Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Encore Presentation: Iraq: A Week at War

Aired July 2, 2006 - 13:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Roberts. This was a week where we saw optimism for reconciliation in Iraq, pessimism and violence in the Mideast.

And talk of taking the "New York Times" to court. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day. Monday, President Bush ripped into the "New York Times" calling its disclosure of a secret government plan quote disgraceful.

Tuesday, Iraq released 450 more prisoners, part of its reconciliation plan. Wednesday, U.S. soldier Kristian Menchaca kidnapped and killed in Iraq was buried in Texas. Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court junks the administration's plan to put terror suspects on trial in military tribunals. Friday, an Islamic website releases a new audio tape of Osama bin Laden, talking about the death of terrorist leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. This is Iraq, a week at war.

First, is it possible to bring the Iraqi factions together? Could the Iraqi prime minister's plan be the formula for peace and stability? Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Baghdad. CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. Air Force retired is in Tucson, Arizona. And Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon. The Iraqis call it reconciliation. The latest plan to end the violence and patch together a divided country. Monday, U.S. ambassador to Iraq (INAUDIBLE) called the plan quote, a positive step in this vital effort and he promised U.S. support to quote, help Iraq stand on its own feet as soon as possible.

Nic Robertson, any sense on the ground there in Iraq that this could actually work?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the government certainly wants to believe it can and experts, independent experts here says it absolutely has to work. The level of sectarian violence and division in the country has really grown in the last four months. The U.N. says 150,000 people have been forced out of their homes mostly through sectarian fears and intimidation over the last four months. The plan calls for insurgents to put down their weapons and foreswear violence. The government will let them do that and will let them do that if they don't have blood on their hands. The government is talking about bringing Saddam era civil servants back into the government. It's all designed mostly to assuage the fears of the Sunni population and bring them into line with the Shia-dominated government. It does seem to be in the government's words so far at least, having some success. They're saying they are hearing some positive communications from some insurgent groups John.

ROBERTS: General Shepperd, from the Pentagon's perspective, is reconciliation the key to peace and stability in Iraq?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well John, it's not only the key to peace and stability in Iraq. It's the key to U.S. withdrawal. These reconciliation steps are absolutely essential along with the progress of the Iraqi security forces. It means probably they will be able to withdraw a small number of troops this year and increasing numbers next year and that's what the United States wants.

ROBERTS: Now negotiations are going on back and forth between the Iraqi government and a number of insurgent groups. Barbara Starr, what is the Pentagon prepared to accept and what will they not accept in these negotiations?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, there's a bottom line that's very easy for the Pentagon to understand very much what their bottom line is, no blood on their hands. They say here that there can be no reconciliation with any insurgents that may have killed U.S. troops.

ROBERTS: A visible part of the reconciliation plan took place at the Abu Ghraib prison where hundreds of people were set free. On Tuesday, Nic Robertson was outside the gates talking to the former prisoners.


ROBERTSON: Eighteen months I was detained, complains Aziz al Nuemi (ph), a Sunni from Fallujah and they only investigated me once. He shows me his U.S. military charge sheet. It says he made car bombs. And it says you test positive for explosives. Had you been handling explosives?

He denies the charge but adds, he fears that just because he's a Sunni from Fallujah, he will be arrested again. It's men like al Nuemi the U.S. worries about. Instead of uniting the people as the Iraqi government hopes, could the release of some prisoners simply reinforce the insurgency?


ROBERTS: Nic Robertson, what's your take? How many of these detainees who were released might be insurgents who are going to go back out there and cause trouble anew?

ROBERTSON: You know, it's so hard to gauge and obviously anyone you talk to outside the jail says they were innocent and they also tell me that most of the other people inside the jail that are left behind are innocent too. The man we talked to had tested positive for explosives, it was on his charge sheet, tested positive for explosives on his hands. That would seem to implicate him in some terror type activity. Difficult to know what he will do exactly when he goes back home. The analysts here are saying look, the government is saying that it's getting some positive communications from intermediaries where it's (INAUDIBLE) 11 different insurgent groups, up to now, between seven and 11. The analysts will say these are mostly the groups who are not perpetrating most of the violence, that the really violent groups, al Qaeda in Iraq, the mujahadin (INAUDIBLE) that is part of (INAUDIBLE) the Islamic army in Iraq, the sort of big-time insurgent groups here perpetrating a lot of the attacks are not coming forward and not saying they're up for this reconciliation plan. So it looks like a divide and conquer strategy on the part of the government and necessarily, that takes a long time to play out John.

