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THE SITUATION ROOM
Analysis of President Obama's Speech to the Muslim World; The Debate Over Dick Cheney's Daughter; What the World Hasn't Learned About the Holocaust
Aired June 6, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The enemy never mentioned by name. Why President Obama left the word terrorist out of his historic appeal to the Muslim world.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz, is part of our debate.
Plus, what the world has learned and not learned from the holocaust, a powerful emotional message for President Obama, delivered by holocaust survivor, Elie Weisel at the Concentration Camp where his father died.
And a CIA spy killed. A drunken driver blamed. But the dead man's parents don't necessarily buy it. This hour, they open up about the search for truth.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect. And one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead they overlap, and share common principles. The principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: An extraordinary speech at an extraordinary time. President Barack Obama addressing the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt, seeking a new beginning with those who view the U.S. as more foe than friend. I talked about the speech with Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president and a former State Department official and James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.
LIZ CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Great to be here.
BLITZER: Let's talk about what he said, because he was giving some tough love to both the Israelis and the Palestinians today.
Listen to this clip about what he said as far as the Palestinians are concerned.
OBAMA: Let there be no doubt, the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable and America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.
BLITZER: Key words -- "a state of their own," since the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel right now is refusing -- at least so far -- to say they support a two state solution, Israel and Palestine.
CHENEY: You know, I thought, actually, that clip was not really new U.S. policy. That's the kind of thing you've heard from presidents -- President Bush, certainly, in the past. What I thought was new and particularly troubling was the juxtaposition. You know, when he talked about the Holocaust and horror of the Holocaust, but then in the very next paragraph, when he was done with the Holocaust, he said, on the other hand -- and seems to equate the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the murder, the slaughter of six million Jews to the situation in which Palestinians live today.
And I think that -- that, you know, goes way too far. And I know he was trying to sound even-handed, but I think that begins to be very much appalling, frankly, to a lot of folks and walking away -- putting some distance in the relationship with Israel.
BLITZER: We heard some similar criticism...
JAMES ZOGBY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: Completely (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: ...from John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House...
BLITZER: ...that this moral equivalency -- the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.
ZOGBY: Clearly not and not intended as such. He was playing out the historical narratives of both peoples. This is why Jewish people suffer. This is why they're afraid. This is why they have a feeling that they are insecure. This is why Palestinians have suffered. This is why.
This is -- there is no place the president said this is equal to that or this is the same as that.
What he was saying, to be fair, was this is the narrative. This is the story Palestinians bring to the table. And those who can't deal with that, that there is a Palestinian narrative of suffering, they, frankly, won't get it.
But the president was being fair to both people, relating their story as it was.
CHENEY: But I think it's a...
BLITZER: Anything wrong with that?
CHENEY: Well, I think, obviously, there are two sides to this issue. But I think when you use a phrase like "on the other hand" right after you talk about the Holocaust, you can't help but -- and if it wasn't intentional, it was certainly tone deaf and insensitive to, you know, the feelings of Israelis, to the feelings of Jewish- Americans, frankly, the feelings of all Americans. And it wasn't the only place in the speech where I think -- you know, any American president, frankly, could walk into the Arab world and by putting distance between the United States and Israel get applause.
ZOGBY: Frankly, there's no way...
CHENEY: And I think that's exactly what we saw today.
ZOGBY: There's no way that one can -- can do this without getting criticized by those who simply don't want to hear it. The fact is there is a Palestinian narrative. There is an Israeli narrative. Both deserve to be told. He did not equate. He did not create any sense of symmetry.
The symmetry is these are two peoples who need legitimacy and need respect and recognition of their need for independence and sovereignty. He gave them that and he told their narratives leading up to that. That was important.
CHENEY: But it wasn't the only place that...
ZOGBY: We can't...
CHENEY: ...that we saw, though, Jim.
CHENEY: It wasn't the only place we saw this sort of attempt to say, you know, on the one hand this and on the other hand that. We saw it also with respect to the U.S.-Iranian relationship.
BLITZER: I want to get to all that in a moment.
BLITZER: But I'll -- what was very, I guess, pointed to me -- and I got up really early this morning, like I'm sure both of you did, to listen and watch this speech -- was the very contrast, the way he talked about what happened on 9/11 and the way your dad and former President Bush would speak about it.
