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U.S. Helicopter Crashes in Philippines; Senator Joe Lieberman Visits California

Aired February 21, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. We'll have an update on a breaking story: the crash of a U.S. Army helicopter in the Philippines.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley on the streets of San Francisco. I came to cover Senator Joe Lieberman. But what's he doing here?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Jeff Greenfield with some thoughts about what happens when the unthinkable happens, and why what you don't want to know can really hurt you.

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile take on the question: has Senator Jesse Helms seen the light about AIDS?

Thank you for joining us, and let's go straight to the Pentagon for details on that U.S. Army helicopter that crashed in Philippines with 12 Americans on board. Here now, CNN's Barbara Starr. Barbara, first of all, do we know if there are any survivors?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, Judy, the Pentagon says there is no indication of survivors. But a search-and- rescue effort is going on in the air over the crash site over the water. There are helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft searching at this time.

The helicopter, this Army CH-47 helicopter, with 12 people on board went down about 2:30 a.m. Philippine local time. We are told by the Pentagon it went down in the southern Philippines. The helicopter was on a routine transit mission, carrying people in the southern Philippines from Basilan Island to a place called Mochtan (ph). It went down over the water about 150 miles northeast of Zamboanga city.

Now, the U.S. military has about 600 people in the Philippines right now. They're part of a training mission to help train the Philippine military in counterterrorism. This particular mission, however, was said to be simply a routine transit mission. At the moment the military is continuing to search for survivors. It hasn't seen anybody yet. But information is still very sketchy -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks.

Also from the Pentagon today, officials say that a deadly raid by U.S. special forces in Afghanistan last month did not strike al Qaeda or Taliban members, as first suspected. Still, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the raids in Hazar Qadam, in which as many as 15 Afghans were killed.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Once going in on the ground, it seems to me it is no mistake at all, if you're fired on, to fire back. And we expect people to defend themselves and to take exactly the action, that at least, at the moment, I'm aware they took.


WOODRUFF: Today's acknowledgement by the Pentagon comes as some are questioning whether the war on terrorism is living up to expectations.


(voice-over): British troops in Kabul on guard, after twice being the targets of gunmen. An Afghan minister, assassinated. Even a soccer match erupts in violence. It is a far cry from the peace many Americans probably envisioned after U.S. forces drove the Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan.

The chaos, another reminder of unfinished business, weeks after the trails of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar went cold.

RUMSFELD: I will say this. Finding Omar and Osama bin Laden would be nice.

WOODRUFF: Publicly, Bush administration officials are trying to downplay their failure to kill or capture many top al Qaeda and Taliban officials. But there is obvious cause for frustration. Remember the FBI's list of 22 most wanted terrorists? They still are wanted. Although U.S. officials believe one, Mohamed Atef, may have been killed.

And by some estimates, more than a thousand al Qaeda fighters remain at large. During a recent Senate hearing, Republican Jim Bunning asked war commander Tommy Franks for an explanation.

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: Why were so many people able to flee Afghanistan, that were al Qaeda and/or Taliban? But I'm not pleased, and I don't think any Americans are pleased, that we haven't done a better job on al Qaeda.

GENERAL TOM FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND COMMANDER: People who are anxious to not be caught, they are on the run. They are working hard to get away. The fact is that this is a global war on terrorism. Our efforts in Afghanistan have represented the first part of it. It's long. It is going to take a long time.


WOODRUFF: Has the U.S. fallen short of its war goals, or is it still too soon to tell? Well, now we're joined by Carl Conetta. He's with a Project on Defense Alternatives. And by CNN military analyst, Retired Brigadier General David Grange.

Carl Conetta, to you, first. President Bush said he wanted Osama bin Laden dead or alive. The U.S. hasn't found him or most if the top al Qaeda leadership. Has the U.S., at this point, failed to do what it said it would do?

