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PAULA ZAHN NOW

President Bush to Hold Prime-Time News Conference; Intelligence Officials Set to Appear Before 9/11 Commission

Aired April 12, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.
It is Monday, April 12, 2004.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): One American kidnapped, eight others unaccounted for, and concerns even more may be missing in Iraq. Tonight, we talk with a journalist held captive for eight days in an Iraqi prison -- what he has to say to the captives and to those surviving the nightmare back home.

From the CIA to the FBI, intelligence failures at the highest levels. This week, America hears testimony from those at the heart of the war on terror. Did the very agencies charged with protecting us underestimate the real threat from al Qaeda?

And an emotional battle over a baby girl her parents claim they never meant to give her up. Was she adopted or abducted? Tonight, see for yourself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: All that ahead tonight. But, first, here are some of the headline you need to know right now.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, one suspected terrorist is dead today after a shoot-out with security forces. Police had rushed to a neighborhood in the city after receiving a tip. One policeman was also killed in that gun battle. Four were wounded. Three suspected militants were apparently able to escape and are now being pursued by security forces there.

President Bush will hold a news conference tomorrow night. He is expected to face some very tough questions about the 9/11 investigation and the ongoing violence in Iraq.

And at Los Angeles International Airport, a momentary glitch in the power supply there caused a brief stoppage in flight traffic and delayed between 80 and 100 incoming flights for a short while. The apparent cause of the outage was a surge in the power system.

"In Focus" tonight, increasing danger and disorder in Iraq and the possibility that tens of thousands more American troops may be needed there. The accelerated killing of U.S. troops, the rise of religious militias, a weak response by Iraqi security and the latest twist in Iraqi terror, the taking of hostages, are all forcing the administration to reevaluate its strategy.

We have team coverage tonight with CNN's Jim Clancy in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Let's get started with Jim Clancy tonight.

Good evening, Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula.

And, you know, the hostage takers in Iraq are giving and they are taking away as well; 11 Russians now taken hostage, the latest ones we know of to be kidnapped, they were electrical power workers. They were taken from their office. Two of their security guards were killed. Meantime, videotape appears to confirm the release of seven Chinese immigrants who were coming in on the road from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad when they were taken hostage.

This videotape shows them being released or just after their release to a Muslim cleric's group here in Baghdad. Meantime, more attacks on convoys along those same roads where other hostages have been taken. West of Baghdad, one cargo truck was hit apparently by a rocket-propelled grenade. The truck was on fire. That didn't stop the looters from going in to get whatever they could carry off under the eyes of passive Iraqi police.

And then south of the convoy, just -- south of Baghdad, just about 20 miles near Iskandariyah, we had another convoy that was carrying armored personnel carriers, it was hit and hit hard. Eyewitnesses say there may have been three casualties. That hasn't been confirmed by the U.S. military. Meantime, the negotiations continue in Fallujah. And tonight we are being told that those negotiations are going forward, but very slowly.

Remember, all of those negotiations, all of those kidnappings are believed in one way or another somehow linked to the situation, the siege in Fallujah -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jim, let's talk about the kidnappings for a moment. How have they terrorized the population there?

CLANCY: Well, certainly, what they have done is, they have terrorized the expatriates. They are the targets of all of this. So far, they don't appear to be organized, up until this kidnapping of the 11 Russians. That showed some organization. The rest have been targets of opportunity along the roads.

No one wants to travel that road from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan. That's where most of the hostages have been taken. If you went to a travel agency today, you would find the lines very long indeed to try to catch one of the few flights out of Baghdad to Amman or another location -- Paula.

ZAHN: I guess that shouldn't surprise any of us. Thank you for bringing us up to date in Iraq, Jim Clancy, recording from Baghdad tonight.

Now we're going move on to the question of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq and asking thousands who were supposed to come home to stay longer.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre now has some details on that -- hi, Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula.

Well, the Pentagon has said all along, if U.S. commanders asked for more troops, they would get them. Today, the top U.S. commander in fact asked for roughly 10,000 more troops. And the Pentagon says he will get them.

Today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff met in a secure briefing room to discuss the rotation plan for the next couple of months, as the U.S. is grappling with increasing its troop profile. For now, though, it appears additional troops will not be -- beyond those already scheduled will not be sent from the United States. Instead, the U.S. commander will likely supplement his forces with troops that are already there, but will have to stay longer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: What I've asked for essentially to have a strong mobile combat arms capability. And that's about probably two brigades worth of combat power if not more. We're working the details with the Joint Staff. As far as the sourcing is concerned, I really don't have the precise answer as to who and how that will be filled right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: That's because he's waiting for that plan to be technically signed off from the Pentagon. But Pentagon sources tell us that in fact the decision is pretty much made and elements from the 1st Armored Division based out of Germany, who have been in Iraq for a year now, instead of packing up to come home, about half of that division, roughly 10,000 troops, will be required to stay another three months -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks so much. Again, Jim Clancy, thank you for your reporting as well in Baghdad.

