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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Moammar Gadhafi on Siege; Two of Gadhafi's Sons Captured
Aired August 21, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news out of Libya. Rebel officials say two of Moammar Gadhafi's sons have been captured. We're joined by Michael Holmes. You've returned just a few weeks ago from Western Libya.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: One week ago. Yes. I got back from Western Libya. I was there with the western mountain rebels as they advanced. And they are the ones who really did the big push here.
We're going to be having rolling coverage of what's happening in Tripoli. And it's interesting how the guys we were with a week ago were saying they would be in Tripoli in two weeks and their prediction proving pretty accurate.
GORANI: We've learned to take rebel statements with a grain of salt. In the case of the western rebels, you were telling me, pretty much they're on point. When they make a prediction, it comes true.
HOLMES: We were with them for two and a half weeks. We were with them when they took a couple of towns. We're with them when they have the big battle for Bira Al-Ghnum (ph). Those guys never once led us astray. And you're right and really this is illustrative of the fact that the rebels are really a fractured group. I mean it is a bunch of different guys who have a marriage of convenience at the moment to overthrow Gadhafi. But the western rebels we were with, everything they said came to be true.
GORANI: Well, I'd like to bring our viewers up to date if they're just joining us now. Rebels have really penetrated deeply into Tripoli. We're seeing still photographs of Green square, really a central square in Tripoli where now we're seeing celebrations because those chanting are chanting against Moammar Gadhafi not for him.
HOLMES: Yes. Green Square no longer, I think it's safe to say quite a turn around. Even with the predictions of the rebels which were initially that they would be in Tripoli before the end of Ramadan, I think even they would be astonished with the pace that the house of cards, if you like, has folded.
You pointed out that rebel officials are saying that two of Moammar Gadhafi's sons have to you been captured. I think we have a photograph of one of them, Saif Gadhafi. A short time ago a spokesman for the Libyan government called for immediate negotiations and a halt to the rebel assault. Good luck with that. GORANI: Well, we also, we want to go to Matthew Chance, our reporter into Tripoli at the Ricso's hotel where many of the international journalists covering the Libyan conflict from the capitol have gathered. Give us the latest, Matthew, from where you are.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this hotel is very quiet since the majority of the Gadhafi gunmen have left the lobby of the hotel. It's been pretty quiet. We were working on the base thinking the hotel had been completely abandoned but that's not the case. It seems there is a military vehicle parked at the gate. A number of people carrying guns within the perimeter of the hotel as well so it is not entirely out of the control of the pro- Gadhafi forces at the moment.
But I mean it is one of those small pockets in Tripoli now which remain in the control of Colonel Gadhafi and his loyalists, because that part of the Libyan capital and apparently is in rebel hands. You've seen those reports itself and celebrations taking place in green square where the rebels are now fully in control of that area right in the center of the Libyan capital.
Also in the eastern suburbs, in the western suburbs as well, the same story being reported, that opposition forces opposed to Colonel Gadhafi have taken with relative ease those areas on the outskirts of the capital in the center of the capital, leaving just a few remnants, a few pockets. It is difficult to give an exact you know kind of scale of how much territory is still in the hands of Colonel Gadhafi. But clearly his forces are on the back foot at the moment. And it all seems to be crumbling rather quickly, Hala.
HOLMES: Yes, Matthew, it is Michael here, as well, joining in on this discussion. You know the government there, the regime, has for weeks and months now been putting out a very fierce sort of line, if you like, that they're beating everyone on every front. What are you hearing? I know -- I think you're five kilometers, if I'm not mistaken, from Green Square there at the hotel. What are you literally hearing?
CHANCE: Well, I mean we're hearing gunfire in the distance, although I have to say, the intensity of the gun battles we've been witnessing over the course of the past 12 hours or so in the city have been really horrific. There have been you know, heavy machine guns right outside the hotel. There have been rocket propelled grenades all around the city, huge explosions, these huge rattle of machine guns. You said you heard it yourself.
But that has completely died down now. We're not hearing so much of it, the occasional burst here and there, which is leading us to and I mean you maybe draw the conclusion that you know it's not being strongly defended in the way that Colonel Gadhafi's forces said they were going to strongly defend it. It all looks so easy.
Again, Gadhafi's officials that have spoken to us just earlier today said that they had 65,000 professional trained troops committed to defending this city with good weapons, with whatever equipment they needed with good training, and that commitment. But we've not really seen any sign of them coming out so far and meeting that rebellion onslaught, if you will, on the Libyan capital -- Michael.
GORANI: And that's the question, Matthew because is it all too easy? I mean in other words, these 65,000, assuming it is not the entire 65,000 brigade of fighters, but even a smaller number, doesn't take many fighters to create a very difficult situation in street to street battle? And the sun hasn't risen yet over Tripoli. This might not be over.
