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THE SITUATION ROOM

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Killed In U.S. Airstrike; Abu Musab al- Zarqawi's Death Raising Concerns About Revenge Attack In United States; Michael Berg Gives Thoughts On Zarqawi's Death; New Developments Between Specter And Cheney; Where is bin Laden Hiding?

Aired June 8, 2006 - 16:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, dead on target. No longer able to cheat death, al Qaeda's top man in Iraq is killed.

It's 1:00 a.m. in Iraq, where U.S. forces took out Abu Musab al- Zarqawi in an airstrike. But if you cut off the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, what happens to the body of the terror organization? Might al- Zarqawi's death be a cause for celebration, or concern for more violence, maybe even here in the United States?

And it's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, where it's round two of a Republican family feud. In one corner, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the other, the vice president. At issue, the domestic spying program.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Beheadings, bombings, body snatchings. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is believed to have the blood of thousands on his hands. But now al Qaeda's top man in Iraq is dead. He met his end after a U.S. airstrike last night in Iraq near Baquba. And as one U.S. senator says -- and I'm quoting now -- "There's a special place in hell reserved for him."

Al-Zarqawi led the al Qaeda network in Iraq, whose attacks were as blood-thirsty as they were bold, including the 2003 suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people. And al-Zarqawi is believed to have personally beheaded U.S. hostage Nicholas Berg in 2004.

Today, President Bush hailed al-Zarqawi's death and said it won't necessarily end the violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue. Yet, the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to al Qaeda. It's a victory in the global war on terror. And it's an opportunity for Iraq's new government to turn the tide of this struggle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We have several reporters standing by. Our Jeanne Meserve is here in Washington. Mary Snow is in Wilmington, Delaware.

Let's go to the Pentagon first. Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. military has come close to getting Zarqawi before. And how did they get him this time? Well, the answer is good intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice over): It was late afternoon, and two U.S. Air Force F-16Cs like these were on routine patrol over Iraq when their radios crackled with urgent new orders. The pilots were vectored to Baquba and given coordinates for a single isolated house nestled in a palm and fig grove eight clicks to the north.

At 6:15 p.m., one of the F-16s dropped two 500-pound bombs, one laser-guided, the other satellite-guided, after being sure to take out the house in a way that would ensure a HVT, a high-value target, inside would be killed.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house. There was 100 percent confirmation.

MCINTYRE: Why so sure? Pentagon sources say U.S. special operations troops had the house under surveillance and knew Zarqawi's location every minute. So sure were they that the F-16s were told it was not a time-sensitive target so they could take their time.

Sources say their bombs glided to the target from several miles away so Zarqawi wouldn't hear the planes and be tipped off. An Air Force commander says the rubble tells the story of why two 500-pound bombs were needed. The safe house was a solidly-built struck made of reinforced concrete. The second bomb was to ensure the blast killed anyone inside the building.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And that included Musab al-Zarqawi, which General George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, said his death was confirmed by his physical appearance, his fingerprints, and some scars. They're also going to do some DNA tests to make sure.

And right after they made that confirmation, Wolf, they launched raids on 17 different locations around Baghdad, in and around Baghdad. And they say that those raids have netted a "treasure trove of intelligence" for further actions against the insurgents -- Wolf

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much.

Jamie McIntyre is our man at the Pentagon.

Al-Zarqawi's deeds extend far beyond Iraq. Our John Vause is in Iraq and has more details on that.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zarqawi was the most wanted man in Iraq, with a $25 million bounty on his head, responsible for some of the most brutal crimes against Iraqi civilians over the past two years. His reach stretched beyond this country to his native Jordan, also to Morocco, as well as Turkey.

Officials, though, here have stressed that Zarqawi's death will not bring an end to the violence. They do say, however, it is an important step along the way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John. Thank you.

Today there was confirmation of what John Vause just reported, that al-Zarqawi's death will not necessarily -- will not necessarily end the violence. Gunmen killed the brother of an Iraqi governor in a brazen drive-by shooting in Mosul. He was just leaving a mosque after evening prayers.

