Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Seymour Hersh; Interview With Ahmad Chalabi
Aired May 9, 2004 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll talk to veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh about what he's uncovered in the widening Iraqi prisoner scandal in just a few minutes. But first, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's headlines.
BLITZER: We begin in Iraq where the first court-martial has now been ordered stemming from the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. CNN's Ben Wedeman standing by live in Baghdad with all the late-breaking developments -- Ben.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, open and transparent. That's how General Mark Kimmitt is describing what is going to be the first trial in Iraq in connection with the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. Now on trial will be 24-year-old specialist Jeremy Sivits of the 372nd Military Police Company.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR COALITION OPERATIONS: The three charges against Specialist Sivits are conspiracy to maltreatment -- to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment, and maltreatment of detainees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WEDEMAN: Now, the trial will be held in Baghdad on May 19th in the green zone. That's where the Coalitional Provisional headquarters -- Authority is located. Now, we're being told that the media will have access to those proceedings.
Now, if convicted of all charges, Sivits could face a year in prison, reduction in rank, loss of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad conduct discharge. Now, six other soldiers in addition to Sivits are the subject of a criminal investigation, so we can expect more court-martials to come.
Meanwhile, another deadly bombing in Baghdad. This time in the southwestern suburb of Baya, where at about 8 o'clock this morning, what is being described as an improvised explosive device ripped through a crowded marketplace, killing five people, at least, including a young child in that blast.
Thirteen others, including six policemen were wounded, one of them critically. Now, the police say they believe that this bomb was aimed at them.
And in Sadr City, a Baghdad suburb where there are many supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, U.S. forces clashed with the cleric's supporters today, killing 18, according to a Coalition spokesman -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Baghdad. Thanks, Ben, very much.
Back here in the United States, the Bush administration now in full damage control mode over the prisoner abuse scandal. But it's also voicing very strong support for the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. CNN's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux standing by from the North Lawn with her perspective.
What's the latest from there, Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, arguably, last week was one of the most damaging weeks for President Bush. The White House is now trying to resuscitate its reputation, particularly Secretary Rumsfeld. We saw Cheney, as well as other top officials, at the White House yesterday. They were participating in a secure teleconference with the president, who is at Camp David, to talk about the wide, broad strategy about this.
Now, after a series of apologies from the president on down, the focus now, the administration says, is to punish those responsible. But senior administration officials say that will not be Rumsfeld, despite some calls for his resignation.
In a rare statement by Cheney's office, released yesterday, it said, "As a former secretary of defense, I think Donald Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had. People ought to let him do his job." He went on to tell other reporters that they ought to "lay off his case."
But, of course, Wolf, this has not stopped the discussion, the debate that continues to only intensify about his fate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think it would be very patriotic if Secretary Rumsfeld resigned, but I do think that the issue goes beyond the secretary of defense.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I'm not calling for Rumsfeld's removal because I think that would not represent a change in the direction, a reaching out to other countries.
SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you're calling for his resignation, you're missing the boat. If you're in the White House, say, "Get off his back," you're missing the boat. The problem we have before us is, as a nation and in the Congress and private citizens, as well, is how do we show the world that we can do better?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, tomorrow we're going to see President Bush. He is going to go before, at the Pentagon, go before the audience. He's going to get a military briefing, and then we expect that he's going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Rumsfeld and give his support. Wolf?
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thanks, Suzanne, very much.
During his day-long testimony Friday before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the defense secretary warned that information about the Iraqi prisoner scandal is about to get worse.
As it turns out, an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh in the new issue of The New Yorker magazine just out today is providing even more disturbing details about the U.S. military's mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. Seymour Hersh, once again, joins us here in our Washington studio.
Sy, thanks very much for joining us.
Let's talk about, first of all, this new picture that's inside The New Yorker this week. We'll put it up on the screen. We're going to distort the face of the Iraqi prisoner who is naked, but tell our viewers what we're seeing.
SEYMOUR HERSH, NEW YORKER: You're seeing two attack dogs, German shepherds, snarling, you know, it's a scene from we know what, you know, Third Reich, you name it. It's snarling at a prisoner cowering in fear inside a prison with a few people standing around watching sort of calmly.
BLITZER: Well, when you say Third Reich, you're getting into very, very sensitive areas. Right now, be more specific. What exactly do you mean?
HERSH: I mean that the idea of using dogs on civilians and detainees is really extraordinary. It's a really unusual thing. It's against Army policy. I quote an Army -- a major general former military head of police, a general named Heinz, as saying if I had done anything like that -- he was 28 years in the business of military police -- I would have been run out of the Army, essentially he's saying. That's just simply something we do not do in the U.S. Army.
BLITZER: But don't MPs often walk around with German shepherds, with police dogs?
HERSH: Oh, absolutely. What MPs do is -- the dogs are important for sniffing out contraband. When you're in prison, you want to know if anybody is using drugs. The dogs are very important. They're also very important in riot control, if you have a riot. But here's a case with somebody who is being obviously -- this is, I assume, part of -- I should say -- I don't know, but it seems to be part of an interrogation process, or a process of breaking down the prisoner anyway.
It has something to do, obviously, with what they thought was normal prison behavior, because here the whole sequence, it's about 20 photographs. And from the beginning to the end what it shows is the man -- the dogs getting closer and closer, barking at him. People -- as I say, the whole time -- at one point one of the prison guards is smiling into the camera. It's just sort of like another day in the office. Eventually, we don't see the dogs actually bite him, but there's a series of photographs with the man on the ground with a gaping wound in his legs.
BLITZER: And you've seen these photographs?
HERSH: I've seen them all, of course.
BLITZER: And The New Yorker decided not to publish them?
HERSH: Obviously. I mean, I think they just thought this one picture made the point that had to be made, that this was really sort of a extraordinary sort of thing to do to a prisoner. And it's also, in his report, General Taguba makes the point...
BLITZER: He was the one that investigated the entire affair, Major General.
HERSH: Yes, Antonio Taguba. He mentioned that there was a problem with dogs. He said there was a case of -- at least one case they knew of of a dog being bitten.
BLITZER: Of a dog biting someone, you mean.
HERSH: I beg your pardon? Of course, the dog biting somebody. The important thing about the group in this photograph is that it's not -- there's seven people being prosecuted from the -- by the Army from a unit known as the 372nd MP Company.
BLITZER: And today the first court martial was announced where the specialist Jeremy Sivits...
HERSH: Sivits. Right, and this photo came from somebody in a different unit, the 372nd MP Battalion, also at the prison. But it's a whole separate group of people. So now all of a sudden we're not looking at six or seven possible suspects. What you saw here is against Army regulations. And I'm not a lawyer. I can't tell you it's against the Geneva Convention. It certainly seems to be very abusive, particularly biting someone.
BLITZER: But you're saying there is a photograph showing that a prisoner was actually bitten by a dog?
HERSH: I don't -- we don't show the bite. We just show the man on the ground with a gaping wound. The New Yorker describes it either as a very deep scratch or a dog bite. It's a wound like this in his thigh. And we see pools of blood in other photographs.
BLITZER: Based on what you learned, who took all these pictures?
HERSH: We know -- The New Yorker looked, analyzed -- the photo department analyzed the camera. There were two cameras operating at the time. This was a 12-minute sequence inside a prison. There were two cameras shooting these photos over 12 minutes, so we know two cameras were working.
And we know from the other -- in the other photographs we've seen, and from stories from one of the prisoners who was interviewed last week by The New York Times, one of the guys that showed up in the horrible pictures the week before, one of those naked people being forced to do awful acts to themselves. And he said all during that process there were cameras going.
