japan and Germany and South Korea. We're going to make this...

CROWLEY: Do you run a risk, though, Senator, if you turn that power over, and they are unable to control a country that right now is having a lot of problem spots, do you run the danger that the whole thing dissolves into the civil war we're trying to avoid?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think it depends on a definition of what we're talking about here. We're talking about control of the country's government apparatus. Obviously, they can't handle the security. They're not ready to handle the security. That's why, you know, we're doing that, along with our coalition partners.

But in terms of the civilian control of the country, we need to go beyond the CPA to the next level, which will then lead to the constitution and then lead to the election. And that deadline needs to be kept, because a lot of the Iraqis -- and you can understand this -- they don't like to be occupied. I can understand that. We wouldn't like to be occupied. They have sort of mixed views about that. They know they need us, but they wish we'd leave. And I think this is an important, symbolic handover that happens on the 30th, as we move further down the road to Iraqi self-government.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, I want to move on to the 9/11 first, but I want to give you a chance on this deadline. Do you see an entity out there for the U.S. to hand over the structure of the government to?

NELSON: Well, who is Ambassador Bremer going to hand it over to? What authority is going to be there?

The other day we were talking to some of the people that were doing the interrogation of the high-valued detainees. They absolutely did not know what authority they were going to have after June the 30th to continue those interrogation of those detainees. There is not sufficient information as to what is going to happen.

And I think, you know, it's great if we can do it June the 30th. But if we're not ready on June the 30th to turn it over, what's the goal? The goal is to stabilize Iraq. That's what we should keep in mind.

CROWLEY: Senator McConnell, let me turn back now to this, to the 9/11 Commission. The Bush administration has now released this presidential daily brief given in August before the 9/11 attacks.

As you see that brief, is there anything in there that suggests to you that somebody was asleep at the switch?

MCCONNELL: No. And let me say, I'm disappointed at least in some members of the 9/11 Commission. I mean, the questioning of Dr. Rice by at least one of the members was if she were a criminal defendant.

I thought we were going to have a commission that operated on a bipartisan basis, that sought to get at, you know, what failings there were. And, clearly, there were plenty of them during the eight years of the Clinton administration and the 200-and-some-odd-days of the Bush administration, without all the sort of stridency that some of them exhibited the other day.

With regard to the PDB itself, there's nothing remarkable about that. We knew since the original World Trade Center attack in 1993 that al Qaeda was going to attack us here at home. We knew that there were sleeper cells in the country. There's nothing particularly remarkable about what that briefing paper on August the 6th said. It restated a lot of things that we already knew.

And there was nothing in there about a specific attack on a specific target. As the president indicated just a few moments ago, obviously, if he had seen something like that, and President Clinton, if he had seen something like that, would have acted immediately.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, as you read that memo to the president, do you see anything in it that you think, "Boy, they should have been all over that, they should have called, you know, X or Y or Z"?

NELSON: Candy, I mean, if you are having a brief that is entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.," and then it lays out specific things -- that al Qaeda is in the U.S., that in fact they are surveilling New York buildings, the fact that they are talking about suspicious activity about hijacking airplanes -- you would think that that would raise enough caution flags that you would haul in the FBI, that you'd put out an all-points bulletin...

CROWLEY: But, Senator, if I could, let me just interrupt you here, because part of this brief to the president did say, "The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related."

So, doesn't that say to you that they were, in fact, looking at these things in what seems to me -- 70 investigations sounds sort of large to me, and that in fact Mr. Ben-Veniste, as you know, as a commissioner said that, you know, all of this kind of information had also been available to the Clinton administration?

NELSON: And the question is, if there were 70 investigations, why didn't the White House ask what those investigations were, run up the caution flag?

And, Candy, that would have brought forth then the Phoenix FBI report that said there are Muslim extremists, in fact, out here learning how to fly airplanes, and we are concerned that they are headed toward commercial aircraft.

And then that would have alerted the Minneapolis FBI, who sent that e-mail in the middle of August, said, "Alert the Secret Service, because this guy, who we've just detained, could have gotten on an airliner from London to New York, and have had enough fuel to go all the way to D.C."

That would have brought up all those reports.

CROWLEY: Senator McConnell, as I read Senator Nelson, it's, boy, if they'd just called the right people, and if the FBI had just done its job, this could have been averted.

MCCONNELL: Look, Dick Clarke said, when the Bush administration came in, he sat down and told them what they ought to do. If they had followed every single one of his recommendations, he said the attack would not have been prevented. This is Dick Clarke.

Look, we need to remember who caused the attack on 9/11. It was al Qaeda. It wasn't President Clinton, it wasn't President Bush. Anybody who had known of the specifics of that would have acted immediately to try to stop it.

All of this Monday-morning quarterbacking, it's great that you can always look good on Monday when it happened the day before. Al Qaeda carried out this attack. Dick Clarke said, if everything he had recommended had been adopted by the Bush administration, the attack would have still been successful. What I'm waiting for the 9/11 Commission to do is to stop the finger-pointing and give us specific recommendations about how we can improve the structure in the future, to make it more possible this won't happen again.

NELSON: Candy, may I say a word about that?

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, I'd love to have you do it, if you'll promise to come back next time and say it. We are running out of time here, and have got some news coming up. So, I have to cut you off, but please come back.

Senator Nelson of Florida and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, thank you both.