CHANCE: No, in fact it's 2:00 in the morning here. It could be very far from over. And I mean, it could go one of two ways. Obviously I mean it may well be this is just the end of it and there is no resistance and it was all just bluster coming from Colonel Gadhafi and his loyalists. But you know I think people who have been watching the situation closely are suspicious of that. Many people here who have been in this country a lot longer than I have suspect that Colonel Gadhafi may have some kind of surprise up his sleeve. What that is, nobody has any idea.
Certainly the governments have been using the last several days to call for a cease-fire to call for peace talks to bring to an end in a peaceful way this crisis, this civil war in Tripoli. But I mean obviously now we're so far advanced with the rebels taking the large areas of Tripoli, the window to those negotiations, the window for a possible deal with Colonel Gadhafi appears to have closed and indeed the Libyan leader can still come out in character, just a few hours ago, speaking on Libyan television, calling on Libyan citizens to march on the capital to defend the city -- Hala.
GORANI: Alright Matthew Chance, our senior international correspondent, live in Tripoli right now. Very uncertain, tense time in that hotel where so many reporters are gathered waiting for the next step from the rebels or from the government authorities.
HOLMES: A five-star prison it is being called with the restrictions placed on the media. We've got somebody on the line now joining us and we're not going to name him from Tripoli, apparently on a rebel checkpoint there, I understand, sir, tell me what you are seeing, where are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): We're in an area called Nuslim (ph), it's in between Sugun (ph) Jumar (ph) and Haslum (ph) right now that's we're being told to keep away a few of the Gadhafi forces that are left behind going around in civilian cars and even ambulances and taking random pop shots at anyone that they find on the street.
HOLMES: Are you seeing any kind of organized resistance from Gadhafi forces? We hear tens of thousands of soldiers are available to him. Are you seeing any kind of organized resistance?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible). What's the question again? I kind of broke up a little bit.
HOLMES: You said you're seeing people driving around taking occasional pot shots. Are you seeing any kind of organized resistance from these supposed tens of thousands of Gadhafi troops? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't say that there's tens of thousands. It seems more like hundreds. Our area alone is actually last night we managed to capture 22 and today we managed to capture 15. So, we were expecting a lot stronger force to come out, like you said, in the tens of thousands but it's not being the case. It's just being another one of his so-called lies and propaganda that he was throwing to the people.
HOLMES: So, tell me, I mean are you surprised at the pace with which you have gotten where you are? I was with the western rebels up until a week ago yesterday and they had a very optimistic view of how quickly they'd get there. Their view was not this optimistic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anyone envisions that even with the planning and coordination that took place, we were expecting that we'd be in for maybe up to a week or something like that. But, yes, we're surprised as anyone, actually. We were expecting once we got through the first night we thought we'd be on in for an onslaught the second night.
HOLMES: You know, we heard from the Gadhafi regime that there have been hundreds of casualties. Have you seen any evidence of that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, you kind of broke up so I didn't hear the whole question.
HOLMES: Yes, communications are difficult. I was saying that the Gadhafi regime has said that there are hundreds of casualties. Have you seen any evidence of that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of these forces that have come to attack us, there are been several fatalities. In terms of innocent civilians, we actually had one particular boy that was just going outside his house, walking across the street and one of his - the snipers that were positioned in another civilian house actually shot him and this was at midday. It really hurt this particular community nearby. But in terms of luckily from our end, there have not been many casualties. But from Gadhafi forces, yes, there's been quite a lot.
GORANI: Let me ask you this. This is Hala Gorani, I'm here with Michael Holmes here at the CNN center. Just from your voice you sound like a young man. You sound like you may even have an American accent. What's your background? Were you living elsewhere and decided to travel to Libya when these protests started?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been studying abroad for quite a few years, mainly in the U.K. Let's put it this way. Libya was beginning to open up and this false opportunity that came by and I tried and applied to work here three years ago and I've been here ever since. But I've been aware of what the Gadhafi regime has done through stories that have obviously been told by parents and what we've read in the papers and the media that was banned. But you could access it outside of Libya.
So it's something that was - well, that we were always going to, once we had the opportunity to stand up against this guy, there was no way we were going to let go.
HOLMES: What do you do now? I mean, you're where you are now. One imagines you are moving forward? Where are you headed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no. We've got strict orders from the transitional council not to leave our positions. We've even stopped the civilians from actually coming on to, particularly at the main roads because one particular this road takes you across to Tushura (ph) so, it's quite an open area and you could easily get casualties because like I've said, there are still some snipers that are posted up, unfortunately from -
HOLMES: So you're staying put. But what is the plan? One imagines you can't stay where you are forever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not staying where we are. We're waiting for the main brigade that's responsible for let's say flushing out these men. Until we got the orders through right now, and we've been told to stay put and we'll get the orders through.