So I'm here to say that the evidence suggests that cameras and the use of cameras was part of the interrogation process. And I'll tell you what somebody has told me, which is that one of the ways you could possibly get more leverage on a potential witness or if it's somebody you want to interrogate, is to threaten, you know, shame -- we talked about humiliation and shame -- is to threaten a prisoner with taking these photographs and showing them to neighbors or showing them to others. It would be a greater source of humiliation to have others actually see the problems he had in prison.
BLITZER: Because these prisoners, some of them, as you report, and others have reported, and in the Taguba report were forced to masturbate?
HERSH: Yes. And forced to simulate sexual acts with other men, and while the cameras were flicking. And so it's very clear that the policy -- and again, you have to remember, this is not the six or seven kids we've seen. You know, the smiling girl and the thumbs up. These are different people in these photographs that I looked at.
BLITZER: So what are you suggesting? That there was a systematic policy to humiliate, to abuse these prisoners, and it came from where? The order came from where?
HERSH: The article is called "Chain of Command." And what I'm saying is you have to turn the whole way we're approaching the story over. We have to sort of turn the hourglass over from looking at the kids, who were directly involved, and looking at the high-level policy level.
We have to go up the chain of command to see where did this order come to change the rules?
And one of the things I discovered as I wrote about it, is that last November the general of Iraq, General Sanchez, Ricardo Sanchez, the lieutenant general, three-star general, promulgated an order last November to all the prisons, saying from now on Military Intelligence are in control, they run the prisons.
And under Army regulations, the MPs, the military police, they're prison guards. You don't want prison guards involved in interrogations because that leads to an enormous amount of hostility. And you want prisons to be tranquil. Otherwise you're going to have people always at you.
And so the guards are forbidden by Army regulations from getting involved in the interrogation process.
Sanchez, the three-star general in charge of everything, changed it, and he based that change on a recommendation from guess who? Major General Geoffrey Miller, the man that was formerly at Guantanamo, who did a study last summer for Sanchez and who's now back running the prison system.
So you have the man that recommended changing the system and making it tougher, much tougher on prisoners.
BLITZER: Well, what was the theory behind stripping these prisoners, having dogs there, forcing them to simulate sexual acts, what was the possible logic behind any of that?
HERSH: Well, last fall, if you remember, was a time when the insurgency started blooming again. It was very rough for us, and it was at that time people like General Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, and others, the commander of all of the region, and General Sanchez were talking publicly, we think there's 5,000 people in the insurgency.
Remember there was talk, we know there's 500, 5,000, we want names, and they wanted to know who was in the insurgency. They saw it as a finite force. They sort of misread the sort of mass anti- Americanism that obviously exists.
And so the goal was -- and last fall we had as many as 40,000 detainees. Overwhelmingly, the vast majority were just innocents, picked up civilians, not necessarily -- these were not people from Guantanamo.
BLITZER: Some were common criminals.
HERSH: Many were common criminals, and many were women that were picked up in sweeps, that were kept in prison. And many, as General Taguba said in his report, more than 60 percent had nothing to do with anything, should have been let go.
But the idea was, I guess, to escalate the pressure on them, do everything you can, humiliate them, have the sexual stuff, have photographs there that can be used as leverage. And the idea was to get the names, the magic names of the 5,000 people, so we can go arrest them.
The trouble was, as anybody who knows anything about interrogation will tell you, anybody in the armed forces or any, the CIA, the worst way to get intelligence is through coercion. You just don't get it that way. They tell you what they think you want to hear.
BLITZER: And so you think the whole thing was counterproductive.
Look, there's a fascinating element in the new article that you write, "Chain of Command," in the New Yorker, at the end, and you bring up the case of John Walker Lindh, the man known as the American Taliban.
BLITZER: He's serving 20 years in prison now. He confessed. He pleaded guilty. He got a plea-bargain agreement. And there's a picture of him naked in Afghanistan.
Tell our viewers what you learned about this.
HERSH: You go back to the Lindh case and you discover -- this was an affidavit filed by his attorney, James Brosnahan of San Francisco, who did the case pro bono, a very eminent lawyer -- you discover that, when he was arrested, he was stripped, roughed up, and photographed, twice, by people. In other words, the idea of using photographs to humiliate somebody was started in Afghanistan. At least it was there in Afghanistan.
And what makes this interesting was Taguba, in his report -- again, Antonio Taguba, whose report we all read about last week...
BLITZER: He's one of the heroes in all of this.
And, by the way, you know, I wouldn't bet on him making a three- star, but, you know, there's a lot of anger at him for embarrassing the Army, but that's another story. You know, everybody hates the messenger. You know that.
HERSH: But the important thing is, Taguba said that this did originate -- there was evidence that what happened now in Iraq began in Afghanistan.
And we know that Rumsfeld, when the war began, after 9/11, Rumsfeld and the president declared that the Geneva Convention no longer was there, new rules, we're going to fight a war, this is a war on terror, we're going to change the rules, and anybody who worries about the Geneva Convention is...
BLITZER: But he says that applied only to enemy combatants in Guantanamo or in Afghanistan, but the Geneva Conventions were applicable, he says, in Iraq.
HERSH: That's what he said, but we also have incredible evidence, growing even today, that it didn't happen, that they were just words, maybe.
BLITZER: There's an item in the new issue of Newsweek magazine that's about to hit the news stands, in their Periscope conventional wisdom, and it says this about Sy Hersh -- I don't know, have you seen it yet?
BLITZER: Let me read it to you. It says, "Thirty-two years after breaking My Lai, he's still scooping everyone. If there's a journalistic equivalent to Viagra, he's on it."
HERSH: Well, I'm not sure that's as much of a compliment as you might think.
BLITZER: You won a Pulitzer for My Lai. How big does this story, in your mind, compare to that?
HERSH: My Lai and Vietnam was tactical. That was -- and compared to the strategic issues we're facing, what the Arab world sees us do -- and, by the way, at My Lai people murdered people, and this was not My Lai. They were not being murdered. I still would argue that, even though coercion -- what they showed with the photographs is a form of torture. For an Arab, it's terrifying.
The Arab world, it's not just disliking us and thinking we're savages. They think we're perverse. This is a sexual -- this was, for the Arab world, the idea of women being around at this time shows how America can't -- is just off the wall. America is no longer to be trusted.
I've talked to Middle Eastern people in the last week, and they say the damage is much more acute. The average person who follows the Islamic word, and believes in it, is really horrified in a profound way about who we are, that we would use women and sex in the way we use it, is to them, it's so degrading and, as I say, perverse.
This is a strategic issue. We're picking a fight with 1.3 billion people. And I'm not sure that the guys -- you know, if you look at the way Rumsfeld and the president handled this, this sort of, "Oh, my God, let's rearrange the deck chairs of the Titanic for the last four months," God knows what they were thinking about. This has been a train coming down the tracks.
You begin to get a sense, these are people who can't cope with information they don't want to hear. They haven't been able to listen to the generals in the Pentagon, who have been saying for six or eight months that we were really in trouble.
They won't listen to them. And it's not because it is a cover- up, it's because they don't listen to what they don't want to hear.
And now we're getting into a strategic struggle with the whole Middle East. This is expanding. And I'm not sure that the guys running the government really know that the high stakes involved.
BLITZER: On that note, we have to leave it. Seymour Hersh, will you be back next week with a third installment in The New Yorker?
HERSH: I'm going to sleep for a little while.
BLITZER: All right. Don't go to sleep for too long. Thanks very much for joining us.
BLITZER: Coming up, protests over the prisoner abuse scandal. We'll get perspective from the Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.
And later, the politics of truth, the conversation with the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, about his new book and his battle with the Bush administration.
Also, a neck and neck race for the White House. We'll gauge the first Bush-versus-Kerry contest with New Mexico Governor and potential Democratic vice presidential pick Bill Richards.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" Web question of the week: Were you satisfied with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's testimony on Friday? You can cast your vote at cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in this program.