NELSON: Thanks, Candy.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, a pair of former top presidential aides offer different perspectives about what's happening behind the scenes at the Bush White House.

And later, is Iraq on the path to democracy or civil war? We'll talk with that country's ambassador to the United States.

"LATE EDITION" continues after the break.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

From the start, President Bush has had a reputation of running a highly disciplined administration, one with tight control over the messages it wants conveyed to the public. But the 9/11 investigation may be forcing the Bush White House to address certain issues on terms other than those of its own choosing.

Joining us now from Boynton Beach, Florida, is C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House counsel to the first President Bush. Here in Washington, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. He is also the author of a new book, "Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush."

Gentlemen, thank you both so much for being here.



CROWLEY: Let me ask you first, Mr. Dean, why is it worse? Under what circumstances is it worse?

DEAN: Well, I guess the bottom line, Candy, is really the secrecy is the issue that runs through the book. And why the whole story that I unraveled in some 200 pages is worse is that nobody died during Watergate. We're having deaths as a result of the consequences of these actions.

CROWLEY: So, do you take the point, Mr. Gray, that, in fact, because of so much secrecy, people have been dying because the policies haven't been out there in the open? Is there such a thing as too secretive an administration, and is this it?

GRAY: Well, I don't, frankly, see the link between secrecy and any of the deaths. I suppose you could argue about whether it was wise to go into Iraq or not. But I think that both parties would have done the same thing. I think President Clinton would have done the same thing. Certainly, his view of Saddam in the late 1990s indicates that.

And I think that after 17 U.N. resolutions were defied, any administration would have done what they have done. They might have done it differently, but I don't see where the secrecy comes in about this.

CROWLEY: And isn't this another way -- I think that what he's saying is, is this another way to criticize the Bush administration -- well, they're so secret?

DEAN: What I find -- I hadn't planned this book. I do a biweekly column. And I was watching the administration, reporting on it occasionally. And I really tried to send up some flares, saying maybe they don't realize the path they're going down, because it was a path I was very familiar with from my days in the Nixon White House. And the more I looked at it, the more apparent it was this is a policy and not a mistaken path they're on.

And it is a policy of secrecy that really runs across the board. It's domestic. It's foreign. There's been an exploitation of national security issues to further the secrecy. And there is almost no area it doesn't touch in this administration.

CROWLEY: Mr. Gray, would you go along with that characterization of it, if you didn't link it to what's going on in Iraq? Has this seemed to you to be an extraordinarily secretive administration?

GRAY: Well, I think the administration's gotten a bad rap, stemming early on from the Cheney task force and their resistance to certain demands for documents. I think it's given an unfortunately misleading impression.

The case that's now about to be argued in the Supreme Court is highly complex, convoluted. I don't know that the public will be able to understand it. As a lawyer, I have a hard time figuring out the procedural posture of it.

But most people know, the public knows, exactly what happened in that task force, what the recommendations were, and what's happened to them. There's a principle involved that they're trying to protect. They may have won the victory but sort of lost the war politically. But there are, in fact, no secrets about that task force. And there really aren't that many secrets. Look at the 9/11 Commission. The revelations that have been made to this commission, including the PDBs that have been made available and now made public, are unprecedented, absolutely unprecedented.

And the president's going to appear before the commission. Remember, that President Johnson refused to appear before the Warren Commission.

The openness and the cooperation has been unprecedented. They haven't gotten good press about it, but it has been unprecedented, as well as Dr. Rice's testimony.

DEAN: I have to dispute what you're saying. There are so many instances, and I catalogued them, and I really didn't try to make the entire laundry list. I tried to establish a prima facia case that this is a serious issue with this administration in every facet.

Boyden mentions the energy task force. That's just one of countless examples. For example, gutting the 1978 Presidential Records Act -- uncalled for, unnecessary.

CROWLEY: But look at the things that are being mentioned here -- energy council.

DEAN: Well, let's just take the 9/11 report. There's an example of waiting to the last minute until politically they're forced to release a document which should have been released much earlier.

CROWLEY: Well, politically maybe it should have been released much earlier, but isn't there a principle here that...

DEAN: I mean, practically speaking, it should have.

CROWLEY: But how about the principle?

DEAN: Between you, me and if -- Boyden may disagree with this, it's a great thing for a president to keep secrets, and this separation-of-power argument has always been a wonderful one to try to keep the Congress and even the courts out of the executive branch. There is a principle there. But it also can be abused.

CROWLEY: Mr. Gray, since you take the opposite look on this, do you wish that the Bush administration had stuck to its guns on some of these things? Is there such a thing as setting a precedent that is now going to come back and haunt future presidents?

GRAY: Well, I think there may be a precedent that may come back and haunt. I was sort of troubled by a column by David Broder a couple of weeks ago in The Washington Post -- he's the dean of the sort of political columnists in the country -- saying that the Bush White House should not have let Condi Rice testify. Well, he wasn't among the forefront of those of protecting that testimony before she testified.

So yes, I think there could be a precedent adverse. But this is a highly unusual event. It's an unusual commission to begin with. And of course, 9/11 is extremely unusual. Hopefully it will never happen again. So I think it's perfectly appropriate for her to testify.

But her testimony was unprecedented. And the openness of the administration has been unprecedented.

And the title of this president's daily brief, which has caused some stir in the last week, was actually revealed by Ari Fleischer two years ago. It's not been a secret for two years what this memo dealt with and what its title was.

