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Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad; Interview With Qubad Talabani

Aired December 11, 2005 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It is 11:00 a.m. in Washington; 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles; 4:00 p.m. in London; and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with the United States ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

Tomorrow will be day 1,000 of the American military presence in Iraq. And this coming Thursday, Iraqis will head to the polls to elect a new parliament.

Before that, President Bush will deliver two more speeches in his drive to try to regain public confidence about progress in that troubled country.

A busy and important week, and perhaps no one is more intimately involved than the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

I spoke with him in Baghdad just a short while ago.


BLITZER: Ambassador Khalilzad, thanks very much for joining us. You have a big election in Iraq coming up this coming Thursday. Who's going to win?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, I don't think that any single party will have outright majority in the next assembly. But the people of Iraq will be the winners because all communities appear to be willing to participate. And that's the good thing, because the Sunni Arabs did not participate in significant numbers in the last elections.

So the next assembly will have various groups. They will have to form coalitions. The concerns of various parties will have to be dealt with. And I think it will be very positive for the future of Iraq.

BLITZER: The new issue of the New Yorker Magazine has an article about you in which the author suggests that you believe the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Adel Abdul Mahdi, Ahmed Chalabi -- these are some of the front-runners who could be the next prime minister of Iraq.

Is that possible that Ahmed Chalabi, who is a very controversial figure here, now might emerge as the compromised candidate, as described in this article?

KHALILZAD: Well, that is, of course -- Mr. Allawi, too, who is a key political figure here as a possibility.

I think in the first instance, depending on the outcome, there willing competition between Mr. Allawi and Mr. Jaafari and Mr. Adel Abdul Mahdi. But there is a scenario possible that if these front- runners cannot compromise with each other and there is no agreement that some other candidates might arise, and among them -- one could be Ahmed Chalabi.

BLITZER: Do you have good relations with him as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq? Do you to meet with Mr. Chalabi?

KHALILZAD: I do. I have good relations with him. I've known Ahmed for a very long time, since the early 1990s. Yes, I do have good relations with him.

BLITZER: Do you think the Iraqi Sunnis will participate in significant numbers on Thursday in the election?

KHALILZAD: I do. All indications point in that direction, Wolf. That is really the single most important development of the past several months, politically. Sunnis seem to be developing confidence in the political process. They believe that their are grievances can be dealt with politically. That's what their willingness to participate indicates. And now they recognize it was a mistake for them not to have participated in the previous election.

We have engaged them and encouraged them to participate. Some of the regional states have also encouraged them to participate. So they will have some 40 to 55 seats in the next assembly. And in the coalition-building that will have to take place, they will be important players.

If they don't get disappointed, I think this could be a very positive development that over time could result in isolating the terrorists and reducing the violence here.

BLITZER: The other individuals -- the other men you mentioned are all Shia -- those who might become the next prime minister of Iraq. Who do you see as the leading Sunni politician with whom you'll be able to negotiate a deal with?

KHALILZAD: Well, there are several Sunni Arabs of course, that we are talking about who will be important players. And there is, of course, Mr. Mutlik (ph), there is Mr. Tarib Hashimi (ph), there is Mr. Atan Dolami (ph), there is the current speaker, Mr. Pachachi. So there will be a lot of important Sunni figures that I know. And they will be in the next assembly. And their views and their vote and the vote of their friends will play an important role in terms of who will be the next prime minister of Iraq.

BLITZER: How worried should those Sunnis be by the threat from some insurgents -- and I'll paraphrase -- "You vote, you die"? KHALILZAD: Well, I have a lot of respect for Sunni politicians who stand up and participate in the political process, because they are in a very difficult situation.

In their communities there are people, terrorists, who do not want them to participate in the political process, who would like to see a civil war here. And my hat is off to them. They are in a difficult situation. But they are making courageous decisions and they are going to participate. And as I said before very large numbers of Sunnis will participate in the elections.

BLITZER: Here's a quote also from the new article about you in the New Yorker Magazine. "Iraq, as a country, will not hold together. The question is what is a decent interval at whether there will be two states or three. But sooner or later, there will be an independent Kurdistan, and this is something that Khalilzad grasps." That quote from Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador who's been working closely with the Kurds, as you know, in recent years.

Is he right? Do you believe that eventually there will be an independent Kurdistan and that Iraq could separate into two or three states?

KHALILZAD: I do not think that is inevitable. I believe that more probable at the present time is for Iraq to hold together. That's what we see. The Kurds have decided that it's better for them to be part of Iraq and not only in the new constitution. They have a federal structure that give them autonomy in their own area, but they are also important players with regard to the fate of Iraq as a whole, an important country with a lot of resources and that the Kurds benefit from.

The leadership of Kurdistan, Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani, I have talked with them repeatedly. They have decided that it's better for the Kurds to be part of Iraq, but a federal Iraq than to go on their own and try for independence because they will be isolated in this area and they will have many enemies around them which will not be good for the survival of a mini Kurdish state.

BLITZER: When I interviewed President Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on this program last Sunday, he said you are now authorized to meet with representatives of the insurgents, Iraqis, Sunnis, close to the insurgents. What specifically are your instructions? What kind of dialogue can you have with these insurgents?

KHALILZAD: Well, we have started to talk with them, with the people who have been opposed to the political process, to the change that has come in Iraq, who have been part of the environment in which the insurgency has been active in.

And we've been seeking to encourage them to participate in the political process, have been willing to deal with their legitimate concerns, listen to them, and to offer to work with them to meet those legitimate concerns. And I have to tell you, we're making progress, as indicated by the fact that two Sunni alliances are now running in the election.

They will participate in the next assembly, and they will have an important role on many issues, whether it has to do with the amendment of the constitution, with the future of de-Baathification, with the more than 50 laws, implementation laws, that will have to be passed by the next assembly. And some of these people could be in the next government.

So we're making progress. There is a long way to go. But we are seeking to isolate the terrorists, Al Qaida folks, and those who want Saddam back, from the rest, integrate the rest, and bring those two groups to justice.

BLITZER: So when Stephen Hadley says you can meet with insurgents, but not with those that have blood on their hands, what exactly do you understand that means?

KHALILZAD: Well, those that we know have directly participated in killing Americans, have committed crimes against Iraqi people, we will not deal with those and meet with those. But in a broad term, only two groups, the terrorists and their associates, the Zarqawi folks and the jihadists and the Saddamists, are the ones that we will not negotiate with.

But others, in a general way, with that caveat that you referred to, we're willing to talk to, we're willing to deal with their legitimate concerns, we're willing to facilitate their participation in the political process and encourage them to seek a resolution of disputes, to seek the pursuing of their interests through the political process. And on that score, we're making progress.

BLITZER: On this program last Sunday, we were also told by Mr. Hadley that you're authorized to meet with Iranian officials in Baghdad, the charge among others. Have you met with Iranian diplomats since you've arrived there? KHALILZAD: No, I have not met with them as of yet.

BLITZER: When do you plan on meeting with them?

KHALILZAD: Well, I do not want to specify that, if you don't mind, Wolf. But there are discussions that are going on on the modalities of that. They have ideas and suggestions, but we have not set a date yet.


