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Interview With Dan Senor; Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired May 2, 2004 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Jerusalem, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll talk about the very volatile situation in Iraq with Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor in a few minutes.

And later, an exclusive interview with the veteran American journalist, Seymour Hersh, the author of an explosive article in the new New Yorker magazine about the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody. All that coming up.

First, though, I want to go to Jerusalem immediately. CNN's John Vause standing by. He's got some important developments -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the last few moments, two loud explosions heard in Gaza City. Right now, Israeli helicopters circling in the skies above Gaza City. No word on casualties, but CNN sources within Gaza say the target was, or apparently was, a building which houses a Hamas radio station. No official word from the Israeli army or the IDF on this.

But this attack, this attack, this strike in Gaza comes just hours after a settler family was shot dead by Palestinian militants, a woman -- a pregnant woman and her four daughters were shot and killed. The two Palestinian militants were also killed. Now, this woman was apparently on her way to a polling station to campaign against Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Across Israel, polls have been open for hours now, as 200,000 members of Ariel Sharon's Likud Party vote on his disengagement plan from Gaza. Mr. Sharon has argued that this disengagement from Gaza is crucial for the safety and the security of Israel, for its long-term viability. He says giving up land which Israel knows it will have to give up eventually in any negotiated settlement with the Palestinians like Gaza, as we're looking at right now, is not a high price to pay, and he also plans to withdraw from parts of the West Bank, as well.

But those opposed to -- those opposed to his plan point to the ongoing violence today in Gaza. They say that the move will only embolden those who -- groups like militant groups like Hamas.

They also say that Ariel Sharon has let them down, has sold them out. They have campaigned against this vigorously. Ariel Sharon, though, has said that a no vote today will be a disaster for his government, could lead to an end to the coalition, could bring down his government, could lead to early elections, and could harm Israel's relationship with the United States.

Now, he's not saying what he will do if, in fact, there is a no vote. All the polls are slowing that this will be close. The polls out today show that more members of the Likud Party oppose it than support this plan, but there is still a large number of undecideds in all of this. Ariel Sharon, though, has the support of most Israelis, if the opinion polls are to be believed.

And those close to him say that if there is a no vote, he could still push ahead with his plan in Cabinet and push it through the Israeli parliament. So he could be left in a position where he is implementing a plan which his party does not support, but it is popular amongst most Israelis, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's John Vause in Jerusalem with the latest on what's happening in Gaza and this referendum. The vote coming up could affect the future of Ariel Sharon. We'll check back with John, all of our team, in Israel throughout the day here on CNN.

Let's move on, though, elsewhere in the Middle East, specifically to Iraq, where a United States contractor who was kidnapped last month is today a free man. Thomas Hamill apparently escaped his captors.

Meanwhile, there are more attacks on U.S. forces this weekend.

BLITZER: CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Baghdad. He's joining us now live with the latest -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, the latest reported fatal attack on U.S. forces took place this morning in the northern city of Kirkuk, where a U.S. base came under fire with small arms and bombs. In that attack, one American killed, and two wounded.

Yesterday, four Americans were killed, two in an ambush in northeastern Baghdad. Two other Americans were killed in the southern city of Amarah. That happened when their convoy was going through the city. It was attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades around 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces were in action in the southern town of Hillah, raiding an office associated with Muqtada Sadr. In that raid, U.S. forces killed a top Sadr deputy and also three of his aides.

Now, of course in Baghdad some good news for the coalition. In this case, it was the sudden appearance of 43-year-old American truck driver Thomas Hamill, who had been kidnapped on the 9th of April, following an attack on his convoy outside Baghdad. Now, according to coalition sources, this morning Hamill approached an American patrol in the town of Balad. That's about 35 miles south of Tikrit. He identified himself, and then he led those troops to the house where he was held, and in that -- the U.S. troops surrounded that house, and captured, or rather arrested, two Iraqis.

Now, Hamill had been held for 23 days. He's an employee of Kellogg, Brown & Root. That is a Halliburton subsidiary. In that attack on the convoy on April 9th, two other -- since then, two other KBR employees have not been accounted for.

Also kidnapped in that incident was an American soldier, Private Keith Maupin. He was last seen on a video released by his captors. Now, obviously this question of hostages is quite worrying to the coalition. They tell us that at the moment there are six known hostages, five are missing, nine hostages have already been killed by their captors -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Baghdad, thanks very much.

Let's get a little bit more now on the escape of the American hostage Thomas Hamill in Iraq. Word of his freedom brought much relief and of course a great deal of joy to his family back in Mississippi.

Joining us now by -- on the phone from Macon, Mississippi, WCBI reporter Amy Barrilleaux. She's been with the Hamill family.

Amy, what's the latest, the reaction there?

AMY BARILLEAUX, WCBI REPORTER: Well, it's complete elation here. I'm actually outside the Hamill family's church, Cavalry Baptist Church in Macon, and let me tell you, it's a cold and gray day here in north Mississippi, but the sun is shining in Macon. Folks here are completely elated, very relieved.

They never gave up hope. They've been holding prayer vigils every night since Thomas Hamill went missing. They've been tying yellow ribbons up all around town.

Now, it's just a matter of waiting for him to come home, and the knowledge that those prayers and hopes have finally been answered this morning.

BLITZER: Amy Barilleaux, thanks very much for that. We'll check back throughout the day with you, as well.

Let's go back to what's happening specifically in Iraq. Despite unrest in Fallujah, as well as Najaf, as well as concerns about the fallout from the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, the handover of power still scheduled to take place just 59 days from now, on June 30th.

Joining us here in Washington, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor.

Welcome to "LATE EDITION." Usually you're in Baghdad. Good to have you here in the United States. I know you're heading back in the next day or two.

Quickly, on this abuse of Iraqi prisoners, it's shocking, the allegations that have been made that American soldiers have supposedly done this. What do you say? DAN SENOR, CPA SPOKESMAN: I think it offends the sensibilities of all Americans. It offends the sensibilities of the overwhelming majority of men and women in uniform, over in Iraq. It offends the sensibilities of most Iraqis.

I think, however, while we express our outrage, as the president did the other day, as the commanders on the ground have, as Ambassador Bremer has, it's also important to consider it against the backdrop of the fact that the majority of American men and women in uniform are professional, they are serious people, they are committed to this mission, and they approach their mission with the highest degree of ethics and morality that you would expect.

And so this is really an exception, Wolf. It is not the rule. We have to address it as such. We have to get to the bottom of it. We have to engage in a robust investigation, which we are doing.

Careers are going to be ended. Criminal charges are going to be leveled. But let's not express frustration with the entire military in the process.

BLITZER: Right now there are legal proceedings pending against six soldiers, six people, mostly reservists, who were there on the scene.

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who's a reserve general in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison, she's now back in Georgia, she is quoted in today's New York Times as saying this: "Why would they want the active-duty people to take the blame? They want to put this on the MPs and hope" -- the military police -- "and hope that this thing goes away. Well, it's not going to go away."

The MPs were all reservists. And she's suggesting higher-up- level authorities gave the word this is acceptable behavior.

SENOR: Look, we've made it clear at the most senior levels of the military, at the most senior levels of the civilian side of the reconstruction, at the most senior levels of this government, this isn't going away. We are going to get to the bottom of this. We're going to engage in a robust investigation. As I said, criminal charges leveled, careers ended. We are taking this extremely seriously, and we are communicating that to the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: We know that, at least based on the pictures, it certainly looks like prisoners were abused, brutally abused. Were any of them killed, as far as you know?

SENOR: To my knowledge, no. This looked like extreme form of humiliation, which is unacceptable. You know, under Saddam Hussein's regime, this sort of behavior, this sort of treatment at Abu Ghraib would have been celebrated. The difference is here, you have the president of the United States, who's made a very strong statement, and we've made it clear that there are going to be serious repercussions for the people involved, whole careers will be ended, there are going to be criminal repercussions for the people involved. This will not be tolerated. BLITZER: All right. We're going talk a little bit more about this on "LATE EDITION" with Seymour Hersh. He's done an explosive article in the new issue of the New Yorker. We'll get to him later in this program.