For example, listen to how the president today spoke about the -- what so many people have always called terrorism, although he refused to use that word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism -- relentlessly confront violent extremists.
Combating violent extremism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, James, why would he refuse to talk about the -- use the word terror?
ZOGBY: He talked about 3,000 people -- innocents dying in their homes. He quoted...
BLITZER: But the head of extremists -- violent extremists.
ZOGBY: He quoted the Koran...
BLITZER: But is there a problem in the Arab and Muslim world...
ZOGBY: No. No. Not at all.
BLITZER: ...with the word terror?
ZOGBY: The -- well, one of the problems here is that language has been so sullied in the last administration that there's a need to clean up the discourse. And in doing so, what he did was he made very clear and personalized 3,000 people died. He went and confronted them head-on -- this is not a myth, this is not a conspiracy, this is reality.
BLITZER: All right...
ZOGBY: Bin Laden claimed credit and we will get them.
BLITZER: Because I want to contrast...
ZOGBY: I don't think there is anyone in the extremist community who took heart that this president is being soft.
CHENEY: But I can tell you what they did take heart from, though, Jim. I'm sure they took heart from the president going onto foreign soil and saying that in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States abandoned -- fell short of its values. And I think that is just a tremendous blow to say...
ZOGBY: There is no one in that region who doesn't...
CHENEY: Wait a minute. I let you finish.
ZOGBY: ...know and a whole lot of...
CHENEY: I let you finish.
ZOGBY: ...Americans who...
CHENEY: James, wait a second.
BLITZER: Let her finish.
CHENEY: Let me finish. The extent to which you go onto foreign soil and you suggest that rather than doing their job keeping us safe -- both the soldiers who've fought and died since 9/11, the folks at the CIA, a whole range of law enforcement officials, people who have put in place programs to keep us safe -- you know, it's one thing to have that argument as a domestic political debate. To go to Cairo and to accuse the United States of falling short of its values just strikes me as, you know, a real blow and -- and very disappointing, frankly.
ZOGBY: This -- this president has hanging over his head 4,000 pictures that came from the last administration of gross abuse and torture. They are hanging...
CHENEY: That is outrageous for you to say it came from the last administration...
ZOGBY: They are hanging out there and...
ZOGBY: ...what he is doing...
CHENEY: I'm sorry, Jim.
ZOGBY: ...is saying yes, what the world already knows, we fell short of our values...
CHENEY: Jim, are you suggesting that those pictures represent...
ZOGBY: And what we...
CHENEY: ...the American military, the armed services...
ZOGBY: They do not.
CHENEY: ...that they are anything except an aberration...
ZOGBY: But they represent...
CHENEY: ...and crime?
ZOGBY: ...aberrations that came from a policy that led to those aberrations.
CHENEY: That's just -- there's absolutely no evidence...
ZOGBY: And the fact is, is that...
CHENEY: ...from that, Jim. That's no...
ZOGBY: ...what he's doing is...
CHENEY: There's no. What he is doing...
ZOGBY: He is clearing the air and making it...
CHENEY: ...is he's trying...
ZOGBY: ...and making it possible...
CHENEY: No, what he's doing is he's trying to get applause...
ZOGBY: ...for America to have a responsible relationship (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: One at a time. One at a time.
ZOGBY: Let me finish that.
BLITZER: Finish your thought then go -- then you go ahead.
ZOGBY: The point here is that we are in a deep hole. And no one -- if you don't get the fact that we're in a deep hole in that region, then, frankly, I don't know what to say. We are. He needs to get out of that hole and he needs to get out of that hole by admitting, number one, that, yes, there were mistakes made; but, number two, we are better than that. We will be better than that. And here is what we are going to do...
BLITZER: All right, Liz...
CHENEY: We've had...
ZOGBY: If you want to talk about confronting...
CHENEY: We've got big (INAUDIBLE)...
ZOGBY: ...the audience in Cairo...
CHENEY: It's my turn. It's my turn, Jim.
ZOGBY: He spoke about the Holocaust in Cairo.
BLITZER: Let her...
ZOGBY: For God's sake, this was an enormous challenge...
CHENEY: Jim, you know what?