Today, General Abizaid announced his request for more troops, which is what Jamie was just talking about. He asked the Pentagon for those two more brigades. Where will they come from? Where will they be needed the most?

With us now to discuss the military hot spots in Iraq, CNN military analyst, retired Air Force General Don Shepperd. He joins us tonight from Tucson.

Welcome, sir.

RETIRED MAJOR GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Hello, Paula.

ZAHN: So, in your judgment, where you to think the most likely deployment spots will be?

SHEPPERD: Well, Paula, you're going send them to the site of the action. And the action now, of course, is in the Sunni Triangle, west of Baghdad and also of course south of Baghdad out in the Shia area.

West of Baghdad, along Highway 10 out toward Jordan, going past the Saddam International Airport, and the Abu Ghraib neighborhood, you have got the town of Fallujah, those attacks we've seen for the last few days. And then anchoring the left side of the triangle, the Sunni Triangle, is Ar-Ramadi. Of course, and Baghdad itself is on the right side of the triangle. So that's the base of the triangle.

In this area, in Sunni Triangle particularly in Fallujah and Ramadi, you see the remnants of the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, the special security organization, the Fedayeen Saddam, this is the hot spot. So that's the first place you are going to send them, Paula, to back up the Marines that are there.

ZAHN: So you just mentioned the hot spots. In addition to that, you have huge borders that you need coverage on. Do you think that 10,000 troops, 20,000 troops is enough to be redeployed?

SHEPPERD: It depends. The troops themselves are not necessarily going to do the work and patrol the borders, but they are going to help the Iraqis do that. There are long borders with Syria and there are long borders with Iran. And when we were there in September, we continually asked, do you need more troops and they said no, unless the mission expands to such things as guarding the borders.

And it looks like that that is a major concern now for General Abizaid, the amount of infiltration and jihadists coming across those borders. So it will probably help the Iraqis do it, as opposed to doing it ourselves. And, certainly, 10,000 troops will help, Paula.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre just made reference to the belief that it is some of the troops from the 1st Armored Division that will be asked to stay on. Where are the rest of these troops going to come from?

SHEPPERD: Well, they're going to come from other divisions spread around the world and the United States.

The Pentagon -- basically, the Army basically supplies these troops. They look at rotation schedules. They look at other commitments and they decide whether they're going to come from. They give that information to the JCS, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is massaged back and forth and then the forces are sent over to General Abizaid. Initially, he'll get them by redeploying his own forces and slowing down the rotation out of country. That's where they come from initially, Paula.

ZAHN: Do you think there will be much help from coalition troops? SHEPPERD: Well, we need help from coalition troops. We need help from NATO. We need help from the U.N. We will ask for all of that. We'll ask for it continually. The likelihood of us getting it is very low, I think. It is going to be mainly on our shoulders, but we'll go back to all of those people to ask.

ZAHN: Is there a chance the coalition will bring in more troops to areas like Afghanistan and Bosnia, allowing then the Americans to remove some of those troops on duty there to Iraq?

SHEPPERD: That could happen. In other words, because of the politics involved in this, the lack of support for the war effort from many of the -- in many of the countries from the people themselves, as opposed to the government, it is difficult for the government to send troops to Iraq. They may be able, however, to send them to Bosnia and relieve American troops there, or to Afghanistan, the same thing, and allow those troops to come to Iraq.

So there's all sorts of possibilities. But it is tough sled no matter what direction you go.

ZAHN: General Shepperd, thank you for being with us tonight. Appreciate it.

SHEPPERD: Pleasure.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, some clerics in Iraq are now publicly calling for the release of all hostages. A fatwa, or religious decree, was issued in the last few days by the Committee of Muslim Clerics. But whether the hostage takers will actually listen to these religious leaders is anyone's guess at this point.

With me now is Fawaz Gerges. He's a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: So what are the chances that the hostage takers will take this message seriously? And what incentive do they have to take this seriously?

GERGES: Well, I think the fatwa, or religious ruling, helps to delegitimize hostage taking by leading insurgents. And also, I think, Paula, it pulls the rug from underneath those militant freelancers who use and abuse Islam to take hostages.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: How does it pull the rug out from under them? Aren't they doing this on their own, anyway?