BLITZER: Just ahead, America's top diplomat on the ground in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, weighs in on the calls to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Then the debate over President Bush's strategy for Iraq has exploded into political warfare. Two senators talk it out, Republican John Kyl and Democrat Chuck Schumer. Later, what has the United States learned since 9/11? We'll hear from former FBI Director Louis Freeh. "Late Edition" will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." At the beginning of a critical week in Iraq, here's part two of my conversation with the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad.


BLITZER: Listen to what Congressman John Murtha said this week. He's a Democrat. He's calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces over the next six months from Iraq, re-deploy them, as he says, over the horizon. Listen to what he said this week following one of President Bush's speeches on Iraq.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I am convinced in everything that I've read, the conclusion I've reached is, there'll be less terrorists. There'll less danger to the United States. It'll be less insurgency once we're out.


BLITZER: I think, among other things, he and those who support his view look at the level of insurgent attacks against U.S. and Iraqi targets. In October of this year, according to the Brookings Institution, there were 3,100 attacks. In March of this year, there were 1,400 attacks. It looks like the level of insurgency is picking up.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think it depends at what time frame you look at. If you look at the last six to seven weeks, or perhaps even eight weeks, the level of attacks, particularly suicide attacks and BBIDs (ph), have actually declined.

My response to Congressman Murtha would be, with all due respect, is that yes, given the situation that we're in and the circumstances that are arising, recalibration in the size and mission and composition of our force is desirable and will take place beginning next year.

But a total withdrawal within the time frame that he's talking about will, in fact, result in several negative things to happen. One, there could be a Shia-Sunni civil war that could engulf the entire region. The Kurds, the scenario you talked about before, taking matters into their own hands, is another possibility. And a little mini state a la Talibastan in Afghanistan, in cooperation with Al Qaida, could take place in part of Iraq.

There is a better way, one in which there is increased political participation, bringing the Sunnis in, building up Iraqi forces, and incrementally decreasing the size and mission of U.S. forces, adjusting downward. And I think that's a better way than a rapid withdrawal without those other circumstances that I talked about being in place. BLITZER: Right now, there are close to 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. It'll go down after the election, we're told, to around 138,000, which was the number over the past few months. Realistically, what should the American public expect next year as far as the troop level in Iraq is concerned?

KHALILZAD: I could tell the American people -- I would like to tell them that we're working very hard to shift the emphasis from a military solution to the problem to a political-military solution in which the military is a smaller and smaller part of the approach, because this conflict will not resolved by military means alone.

The role of politics will increase, the role of military will decline. As far as the specific numbers are concerned and the rate of decrease and decline, I think it's appropriate for us to wait for the election to take place, for the new government to be formed, and then for General Casey, reporting through this chain of command, to talk about specific numbers.

But we're heading in the right direction, in my judgment. And conditions are moving in a direction that can allow a significant decrease in the size of the American forces starting next year.

BLITZER: In that document that the president released, his national strategy for victory in Iraq, one line sort of jumped out at me.

Let me put it up on the screen: "It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances."

What does that mean? Because it sounds like you're setting the bar pretty low.

KHALILZAD: Well, the issue is over how long a period of time. There are lots of problems here.

Iraq is going through a difficult transition. There are internal issues, but also, Iraq is part of a regional environment where there is at least one predatory, hegemonic state, Iran, seeking to dominate the area.

You've got other countries like Syria worried about the success of Iraq, supporting the opposition. And the internal difficulties that we talked about.

But yet, to build a democracy here is very important. It can have a significant effect on the future of the whole region. Iraq itself is important. This region as a whole is vital.

So therefore, what we're doing here can have a significant effect on the future of the world. And therefore, we need to be smart, to recalibrate constantly, but at the same time, have patience. The things that we're doing here normally would take a very long time, generations. I know, I'm very much aware of the fact that we're a very impatient country. But nevertheless, we have taken on something extremely difficult but yet extremely important. So I do urge a degree of patience.

BLITZER: Earlier, you mentioned that Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, could emerge as the next prime minister potentially of Iraq.

The famous quote from "The Observer" at the end of November when he was speaking about alleged atrocities by Iraqis in Iraq right now, he said, "People are doing the same as in Saddam's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam, and now we are seeing the same thing."

Have you met with Mr. Allawi and spoken to him about his concerns?

KHALILZAD: Yes, I have. I've met with him several times. I do meet with him and others, leaders, here regularly. He has concerns about the practices of some of the security forces here. We have concerns about them as well.

As you know, we discovered abuse in one of the ministry of interior detention facilities. We're helping the Iraqi government look in to other detention facilities.

We have looked at another one a couple of days ago and discovered that 26 or so detainees were abused out of 600 there. And those 26 have been referred to.

Another group, the same group that's looking at the first case of abuse -- the difference between the Saddam period and the current period is at least there is this opportunity for an independent look with our help, diplomatic and military, and for an investigation to take place, for responsibility to be assigned.

But he does have concerns, and we take serious note of those concerns.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. government still planting and paying for articles, positive articles, in the Iraqi news media?

KHALILZAD: Well, the investigation with regard to that continues.

Wolf, as you know, psychological warfare, information warfare, propaganda, what have you, is part of the military doctrine dating back to the earliest days of warfare.

So I'm not surprised that there has been an effort to place stories that could have a positive effect in terms of our military and negative effect with regard to the terrorists and those who are opposed to our military. But, with regard to the specific details, I have not seen a final report. And I don't know whether our military has decided to change policy on that. You might want to ask the Pentagon about that.

BLITZER: Well, let me -- I'll press you on that point. You're the United States ambassador in Iraq. Aren't you responsible for making sure the military doesn't do something that would violate basic press freedoms?

You're trying to create a democracy there. That would be your responsibility, wouldn't it?

KHALILZAD: Well, yes. We do have programs to strengthen the Iraqi press, training journalists among other things.

But, as far as our military is concerned, as I said, psychological operations, information operations, effecting the adversary negatively through those mechanisms through mediums including placing articles in newspapers among other things has been part and parcel of military business for a very long time.

And they are looking in to it, whether this has gone beyond what would be appropriate or not. And I have not seen a final report yet.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a final question about Saddam Hussein and the trial that we had been watching on television, people have been watching all over the world.

Ghazi Al Yawar, the Iraqi vice president, is quoted in "The New York Times" this past week as saying this: "This has become a platform for Saddam to show himself as a caged lion, when really he was a mouse in a hole. I don't know who is the genius who is producing this farce. It's a political process, it's a comedy show. I don't know what this is."

You know Ghazi Al Yawar, he's a very serious man. Has this backfired, this Saddam Hussein trial, in terms of trying to show some of the crimes that he has committed over the years?

KHALILZAD: Well, this is an Iraqi process. Iraq has the right to run the process in Iraq. We're helping it. There are criticism. Some would like to decide on his fate immediately. There are many cases left.

We have been helping Iraq make sure there is a due process and that it is a transparent process.

Right now, it's been -- the process is in recess. There is a discussion going on as to whether any adjustment is needed. But, as I said, this is an Iraqi process, and our role is to help make sure that it's as transparent, as balanced, as possible.

BLITZER: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Good luck to you. Be careful over there. Thanks very much for joining us on LATE EDITION.

KHALILZAD: Well, thank you, Wolf. It's good to be with you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead: this week, a milestone, American troops, now in Iraq for 1,000 days. What's the best strategy over the next several weeks, months, perhaps even years ahead?