Also today, separate bombings left another 37 people dead. The violence somewhat overshadowed another positive item out of Iraq today. The nation completed its unity government. Appointed were the ministers of defense, interior, and national security. That's considered important for Iraq to develop its police and armed forces to restore law and order.

Coming up, I'll ask the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, about all of today's developments in Iraq. He's going to be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Al Qaeda's responding to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi online. Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is standing by with details -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is one site where that statement from Al Qaeda in Iraq appeared. We've confirmed it here at CNN and with Internet terrorism expert Laura Mansfield.

You can see where the statement's posted at the top, and then like any message board, there are replies and comments underneath it. We have translated it from Arabic. Let me read you an excerpt.

It says, "The death of our leaders brings life to us, and does not bring us except more insistence to continue the struggle until the word of god becomes the highest. We swear that we will continue to fight to death to establish god's doctrine in the Land of Two Rivers and we assure our nation that the enemy will not infiltrate through us."

You can go online to CNN.com/situationreport. We have linked to the latest on al-Zarqawi's death -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that.

In our "Security Watch," al-Zarqawi's death is raising concerns about a possible revenge attack right here in the United States.

Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials have not found evidence a retaliatory strike is coming, but they have not stopped looking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice over): Abu Musab al-Zarqawi never explicitly threatened to hit inside the United States, though some officials believed he might try. With his death, the FBI is instructing its agents in the U.S. and overseas to review with local law enforcement ongoing investigations and intelligence in hopes of detecting any possible retaliatory strikes.

But the bureau says at this time, there is no specific or credible threat. And the nation's color-coded threat level remains unchanged, at yellow or elevated.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have always been mindful of, you know, what kind of threat he poses. And we continue to be focused on these issues.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Obviously, our officials are watching this very carefully, looking for all information they can. But there's no sense of panic, no sense of concern.

MESERVE: In new York, where security was status quo, the mayor pointed out there is no reason for relief, either.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: I don't think you should worry about are you safer today than you were yesterday or are you more in danger. The world probably is better off without this person, but there are plenty of other people that we have to bring to justice.

MESERVE: One concern is self-contained terror cells with no direct tie with Zarqawi that might be motivated to stage an attack to avenge his death. A Department of Homeland Security official says, "We have to be vigilant for sympathizers."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Military and intelligence officials hope the rubble from the strike on al-Zarqawi and the 17 raids that followed will yield clues that could disrupt attacks overseas and here at home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne, for that. And to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Let's go back to New York. Jack Cafferty once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush said today, Wolf, "It ain't going to work." Very nice. He's talking about the U.S. deporting millions of illegal aliens from the United States. Mr. Bush told a group of Hispanic leaders that the current system is broken and Congress needs to pass commonsense reform to secure the border.

President Bush has been in office five years, and he's just now getting around to focusing on securing the borders. Forget the laws that are already on the books that concern illegal aliens. They're all being ignored. But Washington wants to pass new laws.

It's a joke. Mr. Bush wants to let more foreigners in to work temporarily, and he wants to give those who sneaked in here illegally years ago a chance to become citizens.

That, boys and girls, is called amnesty.

Members of his own party says he ought to find the illegal aliens here already and send them home. The country tried amnesty in 1986. It didn't work then. That's one of the big reasons we have the problems we have now.

But Mr. Bush says it's impractical to force these 12 million illegal aliens to leave. And besides, Mr. Bush's buddies own the big corporations, and they like to hire the illegal aliens because they're cheap and they're scared and you don't have to pay them any benefits.

Here's the question: President Bush says deportation of illegal aliens "ain't gonna work." Do you agree?

E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions, plus an early read on the day's political news, what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to CNN.com/situationroom. That's where you can do it.

Up ahead, his was the first in a series of brutal beheadings blamed on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Now the father of Nicholas Berg speaks out on the terrorist's death, and it's not the reaction you probably are going to expect.

Also, what impact will the death of the most wanted terrorist in Iraq have on the U.S. mission there and political fortunes here?