We do have big problems in the Middle East. But the biggest problem is not the perception of the United States. The big problems we have are things like the Iranians attempting to get a nuclear weapon; the fact that we've still got terrorists trying to kill Americans, trying to kill our allies; the fact that we have about, in three days, we're going to have an election in Lebanon in which the Iranians have poured billions of dollars and Hezbollah is likely to win and he didn't mention it once.
The difference we have is that I think that the president has got to directly address those issues and not act like there's some sort of moral relativism here and this can all be solved if we sort of go forward holding hands together. There are good guys and bad guys here. And I think it's important to identify who those are.
BLITZER: But, Liz, I think what the president may have been referring to -- and we don't know, because we haven't had a chance to follow-up with an interview with the president -- but there were abuses of American values at Abu Ghraib, for example. Maybe that's what he was referring to when he was saying there were abuses and there were violations of our own values.
CHENEY: Yes. But I think it is a big difference -- I mean, if you are an American president and you're going to say something so inflammatory and, frankly, something that pulls the rug out from under, potentially, the people who kept us safe, I think you've got an obligation, at a minimum, to be clear. And he absolutely was not clear.
It sounded to me like a very broad indictment that he knew, frankly, would get him some applause in Cairo. But that -- that is a very different thing than having that debate here in the United States.
ZOGBY: It's not a question of applause in Cairo. It's Colin Powell. It's the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It's -- it's John McCain have all said the same thing, that this undercut our values and made it difficult for us to challenge other governments on their human rights policies...
CHENEY: But there is a very important...
ZOGBY: And let me say, we've...
CHENEY: ...debate going on about that.
ZOGBY: ...polled on this.
BLITZER: All right...
ZOGBY: We've polled on this in the region. And what we find...
CHENEY: But polls are no reason, Jim...
ZOGBY: ...is that one of the biggest issues out there is Guantanamo, torture and the way we behaved in Iraq.
CHENEY: But here is the fundamental question...
CHENEY: Here's the fundamental...
BLITZER: Go ahead.
CHENEY: ...is that it is...
ZOGBY: And he is gaining support...
BLITZER: One at -- no. Hold on. Let her finish.
CHENEY: Jim, it's my turn now. Is that U.S. -- is it a U.S. national interest for us to make policy decisions here based on polls in the Arab world?
ZOGBY: It is. CHENEY: And my answer would be...
BLITZER: All right. What -- hold on.
CHENEY: ...no, it's not.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
CHENEY: It's in the U.S. national interest to do what's going to keep America safe. Now, 90 senators and the vast majorities of American citizens do not believe we should close Guantanamo. Now, if your argument is Barack Obama -- President Obama's policy decisions ought to be guided more by the polls that you're seeing in the Arab world than U.S. polls...
BLITZER: All right, Liz...
CHENEY: ...I think that's a hard one to sustain.
BLITZER: Hold your thought for a second.
I want to -- there's two other things I want to get to and our time is limited.
BLITZER: Here's, in marked contrast to the way -- the way President Obama spoke about violent extremists committing all these acts today, this is a clip of what former President Bush, how he once phrased it. And it caused a lot of commotion.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.
BLITZER: Was that appropriate, the way the...
BLITZER: ...former president phrased it?
CHENEY: Absolutely. Look, you know, the fascist nature of the Al Qaeda organization and these terrorist organizations, the extent to which they will kill anybody who doesn't agree with them, the extent to which they want women to live in a completely oppressed way, the extent to which, you know, they -- they are completely unwilling to compromise. What they want to do is, you know, basically commit death and destruction in order to impose a -- you know, Islamic caliphate on the world. I think there's no -- you know, it's important for us to call this what it is.
BLITZER: Let me let Jim Zogby react. ZOGBY: These are bad guys. There's no question about it. And we've got to confront them. But we need allies to do it. And the mistake of the last administration was thinking that you could lead with nobody following and eroding the base underneath...
CHENEY: That's -- that's just not...
ZOGBY: ...your leadership and the allies that you want to have with you.
The point here is that we are, today, safer and more secure than we were yesterday, before this speech was given. This president has provided leadership. He is bringing America home and he is bringing American values to the world in a way that they will be heard and respected precisely because of who he is and the way he has been able to communicate to the world.
CHENEY: Suggesting moral equivalence makes us safer is just totally divorced from reality, Jim.