ROBERTS: General Shepperd, on this detainee release, might the Iraqi government inadvertently through its reconciliation efforts be putting the U.S. troops at more risk?

SHEPPERD: Of course, there's always that risk, but it's an absolutely essential step in putting this country back together. (INAUDIBLE) al Maliki has to ensure that he does not lose the support of the populous out there. He has to be a government of national reconciliation and there has to be a reconciliation that means some people are going to be released and some of them are going to be bad guys and going to end up back on the battlefield. It's just a fact of life John.

ROBERTS: We want to mention the costs of the war in Iraq. They're piling up daily, not just in life and limbs, but as Joe Johns reported on Tuesday in dollars and cents.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): War spending in the aftermath of 9/11 now had an estimated $437 billion according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Almost three quarters of that, $319 billion, has been for Iraq. If the new numbers are accurate from year to year, funding for the war effort has increased dramatically from $31 billion for the first year to well over 1$100 billion for fiscal year 2006.


ROBERTS: Let's take a look at how those costs continue to pile up. According to the Congressional Research Service, fiscal year 2005, the costs were $87.3 billion, rose almost 20 percent to the next year, fiscal year 2006, $104 billion. Barbara Starr, how long can the Pentagon and the government and the taxpayers continue to lay out this type of money and how long can the Pentagon continue to lay out this level of men and materiel?

STARR: As for the money, that's an issue I suppose for the American economy and what this level of spending may do to economic progress in this country. But as for the military, John, the number's only going to go higher because one of the things that the military will tell you has not yet been paid for is replacing all the worn out equipment, the helicopters, the tanks, those armored Humvees. They are being used at rates far greater than they were ever anticipated to be used. They are wearing out. Everything's going to have to be replaced and nobody yet can really calculate how much that's going to cost.

ROBERTS: And General Shepperd, let me get you to bring this full circle for us. One of the requests or one of the demands that the insurgents had in these negotiations with the Iraqi government was, they wanted a timetable for a U.S. troop withdraw. They said, we want you U.S. troops out of there within two years. If President Bush wasn't willing to accept any kind of timetable for troop withdrawal from the Democrats, would he accept one from the Iraqi government through these negotiations with insurgents?

SHEPPERD: Well, one thing that you got to remember is Iraq is a sovereign government and the request from the Iraqi government, from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will hold great sway. But it does not seem to be in our interest to accept the timetable for all sorts of reasons. It will be seen as a defeat. It will aid the insurgents out there and the other important thing John is there doesn't seem to be anyone that can speak for all the insurgents. It's a very desperate group.

ROBERTS: Difficult road to reconciliation in Iraq. Major General Don Shepperd, Nic Robertson in Baghdad and Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thanks.

Today we remember Private Christopher Alcozer, United States Army. After his death in Iraq in November, a shrine to his memory caught fire and destroyed his family's home near Chicago. The kindness of the town of Dekalb, Illinois helped the Alcozer's purchase a new home and it's beautiful, but it is missing a precious son.


JESSE ALCOZER, CHRISTOPHER'S FATHER: have 2,000 letters here from California, from Alaska. My name is Jim Anderson from a small town. It says my son, Specialist Four James Anderson was with your son when he was killed. He wanted to go to the Marine Corps the same as I did. Instead of going to the Marine Corps, he went to the army. He was very physical as far as riding a bicycle, swimming, never complained, no fear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was always putting in quality time with his little sister.

ALCOZER: He wanted to become a school teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would want to be remembered as a person that he was, which was a loving, caring, understanding, young man fighting for freedom.


ROBERTS: In a moment, we will turn from conflict on the field of battle to conflict in the courts of law and accusations that doctors betrayed their oath in the battle against terror. But first, remembering others who fell this week at war. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: This week delivered the ruling by the nation's highest court on terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay. It wasn't what the White House had hoped for, far from it. In fact, the far-reaching decision would appear to curb the effort to broaden executive power in war time. Here to talk about it with us, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre, White House correspondent Ed Henry and constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School.

