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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Tribunal for Hussein Set; U.S. Troop Level in Iraq
Aired April 20, 2004 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now.
Justice for Saddam Hussein. It's a story just coming into CNN. The tribunal of Saddam Hussein is set.
And U.S. troop levels in Iraq. In recent days, 20,000 were told they would have to spend another three months on the ground. Now word that that may not be the end of it.
Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
All the president's men battling back against the new bestseller.
From Capitol Hill...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The notion that a invasion of Iraq has been on my agenda since 1991 is simply wrong.
BLITZER: To the Pentagon...
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To my knowledge a decision had not been taken by the president to go to war at that meeting.
BLITZER: To the State Department...
COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The suggestion that somehow a plan was presented to Prince Bandar that I was not familiar with is just flat wrong.
BLITZER: Powerful print. The Saudi insider is the ultimate Washington insider. But is he in too deep with the Bush administration?
Cage combatant. How long can the U.S. hold them without hearings? A dramatic debate in the Supreme Court.
Kerry's critic. The two Vietnam vets squared off three decades ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like you to tell me about the war crimes you saw committed there and also why you didn't do something about them.
BLITZER: And he still got a bone to pick with John Kerry.
ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, April 20, 2004.
BLITZER: The trial of Saddam Hussein, just in to CNN, details of a tribunal that has now been formed to hear the case against the former dictator. An Iraqi national Congress spokesman says Salem Chalabi has been named general director. He's a U.S. educated lawyer, the nephew of the head of the Iraqi national Congress. Chalabi has appointed seven judges so far to preside over the case with more to follow. They, along with four prosecutors, will decide the exact charges Saddam Hussein will face. The tribunal has a $75 million initial budget, but no date has been set yet for the proceedings. Let's get some more information and check in with CNN's Karl Penhaul. He's joining us live from Baghdad. What else are they saying, Karl?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that's the key detail there, Wolf, that so far no date has yet been set for the date of the trial of Saddam Hussein. Yes, this tribunal as we hear tonight is being set up but more members are due to be appointed to that, as you point out, seven judges and four prosecutors appointed as tribunal so far. Salem Chalabi and his spokesman says that more judges will be appointed to this. Of course, once the judges, once all the prosecutors have been assembled they have to look through details and through many, many case files and decide exactly which cases to bring against Saddam Hussein. Also, we understand that many of these judges and prosecutors will undergo training in certain aspects of international law to make sure this prosecution is a cast iron prosecution that meets all kinds of international standards and stands up to international scrutiny -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The U.S. and coalition forces have already recovered some 300,000 mass graves, bodies, of Iraqis allegedly killed by Saddam Hussein during his reign of terror in Iraq. We also know that the U.S. Justice Department has sent over some 50 prosecutors, investigators to help in this eventual tribunal. I assume by all accounts the U.S. is going to play a significant role in all of this once it gets going?
PENHAUL: Certainly one would assume that the coalition authority will be a significant assistance to this tribunal, both advising, helping to train those judges that need to be trained, and also helping assemble the case against Saddam Hussein, but certainly the need here is for an Iraqi tribunal to do this and that's just what these people will be doing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Karl Penhaul reporting for us from Baghdad.
Let's go over to the White House, our senior White House correspondent John King is watching all of this together with all of us. John, the timing of the start of this tribunal, this trial of Saddam Hussein, could be politically significant here in the United States. JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly could be, Wolf. As Carl noted, the administration through the governing council has provided technical and legal advice to the Iraqis who are forming this tribunal. The administration insists though this will be an Iraqi enterprise but it certainly could help the president politically.
We are in a time where many are asking where are the weapons of mass destruction. Was there a legitimate reason to go to war in Iraq. If the administration could have a trial of Saddam Hussein and other key members of his regime that get into the issues of mass grave and human rights abuses and other abuses by the regime, certainly it could bolster the administration's, if you will, secondary case for war in Iraq that even if there are no weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, that he was evil, that he abused his own people, that he gave them no political rights. That the Middle East, the entire region is better off with him out of power. That could be a powerful public relations, if you will, compliment to the Bush administration's case that even if there are no weapons of mass destruction, this president believes he had every right and every reason to go to war.
BLITZER: A potentially very dramatic development unfolding right now. John, thanks very much. CNN's John King reporting from the White House.