DEAN: Let's come back to the very fact there is a commission. The reason there's a commission is because, as John McCain said, the Congress, with its joint inquiry -- which was a very clever thing for Cheney to get up and have a joint inquiry, which are the least effective inquiries in Congress -- they were slow-walked and stonewalled. And the family demanded they wanted more. That's why we have this commission.

CROWLEY: Isn't that how Washington works, really? Aren't you just talking about...

DEAN: But on some issues...

CROWLEY: ... you know, everybody tries to guard their territory and this guy gives a little and this guy gives a little, and eventually there you are?

DEAN: It would be true in this sense: If they hadn't drawn the line in the sand so early, but yet simultaneously abused information and used it for political purposes, when...

CROWLEY: Such as?

DEAN: Well, when Clinton left town, the midnight pardons were the issue. When Dan Burton learned that Clinton was saying that the reason he pardoned Mark Rich was because of conversations with the prime minister of Israel, Barak, Burton wanted tapes of the conversations. He'd learned that heads of state tape each other. Those have never been released.

George Bush released those for purely political purposes, to try to hurt Clinton. And then, only part of them. And when Clinton asked they all be released, Bush said, "No, I'm taking executive privilege on them."

That's an abuse and misuse of information, and it's a part of the secrecy policy.

CROWLEY: Mr. Gray, can there, in your mind, be too much secrecy? Has there been an administration out there that you thought was secret about things it shouldn't be secret about?

GRAY: Well, I think, with all due respect to John Dean, one of the problems that we face today with information sharing between the CIA and the FBI stems back to the secrecy and the sort of conspiratorial part of the Nixon administration. The Church committee hearings and the Pike Commission, those things have to do with a lot of the fallout of Watergate. And we've been stuck with rules and practices and procedures that have separated the FBI from the CIA. And the fallout and the long shot forward has been very, very damaging.

Sure, you can have too much secrecy, in a democracy especially. But I don't think this administration is really -- I think they've not played their hand very well, as I said in the Cheney task force. The public now knows everything that happened. Nothing was withheld. They're trying to maintain a principle in court, and they're paying a political price for it. But in fact, what happened is well-known.

CROWLEY: Mr. Gray, thank you very much. Former Bush administration official. We appreciate your time with us.

We appreciate your time with us as well, John Dean, author of the book, "Worse Than Watergate."

DEAN: That was a good filibuster on his part.


CROWLEY: Well, next time you come back, we'll let you filibuster.

Thanks very much, both of you.

Still to come, a conversation with family members of September 11th victims seeking answers about who in Washington knew what before the tragedy occurred.

And don't forget, "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week: Should the coalition push back the June 30th deadline to transfer power in Iraq? You can cast your vote at

We'll be right back.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Candy Crowley, in today for Wolf Blitzer.

We'll talk with Iraq's ambassador to the United States in just a few moments. But first, we want to go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for this hour's top stories.


CROWLEY: More now from Iraq and a day of mixed news. A U.S. Apache helicopter was shot down today. Its two crew members were killed. But a cease-fire between U.S. Marines and insurgents in the city of Fallujah appears to be holding.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Baghdad with details.

PENHAUL: Hi, Candy. U.S. military sources have been telling us that, for much of the morning, Iraqi insurgent forces and coalition troops battled for control of a major highway that leads west out of Baghdad, out through the desert toward Jordan.

During that battle, Iraqi insurgents shot down the U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter. Rescue crews did rush to the site, but we're told that the two crew members on board that $25 million helicopter were killed. Some vital equipment, though, was rescued from that wreckage.

A little further west from that crash site, the flash point city of Fallujah, that's been the site of very intense clashes between insurgent forces and U.S. Marines over the last six days. A tentative cease-fire brokered by the Iraqi Governing Council has been in place, though, for at least part of the day.

U.S. Marines on the ground, though, do say that there have been sporadic clashes, some sniper fire, and a few potshots from insurgent forces. And that has led to the wounding of two Marines and the death of one Iraqi insurgent. No sign, though, that U.S. Marines are going to cede to insurgent demands to pull out of that city.


CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Nic. I'm sorry -- thank you, Karl.

We want to move on now, though, to Nic Robertson. In the year since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has been chronicling the ups and the downs of a country undergoing dramatic change.

CROWLEY: His report, "Hope and Fear: Journeys in the New Iraq," airs on CNN tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Nic joins us now from Khost, Afghanistan, with a preview.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, this documentary is about six very different characters. We hear about their hopes, and through their daily lives we understand the issues that they face and, through that, the challenges that face Iraq now.

And what we're seeing, and what we've been seeing over the last week or so, are perhaps concerns, fears of some of the people we hear from in the documentary, fears that they have had, fears perhaps about the Shia clergy and what position they might take, fears about how meeting force with force may develop into larger confrontations, fears and concerns that perhaps the coalition is not going in the right direction.

Yet, at the same time, the hopes. Hopes that a new Iraq can be built, hopes that the coalition can help. We hear from a businessman in the north of Iraq, in the Kurdish area in the north, who's come back to build factories, employ hundreds of people.

But through this, the characters telling their stories will build a picture of Iraq as it is now, Candy. CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Nic Robertson, in Khost, Afghanistan. Must-see TV tonight at 8:00, "Hope and Fear: Journeys in the New Iraq," with Nic Robertson.