President Bush reacted to the court decision on Thursday.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand we're in a war on terror, that these people were picked up off of a battlefield and I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court.


ROBERTS: Jonathan Turley, what was the Supreme court saying to President Bush with this ruling?

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR: They were being not too gentle in what they were saying. It was a striking defeat in terms of the president going at this alone. The court said, you never went to Congress to get this authority. So essentially, you've been acting without legal authority for all these years. But on top of that, you are also violating international law that these tribunals lack the basic protections needed in any legitimate court of law according to international standards.

ROBERTS: Ed Henry, was this a real slap at the White House to say, you can't do anything you want even though there's this war on terror going on?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because it's not just one decision. It cuts right to the heart of the way this president has governed for the last five years in the war on terror. He probably had wide latitude. A few weeks ago in another context, he said I'm the decider. The Supreme Court, conservative leaning, said, uh ah (ph).

ROBERTS: Yeah, we're the deciders, not you. So Jamie McIntyre, what happens? I assume they're not about to close Guantanamo.

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big thing that this decision did not do was say that they had to close Guantanamo or that challenge the administration's ability to hold these people or even to try them, assuming they remedy the legal deficiencies that the court found.

ROBERTS: Even though some critics may be saying, this is proof. You got to close Guantanamo. You've got to send these detainees back here to their home country. McINTYRE: Well, the problem is, they've got no place to send them and even if they go through commission trials and are convicted, it's not clear what happens to them then.

ROBERTS: So Jonathan Turley, what other legal avenues could the White House perhaps even Congress explore to try to bring some of these people that they desperately want to bring to justice to a court of law or a military court of whatever it might be?

TURLEY: Well the most obvious is go to Congress and get the authority. But it's not that simple. If they go to Congress and simply get authority for the existing tribunals, those tribunals still violate the international standards, particularly Article iii of the Geneva convention. The court identified serious flaws in how evidence is dealt with, access to witnesses, very fundamental things that these rules simply don't have, that the court believes are essential. So even if Congress gives authority, the question will be will President Bush bring up these procedures to a level that the international community will recognize as a legitimate tribunal or court system.

ROBERTS: So what about that Ed Henry? It seems the president is determined to bring these people to justice. Is he prepared to do it in such a way that he can in the eyes of that law that will survive a constitutional challenge?

TURLEY: He has no other choice it seems at this point and that's why you saw the president eagerly trying to dump this in Congress' lap. It started with an executive order from the president, but now, given the political flak and the heat he's taking, he's eagerly saying, Congress, you come up with the solution. He trying to latch on to one of the opinions in this case to say, it's not up to me anymore; it's up to Congress.

ROBERTS: Executive power perhaps doesn't go as far as he thought it would.

TURLEY: That's right.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, who is at Guantanamo Bay?

McINTYRE: About 450 detainees, no one from Iraq is there, but mostly from Afghanistan other places, Taliban, al Qaeda. The problem is, you've got this relatively small number who may face some sort of judicial process. You've got another number, 100, a little over 100 or so that may eventually be sent back to other countries. That leaves about 250 or so where they don't really have evidence to take them to trial and they don't really have any place to send them. And so, all indications are that Guantanamo Bay is going to remain a detention facility for the indefinite future.

ROBERTS: And it looks like it's going to remain a political problem for President Bush, it has been for some time. Jamie McIntyre, Ed Henry, Jonathan Turley, thanks.

From Iraq to Afghanistan to the U.S. Supreme Court, new focus this week on prisoners' rights both in traditional war and in the fight against terror. Tuesday, a new book went on sale. "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror." It accuses medical professionals of allowing and even aiding torture in U.S. military prisons. The author, Dr. Steven Miles, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, joins us now from New York. Dr. Miles, what are you alleging that doctors did in terms of these interrogations? They didn't participate in the physical coercion, did they?

DR. STEVEN MILES, AUTHOR, "OATH BETRAYED": What they did was, they culled medical records for information on how to exploit prisoners' emotional and physical weaknesses. That information was given to behavioral scientists who then developed a means to target and break down Islamic men and then those interrogations were medically monitored after they were signed off on by medical professionals for sleep deprivation, diet restriction and so forth. Then for the prisoners who were tortured to death, the medical system delayed release of the knowledge of those deaths, such that they disabled a early warning system that something had goner seriously wrong in the prisons.