CARL CONETTA, PROJECT ON DEFENSE ALTERNATIVES: I think some important objectives have been achieved. Clearly, the Taliban has been driven from government and al Qaeda has been scattered to the hills. But our principle concern, really, is the worldwide capacity of al Qaeda to conduct operations, attacks on the United States, like the one we saw on 11 September. I think with regard to that, there are some real questions about how deep we have cut into the organization.

WOODRUFF: General Grange, aren't -- isn't al Qaeda -- even though we know they've been, for the most part, either driven out of Afghanistan or they've lost that as a base of operation, aren't they just as dangerous, wherever they're operating?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET), U.S. ARMY: I believe so. They're very dangerous, and I think right now, it appears, at least from the media and what everyone's reading, that there's a bit of a lull in the war on terrorism. Though you can be assured a lot of things are going on, there appears to be a lull, especially in capturing some of the leaders or killing some of the enemy that have been identified as still on the run.

But I believe in Afghanistan, and for instance, Pakistan, you have some safe havens -- what's known as safe havens -- small enclaves where some of these people may be being protected. So since there is not true control of the entire country of Afghanistan, you still have a viable force, with connectivity, some connectivity left, that is very dangerous.

WOODRUFF: And, Carl Conetta, how do you explain that? I mean, this war has been waged since early October. There have been millions and millions of dollars pour into it. Thousands and thousands of U.S. troops. Why hasn't the U.S. and its allies been able to gain control of this country?

CONETTA: Well, I think that there's actually going to be a conflation of two objectives. One is the objective of bringing stability to Afghanistan, and the other is the objective of getting al Qaeda. By combining the two, I think that we've fallen short in both areas. And I think that we need to remember that an organization like al Qaeda doesn't need a state, in order to conduct operations like the one we saw on 11 September. They are more dependent, or were more dependent, on training schools in Florida than they were on training camps in Afghanistan.

WOODRUFF: If that's the case, General Grange, what is the U.S. military explanation for what's happened? GRANGE: Well, you know, you can't capture, you can't kill terrorists, destroy facilities, unless you have the intelligence to do so. And, though I'm sure that the effort is 100 percent and then some, to try to find the targets and confirm that they are in fact enemy targets and take them down, it's all hinged on accurate, real time intelligence. And that's very difficult to do.

You know, as Maggie Thatcher said, the security forces, the intel for the good guys has to be almost perfect, where the terrorists only have to be lucky. And so, they have an advantage there. They're laying low, they're waiting for a time that's right. And that's why I say it's a very dangerous period. And we have to keep up the momentum, the pressure, if no other time, right now, so we don't lose that advantage.

WOODRUFF: Carl Conetta, was it a mistake for the U.S. to rely so heavily on Afghan fighters on the ground, rather than sending more U.S. troops in there to get the job done?

CONETTA: Yes, I think that that is right. In terms of real precision control, not simply precision weapons, but precision control of the situation on the ground, there really is no substitute for our own people.

WOODRUFF: Well, and by the same token, let me turn to General Grange, on this question of relying on people on the ground. In Tora Bora, when it appeared the U.S. was getting close to al Qaeda, did the U.S. wait too late and rely again too much on local forces, thereby letting al Qaeda get away?

GRANGE: Well, I give you my opinion, and I'm a bit reserved in doing this, because having been a ground commander, I've been questioned myself on several operations, about why I did certain things. But I think it would have been -- looking back now, it would have been prudent to have put American or coalition forces in part of eastern Afghanistan, to secure some of the exfiltration routes right up front, and to hit some of these complexes that intelligence -- we did have intelligence that these sites were there -- and hit them fast and hard in that area first. I think they did have time to get away.

WOODRUFF: All right, General David Grange and CNN military analyst Carl Conetta, with the Project of Defense Alternatives. Thank you, both. We appreciate it.

Question: has the president scored any successes during his China trip? Coming up next, we'll talk about Mr. Bush's visit with former U.S. ambassador to China, Winston Lord.