But up next, Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi on his country's political future and the potential repercussions of the prisoner abuse scandal.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
Critics and even some supporters of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq are expressing concern the prisoner abuse scandal will further undermine an already tenuous political and security situation in that country.
Just a short while ago, I spoke with Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, and began by asking him how these shocking events at the Abu Ghraib prison could have occurred.
AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: These abuses are outrageous. We condemned them, and then we must take immediate steps to see that they must not happen again. I think they took place -- overzealous people who wanted information with no controls, and no supervision over them, lack of Iraqi involvement in watching over this, and these are some of the abuses that took place.
There are other abuses which are not so violent, but nevertheless, they should stop the involve -- misuse of the legal system. They use -- they involve this use of the police here under -- under instructions from various authorities here, and I think that all these abuses must be looked into and they must stop.
BLITZER: Have you been formally briefed by members of the coalition, whether military or civilian, about what happened?
CHALABI: There was a brief discussion of this, and there has been not much discussion about it with us at all.
BLITZER: Is this simply at the Abu Ghraib prison, the allegations, or elsewhere in Iraq, as well as other detention facilities? Have you been told that similar abuses have occurred?
CHALABI: We have not been told that abuses have occurred elsewhere. I want to say here that the minister of human rights of Iraq resigned, Dr. Abd al-Basit Turki, after protesting violations of human rights in Iraq, and the CPA did not like what he said. They took him to task, so he resigned. This happened before the abuse story came out in the press.
BLITZER: Do you understand why, apparently, some thought it was necessary to have these prisoners stripped naked and humiliated in the way they were as a potential way to soften them up and get them to talk about secret information that they may still have had? Has someone explained why it was necessary to do that, if that was an effective technique?
CHALABI: This is -- under no circumstances this can be done. It is abhorrible that people are subjected to this. These are methods that Saddam had used, and we rejected them completely. We don't want them, and there are no circumstances which would permit the use of such methods to extract information. There is no such justification for this behavior at all.
BLITZER: You know that under Saddam Hussein's regime, Abu Ghraib was well known for torture, for horrible activity going on there. Whose idea was it to keep it in place as a coalition detention center?
CHALABI: The CPA decided to keep Abu Ghraib. It has a very bad connotation in the minds of the Iraqi people. It is a place where great monstrosities took place against the Iraqi people, and I think it was an ill-advised decision to keep it. I think it should have been erased to the ground, or at least turned into a museum. It's a horrible place with horrible connotations, and I think it should be erased to the ground now.
BLITZER: The president of the United States apologized, or at least came very close to formally apologizing when he stood next to King Abdullah of Jordan the other day. Listen to what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that enough of an apology for you?
CHALABI: President Bush is widely seen in Iraq as the man who liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein. We've continued to be grateful to him. Without him, it wouldn't happen. I think it would be more appropriate to send a message of the same nature to the Governing Council rather than to do it to a foreign head of state.
BLITZER: You would have liked to have seen him apologize formally to you and to your colleagues in the Iraqi Governing Council, as opposed to King Abdullah of Jordan. Well, you understand that there presumably would be even greater damage in the days, weeks, months to come. There are hundreds of other pictures, apparently, including videotapes that portray sadistic, brutal events. Are you bracing for that?
CHALABI: We are -- the issues, the abuses and the violations multiply and the images are horrible. We are -- we cannot really brace ourselves to take more of this. It is just a very sad and demeaning experience for everyone who has done this.
I think that the United States must take immediate measure to put the full story out and to work quickly, to stop abuses, not only of the prison system but of the judicial system and of authorities that will have handled these issues. All of these people must be brought to task, and they also must be shown to the world they had them brought to task.
BLITZER: Do you think Defense Secretary Rumsfeld should resign?
CHALABI: Well, the defense secretary has done a great job, and not only in Iraq, but in terms of his running of the Defense Department. He personally has apologized. He is not personally responsible for these things. They come under his jurisdiction, it is true, but he personally abhors those acts.
I know that he is against any violations of human rights. I've talked to him, and I'm sure he's very, very distressed. It is up to the president of the United States to decide what the secretary of defense, secretary of defense should do, and of course up to Mr. Rumsfeld. But Mr. Rumsfeld is a man of integrity and a man of great competence.
BLITZER: You've spoken to him since this abuse scandal has surfaced, is that what you're saying?
CHALABI: No, I've not spoken to him about this, but I know in the past that he expressed horror at violations of human rights and violations of people's dignity.
BLITZER: As you know, on June 30th, the coalition is scheduled to transfer much sovereignty, most sovereignty, to Iraqis. Lakhdar Brahimi, the special U.N. envoy, recently said this, and I'll read it precisely. 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's scheduled for January of next year, and stay out of the interim government." Do you accept that?
CHALABI: He has changed his position since he's come back to Baghdad, totally. He is now telling people who have met him that he has no agenda on this, that political parties must be involved in this process, and that people who are going to be in the government can be political parties and political leaders. He's come to recognize the need for the new government to have political support.
I must emphasize there that there is sovereignty in Iraq after June 30th, and if the government doesn't have sufficient support, it will fall, and then we will be in a -- there will be a vacuum.
We must work out mechanisms so that -- to take care of all these contingencies in the new structure. There must be a body empowered within the Iraqi government to choose a new government, to take care of changes in the government, and to take care of emergencies, and that body must be a political body rather than anything else, of Iraqis.
BLITZER: What role do you expect to play? Do you want to play, starting on July 1st?
CHALABI: I am not a candidate for any government position. I think it would be ill -- it is going to be a very hard task. We wish anybody who's going to take responsibility well, and we will support them, but the task of dealing with foreign troops on Iraqi soil without a status of forces agreement and a certain lack of clarity about who controls Iraq's finances, and certain lack of clarity about the future of Iraqi debt, all these issues are going to beset future government in Iraq, and I am certainly not a candidate for it.
BLITZER: One final question. There was a story in one of the magazines here in the United States this week that you are becoming very close to the government of Iran right now, and the suggestion in that article was that you were even passing sensitive intelligence information to authorities in Tehran. Is that true?
CHALABI: That allegation of passing of sensitive information is false. I will never pass sensitive information concerning Iraq or Iraq's allies to their adversaries. That is a ridiculous charge. It is unsubstantiated.
However, I believe that Iraq is Iran's neighbor, and we have the longest border with Iran. We share many common values with them, from point of view of society, of faith and of history.
We may disagree with their political system, we may have disagreements on what kind of political system should prevail, but we will deal with them as a nation which is a neighbor of Iraq, and we will deal with them on the basis of respect and non- intervention in the internal affairs of each other.
We will not permit Iraq to be a place of -- as a plotting or access for plotting against Iran, and we expect them to do the same towards us. And we are now in the phase where Iraq is going to be a sovereign country within 54 days from now. We will be a sovereign country, and in that case, Iraq must have good relations with all its neighbors, as we have a long way to go before we can have adequate security of our own inside our country.
BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi, thanks very much for joining us.
CHALABI: Thank you.
BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories. And with just 52 days until the transfer of power in Iraq, we'll talk with two key U.S. lawmakers on what all this means and much more.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
There's been no shortage of opinion about the prisoner abuse scandal that's unfolding in Iraq. U.S. lawmakers weighing in across the board.
Joining us now, two very influential members of the U.S. Congress, Democratic Senator, Intelligence Committee member, Dick Durbin. He's joining us live from Springfield, Illinois. Here in our Washington studio, California Republican Congressman, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter.
Thanks to both of you for joining us.
And, Mr. Chairman, let me begin with you. As far as we can tell, as far as you can tell -- and you spent three hours chairing that hearing with Rumsfeld and all of the military brass on Friday -- who ordered, if anyone, these MPs, these military police, to commit these abuses?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head, Wolf, because the evidence that we have so far -- and remember this investigation was started back in January, January 16th, three days after the soldier came forward, gave the information to his superior that bad things were happening, General Sanchez ordered the investigation and announced to the world that the investigation was taking place.