ROBERTS: Let's see how you put it in the book here on those lines. You said some provided information from medical records, clinical interviews and medical examinations to interrogators for use in designing these interrogation plans. In such acts, clinicians betrayed the healing profession and the well being of their imprisoned patients.

Does this mean that doctors share some of the blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Afghanistan?

MILES: Absolutely. Physicians and nurses who work in prisons are early human rights monitors. They see the prisoners. They see the signs of the injuries and if they aren't reporting, if they are going along with the abuses, then the entire human rights system in the prisons breaks down.

ROBERTS: But let me ask you this question, Dr. Miles, because doctors who are in the military are part of the military and is it not their duty to participate in these interrogations?

MILES: No, after the Geneva conventions were passed, the doctor's obligation is to the health of the prisoners. And furthermore, the CIA among other intelligence agencies, conducted about 30 years worth of research showing that coercive interrogation does not work. But Secretary Rumsfeld wasn't warned of that.

ROBERTS: Is this still going on or has all of the attention that's been paid to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay recently, dialed back on the process a bit?

MILES: The new policy, medical policy released last week by the Defense Department, it shows that the Defense Department still will not say that that doctors have to obey the Geneva conventions and also allows doctors to be involved in the interrogation process.

ROBERTS: Dr. Steven Miles, thanks very much. The book is called "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror."

Up next, we will take a look at the week of unprecedented tension in the Middle East. But first, more of those who fell in this week at war.


ROBERTS: Crisis has defined the Middle East for decades, but do the events of the this week mean the region is closer than ever to open war? Joining me to talk about this, John Vause in Gaza and Paula Newton who's in Jerusalem. John Vause reported live as Israeli forces struck Gaza on Thursday.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two more rockets have just come in and the explosion is just to the north area. That was the explosion which you just heard there. So that would now make seven air strikes in Gaza within the last 20, 30 minutes.


ROBERTS: Some very dramatic moment, John Vause. What's really stuck out for you about this latest spate of Mideast violence?

VAUSE: Certainly the scope of the air strikes. The air campaign being waged by Israel really has not been seen in the Palestinian territories for many many years. The last time this many air strikes being carried out was back in 2001 when then Israeli Prime Minister Aerial Sharon sent the F-16s to Yasser Arrafat's compound in that direction over there and he essentially destroyed it. That was in retaliation for the assassination of a Israeli cabinet minister. But what this appears to be is certainly a much bigger military operation, a lot bigger than simply trying to recover one Israeli kidnapped soldier. And the Israelis have said that. They're also trying to stop the (INAUDIBLE) rockets which are being fired in the north. The Palestinians are saying it is even wider than that. The Hamas government here is saying that Israeli is deliberately trying to topple their government by targeting the infrastructure, in particular the power plant. Now questions are being raised about the air strike on the power plant, whether or not that actually violates one of the Geneva conventions. So for Hamas, this appears to be a much broader campaign than just simply trying to recover a kidnapped soldier John.

ROBERTS: It is very similar to what the Americans were doing in Yugoslavia during the war there. Paula Newton, has John just said, this seems to be bigger than anything that has been done in the past at least going back to 2001. Were the Israelis just looking for a reason to go in and crack heads with Hamas?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You've hit the nail on the head right there, John. I think what the Israelis are saying is that, look, we finally have an opportunity here to get out of the diplomatic box that the U.S. and the Europeans have put us in vis-a-vis Hamas. Now that they have this opportunity, John, the rules of the game have changed for the Israeli government and that's why they went after a third of their cabinet members and all those lawmakers. The Israeli government to us behind the scenes has said as much. And that's why they're poised right now to as John says, do something that's much broader. They are trying to remind the international community that look, they elected terrorists according to the Israeli government, in the Palestinian territory and that is just something we are no longer willing to tolerate.

ROBERTS: John Vause, what's the state of the Palestinian leadership? Mahmoud Abbas has been criticized in the Israeli news, but at the same time, he also has a Hamas problem.