We'll discuss it with two United States senators, Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Jon Kyl.

But, up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including a massive series of explosions last night at a British oil depot near London.

Stay with "Late Edition."





GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we are confronting a direct threat to the American people, and we will accept nothing less than complete victory.


BLITZER: President Bush continuing a vigorous defense of his Iraq policy this past week. But is it all becoming part of a partisan political battle here in Washington? Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now from Phoenix, Arizona, the Republican Senator Jon Kyl, and from our studios in Manhattan, the Democratic senator from New York, Chuck Schumer. Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."

Senator Schumer, let me get your quick reaction to what we heard from Ambassador Khalilzad, responding to Democratic Congressman John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi, among other Democrats, that if there's a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, it could result in civil war. What do you make of that?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well, you know, I don't agree we should have a speedy withdrawal. But I do think that John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi, and others, when they bring up a point of view, are really part of what this function in America is all about what the Congress should be doing. We really need accountability from the president. I think 60, 66, or 65 percent of the American people think we're going in the wrong direction in Iraq.

And because of acts like John Murtha, whether you agreed with him or not, the president is now coming forward. He's addressed the American people twice about what his plan is. He's going to address them a couple of more times this week. And that's all to the good. In the past, they were just saying, basically, everything's going great. Things aren't going great, and we know that. One of the things that I find a real problem, Wolf, is the Iraqization plan. A year and a half ago we said we were going to begin to turn over military operations to the Iraqi army. At last report, there is only one battalion, 750 Iraqi troops, that can fight on their own. Something is wrong there.

In fact, today I'm sending a letter to the president to send a distinguished delegation of former military leaders, people like General Franks, and General Schwarzkopf, and Colin Powell, to go there and within in a month come pack and report to us why Iraqization isn't working. So I think that whether you agree or disagree, our party's a broad spectrum. You have Joe Lieberman on the one hand. You have John Murtha on the other. But oversight, accountability, asking the president what we should be doing, that's our role and our function.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, a lot of material that Senator Schumer just raised, among other things, the poll numbers, the latest CBS/New York Times poll that came out this week -- Do you think George W. Bush has a clear plan for victory in Iraq? -- 25 percent of the American public say he has a clear plan. Sixty-eight percent say he hasn't developed one yet. That's a serious problem for this president.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Actually, it is. And it is a problem to some extent of his own making, but also because of the partisanship of those who would oppose him. In the first place, the president needs to continue to talk about his plan. He's had a plan all along, as Senator Schumer pointed out. What we need to do is make sure that we can stand an Iraqi government up, or more correctly, they can.

And that's occurring. In four days, they'll have their election to determine who will be in their new government pursuant to the constitution that they developed, and then to train up enough Iraqis to provide security in the country. That process hasn't gone as quickly as we would have hoped, but as the ambassador pointed out and as our military officials there will tell you, it's proceeding in an acceptable fashion.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, do you think it's a good idea, this proposal that Senator Schumer is raising today, to send a distinguished group of retired U.S. military generals over to Iraq to get an eyewitness account, report back on what they've seen as far as the ability of Iraqi forces to take charge?

KYL: Wolf, my guess is that all of those distinguished generals would say, look, we have great confidence in General Petraeus and General Abizaid and General Casey. They're the generals on the ground. Let them make the judgments, report to the president.

And that's exactly what we were briefed on just before we left Washington, a very candid briefing about the number of Iraqis stepping up to be trained, about the forces that are being adequately trained now to take care of themselves.

What we're doing new is basically embedding U.S. leaders in some of those Iraqi units as a way to make sure that they still have our advice but that they're doing the bulk of the fighting, or at least the holding, in some of the areas that we've taken. BLITZER: One clarification, first, Senator Schumer: General Petraeus, David Petraeus is gone now. He's been replaced by General Martin Dempsey to try to train the Iraqi forces.

But go ahead, Senator Schumer. You wanted to respond.

SCHUMER: And General Dempsey has said, at best things are mixed so far. You have to scratch your head and wonder.

A linchpin of the administration's plan, the first thing the president talked about in his first speech was Iraqization. We have been at this for a year and a half and yet there are only 750 troops that can fight on their own.

BLITZER: But, Senator Schumer, that's a very high standard. Thirty or 40 brigades, the Pentagon says, can operate with U.S. assistance.

They can take the lead; albeit, only one brigade can actually go out there on their own without any U.S. assistance whatsoever.

SCHUMER: Let me say two things here. First, even among those 30 or 40 brigades, the response is mixed, as General Dempsey has said.

Some of them are making some real progress. Others, while they can fight alongside U.S. troops, when the actual fighting occurs, the U.S. troops have to shoulder almost all of the burden.

But there is a more important point, Wolf, and that is this: If we're not going to have the Iraqis stand on their own, it is going to be a very, very long time for our soldiers to be over there, far longer than most anticipated.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator? Let's let Senator Kyl respond. Senator Kyl? KYL: There is a lot of naysaying here that all of this didn't happen overnight. Let me go back to General Petraeus. He was the person given the responsibility of this training.

And while he was there, he brought the Iraqi forces up from almost nothing to a point in which they can do a very good job now. Now, is it good enough? No.

Are there enough of them? No. That takes time. Remember that the key problem here was that they were recruiting all of the privates, but all of the general officers had been taken away.

And there was no government, basically, with a civilian head, that was giving the orders that then would be given to the general officer on down to the enlisted people.

And so, you have to establish the government with civilian control; you have to take time to have that officer corps develop and be able to execute the plan of the civilian government and to pass that on down to the soldiers doing the fighting. That takes time. And I think it's really distressing to hear criticism from Americans who are used to having the very best military in the world, wonder why a country like Iraq that doesn't even have elected leadership yet pursuant to their constitution, why they can't snap their fingers and have a military overnight.

It is going to take time. But we can be patient about this.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break, Senator Schumer, but go ahead and respond.

SCHUMER: I was just going say, you know, one of the questions I think most Americans would be asking is, how much time? Now, obviously, it wouldn't be this slow but if we were to only add 750 troops a year, that would be way too slow for everybody.

How quickly can it happen? What is a realistic assessment? We have been hearing overly optimistic assessments about Iraqization for a long time.

That's why this distinguished delegation -- retired military people, people who generally been supportive of the war, the people who I have mentioned -- let them come back and give an independent assessment.

I think that would serve the president well. It would serve the American people well. Yes, John, it does take time. I couldn't agree more.

But how much time and how well is it going and what could we be doing to make it better? We have to admit that 750 troops in a year and a half is not a very good record.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by because we have a lot more to talk about -- very busy week here in Washington. We'll continue our conversation with both of these senators after a short break.

Later, we'll get some insight into next week's Iraqi elections from Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish political spokesman here in Washington. He's the son of Iraq's president.

More "Late Edition" straight ahead.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Still with us, the Democratic senator from New York, Chuck Schumer and the Republican senator from Arizona, John Kyl.

Senator Schumer, listen to what your Democratic colleague from Connecticut said this past week.


U.S. SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D) CONNECTICUT: It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be a commander-in-chief for three more critical years and that, in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril.


BLITZER: You agree with Joe Lieberman?