GERGES: As you said, Paula, I doubt it very much whether the fatwa would put an end to hostage taking. I feel that a Pandora's box has been opened now.

Let's remember, in the 1980s, during the Lebanese war in the 1980s, hostage taking terrorized Westerners and turned this lovely city, Beirut, into a wasteland. And I fear now we have again a qualitative escalation in the confrontation in Iraq. And let's remember, Paula, you have thousands of armed men who are looking for targets of opportunities. And also let's remember, Paula, civilians are easy and vulnerable targets. Civilians can serve as bargaining chips with American and occupying authorities.

And also I think hostage taking is designed not only to terrorize civilians, but to deter foreign governments to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq.

ZAHN: It is interesting you mention targets of opportunity, because some of the kidnappings are being tied to just that. But Jim Clancy just made a very interesting point in the kidnapping of up to 11 Russians. He said it is -- maybe not the first time, but we certainly can make the suggestion that perhaps this was a well- orchestrated effort to take that many hostages at one time. What do you make of that?

GERGES: Perhaps.

But we have no clue at this particular moment who is kidnapping whom. And you have Americans. You have Russians. You have British. You have Asians. You have Chinese and so on and so forth. All we know that this is -- it presents a qualitative escalation in the confrontation. And the Pandora's box now has been opened. I expect unfortunately to see more and more kidnappings.

And I think I want to make a point here, Paula, that more than ever, Iraqis need the assistance of the international community to help and rebuild that country. And I fear this particular recipe, hostage taking, is a recipe for disaster, because it drives away foreigners and Westerners from Iraq and it postpones and delays and complicates the process of the reconstruction.

ZAHN: Sure. We just heard about Jim Clancy saying expatriates trying to get out of the country.

GERGES: Absolutely. And my really historical reference is to Beirut in the 1980s. Hostage taking can terrorize expatriates, turn Beirut into a wasteland city. And let's remember, in the 1980s, even the Reagan administration, one of the most conservative in the United States, was forced to make concessions to Iran, so that Lebanon's Hezbollah or elements of Hezbollah could release some American hostages.

So I think also they're using hostages as a bargaining chip, not only against the United States, but even against some of the nationals of the occupying powers in Iraq.

ZAHN: A strategy that is devastating to watch from a distance, isn't it?

Fawaz Gerges, thank you.

ZAHN: We're going change our focus quite a bit to a small Mississippi town where we are going see prayers for a man actually taken hostage in Iraq. We're going to tell you why a Mississippi farmer was actually willing to confront danger.

An emotional battle over a baby girl from China. Her birth parents say she's been stolen. But an American couple says they're actually using her as a pawn.

And did Attorney General Ashcroft put too little authority on terrorism before 9/11? More 9/11 Commission hearings this week. We'll bring you up to date on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The report was kind of a history of Osama's intentions, I guess is the best way to put it, kind of a history of what the agency had known. And you're right. There was included -- they had included the fact that the FBI was conducting field investigations, which comforted me, because it meant the FBI was doing its job. The FBI was running down any lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: That was President Bush at his ranch earlier today. Tomorrow, the 9/11 Commission will be back at work hearing testimony about how much the FBI and other law enforcement agencies knew about al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks.

Former Illinois Governor James Thompson is on the commission. He joins us tonight from Washington.

Good of you to join us, sir. Welcome.

JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Good evening, Paula.

ZAHN: We just heard the president basically say he assumed the FBI was doing its job. Do you think the FBI did do its job?

THOMPSON: Well, we're going find that out by Wednesday evening, I believe.

All the drama in the hearings for last two weeks has focused on the testimony of Richard Clarke and then on Dr. Rice. But I suspect far more important to the American people and far more important to the future of our fight against terrorists post-9/11 will be the evidence that we hear tomorrow and Wednesday from the FBI and the CIA. And we'll find out whether the president was right to take comfort in the fact that the FBI was investigating.

ZAHN: What do you think is the key question to be asked of the FBI, particularly when it came to the reports of these field investigations that some members of the commission say they can find no record of ever having been started?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that question will be exactly asked and I hope exactly answered.

I think there were field investigations going on. What their concern was and who were they were aimed against is still to be heard. But I have got to follow up on what President Bush said, I think, in all fairness to the president. Look, I came out of law enforcement. I was a U.S. attorney for four years and worked with the FBI. I have something of an intelligence background.