The president's men were out in force today to do battle over a book, namely Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack." The charge is that the Bush administration began preparing for war with Iraq shortly after 9/11 and the claim that the die was cast by January of last year when the Pentagon brass told the Saudi ambassador to the United States of U.S. war plans. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today took issue with that scenario.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: To my knowledge, a decision had not been taken by the president to go to war at that meeting. There was certainly nothing I said that should have suggested that. And any suggestion to the contrary would not be accurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Secretary of State Colin Powell today also took strong exception to another claim in the book, namely that he learned of the war plan after the Saudi ambassador.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: Prince Bandar was briefed on plans, plans that had to do with our deployment. And what we might need from the kingdom with respect to our deployment. I was intimately familiar with those deployment plans. I worked on them. I was consulted on them. They were presented to the national security council. I was present whenever these plans were presented. So first the suggestion that somehow plan was presented to Prince Bandar that I was not familiar with is just flat wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The book has also sparked skirmishes up on Capitol Hill. We'll go to live to our congressional correspondent Joe Johns in a moment, but we begin with new developments from our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with the level of violence in Iraq rising by the day, the Pentagon has drawn up plans to send even more troops to Iraq in the coming weeks if needed.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): With the U.S. military taking casualties in Iraq at the highest rate since the war began and with two allies Spain and Honduras pulling forces out of the coalition, the Pentagon is making plans for a quick infusion of reinforcements just in case.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We have done a scrub of forces that could be available essentially immediately to -- in the next few weeks to the next couple of months in case we need more forces.
MCINTYRE: Currently there are 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq including 20,000 whose combat tours were recently extended by three months. But even as it makes contingency plans to boost U.S. force levels above 135,000, the Pentagon insists the option is not under active consideration.
RUMSFELD: Are we considering it? No, but have we prepared, you bet.
MCINTYRE: The abrupt departure of 1,300 Spanish troops and 370 Honduran forces have forced the U.S. to fill the gap with soldiers from the just extended 2nd armored cavalry regiment. It's also prompted a flurry of calls by America's top diplomat to urge other coalition partners not to follow suit.
POWELL: I'm getting solid support for our efforts. Commitments to remain and finish the job that they came to do.
MCINTYRE: And even as the administration insists there are no serious cracks in the coalition, we're learning today a report that Dominican Republic president is saying now that he's considering pulling Dominican Republic troops out early from Iraq. That's about 300 soldiers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.
Iraq has also topped the agenda on Capitol Hill today. At one hearing a top Bush official denied claims in the Bob Woodward book that the Iraq war was years in the making. And at another hearing the president's men failed to appear. Let's go live to our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, members of the Senate were looking for answers today from the deputy secretary of defense, Democrats peppered him with questions about the plan for Iraq, also the transfer of power and about that new book you just mentioned by Bob Woodward. Specifically the claim that the administration used $700 million intended for Afghanistan in planning for the Iraq war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEP. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We specifically withheld funding for those projects that were specifically Iraq related until after the joint resolution passed the Congress. We were very conscious of the Congress's authority in this area and we tried as scrupulously as I know how to live up to our obligations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: A second day of denials for the administration on that very issue. Meanwhile, there are also questions about what will happen in Iraq after the June 30 deadline for transfer of power. The Senate foreign relations committee is looking into that today. So far, though, no top D.O.D. official has committed to testify before the committee on Thursday, leading the top Democrat on that committee to take issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.: This administration has taken this committee and this Congress for granted. Someone should have them read the Constitution of the United States of America, and understand that Article II, there is a legislative body. We do not work for the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: There is a theme emerging here. Democrats are now claiming the administration is keeping them in the dark. There are expected two more days of hearings on these issues -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Joe Johns on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Joe, very much.
Meanwhile, in Iraq developments in existing hot spots and violent attacks in some new ones.
BLITZER (voice-over): Baghdad, a deadly mortar attack on a prison housing more than 4,000 detainees. The coalition says at least 22 detainees were killed and more than 100 injured when a dozen rounds hit the facility.
Also in the capital, a funeral for two men. A reporter and driver for a U.S.-backed Iraqi TV station killed by U.S. forces. An American official says the crew was driving toward a military checkpoint, but failed to stop despite warning shots. The Coalition Provisional Authority promises a thorough investigation.
Mosul, an attack on a U.S. convoy. An American military spokesman says a roadside bomb exploded as the vehicles passed. Five U.S. soldiers were injured, long with three Iraqi civilians.
Fallujah, U.S. Marines report finding a large weapons cache just outside the city scene after deadly and fierce standoff with insurgents. A fragile cease-fire is holding. And some residents who fled are being allowed to return. Other restrictions are being eased, as well.