SCHUMER: Well, I don't fully agree with Joe Lieberman, no. But I fully respect where he's coming from. He's doing this out of integrity. He's been a hawkish voice. And our party has voices that are both hawks and doves.

But I think we're all united in one thing, Wolf. We all believe there ought to be accountability. Joe Lieberman believes there ought to be accountability. John Murtha believes there ought to be accountability.

And our job, as, not only congressional senators and congressmen, but as the opposition party, ought to be to ask questions. There is nothing wrong with asking questions if they're asked in the right way.

There is nothing wrong with saying maybe Iraqization isn't working, how are the elections going, what are the other things we should be doing? That's our job. And there is nothing wrong with that.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, here is the language that Senator John McCain, Republican from your home state of Arizona, has introduced that would ban torture by the U.S. government: "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

Do you agree with Senator McCain? KYL: First, let me respond to the point that Senator Schumer just made. I think it is quite appropriate for members of the opposition to ask questions.

But that's not the only thing that the members of the opposition are doing here. As Senator Lieberman said, their criticism of the president and of our war effort is undermining our effort.

It is having an effect, I believe, on the way that the enemy is viewing their ability to wear down our will.

Asking questions is fine. But continually naysaying with no apparent idea of their own about how to improve the training of the Iraqi military, for example, is not a constructive way to approach the debate.

Now, in answer to your question, the Senate voted overwhelmingly, I supported the amendment that my colleague, John McCain offered -- I think it was 92 votes or 93 votes, something like that, in support of that amendment.

And my understanding is that there is a conference committee agreement that is likely in the next couple of days that will make some modifications but essentially retain the essence of the amendment.

BLITZER: Are you concerned, though, that the vice president and Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, among others, have been trying to chip away at what McCain's language would call for?

KYL: I think your characterization of "chipping away" is not the right way to express it, Wolf. They have expressed some very serious concerns about the ability of others to basically sue American people in world court, for example, for violating a law that is unclear in its definition. What they were trying to do was to provide some clarity, some specificity to what otherwise are pretty subjective terms. And I hope that the negotiations that they've had with Senator McCain have produced some agreement there.

BLITZER: Let's move on, Senator Schumer, and talk about the Patriot Act.

Listen to what the president said yesterday in urging the Congress to go ahead and extend it, to renew it. Listen to this:


BUSH: The valuable protections of the Patriot Act will expire at the end of this month if Congress fails to act, but the terrorist threats will not expire on that schedule.

In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this vital law for a single moment.


BLITZER: Senator Schumer, your colleague, Russ Feingold, another Democratic senator, is threatening to filibuster this extension. He's concerned about civil liberties. Are you?

SCHUMER: Yes, I think -- look, Wolf, there has to be a balance. This is one of the major fulcrums of the Constitution, between security and liberty.

When the Patriot Act was passed five years ago, it was made to sunset so we could come back and re-examine it. And I think there's been a pretty good job done by both the House and Senate in terms of re-examining it. There were certain changes that were made.

One of the provisions that raised the hue and cry about looking at library books, now has a much higher standard before you can go in and do that.

So the compromise has made progress. But there is -- and by the way, the opposition is not just Russ Feingold. I think it's led by six senators, three Democrats, three Republicans. Two of the Republicans are very conservative. One of the Democrats, or two are very liberal. And therefore there's opposition across the board.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Will you filibuster?

SCHUMER: No. Look, I think that we should be doing here is following Senator Leahy's call. Senator Leahy was the lead Democrat on the conference committee, works closely with Arlen Specter. And he said if we just renew the existing Patriot Act for three months, we could probably come to a consensus -- we're close to it now -- and get this passed. And that's what I think ought to be done.

Wolf, I just want to say one other thing in reference to what Jon said, since he jumped back. You said 68 percent of the American people think we're going in the wrong direction in Iraq. That is not because of, quote, "naysayers" or Democrats who criticize. That's because they look at it objectively -- and this is Democrats, Republicans, independents -- and they say, "We have to do things differently, or at least get a better explanation of why it's not working the way it is." That is part of the process.

And there's too much a focus in this administration on attacking the person who raises legitimate questions rather than answering those questions so we might have a better policy.

BLITZER: We're out of time, Senator Kyl, but I'll give you the last word. Go ahead.


KYL: Well, I am certain that we're going to approve the Patriot Act. I cannot imagine that my colleagues would actually filibuster so that we could not extend the Patriot Act.

Everybody agrees we needed to tear down that wall between the FBI and the CIA, for example, one of most successful aspects of the Patriot Act. A filibuster doesn't substitute the existing law. A filibuster ends it.

So we cannot filibuster the Patriot Act. The president is right, it needs to be extended. When we send our military folks into harm's way, we give them the training and the equipment they need to do the job. We need to the same thing with our intelligence and law enforcement community, and the Patriot Act is that capability.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, Senator Schumer, thanks to both of you for joining us on "Late Edition."

And to our viewers, don't forget our Web question of the week: Will a new Iraqi government deter the insurgency?

You can cast your vote. Go to\lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

We'll be right back. But first this:


BLITZER (voice-over): Michael Schiavo, what's his story? The husband who fought for years to remove his brain-damaged wife, Terri Schiavo, from the feeding tube that kept her alive is turning his experience into political action. Schiavo's creating a new political action committee, TerriPAC, to strike back at the politicians who, despite court rulings in Schiavo's favor, fought to keep his wife alive through legislation.

The case became a media spectacle and prompted an emergency vote in Congress. Schiavo's organization will raise money to campaign against politicians whom he feels used his wife for political advantage. It will also encourage people to create their own living wills, to prevent the kind of confusion and controversy that surrounded his wife's case.



BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.



BUSH: We will complete our mission in Iraq, and leave behind a democracy that can govern itself.


BLITZER: A critical test for Iraq, as the country prepares to elect a new national assembly. Will insurgents undermine the vote, and what will the results be for U.S. troops? We'll ask Iraqi government adviser, Qubad Talabani. Inside the FBI, former director Louis Freeh speaks out about his pre-9/11 fight against terrorism, and his tense relationship with President Clinton.


(UNKNOWN): At some point, he uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb.


BLITZER: A scare at Miami's airport. But did the false alarm expose cracks in airline security? Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, and former Deputy U.S. Homeland Security Adviser Richard Falkenrath weigh in.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with the Iraqi presidential adviser Qubad Talabani in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: Let's go to Iraq now, where a second deadline has passed for the execution of four peace workers being held hostage as the country faces another key round of elections this coming week. Our Aneesh Raman is joining us live from Baghdad with details. Aneesh, what's the latest?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good afternoon. A Saturday deadline has come and gone, and no word yet on the fate of American Tom Fox and three other Christian aid workers kidnapped now more than two weeks ago. Their captors have been silent, a group previously unknown, calling itself Swords of Justice, demanding the release of thousands of Iraqi prisoners.

An earlier Thursday deadline had been extended until Saturday. On Wednesday, we saw Tom Fox for the last time wearing an orange jumpsuit. He was blindfolded. These four aid workers, four of seven Westerners, Wolf, who have been kidnapped in the past few weeks. American Ronald Schulz is under insurgent custody, as well as a French and a German national. Wolf?

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman, thank you very much. Aneesh Raman on the scene for us in Baghdad. As Iraq prepares for Thursday's elections, there are questions about what the results will mean for the country's political future and the delicate balance of power between its Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish populations.

