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President Obama Defends Terror Memo Release; The Fight Against Piracy

Aired April 20, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama says there were exceptional circumstances that led him to release Bush-era memos on interrogation tactics. Mr. Obama went to CIA headquarters today to defend his decision and to try to boost morale.

Let's turn to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's got the latest for us.

Ed, the president has been under fire from critics for that decision to release all those memos.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president's own CIA director, Leon Panetta, did not want to release these memos. Also getting flak from the right. You hear conservatives saying that the release of these memos will make the country less safe, but also flak from the left, some liberals saying they're concerned that Bush officials are being let off the hook.


HENRY (voice-over): The president sharply defended his decision to release previously top-secret memos about alleged torture, telling CIA employees the nation will be stronger in the long run.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States, and that's why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.

HENRY: The defense came just 24 hours after the former Bush CIA director blasted the release of the memos.


GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al Qaeda terrorist.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENRY: The president argued the techniques had already been reported in the media, and ending them will make America safer.

OBAMA: I believe that our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law.

HENRY: Despite the president stressing the rule of law, his aides are defending his decision not to prosecute officials who may have broken it.

(on camera): The people in the CIA who followed through on what they were told was legal, they should not be prosecuted. But why not the Bush administration lawyers, who, in the eyes of a lot of your supporters on the left, twisted the law, why aren't they not being held accountable?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president is focused on looking forward. That's why.


HENRY: But a top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, tonight, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she wants the administration here, this White House, to hold back on making any judgments.

She says that until she completes her Senate Intelligence investigation, she still thinks it's possible the Bush administration may be held accountable, doesn't want the White House insisting that all investigation should be put off -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, I want to just read from that letter that Senator Feinstein just wrote to the president. Remember, Senator Feinstein is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I am writing to respectfully request that comments regarding holding individuals accountable for detention- and interrogation- related activities be held in reserve until the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is able to complete its review of the conditions and interrogations of certain high-value detainees."

Feinstein says that review, by the way, should be complete within eight months.

Meanwhile, high drama today over at a United Nations conference on racism boycotted by the Obama administration and several U.S. allies. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was the target of hecklers in wigs. Then dozens of diplomats simply walked out on him as he ranted about Israel.

Let's go to CNN's Atika Shubert -- Atika.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the United States and Israel boycotted this conference precisely because they feared it would become a platform for attacking Israel. And it now seems that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has used this conference for exactly that.

(voice-over): The U.N. summit was widely expected to be controversial, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly delivered, singling out Israel has a "cruel and racist regime."

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Following World War II, under the pretext of Jewish suffering and based on misusing the Holocaust, they resorted to military aggressions and made an entire nation homeless, and sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world, and established a totally racist government in occupied Palestine.

SHUBERT: The strong comments prompted a walkout by dozens of diplomats, including those from France and Britain. Ahmadinejad went on to blame the western world for much of the world's woes, from racism to war and poverty, including the global economic crisis.

Earlier, the president of Iran had barely opened his mouth when he was targeted by hecklers in the crowd calling him a racist, but he also won several rounds of applause and cheers from delegates, especially from the Arab world, though Israel's policies against Palestinians are viewed as discriminatory. Ahmadinejad took it in stride, smiling throughout the tumult.

Critics say the divisive president should never have been given a platform to speak. The British ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva issued this statement after his delegation walked out. It reads, "The U. K. unreservedly condemns Iranian President Ahmadinejad's offensive and inflammatory comments. Such outrageous anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a U.N. anti-racism forum."

So why was Ahmadinejad the first key speaker? U.N. organizers say the reason is simple. Iran was the only delegation to send their president as head of delegation. And according to U.N. protocol, heads of state are first to speak.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was quick to condemn the Iranian leader's comments. He had pulled Ahmadinejad aside before the conference, appealing for unity. Clearly, the Iranian leader had his own ideas.

The countries boycotting the conference feared it would become a platform for anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing. U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay said the answer, however, was not to boycott.

NAVANETHEM PILLAY, U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER: The best recourse for this type of event is to reply and is to correct, not to walk away, not to withdraw and boycott the conference. I mean, if that happens, who is going to provide a rational response to what has been said?

SHUBERT: But that is how the conference began, much to the dismay of conference supporters.

(on camera): Now, some of those European delegations that walked out will be staying on for the rest of the conference. Britain, in particular, has said that it needs to monitor the conference but it will not support any document that is skewed, particularly against one country -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Atika, thanks very much for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As gay marriage legislation picks up steam in several states, some Republicans are now calling on their party to get behind the movement. That's because they can't get arrested when we hold an election.