Negotiations continue, but the U.S. demand is firm. Foreign fighters must be handed over and weapons laid down, or an all out offensive could resume.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The current state of affairs in Fallujah will not continue indefinitely. Thugs and assassins and former Saddam henchmen will not be allowed to carve out portions of that city and to oppose peace and freedom.
BLITZER: Najaf, scene of another stand off, this one with the anti-American Shi'ite clearic, Moqtada al-Sadr and his banned malitia, the Mahdi Army. The top U.S. commander in Iraq visiting troops massed outside the city said there are no immediate plans to storm Najaf and capture Sadr who's wanted in the killing of a more moderate cleric last year.
BLITZER: A major test of America's anti-terror tactics, holding prisoners in the war on terror at Gauntanamo Bay indefinitely. Is justice being denied? The United States Supreme Court takes up the issue.
The Saudi at the center of what seems to be a rather complicated relationship. Who exactly is Prince Bandar? And what are his ties to the U.S. government?
In the shadow of the Vietnam War. A veteran who once publicly debated John Kerry speaks out for the first time in several years. Our exclusive interview with John O'Neill. That's coming up.
BLITZER: It's a key component on the war on terror and now it's getting its first test before the United States Supreme Court. At issue, should non-American detainees at the U.S. Navy Base at Gauntanamo Bay in Cuba have access to the American justice system? Our natioanl correspodnet Bob Franken has been hearing the arguments today on both sides -- Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the kind of case that doesn't get more fundamental than any other kind of case before the court. We are talking about here the separation of powers.
FRANKEN (voice-over): This is the first of three cases testing how much of a stake courts can have in the Bush administration war on terror? And does that power extend to the Gauntanamo Naval Base in Cuba? The administration charges it can hold more than 600 foreign prisoners there indefinitely without charges or lawyers.
In arguments released on audiotape, the attorney for 16 of the detainees disputed a lower court ruling that denied the foreign prisoners a chance to fight the captivity. It held Gauntanamo as part of sovereign Cuba is beyond the reach of the U.S. legal systems.
JOHN GIBBONS, ATTORNEY: The court of appeals did rely on some mystical ultimate sovereignty of Cuba over, as we Navy types call it, Gitmo, treating the Navy base there as a no-law zone.
FRANKEN: But several justices were skeptical repeatedly suggesting the United States merely signed a lease with Cuba which still holds sovereignty.
JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT: It doesn't just say Cuba has sovereignty if we give up the lease. It says the United States -- this is the treaty, "recognizes the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the republic of Cuba over the leased area."
FRANKEN: But when it came time for Solicitor General Theodore Olson to argue for the Bush administration...
THEODORE OLSON, SOLICITOR GENERAL: The United States is at war.
FRANKEN: ... Justice Stephen Breyer got to the heart of the case, the administration's claim that wartime the president has almost total power over so-called enemy combatants.
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: It seems rather contrary to an idea of a constitution with three branches that the executive would be free to do whatever they want, whatever they want without a check.
FRANKEN: Next week, the two cases involving the fundamental arguments over the boundaries of presidential power. This one concerned the power of the federal courts and when it extends past the boundaries of the United States -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bob Franken reporting for us from the Supreme Court today. Thanks very much, Bob.
Here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this, should foreign prisoners being held at the Gauntanamo Bay Naval Base have their cases heard in U.S. courts? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/wolf. We'll have the results for you a little bit later in this broadcast. The Saudis' men in Washington says there's no deal for an October surprise in oil prices. A look ahead at the princely ambassador with close connections to President Bush and his father.
A suspected terrorism plot leads Britain to beef up security on the soccer field this week.
And a talk with the Vietnam vet who took on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry then, and still disagrees with his take on the war today. Stay with us.
BLITZER: The White House and the Saudi government say there's no secret deal to cut oil prices before the November election. Journalist Bob Woodward's new book on the run-up to the Iraq war suggests lower prices and ties between President Bush and the Saudi's U.S. ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The ambassador addressed the claims tonight on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR: We hoped that the oil prices would stay low because that's good for America's economy but more important it's good for our economy and the international economy. This is nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000. In fact, I can go back to 1979, President Carter asked us to keep the prices down to avoid the melee so, yes, it's in our interest and in America's interest to keep the prices down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Brian Todd now takes a look at the prince's link to the president.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's the nephew of a king. Has had close access to five U.S. presidents. Has met with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Later telling an interviewer he didn't think at the time that bin Laden could lead eight ducks across the street. Through it all, nearly 21 years, to be precise, his royal highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan has presided over Saudi Arabia's intensely complicated relationship with the United States.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FMR. STATE DEPT. MIDEAST NEGOTIATOR: I think he's important because in the world of Middle Eastern politics all life is personal.
