The Web     
Powered by
powered by Yahoo!
Return to Transcripts main page


Tony Blair Defends War in Iraq

Aired July 17, 2003 - 18:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT for Thursday, July 17. Sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Jan Hopkins.
JAN HOPKINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight: standing united. President Bush welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Washington today, as both leaders tried to move on from the intelligence controversy over Iraq. In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Blair said the war against Saddam Hussein was justified, even if no weapons of mass destruction are found.

Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House and Jonathan Karl is on Capitol Hill.

We go to the White House first, where President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have just spoken to reporters -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jan, clearly both leaders on the counteroffensive today, both of them facing accusations over the last week or so that they used exaggerated intelligence to make their case for going to war against Iraq, both of them defending their intelligence, today, very important statements made from both leaders.

President Bush asked point blank whether or not he took responsibility for the words that he made in his State of the Union address, that very controversial -- there was one line in the State of the Union address, the administration says 16 words, that essentially said that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa to build its weapons program. Well, since then, White House officials have said it should not have been included in the speech; it did not rise to that level.

But they did get it from the British, British intelligence. And British officials stand by that statement, very important today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair not mincing words whatsoever, but standing by his statement, both of the leaders speaking out very forcefully that they have made a case that is strong against Iraq.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The British intelligence that we have we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence. And one interesting fact I think people don't generally know, in case people should think that the whole idea of a link between Iraq and Niger was some -- some invention, in the 1980s, we know for sure that Iraq purchased roundabout 270 tons of uranium from Niger. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I take responsibility for putting our troops into action. And I made that decision because Saddam Hussein was a threat to our security and a threat to the security of other nations. I take responsibility for making the decision, the tough decision, to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, because the intelligence, not only our intelligence, but the intelligence of this great country, made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat.


MALVEAUX: Jan, the big question is, is whether or not the president has made a strong enough case to convince the Democrats, those on the Senate Intelligence Committee who have been making these accusations, saying that it is not good enough to cite the CIA, saying the CIA cleared the speech before the president delivered it.

They also say as well, some sources inside of these Senate intelligence meetings saying that, in fact, White House officials, some White House officials, in discussions with the CIA were trying to pressure the CIA into getting that particular line in the speech to make a stronger case for going to war against Saddam Hussein, all these accusations still flying. Big, big question, where is it and when is it that the buck stops here? -- Jan.

HOPKINS: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thank you.

And let's turn to Capitol Hill. Blair took Capitol Hill by storm, receiving many standing ovations during his speech. Members of Congress said they appreciated the political risk taken by Blair to support the United States in the war against Saddam Hussein.

Jonathan Karl joins us from Capitol Hill -- Jonathan.


If you were counting, he actually had three standing ovations before he even began to speak and another 14 standing ovations during the course of his speech. It was a rousing welcome. There was a lot of fanfare. The first lady was on hand. The wife of the vice president was on hand. Much of the Cabinet was on hand. This was a very warm reception for a strong, staunch U.S. ally.

In his speech, Blair did not directly address the controversy over the use of British intelligence in the president's State of the Union address, but he did allude to the question of whether or not they could be wrong about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi hands.

Here's what he had to say about that.


BLAIR: If we are wrong, we will have destroyed a threat that, at its least, is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive. But if our critics are wrong, if we are right, as I believe with every fiber of instinct and conviction I have that we are, and we do not act, then we will have hesitated in the face of this menace, when we should have given leadership. That is something history will not forgive.



KARL: Blair was also loudly applauded when he talked about the need to not only win the war, but to win the peace and to finish the job of rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq and continuing to fight the war on terror. Then, in a rousing conclusion to his speech, he promised that Great Britain would be side by side with America on this.


BLAIR: We will be with you in this fight for liberty. And if our spirit is right and our courage firm, the world will be with us.


KARL: Now, as Blair leaves Capitol Hill, leaves Washington, heads back to Britain, the controversy over that faulty intelligence will continue to rage here on Capitol Hill.

Even just an hour before he came here to meet with congressional leadership, there were some very strong speeches on the floor of the Senate from Democrats, suggesting that the president relied on faulty information in making the case for war. That controversy will continue long after Tony Blair has left -- Jan.

HOPKINS: So, despite the rousing applause and great speechmaking, the Democrats really aren't convinced, you're saying?

KARL: No, Democrats were among those applauding very loudly for Tony Blair. But once the speech was over, Democrats are again asking the very same questions. And, again, they want to know who it was in the White House, who it was in the president's inner circle, that was pushing so hard to use that controversial information about uranium purchases in Africa.