But let's move on and talk about what's happening in Fallujah right now. A lot of concern that the U.S. Marines, the coalition provisional authority, that you're basically pulling out, declaring victory at a time when you really simply let a former general of the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's elite unit, take over. What's going on?

SENOR: Well, I think it's important to put it in perspective, Wolf. The discussions with Fallujahn (ph) leaders, with the civic leaders, the political leaders, continue.

Our demands remain firm. Foreign fighters have to be turned over. The insurgents that have been involved, the former Baathists with the mutilating of Americans and the other acts of violence, must be removed from Fallujah. Heavy and illegal weapons must be turned over.

At the same time, if we can engage Iraqis to participate in the security of Fallujah and can assume positions that Marines were assuming in the numbers of 500 or 600, which is what it's looking at now, that's a terrific development. We should encourage it, but also view it in the context of our demands which continue.

This is not a substitute for the demands. The demands remain. We want the foreign fighters, the international terrorists, the people who are like Zarqawi, the al Qaeda affiliates that are operating in and around Fallujah, and these former Baathists, former Fedayeen Saddam that have been using Fallujah as a basis for operations against the coalition and other Iraqis.

BLITZER: Major General Jassim Mohammad Saleh, this Republican Guard general, has now apparently been given control. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said earlier today he apparently hasn't even been thoroughly vetted or explored for his background. How is that possible?

SENOR: Well, Wolf, whether it was staffing up the senior levels of the ministries in the Iraqi government or rebuilding Iraq's security services, we have said all along that we will engage in a very thorough vetting process, and it will be done simultaneously with the deployment, the recruitment and deployment of the Iraqi security services or the civilian workers in the ministries.

If, during the process, we determine that someone does have blood on their hands from the former regime, they will be fired from whatever they've been hired to do immediately.

But we have built up over 200,000 Iraqis today serving in Iraq's security services. Whether it's the Iraqi police force, the Iraqi army, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, it is important to get the numbers up and deployed quickly while we simultaneously engage in the vetting process.

BLITZER: If you're an Iraqi Shiite, the majority, or an Iraqi Kurd, and you see the coalition giving a Sunni Iraqi this kind of responsibility in Fallujah, a member of the Republican Guard, despised by them because they were in the forefront of killing Shiites and Kurds, what do you say? How are they going to react?

SENOR: We say that one of the first acts that Ambassador Bremer conducted when he arrived in Baghdad was with disbanding the old Iraqi army.

The old Iraqi army is an institution. It was associated by Kurds with chemical warfare. Most Shias associate the old Iraqi army with mass graves, and most Sunnis associate the old Iraqi army with provocative attacks against Iraq's neighbors, in which there were hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the process.

So by shutting down the old Iraqi army, we engaged in a very symbolic act for most Iraqis. They believe the old institution was a tool of Saddam's oppression. We shut it down.

But we also said at the time that we were going to recruit from the old pool. Not all of them are bad actors. Not all of them had Baathist blood on their hands. Not all of them were involved in the chemical attacks and the mass graves and the torture chambers...

BLITZER: Can you say that about Major General Jassim Mohammed Saleh?

SENOR: ... and some of them we are going to recruit.

BLITZER: Can you say that about this general?

SENOR: And we are vetting the entire leadership of everyone we are recruiting now, including General Saleh. He is going to be subjected to the same thorough vetting processes that all of these security forces that we're bringing back.

BLITZER: Shouldn't he have been subjected to that before you let him take charge of Fallujah?

SENOR: I'm going to defer to the commanders on the ground who are making these decisions. I have complete confidence, we all do, in the decisions they're making.

Every individual we recruit and put to work is subjected to a vetting process. If someone slips through the cracks, they'll be fired within 24 hours.

BLITZER: One final question. Thomas Hamill, the American contractor who has now been freed or released, he escaped, what can you tell us? How did this happen?

SENOR: You know, we just obviously went public and discovered this this morning. The first thing we wanted him to do was to call his family, which he had an opportunity to do. It was a very good day for him. And watching your news report about his community coming together, the fact that their prayers and hopes were full fulfilled is very moving.

Let's give it some time here. We're going to do a real investigation here, spend some substantial, significant time with him getting to the bottom of what happened and how he escaped. And then we'll release details as we have them.

Right now, let's just make sure he's in good physical shape, which he appears to be, and give him an opportunity to reconnect with his loved ones.

BLITZER: Dan Senor, welcome to Washington. I know you're heading back to Baghdad. Good luck to you.

SENOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Still ahead, perspective from the Iraqi vantage point. I'll speak with the Iraqi Governing Council member Jalal Talabani.

Plus, a shift in strategy by U.S. Marines in Fallujah. Will it lead to a peaceful resolution? We'll get analysis from two key United States senators.

And later, an exclusive interview with North Carolina Senator John Edwards about the prospect of him possibly being tapped as John Kerry's running mate.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" Web question of the week: Does Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have a clear plan for Iraq? You can cast your vote, We'll have the results later in this program.

But up next, the politics of war, past and present. We'll talk with two key U.S. senators about Iraq and the specter of Vietnam.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've had some tough fighting because there are people who hate the idea of a free Iraq.


BLITZER: President Bush speaking to reporters after a meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Paul Martin, at the White House on Friday.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now, two leading members of the United States Senate. Here in Washington, Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. And in Detroit, Michigan, Senator Carl Levin. He's a top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Thanks, Senators, very much for joining us.

Senator Levin, these pictures and the stories we're being told about the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, this sounds like material that should be investigated by the Armed Services Committee.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, it should be. The first investigation, though, has to be prompt, thorough and tough by the Army, because these are despicable practices which just fuel the hatred and the wrath of those who oppose us. And they've got to be investigated promptly at all levels.

And it's got to be credible, that investigation, because the people in the world must understand that when this kind of action is perpetrated by an American soldier, that it's not going to be tolerated, because it is so despicable.

What it does is it humiliates people, and that, more than anything else, it seems to me, is what people cannot tolerate, is to be humiliated.

BLITZER: Well, on that point, Senator Hagel -- and you served in Vietnam and you know combat up close -- supposedly when you have prisoners, prisoners of war, you want to get information out of them, humiliating them is not necessarily something that people should be all that shocked about.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, first of all, I think we should be very careful not to indict all of our armed forces. Our armed-force structure is the most professional, well-equipped, best- led in the history of man.

So, yes, we've got a problem here, just as Senator Levin noted, we must deal with it.

To your question, Wolf, when you're dealing with prisoners in a combat environment, war is imperfect. It's dangerous. Mistakes are made. Atrocities happen. This is one that we cannot overlook, just as all of us, I think, believe and will support, but it has to be dealt with quickly. And I think beyond that, let the investigation follow through.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about, Senator Levin, let's talk about Fallujah, what's happening in Fallujah now. At least for the time being, a former general in the Republican Guard told by the Marines, "Go ahead, see what you can do to quiet the situation there," as the Marines pull back. What kind of message does that send?

LEVIN: That we're scrambling, that we're improvising, that we didn't plan for the violent aftermath which we're now facing.

When I heard Dan Senor say how fine it is that we are involving the Iraqis in providing their own security, sure. That should have been done a long time ago. And if this were really devised as we intended, it would have been this general, if he's vetted and if he's the proper person, to go in with his own folks long before the Marines went in.

It's only because the Marines met such strong resistance and because, obviously, we didn't want to be in a position where we are, as an occupying power, destroying a town and the people in it, that now suddenly we're turning this over to a Republican Guard general wearing that Republican Guard uniform going into town.

This clearly was not planned. And to try to paint this as something which is a good development rather than a scramble and an improvisation, it seems to me, is not very credible on the part of Dan Senor, as Mr. Bremer's representative.

But if it works, fine, but we should have planned for this kind of operation, not just have to improvise it.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, a lot of people in Fallujah -- this is a city of about 200,000, maybe 300,000 people -- see this as a victory for the so-called insurgents, this Marine pullback, sending this kind of message. What does it say to you?