A top adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign warns, the GOP will keep losing young voters and the Northeast as long as they oppose same-sex marriage. Steve Schmidt told a meeting of a gay rights group called the Log Cabin Republicans that it's harmful for Republican candidates to be seen as anti-gay in places like California, Washington, and New York.

Schmidt, who has a lesbian sister, called heterosexual marriage -- quote -- "a tradition, not a creed," and dismissed arguments from conservatives that allowing gay marriage would weaken the institution or that it could turn the GOP into a sectarian party.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that he's unlikely to find support from many in the Republican Party anytime in the near future. One Republican who does agree is John McCain's daughter Meghan. She addressed that same group over the weekend, saying there's a war brewing in the Republican Party between the past and the future.

Meghan McCain says that embracing new technology like Twitter or Facebook will not solve the party's problems. Instead, she said the party needs to break free from obsolete positions. Her dad's got to be loving this. Earlier last week, John McCain's daughter had written an opinion piece called "Memo to the GOP: Go Gay," urging Republicans to -- quote -- "get past our anti-gay rhetoric if you want to gain significant support from younger voters."

At a time when only one in four voters identifies himself as a Republican, some are suggesting the perceived intolerance of the Republican Party on issues like gay marriage is costing them dearly.

Here's the question. Why are some Republicans calling on their party to support same-sex marriage, or gay marriage, as it were?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

My guess is, they're trying to attract voters. But what do I know?

BLITZER: Politics, Jack.


BLITZER: You're familiar with it.


BLITZER: Thank you.

Often under cover of darkness, gangs of pirates search for blood and treasure. But when some are caught, get this, they simply are set free. How can they be brought to justice? What's going on?

And he's the president's pick for U.S. ambassador to Iraq, but a Republican senator wants to block him. Why? That senator says he's a liar.

And a picture seemingly worth 1,000 complaints -- President Obama shakes hands with the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. Now he's accused of showing weakness. True, or is it all just politics?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama says he's not worried about the political fallout from his friendly encounters with one of America's fiercest critics, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, but analysts are having a field day reading into every gesture and smile at that Summit of the Americas.

Let's go to Brian Todd. We asked him to take a closer look.

A lot of Republicans are simply accusing President Obama, Brian, of being irresponsible.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's one of several strong words they're using. Wolf, Republicans believe this president is legitimizing someone who has been an antagonist to U.S. interests in the region for a long time.


TODD (voice-over): Two cordial handshakes, the gift of a book, and serious talk of reestablishing ambassadors in their respective capitals leads to trouble for President Obama at home.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez.

TODD: The message from Republican Senator John Ensign and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, President Obama shouldn't be cordial with a man they call a dictator, who Gingrich says has "... systematically been anti-American for his entire career." Gingrich says the president is showing weakness toward America's enemies, a notion Mr. Obama flatly disputes. OBAMA: It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez, that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.

TODD: But Chavez has been an antagonist. Venezuelans have legitimately elected him multiple times, but he's often accused of repressing his opposition. He's openly called former President Bush "The Devil," forged a close partnership with the leaders of Cuba and Iran, threatened to leverage his oil resources against the United States, and just last month said this about President Obama...

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): At the very least, you could say he is a poor, ignorant man.

TODD: Analysts say despite those words, Chavez and others in the region will likely show more pragmatism.

JOSE RAUL PERALES, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: For many Latin American countries, the fate of the U.S. economy and how the United States rebuilds its economy is of paramount importance to the region, whether they are U.S. allies or not.


HENRY: And U.S. officials do say that, before ambassadors can be reestablished, they need to see what one official called a stop to the -- quote -- "rampant and tasteless anti-Americanism" that Chavez has shown over the years.

Analysts say the U.S. might also look for more cooperation against drug-trafficking than Venezuela has given in recent years. One U.S. official made it clear a handshake and a smile do not mean a new relationship -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But that book that Chavez gave President Obama clearly was a tweak at the United States.

TODD: It really seemed to be him saying, look, you have to look at what your region of the world has done to my region over the years.

We're going to give viewers a couple of bullet points. This book is called the -- "Open Veins of Latin America." It was published in the early 1970s, a history of Latin America from the colonial times, the early colonial times, up to the 1970s.

It asserts that European and, later, North American interests led to the pillaging and impoverishment of the region, two of the chapters titled "Gold Fever" and "Silver Fever."

