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CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND

Week's Best Interviews

Aired December 15, 2001 - 21:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, forces surround al Qaeda. We're going to look back at an incredible week with CNN correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Nic Robertson and Brent Sadler. They're all in Afghanistan. "Newsweek's" Colin Soloway is also there, and we'll talk about his exclusive interview with John Walker. Senate Intelligence Committee leaders are aboard, Bob Graham and Richard Shelby on the bin Laden tapes and the CIA. And Senate minority leader Trent Lott will share his thoughts on the war effort. And Senator John McCain and the heads of the Navy and Marine Corps on how things shape up overseas. And we'll top it off with President Carter talking about "Christmas in Plains." All next, on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

Thanks for joining us. As we've done the last few weekends, tonight we're going to look back at the week and some fascinating guests. We'll start in Afghanistan. Short of being there yourself, the best way to get a sense of how the war is going on is to talk to people who are there, and we've done that this week with some of television and print's top correspondents. Monday, I spoke with CNN's own Christiane Amanpour, "Newsweek's" Colin Soloway and CNN's Nic Robertson. Colin, by the way, interviewed American Taliban fighter John Walker. I asked him how he got that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLIN SOLOWAY, "NEWSWEEK": Well, it was just good fortune. You know, sometimes you just run into good stories.

I was in the Khali Jungi (ph) fortress on Saturday afternoon to actually interview some soldiers who had survived the uprising. And I was trying to get some information on how the CIA agent, Mike Spann, was killed. And when I arrived, the soldiers there told me that actually these guys had come out of the hole. They had come out of the basement area in the compound. And I went over to the trucks where the guys were being held and spoke with some Red Cross officials. And my interpreter ran up and told me, he said, you know, there is an American in the truck. And I think he said there is an American soldier in the truck.

And so I ran over to one of these trucks, an open top cargo truck, climbed up on the back of it and looked in and there was no American soldier. And I looked around sort of puzzled. And a soldier gestured to a young guy who was sitting in the corner of the truck closest to me. And I, you know, looked at him and said, "you're American?" And he said yes, and we started talking. KING: And your overview now at the end of this since we have learned so much and heard from the parents and the like, the father appearing on this show, and you having spent time with him. We learned about the Green Beret talking to him, the CIA guy talking to him. What's the current thinking? What made -- what constitutes John Walker?

SOLOWAY: Well, it is very difficult, I think, for any of to us to say what constitutes anybody. I managed to speak with him for about 15 minutes, and, you know, he seemed to be a very articulate, very intelligent kid.

But, you know, again also a kid who had very strong beliefs and what we have learned from his parents is that, you know, he was a convert to Islam. And, you know, converts tend to be, you know, if you'll pardon the expression, you know, try to be more Catholic than the Pope. And so, you know, he pursued what he thought was the purest version of Islam.

And he told me he came to Afghanistan to support the Taliban because he believed that they were the only Islamic government in the world that actually provided a true Islamic state. So, you know, he -- his parents told me that -- his mother told me that he wanted to study Arabic in San'a' in Yemen, because that was the place where people allegedly spoke the most pure version of Arabic. And she speculated, you know, that he wanted to pursue what he believed was the most pure version of Islam. Now, again, you know, we all have strong beliefs, you know, one could argue that perhaps he took his a bit too far.

KING: Is he now, we understand, talking to officials? Do you understand that?

SOLOWAY: Well, that is what we are hearing. We are hearing -- again this is coming out of Washington -- he is being held in the Marine base at Camp Rhino down south of Kandahar and no one has any access to him there except U.S. government officials. But again, what we are hearing out of Washington and what I had heard even in Mazar-e Sharif from some sources was that -- that once he was taken into custody, that he was -- he was becoming more and more talkative, I think.

I think as he realized, I think, the seriousness of his situation, he may have realized that he wasn't -- that he was probably going to do himself more good than harm by actually cooperating with officials. And again, there is some question as to exactly what he was doing.

KING: In that regard, Christiane Amanpour in Kandahar, what are you hearing?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, similarly to what Colin just said, we are only hearing reports from the pool reporters who are with the U.S. Marines and who say that he is being interrogated and that he may or may not be providing useful information on the Taliban and on what went on during those vital years that the U.S. is interested about. And we simply don't know what the future for him is, how he will be dealt with by higher authorities in the United States.