So far, here's what we have. We have six people who have been preferred under Article 32 for court-martials. Three of them now have been preferred to the court-martial convening authority which will make the decision now as to whether or not to court-martial them for abuse of prisoners, assault...
BLITZER: But these are all junior members of the military. Is there any evidence that someone told them from military intelligence, civilian contractors, higher-ups, officers, did someone say to them, humiliate these prisoners, get them to strip naked, to perform these sexual acts to soften them up for interrogation?
HUNTER: You've hit the nail on the head, Wolf. The answer, so far, is no.
And there are six investigations -- count them, six -- and with all of the enormous publicity that has attended this and the numerous interviews that have been taken, so far there is no evidence that's been shown to us or to the Army that says that somewhere up the line somebody said, "At 2:30 in the morning, we want you to strip these prisoners naked and stack them on top of each other," or do similar acts.
There is nothing in the military regulations that say you should do this type of thing to people. And so let's see. In perspective, you've got 135,000 people performing honorably. You've got six so far, and there may be more, but six so far.
BLITZER: All right. Let me bring Senator Durbin in.
Do you accept that, Senator Durbin, that these individuals did this on their own, that no one at a higher level told them to do this?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I would agree with Congressman Hunter that it's very unlikely that there were explicit or direct instructions on what to do, but let's be very blunt about this. We had the military intelligence telling the military police, "Soften these prisoners up, we're going to question them in the morning." And, at that point, it all fell apart.
And it wasn't just a matter of a handful of soldiers in a cell block. Those who were in command, those who were responsible for supervising them, they all failed. And they failed right on up the ladder, right on up the line.
And for us to say it's just a few renegade soldiers, listen, I know that those were the ones on the photographs, but there were others who were derelict in their duty.
Now, the sad reality is that a million acts of kindness and bravery and goodwill by American soldiers in Iraq over the past year or more is being overshadowed by these sad photographs, these shameful photographs. But we have to be honest. This isn't just a matter of a handful of soldiers.
BLITZER: What about that, Congressman?
HUNTER: Well, very clearly, Dick, if you commit a criminal act and it's done at 2:30 in the morning with no knowledge from your superiors, those superiors are accountable for what happened, but they're not part of that activity. Now, the officers...
BLITZER: But, you know, these guys have all told -- these young enlisted personnel, men and women, have all told their loved ones, their lawyers, their family, back in letters that they were instructed, they were formally ordered to do this.
HUNTER: Well, now, wait a minute. If anyone was formally ordered by a superior to perform those acts, then that means that the superiors participated in the crime by instructing them to do that, and they will be the subject of court-martials.
But what we have to do, in giving the right balance to this, is acknowledge that at this point only six have been charged, and there so far has not been established that link where people ordered to do it. However, the six people up the chain of command have had their careers ended because they were officers and it happened on their watch.
BLITZER: Let's listen, Senator Durbin, to what General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his testimony on Friday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Any implication that this behavior was driven by direction of the chain of command or by any pressure from any to get interrogation results from Washington, D.C., is absolutely just not right. I mean, that is not how it works at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, do you have confidence in General Myers and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?
DURBIN: Well, let me say this. I feel that there was no explicit requirement or explicit direction, in terms of torture or how these prisoners were to be treated.
But we sadly created a climate, when it came to dealing with detainees, that really said we are not going to look as closely at Geneva Conventions as we should.
And we also established standards for interrogation which we need to know more about.
There have been press disclosures this morning that suggest some of the things that were done were at least approved, at least in the most general terms. But we have to ask these hard questions.
When it gets specifically to Secretary Rumsfeld, I'll say this. I think it would be an important symbol of our apology and our, I guess, embarrassment over what has happened in Iraq for Secretary Rumsfeld to step down.
But if it is just that, he's only going to step down, and it's only a symbol, it's not enough. We knead to make certain we change the policy, the direction and the leadership on what's going on in Iraq.
BLITZER: Let me let Congressman Hunter respond. HUNTER: Well, I have to disagree with my friend, Senator Durbin. Secretary Rumsfeld should be judged on one thing, and that's his effectiveness in managing this 2.5-million-person military in the war against terrorism.
What he's been doing is running a war in two different theaters, Afghanistan and Iraq, at the same time dealing with unwieldy allies, at the same time putting together a $400 billion defense bill and trying to reshape the military.
In my estimation, he's done an excellent job at that. And the idea that we would get rid of him when he's been managing the war against terrorism very effectively for politics or for some perceived benefit in the international world, would be a disservice to everybody who's serving right now, soldiers who are in combat right now...
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this on the issue of politics. Is Senator Durbin, in your opinion, and other Democrats raising the resignation matter as a matter of politics to try to help John Kerry?
HUNTER: Here's what I think all the Democrats have to do. At some point, they're going to have the decision in their closed-door meetings as to whether or not we solve this problem and move forward or we milk it for further political gain looking toward November.
They're going to have to make that hard decision. They could carry this thing out. They can talk about it forever, but the military has six investigations. They've got court-martials going on. They should let the military do their job and let's try to win that war.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Durbin, what's wrong with that?
DURBIN: Well, I can just tell you, this is it not just an isolated incident, it's a failure of leadership. And I don't think that my friend, Congressman Hunter, can appreciate the depth of feeling and anger that this has created in places around the world.
It has made Iraq a lot more dangerous for our troops, and it makes the likelihood of our success on the war on terrorism even more limited.
What I'm saying is that Secretary Rumsfeld, for the good of this nation, needs to step forward and say, as an important act to show we're changing courses and this will never happen again, "I am stepping down." That would be an act of patriotism. It would be in the best interest of the troops who are still in the field facing the danger that's been created by this scandal.
HUNTER: You can't say it's never going to happen again because we have about 3,000 court-martials a year, that is court-martials for criminal activities. That means we have an average of 10 court- martials per day.
If you make the secretary of defense step down every time there's a court-martial, they're going to have a career expectancy of about 30 seconds. You're going to have to resign 10 times a day.
You can't give a person who is managing a 2.5-million-member armed forces across the world the responsibility for what happens at 2:30 in the morning in a remote prison in Iraq. That's not reasonable. It's not logical.
BLITZER: All right, Senators, I'm going to ask both of you, if you don't mind, to stand by. We have more questions, much more important information that we want to relay to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Much more with these two members of the U.S. Congress, Congressman Duncan Hunter, Senator Dick Durbin. They're standing by to continue our program. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Much more with Congressman Duncan Hunter and Senator Dick Durbin, that's coming up. First, though, let's read a few of your e-mails. We're getting swamped with e-mails from all over the world.
Michele writes this: "Secretary Rumsfeld deserved to be repremanded by President Bush, but he should not resign. I think everyone calling for his resignation is motivated by politics, not his record."
Said (ph) from Illinois writes this: "Rumsfeld was not only in charge during the scandal at Abu Ghraib, he misled the country after he found out. He should absolutely resign for his actions."
Anne from Missouri: "President Bush should learn the old Harry Truman line that the buck stops here. Rumsfeld should not take the blame for abuses at Abu Ghraib. Bush should."
And this from Steven in Oregon: "To save the image of the U.S. and the military, Secretary Rumsfeld must resign and the Abu Ghraib prison must be demolished. It would go a long way toward restoring our credibility with the rest of the world."
We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Still to come, more of our conversation with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter.
Later, the Democratic vice presidential sweepstakes. We'll talk to a man widely believed to be on John Kerry's short list, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Much more "LATE EDITION" coming up, right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." More with Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Duncan Hunter, that's coming up. We'll also get perspective on what the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal means for U.S. diplomatic relations around the world.
But first, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: Let's go to Iraq right now, where there's been a key development in the Iraqi prisoner scandal; also a bloody day, as well. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Baghdad with all the late-breaking developments -- Ben.