They want to know if the case for war was exaggerated. And the big question for many of them is, if it was true, if it was true, the extent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, why have no weapons yet been found in Iraq? Those questions will continue, no matter how many great speeches are made. That's the focus of the investigations here on Capitol Hill.

HOPKINS: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, thanks.

Later in the show, I'll talk with Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. He is one of CIA director's -- Mr. Tenet's fiercest critics.

In Iraq today, an audiotape attributed to Saddam Hussein called on his followers to take up arms against coalition forces. The tape, aired by Arab television stations, ridiculed the new governing council of Iraq. CNN cannot confirm that the voice on the tape, though, belongs to Saddam Hussein.

An independent panel of experts sent to Iraq by the Pentagon says the price of victory is likely to go up unless the coalition takes action now. The panel is highly critical of the pace and prospects for reconstruction.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has that story.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The think tank report warns, the potential for chaos in Iraq is becoming more real every day and says the next three months are crucial to success or failure.

FREDERICK BARTON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: This is a turbo-charged moment. If we don't pick it up, there's a real risk of not succeeding here.

MCINTYRE: The experts from the Center For Strategic and International Studies spent 11 days in Iraq at the invitation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the head of the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer.

Their 10-page report details dozens of shortcomings and concludes, "The window of opportunity for the CPA to turn things around in Iraq is closing rapidly," the biggest problem, lack of security. The report says, "Although the coalition military presence is large, it is not visible enough at the street level, particularly in Baghdad, nor is it sufficiently agile." As a result, Iraqis are still afraid.

ROBERT ORR, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: They see a mayor getting killed here, policemen getting blown up at a graduation ceremony there. If we can get the security situation right, we will unlock that population to build a new Iraq.

MCINTYRE: The report stops short of recommending more U.S. troops, but says the U.S. must train and equip Iraqi police at a much faster rate. And the report is highly critical of the way Paul Bremer's provisional authority is organized. "The CPA lacks the personnel, money, and flexibility needed to be fully effective," the report says, adding, "It is isolated and cut off from Iraqis and does not know even close to what it needs to know about the Iraqi people."

The report's authors say the U.S. should swallow its pride and admit it needs the help of other nations to bail it out.

BARTON: This is a huge undertaking. And we just need more players. There can't be a heavy U.S. footprint.


MCINTYRE: The report has seven key recommendations that focus on expanding, decentralizing, and increasing the funding for the reconstruction effort. Those recommendations have been sent to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, we are told, has forwarded them to the White House -- Jan.

HOPKINS: Thanks, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon is considering new ways to ease the strain on the military in the peacekeeping deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan; 16 of the Army's 33 combat brigades are in Iraq. Another two are in Afghanistan. Today, the Pentagon confirmed, the Army is considering sending National Guard combat brigades to Iraq for the first time.

The strain of long deployments overseas and in this country is being felt by the troops' families. Also suffering are the businesses that employ these troops.

Peter Viles reports.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's all- volunteer military relies heavily on part-timers, the National Guard and the reserves. But now many of the part-timers are on full-time duty. Of 1.2 million Guardsmen and reservists, 200,000 are now on active duty, including 40,000 in the Iraq theater of operation, tens of thousands more fighting terrorism at home by guarding train stations and airports.

In Congress, Democrats tried and failed to put a new six-month limit on overseas duties for reservists.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Nobody knows when they would return home. Adding to the uncertainty is, some reserve units that are now being activated are simply being told to prepare to deploy for one to two years.

VILES: When reservists and Guardsmen are called to duty, it often means pay cuts, family budgets stretched thin and jobs abandoned, a particular concern for local law enforcement, because many reservists come from law enforcement, certainly a challenge. But this is the way the all-volunteer Army is supposed to work during wartime.

LAWRENCE KORB, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think the American people are ready for it because all of these people are volunteers. We're not forcing anybody to join the Guard and reserve. If you did, then I think you'd have a different problem. If you still had conscription and you had this horrible mess, like you have in Iraq, I think the American people would be up in arms.

VILES: If there is relief in sight, it may come from the United Nations. A U.N. blessing could help Washington convince additional nations to contribute to the coalition forces in Iraq.

Peter Viles, CNN, New York.


HOPKINS: No reservists are permanently deployed to South Korea, but nearly 40,000 regular troops are. Today, soldiers from North and South Korea exchanged machine gun fire along the frontier. The incident took place on the demilitarized zone that has divided the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War 50 years ago.