But, I think, from my vantage point where we stand here, Nic and I in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, it's very important to point out something that has been obvious even before the Taliban was vanquished, and that is quite different to what people like John Walker might believe, and that is that they profess the purer version of Islam, it was exactly the opposite of that. It was a distorted, fundamentalist, unreal version of Islam that the most learned Islamic scholars throughout the world have been denouncing over the last several months and weeks.

And I think one needs to be very, very clear that there were a lot of impressionable young people who came from all over the world to so called fight with Taliban and who are now either dead, cornered or fleeing. And that this ideology is one that has been denounced by most moderate, intellectual and religious Muslims and it is one that is simply beyond the pale of what Islam teaches.

KING: There were many stories over the weekend in much of the American printed press and on television as well, Nic Robertson, about the danger that people such as yourself face. Are you fearful for yourself?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We were certainly very concerned when we came into Kandahar because we didn't know exactly what we were going to expect to find along the way. We did know that there was a potential that driving on the main highway into Kandahar that we could have been targeted for air strikes. This is a highway used by the Taliban fleeing Kandahar.

We also knew that there was the potential for running into different tribal groups along the way who might yet -- might not yet be on the same side as the group that we were traveling with. So we did have concerns, but all the information we had -- and we tried to get the best information we could before we left -- all the information we had was that the highway was held by the same group that we were traveling with, then when we got to Kandahar that we would be able to find a safe compound that was heavily defended by this group. That is what we found and we have been able to operate relatively freely and relatively safely since.

But it is a concern, and it is still a concern here. There are a lot of people around with guns and there are still pockets of resistance in the city. So for the next few days, at least, we are going to be proceeding with a lot of caution every time we leave this compound, Larry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The day's meetings took place among the bomb-damaged ruins of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's sprawling housing complex, a reminder for all here of what's at stake. (on camera): If a symbol of the end of the Taliban rule were needed, it could be found here, among the rubble of Mullah Omar's home. And although negotiations now under way are likely to be long and arduous, with various factions jostling for power, most leaders here now agree the country should be rebuilt through peaceful means.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: What we realized after looking around was that this appears to be the place where all those bin Laden training videos were shot, those videos that have now been broadcast so many times on worldwide television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Welcome back. On Tuesday, we got more reports, and some amazing video from Afghanistan. Christiane Amanpour is back with the tour of the Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar's surprisingly plus compound. We were also joined by best-selling author Sebastian Junger and CNN's Brent Sadler, who's got some pretty good stuff of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We have some scenes from that area, around the battle. These are exclusive to CNN. The tape will show us miniature moonscape in wake of the battle. Can you tell us, Brent, what we are looking at?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Larry. We were able to get up to this al Qaeda complex, several miles in the White Mountains behind me. And for the first time a close-up examination of the kind of real heavy damage that the almost two weeks of aerial bombardments by U.S. warplanes, B-52s, B-1s and smaller aircraft, bomber fighters have been doing, and really obliterated this area, splintered trees.

And then we got to see for the very first time, some of these much talked about tunnel and cave complexes, and we managed to get inside one of them. We saw abandoned ammunition, weapons discarded, all sorts of literature and identification, photographs. Many of these al Qaeda die-hards are of Arab origin. They are as tough as nails as indeed are the Afghan warriors of the Eastern Alliance, who were pushing them out just 24 hours ago.

So as I say, the first time we've got to one of these areas, this was a training camp, quite clearly. We saw targets from a firing range, an exercise area with body training weights, boxing gloves, quite clearly a center of terror up there in the Tora Bora Mountains, now destroyed. And the former al Qaeda occupants dispersed, but still able, it is thought here on the ground, to put up resistance. Although, within the next two hours, we'll find out whether or not the gun barrels of the Eastern Alliance -- that is an old Russian-made T- 55 tank behind me -- whether or not these guns are going to open up in anger again against al Qaeda if they do not agree to lay down their weapons and surrender to the Afghan allies of the United States-led coalition.