Joining us here in Washington is the representative of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government to the United States, Qubad Talabani. He's also a top adviser to his father, the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Qubad Talabani, welcome to "Late Edition."

QUBAD TALABANI, PATRIOTIC UNION OF KURDISTAN: Thank you. It's always good to be back on.

BLITZER: If troops were to leave, U.S. troops were to leave quickly, let's say over the next six months as John Murtha is proposing, would Iraq collapse into civil war as the U.S. ambassador is suggesting, Zalmay Khalilzad?

TALABANI: I think it will. I think if there is a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, without building up the necessary capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, we could be facing a civil war and deterioration of the situation in Iraq.

BLITZER: What's taking so long to get the Iraqi security forces in place? It's been almost 2 1/2 years. A couple hundred billion dollars spent by the United States. What's taking so long for the Iraqi military and police force to take charge and protect themselves?

TALABANI: I mean, the Iraqi security forces are now taking over from the U.S. forces in many key cities and towns across the country. We have over 211,000 security personnel trained, Iraqi security personnel trained now. It's now...

BLITZER: But only one brigade, according to the Pentagon, about 700 Iraqi soldiers can operate without any U.S. assistance.

TALABANI: It's important that U.S. troops be embedded with some of these Iraqi forces to give them the necessary battlefield experience. You can train somebody theoretically very well, but unless they get the battlefield experience, they're not going to be able to defeat these battle-hardened terrorists. BLITZER: How long will it take for the Iraqi military and police to be ready so that U.S. troops in significant numbers can come home?

TALABANI: It's difficult to put a timetable on it, which is why we are advising the American government to refrain from setting timetables. We need to continue and we need to accelerate the level at which we're training our Iraqi security forces, getting them battle-hardened, getting them battle-ready, and taking a greater role in the offensives against the terrorists.

And that's -- we're actually seeing that. Iraqis are now in the front line against the terrorists, where the U.S. military are providing a supporting role.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the elections scheduled for this Thursday. We know the Kurds will participate. You're a Kurd. We know the Shia will participate. They're the majority. But what about the Sunnis? Most of the insurgents are Iraqi Sunnis themselves. Do you believe they will participate?

TALABANI: We are receiving indications that Sunni Arabs will participate in these elections. We got a sense that they regretted boycotting the January elections. They missed out on many key decisions that were made without them being at the political table.

This time, they showed their willingness to take part in the process. Many Sunni Arabs believe in the political process and believe that through politics they can represent their communities and get the best for their communities.

BLITZER: How popular is the insurgency among Iraqi Sunnis?

TALABANI: It's dwindling. Their popularity is dwindling, because look at the number of attacks that are being carried out a day. And look at the percentages of Iraqis being killed as compared to the multinational forces being killed.

BLITZER: But it seems the number of attacks is still very high, if not higher than it was a half a year ago.

TALABANI: The number the attacks are high, but the insurgents are now hitting soft targets. They're hitting hospitals. They're hitting schools. They're hitting busy markets. Killing Iraqis, killing Iraqi men, women, and children. So the support for the terrorism is really at an all-time low, in my opinion, in Iraq.

BLITZER: Is Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, this Jordanian still in charge of this insurgency, or only a small part of it?

TALABANI: It's not clear. I would try to refrain from exaggerating his role or his influence over the insurgency. I think that there are many different types of insurgency in Iraq at the moment. And by getting the support of the Iraqi population, by providing better level of governance and stronger security forces, we can weed out the terrorists and capture Zarqawi himself. BLITZER: As you know, there was great hope before the war that once the U.S. came in, liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, Iraq would really be able to pay for this U.S. military-led operation with oil exports. But let me read to you from the October 10 issue of USA Today, the newspaper: "The country's oil wells produce about 1.9 million barrels of crude oil a day, lower than 2003 levels and well under the 3.5 million barrels Iraq was producing before the 1991 Gulf War. Iraqi households still get only about 14 hours of day of power. In Baghdad, the power is on about ten hours a day."

What's the problem? Why is the Iraqi oil production at such low levels, and the overall recovery of the country not where it should be?

TALABANI: Well, first of all, we encountered a country that had all of its services and infrastructure destroyed. Forty years of neglect. We have a very rotten oil infrastructure in Iraq. As we're trying to develop the oil infrastructure, terrorists are targeting the pipelines, which are hampering the level of oil we can export on a daily basis.

And the same goes for electricity. The same also goes for the health care sector and the education sector. We really have a shattered infrastructure.

BLITZER: As you know, there have been reports that your area, the Kurdish part of northern Iraq was unilaterally negotiating oil deals without the authority of the central government, basically acting on its own, as if Kurdistan was an independent state. You've seen those reports?

TALABANI: I've seen those reports. And the new constitution of Iraq allows for regions to take part in the development of the oil sector. You have to understand that the Kurdistan region had been neglected.

BLITZER: Without any involvement of the central government?

TALABANI: The central government is aware of what's going on. There are discussions. There are officials within the Iraqi oil ministry that are aware of what's going on around the country. You know, there has to be a good relationship between the center and the regions.

And in all honesty, the Kurdistan region has waited two and a half years now for there to be some signs that the central government is willing to develop and invest in the Kurdistan region's oil sector. And so far there's been little. So if this continues, you're going to see more actions taken unilaterally by the Kurdistan region to develop its oil sector.

BLITZER: Well, if that happens, you know you're going to anger the Shia in the south. You're going to anger the Sunnis who used to control all of Iraq. In effect, you might be setting the stage for a -- not only a civil war but maybe independent states. Let me read to you from a CSIS report that came out only the other day, December 9th -- the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington, a think tank: "The Kurds are exploiting their control of the three provinces that made up the Kurdish enclave under Saddam Hussein in ways that gave them advantages over other ethnic groups in the region and present the threat of soft ethnic cleansing in the area of Kirkuk.

"The inclusiveness of the national government is at risk, as is the effort to create truly national Iraqi forces."

First of all, is there a, quote, "ethnic cleansing" going on by the Kurds in Kirkuk -- trying to remove Iraqi Sunnis, in effect, from that oil-rich area?

TALABANI: No, there is no ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing was carried out against the Kurds in Kirkuk and in Hanakhim (ph) and other cities in Iraq. Saddam forcibly evicted Kurds and Turkomans from Kurdistan cities like Kirkuk because of the ethnicities.

BLITZER: But are you now trying to remove some of those Iraqi Sunnis who came in?

TALABANI: We're trying to find a legal process. And this is something that we've been calling for for two years now, to have a legal process where people that have been evicted from their homes and their lands have the right to return to their homes and properties. There has been very little progress on this.

Unfortunately, there have been some instances where people have taken it upon themselves to reclaim their homes and territories, which is why we're urging the multinational forces, the United States government, to take this matter very, very seriously. We need to find a just resolution to the genocide that was committed against the people of Kurdistan.

BLITZER: Here is one of the major issues of concern to those of U.S. officials and others who are watching what's happening on the ground as far as the military is concerned: these independent militias that are roaming around. There are Shia militia, Badr militia, Mehdi militia, but there are also Kurdish militia who are basically operating outside the authority, what should be a central Iraqi military.

You're familiar with this problem. How concerned should outsiders be that the Kurdish militia, for example, are operating on their own?