Here's the extraordinary part. On Friday, this book was number 60,280 on's sales list. Now, since President Chavez's public show of generosity, it is now number two on, Wolf, a little bit of economic stimulus for the author, Eduardo Galeano, from the two presidents over the weekend.

BLITZER: Yes. Chavez can really sell a book, I guess. TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

All right, a footnote to this, this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, the former Vice President Dick Cheney critical, very critical of President Obama's handshake with Hugo Chavez, telling FOX -- and I'm quoting now -- "And I think you have to be very careful," Cheney says. "The world outside there, both our friends and our foes, will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they're dealing with a weak president or one who is not going to stand up and aggressively defend America's interests."

The Obama administration is trying to plug a gaping hole in its efforts to crack down on piracy. Pirates captured in a foiled attack on a Norwegian tanker were simply let go. What's going on?

We asked our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, to take a closer look.

What is going on, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some U.S. officials are wondering what's the point of catching pirates if no one has the power to actually arrest them?


LAWRENCE (voice-over): When pirates attacked a Norwegian tanker this weekend, a Canadian ship raced to the rescue, forcing the pirates to back down and sail away. A NATO crew boarded the pirates' boat. It tossed guns, ladders and scaling equipment overboard.

Did they arrest them? No. Hand them over for trial? No. They let the pirates go, because NATO crews have no power to hold them.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The minister and I agreed that we will take this matter to NATO.

LAWRENCE: The U.S. has an agreement with Kenya to turn over pirates for prosecution, but NATO leaves it up to each nation's own laws, which sometimes don't even allow crews to detain pirates they catch.

CLINTON: NATO has not provided that authority, so we need to coordinate this, we need to move very quickly to do so.

LAWRENCE: Not fast enough for a Dutch NATO crew which rescued 13 hostages Saturday, then let every pirate go free.

SEAN CONNAUGHTON, FORMER U.S. MARITIME ADMINISTRATOR: The pirate are going to quickly realize that most of the navies out there will not take action against them. And so they're just going to continue doing this until things escalate even further.

LAWRENCE: Sean Connaughton was President Bush's top maritime official. He says navies are catching pirates red-handed, then looking back to their home countries for guidance on what to do next. Too often the answer is nothing.

CONNAUGHTON: You can't all of a sudden take nice, neat laws that are perfect for dealing with criminal situations in the streets of Washington or the streets of Ottawa and apply them off the coast of Somalia.


LAWRENCE: The U.S. Navy has also had to release some pirates in the past, but normally that's been because they don't have enough evidence to hold them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what's the assessment over there at the Pentagon and elsewhere? Is it simply going to keep on happening?

LAWRENCE: Well, Secretary Clinton is pushing for universal rules of engagement, meaning every ship, no matter if it's patrolling under the E.U., NATO, a task force, would have the authority to arrest pirates and then hand them over for trial.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thank you.

We're following what could be the trial of the decade. At least some are calling it that. It involves the hijacking of that American- flagged ship almost two weeks ago. The pirate who surrendered in that standoff is now on his way to the United States. Defense officials tell CNN he's being taken to New York City, where, reportedly, he will be put on trial. The U.S. has previously turned to Kenya for such trials.

Some banks can't give back bailout money fast enough. There's new information coming in about the rush to get rid of what some are calling a scarlet letter.

Is President Obama asking enough of his Cabinet? Why some think his call for a $100 million budget cut is simply small potatoes.

And a U.S. senator accuses the president's choice to be the ambassador to Iraq of lying to his face.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now, on Capitol Hill, we're awaiting a test vote over President Obama's nominee for ambassador to Iraq. Some lawmakers are urging a speedy confirmation for Chris Hill, but some opposition leaders could ignite a showdown. What's going on?

We asked our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- she's up on Capitol Hill -- to take a closer look.

All right, Dana, what's going on? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's going on is, in about a half-hour, the Senate is going to take that test vote.

And Senate Democrats have to do that to get around Republican opposition, especially opposition from one senator I talked to who had some very tough things to say about Chris Hill.


BASH (voice-over): The Republican senator trying to block the president's pick for ambassador to Iraq insists to CNN he's got good reason.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: He directly lied to my face.

BASH: What's behind that blunt accusation? Sam Brownback says Chris Hill broke a promise he made during his last assignment, lead negotiator for the North Korea nuclear talks.

At a hearing last year, Brownback asked Hill to include a special envoy to deal with North Korea's alleged human rights abuses.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ NOMINEE: I would be happy to invite him to all future negotiating sessions with North Korea.