If there's any in our particular area, that we take care of them like we've been doing the last couple of nights, or either the brigade responsible, that's the man in-charge are the ones that are mainly in charge will take care of them. But at the moment we're trying to minimize as much as possible any fatalities or casualties.
GORANI: Thank you very much for joining us there, one of the opposition fighters manning a checkpoint in Tripoli right now. These reports that we're getting are now confirmed from various sources that rebel fighters essentially are controlling strategically significant parts of Tripoli.
And it was very interesting, Michael, just to pick up on something that our guest just said, they do sound a lot more organized than they were two months ago. Very strict orders, he said, not to leave positions, to minimize civilians, fatalities and casualties. And that's not something you would have heard, I don't think, in April, for instance.
HOLMES: Exactly. You took the words out of my mouth. I was going to raise exactly the same point. I've been to stop this. Stopping in place, they looked me up as civilians and this is what the rebels were saying to us, too.
They're independent little groups. They're taking guidance if you like from Benghazi, certainly the western rebels are, but they are very independent on how they operate and fiercely so, and that's tribal as well. But that discipline that you mentioned, absolutely. We saw that in Bira Ganum (ph) for example where you had this mad max army which they are. I mean it is a bunch of pick-up trucks with antiaircraft guns and rocket launchers on the back.
GORANI: That they barely know how to use.
HOLMES: Exactly. In fact, one of the rebel fighters that led an attack Bira Ganum was an x-ray technician and he made that point just -
GORANI: I say kids. I mean, probably sounded young. Is a young man who came from the U.K., was studying there who thought there was maybe economic opportunity for me here. Didn't find a job apparently and joined the rebel fighters and becomes a fighter.
HOLMES: Yes. And that level of organization is deceptive when you look at these guys roaring across the desert in these pick-up trucks. It is deceptive because they are organized. They do have a battle plan. Certainly that's what I saw, a battle plan on a couple of specific occasions. And so it's exactly by just looking at these as sort of like a rock. And look what they've done as well.
GORANI: Well, it's remarkable that they have the help of NATO in all of these.
GORANI: Of course, we are going to take a short break but before we do, we have a programming note for you.
If you were tuning in this hour for the Sanjay Gupta special "the last heart attack," it will air next Saturday at 8:00pm and 11:00pm Eastern. Of course we are in rolling coverage now because of the significant developments out at Libya.
We are going to take a short break. Michael Holmes and myself will be back.
GORANI: Breaking news out of Libya. The Arab uprising that has spread across the region like wildfire over the last several months, now finally perhaps coming to some sort of conclusion in Tripoli. Rebel forces are in control of parts of the Libyan capital right now.
HOLMES: Yes. They even claim that they have caught two of Moammar Gadhafi's sons. That is still being confirmed. Rebel forces say they're in control of most parts of the capital. We can't confirm "most parts," but they're certainly in the capital, of that there is no doubt. The government concedes that parts of the city in fact are no longer under its control.
GORANI: Right. And the government also says that 1,300 people have been killed over the past 12 hours. And what's important to note as well is that these rebel forces have in fact renamed Green Square, the sort of iconic symbol of the Gadhafi reign/regime and they've renamed it Martyr's Square.
Our Ben Wedeman was in Benghazi when that eastern city rose in revolt against strong man Moammar Gadhafi, now we're seeing capital Tripoli possibly fall out of the Libyan leaders gripped.
Ben joins us on the phone from Cairo.
Ben, we were talking a little bit earlier about how the expectation for Tripoli was a very bloody battle. So far although there have been casualties, to be sure, it hasn't been that bloody battle that we expected. Why do you think it hasn't been?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's difficult to say. Certainly people who have come out of Tripoli that we spoke to in places like Misrata and in Western Libya indicated that preparations were being made by Gadhafi's forces to really make this the final and bloody last stand of the regime.
But what we're seeing I think is that the tipping point has been reached whereby the people who are nominally loyal to the regime realized that this regime is collapsing and there's nothing to be gained by going down with Moammar Gadhafi. That's why we've seen some fairly high level defection in the last few days. That's why we've seen what appears to be relatively middle resistance.
I remember, for instance, when we were in Misrata, we would frequently find piles of uniforms that had been discarded by Gadhafi's soldiers when they were retreating because they simply wanted to become civilians again and melt into the liberal population. I think there is a realization that this is a regime that's doomed and there's nothing to be gained by going down with it - Hala.
HOLMES: Yes, Ben, when it comes to the rebels themselves, the big question - and you dealt a lot with the nascent replacement, if you like, for this regime, the challenges facing them can't be, I mean you can't really quantify. This is as we said before almost a marriage of convenience of various factions, outsiders, insiders, tribal groups.