ZOGBY: I do not understand the moral equivalence argument. What I do understand is that Colin Powell...
CHENEY: We've done some bad things to Iran and they've done some bad things to us...
ZOGBY: John McCain and...
CHENEY: ...that's moral equivalence.
ZOGBY: ...the Joint Chiefs agree with Barack Obama...
BLITZER: All right...
BLITZER: Thank you, guys...
CHENEY: (INAUDIBLE) 58 percent of the American people believe that we're safer because of (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: You guys are going to continue this discussion out in the green room.
Thanks to both of you for coming in.
CHENEY: Thank you.
BLITZER: And this footnote, on Friday at a news conference in Germany, President Obama resumed using the word terrorist. At the same time, he's clearly putting some pressure on Israel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what does he hope to achieve by using this language? We'll analyze this and more with CNN'S Fareed Zakaria.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel joins President Obama at Buchenwald, Germany. We'll hear his story of survival in his own words. And parents push for their son's name to be recognized by the CIA. You'll hear how he died and why the CIA kept his name a secret for six years. Stay with us, you're on THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It's a story with a simple truth, violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power, to shoot rockets at sleeping children or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed. That's how it is surrendered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president vowing to fight violent extremism in all its forms, including attacks by Palestinian militants against Israel. I spoke about Mr. Obama's speech to the Muslim world with Fareed Zakaria of CNN's GPS.
BLITZER: Fareed, the president using the word legitimacy now in talking about Israeli settlements. Not only calling for a freeze or stopping settlements, but going back to language the Carter administration used to use about the legality, if you will, of these settlements. The Reagan administration, Bill Clinton, both Bushes, they're trying to avoid that kind of reference. What does that say to you?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, I think you've caught it, Wolf. I think that is the single most specific policy shift that the speech produces. You've had a lot of -- the speech was very broad, very detailed, very synoptic, you know, comprehensive, but there were a couple of these policy edges to it. And the most important policy edge I think exactly the one you pointed out. For a long time, American presidents have quietly counseled the Israelis against settlements. About 15 years ago, as you know, the senior Bush actually withdrew some loan guarantees to Prime Minister Shamir. But Obama is making the case unequivocally publicly and condemning them and calling them illegal. That's a big shift. And I think that some Israelis will not like. Though I have to tell you, many Israelis feel that this kind of American pressure is the only thing that will actually force movement toward a two-state solution.
BLITZER: I've heard several administration officials, Obama administration officials say they need some tough love on both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And certainly they got some of that today in this speech.
Another point that sort of jumped out at me, and we had the clip at the top of the show, is when the president acknowledged the U.S. role, specifically the CIA's role in overthrowing what he called the Democratically elected government in Iran back in 1953. This is what the Iranians want to hear from the United States. They make a big deal about this almost every single day. And today, the president delivered for Iran.
OBAMA: Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build?
BLITZER: All right, what did you think about that reference to the coup that the U.S. was involved in back in '53 and how it might play out on the Iranian elections over the next week or so?
ZAKARIA: Well, everything he does that is conciliatory toward Iran makes Ahmadinejad look -- President Ahmadinejad of Iran look for and more extreme and more of a hard liner.
You know that Madeleine Albright also had mentioned this when she was Secretary of State. And she had actually had even apologized for America's role. So here I don't think it was as new.
What I was struck by though about that Iran section of the speech, if you notice, Wolf, it was not really about Iran. Iran was de-emphasized as an issue. It was only brought up in the context of nonproliferation. And we must try to have, you know, a region that doesn't have nuclear weapons.
Now this is in direct contradiction to what Prime Minister Netanyahu must have urged President Obama to do at their White House meeting. Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that the most important thing going on in the Middle East right now is the rise of Iran, the threat it poses, and the danger that we must all confront. That was not front and center in the Obama speech. As I say, Iran comes up almost incidentally as I think item number three or four only in the context of a nuclear nonproliferation regime.
BLITZER: I think you're right. And I do think I agree with you that there's little doubt that what he said today about Iran potentially could help Ahmadinejad in his bid for re-election in the coming days. Fareed's going to have a lot more on this coming up Sunday on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," which airs at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Fareed, thanks very much for joining us.