HAGEL: Well, first, we don't have many good options. In fact, we have no good options. The fact is that we need to stay focused on getting the Iraqis into a position where they can govern themselves, where they can securitize themselves, where they can lead.

And this is going to be imperfect. We're going to make some mistakes. We've made mistakes. We'll make more mistakes.

But I think we've got to stay focused on the bigger picture here, Wolf. What's happening in Fallujah, what's going to happen is part of it, but let's not take our eye off the bigger prize here, the objective, and that is to get the Iraqis into a position where they can govern themselves so the United States can get out.

BLITZER: All right, let's take a look at the bigger picture, Senator Levin, and to do that, let's reflect on what the president said a year ago, a year ago yesterday, aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Listen to this.


BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Senator Levin, that was then. This is what he said on Friday. Listen to this.


BUSH: A year ago, I did give the speech from the carrier saying that we had achieved an important objective, that we had accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein.


BLITZER: All right. That objective clearly has been accomplished, the removal of Saddam Hussein. He's in prison awaiting trial.

LEVIN: Well, the objective is much more than that. It was to bring democracy and stability to Iraq, and that is an objective which has not been achieved. And one reason it's not been achieved is the abysmal lack of planning for an aftermath which was violent.

This administration ignored the advice that came from a very detailed study inside the State Department; did not even involve our uniformed military in the planning for the aftermath of the removal of Saddam Hussein. We got that directly from General Tommy Franks when Senator Warner and I met him, that the uniform military was not involved in planning the aftermath.

So this was left to some of the civilian leaders in the Pentagon, who thought we were just going to have a cakewalk, we were going to be greeted with flowers. And that lack of planning, it seems to me, is one of the reasons that we're in such a difficult situation that we're in now.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, do you agree?

HAGEL: Well, as you know, Wolf, I was one of the first to warn about some of these potential problems, lack of planning, so I generally have agreed with what Carl Levin said and still do.

But the fact is, we are where we are. The fact is that we're going to have to work our way through this. The fact is that we are going to have to bring in the U.N., which many of us said before we went in should have happened. The planning should have been there.

Yes, everything Carl said is right. But how now do we take what we have where we are and get through this? Because we have so much riding on this, our own security, our own future, the Middle East, the Israeli/Palestinian issue is woven into this.

So, yes, we can criticize, be critical, and it is part of the obligation, responsibility of the Congress to keep the administration focused with oversight and all the rest that we are supposed to do, but we also need to help the administration find solutions.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have more to discuss. Much more of our discussion, in fact, coming up with Senators Hagel and Levin.

Up next we'll have a quick check of the hour's top stories, including an update on today's deadly shooting near a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

Senator Hagel, there's a poll, the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll came out this week, how is the president handling Iraq? And look at these numbers. In April of last year, 76 percent of the American public approved of the way he was handling it. It's down to 48 percent right now. The country pretty evenly divided, 48 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove.

The president has got a political problem here, as well.

HAGEL: Well, it could be a political problem. We're months away from an election. But the fact is, we are involved in a very complicated, dangerous situation in Iraq.

Again, going back to an earlier comment that Carl Levin made, which I agreed with, I don't think this administration put the appropriate kind of planning into this early enough to understand what was probably going to happen.

But I think you've got to, again, look at the longer view of this, Wolf. There are going to be ups and downs to this. I think if we can be successful with a handoff to some kind of an Iraqi governmental entity July 1st, move toward elections in January, I think, politically, the American people will sustain the president's policy.

BLITZER: That's a pretty big "if."

HAGEL: It's a big "if." It's a big "if."

BLITZER: Another poll we did, an exclusive CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, Senator Levin, of Iraqis, more than 3,500 Iraqis were questioned, should U.S. troops leave immediately, immediately? Among Iraqis, 57 percent said yes, 36 percent said no.

It seems like the U.S. posture, Senator Levin, in Iraq now, not very popular among Iraqis.

LEVIN: Well, it's not popular, and I'm afraid the events that you described earlier, with those pictures of the mistreatment of prisoners, is going to make it even worse. But what the president must do now is do what he has failed to do so far, which is to rally the international community, to reach out to the international community to see if we can't make it work. We're not going to be able to make this work without allies, and even with allies, it's going to be difficult enough.

But we hope that the U.N. will not just help devise this interim government, but we need them to pick a representative that could represent the world community, beyond just the United States and Britain, so that after the handoff on June 30th, if it takes place, you can have someone there representing the outside world other than just the U.S. ambassador. We don't want the U.S. ambassador to be Bremer II, to be the boss from the outside. We need the U.N. to be deeply involved.

And Chuck Hagel is exactly right in his instincts along that line right from the beginning.

BLITZER: What about this notion that you threw out there this past week, Senator Hagel, about reviving the draft, in order to get enough manpower, in order to get more Americans involved in military service? There's been a big uproar as a result of what you suggested. Is it a good idea?

HAGEL: Well, I don't know if it's a good idea. But what I said, Wolf, is that, if we are at war and going to be at war for a generation, then we're going to have to start realistically thinking about matching mission with resources. I don't know if mandatory service is the right thing to do. But we can't continue to defer these tough decisions.

And the other part of this is a societal dynamic to this. We are disconnected, completely, from the policymakers versus the people we're asking to serve, fight and die.

There's not much risk that we have at the policymaking level here. Is that right? Should a society just rely on a very few people to fight and die when the president and others keep saying, "Well, this is a war. We should have a sacrifice made by all."

BLITZER: Even though they're all volunteers?

HAGEL: Well, I'm not saying we should undo the all-volunteer force. Absolutely not. It's been very successful. But you could slip into a mandatory service to this country, a dynamic where you could help down in the borders and take away a lot of the areas of responsibility from uniformed people. You could actually put people in uniform if that's where they wanted to go.

All I'm saying, is, Wolf, I think we need to get ahead of this before it becomes a crisis. And it will become a crisis.

Last point I'd make, we are more committed today than any time since World War II with a smaller force structure. Carl Levin is a pro on this. He's the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and knows more about it than most of us, but what I'm saying is we better take a look.

BLITZER: All right. What about that, Senator Levin, take a look at reviving the draft?

LEVIN: I don't think we need it now. I think that the recruitment and retention is doing the job. But what Senator Hagel is raising is a very important philosophical point. And it's important that, in a democracy like ours, that there be public support for our action and that there be public involvement, if not in the military, in some other form of community activity. And I think that we all, as Americans, must consider the importance of that community involvement. But at the moment, and hopefully for the near future, we're not going to need a draft.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, as you well know, the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran like you, someone you know and I assume you like, although I don't know that for a hard fact, but there's been a lot of names circulating among potential vice presidential running mates on the Democratic ticket, and some Republican names have even surfaced, like John McCain, although he says, no, he's not interested.

Your name has surfaced over the past few days as a moderate Republican often speaking with an independent voice, especially on foreign-policy issues. Would you be interested in being his vice- presidential running mate?

HAGEL: A Democrat surely would not want to deal with me, Wolf. The Republicans have enough problems with me.

No, I would not entertain that discussion. I'm not interested. I'm a Republican. I'm supporting George Bush for re-election. I think President Bush will be re-elected. I'm going to help him do that.

I do like John Kerry. I do respect John Kerry.

BLITZER: And what about you, Senator? Senator Levin, are you at all interested in being a vice-presidential running mate? And if you're not, who do you like?

LEVIN: No, I'm not, but I'm -- and there are hopefully going to be a whole host of possibilities on the Democratic side who will bring some real stature to this position.

I think what the public wants here is people with real stature, with steadiness, with stability, and I think that's the kind of candidate who John Kerry is going to select.

I just wish there were more moderate and independent-minded Republicans like Chuck Hagel and John McCain, because I think the country would be a lot better off, not necessarily with them running as vice president on a Democratic ticket, but with them being deeply involved in the issues of this country. We have just too few people like that who try to trod a very positive course when it comes to foreign policy. BLITZER: Senator Levin, Senator Hagel, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Still ahead, we'll have an exclusive interview with the veteran journalist Seymour Hersh about his powerful new expose about alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners.