I was the chairman of the president's intelligence oversight board under the first President Bush. If I had been President Bush reading that August 6 PDB, it would not have sent me storming the barricades. I would have looked at it and said, well, 90 percent of it are interesting stories that are three years old. And the rest of it, the FBI is on the job.

So I think far too much has been made of the August 6 PDB and whether the president did or didn't do something in response to it. Much more important are these questions: What were the CIA and the FBI doing prior to September 11 and what lessons did they learn from September 11 and what are they doing now? And are we any more secure because they've changed things?

ZAHN: Do you think we are any more secure? Are you confident that enough changes have been made, that we are less vulnerable?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that Director Mueller will testify, as he's testified to us in private over many hours, that he is changing the culture of the FBI, so that evidence that the FBI learns is shared not only among all field offices, but up through and including headquarters and with the CIA.

He's also changing the culture of the FBI to make intelligence gathering against terrorism a good, smart career in the FBI, when before it was guns and robberies and drugs and the traditional law enforcement things that the FBI has done ever since their beginning. And I think that's important to find out.

ZAHN: Governor James Thompson, we know you're a very busy man. Thank you for some spending time with us this evening. Good luck with the hearings.

THOMPSON: My pleasure. Thank you.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, Attorney General Ashcroft will also be among those questioned by 9/11 investigators about antiterrorism efforts before 9/11.

Barbara Comstock is a former spokesperson for the attorney general and the Justice Department. She joins us now from Washington.

Thank you for being with us tonight.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Good evening, Paula.

ZAHN: I want to share with you something that 9/11 Commission Slade Gorton to say -- quote -- "It seems to me that the FBI has more questions to answer than Condoleezza Rice or Dick Clarke or anyone that we have had testify before us so far."

Did the FBI and the Justice Department fall down on the job?

COMSTOCK: Well, I think you're going to -- as Chairman Thompson just was talking about, you are really seeing a changed culture in the FBI.

But prior to 9/11, when the attorney general first came on board, as director -- FBI Director Freeh, who was then the director, said in "The Wall Street Journal" today, he immediately went to the president and Dr. Rice and talked about terrorism as one of his top priorities. And he shared his interest in going after the Khobar Towers investigation and inviting people. And as soon as Attorney General Ashcroft came on board, he worked with him, put a new prosecutor on the case.

And by June 2001, we had indicted those terrorists. Now, this is the kind of thing that you have to keep working on day in and day out. The attorney general in the spring of 2001 looked at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process and realized you had a problem with information sharing and this wall that was up between the CIA and the FBI, so that they couldn't share information.

So he asked to have a whole review of that whole process in the spring of 2001, because of his concern that we weren't sharing enough information. And that's something that is going on to this day. We have to have more information sharing. And the Patriot Act is what has made that possible.

ZAHN: OK.

Let's fast-forward, then, to August 6 and this memo that has been so widely debated over the weekend. And that was the presidential daily briefing. According to a source that is confirmed this with CNN, the attorney general likely did not see that memo. Is there any excuse for that?

COMSTOCK: You know, I'm not aware of whether the attorney general saw it or not. I do know that in July of 2001 the attorney general personally asked to have a briefing from the CIA on the al Qaeda threat.

He was meeting with people, getting regular briefing on al Qaeda throughout the spring and the summer. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson was regularly meeting with Dick Clarke and was involved in those meetings and was aware of the threat. And he has said -- I know he said that the attorney general was very concerned about it and asking, what can we do on this?

And they were told again and again that the threat, as Dr. Rice has testified, was focused overseas. But he wanted to know again and had started doing in the spring how can we have more information sharing so that we know what is going on, and that's what you see today with the Patriot Act and why it is so important we keep it in place. And there are some people who are still trying to fight that information sharing, which is so important.

But the Patriot Act allows us to do that, so we have brought down the wall. And we can have that type of information sharing. The attorney general was working on that then.

ZAHN: We only have 10 seconds left. But, essentially, what you're telling me, you don't think that John Ashcroft has any -- not lack of accountability, but should be held responsible for all of this?

COMSTOCK: Well, I know from the time -- I worked with the attorney general after 9/11. And I know he was up at dawn every day getting those threat assessments. He was working on that from dawn to dusk.

And I know from the record and the public record that you go back and look through that he was concerned about it from the earliest days, when Director Freeh came in with that briefing. So I'm confident -- and he continues to do that to this day.

ZAHN: We have got to leave it there. Barbara Comstock, thank you for your perspective tonight.

COMSTOCK: Thank you.