BASH: But Brownback says he never followed through. Hill calls it a misunderstanding.

HILL: I told Senator Brownback that I would support, indeed, that I would invite the envoy to any negotiations with the North Koreans that did not deal with nuclear matters.

BASH: But those talks with North Korea never happened. Brownback says that speaks to a bigger problem with Hill's tenure as lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea and why he should not be ambassador to Iraq.

BROWNBACK: It was an utter failure of what happened in the six- party talks. And now you're going to put him in charge of your most important account? I just don't -- I don't think that's the right way for us to go.

BASH: Other senators like John McCain oppose Hill for ambassador to Iraq because he has no experience there or anywhere in the Mideast. Still, many Republicans say they decided not to block Hill's nomination for one main reason.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: We need an ambassador in Iraq. We need it desperately.


BASH: That's why Democratic and Republican sources say they believe, despite a lot of impassioned opposition, Chris Hill will get confirmed as the next ambassador to Iraq probably in the next 24 to 48 hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

And, Dana, even before the president tapped Chris Hill to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq, someone else thought he had the job.

BASH: That's right.

General Anthony Zinni actually confirmed to me in an e-mail today that he was offered the job as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in January, offered it by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even congratulated by the vice president, but then suddenly it was revoked and then offered to Chris Hill.

Now, of course, Zinni, General Zinni, is the former head of Central Command. He does have experience in dealing in Iraq. He told me he has no idea why the position, the offer was revoked. And I can tell you I spoke with one senior Democratic source here on Capitol Hill, who said that is one of the great mysteries of the early days of the Obama administration.

BLITZER: We will see if we can figure it out. All right, thanks very much, Dana, for that.

President Obama says he's making America safer by coming clean about Bush-era interrogations of terror suspects, but the political response he's unleashed could be dangerous. What's going on?

Plus, Hillary Clinton's State Department offers a somewhat surprising reaction to the Iranian president's charge that Israel is racist.

And the mystery surrounding dead polo horses -- we're following the investigation into why they collapsed shortly before a very big match.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: a huge fall on Wall Street today, the Dow dropping nearly 300 points. Analysts say investors are worried by reports that banks increased the money they set aside to cover losses.

A plane bound for Cuba hijacked -- investigators say a man with a gun got past security and on to the plane in Jamaica. The man took six crew members hostage, but released the passengers. After eight hours, the Jamaican military stormed the plane and arrested the gunman.

Veterinarians say some kind of toxin likely caused the sudden death of 21 horses at a Florida polo club yesterday. The horses were all part of a team owned by a Venezuelan businessman.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. President Obama defending his decision to release those so-called torture memos from the Bush administration, and he did it inside the very agency at the heart of the controversy.

Listen to what President Obama said today at CIA headquarters.


OBAMA: Now, I have put an end to the interrogation techniques described in those OLC memos. And I want to be very clear and very blunt. I have done so for a simple reason: Because I believe our nation is stronger and more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law. I know I can count on you to do exactly that.

You know, there have been some conversations that I have had with senior folks here at Langley, in which, I think, people have expressed understandable anxiety and concern. So I want to make a point that I just made in the smaller group. I understand that it's hard when you are asked to protect the American people against people who have no scruples, and would willingly and gladly kill innocents. Al-Qaeda's not constrained by a constitution. Many of our adversaries are not constrained by a belief in freedom of speech or representation in court or rule of law.

But I'm sure that sometimes it seems as if that means we're operating with one hand tied behind our back, or that those who would argue for a higher standard are naive. I understand that.

You know, I -- I watch the cable shows once in a while.


What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it's expedient to do so. That's what makes us different.

So yes, you've got a harder job. And so do I. And that's OK. Because that's why we can take such extraordinary pride in being Americans. And over the long term, that is why I believe we will defeat our enemies, because we're on the better side of history.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this and more with our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard;" and our political analyst, Roland Martin.

The vice president -- former vice president, I should say, Dick Cheney -- he gave an interview to Fox News. And he says -- this has just been posted on the Politico Web site: "They didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort. And there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified."

He's not happy with the way the president declassified these interrogation memos.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he's not. And, in fact, I think that the former vice president also went on to say that he would like to have more declassified so you could show the results of this behavior and what -- and what good it did. He felt like it was only giving, essentially, one half of the story which isn't surprising, since it was his administration that -- that gave the legal justification for this kind of behavior.