VAUSE: Absolutely. Mahmoud Abbas, he's really been shown to be powerless in all of this, despite making as many as 70 phone calls to Hamas, to Arab leaders around the region. He's been very ineffectual in trying to win the freedom of this Israeli soldier. As for the Hamas government, they are now in disarray. On Friday, we saw for the first time the prime minister (INAUDIBLE), the Hamas prime minister, he addressed a sermon at Friday morning prayers. But essentially, most of the government now, the cabinet at least is either in the hands of Israelis or it's gone into hiding. We've tried to contact a number of cabinet ministers over the last couple of days. They can't be found. Their cell phones have been turned off. There are terrified of either being arrested or being the victims of an Israeli air strike.

ROBERTS: Paula Newton, what's the mood among the Israelis? Are they concerned that they're getting themselves into another fight, one that could potentially escalate beyond Gaza to other countries in the region?

NEWTON: Certainly they are. A recent polled show that a majority really felt that it was time for Israel to continue negotiating on whatever level they could to try and avoid any broader military conflict. Remember John here, there is always a significant minority that saying we need to look strong. We cannot afford to look week and the Israeli government has an eye on those people as well. Remember too, this is a new Israeli government here trying to prove that it can handle these issues. And it certainly does have something to prove here.

ROBERTS: And the weekly cauldron in the Middle East continues to boil on. John Vause in Gaza and Paula Newton in Jerusalem. Thanks very much.

When we come back, we will return to Iraq and take a look at this week's progress and get the unique viewpoint of an Iraqi blogger.

But first, a fresh reminder of the costs of this war. Three American soldiers are buried, victims of a kidnap murder near Yusifiya that had shaken the Army's 101 Airborne. Private First Class Thomas Tucker was laid to rest Saturday in his hometown of Madras, Oregon. Tucker's body was found June 19th, three days after insurgents abducted him in a checkpoint with one of his Army comrades.

On Wednesday, honors at Arlington National Cemetery for Specialist David Babineau of Springfield, Massachusetts. Babineau was killed in the initial assault in which Tucker was kidnapped along with Private First Class Kristian Menchaca of Houston, Texas.



ROBERTS: Newly minted police cadets parade in Baghdad after pledging to serve all Iraqis. The promise aside, the cadets broke out in spontaneous chants that were common to Shia Islam.

The force is battling an image problem that it is biased against the Sunni minority.

A question of the week in both Iraq and here in Washington is, is real progress being made and does it benefit everyday Iraqis?

The 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Striker Brigade Combat Team has been part of the answer this week. They deliver medical supplies, including wheelchairs, to the primary health center at Hamadat in northern Iraq. The clinic is open six days a week and treats 600 people a month.

Helping us to sort through the progress in Iraq, correspondent Arwa Damon is watching that play out in Baghdad.

And also in Baghdad, David Harris. He is the deputy director of Iraq reconstruction for the U.S. government.

And joining me here in Washington, Raed Jarrar, whose blog, gives his view of what's happening in Iraq.

Raed, let's start with you.

You still have family over there. Your mother is moving back and forth between Iraq and Jordan.

What's the view from your family members over there?


RAEDINTHEMIDDLE.BLOGSPOT.COM: The view from my family members and from other connections that I have in Iraq, friends or even bloggers, is that the situation is heading toward worse, unfortunately. People are not very happy with everyday life. And they think that the lack of security is destroying every small victory that has been achieved within the last years.

ROBERTS: David Harris, let's get to you.

What has happened in the past week to make the lot of Iraqis better?

DAVID HARRIS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION: John, reconstruction is progressing and it continues to be underway. As an example, on the 27th, earlier this week, a new police headquarters was opened in the southern town of Alamara in southern Maysan Province. It's a building which includes sleeping quarters and a kitchen and an armory.

It will allow the police patrolling down in Maysan Province, patrolling the highway, to be better prepared and to react to local issues much more quickly.

Moving up north, in Ninawa Province, the Basariya School (ph) was renovated. It's one of over 3,700 schools which have been renovated in Iraq. As many as 450 students will receive a better education at that school.

So progress is being made week after week after week.

ROBERTS: So, some success in terms of rebuilding the infrastructure that was so badly damaged during the Saddam years and during the war.

But Arwa Damon, I read a blog posting by Raed's mother. It was all about the desire for security.