ZAHN: CNN will bring you live coverage of the 9/11 hearings tomorrow morning starting at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. And then tomorrow night, CNN will cover President Bush's news conference live. That starts at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. We will have a special preview of the president's news conference starting right here during our 8:00 hour.

An American couple wants to make this child their daughter. But her parents say they're stealing her. We're going to look at both sides and the little girl caught in the middle.

And the president gets ready to face more questions about the 9/11 investigation, the increasing violence and a new wave of kidnappings in Iraq. We'll bring you up to date on what the political stakes are for the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We take you inside what some describe as a vicious custody battle in Memphis, Tennessee. A five-year long legal battle is pitting an American couple against Chinese immigrants who want to take their daughter back to their homeland. Well, today, both couples were back in court.

David Mattingly reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CASEY HE, MOTHER OF ANNA MAE (through translator): I was in pain. She was my first child. The feeling of being a mother and not being able to take care of your child was painful.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The anguished words of a mother and tears that need no translation. Chinese immigrants Jack and Casey He fell on hard times and gave up their American newborn baby girl, Anna Mae, to foster care in 1999. Now back on their feet and due to return to their homeland, they're fighting for Anna's return.

C. HE: I'm sorry. Mommy really love you.

MATTINGLY: But the American couple who has her won't let Anna Mae go, fearful of the life she would have in China.

LOUISE BAKER, FOSTER MOTHER: We just feel like the culture is against little girls in China.

MATTINGLY: Jerry and Louise Baker of Memphis, Tennessee, are asking the court to take away the Hi's parental rights so they can continue to raise Anna Mae.

JERRY BAKER, FOSTER FATHER: Because of the one child rule was forced abortions. And that forced IUD implants for 12 and 13 years old. And she doesn't deserve to have to go through that.

MATTINGLY: The case is somewhat reminiscent of Elian Gonzalez, the 5-year-old Cuban boy kept from his biological father by family in Miami, who argued he would have a better life in the U.S. Elian returned to Cuba in 2000 after a standoff and custody battle that lasted seven months.

(on camera): But for Anna Mae He, the case has not moved on so quickly. After five years, the involvement of four judges, four attorneys and two separate Memphis courts, her future remains undecided. It has taken so long that Anna Mae's foster parents say sending her back to China now would result in lasting harm.

(voice-over): Lengthy closing arguments Monday punctuated the long and bitter dispute in which the Bakers have accused the Hes of being unstable and untruthful.

J. BAKER: And they have used this child as a pawn since the time she was born.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The Hes in return accuse the Bakers of conspiring with authorities to keep them from their child.

JACK HE, ANNA'S FATHER: My American dream is changing to American nightmare.

MATTINGLY: Since the dispute began, the Hes have had two more children. They have seen Anna Mae only once in the last two years. A judge will soon decide if they have any right to reclaim their firstborn daughter at all. David Mattingly, CNN, Memphis, Tennessee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Coming up, prayers for an American taken captive in Iraq. A small Southern town waits to learn the fate of one of their own.

And a rare news conference for the president tomorrow. How will he respond to questions about the war and the investigation into the 9/11 terror attacks?

And an herbal supplement blamed for the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler is finally banned. We're going to look at both sides of that ban.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many Steve Bechlers or Sean Riggins have to die to prove that these are not safe?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. Here are some of the headlines you need to know right now. In Iraq, April is on track to be the deadliest month so for U.S. troops. So far, 73 Americans have died, all in hostile action. There's also a growing number of hostages that have been taken. At last count, there were 17 hostages and another 13 people missing.

Well, it seems in Los Angeles, Hollywood has discovered former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke. Sony Pictures has optioned the right to his new book, "Against All Enemies." Clarke's book vaulted to the top of the best-sellers list after his testimony before the 9/11 commission.

And in San Francisco, baseball great Barry Bonds hit his 660th home run today. That ties the record set by his godfather, Willie Mays. Mays was at the ballpark to present the ball to Bonds. The two of them now share third place in all-time home run leaders. Bonds's achievement is somewhat clouded by constant questions about his possible use of banned substances to boost his performance. His personal trainer has been indicted for his alleged role in an illegal steroid ring.

We all met Tom Hamill this weekend, not the way we would have wanted to. He is the American contractor being held now as a hostage in Iraq. We first saw footage of Hamill sitting in the back of a car between two armed men. Well, now CNN's Gary Tuchman tells us more about the man and how he came to be a very long way from home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a city with only 2,400 people, this was a large gathering. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will hear and answer our prayers.

TUCHMAN: One of Macon, Mississippi's, own is in peril. Thomas Hamill took a job driving trucks in Iraq. This video was taken by an Australian news crew after he was kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened?