If they do, they can lay down their weapons. The commanders on the ground here are saying some sort of U.N. mechanism could be put into place to accept a surrender, but there are big problems here, Larry. The al Qaeda fighters are spread across a wide area of those mountains as you can see behind me, and just communicating with them to coordinate such surrender is a really tall order.

So, an hour, hour and a half or so, commanders on the ground here will contact probably by radio, possibly face to face, with the al Qaeda leadership, and trying to find out whether or not they are going to surrender, or face another onslaught -- Larry.

KING: Sebastian Junger in Washington, the author of "Fire." He also wrote "The Perfect Storm" and he goes where a lot of people fear to tread. He has just returned from Afghanistan. Looking back, Sebastian, and looking at those three reports we have just seen, how does all of this compare to other activity you have covered in the area of battle?

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR, "FIRE": Well, I was in Afghanistan a year ago, when it was pretty much a forgotten story. And what I saw was really front line, almost World War I type warfare, heavy artillery barrages, mine fields. In Tora Bora this seems to be a different thing now.

And the people that the Eastern Alliance are fighting are, well, they are people with absolutely nothing to lose, and very, very determined in their point of view. Many of the Taliban, particularly the locals, do not have a particularly firm ideology. A lot of the local Taliban really simply were kids fighting in the trenches. The al Qaeda men, of course, are a different story, and I think they are going to draw this out as long as they can, and probably, in this end game, try to make it into Pakistan if they can't defend themselves in Afghanistan on the border there.

KING: Back to Christiane Amanpour in Kandahar. More on those incredible tapes you showed us -- were you surprised at the way the Mullah lived, which appears opposite to the way he preached?

AMANPOUR: Yes. Look, we were. Basically what's happening is Hamid Karzai, the new leader, is living there temporarily. And he has got all the local fighters who he had with him billeted in there as well, some for security, some because they, you know, swept into Kandahar with him and they've got nowhere else to go.

And, you know, for the last five or six years, we have heard about this one-eyed, austere, pure, ascetic Mullah leading a purist, you know, march back to original Islam. And what we find is that, in fact, this was a man who was in the pay and in, finally, in the control of Osama bin Laden. And this is analysis that we discovered earlier, before we went to this compound, that much more than Mullah Omar and the Taliban controlling Osama bin Laden, as they said, the opposite was true. All sorts of people here in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the intelligence services there, have told us that it was Osama bin Laden's money and his mercenaries and his need for a safe haven that kept and controlled Mullah Omar.

And that money we saw, part of it, the evidence, was spent on a huge sprawling complex, again by Afghan standards, built for Mullah Omar. And we saw things like chandeliers, beautiful crystal chandeliers, in the mosque, mirrored walls. It's a very sort of kitschy, if you like, colored pastel painting of the mosque. It's not in the tradition, necessarily, of this place. It is much better than most other people around here get to live in.

And, you know, things like every single room having air conditioning, and the cow shed -- the cattle shed which was specially built, had ceiling fans, electric ceiling fans. And I mention this not just to point out some trivia, but the most -- the majority of the people of Afghanistan don't have electricity or clean running water.

So, while you can say that leaders always live a better, more comfortable life than the people they, you know, they say they are leading, that kind -- that level of disparity from somebody who is known and whose following came from the reputation of being very humble and very simple, and it was just surprising and it gave a good clue and a good insight into what really might have been going on.

KING: Brent Sadler, why is Tora Bora so tough? Why there?

SADLER: Well, here because it is home turf to Osama bin Laden. This is where he learned how to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the '80s with, of course, American CIA help and support. He knows this area very, very well, gully by gully, mountain top by mountain top.

And he could well have moved even closer to border with Pakistan, which is behind me. We know that the Pakistani authorities sent helicopter gunships and troop reinforcement several days ago to try and cut off any possible escape by bin Laden or his die-hard associates up here to block that border escape route.

And it is about an hour plus now to when this surrender ultimatum is supposed to kick into place. We heard just before coming on air, Larry, the sound of what I think was C-130 battleships firing, spraying the mountain tops, possibly trying to just clear out any remnants of al Qaeda up there close to eastern force positions. And just also before coming on air, there was just a huge orange fireball behind me. Again, U.S. air activity.