Plus, what about the world's most wanted terrorist? Can the same methods that led to al-Zarqawi lead U.S. forces to Osama bin Laden? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on our top story, the death of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. The leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baquba. The question now, what impact will the death of the most wanted terrorist in Iraq have on the insurgency and on the U.S. mission there?

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is joining us from New York with more -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Wolf, the death of a man who celebrated indiscriminate killing and who claimed to have personally beheaded American captive Nicholas Berg can certainly be seen as a piece of unalloyed good news. But if you try to look at that news through the prism of domestic politics, here is a cautionary note.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice over): Clearly, the U.S. and Iraqi governments were happy to spread the evidence that a highly visible force in the insurgency had been killed. And they were careful as well not to kind of photographic evidence that they used in July 2003, when two sons of Saddam Hussein were killed in Mosul.

When Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed, support for the American effort in Iraq was at 60 percent. By the end of 2003, support had dropped to 50 percent. But then in mid-December of that year, Saddam Hussein was captured, and support for the Iraqi policy jumped to 61 percent. But since then, approval of the situation in Iraq has fallen almost without a break in spite of bright spots: the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, the massive turnout in January 2005 for transitional elections, another huge turnout to approve a new constitution in October of 2005, the appointment of a new prime minister in April of this year.

Today, approval of the president's Iraq policy is down to 34 percent. The key to whether those numbers get better may well lie in the answer to one question: Will the death of Zarqawi lessen the level of violence against Americans and against Iraqis of differing religious beliefs?

Here, the words of a high-ranking Jordanian intelligence official quoted in the forthcoming "Atlantic Monthly" magazine are worth noting. After arguing that the United States had vastly exaggerated the role of Zarqawi, the official said, "If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Now, the president said as much today when he said that tough days lie ahead. But the key question here domestically is whether the removal of this one enemy will actually make a difference to the safety and stability of that country -- Wolf. BLITZER: What do you make of the president's tone and substance of his remarks at the White House earlier today?

GREENFIELD: I think it was a lesson learned from some of the triumphant remarks that were made a couple of years ago after Saddam Hussein fell so quickly when a banner behind him proclaimed "Mission Accomplished." I think the whole tone of the president's message to Americas is, even if we got this good news, we have been burned before, we know there's tough times ahead. This is a big triumph, but let's not celebrate.

I think the president himself in that joint press conference, I think, with Tony Blair indicated that some of his language in the past may have been misguided. And I think they were being very careful to not say, OK, everything is cool.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, thank you very much.

Some Americans had never heard of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before the infamous videotaped beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg. You might be surprised at his father's reaction to news of al- Zarqawi's death.

He spoke to our Mary Snow, and Mary Snow's joining us now from Wilmington, Delaware -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that videotape still haunts Michael Berg. And even though it's believed that al-Zarqawi personally beheaded his son, Berg says this is a horrible day, in his words, and says that he does not believe this brings any sense of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: When you heard the news today, tell me your thoughts.

MICHAEL BERG, FATHER OF NICHOLAS BERG: I think it's a tragedy when any human being dies. But Zarqawi's doubly, because Zarqawi, aside from being someone's son who is now going to suffer what my family suffered, he is also a political figure. And he and George Bush are involved in this cycle of revenge. And revenge begets revenge.

SNOW (voice over): Nick Berg was beheaded 25 months ago. The younger Berg was taken hostage while trying to sell phone contracts in Iraq. He was a Bush supporter. Now his father Michael compares that same president to al-Zarqawi.

BERG: I think that one is cowardly. The man in the Oval Office doesn't look at his victims when he kills them.

SNOW (on camera): So are you saying that Zarqawi committed a brave act?

BERG: No. I'm not saying Zarqawi committed a brave act. I abhor what he did. I'm just saying that he looked in Nick's eyes when he killed him.

SNOW (voice over): Since his son's death, Berg has been outspoken on the Iraq war and is now campaigning for U.S. Congress in Delaware. He carries with him a poster featuring this picture of his son, surrounded by masked killers, Nick Berg's final moments alive.

BERG: I will never forget that picture. And I will never let the world forget that picture as long as I can help it.

SNOW: Michael Berg talked to us away from his Wilmington home to protect his family's privacy. He says Zarqawi's death brings back the pain.