How tough is it going to be for everyone to get on the same page? Not just long term but in the next few days?
WEDEMAN: It's going to be very tough indeed. Libyans are sort of very local minded. The people of Benghazi are very much concerned with the interest of Benghazi, Misrata with Misrata.
Tripoli is a bit of a hodge-podge because there are Libyans from all over the country who live there but bringing this whole, huge country together, getting people to agree across tribal lines geographic lines on the formation of some sort of transitional government is not going to be easy and let's not forget that Moammar Gadhafi has ruled fairly single-handedly for the last 42 years. There are very few Libyans who have experience in running their own affairs at the moment. So it is going to be a work in progress. It is probably going to be fairly messy.
On the other hand, Libya, unlike Tunisia, unlike Egypt, is a country that is blessed with lots of oil, good agricultural land, it's not crowded. It's not overly impoverished like Egypt. So the prospects eventually for sort of finding its footing and realizing some sort of stability, aren't bad but it is going to be difficult along the way - Michael.
GORANI: Alright, Ben Wedeman, thanks very much.
Standby, we'll get back to Ben in the coming hours with more on what's happening in Libya.
It's interesting that Ben mentioned, look Libya is not Egypt, it is not 80 million-plus people. It is less than 10 million people, all clustered along the coastal line. It is really a small country in terms of its population and a very rich one that could potentially be extremely rich if it were managed well.
HOLMES: Absolutely. But as Ben also makes the point, we saw this to a lesser extent or well to similar extent in Egypt is the lack of political institutions, the lack of readiness, if you like, to form let's say political parties and go have an election. This country has been dictated to for 42 years.
GORANI: That is not an overnight project. Wolf Blitzer joins us in Washington.
Wolf, that's one of the big questions going forward as far as the White House is concerned, as for President Obama, the state department is concerned. It is always tricky in the Arab world.
Wolf, how much U.S. involvement to publicize what it comes to stabilizing politically a country post-Moammar Gadhafi. What's the plan forward for them?
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, as you know, Hala and Michael, there is no doubt that the Obama administration didn't necessarily want to be way out front as far as Libya is concerned, as far as the rest of the Arab spring, for that matter, is concerned.
They wanted to put together a coalition as quickly as possible, NATO allies obviously. They did that. Let me bring in our own Sara Sidner. She is on the way to Tripoli right now.
Sara, where are you right now? Tell us what you're seeing.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): We're about 10 kilometers outside of Tripoli now. We for the first time have, are along the coastal road of perpetually from Zawiya. There was (inaudible) happened in Zawiya about 48 hours ago. The rebels said they were surprised even themselves that they were able to push this far ahead, this fast.
But in the past five or seven hours, we have noticed a marked difference on this road. We were turned back earlier today because there was incoming artillery fire and now this road is so far clear and this road goes all the way to Tripoli so we now know the rebels have been able to break through and get into the western section of Tripoli through Zawiya the coastal road. There was a long, hard battle fought over this road because it is the main supply route into Tripoli, Wolf.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, are you hearing a lot of gunfire? Are you seeing military action or is it relatively quiet right now, Sara, where you are?
SIDNER: Well, what's amazing, Wolf is that literally five hours ago there were loud booms coming from the area which we are driving in right now. I mean that's the front line right here, the Gadhafi forces were right here. And now the only thing we are hearing and seeing are people on the side of the road, putting their victory signs up, yelling about Gadhafi, telling everybody that Libya is free and we're also hearing honking horns.
We are seeing a couple of ambulances coming back from the area of Tripoli that appears to be an ambulance is going back into the city of Zawiya where we just came from. But as for the road into Tripoli, it is very, very quiet with the exception of a line of cars that are rebels who are excited and driving right into the city. Wolf?
BLITZER: Hala Gorani and Michael Holmes are with us as well and I know they want to ask you some questions.
Hala, why don't you go first?
GORANI: Sure. I just wanted to - I remember speaking with Sara over the last few weeks, about the degree of organization of these rebels in the west versus the east. And Michael, this is something we've talked about as well. And some of the theories out there were, well, the terrain is a little bit easier for them.
But another one is that they've had five months to organize themselves, Sara. And it seems as though we were speaking to one of the young men manning a checkpoint in Tripoli. They're taking orders and they're taking them from sort of an organized structure, power structure, within this rebel movement.
SIDNER: Yes. That's fair to say. But I also want to make the point, when we were in Benghazi several weeks ago, we met a whole crew of people, they were from all over the world actually who had come to Benghazi, they were Libyans living outside of the country who were all from Tripoli and they were training, they were training to get ready to go into the city. That was about six weeks ago. We met those same groups. They call themselves the Tripoli brigade. We met them here in the western mountains. They told us a few days ago that they were pushing forward. They were getting closer to the city. They were prepared for urban warfare. They had been preparing for now about five months. We know that because we met them very early on.