President Bush is spending this Easter in Texas, but he took some time out today to talk about that newly declassified presidential briefing memo he received in August 2001 about al Qaeda, as well as the situation in Iraq.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas.


MALVEAUX: Well, Candy, President Bush is spending part of his Easter Sunday in Fort Hood, Texas. That's where he attended church services, and he visited with troops, including 11 wounded soldiers, all 11 of those wounded in the recent Sadr City violence in Iraq. He also awarded 10 Purple Hearts.

But the president did take a moment to answer a few questions and gave a message to the troops, expressing sorrow and both resolve.


BUSH: It was a tough week last week, and my prayers and thoughts are with those who paid the ultimate price for our security.

A free Iraq will make the world more peaceful. A free Iraq is going to change the world.

And it's been tough. And our troops are performing brilliantly.


MALVEAUX: Now, this comes on a day when two soldiers from Fort Hood were killed in Iraq when their Apache helicopter was shot down earlier in the day.

And, Candy, as you know, of course, the president also facing questions and scrutiny about September 11th. It was yesterday that the White House released a once top-secret presidential daily brief that was given to the president one month before the September 11th terrorist attacks. The president saying that, despite that there were warnings, past warnings of bin Laden, as well as his intentions, he said there was no new information, no information regarding September 11th, and that there was simply nothing that his administration could have foreseen to prevent those attacks.


CROWLEY: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, spending Easter with the president in Crawford, Texas.

With just 81 days until the planned transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government, the political and security situation in Iraq is tenuous at best.

Joining us now to talk about what lies ahead for her country is Iraq's representative to the United States, Rend Al-Rahim.

Thank you so much for joining us here.


CROWLEY: I want to first ask you, what is going on here? We hear that the Sunnis and the Shias may be joining forces against the Americans. Give me your take on what's happening.

AL-RAHIM: First of all, I think the best news today is that, since yesterday, in fact, the situation has been much calmer, both in Fallujah and in Najaf. And the Iraqi Governing Council members and other political and social leaders in Iraq have been conducting negotiations with the people in Fallujah and with Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers in Najaf, and there appears to be a lessening of tensions. So this is extremely important.

The other important and significant fact is that we've had the Arbayeen, the 40th anniversary of Ashura, take place in Karbala with so far, thank God, no incident. We were all very fearful that the accumulation of so many people in Karbala on one day is going to be an open invitation for terrorism and also for discontent and so on. But everything has gone fine.

So we do have a situation that is far better today than it was two days ago.

I think, though, you asked me about -- to describe the situation. I think one of the things that we have to be aware of is that the distinction, a very clear distinction, must be made between rule-of- law issues that address criminal acts and people who are involved and responsible for criminal acts, and political issues.

And that, in both cases, punitive military action is not the answer, or not necessarily the only answer.

CROWLEY: So are you objecting to the U.S. assault back into Fallujah?

AL-RAHIM: No. It is not a question of objecting. It is that we have not so far had a political track, either into the Fallujah situation or into the Najaf situation.

CROWLEY: So you think it was counterproductive.

AL-RAHIM: Now I believe that the involvement of Iraqis in negotiation has injected this political dimension, and that the law- and-order issue ought to be maintained. There is no question that people who engage in terrorism, in killing and mutilating people, in taking away government property, ought to be sought, ought to be handed over to the authorities, and ought to be tried for their acts. CROWLEY: Well, let me move you on to a slightly different question that still gets at that. And this is from The New York Times editorial on Thursday. I don't know if you've had a chance to see it. But I wanted to read part of it to our listeners, as well.

"If they" -- talking about Iraqi officials and the council -- "are afraid to speak against the mob now, when they are flanked by American troops, what makes us believe they will behave more forcefully in the future, when the troops are gone and the mob is rising up against other Iraqis who don't share the same religion?

"It is understandable that average Iraqis are simply trying to keep their heads down in this time of crisis. But there is no excuse for the stunning passivity of the Iraqi Governing Council."

They've been too passive. They haven't been out there. They haven't -- I mean, if we want a political solution, shouldn't the Iraqi Governing Council be out there saying, "Stop this, you have to stop this"?

AL-RAHIM: Well, first of all, this editorial may come out -- may have come out on Thursday. On Friday, the Governing Council issued a long and very strong statement about the situation, which condemned acts of violence, condemned terrorism and condemned lawlessness. At the same time, it called for political solutions, for negotiation and for a cease-fire.

Now, I should tell you, that one of the problems, or one of the complaints of the Governing Council, has been all along that the CPA, the coalition forces, have not consulted and coordinated sufficiently with the Governing Council in this whole episode.

I think the situation is improving now because we now have a National Security Council and there is -- I spent the morning, by the way, speaking with Iraqis in Iraq, senior Iraqis, engaged in this whole situation. It appears now there is more communication and more coordination. But the Governing Council has all along said that it has not been consulted and has not been involved.

CROWLEY: So the U.S., as far as I can see what you're saying, is it shouldn't have gone into Fallujah militarily without some consulting, and it hasn't been consulting.

But let me point out a couple things that we see here. And one is that the interior minister resigned because he said, you know, the Iraqi police weren't showing up and he couldn't control them. You have members of the Iraqi army that have been trained that won't...

AL-RAHIM: By the way, I disagree with that first statement.

CROWLEY: OK. All right. Go ahead.