BLITZER: And, Steve, the current chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, she wrote a letter to the president saying you know what, just hold off on that decision you made not to go ahead and prosecute any of these officials or officers who were involved in the interrogation or who authorized the interrogation until her committee finishes their investigation over the results of all of this and what happened. And that's going to take another eight months or so.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, it's hardly surprising that a member of Congress wants to have the stage.

I think Dick Cheney is exactly right, though. I mean, what we're doing is having this discussion about harsh interrogation techniques without talking about the other side of it. And I think Mike Hayden yesterday -- you know, on a Sunday show in an op-ed last week made the strong case that these tactics were successful.

Whatever you think of the results -- I mean whatever you think of the process, whatever you think of the techniques, they worked.

And the honest discussion would be to include the results that we got from those, as the former vice president suggests.

BORGER: I love the idea of Mr. Secrecy, though, Dick Cheney...

HAYES: It's great, isn't it?


BORGER: ...calling for declassification of documents.

MARTIN: Gloria, that was the point...

HAYES: You know it means a lot to him.

MARTIN: That was the point I was about to make is like give me a break. This is the guy who wants to keep everything shut down, everything secret. Oh, but when he wants it declassified -- and, also, we talk in terms of what you want to show. Hey, Mr. Former Vice President, we're still looking for the WMDs you claimed were in Iraq.

HAYES: Yes, but, Roland, come on. I mean you're Mr. Transparent so you've got to be in favor of... MARTIN: I have no issue with it.

HAYES: (INAUDIBLE) -- releasing these things.

MARTIN: No, I don't have no issue.

HAYES: So they should be released.

MARTIN: I have no problem with it.

HAYES: So they should be released.


BORGER: But if you...

BLITZER: But, Steve...


BLITZER: Steve, you know...

MARTIN: But Dick Cheney?


BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on, guys, for a second.

MARTIN: You can't have it both ways.


BLITZER: But you know there's a huge debate in the intelligence community about whether or not the harsh interrogation methods for Abu Zubaydah or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed actually did produce the results or whether or not they were cooperating and singing what -- and telling us what they knew even before the couple hundred times they may have been waterboarded.

HAYES: Right. But there are very specific memos that talk about the specific intelligence that was gleaned from these interrogations -- the ones that the former vice president was referring to. Either those memos exist or they don't and either they say what he says they do and what several other people I've talked to say they do...

BORGER: And...

HAYES: ...or they don't. So put them out and let us all decide.

BORGER: And why not -- right. Why not be for declassification, because it would finally put an end to the argument over whether they were lying to us or whether they were telling us things before they were -- they were tortured?

You know, we're just going to -- we're going to have to see. So I have to say, I'm with the former vice president on this one. HAYES: Yes, and then if I can make...

MARTIN: Also, I find it striking, Wolf -- I find it striking that, on one hand, the former vice president said let's declassify the papers. But then you have other Bush folks who are saying that by the president releasing these memos, that somehow that is going to make it easier for the terrorists. And so if we...

HAYES: Totally different.

MARTIN: So if we release what we gleaned, is that not going to also help the terrorists?



MARTIN: Which one is it?

HAYES: You're talking about describing for them in detail what the techniques are...


HAYES: that they might learn what -- how to -- how to avoid giving up information in these interrogations...

BORGER: But...

HAYES: ...versus things, versus the information that was gleaned and that is...

BLITZER: All right...

HAYES: know, three years, four years, five years old.

BLITZER: We heard, by the way, once again, from Senator John McCain, who knows something about being tortured as a prisoner. And he says that the results of these kind of interrogation techniques, he says you can't rely on the information being released because these guys will say anything in order to just stop the pain. That's...


BLITZER: That's from John McCain.

MARTIN: Oh, Wolf, you know the Republicans will say he doesn't know what he's talking about.

BLITZER: All right. Well, obviously, John McCain is an expert on this subject.

MARTIN: I understand.

BLITZER: Stand by. Stand by. We've got more to talk about, including President Obama ordering -- ordering his administration to cut spending by $100 million.

A lot of money, right?

Or is it?

What critics are saying and his defenders' response.

Plus, they took government bailout dollars by the fistful. Now, some banks want to give it all back as fast as possible -- why they see the money as a hot potato.


BLITZER: President Obama is ordering his cabinet to trim $100 million in spending, an impressive sum. But consider this -- taking $100 million from the $3.67 trillion budget is the equivalent of taking a car that sells for $36,700 and cutting the price by just $1.

What is going on?

Let's get back to our panel -- Roland, let me start with you. A dollar out of $37,000 -- not a whole lot of money.