We'll get to that, but up next, is Iraq on the road to democracy or is Iraq on the verge of a civil war? We'll get perspective in another exclusive interview here on "LATE EDITION" with the Iraqi Governing Council member Jalal Talibani.

And don't forget our Web question of the week, "Does Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have a clear plan for Iraq?" You can cast your vote at

We'll be right back.



BUSH: The June 30th date is a solid date.

And I appreciate so very much the work by the United Nations and Mr. Brahimi to lay the groundwork for the transfer of sovereignty.


BLITZER: President Bush insisting the deadline of the transfer of power in Iraq is set in stone.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now here in Washington, the Iraqi Governing Council member Jalal Talabani. He's also a founder, the founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Mr. Talabani, always good to have you on "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to Washington.

Let me get to a brutal subject right now, these awful pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused allegedly by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison. What do you make of this?

JALAL TALABANI, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER: Well, I think this is some kind of mistakes or crimes committed by some small group of American soldiers. If you look to the habit of the American soldiers all over Iraq, they are very humanitarian, very nice, very kind to the people.

This happened, of course, something, we are condemning it, and we are asking American friends to investigate and prevent repeating it.

But let me say, the most bad thing happened in Abu Ghraib was the bombardment of this prison by the terrorists and killing many prisoners in that. Why these pictures are not going to be published?

BLITZER: Well, do you think this is just an aberration, a one- shot deal, this alleged abuse of these Iraqi prisoners? Or do you have any reason to believe it's more widespread, the abuse by Americans of Iraqi prisoners?

TALABANI: No, I think it's very small and very limited, because, according to our knowledge and information all over Iraq, especially in those places who are in direct contact with the American soldiers, are dealing with the people in very friendly way.

BLITZER: What about what's happening in Fallujah right now, letting a Republican Guard general -- the Republican Guard were brutal toward the Kurdish people...


BLITZER: ... your people. Are you satisfied that this is a good idea?

TALABANI: Yes, sir. You know, we are thinking now that you must distinguish between the enemy and friends. All who are participating in the new process for democratization in Iraq, for having a democratic, federative, parliamentarian system, they are our friends. Those who are against that are our enemies.

BLITZER: Is he a friend, General Jassim Mohammed Saleh? This is the Republican Guard general who's now apparently been given an enormous amount of control over Fallujah. Is he a friend of the Kurds?

TALABANI: You know, inside the Iraqi army, even the commanders of the Republican Guard, were many patriot officers who were against the regime. Some of them cooperated with us and with you, with the Americans, when we were in opposition, and even at the time of war, because they hated Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Well, but you see him wearing that Iraqi -- that old Iraqi army uniform...


TALABANI: You know, this is...

BLITZER: ... that they used to wear when Saddam Hussein was in power.

TALABANI: You know, this gentleman was a part of a plan. This plan was drawn by representatives of the Fallujah people. I personally participated in having this political solution in Fallujah, because the people of Fallujah choose this man, and this man will do his best. We must forget some things happened in the past. Otherwise, there are many, many criminals, but, you know, officers were always ordered to obey. Otherwise Saddam Hussein was killing them.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about the June 30th transfer of sovereignty, or at least limited sovereignty, back to the Iraqi people. Lakhdar Brahimi, the special envoy of the United Nations, he's coming up with a plan. One of the things he says that people like you, leaders in the Iraqi Governing Council, should not necessarily have a role in the leadership during an interim government.

Among other things, he said this last week. He said, "My personal view at this moment is that people who have political parties and are leaders of their parties should get ready to win the election" -- that would be in January of next year -- "and stay out of the interim government."

Do you accept that?

TALABANI: Well, this is an idea, this is an idea. It is a solution -- it's not a solution, it is a proposal.

In our opinion, Iraq is in need to have a strong government. By strong government, I mean a government representing the main parties and groups and sections of Iraqi people, including Sunni Arabs, Shiites, Kurds, Turkomans and others. Otherwise, a technocrat government cannot rule the country, especially to secure the area, to end the terrorist activities we are in need to a strong government.

But political parties of course must prepare for elections.

BLITZER: So you're saying that you want to be part of the interim government on July 1st, after the sovereignty is returned to the Iraqis?

TALABANI: Well, if you mean by you me myself...

BLITZER: You personally.

TALABANI: No, I don't like to be. But I think that there must be representative of four main parties and groups in the next government, otherwise, this government cannot rule Iraq.

BLITZER: What about Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, who is a Shiite and there's been so much controversy surrounding him?

TALABANI: You know, first of all, Ahmed Chalabi is not the leader of INC. He's one of the leaders of INC. We have many leaders of INC. Dr. Chalabi was a strong opponent to Saddam Hussein, and he dedicated all his life to opposing Saddam Hussein. But it's up to him to decide if he will participate in the government or not. I think it is something personal.

BLITZER: Here's a poll that we did, CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of Iraqis. We interviewed more than 3,500 Iraqis all over the country -- Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis. And generally, among all Iraqis, we asked their opinion of U.S. military troops. As occupiers, 71 percent of them said they were occupiers. Only 19 percent saw the U.S. military as liberators of Iraq.

It seems that that's a problem for the U.S. and the coalition.

TALABANI: Well, I think in Kurdistan, we consider them liberators. I think the poll in Kurdistan, a big majority of Kurdistan people say they are liberators.

BLITZER: Not among Sunni or Shia.

TALABANI: We are -- of course we have Sunnis and Shias. But I think the people of Iraq also are liberated (ph) American forces as liberators when they came, but then this 1483 Resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations tell them to occupy us. This is not the fault of Iraqis.

BLITZER: There's another poll we asked of the Iraqis in that same poll, their opinion of the United States. Twenty-three percent said they had a favorable opinion of the United States, 17 percent said they were neutral, but look at this, 55 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the United States.

After what the United States has done to get rid of Saddam Hussein, more than half say they have an unfavorable opinion. What's going on?

TALABANI: Where this poll was taken, in which part of Iraq?

BLITZER: All parts of Iraq.

TALABANI: I think in Kurdistan the big majority of Kurds are in favor.

BLITZER: I think you're probably right. Among Kurds, specifically, they have a favorable opinion, but among the rest of the Iraqis, apparently not.

TALABANI: The Kurds are a third of the Iraq. A third of the Iraq the Kurds are.

And also I think many people in Iraq understand the biggest role of liberating Iraq, or excuse me, Iraqi people from the worst kind of dictatorship, I think this is something will never be forgotten by Iraqi people, that unless the United States are coming to liberate us, we are still under the role of worse kind of dictatorship, and mass graves proves how Saddam Hussein was dealing with Iraqi people.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that in Kurdistan, the Kurdish part of Iraq right now, it's a lot quieter than in so many other parts of Iraq.

TALABANI: Of course. Kurdistan is quiet, it's cured (ph), and the American friends are coming there to spend their holidays and vacations in Kurdistan without fearing from any kind of terrorism activities.

Kurdish people, Kurdish people as a whole love United States of America. They are very much, very much in favor of having very good relations with United States. And everyone considered George W. Bush as the hero of liberation and the freedom for Iraqi people.

BLITZER: On that note, Jalal Talabani, once again, welcome to Washington. Thanks very much, as usual, for joining us.

TALABANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead, he fell short in his run for the White House, but could John Edwards be the answer to the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, perhaps winning over Southern voters in the fall? We'll have an exclusive interview with the North Carolina Senator. That's coming up.


BLITZER: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're just getting this word in from our people in Baghdad. Six more U.S. troops have died in a mortar attack in western Iraq, that according to a U.S. Marine spokesman. Much more details of this and the rest of the day's news coming up.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a moment of truth in Iraq. Not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world.


BLITZER: A moment of truth or politics? John Kerry's foreign- policy vision in an election-year horse race, who will pull ahead? An exclusive interview with former Democratic presidential candidate, and possible vice presidential running mate, John Edwards.


BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.


BLITZER: But one year later, what has really been accomplished? And the countdown to the June 30th handover -- will it make a difference? Two top former U.S. secretaries of state way in, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We'll have an exclusive interview with The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh in just a few minutes. First, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK) BLITZER: Let's go right to Baghdad. CNN's Ben Wedeman is standing by with word of yet more U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Ben, what's the latest?