WEDEMAN: Yes, Wolf, another bloody day, indeed. This morning, there was another bombing, this time in the southwestern suburb of Baya, where, at about 8 o'clock this morning, a bomb ripped through a crowded market killing at least five people. According to hospital sources, one of them a young child. Thirteen others were wounded in the blast, among them, six police officers. Police say they believe that bomb was targeted at them.
At the northern side of the city, in Sadr City, a stronghold of a radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, U.S. forces clashed with armed Sadr supporters, killing 18 of them, according to a coalition spokesman. This followed an overnight raid by American forces that netted two top Sadr deputies. Afterwards, his men took to the streets. They set up roadblocks around Sadr City. They launched mortars at a government building and exchanged fire with U.S. troops.
And of course, today, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt announced that the first trial in connection with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal would be held in Baghdad on March 19th. The first one to be put on trial will be 24-year-old Specialist Jeremy Sivits of the 372nd Military Police Company. He is charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates, failure to protect detainees from abuse, and cruelty and maltreatment of detainees.
Now, this trial will be held in the tightly guarded green zone where the coalition authority is headquarted, and we're told it will be open to the media. Six other soldiers in addition to Sivits are the subjects of a criminal investigation, so we can expect more court- martials to come -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben, you meant May 19th, the start of this court- martial, not March 19th, is that right?
WEDEMAN: I'm sorry, yes. It was May 19th. And this obviously is going to be the subject of a lot of attention. Many Iraqis extremely concerned about the situation out at Abu Ghraib -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman reporting from Baghdad.
Thanks, Ben, very much. Let's continue our conversation with two influential members of the United States Congress: Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California. He's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
We heard, Mr. Chairman, the secretary of defense say there are a lot more pictures, hundreds more pictures, maybe a thousand more pictures, and that there are videotape as well.
A, have you seen any of these pictures or this new videotape?
HUNTER: No, I haven't seen it, and I think that's an important point, because it has also come out -- and came out in our hearing -- that the secretary did not see any pictures until just a few days ago.
When we started this investigation, January 13th, or January 16th, we announced to the world we were doing the investigation, but those pictures, the pictures we had, became part of the criminal files, and as we walk down through the court-martial procedure, they stayed in the files.
BLITZER: Do you want to see these? Should the Congress be shown the videotapes and the pictures?
HUNTER: You know, I think after the while these pictures, if they're replications of what we've seen so far, most of them with the same soldiers, at least the ones that I've seen, I don't know if they give any value added to this.
The key is, the number of people involved. If the number of people stays at six or even goes a little bit above that but doesn't turn into the vast conspiracy that some people have talked about, that's the important thing, not the number of pictures.
BLITZER: So you're saying they shouldn't be released to Congress, and they certainly shouldn't be made public, is that what you're saying?
HUNTER: No, I would say they should be put in the Armed Services vaults for any member of Congress to come take a look at, but I don't think they add anything if they're really bad pictures to put them on the world...
BLITZER: All right. What about that, Senator Durbin? What do you think?
DURBIN: Well, I wouldn't look forward to seeing these pictures, but I think it's my responsibility to do that. I think I have to understand the depth of this problem.
And I can tell you that a lot of things that I've seen in the Intelligence Committee have gone into greater detail and greater lengths than things that have been published, and that is an indication to me that the worst is still ahead of us.
I just think we have to accept the reality, as we've seen here with your news report, that many of these photos, and maybe even the videotapes, will ultimately become public knowledge.
This is something that might have been managed a little better from the start. To think the secretary of defense, until just a few days ago, didn't see the photographs, which were the genesis of this months ago, is very hard to explain.
This is not just another court-martial. We are dealing with an image which is going to haunt America for decades. And the secretary of defense and the president, I think, have to come to that understanding if we're ever going to bring this to a closure which gives us hope to bring this war on terrorism to a control.
HUNTER: But the thing that my colleague is missing is that, until the pictures came out, this was another one of the 18,000 investigations that we do each year for criminal activity.
General Sanchez, Secretary Rumsfeld's representative, the head of the theater, announced to the world, combined audiences of CNN, Fox, MSNBC, to the world that we were beginning this investigation January 13th.
These pictures became part of the criminal file, which are kept in a confidential area. It's true that no captain or colonel came forward and said, "Hey, this thing's going to get a lot bigger, we think SecDef should be briefed." The facts are, they were kept in the criminal file until they got out.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, earlier on one of the other programs, a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, a member of the Intelligence Committee, suggested that it would be wise for the administration just to release it all, because it's probably going to be made public in any case, and they would be better off from their own public relations standpoint to try to control the damage, as opposed to letting it get leaked out.
DURBIN: I agree with that. And I think we have to be honest about it. The more open we are, the more transparent we are, the more credible we will be.
And I just have to go back to the point that Congressman Hunter made, to think that those investigating this thought this was somehow routine is just beyond imagination. This is not a routine court- martial. This is not a routine offense. This is a matter of historic proportions.
For the United States to go into Iraq and say, "We are going to bring you a new level, a higher moral standard," and then have our credibility destroyed by this episode is really something that we have to come to grips with. It is not a routine court-martial.
BLITZER: You know, and I want you to pick up on that point, Mr. Chairman. But I want you to listen to what Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said to me more than a year ago, right in the middle of the war in Iraq, when I asked him about how the treatment of Iraqi POW prisoners was unfolding.
Listen to what he said on March 23, right at the start of the war a year ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Wolf, there have been prisoners taken in every war since the beginning of mankind. We treat our prisoners well. We have over 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war at the present time. They're in POW camps that have been brought along. They're being fed. They're being provided medicine where it's appropriate and needed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You go ahead and respond to Senator Durbin, but in the context of what we just heard Donald Rumsfeld say more than a year ago.
HUNTER: Wolf, certainly. We were in the throes of that war. You had tons of prisoners being taken off the line, many of them being held by squads of soldiers or circled by a concertina fence, and in a very primitive field condition, and then ultimately moved to these prisons.
There was never any direction -- and that was the essence of the hearing that we had -- any direction to do the bizarre and crazy acts that we have seen manifested in those pictures.
And to respond to Dick's statement that this was bigger than any other investigation, it was one of 18,000 investigations, but we knew it was bigger on January 13th. That's why the command in Iraq announced to the entire world -- only Americans would do this -- "We're investigating ourselves for prisoner abuse."
And the facts are, we walked down through that investigation. And a key fact here is nobody has said that the Army hasn't played this thing exactly by the rules, exactly by the numbers. We've got six investigations going on. The court-martial procedure is going to go a lot faster than its civilian counterpart. The Army did exactly the right thing here.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, you're a key member of the Intelligence Committee. Is there any evidence that you have seen so far suggesting that the civilians in the intelligence community, maybe civilian contractors who were used as interpreters or whatever, that they played a role in this prisoner abuse scandal?
DURBIN: No, I have not seen specific evidence along those lines.
But I want to add some other element that we shouldn't overlook. This doesn't stop at Abu Ghraib. The United States now has an obligation to make certain that the way we treat prisoners at Bagram in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay here in Cuba, that in these places, as well, that we are maintaining the highest standards according to Geneva Conventions. Those are the obvious next questions that we have to answer.
HUNTER: I've already asked them. I asked that question during our Armed Services hearing to our assembled leadership, from Secretary Rumsfeld on down. Did you now flow responsible officers and NCOs into these -- on the ground -- into these prison locations? And are you now assured that prisoners are being treated appropriately? The response was affirmative.
But certainly what we should do is have a restatement of rules that are presently standard operating procedure, that you have the supervisors on duty, that you don't have women guards in basically a locker-room situation in the men's prisons, and you don't have men in the women's prisons, and when we do this thing exactly according to military regulation.