So you do have a combination of people now and what's happened I think, Hala, to be fair, be those in the western part of the country are a little more organized, but they have had time and those from the east have now joined them to make their number stronger, to bring in more guns, more ammunition.
They have a huge find today of ammunition. They were able to secure a large cache of ammunition door in a military facility that they pushed the rebels back from. We saw literally truck loads of ammunition coming out of a city called Almayah (ph) which right outside of Zawiya.
What you're seeing now is almost the coming together of the east and the west coming together, coordination with NATO, and this is the result of very, very hard-fought battle that they have made their way to Tripoli and they say there is no turning back. Gadhafi's days are numbered.
HOLMES: Sara, it is Michael here. I was with the same people are you with right now. I remember meeting a couple of guys from Manchester in England who spoke with the broadest Manchurian accent who came over to fight there. Their English was better than their Arabic. You make the point that these are an ad hoc group. Are you getting the sense from those that you're with now as they motor their way towards Tripoli that they know what they're going to do when they get there?
SIDNER: Yes. I definitely have that sense. Now that's with a certain group. There are certain Tripoli brigades. They call themselves that because they are all from Tripoli so they know the streets like the back of their hands, many of them. Some of them have family members who are there so they can guide them as well. We do know they were practicing urban warfare. Even in Benghazi, this he were using all the buildings. They were using on anything that they could, homes that people allow them to go. And they are trying to figure out how to deal with and urban setting. Some of these guys had never held guns before but again, that was five months ago.
Now these guys have had some kind of training even from Gadhafi military personnel that's retired that's basically said the regime is broken and that they decided to trying to help the rebels. So they have had some training and they are ready for urban warfare. That's what they've been practicing for and planning and now they're in the city and that's exactly what's going on there.
GORANI: All right, Sara Sidner is in Western Libya. She is headed toward Tripoli, along with rebel fighters who themselves are headed to the Libyan capital. It is their big prize. It's what they've been fighting for, for months now. This is a historic moment for Libya, indeed for the entire region.
A man in charge of a country for 42 years, who seemed unmovable, who had an heir apparent who's now under arrest, probably on his way to the Haig. This is all unfolding before our eyes.
HOLMES: It really is the first in the Arab spring, if you like, the first total regime to collapse as well as opposed to partial collapse. Wolf?
GORANI: All right, Wolf is in Washington.
BLITZER: It really is an amazing situation calling. Let's not forget it's what, 2:30 or so in the morning in Libya right now so it's dark, the middle of the night. We'll see what happens once the sun comes up.
I want to bring in our National Security Contributor Fran Townsend who's actually been to Libya.
Fran, when you worked in the Bush White House you went to Libya on an official visit. Can you believe right now what's going on, that Moammar Gadhafi is apparently gone, his two sons, including Saif al Islam, arrested, perhaps getting ready to be brought to the international criminal court in the Haig? It is an historic moment right now.
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR (via telephone): It is extraordinary, Wolf. And you know I can't help but think of the families of the victims of pan am 103. Those families have waited a very long time for justice and there's a measure of justice in this now. I mean I'm not surprised that Gadhafi would fight to the end. He always came across in my meetings with him as delusional and I think this was his intention.
But I will tell you, I think there is great satisfaction in the fact that his forces melted away, he was, in the end, alone and captured. And so I think it is an historic moment and one of justice for the world.
BLITZER: I know you've spent some time, Fran, taking a look at the opposition and there's always been some concern that not necessarily all of these opposition forces who are moving against Gadhafi right now might in the end be democratic, pro-western. What do you know about this opposition?
TOWNSEND: You're quite right, Wolf. I mean there are folks in the current administration, in the intelligence community, who have had concerns. But what you will see now is, as a new transitional government is formed, there will be much closer attention paid to what do we know about these individuals as they prepare and try to take power.
And I think you'll find American officials very, very careful about who they're supporting and what kind of support they're providing. But there transitional government, there are no civil institutions. Gadhafi wouldn't permit it so it will require not just U.S. help but western, European allies, especially the Italian government, will have to help this new government find its way and learn how to actually form and operate effectively a democratic processing government.
BLITZER: And it is significant, Fran. I think will you agree that senior administration officials here in Washington in recent days have been intensifying their contacts with the senior opposition rebel leadership, the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, Jeffrey Feltman. He has been in Benghazi meeting with opposition leaders. I don't know if this is a coincidence or what, but they clearly have accelerated their contacts with these individuals hoping to influence them, I assume in the post-Gadhafi era. What do you know about this?
TOWNSEND: Well, that's absolutely right, Wolf. Look, I think it was clear to the administration to those diplomats and the military and intelligence officials that the Gadhafi government was beginning to disintegrate. NATO air strikes had been stepped up over the last four to six weeks and you could see this disintegration begin and Jeff Feltman is an absolute very well respected career professional and he was absolutely the right person to go over there an begin these contacts.