WEDEMAN: Yes, Wolf, six American soldiers were killed in the Anbar province. That's where Fallujah is located. They were killed in a mortar attack, according to a military spokesman in Fallujah. An unknown number of soldiers were wounded. The spokesman said that they expect the death toll to rise from that attack.

That following an attack this morning in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk where assailants, using bombs and small weapons, attacked a U.S. base there, killing one soldier and wounding 10 others.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces were in action in the southern Iraqi town of Hillah. There they raided an office associated with Muqtada al- Sadr, killing one of Sadr's deputies and three of his aides.

Now, one bright spot here in Baghdad is that a 43-year-old American truck driver, Thomas Hamill, has resurfaced after being abducted for 23 days. He apparently just, according to spokesmen here, walked out of the building where he was being held, found an American patrol in the area of Balad, which is about 35 miles south of Tikrit, and therefore, he is now back in the hands of the coalition. They are examining him. Apparently he was wounded, but he's now talking to military intelligence about his ordeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Baghdad with that.

Ben, thanks very much.

Much more on Iraq coming up, but let's move elsewhere in the Middle East. Specifically, a deadly day in Gaza. An Israeli gunship fired at a Gaza City building earlier today. Sources tell CNN the target was a building that houses a radio station run by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The airstrike came just hours after Palestinian gunmen killed a family near a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

CNN's Paula Hancocks and her crew were on the road where the shooting occurred only moments before it happened. She's joins us live via video phone -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was supposed to be a day of politics, but it was very much marred with violence.

What happened a little earlier on today as we were driving from Israel, on the main road into Gush Katif settlement block, the main settlement block in Gaza, we came under fire from two gunmen. We managed to get through unharmed.

Our CNN cameraman was in an unarmed car behind us. As he was under fire, he saw a van and a white car passing. That white car, unfortunately, was not so lucky. Five people killed by the gunmen in that car: an eight-month pregnant mother and her four children, aged 11, 9, 7 and 2. Now, ambulances and soldiers were on the scene quickly. They killed the two Palestinian gunmen. We also know that one civilian was -- one Israeli civilian was seriously injured and two Israeli soldiers injured, as well.

Now, as you say, there's also been some violence in Gaza City. Israeli helicopters firing two or three rockets at a 14-story building which Israel security sources tell us housed a Hamas radio station that was, quote, "broadcasting incitement." No casualties, as far as we know, in that incident.

Now, this does come on a day when the Likud Party members are voting on a referendum as to whether or not to accept Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister's disengagement plan, his plan to pull out all of the settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank.

Now, the latest we heard a few hours ago, 14 percent of those members had voted. That's a very low turnout at this point, but we still have two hours to go of voting, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Gaza for us.

Thanks, Paula. We'll be checking back with you.

Let's move back to the situation in Iraq now. By now, you've probably seen the photographs that aired last week that prompted an international outrage over the treatment of some Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

We have more now. Extensive allegations of abuse are being detailed in the brand new issue of The New Yorker magazine. Joining us, the author of that article, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Seymour Hersh.

Sy, thanks very much for joining us.

You got a copy of this report that a general, Antonio Taguba, put together for the Pentagon, in which he reported, and I'm quoting now, "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at the Abu Ghraib prison a few months back. Who's responsible? What happened?

SEYMOUR HERSH, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: Well, first of all, he's reporting events that took place that we don't have photographs of. So clearly what we have photographs of, those kind activities had been going on for a long time.

BLITZER: So, you're saying it's not just one isolated incident. This is more widespread. Is that what you're saying?

HERSH: Well, what we talked about was sort of a systemic failure. What he was saying was that this has been investigated. The high command in Iraq knew as of late last summer there were problems there. There's been -- his was the third investigation, and his only began after the photographs surfaced.

So, once those photographs got into play, I think the high command here in Iraq and also in Washington realized they had a problem that was out of control. So he goes in, does his study. A- plus study, the guy would have been a great journalist. It's a terrific report.

BLITZER: You managed to get a copy of this report, and it's obviously well-documented in your article.

Earlier today, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on television, made a few of the talk shows. And I want you to listen to specifically to what he said in response to his allegations of prisoner abuse.


GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: There was no, no, no evidence of systematic abuse in the system at all. We've paid a lot of attention, of course, in Guantanamo, as well. We review all the interrogation methods. Torture is not one of the methods that we're allowed to use and that we use. I mean, it's just not permitted by international law, and we don't use it.


BLITZER: All right, what are you -- first of all, your immediate reaction to what you heard from General Myers?

HERSH: Why don't I read you something from the Taguba report...

BLITZER: That's the general who put together this assessment.

HERSH: Right, and he filed it in late February, and it still hasn't been...

BLITZER: And I just want to point out, General Myers said he has not read that report yet, it hasn't reached up to him yet in the chain of command.

HERSH: I certainly believe him, which as far as I'm concerned, more evidence of the kind of systematic breakdown we're talking about. But let me read you the kind of stuff he said that predated the photographing.

"Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoritic acid liquid on detainees, pouring cold water on naked detainees, beating detainees with broomhandle and a chair, threatening them with rape, sodomizing a detainee with chemical lights and perhaps a broomstick, sicking military dogs on detainees." I mean...

BLITZER: Very graphic, and it gets even worse because I read the excerpts that you included in your article.

But the bottom line, he says, General Myers, this was not -- there's no evidence of systematic abuse. This may have been a few soldiers simply going bad.

HERSH: Taguba says otherwise. He says this is across the board. And what he says that's very important, is that these are jails, by the way, when we talk about prisoners, these are full of civilians. These are people picked up at random checkpoints and random going into houses. And even in the Taguba report, he mentions that upwards of 60 percent or more have nothing to do with anything.

So they're people just there. There's no processing. It's sort of a complete failure of anything the Geneva Convention calls for. And what can I tell you?

BLITZER: There was a woman, Brigadier General Janice Karpinski, a reservist, she was in charge of this prison. She's quoted in the New York Times this morning as saying the prison in that particular cellblock where the events took place were under the control of the MI command, military intelligence command.

Who was really in charge? Who's responsible here?

HERSH: Well, obviously, the highest command in Iraq. Because, as of last summer, they knew there was a problem in the prison.

BLITZER: When you say highest command you mean General Abizaid, General Sanchez?

HERSH: General Sanchez, Ricardo Sanchez. I think he's -- that's where you have to immediately go. This is going to end up there.

BLITZER: But you don't have any evidence he specifically knew what was happening in Abu Ghraib, do you?

HERSH: What I do have evidence of is that there were three investigations, each by a major general of the Army, ordered beginning in the fall of -- last fall. Clearly somebody at a higher level understood there were generic problems.

And the issue that General Karpinski's talking about, what Taguba says in his report is that the intelligence needs of interrogation drove the prisons. In other words, those prisons were turned, you could almost say -- it's a slight exaggeration -- almost into another Guantanamo.

Interrogation became the mantra, the thing that was essential, and that was not run by the people of the military police running the prisons. That was run by the intelligence community, not only military, CIA and private contractors.

BLITZER: Well, let's get to this. What role did you discover the CIA played in this, and what role did private contractors, who are civilians, play in this alleged abuse?

HERSH: Never mind me. It's what General Taguba said. He said he believes that the private contractors and the civilians, the CIA, paramilitary people, and the military drove the actions of that prison.

In other words, what we saw -- look, a bunch of kids from -- they're reservists from West Virginia, Virginia, rural kids -- the one thing you can do to an Arab man to shame him -- you know, we thrive on guilt in this society, but in that world, the Islamic world, it's shame -- have a naked Arab walking in front of men, walking in front of other men is shameful, having simulated homosexual sex acts is shameful. It's all done to break down somebody before interrogation.

Do you think those kids thought this up? It's inconceivable. The intelligence people had this done.

BLITZER: So, what you're suggesting is that the six soldiers who have now been indicted, if you will -- and they're facing potentially a court martial -- they were told to go ahead and humiliate these prisoners? And several of these soldiers were women, not just men.