AL-RAHIM: The resignation of the minister of the interior was related to internal political balances in Iraq.

And it was not a question of whether the police force was showing up or not.

However, the former interior minister has also complained that his authority within his ministry is limited. But the question of the change of minister has to do with other issues in Iraq.

And by the way, there is now an interior minister in Baghdad who is at the helm. And I have spoken to the interior minister and senior officials there from time to time over the last two days. So things are in hand.

CROWLEY: Let me read you something that one of the most pro-U.S. members of the governing authority said, this from Mr. Pachachi. "It is not right to punish " -- speaking of Fallujah -- "it is not right to punish all the people of Fallujah. And we consider these operations by the Americans to be unacceptable and illegal."

You also have army members -- certain army members that don't want to fight other Iraqis.

If you are a coalition-force country and you are watching this and you're seeing that the Iraqis won't join in the fight, that one of the staunchest supporters of the coalition is criticizing as illegal the assault into Fallujah, what makes you as a coalition member want to stay?

AL-RAHIM: Well, first of all, the question of the assault on Fallujah -- and I think the media has skewed this a little bit. There is a law-and-order and a rule-of-law issue here.

And if I fault the coalition for something, it is that right from the beginning, from April 2003, at the time of the fall of the regime, law and order was not a high priority, as witnessed by the allowing of the looting that went on.

And at the time, many Iraqis said it is not just a question of loss of property, it is a question of the rule of law and law and order. The coalition must ensure that the rule of law and public peace have to be priority number one.

And as far as I'm concerned -- and I speak personally on this -- I believe that that was a signal, which was given by the coalition in the early days, and that unfortunately the coalition was unable to redress.

If you look in August, the bomb that killed the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio de Mello, we don't know who did that. We have not brought anybody to justice. A member of the Governing Council was assassinated. We don't know who did that, and nobody has been brought to justice.

There is a pattern of not ensuring that those responsible for criminal acts have been sought out and brought before the law. This has not been a priority for the coalition.

And now we are reaping the consequences of that. How does the coalition now make law and order a priority without undertaking what is perceived, at least in Iraq, as punitive action? That is the dilemma for the coalition.

CROWLEY: And what a dilemma it is.

AL-RAHIM: It is, indeed.

CROWLEY: The Iraqi representative to the United States, Rend Al- Rahim. I wish we could talk longer. We've run out of time. But thank you so much for joining us.

AL-RAHIM: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: When we come back, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks out about the fight for Iraq and the upcoming handover of power.

Then, coalition troops under fire from insurgents. We'll sort through possible battle plans with former NATO Supreme Commander George Joulwon.

And voices of the victims -- we'll talk about the 9/11 investigation with two people who lost relatives in the attacks.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


CROWLEY: Despite the wave of violence in Iraq, the Bush administration is insisting that the transfer of power from coalition authorities to a provisional Iraqi government will occur on June 30th as planned.

This week, Wolf Blitzer spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about where things stand one year after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

Honestly, did you expect a year ago, when we saw that statue of Saddam Hussein go down in Baghdad, that a year later it would be as violent and as dangerous as it is right now for U.S. military personnel?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: No, but we knew that there would be those who would stick with the old regime, the old despotic regime that filled so many mass graves and caused such trouble. And those elements haven't been fully dealt with yet, but they will be dealt with.

We have remnants of the old regime in the Sunni triangle, and you've seen them at work for the past week or so. And we have this situation down south with this cleric, Mr. al-Sadr, who has a militia that doesn't represent all of the Shia people, nor does he represent all of the Shia people, and he's caused a great deal of trouble over the last week.

But our military commanders are slowly rolling this problem back. They've retaken Al Kut. They're on the outskirts of Fallujah in the Sunni triangle. And I'm confident that they will bring the situation under control, and they will get back on track with our movement toward an Iraqi interim government to be in place by the end of June and for the reconstruction effort to go forward.

BLITZER: Former Senator Bob Kerrey says that this was all very predictable, a largely Christian army, namely a U.S. coalition-led army, occupying a largely Muslim nation. Was this all predictable?

POWELL: No, I don't think it was all predictable. I think we knew it was going to be a difficult mission. We essentially took down a regime that had been there for many years, had oppressed its people for many years. And in taking down that regime, we took down the political structure that supported it and a great part of the civil structure as well.

All of that has to be built back up. And I don't see it in those terms at all.

I think the Iraqi people want democracy, deserve democracy, and we're going to help them achieve that goal of having a democracy. And when you ask the Iraqi people what do they want, they want the same things that our own citizens here want. They want to live in peace, they want jobs, they want health care, and they want a better future. And we're determined to help them achieve those goals.

BLITZER: There's been a new and ominous development in the past couple days, kidnappings, hostage-taking of people, aid workers, journalists. What does this say to you? And are there, as far as you know, any Americans that have been taken hostage?

POWELL: There were reports earlier of a couple of Americans that were taken hostage, some news reports, but I haven't had any confirmation that any Americans have been taken hostage. But there are hostages that have been taken. And you're familiar with the nations they're from -- Japan, the United Kingdom and several others.

This shows that there are people out there -- think of what they're doing. They are going after those who are there to serve the Iraqi people. They are going after health-care workers. They are going after people who are there to help with reconstruction, to help with fixing the sewage systems, the sanitation system.