The question is how much influence will we have? The fact that the U.S. has frozen assets and has money that it can release will give us tremendous influence with this new transitional power.
BLITZER: $33billion, some estimate as much as $36 billion assets frozen Libyan assets being held by the U.S. right now. Fran, stand by, everyone standby.
History unfolding in Libya right now. Our special coverage here on CNN will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Six months later or so, it looks like Moammar Gadhafi's days as the leader of Libya over right now, two sons have been arrested by opposition forces and those opposition forces are quickly very rapidly, in fact with lightning speed, beginning to take over the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
Jill Dougherty is our state department correspondent. Jill, I assume the state department, the national security council all of the major national security apparatus here in Washington, they are working overtime right now to try to find out what's going on.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, Wolf. And in fact, of course they've been briefing the secretary of state, the president, et cetera.
In fact, president Obama, just a few minutes ago telling the pool from Massachusetts, said that he's going to wait until they have full confirmation of what is happening and then he could make a statement. But of course there's no time frame. Nobody knows exactly what's going to happen.
But Wolf, I think one thing that's really important right now, obviously the people here in Washington are watching what's going on in the street but they are also watching the next step. In other words, can these rebels, we've been calling them rebels, it sounds like a ragtag group. And they have been to a certain extent.
But they are the opposition. They are the people who are going to have to form a government immediately if they are to take over. And that's the question. So in the beginning, remember, Wolf, a few months ago, the U.S. had grave doubts that they could really do much of anything. So they got a commitment from them and that's on the ground they have had, they had a representative from the state department on the ground for weeks talking with them, getting them to commit to certain things.
And the most important, one of the most important was to be democratic in what they did, to be inclusive as they put a geographically and politically because Libya is a very tribal country. And if you don't bring everybody together, it can be extremely difficult. Very different from, let's say, Egypt which really doesn't have tribes.
And then the final thing to be transparent, because now those frozen assets that you were just talking about, Wolf, they will be dispersed and will they be used for the Libyan people? What will happen to the money? Will it be spent correctly? And then the broader questions of whether they can create the institutions to bring back democracy. So there is a lot going on in the minds of people here in Washington, not just the fighting but what comes after the fighting.
BLITZER: And at this point, the White House, just want to be precise on this Jill, the White House pool, the reporters up at Martha's Vineyard where the president's vacationing, they are not necessarily ruling out the possibility that at some point, maybe as early as tonight, we'll hear from the President of the United States? Is that what you're saying?
DOUGHERTY: They gave, they asked the president, the reporters who were there, threw a question at him and he said "we're going to wait until we have full confirmation of what has happened. I'll make a statement when I do." But there's no time frame.
So we can expect that some time if they have confirmation of exactly what's going on in that utterly confusing situation right now that he could make a statement, but there's no time frame.
BLITZER: Yes. I assume, if in fact that Gadhafi is gone, one way or another, either arrested or something else, the president of the United States would make a statement, the leaders of Germany, the leaders of France, of Britain, other NATO allies would make a statement fairly quickly as well.
Jill, stand by. Hala Gorani and Michael Holmes are watching all of this unfold.
I hate to say it, Hala, it's almost breathtaking when you think about the history of Gadhafi ruling Libya and what's going on in North Africa right now.
GORANI: Right. It started with Tunisia, with that quiet tragic self- ammunition of that vendor in Tunisia. Then it spread to Egypt, then to Libya. And now, we're seeing this long-time autocrat dictator in Libya perhaps in his last few hours of rule.
HOLMES: It's been going on a long time, this one. Six months.
GORANI: With the help of NATO which is an important to point out as well.
HOLMES: Which is an important point, now that they're getting into Tripoli, NATO is going to be a lot more limited in what it can do in terms of the softening up, if you like, and taking out targets in that urban environment.
GORANI: Well, in a street to street battle, you can't use air strikes.
HOLMES: Yes, with advantages with the defendants, yes.
GORANI: Absolutely. Doctor Mansour El-Kikhia is a Libyan-American author, who is a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He's well known for his published criticism of Moammar al-Gadhafi. He joins us now from Texas. So, I need to ask you first, what your thoughts are as you see these rebels barreling into Tripoli on the back of pickup trucks.
DR. MANSOUR EL-KIKHIA, AUTHOR, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, SAN ANTONIO (via Skype): I'm elated. The truth is I'm hurt and numb. I didn't expect that to happen so soon but now that it did happen I wish them the best and I hope that they rounded up and finished it up. To know it is important that we get rid of this ogre once and for all and end this chapter in history, it's taken too many lives and it has taken too many futures. And it's about time that justifies the ends. (Inaudible)
GORANI: Let me ask you Mansour, because this is an important question going forward. You have the capturing of the capital phase, and then have you a very important more crucial phase which is the future political landscape of this country, your country of origin. Will this transitional authority be able to leave Libya as one country?