TALABANI: The peshmerga, they're not a militia. They're a regional defense force. They are trained, they're equipped, they're disciplined. They report to regional elected authorities. And they are providing security in a part of the country that is the most secure. So it clearly has success...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: But if everyone has their own militia-- the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds, the peshmerga -- isn't that a prescription for disaster down the road if you're trying to avoid the kind of sectarian or ethnic splits that could result in three separate states or civil war?

TALABANI: Wolf, the peshmerga report to elected officials, an elected authority.


BLITZER: But shouldn't it be part of the central army?

TALABANI: They are, in effect, part of the overall defense forces of Iraq, but their jurisdiction is limited to the Kurdistan region. If the minister of defense were to want to utilize the peshmerga in an offensive in another part of the country, he may request to do so, but it will have to get approval from the regional authorities.

BLITZER: Let me ask you one final question on the trial of Saddam Hussein. Some are already saying it's backfired. He's generating support by his very presence there. Has it been a miscalculation, the way this has been conducted?

TALABANI: I wouldn't call it a miscalculation. I think that the Iraqi judicial authorities have allowed Saddam to rant, to rave, because I think they wanted to show the international community that Saddam is being given a fair trial. He's been given space to make his noises.

I think it's important for there to be progress on this case and for the case to be accelerated and for the charges to be really pressed and to really make progress on this case.

BLITZER: We have to leave it there.

Qubad Talabani, thanks very much for coming in

TALABANI: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Republican Senator John McCain takes on the Bush administration over the issue of torture. Will it hamstring the war on terror? We'll talk to two security experts.

Then, we'll get the inside story of the pre-9/11 fight against terror and what the U.S. should do post-9/11 from the former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Later, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

A scary incident this past week at Miami international airport. U.S. air marshals fatally shot a man who supposedly was behaving erratically and muttering, supposedly, about a bomb. He did not have one.

Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Joining us now to talk about the war on terror and your security are two guests, former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin -- he's now a CNN national security adviser -- and Richard Falkenrath, who is a former White House deputy homeland security adviser; he's now a CNN homeland security analyst.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you very much for joining us.

Richard Falkenrath, let me start with you. And I'll show the viewers the video that we have when Rigoberto Alpizar, the man who was shot and killed, was boarding a flight to Miami from Ecuador -- you can see it right there. You can see him wearing this backpack, not on his back but on his chest as he's walking through the security there.

And supposedly, when he was on that flight from Miami to Orlando, before it took off -- and he uttered something about a bomb scare, a bomb warning, a bomb threat -- that some people claim he uttered. He also had that backpack on his chest as owe opposed to his back, which is normally where you'd have a backpack.

If you're a federal air marshal and you see someone you think may have said something about a bomb, running off the runway like that, with a backpack on his chest, you could get pretty nervous pretty quickly.

RICHARD FALKENRATH, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: That's right. It's a worrisome image. Most of the information we're getting so far, Wolf, is that these air marshals behaved in an understandable way, in a way that was in accordance with their training.

This was, it appears, a great tragedy, but it looks to me like those men who were on the job that day did what they were trained to do, and we can understand it.

BLITZER: What do you think, Mr. McLaughlin?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA: Oh, I agree with Rich on that. They did what they were trained to do. And the other thing to keep in mind is, these things don't happen that often.

There aren't enough real-life incidents where's they have an opportunity to work through these problems. So, frequently they're having to react for the very first time to something that's happening. The air marshal service is new and it's grown dramatically since it was created.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, are these guys, these thousands of air marshals who are flying around -- there were only about 30 or 40 before 9/11, but now there are several thousand of them flying on selected flights.

Are they adequately prepared, adequately trained to deal with these kinds of sensitive issues?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'll let Rich elaborate on this. But my sense is that they've been trained well.

But, at the same time, it takes a while to inculcate, in a new service like that -- I'm thinking of intelligence services that I've worked with --it takes a while to inculcate a set of rules and a set of practices and a set of instincts.

And it takes, also, some experience with events like this, before the lessons are learned about how to do this exactly right.

BLITZER: What do you think, Richard?

FALKENRATH: I think this is right. These air marshals have very good tactical skills. They are excellent shots. They know how to operate in a constricted environment.

But dealing with unruly passengers, mentally unstable passengers is very hard and it's the sort of thing that, I think, only comes from a lot of experience and, sadly, a few experiences of this sort.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about the report card that the former 9/11 Commission gave to the Bush administration and the Congress, for that matter, in dealing with their recommendations on how to deal with the war on terror. If you take a look at some of the grades that were given out: "Common Radio Spectrum for First Responders, F; Homeland Security Funding based on Risk, F; Airline Passenger Pre-screening, F; declassifying the intelligence budget, F; Detention standards, F; Intelligence Oversight Reform, they passed, barely -- a D.

These grades, John McLaughlin, are pretty horrible. And this is a bipartisan commission: the former New Jersey governor, Republican Tom Kane, Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman and their colleagues.

They are pretty angry that the government -- the U.S. government has really not adequately responded so far in this war on terror.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, they make some good points. But at the same time, I'm reminded of something that former Secretary Albright once said on this program, which is that, the longer you're out of government, the easier it looks.

But some of these things are a little hard to get done. Now, that's not to excuse anyone for lax behavior or inability to move forward.

But it's also important to realize that the 9/11 commission, when it did its work, particularly when it was looking at intelligence, actually stopped its assessment in October of 2001.

So, there's a lot that they haven't taken into account that's actually changed in the intelligence world.

BLITZER: Well, let's get to one specific F on this radio frequency that hasn't yet been improved.

Richard Falkenrath, we saw this in Katrina, the aftermath of Katrina, where first responders go in and they can't talk with each other. They can't talk to the military; they can't talk with police, firefighters, other rescue workers because they don't have that frequency that enables first responders to adequately communicate.

That's pretty shocking that it's taking so long to get that done. We know it was awful after 9/11. But, what -- it's been four years.

FALKENRATH: Yes, everyone agrees they should have the frequency. And I think the former commissioners did a good job of pointing to the U.S. Congress and saying, pass that legislation before you now so they will have the frequency.

But, in that case, I think the issue is not just a federal one. It's not just Washington. It's the state and localities who are getting a lot of money and who are spending it in ways that aren't necessarily compatible.

New Orleans and Louisiana got a lot of money to buy radios. They bought radios that were not compatible with other radios that would be deployed in that area and that flooded when the waters rose and shorted out the radio system. So, yes, the federal government is not setting adequate standards but the states and localities are also not living up to their end of the bargain, either.

BLITZER: Lee Hamilton was also very unhappy with the way the intelligence reform has unfolded. Listen to what the former Democratic Congressman, the former chairman, co-chairman said.


LEE HAMILTON, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHMN.: The bureau still struggles to make the intelligence mission the dominant mission of the agency. Reforms are at risk from inertia and complacency. Reforms must be accelerated or they will fail.


BLITZER: The FBI, he says, is still not doing what they should be doing in understanding that the threat of terror is the threat -- number one for the United States and not some other stuff that, traditionally, they regard as their number one threat.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. I think he's correct in saying that the bureau struggles, to use his words, to make the transition from an investigative agency, while still having to have investigative responsibilities, to one that is focussed more heavily on intelligence collection. I do know that the director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, understands this problem and is committed to getting it done. At the same time, the commissioner is correct in saying it's a tough slog to get it done.