HERSH: In one photograph, you see 18 other pairs of legs, just cropped off. There were a lot of other people involved, watching this and filming this. There were other cameras going. There were videotapes too.

And this -- I'm sure that, you know, in this generation these kids have CD-ROMs all over the place. We'll see more eventually.

I'm not only suggesting, I'm telling you as a fact that these kids -- I'm not excusing them, it was horrible what they did, and took photographs, and the leering and the thumbs-up stuff, but the idea did not come from them.

BLITZER: General Karpinski says in the New York Times also, "Why would they want the active-duty people to take the blame? They want to put this on the MPs" -- those are the reservists -- "and hope that this thing goes away. Well, it's not going to go away."

Clearly, there's going to be a full-scale investigation. Are you satisfied on that front?

HERSH: Oh, my God, yes.

BLITZER: And what do you think should happen?

HERSH: You mean, besides getting out of Iraq?

BLITZER: Well, beyond the politics of this, but you're assuming that this is much more widespread than this one incident, and then that these pictures that we have -- we don't have pictures of other incidents. That's what you're...

HERSH: It's not just a question of what I'm assuming. General Taguba says it's systematic, it's out of control, it's a problem, we've got to deal with it. This is what the report says. It's a devastating report, and I just hope they make it public.

BLITZER: Was it useful, though, this kind of -- if there was torture or abuse, these atrocities, did it get information vital to the overall military objective in Iraq, based on what you found out?

HERSH: Nobody said that, and of course I assume you will hear that. But let me tell you, I talked to some people. I've been around this business in the criminal investigations, My Lai and all that, for years. I talked to some senior people, one guy who spent 36 years as an Army investigator, and he said, what happens when you coerce -- it's against the law, the Geneva Convention, to coerce information -- what happens is, people tell you what they think you want to hear.

So you've got a bunch of people, you don't know whether they know the insurgency or know al Qaeda, but they give you names, their brothers-in-laws, their neighbors. You then send out your people to arrest those people, bring them in, more people that may have nothing to do with anything. You break them down, then -- whatever means, interrogate them and get more names. It's a never-ending circle that's useless.

I would guess that the amount of information we have was minimal, out of this group, because they were largely people, as I say, picked up at random.

BLITZER: You mentioned My Lai. A lot of our viewers remember you broke the story of the My Lai massacre. You won a Pulitzer Prize for your coverage during the Vietnam War.

Give us your historic perspective, what you saw, what you reported in Vietnam, and what you're reporting now in The New Yorker magazine.

HERSH: Oh, there's no -- we're talking about in My Lai shooting people in cold blood. We're not -- that did not happen.

BLITZER: As far as you know, no one was killed at Abu Ghraib, is that what you're saying?

HERSH: No, that's not true. There were people killed, yes, but not by the soldiers, not by the reservists. There were people killed -- I can tell you specifically about one case. One of the horrible photos is a man packed in ice. You want to hear it? I'll tell it to you.

They killed him -- either civilians, the private guards, or the CIA or the military killed him during an interrogation. They were worried about it. They packed him in ice. They killed him in evening. They packed him in ice for 24 hours, put him in a body bag, and eventually at a certain time -- don't forget, now, the prison has a lot of other Army units about it, and they didn't want to be seen with a dead body.

So they packed him in ice until it was the appropriate time. They put him on a trolley, like a hospital gurney, and they put a fake IV into him, and they walked out as if he was getting an IV. Walked him out, got him in an ambulance, drove him off, dumped the body somewhere.

That literally happened. That's one of the things I know about I haven't written about, but I'm telling you, that's where you're at. There was bloodshed on the other side of the... BLITZER: We heard from Dan Senor earlier in this program, suggesting he said he didn't know of anyone who died at Abu Ghraib prison.

HERSH: I have some photographs I'll be glad to share with him anytime he wants to know.

BLITZER: It sounds as if you've got more information that you're ready to release at some point as well, that this article in The New Yorker is not everything you know?

HERSH: Of course not.

BLITZER: What are you waiting for?

HERSH: I have to prove what I believe to be true. I have to get it proven. I believe this is more extensive, yes. I believe there are other things. I believe General Karpinski, as much at fault as she was, this was on her watch, I believe there's a point to what she says. I believe there's a point to what the soldiers say.

Again, not to excuse them. I would be shamed forever having participated in taking pictures, but there was a lot of pressure on these people to get interrogation. The whole system had been turned into basically an interrogation center.

And, again, I'm telling you, we're not talking about prisoners captured in Afghanistan who are trying to kill us. We're talking about people picked up at random.

And they lost control of the system. And the Army can talk about it all they want, but they lost control.

BLITZER: But on this specific point, and we are almost out of time, there were different sections of the Abu Ghraib prison, where there were minimal security, maximum security, then there were the real hard-nosed, kind of, potential terrorists that were presumably subjected to this kind of alleged abuse.

HERSH: General Taguba says the differentiations almost didn't exist. There were no quantifying ways to differentiate. And one of the problems they had in the prisons -- and General Karpinski, I think, is right about this. There was no -- under the Geneva Convention, you would pick somebody who was a civilian, you have to process him within six months, charge them or do something. This wasn't happening. People were being kept indefinitely. They weren't allowed visits.

It was a violation -- look, we went to this war because Saddam Hussein was doing this in the same prison. And we ended up replicating it in a way -- of course it wasn't the same kind of atrocities as he was doing, but nonetheless we have different standards here in our country.

And, you know, as a citizen, it's -- I wish General Myers had read the report. I absolutely believe him, he's an honorable man, I know, that he hadn't read it. I think he should have. I think it's a terrible thing for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go on television one day after my story's out about a report that's making news all over the world, I think it's a terrible thing for him to go on and say, "I haven't read it."

You know, we all lead by example. I was in the military. If you have good officers who do the job right, you will do it right. And I think he inadvertently, I'm sure he's an honorable man, it's a terrible example. He's saying that the prisoner issue wasn't that important until just the other week.

BLITZER: Seymour Hersh, he's got a powerful piece in The New Yorker. Thanks very much.

HERSH: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Coming up, an exclusive interview with North Carolina Democratic Senator John Edwards about the presidential and vice- presidential race.

And later we'll talk with two former U.S. secretaries of state about Iraq and the ticking two-month clock about handing control back to Iraqis.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by a man who has carefully studied John Kerry. He ran against him earlier this year, as well as last year, North Carolina Democratic Senator John Edwards.

Thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll get to politics later, but let's talk a little bit about the war in Iraq. You supported the war in Iraq. Knowing what you know now, as opposed to then, was it wise?

EDWARDS: If we did it the way it should be done, yes. Saddam Hussein being gone is a very good thing.

But John Kerry, myself, others have been advising President Bush for two years now to have NATO involvement providing security, to have the United Nations more involved earlier in this process, particularly in setting up the transitional government, having our allies more involved.

And none of that has been done until now...

BLITZER: He seems to be moving closer toward... EDWARDS: Well, he's finally being dragged kicking and screaming to doing the things that both Senator Kerry and myself and others have been saying should have been done two years ago. And he's put us in a place where doing those things now is much more difficult than it would have been if the hard work -- spade work had been done at the beginning.

BLITZER: Is it too late?

EDWARDS: No, I don't think it's too late. I think we still have a real opportunity for success, if we do the things that need to be done. And I'm sure you and I are going to talk about this, but John Kerry laid out on Friday, I think, a very good plan about how we should go forward in Iraq.

You know, making sure that we provide more training for security, for Iraqi -- to provide the Iraqis to provide for their own security, having a high commissioner that oversees this caretaker government after June the 30th, and having NATO more involved in overseeing the security in Iraq.

BLITZER: And the situation has clearly being more complicated, more difficult with these photos that have been released, these allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. Throughout Iraq, throughout the Arab world, indeed throughout the world, people are outraged.

EDWARDS: It's a very, very serious thing, Wolf. It sends exactly the wrong signal. And serious for at least two very important reasons. Number one, it says to the Arab world exactly the opposite of the message we want to be sending. You know, that we want to provide you with the opportunity to have democracy, to rule yourself, to have freedom.