ZAKARIA: Always a pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: The Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor meets with her critics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think when Senator Obama voted against Alito and Roberts, he lost sight that elections really do matter. And now he's in a different spot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Will Republicans hold President Obama's nominee to the same standards he has for Justices Alito and Roberts? My interview with senator Jeff lately do matter. And now he's in a different spot.
Will Republicans hold President Obama's nominee to the same standards he had for Justices Alito and Roberts? My interview with Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And he accompanied President Obama to the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, where he and his father endured a horrific ordeal. We'll hear from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
BLITZER: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week in a whirlwind series of meetings with some of the senators who will decide her fate. Among them Alabama's Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: Senator Sessions, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you.
Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I take it today was the first time you had a chance to sit down with her face-to-face.
And what did you think?
SESSIONS: Well, I enjoyed it. She was engaging and talkative. And we had a good conversation. It was fun. We talked a little bit about -- mostly, I guess, about her record. She was a young prosecutor for a number of years. She was in private practice. Then she served as a trial judge and as an appellate judge now. So that's a good background, I have to say. It's the kind of thing that gives her a lot of experience in the kind of issues she'll be facing on the court.
BLITZER: Is -- based on what you know right now, is she ready for the major leagues?
Is she -- is she ready to sit on the highest court in the land?
SESSIONS: Well, she's, I think, intellectually capable. I guess the question is, you know, sort of spinning off President Obama's statement that judges should show empathy. He voted against John Roberts and Sam Alito, saying that they didn't rule enough for little people or whatever -- that kind of statement.
So I think we need to make sure that she's committed to faithfully following the law, that she has those legal skills and abilities, give an opportunity for any questions about her character to arise. I've seen none yet.
So I think we need to go through this process because, once confirmed, a judge is given a lifetime appointment. We need to know that they have discipline and restraint and will show themselves, over the decades to come, as a person who is faithful to be subordinate to the law and not to place themselves above the law. It will be a good...
BLITZER: On that (INAUDIBLE)...
SESSIONS: ...a good time to discuss the role of a judge in the American experience. And I think it could be a teaching moment for the people.
BLITZER: I think you're right. I think a lot of us will be watching. We'll be glued to our TV sets. There's no doubt about that. And you'll be -- you'll be there every step of the way.
Listen to what the chairman, Patrick Leahy, said today after he met with her on this whole uproar that has developed as a result of her saying several years ago that a Latina woman might be better suited to make a controversial decision than a white man.
Listen to how he phrased it, Senator Leahy.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: What she said was, of course one's life experience shapes who you are. But ultimately and completely -- and she used those words -- ultimately and completely, as a judge, you follow the law.
BLITZER: Did she say the same thing to you?
SESSIONS: Well, something to that effect, yes. But let me tell you, what is the law to a judge who has an activist bent or a judge that has a -- more a result-oriented bent or a judge who allows their empathy to impact their decision, is -- that's how a judge finds a way to interpret the law to be somewhat different than maybe it was intended and is the way it's really written.
So those are the questions I think we'll need to analyze. That article she wrote -- the speech and then printed in an article -- was troubling in more than just that one line. It seemed to say that it was a hopeless aspiration to attempt to be unbiased and that, indeed, everybody brings biases to the bench and that in some, maybe even most cases, those personal values could impact the decision-making.
I don't think that's the ideal of American justice. But I do think she deserves a full chance to discuss that and to explain her views. And so that's kind of some of the things we'll be talking about, I think, at the hearing, because those are important issues that go to the quality of a lifetime appointment.
BLITZER: A lot of us remember one of the reasons you may be in the Senate right now is what happened to you when your name was put forward for the federal bench. And you were not necessarily treated all that well, I guess, and eventually they had to withdraw your name.
But let me -- let me phrase the question this way -- are you empathetic, which is a popular word nowadays, are you empathetic to what this woman is about to go through?
SESSIONS: Politicians are supposed to be empathetic. And, yes, I am, actually. I do feel that it's difficult sometimes for a nominee to be able to explain their views. Sometimes a ruling of a judge or an action of a prosecutor is complex and requires a little time to explain.. And, oftentimes, in this fast paced world, they don't get it.
And I've told her again today, she was going to get a fair chance and a fair hearing.
BLITZER: We're out of time.
But you want these hearings in September, not July, is that right?