But as I look in the daybreak skies here, no U.S. warplanes about at the moment, and we are going to have to wait to see what happens once the Eastern Alliance start getting their act together this morning and start communicating with al Qaeda to find out what's going to happen.

Now, what about Osama bin Laden himself? Could he be out there somewhere? Yes, they still say there is a chance. That's the Eastern Alliance commander's viewpoint, perspective. But where he could be? Could he be in a cave? Could he be holding out to the last? It is impossible to say. They think if his body is up there, they'll bring it down. If he hands himself over, they would take him captive. But I think this is going to be a long, long period, probably several more days, even longer perhaps, to find out if bin Laden is here, and if he is here, to winkle him out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We'll take a break and come right back. As we go to break, here's some more of the journalism of Brent Sadler. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADLER (voice-over): Al Qaeda machine gunners spray the hillside. We're caught in the middle of it, journalists huddled as bullets whiz by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Frank! Back here, come on.

SADLER (on camera): This is why the siege of Tora Bora is being won and lost at ground level. Allied coalition forces and their Afghan allies on the ground are up against formidable terrain, natural fortifications, which are helping al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Wednesday, we've gotten an intelligence briefing of sorts from Senators Bob Graham and Richard Shelby. "The Washington Post's" Bob Woodward also joined us, and Graham and Shelby are the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which meant they had a chance to view the bin Laden tapes before the public.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: The tape is a smoking gun. It is self-incriminating of bin Laden. But more than that, it gives you a sense of the demeanor, the person of bin Laden. He speaks as if he were an engineer describing a structural failure, rather than a person who has just planned, orchestrated and directed one of the most horrific acts in history.

You see in this tape a smirking person without remorse, without compassion. I think you are looking at the face of international terrorism and you are seeing the people that we're going to be dealing with after we finish with bin Laden, after we have left Afghanistan, to go on to what I suspect are going to be the much more difficult chapters in the war on terrorism.

KING: Senator Shelby, should we see it? And by the way, will we see it tomorrow, do you know? SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I don't know if we'll see it tomorrow, but I believe we will see it. I think you should see it. It's got a lot in it, but it's laced with cynicism at the highest level. Until the American people, and perhaps the world hopefully sees it, they will not really put it all together.

But this is a man with obviously no feelings at all. Otherwise -- you can read all this in from his gestures and his own language. It's central to his culpability here. It shows, without a doubt, I believe, his culpability as to -- and his complicity in the whole September 11 deal. This is a damnable piece of evidence against Osama bin Laden.

KING: Bob Woodward, as an esteemed member of the fourth estate, can we safely guess you are absolutely in favor of everybody seeing this?

BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I don't see why not. Obviously, the more evidence, the better.

The question -- one of the questions I have about it, excepting what the senators say about the conclusions somebody would draw, is why did bin Laden let this tape be made? As I understand, it's kind of an amateur home video at a dinner, and it kind of swings around -- because previously, all of his communications have been very directed, very focused, very much concerned with the image and the ideas he is trying to convey. And this is kind of -- it seems almost reminiscent of Nixon's famous taping system. You are catching somebody in a moment of -- or series of moments of ultimate candor that are incriminating. And it's bizarre that he would let this happen.

KING: Colin Soloway in Kabul, is there any interest in this at all, this tape, where you are?

SOLOWAY: Well, again, it's pretty early in the morning here and no one's seen it yet. Not a lot of people here in Kabul, at least normal people, have satellite TV. But I think, you know, once the tape is out, you know, the news will go out over the radio.

Again, in Kabul, I don't think people need a lot of convincing that bin Laden is a bad guy. I think where this tape will actually be more useful, certainly for the administration, is -- if it in fact says and provides the evidence that the senators say it does, I think in the rest of the -- particularly in the Arab world and the rest of the Islamic world, perhaps it might change some minds of people, since. you know, there is a feeling on the street in a lot of Arab and Muslim countries that perhaps there's not evidence against bin Laden.

So if this provides more evidence or some convincing evidence, then it certainly would probably help the United States and the coalition's case against bin Laden.

KING: What kind of job, Bob Woodward, you've covered this, has the CIA done in this whole story?

WOODWARD: Well, there was a lot of expectation that people had, that maybe they could not make a large contribution. In fact, to date, based on what I believe is known, they have been instrumental in the positive progress in the war in Afghanistan, and have done some rather amazing things.