Instead, what they're seeing are these photographs over and over and over. Which means the president, we, the administration, our military leadership, we have got to come out very strongly condemning what's happened, make sure we get to the bottom of it, and make sure that it never happens again.

It's also important for our own troops, the thousands and thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line in Iraq and who are good, able, brave people, you know, this is also damaging to them. And we've got to get to the bottom of this and make it clear that America will not tolerate this kind of behavior.

BLITZER: You just heard Seymour Hersh, the author of this article in The New Yorker, express his deep concern, alarmed that General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, didn't -- at least went on television this morning and failed to read this report that one of his own generals prepared, alleging all of these abuses.

EDWARDS: It's disturbing that our senior military leadership, I'm not specifically specifically about General Myers, but our senior military leadership is not stronger and more on top of this than at least it appears right now they are. BLITZER: What do you make of the situation in Fallujah and this apparent shift in U.S. strategy to let Iraqis go in there, clean up the mess, if you will, including Iraqis who were former generals in the Republican Guard?

EDWARDS: Well, one thing that, you know, the president was looking for something in his press conference that he may have made a mistake about. I've got a long list of things, by the way. If he needs that information, I would be glad to give it to him. And one of those things may have been to disband the army.

We knew that eventually would want the Iraqis to provide for their own security, and of course, Fallujah has a very long history, as I know you know, Wolf, of tribal leadership. In fact, Saddam Hussein himself had trouble controlling Fallujah, and left it, at least to some extent, to the local tribal leadership.

So the bottom line is, I think we have to show some deference to the people on the ground who are trying to find a way to provide security. It is important to have a Sunni buy-in to what's going on, to providing security in Iraq in this ongoing process of putting an Iraqi government in place, as it's important to have Shia involvement and Kurd involvement and buy-in.

So it's positive in that respect. And I think it at least has some possibility of being successful.

BLITZER: And you think that this June 30th transfer should take place on June 30th, and there's a chance that, at least, limited sovereignty can be restored?

EDWARDS: I think it is -- this June 30th date is set now, and it's important to go forward with it. I do think that what happens after June 30th, and up to the point that Democratic elections can take place, is enormously important, you know, so that we, in fact, bring the Iraqi people and all of the factions in Iraq into this process.

BLITZER: And let me button this up, because you're a strong supporter of John Kerry. As far as you know, the president says the United States will not cut and run, simply abandon Iraq. John Kerry says exactly the same thing.

EDWARDS: Yes, there's a big difference between the two of them, though. If John Kerry had been president of the United States for the last two years, we would not be in this place, Wolf. It is a very simple thing.

The thing that John Kerry is saying today, Friday in his speech, need to be done, these are things he's been saying these things for the last two years. And finally, President Bush has been dragged kicking and screaming to doing these things.

In order -- if you see something is not working, you have to be willing to change course. And this president has been absolutely obstinate and unwilling to do that. BLITZER: All right, Senator Edwards, stand by. We're going to take a quick commercial break.

Much more coming up, including a quick check of what's making news at this hour, including an update on six U.S. soldiers killed today in Iraq, and an American hostage now free. We'll have details.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking with North Carolina Senator, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

I'm looking at this latest CBS-New York Times poll showing Bush at 43 percent, Kerry at 41 percent, Ralph Nader at 5 percent. This is a close horserace.

EDWARDS: And it's going to be a very close race.

And, you know, one of the fascinating things that I have seen, Wolf, is, we've got an incumbent president, he's been in office almost four years now, and he's run millions of dollars of paid advertising, and almost every bit of that advertising has been directed at and attacking John Kerry.

Now, what does it say to the American people when the president of the United States, who's been in office almost four years, all of his advertising is aimed at attacking his challenger, instead of talking about what he's done as president? It says a lot about...

BLITZER: Yes, but the Democrats have run a lot of ads attacking the president of the United States too.

EDWARDS: Yes, but...

BLITZER: Throughout the primaries as well.

EDWARDS: But the Democrats haven't had the White House for the last four years, Wolf. This president has been in office for four years. He's spending many millions of dollars, and all that money's being spent attacking his opponent, instead of talking about what he's done, and we know why. We've lost millions of jobs, we have a health care system in crisis...

BLITZER: Well, let's take a look at this other CNN-USA Today- Gallup poll, on this one specific question: Who would do a good job handling terrorism? Sixty-four percent said Bush would, only 43 percent said John Kerry would.

Terrorism is a hot issue.

EDWARDS: It is a hot issue, but there are a lot of important issues, and the truth is, the president of the United States has to be able to do lots of things. And if you look at what John -- see, people are just getting to know John Kerry. That's the reality. I got -- you mentioned earlier in the show, I got to know him very well, because I spent a year on the campaign trail with him, I've served with him in the United States Senate. This man is a war hero. He's been a steady, strong leader in the United States Senate, a former prosecutor. He has the clearest plan for keeping people safe in this country. He's laid out a clear alternative about how we deal with Iraq.

I'm telling you, as we go forward in this campaign, the American people are going to see the John Kerry that I've seen, somebody of strength, determination and leadership.

BLITZER: He's looking for a vice presidential running mate. He's asked Jim Johnson, a former chief of staff to Walter Mondale, to come up with a list. Have they started questioning you about that?

EDWARDS: Well, I'm not going to talk about that. John Kerry has said he wants to keep this process confidential and private and dignified, and I think it's appropriate for me to respect that.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt you would like to be his running mate, is that right?

EDWARDS: There's no doubt that I want to make John Kerry president of the United States, not for me, but for my kids and my grandkids and for my country.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of the names that are out there. John Edwards, you did very well in the primaries, surprised a lot of people. Dick Gephardt didn't do so well, but his name is out there. Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, his name. Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico. And still some people looking out to Florida, an important state, saying Bob Graham, the senator from there, might be a good vice-presidential running mate.

What do you think?

EDWARDS: I think they're all terrific people. I mean, I know them all very, very well, and I could -- I mean, I could go through the list. I mean, Dick Gephardt's one of the finest public servants we've ever had in this country, a great leader in the House. Tom Vilsack I got to know in Iowa; he's doing a great governor from the state of Iowa. Same thing's true of Bill Richardson, who has both served in Washington and in New Mexico as governor of New Mexico. And of course Bob Graham, who I think was the other person you named...

BLITZER: And Bill Nelson, we didn't mention him, but his picture is...

EDWARDS: Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, both of them are terrific senators from Florida. This is a very strong group of people.

BLITZER: Well, you bring something unique, though, in terms of potentially helping him in the South. But so many of those Southern states Democrats apparently have written off. They don't think they have much of a chance there.

EDWARDS: Oh, we can compete everywhere. This presidential candidate, John Kerry, can compete everywhere. People in the South are looking for somebody who understands their lives, Wolf, who knows what it means when hundreds of thousands of jobs leave Southern states, as happened in North Carolina and South Carolina, as happened in a lot of Midwestern states, in addition to that. I think jobs is a huge issue in this campaign. The president has no plan about it. John Kerry has a clear plan.

In the health-care crisis, people are worried about their health care. I think John Kerry can be competitive, not just in the South, but in the Midwest and all these states that are going to determine who the next president's going to be.

BLITZER: The battleground states.

Senator Edwards, thanks very much for joining us.

EDWARDS: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, a year after the president's major combat-over issue, we'll ask two senior U.S. diplomats about what's right and what's wrong with U.S. policy in Iraq.

You're watching "LATE EDITION."


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The United States faces dangers abroad as well as at home. As assaults against coalition forces in Iraq apparently increase, as we told you at the top of the hour, six U.S. troops have been killed today, more than 30 wounded.

To help sort through this conflict, we've invited two senior U.S. diplomats, former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger to join us. I spoke with them just a short while ago.


BLITZER: Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, thanks very much for us.

And, Dr. Kissinger, let me begin with you. A year ago this weekend, the president landed aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, declared major combat operations over, under a banner that declared "Mission Accomplished."