The South Korean military said there were no casualties among its troops. A spokesman said the North Koreans fired first. There has been no comment by North Korea. The shooting coincided with an increase in efforts to end the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.

Still ahead tonight: our series of special reports on genetically modified food. Tonight: Should it be used to ease world hunger? Kitty Pilgrim reports on a growing controversy.

And later: the political fallout over U.S. intelligence. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama says, CIA Director George Tenet should go. Senator Shelby will be our guest later in the hour.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... warned it shed 20 percent. But Microsoft shares are actually higher after hours now, after it reported higher profit and revenue and reported a cash balance of $49 billion.

For the Nasdaq, it was the biggest point drop in seven months, but damage on the Dow was muted by some strong profit reports from Caterpillar, Coke, and United Technologies. Treasury prices today fell for the third day in four, the 10-year note yield briefly touching 4 percent. And the dollar rose -- Jan.

HOPKINS: Interesting. Thanks, Christine.

Still to come tonight: fighting world hunger with genetically modified food. It's a controversial issue across the globe. Kitty Pilgrim has the story on our series of special reports, "Food Fight."

And then: Much of Arizona is still on fire tonight. We'll have a live report on the fight against the flames.

And later: "Grange On Point," Veterans affairs. Who is looking after the interests of American veterans? General David Grange joins us. And Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi will be our guest as well.


HOPKINS: In news "Across America": Allen Dwayne Coates will undergo a mental exam in Kentucky. A judge ordered the test today. Coates is accused of sexually assaulting a girl in a store in West Virginia over the weekend. He is also linked to a similar incident in Kentucky.

Eighty-six--year-old Russell Weller may face manslaughter charges in yesterday's Santa Monica market crash. Weller's car plowed through a crowd of shoppers, killing at least 10 people, including a 7-month- old baby. Dozens of people were injured.

Colleen Thomas has had her nursing license suspended in Maryland. Authorities are looking into whether Thompson hastened the deaths of some critically ill patients. Thompson says the allegations are a mystery to her.

Some hopeful news from Arizona tonight: Higher humidity is helping crews battle the 18,000-acre wildfire in Fort Apache reservation. Some heavy rain might soon be falling as well. And that will help.

Carey Pena of CNN affiliate KTVK joins us from Whitewater, Arizona.

Carey, is the fire close to being controlled now?

CAREY PENA, KTVK REPORTER: Well, right now, they have 15 percent containment; 5,000 people remain displaced tonight, as firefighters continue to do battle with the Kinishba fire. Residents were ordered to evacuate on Monday, when the lightning-sparked fire started to burn out of control on Fort Apache.

So far, 18,200 acres have burned. More than 1,000 firefighters are here in Northeastern Arizona. They've had to deal with extremely erratic weather. We had some dry thunderstorms earlier this week. And that caused big problems. They fear more dry thunderstorms could hit late today, but we could also see some rain. In fact, we're seeing some light rain right now. We're told evacuees may be able to return to their homes as early as tomorrow.

Residents have been patient, but also anxious, as there have been reports of looting. National Guard troops arrived yesterday to help with security in this area, but, today, we got word that an 18-year- old was arrested, accused of burglary. Apparently, he was involved in some looting in the evacuated areas -- Jan, back to you.

HOPKINS: Thanks, Carey Pena of KTVK. That's a CNN affiliate. Thanks for joining us.

And from fires to food, we continue our series of special reports on genetically modified foods. Some argue that bioengineered foods could help fight world hunger. Others say the dangers outweigh the benefits.

Kitty Pilgrim takes a critical look at the debate.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every day, 11,000 children die of malnutrition. More than 800 million people are hungry. But food is plentiful, with drought-resistant crops that are insect-resistant and grown with few pesticides, genetically modified crops. ANN VENEMAN, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: We have been modifying food crops for centuries by crossbreeding. And one of the things about having the ability to use new technologies to isolate and insert genes is, in many cases, you're doing what you would have done with plant breeding.

PILGRIM: But there is a problem. The World Food Program last year distributed food to 72 million of the poorest people in the world, much of it genetically modified. Six African countries have reservations about using genetically modified food: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. And last year, Zambia ultimately refused the food.

JUDITH LEWIS, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: It does put us in a more moral dilemma, in terms of trying to explain to hungry people why they can't have that food that's in that warehouse, because we're trying to move it out of their country, particularly when the mother is there with her children who are desperately hungry and they don't understand the scientific explanation.