But their answer was, "Yes, we now think that the situation is being appropriately handled on the ground."
BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there. A good discussion, two important members of the United States Congress.
But before I go, Senator Durbin, a very quick political question for you. I keep hearing your name popping up as a potential Democratic vice presidential running mate for Senator Kerry. You're smiling. Is that because you've heard your name pop up, as well?
DURBIN: No. Because I know that Bill Richardson's probably listening, and you're about to interview him. And I'm not in the running for vice president. I like the job I have.
BLITZER: Well, if he came to you and said, "Senator, I need you," would you be willing to go along and be his running mate?
DURBIN: Well, I would talk it over with my family before making a final decision, but I'm perfectly content being the senior senator from Illinois.
BLITZER: All right. A very good political answer. Senator Durbin, thanks very much for joining us.
HUNTER: Dick, good to be with you.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks to you, as well.
HUNTER: Great to be with you. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And just ahead, what impact will the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal have on America's relationship around the world, especially in the Arab world? We'll get insight from the former U.S. secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger, and the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson.
"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.
BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" Web question of the week: Were you satisfied with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's testimony on Friday? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.
Up next, Lawrence Eagleburger and Joe Wilson. We'll have special insight from them.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back. The prisoner abuse pictures that we have all seen by now clearly have tarnished the image of the United States, certainly, complicated plans for Iraq and distracted the U.S. government from so many other important issues right now.
We're continuing our coverage of this story. We're standing by for two experienced diplomats to join us in this discussion, the former U.S. secretary of state under the first President Bush, Lawrence Eagleburger, and the former acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson. He's also the author of a new book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to the War and Betrayed my Wife's CIA Identity." Ambassador Wilson now a supporter of the John Kerry campaign.
Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks to both of you for joining us.
And, Mr. Secretary, I'll begin with you and get your overall perspective. How big of a crisis for the United States is this right now, this prisoner abuse scandal, assuming we can call it a crisis?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I don't even know where to begin, Wolf. I've never heard so many panic buttons pushed in one time in my life. I have to tell you, this is a miserable, awful thing. But for the United States to go into paroxysms of guilt over this forgets what we are.
And also we ought to remember that there's few countries in this world who would try to deal with this thing in public as we are. And I am sorry. I think we have overdone this. We are panicking when we shouldn't.
We should be clear that we're not ever going to let it happen again, and if it's going to cause us some difficulties in the Arab world, which I'm sure it will, we're going to have to live with that. But I think we have got to stop this nonsense of crying over this thing to the point where we look like we're absurd.
BLITZER: All right. Those are strong words.
Joe Wilson, what do you think?
JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR: Well, I hate to disagree with my former boss, but I think that the reverberations of this...
EAGLEBURGER: I knew you would.
(LAUGHTER) WILSON: I think the reverberations of this are heavy across the world. The headlines in the British press today are "Catastrophe." Interviews with Arabs on the street evoke tears, bring tears to people's eyes.
It is a political scandal. It is much more a political scandal, I think, that needs to be dealt with. The military piece of it, the who did this and how they're punished, I think, will sort itself out.
I think somebody has to take responsibility politically. My own sense of this is that the secretary of defense should be asked to resign.
BLITZER: Well, what about all the calls, Secretary Eagleburger, for Rumsfeld to resign? What do you make of that?
EAGLEBURGER: I think it's nonsense. The secretary of defense ought to be judged on how well he does his overall job, not whether some group of people in Iraq, where he could not possibly have known about it at the time, did what they did.
And it's horrendous, what they did is horrendous, but to ask him to resign over this is to ignore the facts. This man has many things to manage, and he was managing them, I think, well. But he certainly cannot be held directly responsible for these acts, which are terrible, as I say they are.
BLITZER: All right. Ambassador Wilson?
WILSON: It has nothing to do with whether he knew about it. It has to do with the political chain of command that goes up there.
We have got organizations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo that are operating outside the construct of the Geneva Convention based, essentially, on our credibility. We have no credibility in this anymore. And the political chain of command goes up to the secretary of defense.
Moreover, I think we need to see the ICRC reports. They need to be made public. I think that we need far greater ICRC and International Red Cross involvement in all three of these sites.
BLITZER: I'm going to let the Secretary Eagleburger respond, but isn't it the policy of the International Committee for the Red Cross not to make the public their reports so that they don't taint themselves, they don't complicate further investigations down the road?
WILSON: Well, it may be the policy of the ICRC, but I would assume that the nation that's receiving the reports has the option to make those public.
BLITZER: Is that true, Secretary Eagleburger, based on your knowledge of the ICRC?
EAGLEBURGER: As far as I know, the ICRC does not want them made public. I suppose a country can go ahead and release them if they want, but what they're doing when they doing that is they're obviously going against the wishes of the ICRC.
But if I can come back to a point that Mr. Wilson has himself, in one way, made, and that is that the Democrats are making this into a political issue, and it seems to me, we ought to be reacting very strenuously to that fact.
There are things that is went wrong, there's no question about that. But this is not a political issue. It should not be a political issue.
And when the Democrats try to make it into a political issue, what they are doing is challenging the whole rationale for what we're trying to do in Iraq, and they'd better think twice about that. It's...
BLITZER: Go ahead.
WILSON: It's not a partisan issue in the sense that this is a Democrat versus Republican issue. That's not the way you look at it. It's political scandal. It is a national political scandal.
BLITZER: But he's making the point, Secretary Eagleburger, there's too much hand-wringing under way right now. Enough is enough, it's time move on. The United States has an investigation...
BLITZER: ... under way. Let the military, let the civilian leadership, congressional oversight, do its thing and then move on.
WILSON: And the way you deal with the hand-wringing is you take decisive action. Simple as that.
BLITZER: And when you say "decisive action," that means...
WILSON: There has to be some accountability.
BLITZER: And so, you want Rumsfeld -- you know, you realize, of course...
WILSON: There has to be some accountability for the political scandal that has taken place.
BLITZER: You realize, Ambassador Wilson, if Rumsfeld were to resign, Paul Wolfowitz would be the acting secretary of defense. It's unlikely that there will be new confirmation hearings between now and November, just realistically in the political world of Washington.
WILSON: I understand all of that. This is a political -- this is outside...
BLITZER: So you would rather have Wolfowitz be defense secretary... WILSON: ... wait a minute. I'm not talking about what goes on inside the Beltway. We are talking about the image of the United States around the world and the credibility of the United States as a country that has decided to open up these various camps outside the context of the Geneva Convention. Our credibility in this matter is zero.
There has to be some political accountability...
WILSON: ... to begin the repair the image of the United States around the world.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Secretary.
EAGLEBURGER: Wolf, I have to tell you, if 200 years of our reputation, or if the last 50 years of our reputation, is destroyed by these acts, then there's something wrong with the people who are looking at our reputation.
This country has stood for the right things for a very long time, and these people that have done this damage are not going to be able -- no matter how much the Democrats try to play it, they are not going to be able to challenge the view of the way people look at this country abroad in broad measure.
And this issue is terrible; it is passing. And the fact of the matter is, if we go on crying about it the way we have been of late, we simply make it worse because we try to make -- what we're doing is giving the impression that we don't care about the reputation, in the sense that we have no confidence in it.
And the fact of the matter is, we better take a look at what we are, what we have been and get off this nonsense about the reputation of the United States.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, a lot of people, though, complain that Rumsfeld and, in fact, the president himself are partially responsible for ignoring the Geneva Conventions and dealing with certain enemy combatants.