TOM HAMILL, IRAQ HOSTAGE: They attacked our convoy. That's all I'm going to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

TUCHMAN: Hamill's attackers threatened to kill him this past weekend. His wife and two children, in seclusion in this home, do not know if he is still alive. Macon mayor Dorothy Hines is close friends with Hamill's wife, Kelly (ph).

MAYOR DOROTHY HINES, MACON, MISSISSIPPI: He's just a good old country boy. And he's just -- you know, just wanted to try to get a job and do something that would help his family because they've had a lot of problems with -- Kelly had open-heart surgery, you know, two months ago, you know, health-wise. And I'm sure something like that can be devastating.

TUCHMAN: In this poverty-stricken part of Mississippi, the 43- year-old Hamill had sold this dairy farm but still found himself in financial trouble. He took the job in Iraq with a division of Halliburton because it paid good money.

SCOTT BOYD, REPORTER, "THE MACON BEACON": It was a chance to go and earn wages much higher than probably what he could have made staying and working here, even though there were a lot of sacrifices that came along with the job.

TUCHMAN: And now a community puts up yellow ribbons and American flags, and a loving family sits and waits, praying that Thomas Hamill hasn't paid the ultimate sacrifice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to give us your name?

HAMILL: Hamill, Thomas.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Thomas Hamill's family members asked the people of Macon to limit their public comments about the situation. Their fear? That publicity could make things worse for him.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Macon, Mississippi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Thomas Hamill works as a contractor for a subsidiary company of Halliburton. And today that company issued this statement. "At the moment, we all have a sense of captivity, but we are hopeful for the safe return of Tommy, a father and husband, as well as our friend and co-worker. This is one of those pivotal moments when we hope all those in Iraq, soldiers, civilian workers and the Iraqi people, feel the power and spirit of a united America."

Now it's time to hear from someone who has some insight into what Thomas Hamill may be going through in Iraq. Just about a year ago, "Newsday" correspondent Matthew McAllester was arrested and locked up for eight days in Saddam Hussein's notorious Abu Ghraib prison. He joins us from London.

Thanks so much for joining us.

MATTHEW MCALLESTER, FORMER HOSTAGE: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: So Matthew, what is it that you confront in your early part of being held hostage?

MCALLESTER: Total lack of power, and also an awareness, an almost immediate awareness that you may be in a completely hopeless situation. And my situation was a little different from the hostages at the moment, but no more hopeless, I would say. And I fear for them enormously and feel with them.

ZAHN: And how do you fight that fear?

MCALLESTER: You know, you find your own way. I mean, I did it by sort of forcing a certain discipline, in terms of telling myself stories of my life. But also, you have to understand your own powerlessness and understand that there's nothing that you can really do about the situation. Now, in my situation, it was a little different. I think there is -- probably are things that hostages at the moment can do to improve their chances. And that is, by making friends with their captives and showing them that they're human beings, as well. And there's an enormous decision involved by any captor towards his captive, and that is to kill or not to kill. And that's no small decision for these people.

ZAHN: So Matthew, you've just described to us a sense of hopelessness you have when you're first taken hostage. You also have to have in your mind that the U.S. will not negotiate with terrorists. How does that add to your despair?

MCALLESTER: It's considerable and it's immediate. I mean, anyone who is working in Iraq knows the political stance. I mean, this is a decades-old, almost non-political stance that the United States government won't negotiate with what it considers terrorists, certainly hostage takers.

And so you're left with one option, really, as a captive, and that is to appeal to the humanity of the captors. And in a sense, that's a strength and that's where the hope can come from. You appeal to them. You find the humor in the situation and a strange fraternity that captors and captives can have. And I think most people who've been prisoners, even in most extreme situations, have described that. And in a sense, that's the greatest source of hope that families of these captives can have.

ZAHN: Matthew, you were in prison for over a week. You witnessed beatings. Was there a point when you were held hostage that you thought you were going to die?

MCALLESTER: Yes, I mean, every second we thought -- I think we all thought that we were going to probably die. And I think it's probably a safe -- the safest assumption to make when -- and it's also good (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of mental health to give in to that, in a way. But you know, our situation was a little different. You know, our countries were waging war against a government that was being toppled. This is a different political situation, where these are insurgents who feel that they have something to be gained and may make some sort of political progress or some sort of military progress against an occupation. And so there may be less of an incentive for them to kill these hostages, I hope, than there were in our situation. And look, you know, we got out. So there's hope there. There certainly is.