So we can't let these individuals determine the future of a country or determine the future of 25 million people. And so we will go after them, and we are going to encourage Iraqi citizens to help us identify who these people are, get them under control, bring them to justice and destroy them.

BLITZER: Is there any wiggle room in the June 30th handover of sovereignty from the coalition authority to the Iraqis?

POWELL: We're sticking with June 30th. We think it's the right date. We think it's achievable. Ambassador Brahimi, the United Nations representative, is in Baghdad now working with Ambassador Bremer and the Governing Council to look at models of what this interim government might look like.

And so, we're going to continue to drive ahead with that work. There's no point delaying it.

While the security situation gets stabilized by our military forces, let's keep driving straight forward with our reconstruction efforts and with the political process.

BLITZER: Is June 30th a goal, or is that set in concrete?

POWELL: It is our goal. It is an achievable goal. And it is the goal that we're working toward.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, you served with distinction in Vietnam. Senator Kennedy says Iraq has become President Bush's Vietnam. Has it?

POWELL: No, it's one of these interesting and charming but rather unpleasant labels. Vietnam was another time, another place, several presidents ago. And there is no parallel here. And we should not try to contaminate the work we are doing, the important, vital work we are doing now, by trying to hang ancient labels on it.

Let's view the situation for what it is. A dictator is gone. That regime is gone. He's in jail. What we are trying to do is build a democracy. We are there for the best purposes.

And what is happening right now is that there are remnants of this regime, there are terrorists, and there are individuals who have no concept of democracy, don't want to see freedom for the people of Iraq, don't want to see anything other than a new dictator take over, who are trying to keep democracy from happening, trying to thwart our reconstruction efforts.

We must not let that happen. And we must not suddenly lose the energy needed for this task by dragging out old labels such as this is Vietnam, this is Beirut. This is Iraq, 2004. And we're going to help the Iraqi people to a better life.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.


CROWLEY: Just ahead, we'll get a check of what's making news at this hour, including an update on those three Japanese hostages in Iraq.

Then, insight from the former NATO supreme commander and retired U.S. Army general George Joulwon on the military challenges posed by insurgent attacks in Iraq.



MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY BRIGADIER GENERAL: We will not negotiate with terrorists, plain and simple.


CROWLEY: U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director for coalition operations in Iraq, commenting on the latest tactic by insurgents of taking hostages in Iraq.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us to talk about the new challenges facing U.S. forces is former NATO supreme commander and retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan.

We'll shorten that to "General Joulwan" and welcome you to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.


CROWLEY: I want to talk to you about what your sense is of what you're seeing about what's happening on the ground. I mean, you look at this and they're going house to house -- have been, before the cease-fire, going house to house.

It's unclear who the enemy is again. There's talk of you're killing innocent people. And we have civilians in the mix who are being taken hostage.

It seems to me that those are the three things that, before we went into Iraq, everyone said, "Oh, heaven help us if it gets to that."

JOULWAN: Well, I think we're seeing a situation now that really is going to try our patience as a nation and as a military. And we have to continue, I think, to have patience and demonstrate that resolve, while at the same time doing a clear reassessment of where we are and where we're going.

I'm very concerned that we still have not created what I would call a stabilized environment in Iraq for democracy to thrive and for all those agencies to get in and do what they need to do to bring a better life for Iraqis. That must be done.

And we have to really say, "Where have our assumptions gone wrong, and then how do we fix them?" And I think all of that is going on right now. And it has to go on, Candy, if we're going to make progress on the ground.

CROWLEY: Well, General Joulwan, what do you think has gone wrong? Has something gone wrong militarily, or has something gone wrong politically? JOULWAN: Well, I think, a little bit of both. But I recall it was a year ago, just about to the day, when the Corps commander, after a very successful tactical move to take Baghdad, said, "We ran into more resistance than we anticipated," which brought a barrage of criticism from civilian leaders with inside the Pentagon.

Rather than say, "We are running into something we did not prepare for." And when those assumptions are wrong, you must change your plan. And we haven't really done that to the degree, I think, that's required.

We don't control the borders right now. We have limited control within the country. And we're now getting more fighting. We've allowed too many armed insurgents to exist a year later. All of that must be fixed, and it's better late than never. Even though it is late, we've got to get on with it.

CROWLEY: So what do you think they should do? What's the first step? Do we need to do something about the borders, bring in more troops? You're sounding to me as though you think we're not really prepared for what we're doing right now.

JOULWAN: Well, I think we've had this assumption that we're going to reduce the number of troops without realizing that we haven't a stable environment. Stabilization is a mission. And we have got to commit the forces that it's going to take to stabilize that country. I don't think we've made that realistic assessment yet.

And that must be done immediately. If that means more troops -- and by the way, Candy, it doesn't have to mean U.S. troops -- we need to broaden this base. We have won victory in World War II, victory in the Cold War, over other fanatics by building coalitions, alliances -- NATO, the U.N. We have to bring all of those, I think, into the equation now in order to realize our larger aims in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Well, General Joulwan, I don't think anybody disagrees with you that it would be a lot nicer if there were more people and more nations in there to help us. The question is, if we have to, should there be more U.S. troops? Is it simply a choice between more coalition troops or nothing at all? If we have to, if those coalition troops are not forthcoming, should we send more U.S. troops in there?

JOULWAN: In a very short answer, yes. We need to do all that is necessary to regain the initiative. I believe we have lost that initiative. We have to regain that initiative. If that means more troops, then we have to commit them.