PILGRIM: One reason for refusal is, if genetically modified foods are distributed as food aid in a country, seeds could be mixed with other crops. That would cross-pollinate the crops that are already grown there.

Dr. Calestous Juma is from Kenya and now studies the role of technology in developing countries at Harvard. He says Africa's resistance to genetically modified foods is political. Europe doesn't want African nations to produce or sell genetically modified crops.

DR. CALESTOUS JUMA, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It's not acceptable for any countries either to impose their method of production on any other countries, especially in cases where these countries face long-term challenges related to food production.

PILGRIM: Some critics of genetically modified food say they are sometimes unnecessary and expensive.

KOY THOMPSON, ACTIONAID: The last thing poor, vulnerable remote farmers want is dependence on outside technologies that put them into debt.

PILGRIM: But not all countries are reluctant to try these new techniques to strengthen crops. Scientific conferences have brought new techniques to other countries.

KARIL KOCHENDERFER, GROCERY MANUFACTURERS OF AMERICA: We're just beginning to see other countries, like South Africa, China, Argentina, Brazil, experiment with this technology and begin to feel comfortable with how to use it.


PILGRIM: Now, the population of the world is expected to explode in the next decade, possibly even double. And scientists say new growing techniques will be necessary to feed the world, allowing crops to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions -- Jan?

HOPKINS: Thanks, Kitty.

Tomorrow, we continue our series of special reports on bioengineered foods. Bill Tucker will tell us what other foods are being modified and what it means for consumers.

And that brings us to "Tonight's Thought." "Technology made large populations possible. Large populations now make technology indispensable." That's from American author Joseph Wood Krutch.

And now a look at your thoughts on genetically modified foods.

Ron of Tennessee wrote: "I have just moved back to the United States after living in Europe for eight years. I was never sick while living in Europe. But I moved back and started having stomach problems. I have switched back to non-genetically-modified foods. We should take a page from Europe and ban G.M. foods. We might not, then, be the fattest country in the world."

Steve from Massachusetts wrote: "The last I heard, the old business axiom, 'The costumer is always right,' was still in use. If Europeans want organic foods at organic production prices, then let's give it to them using the best in U.S. agricultural capabilities."

And Al from Puerto Rico said: "Genetically modified food. Give me a break. What food is not? If the Europeans don't want the food, the Asians and the Africans will certainly buy it."

And Dick from Colorado wrote: "Don't let the do-gooders fool America. Since the late 1800s, we have been genetically modifying our food and improving it. Increased yield, reduced disease, etcetera, only foolish people would deny us such great benefits."

We appreciate your thoughts. E-mail us any time at

And coming up: "Grange On Point," Veterans affairs a rising storm. General David Grange will join us. And Casey Wian reports on the most pressing problem for veterans: health care.

Then: crisis of confidence, growing concerns about American intelligence, Senior political analyst Bill Schneider on the political fallout.


HOPKINS: Tonight: a special look at the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are 25 million veterans in this country, most of them dependent on the V.A. for their medical care. While demand for care is increasing by the day, resources are not keeping up.

Tonight, in "Grange On Point," General David Grange will look at the rising storm at the Veterans administration. And later, we'll be joined by the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi. But first, the health care crisis is by far the biggest issue facing the V.A.

Casey Wian has the report.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rufus Griffith spent 17 years in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, before he was nearly killed during a mission.

RUFUS GRIFFITH, VETERAN: My parachute collapsed. And I fell 150 feet and hit the ground.

WIAN: Griffith is an incomplete paraplegic, with limited leg movement. And now, because of a fiscal crisis in the veterans health care system, Griffith's finances are crippled as well.

His local V.A. hospital won't pay his $1,500-a-month physical therapy bills because they've determined his condition won't improve. So Griffith has stopped getting the treatment he says was helping.

RUFUS GRIFFITH, VETERAN: One of my goals is to see my daughters graduate from high school and college and somehow walk them down the aisle when they're married.

WIAN: After a family move, Griffith had to wait nine months for his first appointment with a V.A. hospital primary care physician.

GRIFFITH: To know that I, you know, put my life on the line every day for this country and to be treated that way is just -- it makes me sad.

WIAN: Recruiters once promised lifetime medical care in return for a military career. Now, backed by court rulings that the offers aren't enforceable because they weren't congressionally approved, the U.S. government is denying or delaying medical care to hundreds of thousands of aging veterans.