SESSIONS: Well, it's an important thing. It's a lifetime appointment. We've got over 4,000 cases to look at. Justice Souter is not leaving until October 5th, so we could actually -- we could certainly -- I think we need the time and shouldn't rush it.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator Sessions.
Good luck with these hearings.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: A Holocaust survivor's memories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELIE WIESEL, NOBEL LAUREATE: His grave's somewhere in the sky. We have come to all these years to the largest cemetery of the Jewish people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Elie Wiesel talks about his father's death at the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Plus, the parents of a CIA spy now speaking out about their son's death. Why they are raising some questions about the official story of how he died.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: These sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time. As we were walking up, Elie said if these trees could talk. And there's a certain irony about the beauty of the landscape and the horror that took place here. More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened has not diminished. I will not forget what I have seen here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was President Obama along with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and two survivors of the notorious Buchenwald concentration in Germany. It was the first ever visit by a U.S. president. President Obama saw the barbed-wire fences used to keep Jews in and the massive ovens where their bodies were burned. His great uncle helped liberate prisoners there. Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel was along for the sobering tour. He was a prisoner there as was his father, who starved to death three months before the camp's liberation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WIESEL: Ladies and gentlemen, as I came here today, it was actually a way to of coming and visit my father's grave. But he had no grave. His grave is somewhere in the sky.
This has become in all the years the largest cemetery of the Jewish people. The day he died was one of the darkest in my life. He became sick, weak, and I was there. I was there when he suffered. I was there when he asked for help. For water. I was there to receive his last words.
But I was not there when he called for me, although we were on the same block. He on the upper bed and I on the lower bed. He called my name and I was too afraid to move, all of us were. And then he died.
I was there but I was not there. And I thought one day, I will come back and speak to him and tell him of the world that has become mine. I speak to him of times in which memory has become a sacred duty of all people of goodwill in America, where I live whether in Europe or in Germany where you, Chancellor Merkel, are the leader with great courage and moral aspirations. What can I tell him that the world has learned? I am not so sure. Mr. President, we have such high hopes for you because you with your moral vision of history to be able and compelled to change this world into a better place where people can stop waging war. Every war is absurd and meaningless. That people will stop hating one another, but people hate the otherness of the other rather than respect it.
But the world hasn't learned. And I was liberated in 1945, April 11 by the American Army. Somehow many of us were convinced that at least one lesson will have been learned, but never again will there be war. That hatred is not an option. That racism is stupid and the will to conquer other people's minds or territories, or aspirations, that will is meaningless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Elie Wiesel speaking at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Parents devastated by the loss of their son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our son was a very warm individual, a very funny individual. And he believed in random gifts of kindness for all. And he was very, his religious background was very important to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Why Greg Wenzel gave up a career as a lawyer to become a CIA spy.
And I'll talk to the author of a new book on a controversial World War II general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA: Today I am privileged to be able to share with the world the story of Greg Wenzel. At age 33, a promising young officer, a leader, a friend to so many was taken from us. We find some measure of solace in knowing that Greg achieved what he set out to do. He lived for a purpose greater than himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The CIA director Leon Panetta lifting the veil of secrecy that has once shrouded the death of a CIA spy. He was killed in what's been ruled an accident while undercover on the streets of a foreign capital. For years, his parents kept quiet while pressing the government for public recognition. That came this past week, but they still have some questions.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now, Gladys and Mitch Wenzel. Their son Greg David Wenzel was killed while serving as a CIA clandestine officer in Ethiopia six years ago. My deepest condolences, first of all, to both of you.
Let me start with you, Mr. Wenzel. When your son left law practice in Florida, he went to the University of Miami and decided he wanted to work for the CIA. Did he tell you he was going to work for the CIA?
MITCH WENZEL: Yes, he said that he was interviewed by them and he was waiting to see if he was accepted.
BLITZER: Mrs. Wenzel, what was his decision? Why did he make that decision to give up a legal career and go into the CIA?
GLADYS WENZEL, MOTHER OF FALLEN CIA OFFICER: His legal career was also for public service. And he loved his country. And he wanted to give back and he wanted to make a difference and keep our country safe.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Wenzell, there are employees at the CIA who are analysts and there are others who are clandestine officers or spies. Did you know he was going to go into the clandestine service?
M. WENZEL: Yes.
BLITZER: and how did you feel about that?
M. WENZEL: We were concerned, but you know, we couldn't prevent him from what he wanted to do. And we were just so proud of him. And we chose whatever he wanted to do was okay with the family.
BLITZER: And then, let me move forward in the story. He then goes off to Ethiopia and he's listed as a diplomat, as a foreign service officer in Ethiopia, but the two of you knew the truth, that he was really a CIA spy. Is that right, Mrs. Wenzell?
G. WENZEL: Yes, it is.
BLITZER: And then unfortunately, tragically he's killed in what was described, Mr. Wenzel, as a car crash by a drunk driver. Did you -- do you accept that explanation?
M. WENZEL: Not really. I mean, this is a lot. One of the things that I felt yesterday by the way when Panetta was talking, because we've gone down to the memorial service each year. And they always explain how someone that they uncovered and how they actually died. Panetta didn't really go into that in his speech.
BLITZER: Do you believe, Mrs. Wenzell, that your son was killed just randomly in this horrible drunk driving accident or there was something else there?
G. WENZEL: I don't know. I can't -- I don't know. You know, there are other things. And you wonder, they tell us it was an accident, but I don't know.
M. WENZEL: He was...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Mr. Wenzel.
M. WENZEL: He was with - -he was working undercover that particular dusk or evening. And he was with a high ranking official, which I'm not at liberty at this particular time to tell the name that probably was working and getting information from this individual. And both of them were killed in the car. And this is one of the reasons why I guess for 5 1/2 years, we did not divulge any story because of the safety of the family of that other individual and any other people that my son was involved with in Ethiopia, people that might have been working for him and getting information from.
BLITZER: Now you wrote to President Bush last December 18, appealing to him to let the truth come forward, who your son was really working with. And in that letter, you wrote this. "Mr. President, we are asking you to help us get Gregg's name in "The Book of Honor" under his star on the wall at the CIA. It has been over five years since his death and we would like to see this happen before we attend the next Memorial in May at the CIA. Please do this Mitzvah for us before you leave office." Mitzvah being a Hebrew for a good deed. You're a Jewish family. Your son was Jewish, is that right?
M. WENZEL: Yes.
BLITZER: And then finally, the president in one of his final acts decided to go ahead and let the truth be known. And then on January 13, Michael Hayden, the CIA director informed you that he would be honored and the full details of his death would be known, is that right?
M. WENZEL: That's right.
BLITZER: And how did you feel when that happened? And this week you came to Washington and you were there at the CIA when the new director Leon Panetta unveiled another star on the wall there showing that your son was killed in the line of duty while serving the CIA?
M. WENZEL: It was a very good feeling and a sad feeling at the same time. But it was a long journey for us, this 5 1/2 years. Where we did not -- we kept our story within ourselves. And it was very difficult. Because at any time I guess we could have uncovered him, but because of the safety of people and so forth, we chose not to because I believe our son would have wanted us to do that.
BLITZER: Mr. Wenzell, tell me something special about your son, Gregg?
M. WENZEL: Our son was a very warm individual, a very funny individual. And he believed in random gifts of kindness for all. And he was very -- his religious background was very important to him.
X And Mrs. Wenzell, when you think about your son, what do you think about? G. WENZEL: He was very warm, he could talk to anybody, everybody respected him, he loved being with people. And he was just generally a warm, wonderful person.
BLITZER: We asked the CIA to respond to the questions surrounding Greg Wendell's death, the CIA spokesman George Little said this, let me read to it you. "We take very seriously the loss of any agency officer. Gregg was a real standout and we are proud that he chose to serve with CIA. That's why it's all the more sad that based on what we know, the loss of this outstanding colleague came as a result of a tragic accident."
Who was General Curtis Lemay? Many remember him saying the U.S. should bomb North Vietnam back to the Stone Age. Did he really say that? I'll ask the author of a new book on the controversial general.
And we'll show you which photos make our hot shots of the week.
BLITZER: He was a bomber pilot who led missions against the Nazis. And he commanded U.S. operations over Japan overseeing the massive fire bombing of Tokyo and other cities. General Curtis Lemay went on to be a very controversial icon of the Cold War.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Warren Kozak. He's the author of "Lemay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis Lemay," a brand new book that just come out. Thanks very much for coming in, Warren.
WARREN KOZAK, AUTHOR, "LEMAY": It's a pleasure. It's good to be here. BLITZER: Well, you know, my generation, when I hear the name General Curtis Lemay, what's the first thing I think about? That widely attributed quote to him when he said something along the lines supposedly, we were going to bomb North Vietnam back to the Stone Age. And you say that's not exactly precise?
KOZAK: He never made that statement. It came from a writer who was helping him with his autobiography. The reason I think it stuck was because it sounds like something Lemay would have said.
BLITZER: I mean, somebody was ghost writing his autobiography, is that what you're saying? And then that was in the book. And all of a sudden, that bombastic quote came out of a general that was widely seen as being, you know, a little bit over the top.
KOZAK: He was always seen that way. And the movie "Dr. Strangelove" didn't help either.
BLITZER: Because the character in that movie, which a lot of us remember, the crazy general who wanted to just blow things up left and right, everyone assumed that character was based on General Curtis Lemay?
KOZAK: And at the time, Lemay was in the Pentagon. He was the head of the Air Force and the Joint Chiefs. So it was a perfect fit. Between that, to bomb them back to the Stone Age and a run with George Wallace, that destroyed this man's reputation.
BLITZER: Yeah, because he was George Wallace's vice presidential running mate back in 1968 at a time when George Wallace had what so many people considered to be racist policies that wanted to keep differences between whites and blacks in our country?
KOZAK: In 1968, George Wallace was a segregationist, there is absolutely no doubt about it.
BLITZER: Why would General Curtis Lemay lend his name to that kind of ticket?
KOZAK: The irony here, Wolf, is that Lemay was not a racist. He actually helped integrate the Air Force back in 1948 ahead of the Army, ahead of the Navy. And he never, ever showed any kind of prejudice in any of his papers. I went through all of these letters, all of his papers, no anti-black slurs, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic anything. You can't say that about most of the major generals in World War II.
BLITZER: Why did he do it?
KOZAK: He was so angry at Lyndon Johnson for lying to him about Vietnam. He was afraid Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee in 1968, would carry on Johnson's policies. So he thought running as a spoiler, he could shift votes over to Nixon. Lemay was probably one of the most brilliant military tacticians this country has ever produced. He was not a politician. And the only person he wound up hurting was George Wallace, because he was so terrible on the campaign trail.
BLITZER: He didn't realize that this was going to smear his reputation as well.
KOZAK: He might have realized it. He was an odd man in some ways, because it's almost like he need to be disliked. That's -- it was his whole persona throughout World War II. This man had an incredibly impressive resume. Lemay helps defeat Adolf Hitler, he helps end the war in Japan without a land invasion. And he helps defeat the Soviets in the Cold War by creating the strategic air command. Any one of those chapters would have been enough for...
BLITZER: Yet at the end, his statements on Vietnam and his running with George Wallace left this lasting impression to this day that he was just a crazy guy.
KOZAK: And he was anything but crazy. He was focused. He was always given nothing and turned it into something. That's what he did with the Arab war.
BLITZER: If he were alive today, what would he recommend as far as U.S. military strategy towards North Korea and/or Iran?
KOZAK: There's a Lemay Doctrine. Long before there was a Powell Doctrine or Schwarzkopf Doctrine, Lemay said if you make a decision to go to war, and that means if every other diplomatic effort has failed, and you make that decision, then you use every weapon in your arsenal to end it as quickly as possible. And here's the kicker to this. If you're not willing to do that, you shouldn't go to war in the first place. He was never in favor of limited wars. He was in favor of total wars, much like Sherman.
BLITZER: The book is entitled "Lemay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis Lemay." And the author is Warren Kozak. Warren, thanks for coming in.
KOZAK: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Life unscripted, straight ahead, extraordinary images you're going to want to see.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this week's hot shots. In Paris, Air France crew members attend a mass honoring the victims of flight 447. In China, security has stepped up at Tiananmen Square on the 20th anniversary of the massive demonstration. In Los Angeles, Muslim Americans watch President Obama's speech. And in Florida, the Space Shuttle Atlantis returns home. Some of the week's hot shot, pictures worth 1,000 words.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays right here in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.