MARTIN: It's not a lot, but I would say start somewhere. Just like I disagreed, frankly, when you had Democrats, as well as the president, talking about pork barrel spending by saying well, it only amounts to 1 percent of the entire budget.

Look, when you are broke, when you have high deficits, $100 million or $8 billion, it all adds up.

BORGER: I -- I think it just sets a tone, Wolf. And that's what -- what the president said. I mean he clearly understands this isn't a lot of money, although he said $100 million here, $100 million there, even in Washington, you know, that amounts to money at a certain point.

But I think he understands that what he's trying to do is set the tone. He understands that people in this country are tightening their belts and that they think there's a lot of waste and fraud in government and that he's trying to do something about it.

BLITZER: And outside of the Beltway, $100 million sounds like a lot of money, Steve.

HAYES: Yes. But I mean, come on. I wish he would have thought $100 million here and $100 million there meant something when he was proposing new spending. I mean this is -- this is silly. This is -- if this is not just symbolic, I don't know anything that is. You take...

BORGER: It is.

HAYES: You take a $50 -- a median household income in the United States right now is $50,000. That's not even saving one latte in a year. I mean this is -- come on. MARTIN: I would say, Steve...

HAYES: This is silly (INAUDIBLE).

MARTIN: Hey, Steve...

HAYES: I'm for...

MARTIN: Hey, Steve...

HAYES: I'm for cutting spending. It's nice to hear Barack Obama talk about it. But this is not serious.

MARTIN: Hey, Steve, the regular people, we don't drink lattes. So you might want to explain that.

The point there is, look, you can't...

HAYES: All right. Here, let me say it in the...

MARTIN: And maybe...


HAYES: You can't get a cup of coffee at McDonald's for that.

How's that?

MARTIN: Thank you very much.

HAYES: Is that better?

MARTIN: Regular people drink coffee, not lattes.

Look Steve, you can sit...

HAYES: That's fine.

MARTIN: You can sit here and talk about this whole D.C. stuff, oh, it's not a big deal. Here's the whole point. If you want to talk about being a fiscal conservative, if you want to talk about the budget, the reality is whether it is pork barrel spending, whether it's $100 million, it all adds up.

HAYES: Roland...

MARTIN: We should...


HAYES: Roland.

MARTIN: What we should not be doing is sitting here by saying it's irrelevant.

HAYES: Roland... MARTIN: Now, I say cut more.


HAYES: When I made that argument -- (CROSSTALK)

HAYES: When I made that argument about pork barrel spending a month ago, you mocked me.

MARTIN: No, you're wrong, Steve.

HAYES: You said it was silly and you said it was inside the Beltway.

MARTIN: No, no, Steve.

HAYES: So you've got...

MARTIN: No, no, no.


HAYES: figure out what you believe.

MARTIN: No, Steve, you're wrong.

HAYES: Which one do you believe?

MARTIN: Steve, when I talked about pork barrel spending, don't sit here and play the game the Republicans want, as well. The point is, if you want to cut money, you cut it regardless of who proposed it, Republicans or Democrats.

BORGER: Well, but the president does open himself up to the argument that he let those earmark spending go through.

MARTIN: Yes, he does.

BORGER: And now he wants to -- you know, members of his cabinet to cut their budgets. And so he...

MARTIN: Absolutely.

BORGER: He opens himself up to this kind of criticism.

MARTIN: And Democrats cannot dismiss it by saying well, it's just $100 million. No. The same goes for pork barrel spending. The same here, cut it (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: I just want to shift gears for a second. I want Steve to weigh in.

What do you think of the response from the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, including his speech today in Geneva, this tirade against Israel to all the series of gestures President Obama has made in recent weeks, trying to establish a dialogue with Iran? HAYES: Yes, I think -- I think we've seen this not only from Ahmadinejad, but across the Iranian leadership. I mean there has been a serious reluctance -- I think they view the United States proposals as coming from a position of weakness and therefore, they don't take them terribly seriously.

Now, this could change, but I'm skeptical and I think we've seen...

BLITZER: And, Roland...

HAYES: ...(INAUDIBLE) skepticism so far.

BLITZER: Roland, the arrest of this Iranian-American journalist, 31-year-old Roxana Saberi, and the sentence that she got, the eight years in prison, that's certainly not the kind of response that the Obama administration wanted to hear.

MARTIN: Of course not. And what you have is the Iranian president flexing his muscle and making it perfectly clear that he is operating from a position of strength in the Middle East. And, again, when you remove the guy who was his biggest detractor, Saddam Hussein, now he feels more empowered and that's what you're seeing.