Some of the 163 V.A. hospitals like this one can see patients within 30 to 45 days. But according to a presidential task force, nearly a quarter of a million veterans are on waiting lists longer than six months. This year, the Veterans' Affair Department suspended health benefits for veterans without service-related disabilities and with annual incomes above $25,000. Though Congress has approved an 11 percent increase in veterans' health funding, veterans' groups say it's not enough.

RONALD CONLEY, NATIONAL COMMANDER, AMERICAN LEGION: As we fight a war today, we need to budget money to take care of the health needs of the men and women that are fighting that war.

WIAN: Other issues facing the Veterans' Affairs Department include new homeland security requirements and the fact that nearly a quarter of the nation's chronic homeless are veterans.

But lack of health care remains the biggest concern.

(on camera): Veterans' groups and some lawmakers say they want to end Congress's ability to play politics with money for veterans' health care. They support mandatory funding levels set by an outside agency that would guarantee coverage for every veteran. But the White House opposes the idea, saying it wants to retain control over the budget process.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.


HOPKINS: Now "Grange On Point," Veterans' affairs: a rising storm. General David Grange joins us from New Mexico.

General, can the V.A. really adequately support veterans?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, the Veterans' Affairs probably can do some improvement within their own administration on some of their efficiencies. But the basic problem is they're not funded to the levels required to serve the veterans as they're directed to do by law. And you just cannot meet the needs with the budget they're given.

HOPKINS: But what about this whole kind of tacit promise to veterans that they would be supported the rest of their life? And now the V.A. pulling back from that. That must really anger a lot of veterans.

GRANGE: Well, you know, that's right. And what happens is you have -- we have new armed forces personnel employed in harm's way right now overseas. And, you know, they hear about these things. They're the future veterans of this nation. And they see how veterans from previous wars are treated, in this case reference health care, and it's very disappointing to them, and they're expected to display this loyalty, this duty to country, and maybe give their life, and they see these kind of actions where our government will not fund adequately what's been promised to them. It's just wrong.

HOPKINS: So what is the problem? Just not enough money or not enough will?

GRANGE: Well, you know, it's a commitment. It's a duty of the president, of Congress to fund the veterans' affairs to the proper level, as promised to the veterans of the United States of America. And by not doing that, you're not meeting the obligations that have been required by law and the moral responsibility to your armed forces. And this is just when you're spending billions of dollars overseas on war or other programs and you can't take care of your own people at home, there's something wrong with this particular situation.

So V.A. has had to prioritize and eliminate some of the veterans that need care. Some actually die waiting for care. And that's just absolutely wrong. HOPKINS: But if you have less money, I guess the only way that you can do it is to delay appointments. I guess that would be the response of the V.A.

GRANGE: That's right. You prioritize categories and there's different categories of patients that are seen by the Veterans' Affairs hospitals, the medical care system. Or you -- and that's a triage system. Or you increase the number of patients to nurses or patients to doctors or you eliminate some of the other programs.

And at the same time this is happening, which provides inadequate care, the government has added additional requirements on Veterans' Affairs like the bioterrorism decontamination centers that V.A. hospitals, some of them must establish. And this is adding to the already overstretched burden that the Veterans' Affairs has at this time.

HOPKINS: We saw the story that Casey Wian did about that vet that wasn't able to get care for nine months. What kind of complaints have you been hearing from vets?

GRANGE: I hear a lot of complaints from different veterans' associations, members of those things, whether it be American Legions, American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Vietnam Veterans Association. And there's a lot of veterans that are complaining. And sometimes the complaints may not be valid, but what happens is now that you have such a rash of these complaints that there's a perception that the Veterans' Affairs is inadequate, that they're failing the veterans.

And really, they may have some internal problems, but the responsibility goes back to the government. The government is the one that can enable the Veterans' Affairs to meet the requirements expected by the veterans of this nation. And so if the administration and the Congress does not do that -- for instance, mandatory instead of discretionary funding. If that's not done, then they will fail their mission.

HOPKINS: General David Grange, thanks for joining us.

GRANGE: My pleasure.

HOPKINS: Next week, General Grange will explore the failures of the Defense Department's personnel system and how it affects our troops' morale. "Grange On Point" next week: Rotation Blues.

Coming up in just a few minutes, we will be joined by Anthony Principi. He is the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But first, today's quote on the ongoing controversy over U.S. intelligence leading up to the war against Saddam Hussein: "I think it's time for George Tenet to walk the plank. There have been more intelligence failures, more intelligence controversies on the watch of George Tenet than anybody I can remember as director of the CIA." That from Senator Richard Shelby, Republican from Alabama. And he will be our guest a little later in the program. Senator Shelby's suggestion is the topic of tonight's poll. "Do you think that CIA Director George Tenet should resign? Yes or no?" Cast your vote at We'll bring you results later in the show.