BLITZER: I see all this intelligence re-organization that has gone on over the past year, a new national director for intelligence, as a lot of bureaucracy, but I'm not sure that it's had a practical effect yet. But correct me if I'm wrong.

FALKENRATH: Well, I think that's right. And there is a debate among the people that are on the inside and on the outside about the effectiveness of these reforms.

It's interesting. The 9/11 commissioners, the former commissioners, gave the government a B for following through on its recommendation. But some recent departures from the intelligence community are saying things have gotten worse.

John Brennan, our former colleague, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said these reforms are making things worse.

On the FBI, Wolf, I would say this, the former commissioners had no special access to the FBI and, really, I think, are not in a position to judge carefully what is going on there because their mandate is over. They can't get into the inner workings of the bureau anymore. BLITZER: John McLaughlin, let's get to a very sensitive issue, the issue of torture, which is out there.

There are some experts like John McCain, who himself endured torture when he was a POW in Vietnam, who insist torture simply doesn't work because, if you're being tortured, you're going to tell those who are interrogating you whatever they want to hear in order to stop the torture.

In your experience, does torture work?

MCLAUGHLIN: No. I think -- you know, no one favors torture as an interrogation technique. And just about anyone who's been involved will tell you that it doesn't work.

The only real test of an interrogation program is whether it produces accurate information. And what I would tell you in the case of interrogations that I'm familiar with, of very important Al Qaida customers -- or Al Qaida prisoners -- is that it has produced accurate information.

When we think back to some of the things we've learned -- if you look at the 9/11 commission report, for example, it points out that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, is the person who made us aware of another individual, Esam Al-Hamdi, a person who was captured about 18 months ago in the U.K. after a lot of careful intelligence work.

Now, that's a guy who was inside the CitiGroup building in New York carrying out reconnaissance. We know that for a fact now. He was also reconnoitering buildings in New Jersey and Washington.

And, as a result of that information, American lives, I think, and plots -- plots have been disrupted and lives have been saved.

BLITZER: Well, are you suggesting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was tortured, and as a result, he provided that accurate information?

MCLAUGHLIN: No, I'm not suggesting that at all. I'm just suggesting that the only test of an interrogation program is whether it provides accurate information.

BLITZER: Did he voluntarily provide that information? Or was he threatened? Was he cajoled? Or how did that come about?

MCLAUGHLIN: I can't go into the techniques. I cannot -- it would be foolish for me on international television to remove from the minds of the people out there to kill us whatever ambiguity may be left in terms of our tactics and strategy.

But what I would tell you is, the whole torture debate is an interesting one and one that should go forward.

But, at the same time, it obscures the basic question, in my view, which is -- what do you do when someone comes into your hands who, with absolute certainty, has knowledge of plots that will kill Americans or Europeans or other allies of ours?

For example, what if we had captured one of the 9/11 hijackers in -- let's say, April of 2001. There's a question to debate. What is the right policy?

What should we have done with that individual? Had we failed to gain knowledge of the 9/11 plot, in all likelihood, the 9/11 commission would have judged that an abject intelligence failure.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but quickly respond.

FALKENRATH: Well, I think he's put his finger on a very serious dilemma. The debate with Senator McCain, I think, is not about torture. Torture is illegal. The administration has rejected it.

It's, rather, about another concept, cruel and degrading and inhumane treatment, which is not prohibited in U.S. law, as torture is. Senator McCain would prohibit that rather ambiguous term.

The administration has not yet accepted such a legal prohibition -- instead says, as a matter of policy, we don't do that.

BLITZER: Richard Falkenrath, John McLaughlin, a good discussion. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Just ahead, the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, talks about his new book, "My FBI" and why he was at odds with former president Bill Clinton over fighting the war on terror.

Up next, though, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the massive explosions that happened overnight in a town near London.

Stay with "Late Edition."



BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

It's been acknowledged the U.S. government missed a number of opportunities to protect the country from a terror attack in the years before 9/11. But in his new book, the former FBI director Louis Freeh is defending his leadership of pre-9/11 counterterrorism efforts.

I recently spoke with Louis Freeh.


BLITZER: The 9/11 Commission report, as I've read it -- I'm sure you've read it as well -- comes down very harshly on the FBI during the years you were the FBI director, among other things saying the FBI did not dedicate sufficient resources to the surveillance or translation needs of counterterrorism agents. Surveillance personnel were more focussed on counterintelligence and drug cases.

And the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, John Podesta, wrote a piece wrote a piece in The Washington Post the other day saying, "The bureau under Freeh's leadership stumbled from one blunder to the next with little or no accountability. The nadir, as the nation knows too well, was reached in the astonishing string of failures that helped leave America vulnerable to the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

"The face of this record, Freeh, has now published, 'My FBI,' a book distinguished by its shameless buck-passing. Nothing, it seems, was ever Louis Freeh's fault."

Your response?

LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Well, you've asked me two long questions, Wolf -- rhetorical questions, but let me try to answer those.

First of all, John Podesta talking about the nadir and the FBI is quite comical when you look at the presidency that he was chief of staff for.

But leave that aside, John Podesta -- it's interesting he's making all of these criticisms right now, because when he was chief of staff, first of all, he never brought any to my attention. And you know what, if I was that bad, the president should have fired me. So it's interesting to sort of hear the record.

With respect to the 9/11 Commission, I agree with a lot of their findings, particularly the finding that neither President Bush nor President Clinton, nor their national security advisers put the country on a war footing before September 11. And a lot of their criticisms are valid.

But let's remember that prior to September 11, when our enemy was not only declaring but waging war against the United States, blowing up embassies -- they almost sank an Aegis class warship, the USS Cole, in October of 2000. Our response -- and I'm talking about two administrations -- was to get arrest warrants for bin Laden, put him on the top 10 list.

And I went over to President Musharraf in the spring of 2000, asked that he help me arrest and take custody of bin Laden. By the way, he was of no help. He told me that he had spoken to Omar Mullah, who told him that bin Laden was no longer working in terrorism.

So the perspective before 9/11 was quite different. The country did not declare war -- war as you and I would understand it -- until September 11.

And while we're on the subject, the 9/11 Commission, it was interesting to read, at least press accounts, of Able Danger. It appears, from very credible sources, including very decorated military officers, that prior to September 11, actually in 2000, the Able Danger unit had identified...

BLITZER: That was a unit of the Pentagon that supposedly identified Mohammed Atta and some of the others, according to some of those people who say they were involved. Did any of that information ever reach the FBI?

FREEH: Well, absolutely not. In fact, if you read the media accounts, the military officers were forbidden from giving that to the FBI. In fact, they had (inaudible) with the FBI. Now, my point is, that was the kind of tactical intelligence -- had the FBI had it, you know what, that would have been very, very helpful.

FBI agents might have reacted to that. The 9/11 commission apparently was told this before they wrote their report, and we still haven't gotten a straight answer as to what they did with it.

BLITZER: But forget about Able Danger for a moment. As significant potentially as that might be, and there are presumably investigations, reviews under way right now to determine what, if any, role they may have had. But there were FBI agents who were connecting the dots, who were screaming about some of these 9/11 hijackers leading up to it. But apparently it didn't reach your desk or you were unaware of what some of your own field agents were getting.