BORGER: You know, but he seems to be a little schizophrenic on this. Because, on the one hand, he made the case that the journalist -- you know, we ought to take another look at that, that seemed to be sending a signal in some way to the States. On the other hand, he gives that speech today.

At some point, the administration has to decide tonally what it's willing to accept from Ahmadinejad. I know they want to sit down with him and talk to him, but at some point, it may be too much for them to take.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we've got to leave it right there.

Roland is going to have more on all of these stories coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "NO BIAS, NO BULL".

Guys, thanks very much.

A major break from the past in Cuba -- President Raul Castro says something his brother Fidel Castro never said -- what it might mean for the United States.

Plus, your answers to this hour's question -- why are some Republicans calling on their party to support same-sex marriage?

Jack Cafferty and The Cafferty File -- that's coming up.


BLITZER: Tomorrow both chambers of Congress will be back in session here in Washington. The Senate returned from break today and the House returns tomorrow. What's the most important issue you want to see Congress tackle in the coming weeks?

Submit your video questions to

Tell us what you think. We'll get some of your thoughts on the air tomorrow.


BLITZER: Banks who took it are using bailout funds as a financial crutch. Now some say it's turning into a financial cross to bear.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, explains -- Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some of the nation's largest banks are pushing to return the federal bailout money they received. This despite the fact that lending by these banks has not gone up and increased lending was one of the goals of the bailout.


OBAMA: This is nice.

YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama is laying the groundwork.

OBAMA: Not surprisingly, different banks are in different situations. They're going to need different levels of assistance from taxpayers.

YELLIN: Already, seven smaller banks have gotten approval to return just over $800 million. Now, six of the nation's largest banks are asking the Treasury Department for permission to return almost $95 billion in bailout money. Some can't get rid of the money fast enough.

JPMorgan's chief executive, Jamie Dimon, has called TARP money a scarlet letter. And recently told investors...

JAMIE DIMON, CEO & CHAIRMAN, JPMORGAN CHASE: We're not going to -- we're certainly not going to borrow from the federal government, because we've learned our lesson about that.

YELLIN: Why so eager to return money while still suffering the effects of a recession?

First, some banks claim they're healthy and only accepted bailout money to begin with because they wanted to show they were team players.

Second, now many bank executives believe keeping bailout funds will hurt business -- marking their banks as weak.

Third, of course, giving bailout money back means the government can't dictate executive pay and other rules.

Bert Ely is a banking consultant and he says Wall Street is worried about what's yet to come from Washington.

BERT ELY, BANKING CONSULTANT: In other words, it's going to get even more restrictive and, therefore, start planning to get out now, before things get worse.

YELLIN: The Treasury Department will weigh the big banks' health before giving any OK for a payback. That analysis is already underway as part of the banks' so-called stress tests, which should be completed by early May.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, the government is actually poised to make money on some of the bailout funds once they're returned. In some cases, TARP might actually turn a profit. That would free up the government to reinvest this money in other, weaker banks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thank you very much.

We've already heard President Obama talk about a new beginning in relations with the long time adversary, Cuba. But now it's a comment by Cuba's president that some people say represents an important break from the past.

CNN's Havana bureau chief, Moran Neill, has the story -- Morgan.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, with all of the developments over the past week, maybe the one that's generated the most buzz here in Cuba were Cuban President Raul Castro's words saying he was open to talk to the United States about anything, whether, he said, that meant political prisoners, human rights or freedom of the press, as long as the talks were on equal terms.

Now, that's noteworthy because in the past, when ex-president, the ailing Fidel Castro, was asked about political prisoners, he would always make a point to say Cuba has no political prisoners, that the people referred to were mercenaries, he would say in the pay of the empire -- that referring to the United States.

So certainly a change of tone. And speaking of the ex-president, Fidel Castro, he has an essay published in today's newspapers here in Cuba, in which he said Obama was evasive and harsh when asked about the embargo. But he did not mention the comments at the summit on Sunday, in which Obama said that the embargo has not worked. He went on to say that Cuba should do its part by freeing political prisoners and allowing greater freedom.

Those comments have not been broadcast here in Cuba -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Moran Neill, for that.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: The question is: Why are some Republicans, including John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, calling on their party to support gay marriage?

Cindy writes: "To get votes? Let's face it, Jack, the GOP is in a no-win situation. If they try to pretend they're for gay marriage just to get votes, then they lose the right-wing conservative votes and either way, they lose."

Diane in California: "Some Republicans have awakened from an eight year stupor and are facing the reality of the 21st century. Gays are not going to go back in the closet and are an important constituency in our country. Kudos to Meghan McCain."