ZAHN: Matthew McAllester, thank you for helping us understand what some of these hostages may be going through. Really appreciate your time. And good luck you to.

MCALLESTER: Thanks.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, with his generals calling for more troops, the president is under increasing pressure to change his plans in Iraq and to actually explain them. And you won't see these diet supplements on the shelves any longer. But did Ephedra really deserve to be banned? We'll have a debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Well, President Bush can certainly expect lots of questions on the turmoil in Iraq tomorrow night in his rare prime-time news conference. Among the obvious questions that could come up: Does the president have a clear exit strategy? How might Iraq affect his chances for reelection? We're going to take up those questions now with our regular contributors, "Time" magazine columnist Joe Klein, and in our Washington bureau, former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke. Good to see both of you.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: Hi, Paula.

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: Hi, Paula.

ZAHN: How loud was the chorus for the president to hold this news conference tomorrow night?

KLEIN: Well, it was getting pretty loud. I mean, you know, people say that he was down on the ranch, but it wasn't being on the ranch, it was the events of last week. It was Condoleezza Rice at the 9/11 commission and the PDB, the CIA memo from August 6, and it was also the events in Iraq on the ground. Now, you know, this is a president who more than a press conference, more than a speech, he needs a policy right now. The people I talked to in Washington just are boggled. They don't know what to do. And this is the moment for George W. Bush to lead, if he can.

ZAHN: Torie, let's talk a little bit more about what Joe just said and the people he's talked with. What is the plan on the administration's part right now? And how would you explain that to the American public?

CLARKE: Well, for starters, I think you've seen a lot from very senior people in this administration over the last several weeks and the last several months, explaining what it is we're trying to do. And I think you'll hear more of it tomorrow when the president speaks directly to the country. And once again, he will demonstrate his extraordinary gratitude, the gratitude of this country for the incredible job our forces are doing over there, the forces of 30-some other countries. He will remind people of the context, why we are there. And that is because we wanted to end the Iraqi regime and that country's place as a dangerous, dangerous place...

ZAHN: All right, but...

CLARKE: ... and a dangerous force...

ZAHN: But Torie, are you telling me...

CLARKE: ... in that region...

ZAHN: ... tonight that this administration expected the strength of the insurgency movement they're finding now?

CLARKE: Well, I think if you put it in perspective and you look at what everyone who has knowledge has been saying for the last several months, they fully expected lots of violence leading up to the June 30 deadline because although the majority of the Iraqi people are happy the regime was ended, the majority of the Iraqi people wanted to move forward in a representative fashion, there is a very, very active and violent group of some thousands, perhaps, who wanted to go back to the way it was.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, you were...

CLARKE: So the violence was absolutely...

ZAHN: ... wincing -- Joe Klein is...

CLARKE: ... predicted.

ZAHN: ... wincing, looking at these pictures. Is this what the administration expected, Joe?

KLEIN: Well, Torie's old boss, Don Rumsfeld, you know, thought that we were going to be down to 30,000 troops last June. Clearly, these people in this administration were taken by surprise. Clearly, their strategy was a fantasy. Clearly, we're in one of the worst foreign policy pickles that this country has ever been in. And then to use -- to trot out the same old talking points about a bunch of thugs, you know, violence before June 30 -- when we get to June 30, Jerry Bremer yesterday couldn't even say who we were going to turn over the keys over to, who the next government is. There's a committee there, but that committee doesn't represent any Sunnis.

This is a major mess. The president, step one, is -- to admit that when you're in a hole, quit digging, admit that we have a big problem here and then start taking steps to lead, to get the rest of the world around us and with us and maybe begin to calm this thing down.

ZAHN: Torie, let's look at some of the latest statistics from a "Time"/CNN poll. Basically, you've got 51 percent of the American public saying they do not believe the president has a clear and well- thought-out plan. What -- do you think the president needs to make some sort of concession, as Joe Klein just suggested?

CLARKE: Again, I think you're going hear some very, very strong statements from the president tomorrow about what the plan has been all along, a plan that is adaptable and changeable, as it ought to be, according to the circumstances on the ground. One of the things I think you see going on with a variety of polls is that until the violence picked up again, as it was expected to, a lot of the American people were not paying attention on a day-to-day basis to what was going on in Iraq. But the support -- if you look at the polls in general over the last several months, the support for what we did and why we did it in Iraq has been very, very strong.

So I think the president is doing exactly what ought to be done at a very challenging time, and that is, getting out there and speaking directly to the American people about what it is we're trying to accomplish and how we're going about doing it. That's what you do.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, final thought on what we should be looking for tomorrow night.