Dr. Kissinger, what has been accomplished in Iraq?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, what has been accomplished is the destruction of the Saddam regime and a demonstration of the danger of challenging the United States. What has not yet been accomplished is the institution of a civil administration, which, A, would enable us to leave and secondly would produce a calm situation in the Middle East, though serious efforts are being made in the direction.

BLITZER: But, Dr. Kissinger, you believe that is a mission impossible, or is that a mission that's doable?

KISSINGER: I don't believe it is possible to institute a Western democratic government in the timeframe that is compatible with what America will support in a military sense. I think it is possible to institute representative institutions and the beginnings of governmental structures, which then can evolve on their own.

BLITZER: Dr. Albright, as you well know, there's supposed to be this handover on June 30th, at least much of Iraqi sovereignty restored, then formal democratic elections next January. That timetable seems very ambitious. Is it achievable?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I hope that the election aspect of this is achievable, and I know there's a lot of political activity going on on the ground.

But I think part of what has to happen here, Wolf, is the president has to level with the American people about what is possible and what is not. He, in his radio address yesterday, said that they were implementing a clear strategy. And my kids would say, "Give me a break." I don't know what the clear strategy is, and constantly saying that everything is going well, I think, is a disservice to all of us.

I agree with Henry about the fact that it's great that Saddam Hussein is gone. But a situation that has resulted is chaos, and we are now trusting former Iraqi Republican Guard generals to take care of Fallujah.

So I think there are many, many problems. I hope these deadlines can be reached, because I think the Iraqi people have to govern themselves.

BLITZER: This is a point, Dr. Kissinger, that Secretary Albright makes, that this former Republican Guard general in Fallujah, a Sunni Iraqi, is now effectively going to be in charge of trying to disarm or bring some sort of stability to Fallujah. That's raising a lot of questions, whether he's been properly vetted; whether, in fact, he's an ally of the coalition.

How concerned are you that the Marines are pulling out without necessarily getting the job done in Fallujah?

KISSINGER: There are two issues here. One is the tranquility in the city. And the second, it's the relationship of the American occupation to this whole process.

It is not in the American interest to create the impression that a group of insurgents can stand us off for months and then, at the end, we have -- there is some sort of a compromise, which introduces Iraqi forces.

So a lot will depend whether this is a stage and a process in which American forces can move freely in Fallujah, and whether the insurgents are giving up their weapons and whether the murderers of the Americans are turned over. If that is achieved, then, I think, it will have been a worthwhile effort.

But I would not want to see that the Republican Guard becomes the dominating element in the civilian security structure of Iraq. And I think we should move with great care to let organized Republican Guard units -- I would let some people work their way back, but I would not think the Republican Guard should be the main force.

BLITZER: And this raises all sorts of other questions, Madeleine Albright, as you well know. Ex-Republican Guard generals taking over Fallujah, for example. What does this say to the Shiite Iraqis or the Kurdish Iraqis, who were by and large the victims of brutality by the Sunni-led Republican Guard?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's a terrible message. I don't know this general, and I do think it was a mistake to disband the whole Iraqi military. But I think selecting somebody who is from the Republican Guard, the elite group that pledged undying loyalty to Saddam Hussein, does not seem very wise.

But I think the whole switching of strategy all the time on Fallujah is something that leaves a lot of doubts. And I hope that they get Fallujah right and that they know what to do in Najaf, because these are very, very serious times, in terms of the whole post-conflict situation.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, there seems to be a merging of the strategies, at least in the short term, between President Bush and his Democratic presidential opponent, John Kerry, in terms of giving more and more authority to the United Nations, to Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy, and let him come up with some sort of interim government in Baghdad following June 30th.

Is this wise for the U.S. to be doing this?

KISSINGER: Well, this representative of the secretary general is undoubtedly an extremely able man. But he is not in a position to promise anything or to threaten anything. He can be facilitating, but the ultimate responsibility will have to be taken, I believe, by governments, made under some general U.N. supervision.

And I believe that it is important to involve countries that have a lot to lose from radical Islam, countries like India or Turkey or Russia, and some of the European allies, in a sort of a contact group, to participate in this so that we are not caught between either a unilateral American effort, or an effort led by the secretariat of the United Nations, without any intermediate body to vet these things.

BLITZER: Madeleine Albright, you support John Kerry. You want him to be the next president of the United States. Is there a growing merging of these strategies, the Kerry and the Bush strategy, as far as Iraq is concerned?

ALBRIGHT: Well, the big difference is that Senator Kerry was suggesting this some time ago, that there be a way to have international cooperation on Iraq, that this shouldn't just have an American face. And I think it's good that the president's beginning to see this, but implementing it in a very slow fashion.

I would agree with Henry about the importance of getting other countries in, and, in fact, I think that the neighbors should also be more involved, because they have a real stake in this.

But what Senator Kerry had been saying early on was the necessity for an international approach to this, because we cannot just have this have the American face. We are now viewed as the occupiers and not the liberators, and the U.N., I think -- and Lakhdar Brahimi, whom I know very well, I think can be a very good facilitator.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, the American and coalition staff in Iraq has just become so much more complication because of these widely circulated photos of Iraqi prisoners being abused at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This is going to cause enormous problems for the United States, especially in Iraq and in the Arab world.

KISSINGER: I would make one comment on Madeleine before I answer your question. We were not alone in Iraq. We, after all, had all European countries -- almost all European countries except France and Germany with us. So it wasn't an effort of either unilateral American, with no participation.

Now, about these photos. I think they're shocking. I think they're inexcusable. I think this will in no sense be a partisan issue. Everybody will agree that this should not have happened, must not happen again.

BLITZER: But let me interrupt, Dr. Kissinger. Let me interrupt, Dr. Kissinger, and say this: Everyone is saying, "shocked, shocked." They're totally shocked by this. But you know the nature of interrogation of prisoners, prisoners who were suspected of knowing information that could result in the deaths of American soldiers, to humiliate them to stop just short of formally torturing them. Hasn't that been going on in every war?

KISSINGER: I suspect that pressure has been put on prisoners possessing intelligence information in every war, and I think what should also keep in mind who these people might have been.

Still, there is no excuse for the pictures that we saw. We have to avoid generalizing this as an example of the conduct of the American armed forces, which behave honorably and decently and courageously. This was -- these events occur under tremendous pressure, when it is believed that very special intelligence information is available.

I repeat, they are not excusable. But these are not standard procedures that are even conceivable toward ordinary prisoners.

BLITZER: All right. Let me let Dr. Albright weigh in as well.

KISSINGER: But they're inexcusable.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Dr. Albright.

ALBRIGHT: I think that this is outrageous, and these people need to be very seriously punished.

BLITZER: When you say these people, the specific rank-and-file soldiers...

ALBRIGHT: The specific rank-and-file.

BLITZER: ... or the higher-ups?

ALBRIGHT: Both. I think we have to track where this to happen, but the most important thing -- and I totally agree with Henry -- is that this is not a picture of America. And you have a very wide international audience, and this is not what America stands for. All of this us deplore this.

Our Armed Forces are brilliant, wonderful people. This is an aberration, and it's very important that people understand that we don't stand for this kind of horrendous activity. And it is totally un-American.

BLITZER: On that note, I'll thank Madeleine Albright...

KISSINGER: I must say another -- could I say one other thing?

BLITZER: Go ahead.

KISSINGER: I mean, this is occurring in a context in when -- in which. On Middle East television, their cutting the throat of American prisoners is being shown. So it is a terrible atmosphere.

It is not excusable, but some of the people who express such outrage in the region should look into their own souls to see what they have contributed to creating an atmosphere where this can happen.

BLITZER: Doctor...

ALBRIGHT: But, Henry, we have to have a higher standard. This is America.

KISSINGER: Absolutely. I'm not excusing it. But I'm trying to establish a context.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger...

KISSINGER: There is no excuse for it.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, thank you very much to both of you for joining us.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Up next, the results of our Web question of the week. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week asked this question: Does Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have a clear plan for Iraq? Take a look and see how you voted. Eighty percent of you said yes. Twenty percent said no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, May 2nd. Please be sure to join me this coming Sunday, every Sunday in fact, at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday at both noon and 5 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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