We'll get the Inside Buzz on the bad blood between John McCain and his party's establishment.

And, a view from the top of the AFL-CIO. John Sweeney weighs in on political and pocketbook issues. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: In the next few hours, President Bush begins his second day of diplomatic business in China, including a speech in which he will defend American values, starting with freedom. During talks with President Jiang Zemin, Mr. Bush gently tried to press the Chinese leader on the issue of human rights and civil liberties, including religious freedom.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: China future is for the Chinese people to decide. Yet no nation is exempt from the demands of human dignity. All the world's people, including the people of China, should be free to choose how they live, how they worship and how they work.


WOODRUFF: U.S. reporters pressed harder, after twice ignoring questions about the jailing of Catholic bishops, the Chinese president finally responded.


PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN, CHINA (through translator): Whatever religion people believe in, they have to abide by the law. So some of the lawbreakers have been detained because of their violation of law, not because of their religious belief.


WOODRUFF: Disagreements also remain about weapons sales. President Bush failed to persuade his Chinese counterpart to stop selling missile technology to countries such as Iran and North Korea.

Well, "On the Record" today, former U.S. ambassador to China, Winston Lord. He joins us from New York to talk more about the president's trip. Mr. Lord, thank you for being with us. And on this question of failure to reach an agreement about China, exporting missile technology to Iran and North Korea, how big a setback is that for the president?

WINSTON LORD, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: I think it's a modest setback. It was never a sure thing. I think the administration made a mistake the last 24 hours, spinning it as if they were going to reach an agreement. They should have lowered expectations. Because there will be a tendency to focus on that, rather than the overall success of the trip, which I think is assured, in terms of continuing the process routine summits, talking about antiterrorism and trade.

I think Bush is handling the human rights situation well so far. We see what he does in his speech tomorrow, so -- and also, future visits by not only the current Chinese leader, but the future one to the U.S. So I think the trip, overall, is going quite well, and I wouldn't exaggerate this setback.

WOODRUFF: Why not exaggerate -- or why not make it -- take it for what it is, though? I mean, these are two of the three counties President Bush has labeled the axis of evil: Iran and North Korea. China is providing them with weapons technology. Why isn't that a problem?

LORD: Well, it's a serious problem. I want to separate out your question, which was whether it's a setback for this summit, or whether it's a general setback to the relationship. They're going to keep working at this. I gather some progress was made. I think we have to hold tough with the Chinese, and maintain our sanctions and apply new ones if necessary. So, I want to stress, I believe it is a serious problem, particularly given those countries.

But I do believe the overall visit, as a whole, is going quite well. And I don't think this is the only issue between it.

WOODRUFF: We heard President Jiang also defending the imprisonment of religious leaders, including about 50 Catholic bishops. How discouraged should the U.S. be about the fact that there's no headway there?

LORD: I think we should be very discouraged. The Chinese have gone backwards in human rights in the last couple years. They let out a few people in advance of the president's trip, as they always do. But in terms of political and religious freedom, control of the Internet, control of activists, the treatment of Tibet and the Falun Going, there has been a real setback in the last couple years. And indeed, the Chinese are using the terrorist problem as a cover to crack down even further.

So, it's a significant issue. I think the president feels pretty strongly about it. You said he gently nudged them. I think, in his press conference, he was rather moderate. We'd have to see what he said in private, and what he says at the university in a few hours.

WOODRUFF: You know, Winston Lord, it looked a few months ago, in the wake of September 11th, that the U.S. and the Chinese were going to be seeing more eye to eye on issues. But after seeing these two disagreements, was that just an illusion?

LORD: I think we've got to keep this is balance. We have a tendency to get too optimistic at times, like the last few weeks. Too pessimistic like the first six months of the Bush administration. The fact is, for the last 30 years -- and he's there on the anniversary of Nixon's trip, as you know -- and for the next 30, it's going to be a mixed relationship. So we'll have the problems you cited, like human rights, proliferation, Taiwan.