If we're up front on what the clarity is of this mission, which is to stabilize the country, our troops will understand that. But we must be clear, Candy, on what it is we're trying to do.

And I believe if it takes more troops, then we need to commit them. And that means U.S. forces.

CROWLEY: Now, the Bush administration and various entities of it have said, look, if the people on the ground ask for more troops -- we're leaving it up to those commanders -- if they ask for more troops, we will give them more troops.

So what I see here are troops that can't rotate out, National Guardsmen who are over there for much longer than they ever anticipated being, and I'm assuming no commander has asked for more troops. Why not?

JOULWAN: Well, I believe that it's all how you phrase it. When units get extended like the First Armored Division that's due to be rotated home, gets extended, that is in essence increasing the number of the force.

When you have the Third Infantry Division that has already been put on alert that they've just come home to come back in, in the rotation, that is asking for more troops.

When you've called up an unprecedented number of National Guard and Reserve forces and committed them, that is calling for more troops.

I don't know what the problem is with saying we're going to commit the force it takes to get the job done. I remember our president saying whatever it takes. And I think our military leaders have to stand up and be counted here, because they are in a very, very serious situation now, and they have to really say what they need to get the job done.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the Iraqi troops. And we're hearing now that some of them don't want to fight fellow Iraqis, which one can understand. On the other hand, the fellow Iraqis are attacking the coalition troops.

How do you make that transition if the people you're actually fighting are the same nationality as the people you're training to fight?

JOULWAN: Very, very difficult. We've run into this before. We've learned these lessons in the Balkans. We've learned them in other places where we've been. It takes time to build a security force that's loyal, that is not run by corruption or graft or favors. It takes time to do that.

In the interim you have to have U.S. and coalition forces handle that job of this secure environment. I remember in Bosnia we disarmed 200,000 warring factions in six months. That was a clear stated goal, and we did it.

We still have too many weapons in this country, too many armed insurgent forces, and we've allowed a year go by. And I think that has been, I think, a tactical as well as a strategic mistake.

CROWLEY: General, I understand we have a caller on the line who has a question about Iran and its involvement or non-involvement in what's going on.

Go ahead, caller.

QUESTION: Hello, General.


QUESTION: My question is now with Iran pretty much now supplying Shiites, isn't that means for a civil war?

And I'd just like to -- one mention of a simple other question. There's only one country in the world without terrorism. That's North Korea. What do you think that means?

JOULWAN: Well, first of all, in your first question, Iran, I think, is up to mischief in Iraq. I'm not ready to say we're going to have a civil war yet. I think it's really up to the United States to come up now with a strategic plan, reassess where we are, and put the forces we need to control the situation.

On North Korea, I mean, you know, dictators have stability. There are ways to bring stability using totalitarian means, and North Korea is one of them. I don't recommend that as a way to say how we're going to stop terrorism.

But getting back to Iraq, what is required here is some clarity on what it is we need to do to get a stable environment, get control of borders, to disarm those elements that now have all kinds of weapons. And I think that should be priority one.

CROWLEY: General Joulwan, I have a thousand other questions for you, but we're going to have to leave it there. And I hope you'll come back. Thank you so much.

JOULWAN: Thank you very much, Candy.

CROWLEY: Just ahead, family reaction to this week's September 11th Commission hearings. We'll talk with two people who lost relatives in the terrorist attacks.


CROWLEY: Welcome back.

Perhaps those most interested in what National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had to tell the 9/11 Commission were the relatives of those killed or injured in the terrorist attacks. Several family members attended the hearings.

Joining us from Palo Alto, California, is Carie Lemack. Her mother, Judy LaRoc (ph), was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. And here in Washington, Bradley Blakeman. His nephew, Tommy Jergens (ph), died when one of the World Trade Towers collapsed.

Welcome both of you to "LATE EDITION." I appreciate your taking the time on what is always a painful subject, I know.

Carie, let me ask you first, I am interested in your reaction and whether you got what you felt you needed from the Condoleezza Rice testimony.

CARIE LEMACK, LOST MOTHER ON 9/11: Well, I think, first and foremost, what we wanted to see was the truth, and we wanted to see it in a non-partisan way. We all know that partisanship should have nothing to do with safety and security of the American people.

I am very thankful that Dr. Rice testified. We were very happy when she gave us some information such as the title of that Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6th, which has now been declassified, which we think is fantastic.

But it's a little bit frightening, because it tells us that we do know now that bin Laden was determined to attack inside the United States. And for two and a half years, we've been told that the Bush administration was focusing its efforts on attacks abroad. Now we see that that focus was not the right one.

So we're hopeful that this commission will be able to get more truth and will learn more about what went wrong, because clearly there were failures in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. Otherwise, 3,000 people, including my mom and Brad's nephew, would not have been murdered on September 11th.

CROWLEY: So let me ask you, do you look at this and want Condoleezza Rice to apologize in the same way that we heard Richard Clarke apologize, or were you satisfied with what you got from her?

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN, LOST NEPHEW ON 9/11: Well, first of all, as a former member of the president's senior staff and director of scheduling, I knew everything the president did every day. I knew what he did prior to 9/11, and I know what he did afterwards. And I had the pleasure and the honor of serving with Condi Rice for the past three years.