It turns out they had highly secret paramilitary units that have been operating in Afghanistan for years, that the CIA units were the first to go into Afghanistan, I think on September 27, that in many ways it is not an accident that the first casualty in this was a CIA man, because the CIA people on the ground had been doing the close-in, dangerous work in many cases.

And you could kind of tick off four or five areas where they've done some very positive things. At the same time, it really is chapter one in this war. And chapter one is not over, Afghanistan. So we don't know how long the book is, but we know there are additional chapters.

KING: Senator Shelby, are you surprised that President Bush has kept Mr. Tenet, who is Clinton's man, in at CIA?

SHELBY: Well, I was surprised, to begin with. But you know, I've always said that's a decision that the president would make, and obviously he's elected to keep him on. But I have to join Bob Woodward on this. I believe the CIA has, in chapter one where we are today, has played a good role, a positive role, and looks like, I hope, will be a decisive role.

And why? Because they were turned loose. They knew what they could do if we would back them. And by that -- by money and also by policy. The CIA has a lot of great people, not just the analysts, but the people they can put in the field, just like Michael Spann who lost his life over there. The CIA can make a difference, will make a difference in the future, but we're going to have to give it the tools to do it.

KING: Senator Graham, what's your assessment of the job they've done?

GRAHAM: I think they've done an excellent job. And there are a couple of things they've done, which I think are harbingers of what we'll be doing in the future.

One, the use of the Predator. This is that unmanned aircraft that can fly for very long periods of time and has tremendous capability of gathering useful and immediately operational information.

Second is the relationship, which they have established over time, with the Pakistani Intelligence Service. As you know for the last 10 years we've had a very chilly relationship with Pakistan, but our intelligence agencies have tried to continue to work together.

We were concerned that some of the Pakistani agents maybe were too close to the Taliban. We brought that information to the leadership of Pakistan. They've started a house cleaning. They withdrew their support from the Taliban, and I believe that has contributed maybe second only to the U.S. air bombardments to the rapid collapse of the Taliban military and political capabilities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back. Wednesday, we enjoyed a visit from Senate minority leader Trent Lott. We talked about the war at home and abroad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: "Christian Science Monitor" reporting today that bin Laden escaped to Pakistan ten days ago. Any thoughts?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: Well, I wouldn't be surprised with that, but I don't think he's going to be able to escape for good very long anywhere. Pakistan has been being very cooperative with us and that complicates things because you do have some bin Laden/al Qaeda supporters in Pakistan. But the Pakis have been very helpful, and I believe that we will be able to find a way to get him, whether he's in Pakistan or Sudan or wherever he tries to flee.

This man has killed and been responsible for the deaths for an awful lot of people, and the world is after him. He cannot escape for very long.

KING: Senator, you were quite critical of John Walker, the young man captured as a Taliban supporter. He is now apparently telling interrogators a lot, including that al Qaeda plans another attack. Have you changed your views on your judgment of him?

LOTT: Well, first of all, Larry, I think I should say, as I've always said, I don't know the details of what has gone on with him or how much involved he was.

If, in fact, he is trying to be helpful, that's something that we should factor in our thinking, but he looks very bad. I mean, he was in with some pretty hard-core people, and he was in a rat's nest. He was involved in a prison uprising, or he appears to have been there, and he was flushed out of a basement by water. He was shot in the process. An American that interviewed him was subsequently killed.

Now maybe he was sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it looks very bad, and I think we're going to have to be very sure that if he is guilty as he appears to be, that he's properly tried.

KING: How seriously do you think we take his warning?

LOTT: How seriously do we take...

KING: That he says they're planning another attack.

LOTT: I think we have to take it seriously, because they have shown on more than one occasion that they had the ability to follow up, that they have more than one cell, that you've got people that are willing to give their own lives to kill other -- in our case recently innocent men, women and children.

Now, I don't think we can just crawl into a shell and get to be totally paranoid, but I do think we have to do everything we can through the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, DEA, Customs, everybody to try to intercept these threats, weigh them when they're credible, and do everything we can to stop them.