EL-KIKHIA: I think so and I hope so. I mean I can't afford to be pessimistic. I have to be optimistic. I have to say yes. Because being pessimistic and not being able to do it would be a disaster. I think that's everyone wants to understand too. Now, I disagree with one thing that your early reporter said that - Libya has tribes but we're not really a tribal society in the sense after tribal society. That time is important that I think this revolution is not conducted by tribes. Gadhafi called on the tribes to support him but ultimately it was led by young people who are fed up with the Gadhafi regime and most of them as they were born during the Gadhafi's regime.
And so, they weren't asking for special permission. They are asking to live and took part on brought their existence where we can speak. This is actually made me to believe that there is willingness on the part of the population. What matters, to live together, to salvage your future. This is going to be quite easy for the transitional council. The transitional council has never seen some of what happened before in the world. They never see people came together say, OK, we are going to take over now and we'll just have to put a system and they were accepted and the plan they have in place is a good plan, a draft constitution. They want to establish a new government that would finish up the constitution that emphasize on the constitution framework.
GORANI: Sir El-Kikhia, my colleague Michael Holmes would like to ask a question.
HOLMES: Yes, Mansour I mean, you make a good point and that is true that there was a common goal here and there was a coming together of various often fractured points of views and culturally and tribally and politically in Libya and it is good to be optimistic and have that rosy outside but the reality is that is going to be very difficult.
I mean you have people who were fighting together from neighboring towns who would not have dinner together before this started. That's not going to be easy to paper over when it comes to, OK, we've won now, we've got Tripoli, now let's bring together a cabinet. That's when the arguing starts, is it not? EL-KIKHIA: I have no doubt it is not going to be easy road and don't expect that to be easy. You're quite right. The reporter said there has not been a constitutional framework for the last 40 years. Prior to Gadhafi there was. But you have to understand something. That the alternative is really horrible and Libyans understand it is horrible.
The most important thing what the council said, and I think and I commend them for this, is that you can't hold a Libyan who was work, the Gadhafi regime as responsible. Only those people who committed the atrocities crime or stole public property and so forth, those people have to be brought to account but the majority of Libyans will not be harmed. Everyone worked for Gadhafi. There was no way but to get back to work for Gadhafi. And I think Libyans understand that. I know it is not going to be easy. I know it is going to be very tough, very difficult but what's the alternative, a civil war?
GORANI: Yes. That is, of course, always about what the alternative is. Mansour Kikhia is a Libyan-American. He is now professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio and he is joining us live via Skype with his reaction, his immediate reaction. Thank you so much for joining us.
HOLMES: He raises a very good point. I mean that the fear and the young unspoken fear perhaps that we should speak of is the fear of potential for civil war.
GORANI: Right and the potential for civil war, the way the social breakdown is in Libya.
GORANI: Very different from other countries. Each count is its own scenarios in these Arab uprisings. That's another thing we also need to stress.
But right now the immediacy of what is happening before our eyes, the historic perhaps change of power in Libya has rebels enter Tripoli. We'll have a lot more on that after this. Do stay with CNN.
GORANI: Well, in June the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Moammar Gadhafi and two other, two others in his regime, including his son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. Earlier I spoke by phone with the court's Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno, about what the court plans to do in light of the developments in Libya today.
LUIZ MORENO OCAMPO, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (via telephone): There are three warrants in the Libya case. One is against Moammar Gadhafi, one is against Saif Gadhafi, and the last one is against (al-Sunnis). We understand, we have confidential sources confirming the information that Saif was arrested and that is very good news and we are planning tomorrow to instruct the transitional authorities how to manage the issue because normally, Saif should be transferred to the international court.
Crimes committed by Saif are crimes against humanity. So, the crimes against Libyan people affect the entire world and that while the international criminal court intervened. And that's why, we believe that it is very important that he was arrested and we discuss tomorrow with the transitional authorities how to manage to surrender him to the international criminal court.
GORANI: So the plan is tomorrow to discuss with the transitional authorities the transfer of Saif al Islam, Gadhafi, one of the sons of Moammar Gadhafi, to the Haig. Is that correct?
OCAMPO: Exactly. Exactly. Because there is an active warrant pending against Saif for his participation in crimes against humanity, against Libyan people during the last - since February 2011.
GORANI: So the discussion is tomorrow. Is there any time line that is emerging in all of these? -
OCAMPO: No. The court consists of three persons. In accordance with the evidence, Moammar, Saif and the other were the head of the intelligence where most of the crimes committed and these are the persons who should appear before the judges of international criminal court.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to break away from that tape to go live to Sara Sidner.