And now the final results of yesterday's poll. We asked: "How important are counterfeit goods in the war on terror? " Twenty-one percent of you said very; 19 percent said somewhat; 47 percent said not at all, and 13% said I buy knockoffs.

When we return, the political fallout over U.S. intelligence. Is Iraq destined to turn into another Vietnam? Senior political analyst Bill Schneider looks back at past military conflicts and the political fallout.

And then, it was up, up and away in New York as a team of artists gassed up blimps and set them racing.


HOPKINS: As promised, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, is here to share his perspective on the challenges at the V.A. He joins us from Washington.

Mr. Secretary, you heard the complaints. Veterans are expecting health care from the V.A., and in some cases they're not getting it. What's your response?

ANTHONY PRINCIPI, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: In 1998, Congress changed the eligibility rules very profoundly. Prior to 1998, only about 3 million veterans had eligibility for the full range of V.A. health care. Our military disabled, the poorest of the poor veterans, who had few other options for health care, and those in need of spinal cord injury and blind rehabilitation. In 1998 Congress made all 25 million veterans eligible for care, whether you had a military-related disability, served one year on active duty, or not. And I think that, coupled with the wonderful prescription drug program, has caused our workload to increase from 2.9 million veterans in 1998 to almost 5 million today.

We treat one million veterans each week in the V.A. health care system. And it's just been this tremendous demand upon the V.A. I am very, proud of the increases in the budget that I've received from our president and our Congress...

HOPKINS: So it's not a problem with the budget being cut?

PRINCIPI: No, the budget hasn't been cut. Our budget has grown from $48 billion to almost $64 billion this coming October 1, so we've grown about 32 percent. But Jan, the demand for health care has been exorbitant in recent years, and I think the eligibility reform and the need for prescription drugs on the part of an aging veteran population.

But there should be no question. The highest responsibility of our nation is to care for the men and women who have borne the battle, lost their legs or took a bullet at Kai San in Vietnam or endured the Bataan Death March and, of course, for our military retirees. And that's the military retirees are treated by the Department of Defense. Those are the men and women who served 20 years or more. That's a separate health care system from the V.A.

HOPKINS: So basically, you're saying, as General Grange said, have a triage system. You have to decide who you can treat and who you cannot.

PRINCIPI: Well, that's correct, Jan. When Congress opened up the doors to all 25 million veterans they created an enrollment system, eight priorities for care, and they left it up to the secretary in law to make an annual enrollment decision based upon the, quote, resources made available to me in appropriation acts. So you know, they gave the expectation. They made 25 million eligible. But then they said there will be an enrollment system and you, Mr. Secretary, decide how much money you have.

And I believe that we need to focus on our core group, men and women disabled in uniform, injured, whether it be peace-time or wartime, and the poor veterans, who really have few other options for health care. And of course those...

HOPKINS: So you cut off -- you cut off the income at $25,000? $35,000?

PRINCIPI: No, it's about $35,000. This year I made the decision that based upon the resources available, those who have no military- related disabilities and have incomes on average above $35,000 could not enroll in the V.A. Health Care system. We still have 7 million veterans enrolled, and we did not disenroll anyone, but I felt it was morally irresponsible to allow more veterans to enroll when we could not provide the care to them. It would have been the politically expedient way to handle the matter and just put veterans on waiting lists. I felt that was morally irresponsible.

HOPKINS: Why not ask for more money?

PRINCIPI: We have asked for more money and I'm very proud that this year the V.A. received the highest percentage increase of any agency of government in the president's submission to Congress. So that's my biggest job, is to continually fight for increased resources. I believe the president and the Congress have been generous, but obviously, we need to do more, we need to be more efficient, and we're working very hard to do that.

HOPKINS: Thanks very much, Anthony Principi, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Thanks for joining us.

PRINCIPI: Thank you very much.

HOPKINS: And still to come, Democrats seize on the issue of intelligence. Will it turn into political capital or drudge up memories of the past? Senior political analyst Bill Schneider has the report.

And Senator Richard Shelby joins us.

Also ahead tonight, some take a trip on these airships, or at least see them race at pretty low speeds. Jeanne Moos will have that story.