FREEH: Well, I mean, you're talking about two incidents in the summer of 2001. Which, I wasn't there, by the way, but let's leave that aside for the moment. You're talking about two pieces of information. One came out of Phoenix and one came out of Minnesota.

Connecting them together in hindsight, which is a very easy exercise, by the way, hypothetically and theoretically could maybe take you where the 9/11 commission, by the way, did not go. They said that no combination of facts known prior to September 11 could have prevented the hijackings. I think that's very significant. What you're doing is you're taking two pieces of information, in hindsight, when those pieces of information came to the agents' attention, they came in the multitude of other facts. To go back and do it in hindsight is very easy, but I think ultimately unfair exercise.

BLITZER: But with hindsight, I'm sure you spend a lot of time looking back on your eight years as FBI director and say to yourself, if only I had screamed a little louder, shouted a little louder, complained, gone public, and said, you know what, I might have had a greater impact on preventing that tragedy.

FREEH: I think anybody who served in those positions during that period, and we're talking about two administrations at least, still feels personally responsible for September 11 and wishes in hindsight we could have done more and maybe we could have prevented it. And I ask myself that question all the time. BLITZER: You do take some personal responsibility for this?

FREEH: Of course.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another issue that's come up in your book, the whole Khobar Towers bombing. You write in your book on page 25: "The story that came back to me from 'usually reliable sources,' as they say in Washington, was that Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he understood the Saudis' reluctance to cooperate. Then according to my sources, he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still to be built Clinton presidential library." Referring to the effort to try to get the Saudis to cooperate with the FBI investigation into the deaths of those U.S. military personnel.

Jay Carson, Bill Clinton's spokesman now, responds with this statement: "Freeh was not even in the meetings he describes, and thus is totally wrong with his baseless allegations. President Clinton repeatedly pressed the Saudis for cooperation on the Khobar Towers investigation, which led to the eventual indictments." Your usually reliable sources, as you point out, were they American sources or Saudi sources?

FREEH: Well, I'm not going to get into that. That's an exercise that you wouldn't do with a journalist. You're certainly free to try it with me. I'm not going to talk about it. But let me, let me...

BLITZER: Because you may know that sources, people very close to the former president say your sources were not FBI agents. They were Saudis. And that they were just being mischievous in what they were saying to you, specifically one high-ranking Saudi official whom I won't name. I don't know if you've heard that, but I want your response.

FREEH: Well, my response is, I don't know what information you're talking about. And no, I was not at the meeting. Neither was the president's spokesperson, by the way.

I will say this, even going back to, you know, May of 2001, if you read the New Yorker article carefully, it was confirmed, it was confirmed in that story that Bill Clinton never seriously pursued the request by the FBI to get into Saudi prisons where we could speak to the people who were not only responsible for the bombing, Wolf, but who ultimately told us it was done at the behest of senior members of the Iranian government.

The best corroboration I have of that is it took President Bush 41, 48 hours to perfect that request, where for two and a half years, the president and his national security adviser not only didn't pursue it, but what do you say about a president and a national security adviser that, after telling the country this is a critical case, we will do everything we can to find out who murdered our 19 heroes, neither of them in two and a half years ever asked me how the case was going. Never asked me for a progress report or what we were doing.

BLITZER: But what about the allegation that at that same meeting he tried to hit up the Crown Prince Abdullah, now the King Abdullah, for a contribution to the Clinton library? Are you standing by that? Are you sure that that conversation was at that specific meeting? Because as you know, the National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and others who were there are flatly denying that.

FREEH: Well, I don't want to comment on Sandy Berger's credibility or the president's credibility. And, you know, when you say standing by, I'm repeating on page 25 -- you did accurately read it -- what I was told by sources. But regardless of what I was told by sources -- and I am sticking by that, by the way. I've reconfirmed it with my sources.

And I wasn't the only person that was told it. We were told together. The national chief of my counterterrorism division was there with me. But I think what's important here is that for two and a half years, this was not done.

And when Mr. Podesta writes that Mr. Clinton's efforts led to the indictment, that's ridiculous. We couldn't get an indictment out of the Justice Department under the Clinton administration. The U.S. attorney assigned to the case by the way, had never investigated a criminal case.

With the same evidence, very important, with the same evidence, in eight weeks Jim Comey, who just left as deputy attorney general, indicted the case. Five days before the statute of limitations was going to bust the counts. That's the fact of the indictment.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. Louis Freeh, the book "My FBI: Bringing down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Waging War on Terror." Thanks, Director Freeh, for joining us.

FREEH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up next, in case you missed it, our Sunday morning talk show roundup. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from some of the other Sunday talk shows here in the United States.

Iraq was the topic on all of them.

On "Fox News Sunday," the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist blasted remarks by Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean this past week about the war.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN) MAJORITY LEADER: I think the fact that, for the first time, at least in my memory, that with we have a leader of a party, the Democratic party coming out and saying, at a time we're at war, with our troops, as that ad said, with our troops watching, with terrorists watching, that we cannot win, that we will be defeated, that we cannot be victorious, is absolutely irresponsible and dangerous to the security of this country.


BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," Lindsey Graham and Madeleine Albright weighed in on the tone of the political debate over Iraq.


U.S. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: There is no political consensus in this country. Democrats and Republicans are struggling. We've lost our national unity when it comes to Iraq. What happens in Iraq will matter to this country long after '06.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There's not one Democrat that doesn't want our troops to come home safely or wants our homeland to be properly protected or let Iraq develop a democracy and operate within the region.

And I have to tell you, to be maligned as not patriotic or undercutting the effort, I think, is unacceptable.


BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," Democratic senator, Joe Biden speculated about Thursday's elections in Iraq and the country's political future.


U.S. SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D) DELAWARE: My expectation is there will be a large turnout. But that's only the first step, George. The real deal is the constitution. Four to six months later, there will be a vote on the constitution.

That is either going to be a document of division or a document of unity. If it ends up being viewed as a document of division, where the Sunnis think they're out of the deal, then I think we're in real trouble.


BLITZER: On CBS' "Face the Nation," Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, and Democratic Congressman John Murtha talked about the pros and cons of withdrawing troops sooner rather than later.


U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MURTHA (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Iraq is going to control this themselves. The majority of people in Iraq are in favor of us getting out now. We have become the enemy.

So, I'm convinced once we get out of here and redeploy to the surrounding area where we can go back in if something affects our national security.

U.S. SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R) ALABAMA: We need to make sure that government that we've invested so much in establishing is successful. Our generals say we should not go too fast. We should be operating on a timetable consistent with what happened -- what's happening on the ground.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Up next, the results of our web question of the week: "Will a new Iraqi government deter the insurgency? Plus, we'll tell you what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States."


BLITZER: Our "Late Edition" Web question asks this: "Will a new Iraqi government deter the insurgency?"

Here's how you voted: 11 percent of you said yes; 89% of you said no.

Remember, this is not, not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the U.S.

Newsweek has "President Bush's World." U.S. News and World Report looks at the cold truth of your home heating costs. And Time features "The Best Photos of 2005."

That's it for your "Late Edition" this week. Please be sure to join me in "THE SITUATION ROOM" Monday through Friday. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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