KLEIN: All we've heard from this president about this situation is that Saddam Hussein was a threat and had to be removed. He has to go beyond that tomorrow night and start talking about how he is going to lead, at this point, and to tell us how we can start to begin to resolve this mess.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, Torie Clarke, thank you...

CLARKE: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: ... for both of your perspectives tonight.

And when we come back, we're going to focus on Ephedra. That is an herbal diet aid that has been banned by the government. We're going to meet a man who says the drug killed his son.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And for any of you who might be trying to lose weight, you'll probably be interested in this story. The FDA's ban on Ephedra, which went into effect today, actually causing some people to stockpile the drug for future use, despite 164 reports of deaths of users. The supplement used for weight loss and body building has also been linked to heart attacks and strokes.

With us now from Peoria, Illinois, is Kevin Riggins. His son, Sean, died after taking Ephedra. Now Mr. Riggins is actually suing an Ephedra manufacturer. He obviously supports this ban. In Savannah, Georgia, is Dr. Robert Le Favi. He's a professor of health sciences at Armstrong-Atlantic State University. He is against the ban on the supplement.

Welcome, gentlemen. Glad to have both of you with us.

Professor, I'm going to start with you first this evening. Let's talk about why the FDA says it banned Ephedra. Quote, "These products pose unacceptable risks, and any consumers who are still using them should stop immediately." Now, you've taken this drug, and you still believe it is safe to use, despite these warnings. Why?

ROBERT LE FAVI, PROF. HEALTH SCIENCES, ARMSTRONG ATLANTIC UNIV.: Yes. Paula, first, let me say this. It's not a drug. It's a food supplement. And the other thing is, let's keep in mind that there are good points on all sides of this debate, which is what makes it a debate. One thing we know is this. Ephedra is a CNS, or central nervous system stimulant. It increases heart rate, it increases blood pressure, and we have to be careful about people taking this who already have a compromised cardiovascular system.

That's all we know. There are certainly bits of evidence that we see, mostly anecdotal reports, case reports, in which we believe there may be some untoward side effects, some adverse events for some people taking this substance, even at recommended levels.

However, there's the other side of the picture that we don't hear a lot about, and that is there are a lot of studies -- Cantox (ph) report, Booz report, Rand study, and on and on -- that show that many people can and do take this substance safely and effectively. And thereby, Paula, they lose weight and they decrease their risks of many diseases associated with overweight and obesity.

ZAHN: All right...

LE FAVI: And we can't just leave that out of the mix.

ZAHN: But the other side of the story is the story that Kevin has to tell us this evening. Your son was 16 at the time he was taking this supplement. What happened?

KEVIN RIGGINS, SON DIED AFTER USING EPHEDRA: Sean had been taking the supplement Ephedra, along with several of his teammates. They were using this product to enhance their performance on the football field. Sean took it for the last time on the 2nd of September. They had a game that night. He sat the game out because his stomach started to be upset, started getting a headache and didn't feel well. So he sat that game out. The following morning, he got up, asked to go to the doctor. Sixteen-year-old boys in that kind of shape don't ask to go to the doctor. My wife took him to the doctor. Within six hours, our son had died of a heart attack in our home.

ZAHN: He had no other health problems?

RIGGINS: None whatsoever. He was perfectly healthy.

ZAHN: So what do you say to these... RIGGINS: As a matter of fact, he had to have a physical to play football.

ZAHN: So what do you say to these people out there who, even today, when the FDA says they're going ban this supplement, are out stockpiling it?

RIGGINS: Well, the problem here is that they're hearing things like our estimable guest is saying. He's showing you the, quote, "other side of the coin." The problem with it is they're not showing the side of the coin that there is no regulation for these companies that manufacture this stuff. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 took the power away from the Food and Drug Administration and basically put the oversight in the hands of the companies that are making the stuff. So you've got companies that all they have to do in order to put a product on the market is to send a letter to the FDA 75 days in advance of their marketing to say that, We don't believe this will harm anyone, and that's it.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen...

RIGGINS: That's all they have to do.

ZAHN: ... you've both given us a lot to think about, as the government actually banned sales of Ephedra, that ban going in effect today. Thank you to Kevin Riggins and Dr. Robert Le Favi.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. A programming note for you now. Tomorrow night, a pivotal night for the White House, what some are describing as what could be the most challenging news conference of President Bush's presidency. A tremendous amount at stake here for the administration when the issue of Iraq and the 9/11 commission comes up. We begin our special preview at 8:00 o'clock, the news conference live at 8:30. Hope you join us then. Have a good night.

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