HOPKINS: Returning now to one of our top stories, British Prime Minister Tony Blair today told a joint session of Congress that history will forgive the war in Iraq even if U.S. and British claims about weapons of mass destruction are proven wrong. If that happens, the political consequences for Prime Minister Blair could be more severe than those for President Bush.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us now with more. You agree with that, right, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, indeed. Tony Blair has staked his credibility on being able to find those weapons of mass destruction. He's always said, I am certain those weapons are there. Our intelligence says they are there. now Tony Blair sticks by his intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy nuclear material in Africa when the White House has essentially said we don't really believe that that's not necessarily is true. So Blair is sort of left out hanging, and here he is in Washington giving a speech to the Congress when a lot of the people in his government in Britain feel as if the White House has not treated them very well.

HOPKINS: And Blair is a leader that could be removed with a call for a vote.

SCHNEIDER: That's one of the big differences between him and President Bush. Not only was the war less popular in Britain, but also, it's less popular in his own party. Bush has no problem with the Republican party. But Blair has a big problem with the labor party because a lot of labor party members, they have a big majority in the parliament, but a lot of the labor party members didn't like this war, and now they feel as if they were misled into supporting this war. If they get angry and if they think that Blair did not tell the truth, they can replace him.

There are -- there's at least one other, his own chancellor, the Secretary of the Treasury, Gordon Brown is available, a Blair rival. It's been known to happen. It very often happens that a party will replace a prime minister who becomes unpopular. That happened to Margaret Thatcher. She was replaced by John Major. It could happen to Tony Blair if his party gets angry enough.

HOPKINS: Bill, in a lot of newspapers the headline today was guerrilla warfare. What does this do to voters around the country when they see words like this referring to Iraq?

SCHNEIDER: Guerrilla warfare to most voters means Vietnam. And that's a very serious charge. And I think it's going to bother a lot of American voters who rather appreciate the quick victory that the United States enjoyed in Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, they're willing to celebrate that and applaud President Bush, but they don't want an unending commitment that is now costing the United States an American life every day and $1 billion a week.

And now the Secretary of Defense said this could go on for years. The tour of duty is likely to be a year for American service personnel stationed over there. This is the kind of open-ended, costly commitment that Americans don't really like. They want to know what are we doing to bring this thing to a close? And the word guerrilla warfare is very frightening.

HOPKINS: Bill Schneider, thanks for joining us.


HOPKINS: Questions about U.S. intelligence have many in Washington demanding answers as to who is ultimately responsible. CIA Director George Tenet has claimed responsibility for disputed statements about Iraq in the president's State of the Union Address, but some say it's not enough. Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama today called for Tenet to, quote, walk the plank.

Senator Shelby joins us now live from Capitol Hill. So what do you mean by walking the plank?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, I think everybody knows what I mean by that, that it's time for him to go. I think it's past time for him to go. But you know, ultimately that's up to the president of the United States. But I think he's failed the president again, and he's failed the American people. That doesn't mean to say he hasn't done a lot of good things, because he has. But there have been more failures on the watch, or the directorship of George Tenet as director of the CIA than anybody that I have known in recent memory.

HOPKINS: Now, you've been a critic of Mr. Tenet for a while, and he was actually appointed by Mr. Clinton. He's a carryover.

SHELBY: Absolutely. He's...

HOPKINS: So this isn't new, for you to criticize the CIA director.

SHELBY: Absolutely. It's not new. You know, it's not personal with me, though, at all. I think the record speaks for itself. I can enumerate, and I have on many occasions all of the big intelligence failures.

Have there been some successes? Sure. Because we got a lot of great people at the CIA. But I think George Tenet as director of the CIA, the latest was just another episode of where he didn't walk up to the top and serve the president with certainty on intelligence. I believe if the CIA had a chance to vet this speech, as he's said that they did, and they did not tell the president, look, you need to not use that, then they failed again.

HOPKINS: So do you think that it's reached a point where we can't believe the intelligence from the CIA?

SHELBY: Well, I wouldn't say that. But I think you have to weigh a lot of it. It's like anything else. But the CIA, as I've said, has done very many, many outstanding things. But there are too many failures, too many muddled opportunities, and George Tenet says the other day that he was accountable. Well, just to say that I'm accountable, that's to use rhetoric. But to say you're accountable and to mean it, you wouldn't want to stick around.

HOPKINS: So basically, what you're saying is that if he says he's accountable, then he needs to leave?

SHELBY: Well, that's what accountability's all about.

HOPKINS: The buck stops here in that case?

SHELBY: Absolutely.

HOPKINS: But you know, a lot of people say that the buck stops with the president.