Jim in Honolulu writes: "As a liberal Republican -- yes, there are a few of us left, although I prefer the word progressive -- the answer is simple. The right has lost the cultural war decisively. And if we want to be more than an irrelevant regional party, we'd better stop denying that fact. And besides, it's just the right and decent thing to do."

John in Alabama: "Jack, the real test will be the Republican platform in the presidential election of 2012. Will gay marriage be part of that platform?"

Jan writes: "The Republicans shouldn't change their minds about gay marriage until Jesus does. By the way, didn't California vote against same-sex marriage? Forsaking morality for the sake of votes -- I think not."

Rob in Brooklyn says: "It's because they're trying to get people to vote for them. I'm gay and this isn't going to work. They're the party of Darth Vader. Nobody in their right mind should vote for the GOP."

Mike in California: "It's called grasping at straws."

And Don in Milwaukee: "You said it Jack. They simply want to attract more voters. As usual, it has nothing to do with what they really believe in, if they even know what that is, but rather simply vote maximization. If they thought the majority of the voters would vote for those who wore their underwear on their heads, they'd do it." If you...


CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

It's interesting reading on this particular question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people love to do that, Jack -- go there and read all those entries in your blog.

CAFFERTY: Well -- well, you do that every night, don't you? BLITZER: I do it as soon as I leave.

Jack, thanks very much.


BLITZER: A celebrity run-in that sent one woman to the hospital.


GAYLE DIMAGGIO, HIT BY GOLF BALL: He laid down next to me, pulled his hat off, you know, how many fingers?

I mean then he just started comedy routines. He lifted my shirt. He gave me belly tickles. He was great.


BILL MURRAY, COMEDIAN: Is she going to take this opportunity to have cosmetic surgery done and get her eyes and her ears pinned back and just her highlights done.


BLITZER: Her bloody brush with fame -- Jeanne Moos is getting ready to take a "Moost Unusual" look.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In South Korea, protesters set the North Korean flag on fire during a rally to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In Afghanistan, two boats ferry a car across a river.

In Baghdad, a father hugs his son as he returns home after being released from U.S. custody.

And in India, supporters raise their hands during an election rally.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Let's take a closer look now at a "Moost Unusual" and painful celebrity run-in.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Why is comedian Bill Murray on the ground next to this woman?

MURRAY: It's fun.

MOOS: Because he just conked her with a golf ball while teeing off.

DIMAGGIO: I felt this explosion in my head. I thought I was having a stroke.

MOOS: Gail DiMaggio was out in her backyard watching the Outback Pro-Am Tournament, hoping for a close-up view.

DIMAGGIO: Gee, I hope Bill Murray's ball comes on this side.

MOOS: Next thing you know, Bill Murray himself was at her side -- apologizing profusely.

DIMAGGIO: How many fingers?

I mean then he just started comedy routines. He lifted my shirt. He gave me belly tickles.

MURRAY: You put your head on your belly like that. And then a person puts their head on my belly like this.


MOOS: Before they sent her off to the hospital for a C.T. scan and six stitches, Bill helped her up and worked the crowd. And he never stopped cracking jokes, even about going to the hospital.

MURRAY: She's going to take this opportunity to have cosmetic surgery done, get her eyes and her ears pinned back and just her highlights done.

MOOS (on camera): And what did Gail DiMaggio want for getting hit on the head by Bill Murray's golf ball?

Just an autographed copy of the movie "Caddy Shack."

(voice-over): At least the only things he injured in "Caddy Shack" are gophers...


MOOS: ...and flowers.


MOOS (on camera): The day after he conked the lady on the head, Bill Murray was back on the course continuing the tournament.

(voice-over): And this time, all of the course marshals were decked out in hard hats.

Almost two years ago, Murray was stopped for allegedly drinking while driving a golf cart in Sweden. But there's not the slightest suggestion of drinking this time -- just a bad drive. DIMAGGIO: He introduced me as the lady that walked in front of his shot.

MOOS: Gail had the ball that hit her already autographed by Bill.

DIMAGGIO: Do you want to see the bruise, is that what you're...

MOOS (on camera): Yes. Oh, that's a great idea.

(voice-over): She calls it a happy accident. And look at that nice deputy taking Bill's hat to clean off a mud splatter. Better mud than blood, which is what happened when goof ball meets golf ball.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: We don't make this stuff up.

Thanks, Jeanne.

We want you to check out our CNN political podcast. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at room.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.