In fact, the secretary was asked about this on Friday when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he offered this explanation on when the Geneva Conventions, in his view, apply. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: The Geneva Convention provisions did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda, although we concluded that Geneva Conventions did apply to the conflict with Taliban. That was a decision by the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: He sais that Geneva conventions applied in Iraq, applied in afghanistan, not necessarily to al Qaeda or to enemy combatants at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
EAGLEBURGER: But, Wolf, again, I have to ask, if people would take a look at the people we're fighting, and when they fly airplanes into two large buildings in New York City and kill thousands of people, when they act the way they have around the world without any care whatsoever about their own conduct and limiting it any way, when we're fighting those people, it seems to me we have to understand what it is we're fighting.
And the Geneva Conventions apply where the president said they do, and they don't apply against these terrorists. And I don't know why that's such an awful thing to say.
BLITZER: All right. What about that, Ambassador Wilson?
WILSON: Well, I think that if we ever hope to get our arms around this and stop the proliferation of people interested in doing ourselves harm, we have to live up to certain ideals. And I don't think that those ideals are lived up to when you have a sorts of images that you have, and we're not seen to be dealing in a political context against the fallout that those images created.
BLITZER: The ranking Democrat, Senator Eagleburger, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, very thoughtful senator on foreign affairs, as you well know, you've worked with him for many years, he says the president needs new advice now from a different set of advisors because those who have given him advice on Iraq, especially the defense secretary, have been wrong almost all of the time. Listen to what he said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: They have not made one fundamentally sound recommendation to the president.
Mr. President, start listening to the other side of your team. These guys are good, honorable, patriotic men who are wrong about the policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is Biden right, Mr. Secretary?
EAGLEBURGER: No, he's not right. I will say there are some things about the way the administration has conducted itself in Iraq that I disagree with, very much disagree with, some of them. In fact, basically, because I don't think they're tough enough.
But having said that, the advisers to the president have done -- as he said, they're good, honest people, and they've given him their advice. And the fact of the matter is, I think by and large we have succeeded. Saddam Hussein is no longer in power in Iraq. I could stop right there and say we have succeeded. BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. I want to talk briefly about Joe Wilson's new book, "The Politics of Truth," a book that talks about your experiences not only with your wife's named being exposed to Bob Novak in The Washington Post, a column that he wrote, but also the whole spectrum of your experiences in Washington and beyond.
Did you get any closer to learning the identity of who may have leaked this name to Bob Novak, your wife's name, exposing her? Because she was, as all of our viewers by now know, a clandestine officer at the CIA.
WILSON: Well, I think it's important to understand that Mr. Novak claims that he was not one of the people that was leaked to, in one of his various claims that he's made. There were, according to a Washington Post article, there were two senior officials who leaked the name to six journalists.
Now, based upon what has, one, been published and what a number of people have told me who are close to it, I have put together a plausible scenario which I think is credible.
BLITZER: But you don't know for sure yet?
WILSON: Well, I've never claimed, and in fact the book doesn't claim I know. The book says what I believe...
BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the investigation is getting close to wrapping up?
WILSON: I have said all along that, so long as it's in the hands of the professionals, the special counsel and the FBI, that they will do everything they can to get to the bottom of it.
The fact that you can't bring this to closure after nine months, in my judgment, indicates that there's a fair amount of stonewalling going on at certain levels within the White House, within the administration.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, we're almost out of time, but how big of a deal is it to release the name, publicly, the name of a CIA clandestine officer? You spend your whole career in the foreign service, working at embassies around the world. How big of a deal is this, to expose this person's identity?
EAGLEBURGER: Well, to be very delicate about it, it stinks. It's a wrong thing to do. They were wrong to do it. I have every sympathy with Ambassador Wilson and with his wife over what was done. It should not have been done.
And despite the fact that I disagree with Mr. Wilson on almost everything else, I do have to tell you, I have nothing but tremendous admiration for his courage during his time in the first Gulf War. He was really a leader of great distinction.
BLITZER: So on that positive note, I'm going to leave this conversation. I don't think it's going to get more positive.
WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: He was your boss. He was the secretary of state.
WILSON: And I have enormous respect for...
BLITZER: And you were the U.S. ambassador, the acting ambassador in Baghdad, the last U.S. official formally to meet with Saddam Hussein before the first Gulf War.
Joe Wilson, thanks very much for joining us.
Secretary Eagleburger, thanks very much as well.
EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And coming up, a quick check of what's making news at this hour, including an update on a major U.S. military offensive now under way in southern Iraq.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Joining us now from Santa Fe, New Mexico, the state's governor, Bill Richardson. He's a John Kerry supporter, and a person who's often been named, despite all of his denials, as a possible vice presidential running mate.
We'll get to politics, Governor, shortly. Let's talk about substance, first of all. The vice president of the United States offering strong support for the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
What do you think? Are you among those Democrats, like John Kerry, who wants Donald Rumsfeld to resign?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: I felt the vice president's statement was unbelievable. It was insulting to the American people. The fact that he got up and said, "Back off the criticism." This is a democracy, and the vice president should realize there's enormous concern around the world and around the country about these issues.
Yesterday, I attended a memorial service in Lovington, New Mexico, for a 21-year-old Marine that was killed in Fallujah. People are dying over this.
And I think the vice president, to say what he did, and then to say that Secretary Rumsfeld is one of the best defense secretaries we ever had, shows that he's divorced from reality in giving inconsistent statements, compared to the president, who rightly apologized. So we have mixed messages in this administration, and you don't know who to believe.
But the vice president should back off of that statement, particularly saying that anyone that criticizes the secretary of defense and should back off, he should think twice about saying something like that again.
BLITZER: Well, but with all due respect, Governor, the vice president is a strong ally of the defense secretary. He issued a statement through a spokesman yesterday expressing strong support for Donald Rumsfeld, saying he's the best secretary of defense in America's history. And he urged all of the critics to step back a little bit and to rethink that.
What's wrong with a vice president expressing his confidence in the defense secretary?
RICHARDSON: There's nothing wrong with that, and I would expect that. What really annoyed was for him to say, "Back off of the criticism," when you have congressional inquiries led by Republicans; when you have the country in polls saying that most Americans, 70 percent, feel we're going in the wrong direction; when the international community is outraged over what happened; and when a few soldiers in Iraq, our soldiers, are being made the scapegoats when nobody at the top chain of command is being held accountable.
That's what is wrong about the vice president basically saying, "Everybody should shut up, and let's move on." You can't do that. We have to get to the bottom of this, because what is at stake? Our moral authority in the war in Iraq and our role as a leader, as a democratic leader in the world.
BLITZER: All right. Do you want Donald Rumsfeld to resign?
RICHARDSON: I would say it's up to the president. I do think he probably should, Wolf, because, how can he command authority in the international community and Iraq with what's happened? I think his advice on Iraq has not been sound.
At the same time, he's a very strong bureaucratic player. I would like to see Rumsfeld be the leader, if he doesn't go, in reversing course and realizing that our policy in Iraq right now is unsustainable, that we have got to stay the course but internationalize the effort, get international legitimacy for what we're doing, and finally get to the bottom of this prison issue and hold accountable those high officers, superior officers, that right now are saying it happened in Iraq by a few renegades. I believe we have to hold the top command accountable.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what your Democratic colleague, Charlie Rangel from New York, said on this subject earlier in the week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I think America and the world wants us to show the outrage, not by rhetoric, but by taking action. And if the president doesn't fire the secretary, if he doesn't resign, I think it's a responsibility of this Congress to file articles of impeachment and force him to leave office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I want your response, if you have a response.
RICHARDSON: Well, I think Congressman Rangel, who is one of the leaders of our party, said what I said earlier, Wolf, that there's outrage around the world, that our own moral authority has been questioned.
I believe we have a number of troops that have served honorably. They've done great deeds, very, very positive things in Iraq, and that isn't mentioned.
But what Congressman Rangel is saying, there should be accountability. And I think the president should seize the moment and take decisive steps to terminate some people in the high command.