SHELBY: Well, I disagree with that. I think the president's policies have been sound. I think he showed leadership. And this is just a little piece of why we went to -- to -- stated our case to go to war with Iraq. I think it's important when the intelligence agency does not step up to the amount of certainty that we need in a situation when they had an opportunity.

HOPKINS: What do you think about the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq? How long will they be there?

SHELBY: That's a good question. We don't know how long they're going to be there, but the secretary of defense said they're going to be there until we do our job. And right now we're challenged, we've had a lot of success there, and I believe that we've got the commander on the ground there to bring the place back to normal. It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be quick. And it's not going to be without loss of life.

HOPKINS: What about the guerrilla warfare concern? Are you hearing from constituents that they're worried about the possibility of another Vietnam?

SHELBY: Well, I haven't heard Vietnam, but people are worried when they pick off our troops one by one. I think we've got to disarm the people there, and we've got to destroy the guerrillas that have come from all over the world to fight the American soldiers and the British soldiers.

HOPKINS: Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, Republican, thanks for joining us.

SHELBY: Thank you.

HOPKINS: A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll, do you think the CIA Director George Tenet should resign? Yes or no? Cast your vote at We'll bring you results in just a few minutes.

And when we return, don't blink or you'll miss this high-flying, slow-speed race. Jeanne Moos reports when we come back.


HOPKINS: Now the preliminary results of tonight's poll. Do you think that CIA Director George Tenet should resign? Thirty-four percent of you said yes, and 66 percent said no.

Turning to another contest, the Emmys. "Six Feet Under" leads the list of television shows nominated for an Emmy this year. HBO funeral home drama picked up 16 nominations. "The West Wing" was nominated for 15 Emmys, including best drama. Also in the running for best drama, "The Sopranos," "24," and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

And finally tonight, a race that will have you on the edge of your seat, if not floating just above your seat. Jeanne Moos reports on the exciting art of blimp racing.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And they're off. Depending on how you define off.

MICHELLE MACCARONE, BLIMP PILOT: Well, the idea of having a blimp race is kind of absurd. I mean, the fact that they go so incredibly slow.

MOOS: Slow? This is blinding speed for a blimp, operated by remote control. Even the real ones cruise at only around 25 miles an hour. At the blimp derby, contestants need all the help they can get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, no blowing.

MOOS: The blimp derby is actually an art project at a gallery called Sculpture Center in Queens.

Artist Olav Westphalen dreamed up the derby.

OLAV WESTPHALEN, CREATOR, BLIMP DERBY: I've always been interested in blimps. My grandfather was supposed to be on the Hindenberg, but he had an abscessed tooth and couldn't go.

MOOS (on camera): Are you joking?

WESTPHALEN: No. I'm German.

MOOS (voice-over): The first blimp derby featured eight remote- controlled blimps, the kind you built from a kit but custom decorated. For instance, "it's a girl."

JONATHAN FARBER, BLIMP PILOT: It looks like a helium balloon that you bring to the hospital.

MOOS: Some blimps have trouble gaining altitude.

MACCARONE: I couldn't get it up.

MOOS: And once they're up...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is up with the wind currents? Wind currents? Hello?

MOOS: A blimp named "helium hellfire" had its own rooting section.

They say pilots' skill rather than blimp technology is what counts.

(on camera): Can I bring it in for a landing?


MOOS (voice-over): It didn't seem to help that I'd once briefly piloted a real blimp. Very briefly.

(on camera): Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. No, I don't want to drive anymore.

(voice-over): Mid-air collisions at the derby are encouraged, and dirty tricks are allowed, like pins jutting out from the side and a razor blade on the nose of the Swiss Institute blimp.

(on camera): This is so mean.

CHRIS MOSS, BLIMP PILOT: You've got to be. You know, we tried to be nice the first race, and it just didn't work out.

MOOS (voice-over): Neither did the razor blade. In two separate derbys, the race went to Hellfire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Helium Hellfire won.

MOOS: As for the future of blimp racing ...

WESTPHALEN: We have been thinking. I mean, Sculpture Center and I were negotiating about a weekend of nude blimping.

MOOS: Let's hope the nudes aren't as rotund or as limp as the blimps were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it got sucked up into one of those vents up there.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


HOPKINS: That's our show for tonight. Thanks for joining us. Tomorrow, we will tell you what other foods besides crops are being genetically modified, as we continue our series of special reports on bioengineered foods.

For all of us here, good night from New York. "LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES" with Anderson Cooper is next.


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.