Sara, I take it you're what, one kilometer or so, less than a mile, from green square in the heart of Tripoli, the capital? What's going on?
SIDNER: We're driving down one of the main thoroughfares into the city from the west. And I can tell you that it's been a very smooth ride in, surprisingly smooth eve the rebels themselves even had no idea they would be able to push in from Zawiya after only holding that city for just 48 hours but they are all the way through.
We are now very, very close to Green Square where people are gathering. There are checkpoints along the way. People look a bit tense. We did see just now a couple of people sort of back behind a building looking around, their guns pointed towards the car, just nervously trying to make sure that whoever comes through isn't a threat to the rebels.
So they have now manned the streets. People are not going to get in or out without at least going through four or five, maybe even six check points. All of those checkpoints at this point are held by rebels who are looking in the cars and trying to ascertain who exactly we are. We told them we were CNN, we're heading into green square and they let us through. We are traveling, however, with the rebels as well which helps our way through. But there is no traffic at all except for the vehicles carrying the rebel fighters. A lot of them are in the backs of cars with their guns pointed out. We're looking right now at a young man who is holding a handgun. Others have AK-47s with FN (ph) rifles.
So they are certainly armed to the teeth but we're not seeing any other traffic. It is eerily quiet in the city. We're seeing the lights of the city and we're seeing some of the large buildings in the city but we are not seeing anyone else, we're not seeing for example, any residents, any traffic in the streets. All we're seeing are rebels, rebels everywhere.
BLITZER: Sara, it looks like those forces, mercenaries, the troops loyal to Gadhafi, they've just sort of melted away. Doesn't look like there's any resistance to the rebel onslaught, the move in to Tripoli, is that a fair assessment based on your eye witness' account?
SIDNER: It's absolutely - this is what is surprising us and the rebels as well. Because everyone thought that there would at least be some very major battle and perhaps even a bloodbath as these rebels try to push in from several different sides of the city.
But what we're seeing right now is a very eerily quiet press into the main part of the city, into green square. There is a sense of nervousness because there have been snipers according to the rebels. There have been snipers on tops of buildings and there have been people shot in the street according to the rebels. So there is a sense of nervousness.
However it seems that everybody is waiting for what the Gadhafi regime has hidden from really the people. Nobody knows exactly what he might do or what the capabilities are because there have been promises of thousands and thousands of troops, of trained professional military that will come out on the streets.
He's asked people to come out against what he says are armed gangs. Our producer was in Tripoli for many, many weeks and she says it is very, very odd, just driving down these streets and not having a government minder with you. We're just moving around and there's nobody to stop us except for a few checkpoints that the rebels (inaudible). It is a very, very strange scene here (inaudible).
BLITZER: Our connection's not that great. You're talking to us on a satellite phone. Sara, it's what approaching 3:00 a.m. is that right now in Tripoli where you are?
I think we may just have lost Sara, our connection with Sara Sidner. Let me just recap. She is on the way to what's called Green Square. That was one of the major areas loyal obviously to Moammar Gadhafi.
But the green square we are now told and I'm getting reports in, including from twitter, people who are there saying that pictures of Gadhafi are being torn from walls, the green being removed. This is a moment where the opposition, the rebels are moving in quickly and it doesn't seem to be any forces, at least where Sara was, loyal to Gadhafi in existence even though there were thousands and thousands of troops, mercenaries, others.
Jill Dougherty is our state department correspondent monitoring what's going on. It looks, Jill, like that opposition has just melted away, at least in Tripoli.
DOUGHERTY: Yes. And Wolf you know, kind of an interesting thing that we got. The national transitional council is now re-issuing the manual of the laws of armed conflict.
And that is important because right now you have a lot of situations, people being arrested as we have been reporting. The two sons of Gadhafi have reportedly been arrested or taken into some type of custody. It's very important at this point that they are treated the right way.
You know very well, Wolf, in armed conflict people could be killed or summarily executed, not to mention other atrocities that could take place. So this re-issuing of those laws, of those laws of armed conflict, they say these are the fundamental rules that their own people, the rebels, must uphold. That is very important.
And then as we were mentioning of course, the state department is watching this very carefully. Jeff Feltman, who is assistant secretary of state is on the ground in Benghazi, the headquarters of the opposition. He is if close communication. So at this point they're really watching this and watching the next step.
We talked about the tribes. There's another factor that's very important, and that is oil because the rebels actually have been able to sell some Libyan oil under their control. State department has encouraged them to sell more and that's another factor that could be very, very important down the road in terms of providing the financing for this type of transitional government comes into play.
BLITZER: I assume the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was recalled will be back on his way as soon as all the dust settles, maybe even before the dust settles.
Stand by for a moment because I want to just reset it.