BERG: Having the media attention brings it back to the way it was, having the knot in my gut brings it back the way it was. Having people question my -- my passivity, my forgiveness brings it -- brings it all back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, Michael Berg is the only one in his family who is speaking out. In fact, he came to his campaign manager's house to speak to the press today. He says he feels he's obligated to speak out, to do his part in what he says end a cycle of revenge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, I'm glad you went to Wilmington to get us that story. Thank you very much.

Mary Snow reporting.

Coming up, new developments in the Republican family feud you first saw here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Now the vice president, Dick Cheney, is responding to a blistering letter from Senator Arlen Specter.

Plus, my interview with the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. I'll ask him what impact he thinks the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will have.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now there are new developments in the Republican family feud you first heard about here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. It pits a powerful Republican senator against none other than the vice president. At issue, the nation's domestic spying program.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He's got the latest -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when Vice President Cheney received a harshly-worded letter from Senator Arlen Specter, Cheney's office said he needed time to study it. Now he's had time and has responded in classic Cheney fashion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): In choosing not to pick a fight with another powerful Republican over the administration's secret wiretapping program, Dick Cheney doesn't seem willing to give in much either. Cheney responds to a blistering letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter with a letter of his own. "The administration will listen to the ideas of legislators about terrorist surveillance legislation and work with them in good faith."

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I think clearly the vice president was trying to soothe the senator's concerns. He wasn't confrontational. At the same time, he wasn't willing to change the White House's position.

TODD: The exchanges over Specter's probe of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. Specter furious with Cheney for going behind Specter's back to prevent the testimony before the Judiciary Committee of telecommunications executives from companies like BellSouth.

The senator fired off a letter to Cheney on Wednesday. "I was surprised, to say the least, that you sought to influence, really determine, the action of the committee without calling me first." Specter implied he might try to subpoena some White House officials.

He then spoke with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This is a matter of civil liberties, it's a matter of separation of power, and it's a matter of important congressional oversight. And so far, we're not getting there.

TODD: Cheney and other White House officials are concerned that if telecom executives testify, it might compromise sensitive information. To Specter's complaint that he was not told Cheney had gone through other Republican senators to block the telecom officials' testimony, Cheney wrote, "These communications are not unusual. They are the government at work."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, reacting to Cheney's letter, Specter indicated to CNN he's willing to let this standoff play out for the moment. But Specter also likely doesn't have the votes in his own committee to force the telecom executives or White House officials to testify -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, more on our top story, the death of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I'll ask the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, what the effect will be of this killing and if he thinks Americans should be worried about retaliation strikes here at home.

And a new poll asks, "Who do you trust most on the issue of immigration? Would it be President Bush or would it be Lou Dobbs?"

We'll tell you. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Let's get some more now on our top story.

U.S. jets dropped two 500-pound bombs on a safe house near Baquba. And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi likely didn't have the time to know what hit him. But what impact will the al Qaeda leader's death have in Iraq and elsewhere?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now is the United States ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. A big day for you. A big day for the Iraqi people.

I want to play for you a short little excerpt of what Senator Joe Biden said earlier today on CNN. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I hope this has a catalytic impact on the violence, but I predict to you that two weeks from now you're going to be showing people being ripped off of buses and beheaded, still. I think you're going to be seeing -- every morning you're still going to see 10 to 50 people found with their -- with their arms chained behind their backs and shot in the head. I hope I'm wrong about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he wrong about that, Mr. Ambassador?

AMB. ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, we'll have to see. I think what happened today with the killing of Zarqawi was a very important step.

Also, the establishment of the (INAUDIBLE) government of national unity was another important step. It provides an opportunity for Iraqis to come together to end sectarian violence. But it's not going to come about immediately.

I believe that in the coming few days there is a danger of escalation by the terrorists to demonstrate that they're still relevant and that they might take revenge. But strategically, what happened with Zarqawi and with this government, they were very positive and necessary steps.

BLITZER: When you talk about an escalation of terrorism, is that only in Iraq, or should we be worried outside of Iraq, here in the United States right now?