KING: Yesterday, they indicted the terrorist, accused terrorist Zacarius Moussaoui, and they've decided on no military tribunal. Senator Lieberman today criticized that decision. He said "if we don't try him before a military tribunal, a non-citizen accused of being a co-conspirator that killed 4,000 people, who will we try?"

LOTT: Well, I think that it proves the point that Attorney General Ashcroft and others have made that this military tribunal idea is not going to be something that's going to be overused or abused. It's going to be used in unique and particular circumstances, and I can envision, you know, bin Laden and Mullah Omar and some of the really high-up members of al Qaeda and maybe all the cell groups.

I think that this particular case, you could have justified taking him before a military tribunal. But I think they're going to hold it out for those most egregious, heinous cases where a military tribunal would have lots of advantages.

And, one of the critical things is, you want to be sure that when you try these people in a civil court, that you're not divulging intelligence and techniques. I was assured -- I have reason to believe that they didn't feel that anything was going to come out by taking this one through a traditional court, by indicting him in civil court.

In other instances where evidence could reveal our methods and techniques, we would not want to do it in an American court. You know, when they tried the guys that were responsible for the bombing of the Twin Towers last time, they found out that some of the -- in the process of the trial, some of the techniques that were used to get information revealed how that was done, and the al Qaeda, the terrorists, were then able to take action so we couldn't get that evidence in the future.

KING: The war and how it's going, are you pleasantly surprised?

LOTT: I am pleasantly surprised. I knew that our military men and women were very capable. I had confidence in the president and his advisers, and Secretary Rumsfeld to develop a plan -- and his uniformed military personnel to develop a plan.

I think a lot of us underestimated the impact that air power can have. I think a lot of people in the world underestimated the Northern Alliance and the tribal leaders there in Afghanistan, and they had been referred to, I remember, you know, sort of Gucci types, that really wouldn't go out and fight. Well, they did. They still are doing some things that are a little unusual to us. You know, when it really gets hot, they tend to "OK, well, surrender and by the way, you can keep your gun and we'll see you in the next town," which is a little unnerving to us.

But I think it has gone well, but again as the president has continued to remind us, this is not over. We still haven't secured really, you know, total peace in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is still at large. A number of the al Qaeda high leaders have either not been seized or executed.

We still have cells in countries all over the world that are very dangerous, and some of them right now are holding innocent people. So we've got a way to go, but I think people have been surprised how effective the bombing has been.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Thursday night, we learned a lot about the Navy. Our teachers were the heads of the Navy and Marine Corps and former Navy aviator and POW, Senator John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: What's your read on the bin Laden tape?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's good for America. And it's chilling. It gives America -- reminds America of the kind of diabolical enemy we are facing. And I think it we'll keep us strong in the weeks and months ahead as we go through this difficult trial.

KING: Do you think they're going to get him based on reports we've been hearing?

MCCAIN: I think the commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of Naval operations are more informed on that, but I believe we'll get him. I really do. But I think they'll know much more than I on that.

KING: All right, admiral, this is just in, and we'll ask you to comment first, then get the thoughts of all of our panel, A senior military official has told CNN that the United States believes that bin Laden is effectively surrounded by opposition fighters and U.S. forces in a cave complex at Tora Bora. This official also said, the best intelligence that U.S. officials have indicates that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is in Helmand province to the west of Kandahar. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. What can you tell us, Admiral Clark?

ADM. VERN CLARK, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: Well, I can tell you that I heard that report as we were coming to the studio. And that is a report that will be well received, when it is confirmed. At the present time I couldn't do that, I don't have intelligence or am not in the operational chain of command. General Tom Franks is the person who is running the operation in the theater. And so, my response would be that as the president has said, as the secretary of defense has said, sooner or later, he will be brought to justice.

KING: General Jones, does the -- would the news surprise you if it were true?

GEN. JIM JONES, COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS: Nothing would surprise me, but I can't comment one way or the other, simply because that's such a late breaking story. But I do know that there are an awful lot of us over there, trying hard to make sure that if he is there, and Omar is where they say he is, that we'll try very hard to make sure that we bring him to justice.

KING: Mr. Secretary, do you have any...

JONES: I think it's clear that they're -- they are on the run, and that's good news.

KING: Mr. Secretary, do you have a comment on this report?