BLITZER: Look at this latest horse race, the poll numbers that we're getting. The Associated Press just released these numbers. Among registered voters, 46 percent for Bush, 43 percent for Kerry, Nader at 7 percent.
Ralph Nader emerging, at least according to some analysts, as the anti-war candidate, someone who's urging the U.S. to immediately get out of Iraq without any conditions right now.
Are you depressed to see that John Kerry is not doing better, given all the problems the president has had in recent weeks?
RICHARDSON: Well, I've been with Senator Kerry twice in the last week. And I am in a state of buoyancy because I think the campaign is going well. He's moving to the center. He's talking about positive themes: education, national security, economic growth issues. He's appealing to moderate voters, to Latinos.
The campaign -- in contrast to the Bush operation, if there's a problem in the Kerry campaign, it's fixed the next day, so I believe, despite $60 million of negative ads against Senator Kerry, he is crisp, he is positive. He is campaigning. He's not exploiting this prisoner issue. He's being a statesman about it, saying there has to be accountability at the top.
I think the campaign's in very good shape. And I sense that around the country, certainly in New Mexico.
BLITZER: A lot of people speculating that you're on that short list as a possible vice presidential running mate. And certainly listening to you go after the vice president, Dick Cheney, only a few minutes ago may reinforce that notion, at least among a lot of our viewers out there.
But the Los Angeles Times just had an analysis the other day of the pros and cons of Governor Richardson being the vice presidential candidate. Among the pluses, a lively personality with a long resume, presumably would help in New Mexico, and he does have a Latino background. Among the minuses, controversies over security lapses while he was energy secretary and has never run nationally.
Are they talking to you, Governor? And I know you've always been blunt and candid with the viewers. Are they talking to you about possibly being the vice presidential candidate?
RICHARDSON: Well, I really can't talk about that. Senator Kerry has not talked to me about it, so let's just leave it there, Wolf.
BLITZER: What about Jim Johnson, the man who's in charge of the search committee?
RICHARDSON: I don't want to get into that. I've said before and that hasn't changed that I pledged to the voters in New Mexico that I'd serve as governor. I love the job. I'm making a difference here, creating jobs, cutting taxes, building schools, improving education. I'm very happy where I am, being in Santa Fe when you interview me. I'll continue to do that whenever you want.
BLITZER: But at the same time, you have to admit -- and I'm going to leave it at this, Governor -- that if the Democratic candidate came to you and said, "You know what, Governor Richardson, I really need your help right now, you can help make the difference," you'd have to say yes, wouldn't you?
RICHARDSON: Well, I can help being chairman of the convention, campaigning in states in the West and around the country. I'm going to do everything I can to have Senator Kerry elected president. And let's just leave it at that, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it at that. Governor Bill Richardson, he's got a very impressive resume. It's always good to have him on our program.
Thanks very much for joining us.
RICHARDSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: And just ahead, a Mother's Day conversation with veteran journalist and author, Cokie Roberts. She, of course, has her own story of being a mother and a daughter growing up in a very political world. We'll talk with her about her new book, "Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation."
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Here in the United States, it's Mother's Day, so we thought it would be a perfect time to talk with mother, daughter, veteran journalist and good friend, Cokie Roberts. She's joining us from Dallas, Texas. She's the author of an important, new book, "Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Country." Cokie, congratulations on this excellent new book. Congratulations, of course, for everything you do for mothers, for women all over the world. Let's get to that in a moment. Let's talk politics, though, first.
What do you make of this current political -- this prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq and the impact it might have on the political scene here in the United States?
COKIE ROBERTS, AUTHOR, "FOUNDING MOTHERS": Well, I thought that the AP poll that you just showed is interesting. It appears not to be having an impact right now.
But I think the cumulative pictures from Iraq are clearly hurting the president and Iraq is right now, you know, equally balanced with terrorism and the economy as the issues that voters are thinking are the most important issues.
And if, you know, the president's losing on the economy, Kerry's losing on terrorism, if the president loses on Iraq, he's got a problem.
BLITZER: You and I have been around Washington for a long time.
BLITZER: We have seen the scandals developed. Would it be wise for the administration simply to release all the pictures, the videotape and let the chips fall where they will, or should they hold on to them and hope they aren't leaked?
ROBERTS: It's so hard to believe that they won't be leaked. And I think that's where we are right this second, Wolf, is waiting for that other shoe to drop, waiting to see what else is coming out. We've had warning that it's terrible. And seeing if Rumsfeld can survive it, and even if the departure of Rumsfeld is enough.
BLITZER: Give us your sense of the two women who are also at least indirectly involved in this campaign, Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry. You've gotten to know both of them somewhat over the years. Talk about their specific role, if any, in helping their spouses get elected.
ROBERTS: Oh, I think they both play very important roles. Laura Bush is a very smart woman. She is a great intellectual, and the president clearly talks to her. She gives him advice, you know, the famous advice she gave him when he said that he was going to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive and she said, "Oh, you're really going to get him, Bushy."
Now, the White House let us know she said that, which is interesting, but I think that she is a very, very important force in the presidency and in the campaign. She's out campaigning, doing fund-raisers, she's in ads.
And Teresa Heinz Kerry, it's really interesting, you know, the people around John Kerry were very nervous about her, early on in the race, they thought that she was a loose cannon. And she has been a fabulous campaigner. She's been very disciplined. She's been all over the place, working for her husband, and I think has also done a terrific job.
You know, the New York Times finally today has a major story about her philanthropy. I've been in Pittsburgh in recent days, and there they just think that she's the greatest thing going because of the tremendous work that the Heinz Foundation has done there.
BLITZER: A lot of people still waiting to be introduced to Teresa Heinz Kerry, but I'm sure we'll all get to know her a lot better.
ROBERTS: A lot of people still waiting to be introduced to John Kerry, for that matter. And...
BLITZER: That's true. That's a good point.
ROBERTS: And I think that he, at this point, would probably be wise to just let George Bush wallow in Iraq for a little while.
BLITZER: In your new book, "Founding Mothers," which is a great, great read, especially for those of us who love American history...
ROBERTS: Thank you.
BLITZER: ... you showed some of the characteristics that made these women 250 years ago so powerful.
Are there similar characteristics for women who are political leaders today?
ROBERTS: Sure. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book was because I, as you say, have covered politics forever, and grew up in politics, and I knew how strong the women were in my era, and not just the women in front of the scenes who hold political office, thankfully, now, but the women behind the scenes. I saw it with my own mother before she was in Congress, when my father, Hale Boggs, was in Congress, and she was working for him. I saw it with people like Lady Bird Johnson, working behind the scenes very ardently with President Johnson.
And so I knew that that was true in the era I lived in. And this era, the revolutionary era, was such an important time in our history. I suspected that the women of that era had to be equally -- at least equally influential, and I wanted to find out about it. And I went back and looked at them, and they certainly were.
BLITZER: Cokie, who was your favorite founding mother?
ROBERTS: Well, I like them all, actually, and I found a bunch that you really don't know about. But the one that I met for the first time writing the book was Sarah Livingstone Jay, John Jay, our first chief justice's wife, and she was a delight. She was a teenager when they got married. She had to keep escaping the British and write these funny letters about it: "Woops, here they come again." And she went with him on diplomatic missions. She wrote these wonderful letters home that showed her keen sense of politics...
BLITZER: All right.
ROBERTS: ... but also her great patriotism.
BLITZER: We have to leave it, unfortunately, right there, Cokie Roberts. But for those of our viewers who are fascinated, as I am, they'll will want to read your book, "Founding Mothers."
Cokie Roberts, let me say Happy Mother's Day to you.
ROBERTS: Thank you, Wolf, nice to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Up next, the results of our Web question of the week. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Our Web question of the week. Remember, this is not, I repeat, not a scientific poll.
And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, May 9th. To all the mothers out there, especially my mom and my wife, Lynn, Happy Mother's Day.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com