KHALILZAD: Well, I'm focused, obviously, on Iraq. We just had a meeting with the leadership of Iraq. And they're worried about possible car bomb attacks in the aftermath of the Friday prayer as an act of revenge by the terrorists. And they're considering banning driving of cars around mosques or in the city of Baghdad and Baquba around prayer time, perhaps between 11 and 3 tomorrow.

BLITZER: Tony Blair, the British prime minister, says there will be fierce attempts by insurgents with the formation of the government, with the death of al-Zarqawi, to fight back. In the short term, could it get worse?

KHALILZAD: I would not rule that out. Of course, that's one possibility. The other is that they might kind of lay back or lie low and regroup. Both are possibilities. And we have to prepare for both options.

As I said, we just discussed some of these things with the Iraqi leaders and are preparing, both in terms of defensive measures in case they escalate, but also for political and security offensive measures to take advantage of possible opportunities that might arise as a result of what happened to Zarqawi.

BLITZER: Is there a new Zarqawi? Who takes over for him? Is there a logical successor?

KHALILZAD: Not that I know of. It's possible they could appoint someone else. But he was a unique person at this point, because he had knowledge, the connection, the charisma, the star power and experience. That at this point, someone else does not appear to, at least we do not know of that could have.

But this was a significant setback for al Qaeda globally. And for al Qaeda in Iraq and for those who want Iraq to fail.

BLITZER: Who has custody, Mr. Ambassador, of his body right now?

KHALILZAD: We do.

BLITZER: The United States?

KHALILZAD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Will that remain? Will you allow him to be buried either in Iraq or in Jordan where he's from?

KHALILZAD: Well, those are issues that have not been decided yet. He is in the custody of the united military forces.

BLITZER: What about the $25 million reward that was made -- that was offered for his capture or his death? Is there someone who's going to get that or a group of individuals who might now be eligible for that $25 million?

KHALILZAD: Not that I'm aware of. The information that led to his location and to the attack that subsequently took place came from those who were arrested, senior members of al Qaeda in Iraq that are in our custody.

BLITZER: Was there help from the government of Jordan? He's from Jordan, as you well know. Was Jordanian assistance provided that helped to this event?

KHALILZAD: Jordan has played a helpful role. And it played a positive role in the confirmation of the identification of Zarqawi after he was killed. We had this issue to make sure that we had the person we thought we had. And Jordan did play a positive role in that.

BLITZER: One final question. Collateral damage. Were innocent civilians, as far as you know, killed in this double bombing, two -- two 500-pound bombs?

KHALILZAD: Not that I'm aware of. The total number as of this morning that was found in the location was seven. And it's possible that the number could change as the investigation and examination of the site continues.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, as I always say to you when we end these interviews, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Iraq. Be safe over there. Thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

KHALILZAD: Well, it's good to be with you again, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this programming note, please join me Saturday night for a CNN special, "IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR". We'll take an in depth look at the latest major developments, including the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That's Saturday night, 7 p.m. Easter, only here on CNN.

Meanwhile, one terrorist down. Many more to go. Among them, a man over six feet tall who stands out also for the boldest attacks against the United States. Yet Osama bin Laden has cheated death and capture despite the unending search for him. More now from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a question we asked on our recent trip to Afghanistan. What about Osama bin Laden?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): U.S. troops got Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the old-fashioned way, tracking tips and assembling intelligence. And that is why, four and a half years after the 9/11 attacks, it is still so hard to get Osama bin Laden.

MAJ. GEN. BENJAMIN FREAKLEY, COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE: We will keep after him until one day he's either captured or killed. STARR: Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry commands 23,000 troops in Afghanistan. But they don't operate across the border in Pakistan, where bin Laden is believed to be sheltered by loyal tribes and Taliban fighters.

As the hunt has continued, the war in Afghanistan, like in Iraq, has taken a grim turn.

(on camera): The U.S. military says it's fighting an insurgency now here in Afghanistan. And a counterinsurgency campaign, they say, could take years to succeed.

(voice-over): The assessment, the Taliban are stronger now than anyone expected, especially in the south and east along the border.

FREAKLEY: The fight has not diminished. But they have had time to reorganize. They've had time to assess the situation, both in Afghanistan and with the coalition forces. They've had time to recruit more. They've had time to get funding.

STARR: But Eikenberry knows unless there is a lucky tip and he can get a weapon launched quickly, getting bin Laden will be tough.

LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, U.S. ARMY: We have an obligation to one day either kill or capture bin Laden for the purpose of justice to the American people and indeed to the entire world for the misery that this man has inflicted. And we keep faith with that.

STARR (on camera): Intelligence officials tell CNN they continue to get unverified reports of bin Laden sightings. If one of those tips did pan out, the greatest likelihood is that the CIA would immediately launch a drone carrying a Hellfire missile, an attempt to kill the world's most wanted man -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thank you very much. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. He's standing by to tell us what he's working on -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much. Coming up at 6 p.m. Eastern here, we'll have the complete story of how the U.S. military tracked down al Qaeda's top man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in his final hiding place, northeast of Baghdad.

Also joining me tonight, two of the country's most respected experts on Iraq on what Zarqawi's death really means for U.S. policy and the conduct of the war in Iraq.

Also, as the United States faces a terrorist threat here at home, Congress is refusing to close a loophole that would allow a terrorist to get into this country. We'll have that report and why the U.S. government is refusing tonight to step in and stop the foreign takeover of our nation's airlines. Another great American giveaway.

We hope you'll be with us for that and a great deal more. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: I don't know, Lou, if you saw a poll today that was in the "Washington Post". It was put out by a company called MWR Strategies. It asked the question, an intriguing question, when it comes to Americans' trust on the immigration issue, who do you trust more, the president or Lou Dobbs? Look at this, Lou Dobbs gets 37 percent. President Bush gets 31 percent. Don't know or refused to answer, 32 percent. What do you think about that?

DOBBS: Well, I think I need to talk to that 32 percent who don't know. We've got to have a real discussion about that. It's very, very flattering, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs does better than President Bush on the immigration. At least in this poll. I can't vouch for MWR Strategies. Do you know anything about -- are they relatives or anything?

DOBBS: It's really -- it's really very simple. We can vouch for the "Washington Post". One of the best, if not the best news brands in all -- all the nation.

BLITZER: All right. Lou Dobbs. He's trusted by 37 percent of those who answered the question in that poll. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments.

Still to come, death of a man. What now for the mission? Might the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi mean lower levels of violence in Iraq? We'll debate that and more in our strategy session.

And the USS Cole takes on a new mission, six years after a terror attack blew a hole in its side. It's on the way. It's heading back to the region, the USS Cole. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're just getting this in to CNN. New developments concerning embattled Congressman William Jefferson. Top House Democrats are meeting behind closed doors just a few minutes from now on what to do regarding Congressman Jefferson.

He's the congressman from New Orleans who's the target of a federal investigation into alleged bribery. The FBI says $90,000, allegedly bribe money, was found in his freezer.

Top Democrats want Jefferson to step down from the powerful ways and means committee. Yesterday, they gave him a chance to defend himself on why he should not be removed from that committee position.

Jefferson has not been charged with anything, and he says there are two sides to this story. We'll watch this for you and bring you more once we get it.

Today, in our "Strategy Session", what will the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi mean for the overall U.S. mission in Iraq? Will this help decrease the violence or is it more of a symbolic victory?

Joining us now are CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

Here's what the president said today in his remarks, Donna, explaining what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue. Yet the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There was no major gloating or declaring victory or mission accomplished. There was a very, very balanced assessment, right?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. I think the president's tone today and the tone from the Pentagon and other sources was very good.

Look, the president is right. There may be an upsurge in violence over the next couple of week. So some of his sympathizers may try to go back out there and establish their mojo.

But this is an opportunity for the Sunnis to really come into the political process, for the prime minister to try to end the sectarian violence. This is a small opening. But don't be surprised if some of his sympathizers, some of his followers don't go out there and try to resurrect his image.

BLITZER: He struck the right note, is that right?

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: It was absolutely the right note, the right tone, very serious, making it very clear there's a lot of work that lies ahead. But you have to focus on both ends of it. He was an awful, awful person, personally responsible for the death of thousands and thousands of people. It is a very good thing that he is dead and gone. But the long term success is going to be a series of efforts and incredible will power.

BLITZER: Did John Boehner, the House majority leader, strike the right note when he said this? Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER: I think Zarqawi's death, or as I like to say, taking the head off the snake, will in fact help us win. And anything that helps us win, that brings good news, will certainly help, frankly, all members, both sides of the aisle, as they run for re-election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A political word. He says that this is going to help Republicans win in November.

CLARKE: I don't think anybody -- let's say for at least 24 hours, we don't think about political considerations.

BLITZER: He didn't wait 24 hours.

CLARKE: I wish people would, including us, and just focus on the importance of getting rid of an awful person like Zarqawi and how important it is to success in Iraq and to the safety of this country and the American people. That's what we ought to stay focused on.

BLITZER: It's an upbeat assessment. It's a very glowing assessment. Unlikely that in this town, anybody is going to pay attention to what you're saying.

CLARKE: We can always hope.

BLITZER: We can always hope.

BRAZILE: There's no room for political spin in this debate. Look, we want a democratic Iraq. We want our troops to come home. We want 2006 to be a year of significant progress. So let's hope that the prime minister now can, now that he has a full government, that he can get on the road to democracy.

BLITZER: Here's how -- here's how Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, put it. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I salute the efforts of the American troops who have worked tirelessly to track down the terrorist Zarqawi. His death and the naming of the Iraqi defense and interior ministers should hasten the day when Iraqis take responsibility for their security and American troops can come home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She was taking the high road.

CLARKE: She was.

BLITZER: That's good, right?

BRAZILE: That's very good. That's important, because again, we want our troops to come home. And this is an important step and that milestone we must achieve to get them home.

CLARKE: If there's any downside to this, there's just a slight downside to the news today, it's that we don't have the time to focus on the importance of those two posts being filled, the defense minister and....

BLITZER: How important is that, Torie, the fact that there's a defense minister, an interior minister, a national security minister?

CLARKE: It's not just that they have those ministers. It's the process that they went through to get those ministers. These were not people who got their jobs just because they were political favorites. They got the jobs because they were known as people, serious, inclusive, really could get engaged in a serious way in the government. So it's the fact that those important posts are filled with such serious people.

BLITZER: You heard Mitch McConnell, a Republican senator, suggest today, well, maybe they should go ahead. He's the whip. Maybe they should go ahead and have a vote on some of the Democrats' proposals for withdrawal from Iraq right now. Clearly, he'd like to embarrass a lot of Democrats. What do you make of it?

BRAZILE: Another round of political posturing. After this vote yesterday on same sex marriage, people need to get over the political posturing. This is serious.

You now have a Sunni head of the defense ministry. You have a Shia involved in the interior ministry. This is an opportunity to tell the Shia militia and the Sunnis and the former Ba'athists to come to the political table. There's a seat for everybody. Let's get on with democracy so the Iraqi people can stand up. They can get out of the Green Zone and bring our troops home.

BLITZER: One final question. We only have a few seconds. Why did they wait, do you believe, so long? The president was briefed on this yesterday afternoon around 4 p.m. And then throughout the night, they obviously know what was going on. And it wasn't until the middle of the night, 2:30 or 3 a.m. in the morning that word began to filter that this had -- had occurred.

CLARKE: Unfortunately, it's not a short answer. One, you want to be absolutely sure you've got who you think you have. And two, you want this vacuum that's created when people like that go silent. You want -- that vacuum might stir up other information, other intel from other sources who wonder what happened to their leader, Zarqawi, and his pals.

BLITZER: If you were still at the Pentagon, they would have woken you up in the middle of the night and you'd be exhausted.

CLARKE: I'd be very happy to be woken for that call.

BLITZER: Torie -- Torie and Donna, thank you very much.

And as our viewers know, they're part of the best political team on television. CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next, President Bush says deportation of illegal aliens, in his words, "ain't going to work." Do you agree? Jack Cafferty will have your e-mail on the question of the hour.