Is this more important to Iraqis right now than electricity, water, police headquarters and schools?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, in all honesty, it probably most definitely is. If you ask most Iraqis what is the one thing that they want, if they had one thing to choose, they would tell you security. Because without security, without the ability to leave their homes and actually have a good quality of life, that's determined by their ability to leave their homes, to be able to go to school, to be able to go to work, to not live in this constant state of fear -- am I going to get killed by a roadside bomb? Am I going to get killed in a drive-by shooting? Am I going to be specifically targeted because I am of one sect or another?

So ultimately number one, it is security. All the rest of it, hopefully, will come after that.

ROBERTS: David Harris, how much more could get done in terms of the reconstruction if security were better?

HARRIS: Well, security is going to get better. And I think the new government is moving in that direction. And, again, the U.S. government is helping them.

To give you an example, this past week, as many as 300 cadets graduated from the Baghdad Police Academy. The Baghdad Police Academy is something which we are helping the Iraqis develop. Is going to be a state-of-the-art facility that will enable Iraq to train as many as 10,000 police cadets during the course of a year. It's going to be an excellent facility which will, indeed, train police cadets, which will help them provide security to the people of Iraq.

ROBERTS: Well, Raed Jarrar, as we pointed out at the top of this section, there is still a bit of an image problem with the Iraqi military, with Iraqi police, that the Sunnis believe that they're biased against them because they're still a majority Shia.

How much hope is riding on this idea of reconciliation for the Iraqi people?

JARRAR: In fact, a lot of hope. And the majority of Iraqis, according to many international and local polls, were very excited because of the 28 point plan that was supposed to be announced by Mr. Al-Maliki. But now people are feeling disappointed after the 24 point plan was announced and the four major points were dropped of the plan, including asking for a timetable for withdrawing the U.S. troops and an amnesty for the Iraqi fighters.

So today, two major Sunni and Shia groups started a movement and Iraqi AMS, the Association of Muslim Scholars, rejected the amnesty -- or rejected the reconciliation. And this is bad news for Iraq.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, the idea of troop withdrawals and amnesty for anybody who's been involved in attacks against U.S. forces obviously a huge problem for this government.

Raed Jarrar, thanks very much; as well as Arwa Damon and David Harris in Baghdad.

Really appreciate your time.

When we come back, a look at the conflict between the freedom of the press and the responsibility to keep what should be secret, secret.

But first, another moment from this week at war.

Some of us know the pressures of coaching our kids in soccer, basketball and the like. So imagine this one. Major John Littrell is getting ready to leave for Iraq to lead a National Guard battalion that includes his own son, Sergeant Justin Littrell. The father-son team from Kentucky departs next week for Camp Shelby, Mississippi to train for a tour of duty that's expected to last 12 months.


ROBERTS: One question of the week -- did the "New York Times" deserve criticism over its latest war on terror story? Or is the White House playing this to political advantage?

Joining me here in Washington, "Post" media critic and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Howard Kurtz.

And coming back again, White House correspondent Ed Henry.

The president, vice president and others jumped all over the "Times" report on how the government is monitoring international money transfers to try to track terror financing.

On Monday, President Bush blasted the "Times."


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America. And for people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America. What we were doing was the right thing.


ROBERTS: So, Howard Kurtz, does the "New York Times" deserve this level of criticism? Is this a story that should not have been published?

HOWARD KURTZ, "WASHINGTON POST": I think this is an awfully hard position for the "New York Times" to defend, because unlike the domestic eavesdropping story, where a lot of Republicans as well as Democrats were upset about the possible illegality, nobody is contending this program was illegal. It's a fairly narrowly targeted program. We're not listening in on millions of Americans' phone calls. And...

ROBERTS: And the Treasury Department has been very up front, saying it's going to do whatever it can to try to track terrorist financing.

KURTZ: Right. That part is not a secret. The details obviously were a secret until now. It's interesting that the "Times" is being singled out. Other papers published this, as well.

But I do think although clearly Dick Cheney and George Bush very angry about this, a lot of conservatives very angry about this, we have now reached a point, John, where there is an orchestrated political effort by the Republicans to turn the "New York Times" into the pinata of the week.

ROBERTS: Well, let's talk to Ed Henry about that.