I was so proud of her, her demeanor, her directness to the commissioners' inquiries. I'm perfectly satisfied of what this administration has done. And I'm glad that the memo is being declassified and being available to the American people.

But I'll tell you, there's nothing this president would have done if he knew for sure that these attacks were going to take place. The fact of the matter is, the United States receives thousands and thousands of threats every day.

And, yes, things probably could have been done a little better, but overall, I am completely satisfied the way this administration has acted prior to 9/11 and post-9/11.

CROWLEY: And, Carie, I take it from your comments that you're not completely satisfied. But I do want to ask you, these sorts of memos had been seen within the Clinton administration as well. And we've heard at least one member of the commission say, listen, there's no way anybody could have read that memo and said, "Well, you know, we've got to go to New York and we've got to look at the airlines and we have to do all this."

In fact, there were FBI agents out in some 70 investigations.

Is it possible that they did do all that could reasonably be expected? But in hindsight, of course, you'd rather they'd gone in a different direction.

LEMACK: Well, I'd look back at a book that was written by Bob Woodward, in which he quotes CIA Director George Tenet. Apparently on September 11th, that morning, he was breakfasting, and when he was told that two planes had been flown into the World Trade Center, he said, "That has to be bin Laden and those guys in the flight schools."

If Mr. Tenet knew, and Dr. Rice didn't know, and the president didn't know, that causes some concern for me.

We were also told on Thursday at the hearings, by Dr. Rice, that there were, as we see in this PDB, there were 70 FBI investigations. But Commissioner Gorelick said that, after interviewing thousands of people at the FBI, none of them knew about it.

So, there's still a lot of information that hasn't come out. And to say that everything has been done spectacularly -- that this administration would have done nothing different, that does upset me, because I can tell you this: My mother was a CEO of a company, and if she had failures, or her direct reports had failures, then she was accountable. And we have not seen accountability in this administration.

I agree, I'm very happy that this PDB was declassified. But I have to tell you that it took the work of many family members many years. We fought for 14 months against the Bush administration, for this commission. He did not want to have it. When we finally got a commission, we had to fight for it to have subpoena power. We then had to fight to have it extended. We've been coming up against roadblock after roadblock from this administration.

I'm glad that we've finally gotten to this point, where we are getting more information out, but I have to tell you, it has not been easy, and I'd have a lot more faith if they hadn't been so adamantly opposed to finding the truth.

CROWLEY: Bradley, I want to give you a chance to respond to that, and also try to turn the corner for me, if you will. There's applauding in the audience. There is booing and hissing sometimes in the audience. The questions seem to get more pointed from one side of the aisle than from others, even though obviously these aren't congressional members.

I'm wondering if you worry about where this is -- the direction this is taking the commission, but I do want you to respond to Carie.

BLAKEMAN: Well, in response to Carie, I understand her frustration. But I can tell you, as somebody who lost somebody very close to me, if I thought this administration had not been doing what was reasonable, and what was expected at the time, I would have left, and I would have been the first person to come up to CNN and others and say, things aren't right. The fact of the matter is, things were as tight as they could be, the president did as much as he could do, with the information he had at the time.

And look what he did afterwards. He had the largest reorganization of government in history. Could never have been accomplished, unfortunately, prior to 9/11. But the acts that this administration has done have moved heaven and earth to make Americans safer, and also what I believe prevented further attacks.

CROWLEY: Carie, let me ask you the question about the partisanship, and you started out by saying, we don't want this to be partisan. Do you fear that it is taking on some of that tone?

LEMACK: When I hear certain people defending one administration or another, I do. I don't want to say that any administration is without fault or with fault. I think it's clear the government has some, as Dr. Rice would say, systemic issues that need to be addressed.

That is not a partisanship issue. Safety is not a partisanship issue.

Dr. Rice also said that we aren't safe right now. She does not say that she feels safe. And so, therefore, I have to question whether or not I feel safe. We're still living in a time where, according to the FAA's red team, which is the group of individuals who legally tries to breach airport security, 95 percent of weapons still get through and can get on planes.

My mother was murdered on a plane. I would like to know that when I get on a plane or when other Americans get on planes that we have made it safer. And it seems at this case the evidence shows that we have not yet done that.

But I'm very hopeful that we can. That's why so many of the family members are working so hard to make sure this commission is not a partisan commission and does get down to the truth and that those recommendations that will come out, hopefully on July 26th, assuming that the White House will clear the report, those recommendations do get implemented immediately to make sure that Americans are safer.

CROWLEY: Carie Lemack, thank you very much for joining us.

Brad Blakeman...

LEMACK: Thank you.


CROWLEY: ... come back and talk to us again. Appreciate it.

Up next, we'll tell you the results of our Web poll question on whether the coalition should push back the June 30th deadline to transfer power in Iraq. LATE EDITION will be right back.


CROWLEY: "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week asked, should the coalition push back the June 30 deadline to transfer power in Iraq?

And here's how you voted. Sixty-two percent of you said yes, push it back. Thirty-eight percent said no, go ahead with the June 30th deadline.

Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Turning now to what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. All are focusing on Iraq.

Time looks at the state of siege.

Newsweek explores the Vietnam factor.

And on U.S. News and World Report, a test of will: Why staying the course in Iraq is suddenly much tougher.

And that is your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, April 11th. Be sure to join Wolf next Sunday for the last work in Sunday talk.

Until then, thanks for watching. Enjoy the rest of the weekend. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.


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