Plus, the government approves a cancer vaccine. We'll have details on what some are calling one of the most important health advances in years. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Zain once again for a quick look at some other important stories making news -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, the Food and Drug Administration is giving its approval to the first vaccine against cervical cancer. The vaccine's produced by Merck and Company and will be sold under the name of Gardasil.

Studies show that cervical cancer can be traced to a sexually transmitted virus that has more than 70 types. Gardasil protects against the four most significant types. Merck expects the vaccine to be available late this summer.

The USS Cole is bound for its first Middle East mission since the 2000 terrorist attack in Yemen blew a hole in its side. The destroyer left port in Norfolk, Virginia, today. The ship was joined by a submarine and five other ships to conduct security operations supporting the war on terror. Its crew of 320 is expected to be at sea for six months.

David Paulison has formally taken over the reins of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Paulison was sworn in during a ceremony at FEMA headquarters at Washington this afternoon. He succeeds Michael Brown, who left the post after taking a lot of heat for his handling, or some say mishandling, of the crisis following Hurricane Katrina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Zain, for that. Zain Verjee reporting.

The United States spends more than $60 billion on correctional facilities each year. But are the nation's 5,000 prisons and jails getting the job done? A new report says no.

Jacki Schechner has details -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, according to this report, 1.5 million people leave our nation's prisons and jails every year with a life threatening communicable disease. And that could be fixed by a better health care system on the inside.

This is according to a report. It's a commission that was put together to study our nation's correctional facilities. It was organized by a nonprofit prisoners' rights group.

What they found is that violence is a big problem, due in part to overcrowding, due to prisoner inactivity and prisoners not having enough contact with families. They also found out that violence was grossly underrated, that prisons and jails weren't reporting violence at all.

Some of the other key findings is that isolating prisoners due to security risks wasn't a good idea, that that was leading to more violence. They want it to be used as a last result (sic). The other thing is that corrections officers aren't making enough money, Wolf. It's hard to recruit them and hard to keep them.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that.

Up next, President Bush says deportation of illegal immigrants, in his words, "ain't going to work." Do you agree? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

President Bush, undergraduate degree, Yale University, graduate degree, Harvard University, says deportation of illegal aliens "ain't going to work." Do you agree?

Gary, Lincoln, Michigan: "The decider has decided that deportation 'ain't going to work.' Truth be told, it will work and should be done. The president is protecting businesses who want a cheap labor force. If they weren't here, Americans would end up taking those jobs. However, they would demand unions, decent pay and benefits, like the rest of us would."

Clara, Benjamin, Texas: "Nothing will work until we get our borders secured. People can come into this country from every direction. It is ridiculous that still after all this time has passed our borders are no more secure than they were when 9/11 happened."

Terry in Mansfield, Ohio: "If President Bush is referring to forcibly deporting the approximately fifteen million illegal aliens in this country, I agree. We couldn't evacuate New Orleans, and those people wanted to get out."

Randy in Lake Barrington, Illinois: "There are few things I agree with Bush on, but deporting 13-15 million illegal aliens won't work. Show me a 50-foot fence; I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."

A couple of more. Earl in Tennessee: "President Bush is throwing out a red herring when he says deportation won't work, like that is the only solution. Try sending the executives of companies that hire illegals to jail. The illegals will leave on their own."

And Warren in New Jersey writes, "It ain't going to work because they ain't going to do anything about it except talk. Maybe we should make a single area where all the illegal aliens can live free of fear from deportation. Let's call it Texas" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, they're working on the so-called conference committee report, trying to resolve differences between the Senate and the House. You think they're going to get a deal?

CAFFERTY: No. The short answer's no. I think they're...

BLITZER: Is the country better off with the Senate version, in your opinion, or no deal?

CAFFERTY: I think no deal. If you can't secure the borders, what's the point in trying to implement some vast program that applies to 11 million people we can't even find? I mean, that makes no sense at all. It's virtually undoable.

BLITZER: See you in an hour, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: We're back in one hour. Let's go to New York. Lou is standing by -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

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