Is the White House trying to gain political advantage by using the "Times" as a convenient whipping post?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's no question about it. On one hand, the White House feels strongly that this story should not have been published and they feel when they have people like Democrat John Murtha, who's been all over them on Iraq, saying that this story should not be published, they feel like they have the moral high ground to go after the "New York Times."

But there is no doubt there is also a political dimension. This is a convenient whipping boy, a paper with a liberal reputation, fair or unfair, plays right into a White House's hands, a White House that's trying to keep their conservative base happy, which is not easy, in a mid-term election.

ROBERTS: All right, but what about this idea that Howard talked about, that they haven't talked about the "Wall Street Journal," which is a conservative newspaper. And they haven't talked about the "L.A. Times." I heard a White House official saying well, it was the "New York Times" that did the original reporting.

But should everybody who's been involved in this not be open for criticism then, under that standard?

KURTZ: Sure. And the "L.A. Times" was getting very close to a decision to publish on its own when the "New York Times" just beat that paper by a couple of hours online. So it is certainly true that the "New York Times," as -- which has this liberal editorial page that has been opposed to the Bush administration and opposed to the war, is a very fat target for conservatives.

At the same time, because the "Times" was first, the "New York Times," their editors have to bear the brunt of this argument that has gotten beyond should the story have been published or not to what do we do about it?

Should the editors be prosecuted? Should there be a leak investigation? Should the reporters be hauled before a grand jury and asked to reveal their sources, and if not, they could face jail terms, just as Judith Miller did.

So we have not heard the end of this.

ROBERTS: Well, whatever your opinion on the "New York Times" story, public opinion about the terrorism fight appears to be shifting.

Tuesday, a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll found Republicans have regained the edge on the question of which party would do a better job on terrorism. Forty-six percent say Republicans would do better versus 39 percent for Democrats. That's a 7-point drop for Democrats in a month.

Ed Henry, is this just the after glow of the Zarqawi killing and President Bush's visit to Iraq?

HENRY: Absolutely. I think Republicans would point in that direction, because I think privately they're still very nervous that on the terror question in this mid-term election year, they've lost the huge lead they had back in previous election cycles. And another -- that's another reason why they're jumping on this "New York Times" story, because when we talked earlier about the GITMO decision, that cuts right to the heart of the rationale on how the president has conducted the war on terror.

They've been accused of overreaching, whether it was on domestic spying, whether it was on GITMO. And now this time, with the "New York Times" story, they feel, the White House does, that the "Times" shouldn't have published it because this really was not an overreach. So they're pouncing on this one.

You don't hear them pouncing on the NSA domestic surveillance...

ROBERTS: Right, right.

HENRY: ... because Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican...

ROBERTS: But they're not talking about collecting people's phone numbers. But they figure they've got the high ground on this one. HENRY: They feel they can go after this one.

ROBERTS: All right, Ed Henry, Howard Kurtz, good to see you again.


Straight ahead, what the latest bin Laden audiotape can tell us about the al Qaeda leader. And new evidence this week of how al Qaeda continues to evolve.

But first, a look at others who fell in this week at war.


ROBERTS: One question this week -- how powerful does al Qaeda remain and how is it evolving into the next, more decentralized phase, what we've been calling al Qaeda 2.0?

Friday, experts were poring over new audiotape from Osama bin Laden that surfaced on the Internet, with the al Qaeda leader saluting the Iraqi terrorist leader, Musab al-Zarqawi, killed by a U.S. air strike more than three weeks ago.

Joining me is national security correspondent David Ensor and back from Baghdad, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson -- Nic, this is almost like one of those carnival games where you whack the Zarqawi mole over here and then the bin Laden mole pops up on the other side of the game.

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And this is perhaps what bin Laden's trying to get at. And, indeed, he makes that point. He says don't rejoice. He tells President Bush don't rejoice because one lion is replaced by another lion.

What's striking is bin Laden says he is a model for other jihadists. Amazing, because over the past year or so, bin Laden and Ayman el-Zawahiri, his right-hand man, have criticized Zarqawi for his brutal beheadings and for his attacking Shia Muslims.

So this is amazing, but he is setting up a new model. And it is, as you say, hit one, another one pops up.