GORDON ENGLAND, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: Well, I certainly hope it's true, Larry. I mean, a lot of this effort, of course, is to certainly get the OBL -- bin Laden. But on other hand, keep in mind that is not really the objective. The objective is to stamp out terrorism and the camps and the networks, and that's really what this is all about, and it's not just in Afghanistan.

As the president said this is a worldwide effort, so this will be a continuing effort. It doesn't end, even if we do have him surrounded, that's certainly not the end. As the vice president said, this is this is a good beginning. So we still have a long way to go. This is not a sprint, it's a marathon. And we need to be prepared for what happens after this action in Afghanistan.

KING: General Jim Jones, what has been the role to this date, to this moment, of your group, the Marines?

JONES: Well, Larry, we have had two amphibious ready groups that have been deployed to the region. The first one arrived very quickly and the second one a few weeks later because they were doing an operation in Egypt.

We are talking about 4,500 Marines, basically. We are also embarked on the carriers flying the attack air missions over Afghanistan. And we waited patiently aboard our ships. We supported the initial phases of the operation as best we could. And then when the time came to land the landing force, we deployed into Afghanistan proper, into Camp Rhino.

And it has been a very great success story so far. It is logistically challenging, but the distances are quite large, but hasn't been anything that we haven't been able to deal with. And you can see, they are doing very good work there.

KING: Senator McCain, has the success ratios just described surprised you at all?

MCCAIN: It has again. I anticipated that we would take more casualties and, obviously, we all are keeping our fingers crossed, because the Marines particularly are in a very dangerous phase. I know that General Jones can elaborate on this, but they are now patrolling around Kandahar to try to intercept these al Qaeda or bin Laden people. And there, they can be and have been engaged in combat.

But I think that what is happened here is we have seen the incredible efficacy of air power. The use of air power has really had a tremendous effect. But it also, at the end of the day, requires people on the ground, like our Marines are at Camp Rhino now.

KING: General Jones, what can you tell us about the lack of casualty figures that Senator McCain was expecting?

JONES: Well, Larry, I would just add to that that if you contrast the Kosovo campaign, for example, where we had an air campaign without anyone on the ground to direct it, and that is in the vernacular to say that we didn't have any eyes on target. In this one, we had eyes on target, and that is a force multiplier for the high-tech -- the high technology weapons systems that we have above the ground.

And the combination of those two things has reminded a lot of us what we always knew, that if you can get -- if you can get a visual sighting and you can get good communications, you can give -- you can bring the precision type weapons that we have into devastating effect. And I believe that that partnership has reminded us that war is still a very personal experience. And it is, if we are going to prosecute it successfully, it is going to be done in partnership with all elements of national power.

The lack of casualties is surprising. But I think it has -- that has more to do with the fact that we studied previous experience of other nations in that part of the world, and we decided to do it a little bit differently than in the conventional force on force, which is an attrition type warfare that we didn't choose to get involved in.

KING: Mr. Secretary, do you -- are you surprised at how well this has gone?

ENGLAND: No, I'm not surprised. This is a very superb force. The enduring strength of U.S. military are people, Larry, highly trained, highly motivated, very capable people. We give them excellent equipment, but primarily they are well trained and superb people.

And that is really our strength. This is a very professional force. So when you think about this very professional force fighting in Afghanistan -- understand, of course, in Afghanistan, they know the terrain much better, and that is very important. But our force is so well trained, and so well-equipped, I'm not surprised. I, frankly, expected it would go well.

KING: Thank you so much. We have to do more of this. Senator McCain, we always salute you. Thanks so much for appearing here tonight with these three great gentlemen.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Larry, thanks for having me.

KING: Senator John McCain, Secretary Gordon England, Admiral Vern Clark and General Jim Jones.

By the way, you may remember retired firefighter Lee Alpe. He joined us several weeks after the attack to talk about coming out of retirement to help search at ground zero. In addition to his professionals reasons, he had a very personal one. His son, firefighter Jonathan, was missing.

Yesterday, Lee Alpe, and his rookie firefighter son Brendan, were called to ground zero. Jonathan's body had been found. He and Brendan carried Jonathan's body from the rubble yesterday. The funeral is Monday.

We'll be right back with Jimmy Carter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. It's always great to chat with him, President Jimmy Carter. He joined us Thursday to talk about his new book, "Christmas in Plains." First, I wanted to know what he thought about the bin Laden tapes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well I haven't seen it yet. I have been out campaigning for a book. But it is obvious that this is fairly good proof, from what I have read, for bin Laden's deep involvement and his guilt. And my hope is soon we'll see him brought to justice one way or the other, and see an end to the military action in Afghanistan, and also see a beginning to the reconciliation there and the healing of that troubled country, which, as you know, first suffered the Soviet invasion when I was in office back in 1979.

KING: And caused Olympic problems, as we remember.

CARTER: Caused a lot of problems, that's true. In fact, that was a time when the hostages were being held. And then, while that was happening, of course, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and caused a lot more trouble for the entire world. And I think Afghanistan has suffered ever since then. And maybe this common effort by us, our allies around the world will help to rebuild that country, bring freedom and an end to the suffering to the people there.

KING: What's your assessment as to how the president and Mr. Rumsfeld and General Powell are doing?

CARTER: Well, I think they've done a fine job, obviously, which is proven by the results. We have kept our own military personnel off the ground, at least in major actions. Our Air Force has been superb. The Navy has joined in very well, I'm glad to say. And I think we've worked very closely and harmoniously with the allies that we've developed on the ground in the troubled country.

So, so far, everything seems to be very good. And I think that the world support for our action has been proof that my judgment of the good work that we've done has been shared by a lot of people.

KING: What's it like when a president comes under intense pressure?

CARTER: Well, I guess I had about as much pressure on me as anyone outside of full warfare, like when Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were in office, in that our hostages were being held for more than a year, as you know, including the time when I was just mentioning.

So I think that this is a time, though, in our country when the support for the president is nonpartisan in nature, almost completely universal on this commitment, and we have strong allies around the world. But in times of trouble is when American people come together, and when our nation proves that their principles for which we stand are those that are admirable in every respect. And that's what marshals the support of the world when terrorists or others violate international law and do things such as taking hostages and causing havoc in that particular area of the world.

KING: You're writing about Christmas and growing up in Christmas time for you. Do you think Christmas can help a situation like this or possibly hurt it?

CARTER: Well...

KING: Hurt it in the fact that people get sadder?

CARTER: Well, I think that this is going to be a Christmas of reconciliation and unity in our country. And I hope that no one during this holiday season will forget the 4,000 or more people that perished in the terrorist attack in New York and Washington, D.C. And I think it's a time when we can reconcile our differences, when all of us can come together as Americans, and say what are the great things that we share.

And this book that I've written, "Christmas in Plains," shows how all during my lifetime and my father's lifetime, that there have been changing times, but principles that never change. And those principles that never change are what makes America strong and resilient and able to bear the setbacks that we have suffered in recent days.

KING: You had so many happy Christmases growing up. Isn't this particular Christmas 2001, with the events of September 11, hard to be a happy one?

CARTER: I think we can make a happy Christmas out of it, if we just count our relative blessings. We have blessings that are not shared, I think. Afghanistan is one of the typical places where it's not shared. We have basic peace, a harmony among our people, relative affluence. We've got many material blessings of life. We've got freedom of religion. We can be diverse and still not bear the punishment because we're different from the majority of people in our country. And we have a strong and able nation that's now recognized as a world leader.

So I think this can be a nation of thanksgiving for our own blessings, but a reminder that we shouldn't forget the suffering and the deprivation and the needs of other people around the world. And I hope that out of this particular crisis that we are now weathering -- I think quite well -- that we will have our leadership on earth strengthened and emphasized, and maybe bring some more dedication among Americans to share what we have with others.

KING: Happy holidays, Mr. President.

CARTER: Same to you, Larry. Good luck to you.

KING: The book is "Christmas in Plains," always, always highly readable, anything he puts to pen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: When we come back, a musical close with Reba McEntire. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We got a great close for you tonight. It's from TNT's upcoming special "Christmas in Washington." The show premieres tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern on TNT, and it looks terrific. The song is "The Secret of Giving," and the performer is one of my favorites. To close it out, here's Reba McEntire.

(REBA MCENTIRE SINGS "THE SECRET OF GIVING")

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