But there are areas, including ones discussed in this trip, that suggest forward momentum as well: working together against terrorism, working for peace in the Korean peninsula -- and I noticed the president raised that issue and asked for Chinese help on that. The environment, AIDS, drug traffic, South Asia. There's a lot of areas we can work together, but there will be these continuing problems. So, we shouldn't be on this roller coaster of emotions. They're neither an enemy, nor are they a friend. WOODRUFF: The man who is expected to be Jiang Zemin's successor, Vice President Hu Jintao, you met him just about a month or so ago. Size him up for us.

LORD: I was about the first American to see him. He's been keeping a low profile, which is a good idea. You're No. 2 in China, you want to be No. 1, you don't get out in front very much. He'll take over next October. He was polished. He'll look very presentable to Western audiences, in terms of poise and attractive-looking, that kind of issue. He's quite young, 59.

On the other hand, he stuck to his script very closely, so it was not particularly exciting, in terms of substance. But one would expect that, for him to be cautious at this point. So, the jury is out on him. The stories that he might be a political reformer because he's been close to other political reformers in China. But he presided over some crackdowns in Tibet. So clearly, we don't know where he is going and we're going to have to and see.

WOODRUFF: All right, Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China. Some words of wisdom. Thanks very much.

LORD: Thank you. Nice to be with you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you. Good to see you.

Just ahead: Bob Novak has the "Inside Buzz" on Senator John McCain's relationship with some other Republicans.

And we'll tell you why former Democratic vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman, is showing an interest in California.


WOODRUFF: We start with some "Inside Buzz" from our Capitol Hill producer, Dana Bash. Supporters of campaign finance reform picked up a Republican senator today in their fight to bring the bill before the Senate and avoid a filibuster by the measures' opponents. He is Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. Smith is opposed to the House-passed campaign finance reform bill and he still plans, he says, to vote against it. But a spokesman says Smith believes there should be Senate debate on the House version of campaign finance reform.

So joining us now with his "Inside Buzz," our Bob Novak. First of all, the rift between John McCain and Republicans, getting even wider?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": This is the nastiest thing, going through the Republican cloakroom there, just before they quit, there was a word that Senator McCain planned to campaign against vulnerable Republican senators this year if they voted against -- they mentioned Gordon Smith on Oregon. He's got a fairly tough race. But they really mentioned Tim Hutchison of Arkansas who, as I said the other day, is the most endangered Republican incumbent.

I called Senator McCain's office. They said, absolutely, unequivocally, that John McCain is a proud Republican. He would never, ever, under any conditions, campaign against a fellow Republican senator. Why do I say this? Because the fact this story is being spread shows the animosity toward John McCain on this campaign finance issue, and it makes McCain mad, too, when things like that are said.

WOODRUFF: When we thought it couldn't get any worse. And I'm just being told by our producer, Tom Hannon -- yes, tell me, Tom. What was -- just bear with me. Right.

Sources are telling CNN -- and I'm just getting this information from our executive producer, Tom Hannon -- sources are telling CNN that "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl is dead. Now, at this point, we don't have any more information than that. This information, just coming in to CNN.

Obviously this is a story we've been following for weeks. Danny Pearl was working on a story for "The Wall Street Journal" when he was abducted. These are some of the photographs of him that were released in the days immediately following his disappearance. But for what, three weeks now, we have heard nothing about him.

Bob Novak here with me on the set.

NOVAK: Terrible.

WOODRUFF: Bob, this is very bad news. And there have been unconfirmed reports before this one...

NOVAK: I think people feared the worst.

WOODRUFF: But because it's been so long since anything has been heard, everyone has believed that the worst had happened. But again, sources telling CNN that "Wall Street Journal" reporter, Daniel Pearl, missing now for something like four weeks, is dead. As soon as we have any more details to share with you, we will do that.

And, we're going to take a break, and our coverage will continue.






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