And, David Ensor, you've got to wonder if there's some crocodile tears here, too, because Zarqawi was grabbing all the limelight while bin Laden was hiding in the mountains.

But we see again another audiotape -- not a videotape, as we saw with Zawahiri.

What does that tell us about bin Laden?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It tells us that he is very deep, that he can't get to a camera or doesn't want to because of the risk of being in contact with someone who can roll a camera on him. And the fact that the audiotape was sent to the Web also tells us that they are improving their tradecraft, according to intelligence officials.

If you put it on the Web instead of Al Jazeera, it's that much more difficult to trace back.

ROBERTS: Right, but in terms of tracing it back, you know, they got Zarqawi not by following him, but by following people around him.

Is there some attempt here to try to back track these tapes. They know the name of the production company that's dressing them up.

Are they following couriers hoping that they might lead them back to bin Laden?

ENSOR: You know, there's a guy in Peshawar who was telling reporters that he was the cameraman for one of the Zawahiri tapes. And apparently there's some reason to believe that may be the case. So, clearly, there are -- if not, if there were reporters, you can count on there being intelligence officials also trying to follow it back.

But as they improve their tradecraft, as they use just tapes, audiotapes, and as they put them on the Web, not Al Jazeera, it gets that much more difficult to do.

ROBERTS: In Iraq this week, we had more evidence of how al Qaeda has changed. On Wednesday, it was announced that this man, a Tunisian al Qaeda fighter named Yousri Fakher Mohammed Ali, also known as Abu Qudama, has confessed to being one of those who bombed the Golden Dome Shrine in Samarra, an act of terror that succeeded in its intent to split Iraqis along religious lines. Apparently this gentleman was one of a bunch of them who were trying to incite civil war.

What does it say, Nic Robertson, in terms of the Golden Dome bombing and the success in capturing one of the members? What's the larger message here?

ROBERTSON: I think the larger message from the government is that they can stop the foreign fighters. They said there was 15 of them attacking this outpost. They killed all of them, apart from the Tunisian, who gave over the information. The cell leader is still at large.

But the government highlighted this group, who was trying to drive a wedge between the community. And the government at this time of national reconciliation is trying to show that it can reconcile the country's differences and beat down the people who are trying to drive that wedge through the community -- John.

ROBERTS: It all comes back around to that idea of trying to reconcile the differences.

Nic, thanks; David Ensor, as well.

When we return, a story of personal sacrifice and triumph.

Plus, a look at what we can expect next week.

But first, another moment from this week at war.

A Marine who appeared in a controversial movie is one of this week's combat losses. Staff Sergeant Raymond Plouhar died in Iraq on Monday of wounds he suffered in Anbar Province from a roadside bombing. Sergeant Plouhar was one of a pair of Marine recruiters seen talking up the Corps in "Fahrenheit 9/11." Plouhar's father says his son disagreed with that film and didn't know in advance of its anti- war slant.


ROBERTS: So what kind of week did you have? Did you sweat the small stuff? Were you quick to anger and honk your horn at someone?

The next time something irritates you, think of this fellow, Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge. A year ago, his Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Iraq, blowing off both his legs -- the left below the knee; the right at the thigh. It was a devastating injury, but Bagge is cut from the sort of cloth that he wasn't going to let something like losing his legs destroy his dreams.

He worked hard every day to come back, pushing himself to the point of exhaustion to rebuild his strength and learned to walk on prosthetic legs.

But Bagge didn't just want to walk. He wanted to run. And run- he did, this week going toe-to-toe with President Bush. The half mile workout on the White House jogging track -- remarkable, especially when you consider that five months earlier, Bagge was bedridden.

That's why we call them heroes.

And now a quick look at what we expect to be reporting on in the coming week.

On Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai will visit Japan for talks on rebuilding his war torn nation.

On Thursday, the USS Ronald Reagan returns to San Diego after her first deployment, a six month tour in the Persian Gulf and western Pacific.

And Friday marks a somber anniversary. It has been one year since 52 were killed in London when bombs exploded on three subway trains and a bus. The government investigation is still underway.

Thanks for joining us on IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts.

Coming up next, a check of the headlines. Then, "CNN PRESENTS: Billy Graham: America's Pastor."


CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines