CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Battle for Libya

Aired March 21, 2011 - 21:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, the battle rages for Libya, explosions and anti-aircraft fire over Tripoli. Coalition forces say Gadhafi has been stopped for now. President Obama says Gadhafi must go.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go.

MORGAN: But now the tough questions. What's the end game? Who is really in charge? What do we know about the rebels and what happens if Gadhafi simply won't go?

Also tonight, another Arab regime on the ropes. Is Yemen the next to fall? And in Japan, new fears over radiation in the food supply. Is the already desperate population at even greater risk?

This is a special live edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT from London.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Good evening. We begin with breaking news out of Libya tonight. Some extraordinary and shocking video, it was uploaded to Youtube earlier today. CNN cannot independently confirm the details of when or where it was shot, but we're told it shows civilians on a street in Misrata being bombed. Watch the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN (voice-over): Extraordinary footage there of civilians apparently being bombed in Misrata in the last 24 hours. Some in the crowd were heard shouting "God is Great" and "Freedom, Freedom" just before the explosion hit. We don't yet know what happened to the people closest to the explosion or indeed who caused it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: We also have dramatic new video that taken in Tripoli in the last few hours showing trace of fire over the city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN (voice-over): There have been a series of bombardments from allied forces towards Colonel Gadhafi's forces. I want to go straight to CNN's Nic Robertson who is live for us tonight in Tripoli.

Nic, what's is the very latest there? There seems to be a lot of activity, a lot of bombardment going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been quiet for three hours, Piers, but it's been a busy night in the city. We have seen at 8:00 p.m. this evening, at 10:00 p.m. and midnight strikes on the city followed by heavy anti-aircraft gun fire.

It's not clear exactly where those strikes have been. One of them at least we're told was in the port area of the city. An eyewitness overlooking the area said the strikes were near some of the Libyan naval vessels that are in Tripoli harbor.

He described three missiles hitting some of the facilities next to those Libyan naval vessels. Some of those vessels carry radar equipment possibly connected with air defense systems. It is not clear. We have not been able to go there and independently verify it, Piers.

MORGAN: And that you were allowed to survey Gadhafi's bombed compound earlier. How bad was the damage there?

ROBERTSON: It was bad. One of the buildings in a compound, in a sort of a large grassy part, part of this sort of several square mile compound that includes barracks for security forces was targeted. Two missiles went through the roof. The roof was collapsed forward.

Four-story building made of heavy concrete, rebar metal. The center of the building was collapsed down. The rooms on either side were still intact. I have seen far bigger missiles hit buildings before and take out larger areas. This seemed to be a very precisely targeted, pinpoint strike on this particular building. Piers --

MORGAN: Do you believe that the intended target was Colonel Gadhafi himself?

ROBERTSON: You know, government officials there have told us they believe it's intimidation of him. This is his compound. This is where he's believed to live. This building is a building, we are told and we're told by the journalists who have been there before, that it's a building you wait in before you go meet Moammar Gadhafi in a nearby tent.

That's how it appeared to be to us. It's impossible for us to get better insight into it because it was nighttime. Certainly if this were a sort of a decapitation strike as we saw at the beginning of a 2003 Gulf War in an attempt to target Saddam Hussein in one of his compounds outside the city of Baghdad.

If it was that sort of strike, this is exactly where you would expect it to come. Of course, the coalition says they are not trying to target Gadhafi himself precisely. MORGAN: Nic, the reports from various organizations led by Fox News that there was an allied strike. It was called off at the last moment today because of journalists including yourself being taken to the compound and being used perhaps as some form of human shield, what was your reaction to that?

ROBERTSON: I found this unimaginable, hypocritical, irresponsible, and outrageous. I also heard that in the same report Fox has said they hadn't sent a news team on this trip because they thought it was propaganda trip for the government.

Yet sitting on that bus with a 40 or so journalist and we went there was a member of the Fox team, a non-editorial, nontechnical person. He was given a camera because the cameraman and correspondent for the team wanted to stay back here in the hotel. They don't go out on many of the government trips here and they left it to this person that was part of the team to go get video of something.

They have subsequently said they didn't send anyone. We went there with 40 or so other journalists. We went it. The government took us in. It took 30 minutes to get there. We went in pretty quickly. We saw the building. We had barely enough time to shoot and get the video we needed, shown Gadhafi's tent and then we were out of there. Literally, bundled back on the bus not long after.

I don't believe we were taken there as human shields. If a strike was called off because we were there, I don't believe it's because the regime here thought they were bringing us in to head something off. Look, when you come to a country like this, you expect lies and deceit from the leadership. I don't expect it to hear from other journalists. I think what they proposed is preposterous and outrageous. Frankly, I'm deeply disappointed to hear that from other journalist, Piers.

MORGAN: I completely agree. That's outrageous reporting by Fox and they should never have done that. On a more positive note, Nic, involving journalists tonight the four "New York Times" journalists that have been captured by the Libyans have now been released.

Late breaking tonight in the papers, very harrowing details of the ordeal that they went through, but what have you picked up so far?

ROBERTSON: It was expected that they would be released sooner than they were. They were picked up in the east of the country, transported to the capital here and pretty much as soon as they got here, I think that was when the Security Council resolution was passed.

The air strikes began and their whole ordeal became so much more difficult, so much more harrowing for them and difficult for their families. The correspondent here has been on tenterhooks the whole time. Worried about his team, now finally they are out.

I think everyone is happy to see that, but also we want to get to the bottom of what's happening. We hear reports of other journalists that have been through or going through what they have been through and we want to get on top of that in the coming days, Piers.

MORGAN: Well, Nic, I'll come back to you a little later to discuss it in more detail. The early supports suggest that they were threatened with being shot, with being decapitated and that the female journalist was exposed to pretty serious sexual assault.

So I think there is more to this than perhaps we realized. I appreciate, Nic, you reporting for CNN the way you do. Please do not go away. Come back later in the show. I want to bring in CNN's Arwa Damon now. She's live for us in Benghazi tonight. Arwa, what's going on in Benghazi tonight?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the capital - the city of Benghazi rather is fairly quiet - the de facto capital of the opposition-controlled eastern part of the country. It has been this way pretty much since the allied air strikes began around Benghazi on Sunday morning.

However, we do see an increase in opposition checkpoints throughout the city. Stores remaining closed, many more of them. People calm, but it's still fairly tense here, Piers.

MORGAN: What do we know about the rebels? There seems to be lots of conjecture about exactly who they are and whether we should be supporting them?

DAMON: Well, Piers, to put it in the simplest of terms. These rebels or some people call them the opposition as they call themselves are by and large ordinary civilians who went out initially to demonstrate against a man who they say has repressed them for so long, who were forced to take up arms.

The opposition here really is the resident of the city, the civilians. That's what we have been seeing and hearing throughout the entire portion of the country that we have been traveling through.

This is not a small, isolated group within the community, within the population. This is the population. Of course, there are small pockets of pro-Gadhafi loyalists, but by and large these are people who really only learned to use their weapons a few weeks ago.

MORGAN: Arwa Damon, thank you very much indeed.

What is the military strategy behind the air strikes on Libya and will it work? I want to turn now to General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and a former National Security adviser to George W. Bush.

General Hayden, many people seem to be confused today exactly what the mission is here. Are you confused?

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: A bit, Piers. I think the first thing we need to shoot for is clarity in our language. This is not just a no-fly zone. It is not just a humanitarian operation. We have decided to intervene in a Libyan civil war and we have taken sides. We have picked a winner. I think we need to understand everything we are doing in that con text and that brings up two important questions. Are our means adequate to the task? Can we actually affect an outcome of this war to our liking with air power alone and if that's not possible, what are the next steps?

And the second thing is what happens if we win? Who comprises the opposition? What do they want? What kind of Libya would they choose to construct?

MORGAN: From a military perspective, clearly already it seems to be at least a messy operation because the message is not being communicated about what we are doing. It seems from President Obama's statements today that getting rid of Gadhafi is part of the mission.

And yet we still seem to be hiding behind this humanitarian operation when quite clearly most of the military operation appears to be targeted at getting rid of Gadhafi and his forces.

HAYDEN: I agree with you. There seems to be a bit of disconnect from what our real objectives must be and what it is we are saying they are. I have talked to folks around town and the consensus of folks whose judgment I trust is that there is only one way this ends successfully for the United States. That is Gadhafi must go. The sub text of that is he will not go voluntarily. So he'll have to be taken out by force.

MORGAN: What is the end game? How does America and the allied forces with America it shall how do they declare victory?

HAYDEN: It's a great question. I raised the question yesterday. If I were still in uniform or still with the CIA, the first question I would ask of the political leadership of the country is how do I know when I am done? I don't think the question has been adequately answered to date.

MORGAN: Also, finally, General. It seems to me that the military not just of America, but other countries like Britain, France and so on are already getting very stretched.

We see that Iraq has operations going on. Afghanistan clearly has. How far can the American military go if, say, these revolutions spread to places like Yemen, Syria and other countries? Where does it stop?

HAYDEN: That brings up a great question, Piers. If we decide to intervene in Libya, what's the calculus that would enable to predict whether or not we would intervene in Yemen or anywhere else?

So I think that's the first important question. The second, I think -- and Admiral Mullen was I think quite clear about this yesterday in discussing the first days and hours of the operation. We have adequate forces to do what we have been asked to do to date. Frankly, we are using air and naval power at the present time.

As much as our military has engaged in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, our air and naval forces are not as engaged as ground forces. We do have a bit of energy left in that area. You bring up a great point. How long are we willing to sustain this at the level of resources and policy?

MORGAN: General, thank you very much indeed for your time.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

The situation in Libya may be one of the biggest foreign policy tests the Obama administration has faced so far. Here to break down the political implications is my colleague Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, from what the general was just telling me this is already a mess, isn't it, politically?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN'S SITUATION ROOM: Politically the president is getting criticism from the right and from his own Democratic left. Dennis Kucinich is saying that potentially president could be impeached presumably because he didn't consult with Congress in advance.

From the right, Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is running for re-election in Indiana said he hasn't been fully briefed. He is not convinced that the president is doing it the right way.

So there is criticism coming from the right, from the left and I'm sure he's going to get criticism from all sorts of places. He's being very precise though, he is making the point. I thought he did it today when he had the news conference in Chile saying, yes, the U.N. Security Council resolution stipulates that it's created a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Libya.

But at the same time, while that's the U.N. strategy, that's the U.N. policy, the United States policy is very different. The United States policy goes beyond that. Namely that Gadhafi must go and that the U.S. has a separate set of tools designed to make sure that in the end, Gadhafi is no longer the leader of Libya.

So he's pretty precise. He's pretty blunt in outlining what the U.S. strategy is as opposed to the support for the United Nations Security Council resolution.

MORGAN: So this is the problem, isn't it, Wolf? This is where it gets very confusing for the American public. Here they have their president saying it's a humanitarian mission with the U.N. yet separately, the American policy in relation to Gadhafi is to get rid of him.

Then they see images of Gadhafi's personal compound being bombed. It doesn't take a genius to work out that, but there is clearly an attempt here to kill Gadhafi and take him out.

BLITZER: At a minimum, there is an attempt to convince those surrounding Gadhafi, especially his military officers that it's over for them. They want to rattle these guys and wean them away and get them to put down their arms and recognize that if they stay with Gadhafi, they will either end up dead or before some sort of international war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

That's why they are using this decisive power. Now they're saying they are going after command and control facilities, anti- aircraft facilities, air defense systems or whatever could threaten civilians, the opposition in Libya.

But there is no doubt that there is a major effort to send a message to Gadhafi's supporters that the United States, Britain, France, other countries including a couple in the Arab league itself that they won't stop until Gadhafi is done and that these folks better see who's going to win the fight sooner rather than later. Otherwise they will be dead or arrested.

MORGAN: Wolf, finally, quickly, do you think President Obama now needs to re-clarify the mission here so that everyone's under no misunderstanding about exactly what is going on?

BLITZER: He probably should have delivered an oval office address to the nation just before the U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched. That's what a president normally does when he sends young men and women off to battle.

But in this particular case, he wanted to create this illusion that the United States was simply following Britain and France, even the Arab league. They were the ones who said there has to be some sort of no-fly zone over Libya.

He didn't want the United States to be seen as the leader of the coalition, even though -- let's be honest, piers -- the United States is the leader of this coalition. Even in the matter of a few days if the U.S. were to hand over leadership to a British general or French admiral or someone else, the United States will still be the leader of the coalition.

When all is said and done, but that's just a fact of life given the unique nature of the U.S. military.

MORGAN: Wolf Blitzer, thank you very much indeed. When we come back, two former members of Moammar Gadhafi's regime, why they turned against him and what they know about the opposition.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: I'm going to turn to two former members of the Gadhafi regime who defected. Ambassador Ali Suleiman Aujali, former Libyan ambassador to the United States, U.S. government shut down his embassy and Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, deputy permanent representative of Libya to the United Nations.

Gadhafi tried to replace him, but the U.N. wouldn't accept the credentials of his replacement. Ambassador, you were among the very first of the Gadhafi regime to step down and renounce him. You must be pretty happy with the coalition now bombing Colonel Gadhafi and his forces. AMBASSADOR ALI SULEIMAN AUJALI, FORMER LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Of course. I am very happy. Not only me, but all the Libyan people are very happy from border to border. And they're relaxed now a little bit especially in the eastern part (ph), Gadhafi forces just the strike before they reach Benghazi. If they reach Benghazi on Saturday, I can tell you honestly that more than 150,000 people there will be killed.

MORGAN: You worked as a diplomat on behalf of Gadhafi's Libya for a very long time. What do you think the Gadhafi regime will do now as the coalition begins to turn on him and perhaps circle him?

AUJALI: Well, I think the people that know Gadhafi close, they are sure that Gadhafi will not give up. He must be captured dead or alive. And there is no other option, unfortunately. We must follow him. We must get him out of Libya. And we must capture him, if we can.

But Libyan people will never be safe as far as Gadhafi is around. Not only Libyan people, but I am sure that the international community will not be safe at all. But if he is around, you will see how many terrorist acts there will be take place.

The Libyan people are very determined. They want to get rid of this regime. They are determined to regain their freedom. They are very determined to establish a new democratic government, have normal relations with all over the world.

MORGAN: Ambassador, will the Arab league's endorsement for this action endure, or do you sense there is growing disquiet amongst some of the Arab League leaders that the actions going on now go much further than simply enforcing a no-fly zone?

AUJALI: I think the Arab League for the first time, they stand by the people, and I believe the Arab nations, they are supporting us, and some of them are very involved with supporting the Libyan people. And I think they have no other choice, the Arab League, than to support the Libyan people. And what Libyan really need, the Libyan people, they just need not only the no-fly zone, but they need to get rid of Gadhafi. Because if protection of civilian, according to the United Nations Security Council, it does mean that to protect these civil liberties of the civilian, to protect them from Gadhafi, because he's the one who's behind giving the order to kill the Libyan people. Unfortunately, today in Misurata, there was a demonstration, symbol (ph) demonstration, peaceful demonstration. And he shot many people with his security.

There is no chance to live with this regime. There is no chance for the Libyan people to hope they are free as far as this regime is around. We must get rid of this regime. As I said before, the international community, there will be a high price. Not only the Libyan people if he's still around. The Libyan people decided there is no compromise, there is no discussion. There is no solution, only one thing. Negotiation with Gadhafi is not an option, that he must go. MORGAN: Ambassador Dabbashi, if I can turn to you, what can you tell us about the opposition here? Who leads it? What kind of government do you think they wish to form? How do you see the future with the protesters?

IBRAHIM DABBASHI, LIBYA'S DEPUTY PERMAMENT REPRESENTATIVE TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, the opposition is the whole Libyan people. I think the government has already -- we have a provisional government, which is the Transitional National Council. Certainly it represents the whole Libyan people, whether it is in the west or in the east.

I think they are looking forward to constitute a democratic government. Certainly it is not immediate, but as soon as we get rid of Colonel Gadhafi, the process will start, and soon we will see another completely different Libya with democratic institutions and with respect for the human rights and with respect for the freedoms.

MORGAN: Is there an Islamist element to the opposition?

DABBASHI: I don't think so. Anyway, it is certainly there are Muslim -- more practicing than the others, but in the Libyan society you cannot say that there will be an important role for the radicals, because I think the Libyan society is a -- somehow it is a religious society. And mostly, most of the population is well aware of the basic principles, the basic rules of Islam. So it is not easy for anyone to come to them and tell radical ideas or radical interpretation of Islam. So I think it is -- there is no chance for radicals to gain control or to have an important role in Libya.

MORGAN: Finally, Ambassador, and quickly, please, how long do you think this will take for Gadhafi to be defeated?

DABBASHI: I think it will not last much if the attacks on his forces continue. I believe within days. It will not take weeks, because I think that most of his security forces will defect, and soon he will find himself alone, only with those who are involved in crimes with him.

MORGAN: Ambassador Dabbashi, Ambassador Aujali, thank you both very much indeed.

AUJALI: Thank you.

DABBASHI: Thank you.

MORGAN: The White House is finally taking action in Libya. Is it too little too late? What is the end game? Also ahead the latest on Japan, a rising death toll and spreading radiation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Breaking news from Libya, some extraordinary and shocking video uploaded to Youtube today. CNN cannot independently confirm the details of when and where it was shot. We are told it shows civilians on a street in Misrata. As you can see, some very, very dangerous scenes. Some in the crowd were shouting "God is great" and "freedom, freedom" just before the explosion hit. We don't know what happened to the people closest to the explosion, or indeed who caused it.

We also have new video from Tripoli tonight, which was taken in the last few hours, of fresh tracer fire from allied forces against Colonel Gadhafi's forces. It's been another night of heavy bombardment. At least three different targets have been hit.

President Obama has been criticized from all sides for the action he's taking in Libya. Some say the air strikes are too little, too late. Some say he shouldn't be in Libya at all.

Here now is Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, a former president of the World Bank, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former deputy director of policy planning for the Department of State from 2009 until this year.

Both of you backed this action. I want to start with you, Paul Wolfowitz. Why do you think this is such a good idea?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER PRESIDENT, WORLD BANK: I think the ambassador just told you what would have happened if we hadn't done this, which would have been a bloodbath in Benghazi that make what's happened already seem like child's play. What's happened already is thousands of people killed in a relatively small country, a country maybe a 30th the size of the United States.

Imagine multiplying 8,000 by 30. You would have 50,000 people killed here. It's staggering. And what was stopped in Benghazi was something much worse.

Look, I think we were slow, but I think better late than never. I think the key to answering the questions that are on people's minds right now -- how does this end? It ends with a victory by the opposition. The opposition are the ones who are going to have to do the fighting.

We should be working with them closely. We should be having people in Benghazi finding out who they are, finding out what they need, and, frankly, establishing the -- an agreement about what comes afterwards, which I think has to be decided by elections.

The U.N. can supervise international elections. It is not a mystery how to do it.

MORGAN: If the U.N. and America are now engaged in helping protesters overthrow regimes like this, where do we end? Do we then move on to Yemen? Do we move on to Syria? How far do you take this?

WOLFOWITZ: We need a policy in every one of these cases. But we also need to recognize that they are different. The Libyan case is an extreme case. It's only in an extreme case that we should be intervening militarily.

We -- in Egypt and Tunisia, maybe a little bit slowly, but we supported the demise of those dictatorships. I think something has to change in Yemen. Something has to change in Bahrain. But each one of these cases is different.

What is common to all of them I think is the fact that Arabs want freedom. And if we try to keep them down through the false stability of dictatorship, we'll pay a price it in the long run.

MORGAN: Anne-Marie Slaughter, let me turn to you. You Tweeted on February 24th, "the international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters. In Rwanda, we watched. In Kosovo, we acted."

You believe that this is too late in the day, but will it be enough now that we have finally taken action?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, FMR. DIR. PLICY PLANNING FOR STATE DEPARTMENT: I do think it will be enough. Yes, absolutely, I wanted us to act as quickly as possible. Although, I also agreed that we did need Arab states calling for a no-fly zone, that we couldn't turn this into the west or the United States versus Gadhafi.

So I think waiting until we had the Arab League resolution was important. I think we have now acted in time to make the difference. And in enforcing the U.N. resolution, what we are doing is leveling the playing field. Exactly as Paul said, it's the Libyans ultimately then who have to overturn Gadhafi, who have to win their fight.

What we are doing is making it possible for them to do that.

MORGAN: Paul, let me return to you. No one seems sure what the mission is. Are you clear what it is?

WOLFOWITZ: I think there is a lack of clarity. But I think the president is beginning to make it clear. The mission has to be -- as the former Libyan ambassador said, it has to be to defeat Gadhafi and to build a new Libya.

I think one of the reason people aren't clear, in my view, is because we haven't engaged sufficiently with this Transitional National Council in Benghazi. There are new authorities emerging in Libya. We should be talking with them. We would have a much clearer idea of how they can finish the job, because it is their fight to finish.

And we would have a much clearer idea of what their plan is for afterwards. I think, you know, there is going to be a Libya afterwards. If it is a Libya that's controlled by Gadhafi, then we are all in trouble. He will be making trouble for the whole world.

If it's a Libya that's controlled by this opposition, then I think it is very important that we should have engaged with them early, that we get some credit for what comes out, and that we have an idea of who they are.

MORGAN: What if, as with Saddam Hussein, the no-fly zone continues for 12 years? WOLFOWITZ: That's unacceptable. That's why it is so important to do something in terms of arming and supporting and supplying the opposition, so they can finish the job on the ground. We're not -- I don't think anyone expects that we'll be continuing to fly over the skies of Libya for another dozen years. That's not the outcome.

MORGAN: Anne-Marie Slaughter, finally for you, we have seen a lot of activity now in Yemen, a lot of people being killed. Should we go in there as well, in your opinion?

SLAUGHTER: No. And I think it is important to clarify what the mission is. But maybe I think it's clearer than Paul does.

I think there were two separate missions here. There's the U.N. resolution, which authorizes the use of force to protect civilians. So we're going to use force under the resolution, and increasingly led by other states, to protect civilians enough so that they can, in fact, fight their own fight.

U.S. policy, using diplomatic and economic means, all the pressure we can, is in fact to see Gadhafi go. But we are not fighting to see him go. In other words, we are not going to use force to actually overturn him. We are going to use force to allow the Libyans to do that, which is consistent with our policy in Yemen, Bahrain.

What our view is the governmental shouldn't be using force against its own citizens. We are not going to go in there with force in other countries where it is not as extreme as it is in Libya. We're going to do everything we can, though, to prevent those governments from using force against their citizens, who --

Exactly as Paul said, they want freedom. They want the same kind of government we have. They want an accountable, decent government that will allow them lead good lives.

MORGAN: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Paul Wolfowitz, thank you both very much, indeed.

WOLFOWITZ: Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up, the former secretary of defense and his take on air strikes in Libya and the latest from Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Moammar Gadhafi has been a thorn in the side of American presidents for more than 40 years. Will the current action against him change anything?

Joining me now is William Cohen, Bill Clinton's secretary of defense, and he's in Beijing. Secretary Cohen, you yourself have directed military operations from the White House before. How do you think President Obama has been handling this crisis?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It's going to be difficult because the mission, in my judgment, is not yet clear. They have passed a resolution in the U.N. Security Council, but it's quite broad, namely to do whatever is necessary to protect the people who are in opposition to Gadhafi.

That means no-fly. It may mean a no-drive zone. It may mean something more than those who supported the resolution had called for or thought they had called for.

MORGAN: One of the problems, it seems to me already, is that we are heading down the same kind of ambiguous territory that we went down with Iraq, and to a certain degree Afghanistan. It really isn't very good for President Obama or the allied forces generally if the public aren't really sure what this mission is.

COHEN: It's unclear what the mission is going to be. For example, if Colonel Gadhafi should at this point say, no mas, no more, and say I am going to really abide by a cease-fire, what happens then? Do we simply have a stalemate? Does the opposition say we'll continue to wage an effective campaign until we overthrow him?

Do we simply continue flying around over Libya giving security to the opposition? All of that remains very unclear, which is one reason why Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, were so hesitant about getting involved in this particular mission.

MORGAN: I mean, half the opinion about President Obama is that he's playing a clever, skillful game of diplomacy here by not putting America center stage. Everybody else thinks that America and President Obama are being timid.

If you are going to be involved in getting rid of Gadhafi, then go and do it and stop pussy-footing around, pretending that this is some kind of humanitarian gesture.

COHEN: Well, there were two questions that have been asked. Number one, why are we going into Libya or over Libya? And number two, why did we wait so long?

The answer is that President Obama did not want to take the lead in attacking a third Muslim country. He had to wait until the Arab League endorsed the move, and he had to wait until there was a Security Council resolution to give at least the authenticity of taking military action, at the same time insisting our European friends take a much bigger role than they have in the past.

So he's tried to say we are not in the lead; we will be a supportive. But this is not an action that we want to be responsible for, ultimately.

MORGAN: But the reality surely, Secretary Cohen, is that America is, as always, in the lead here, because 90 percent of the missiles raining down on Tripoli are, indeed, from American forces.

COHEN: There is no question that the United States has the capability to take the lead in terms of eliminating or degrading the air defenses of Gadhafi or others. But you will note from President Obama's statements, he's saying, over to you very quickly. He's trying to hand the ball off as soon as he can.

That is going to be difficult. Other countries are not going to be able to maintain the same precision kind of guided munitions, should we have to strike additional facilities. Once you're in, the chances are you are going to be in for a lot longer than you anticipated or wanted.

MORGAN: Secretary Cohen, thank you very much, indeed.

COHEN: Pleasure to be with you.

MORGAN: Coming up, the growing nuclear disaster in Japan. A desperate population even more at risk tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MORGAN: While the eyes of the world are on Libya tonight, the disaster in Japan is growing. The World Bank warns it could cost 235 billion dollars and take up to five years to rebuild, a crisis of absolutely stunning scale.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is live in northern Japan on a very long delay here, Gary. So I'll keep my questions short. What is the current situation in Japan, in particular in relation to the ongoing nuclear crisis?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Regarding what's going on here, you can see this picture behind me, Piers. It just takes your breath away. This area was pulverized by the tsunami, and was also suffering an inferno from the fire after the tsunami, huge fires that were all over the place.

You can see from the devastation here. There was so much devastation here, Piers, that the buildings that still stand for days, rescuers couldn't get to those buildings to see if anyone was still alive because there was so much rubble in the way.

Meanwhile, you have this anxiety in this country with the nuclear plants 150 miles from here. A few days ago, though, we were 50 miles away. And people -- the foreigners are leaving. A lot of the foreigners are getting on a plane and getting out of Japan.

But the Japanese, for the most part, have to stay. They hope their government is telling them the truth. Either way, they have to go on with their lives. The people here of northern Japan, who are dealing with this, have to deal with this first and then deal with the nuclear issue later.

MORGAN: Gary, we're hearing that the latest death toll is 8,805, with 12,664 people not accounted for, which would mean, if they're all dead, a death toll of over 20,000 now. That's just from the earthquake and tsunami. We're now hearing reports of radiation possibly contaminating the food chain in Japan. What do you hear about that?

TUCHMAN: I mean, you know, the word trust and the word government is not necessarily synonymous, no matter where you go in the world. People here don't necessarily trust what their government is saying, that right now things are OK. They could get worse; they're OK right now.

But there's not much they can do about it. There's no question they're very concerned. They're talking about that total, you're right. There could be a death toll of over 22,000. There very likely will be hundreds if not thousands of bodies never found.

I mean, we're right now two miles away from the Pacific Ocean. Many of the bodies were swept into the ocean. There's so much rubble here -- at some points this rubble is 30 feet tall. They haven't even gotten into this rubble behind me just yet.

We're walking around yesterday. There's all these cars, cars that are vertical, cars that are horizontal, cars that are on roofs. We walked by a car and we saw a body. That was just us and we pointed it out to the authorities. At that point, they were too busy to remove it.

They have a lot of work here. What's amazing, Piers, is you go three miles away from the beach, just one mile from where we're standing right now, there's no wreckage, no destruction whatsoever. If you didn't read a newspaper, didn't talk to your friends and live there, you wouldn't know anything's wrong.

But when you come within three miles of the beach, for a 250 mile radius from north to south, that's where the devastation is. But it's amazing; 99 percent of this land in Japan is fine. It's this one percent, or even less than one percent by the beach, that is just utterly devastated.

It's the worst devastation I think I've ever seen in my career of covering disasters.

MORGAN: Absolutely appalling scenes. Gary, thank you very much, indeed, for that report. The death toll keeps rising.

We now go back to Nic Robertson in Libya, for the latest on what's happening in Tripoli after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: I'm going straight to CNN's Nic Robertson, who is live in Tripoli tonight. Nic, we're replaying a tape now which is from Youtube. It's unverified at this stage. But it appears to show protesters in Misrata being bombed by Gadhafi forces within the last 24 hours. Pretty dramatic footage. We don't know what happened to the people in this film.

But it would certainly seem to suggest, Nic, that the bombardment of protesters is continuing in Libya tonight. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we know from General Carter Ham, who said that the no-fly zone over Misrata still isn't enforced properly. It's hard to tell on the ground where the sort of opposition forces end and the government forces begin. So it's hard to intervene in that situation.

What's striking, though, state television here today has said that Misrata is, in their words, purified, meaning they defeated the opposition. They have called on the people to come out on the streets and celebrate.

We just cannot get there to verify any of what's happening at the moment. But even the coalition is struggling to know what's going on in the ground there right now, Piers.

MORGAN: Nic, there have been a series in the last four, five hours -- a series of further bombardments in Tripoli of various targets. What do you anticipate will happen in the next 24 hours?

ROBERTSON: I think we're going to see more bombing of more targets, maybe some here in Tripoli, certainly taking out the remaining air defense and radar installations along the coasts of that no-fly zone, gets extended all the way past Tripoli here.

Then I think we're going to see contention over that front line area in the east of the country, Ajdabiya (ph), where the rebel forces and government forces are still opposing each other. Is the battle there going to heat up? What's going to happen in that urban, built up area that is going to be so hard for the coalition to get involved in as well?

MORGAN: Is there any sign that the Gadhafi regime is cracking under the initial pressure of coalition air strikes?

ROBERTSON: You know, really there isn't. I have met with two senior government officials this evening, and one of them right after the bombardment. They're pretty unfazed. They're saying that they're rock solid.

I mean, when you talk to these people, you are trying to read beyond what they're telling you, their facial expression, their physical demeanor.

And I get from these guys they're tired, but they're pretty relaxed. They see the air campaign going another couple days, then subsiding. Then they're going to sort of deal with the next phase of what happens.

They're saying there still is the potential to talk to elements on the other side, and now is the time. I don't see them cracking right now, Piers.

MORGAN: Nic Robertson, thank you very much indeed.

We end with some good news tonight, which is the release of four "New York Times" journalists who had been captured by Gadhafi forces. Their account in the "New York Times" is pretty harrowing, and gives an indication of what Gadhafi's regime is capable of.

They talked of being threatened with being shot, with being decapitated. The female journalist involved was sexually abused. It's a pretty disturbing read. And, as I said, it gives a good indication of Gadhafi is capable of.

That's all for us tonight.