TODD: Bandar's skill in transcending that Arab Bedouin culture where personal relations and verbal communication make every difference, to represent modern day Saudi Arabia on the world stage is legendary.
WALTER CUTLER, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: He's effective. He's a doer. He has the full confidence, obviously of the king and others in his government. He's produced from the standpoint of keeping the very important Saudi-U.S. bilateral relationship on track.
TODD: He's the grandson of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. The son of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the country's defense minister. But Bandar wasn't always the ultimate insider even inside the royal house of Saud. His mother was a commoner. His father didn't recognize him as a legitimate son until he was at least eight years old. He went on to become a fighter pilot in the Royal Saudi Airforce. Married and had eight children. Was a trusted military liaison to the United States in the late 70s and since 1983 as ambassador to Washington has been a player so instrumental in the Middle East peace process that no president has felt he could broker a major Arab-Israeli deal without Bandar's involvement.
RICHARD MURPHY, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: He's been a very helpful player at times. There's no question.
TODD: Bandar was a key figure in the first war with Iraq, smoothing the way for the royal family to grant U.S. access to Saudi bases. Bandar is so close to former President George H.W. Bush that various reports say he is considered a member of the Bush family. He played racquetball with Colin Powell in 1970s. But Bandar is also described as a cunning, ruthless manipulator, adept at pitting one person against another.
MURPHY: Well, that's rather what the game of being an ambassador does involve, you are supposed to be able to both influence them toward your point of view and to report faithfully and effectively their messages and position back to your government.
TODD: September 11, and the discovery that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis brought the worst crisis in U.S.-Saudi relations. Bandar and his government closed ranks through allegations in the United States that the Saudis didn't do enough to combat terrorism. Now, the dean of the Washington diplomatic corps embraces another challenge, helping two governments navigate another war in Iraq and its aftermath. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Several U.S. civilians still missing in Iraq. Now grim news for the families of three Halliburton contractors whose convoy came under attack more than a week ago.
A shared foe both past and present. John Kerry's Vietnam views vexed President Nixon. I'll speak to the veteran Nixon urged to publicly counter Kerry more than 30 years ago.
And later. Striking gold. A twin surprise for wildlife officials in China.
BLITZER: Welcome back. On patrol with the United States military in Afghanistan. We'll have an inside look at their difficult mission. We'll get to that.
First, though, a quick check of the latest headlines.
The Iraqi Governing Council has set up a tribunal to try former leader Saddam Hussein. Salem Chalabi, nephew of the head of the Iraqi National Congress, will head the tribunal. It will try Saddam Hussein and other members of his regime. So far, no date has been set for those trials.
In Oklahoma, the prosecution's key witness took the stand in the state murder trial of Terry Nichols. Michael Fortier says Nichols actively planned the Oklahoma City bombing with Timothy McVeigh; 168 people died when the Murrah Federal Office Building was blown up in 1995. Nichols is already serving a life sentence on federal convictions for the bombing. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
The nation and community of Littleton, Colorado, was shocked five years ago today after two students opened fire in Columbine High School. Eric Harris join Dylan Klebold killed a dozen students and a teacher before killing themselves. Classes were canceled today. A memorial and vigil are planned for tonight.
In Britain, security is stepped up for soccer matches in Manchester. The move was made after police arrested 10 people accused of plotting terrorist attacks. Seven of those arrested were in Manchester.
Now to Iraq. There is grim news today about three of the U.S. civilians missing in Iraq.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is standing by -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf, sad news today for three families in America, but perhaps some sense of closure.
The Halliburton company announcing the positive identification of three sets of remains recovered from Iraq on April 13. These are the remains of employees killed in a convoy attack several days earlier on April 9, now, the employees identified as Stephen Hulett, 48 years old, of Manistee, Michigan; Jack Montague, 52 years old, of Pittsburgh, Illinois; Jeffery Parker, 45 years old, of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Halliburton saying now 33 of its employees have lost their lives in Iraq. In the statement today about these three men, the company saying that they were brave hearts without medals, humanitarians without parades, and heroes without statues. There were four sets of remains recovered. The fourth set now not believed to be an American. The coalition saying it believes there will be a statement from another country shortly about the identification of that forth set of remains -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thanks, Barbara, very much.
Before Iraq there, of course, WAS Afghanistan where U.S. troops still remain, still combing the Iraqi landscape of the Afghan-Pakistan border to try to track down remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joined a patrol carried out by the 1st battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A few miles from the Pakistan border, a U.S. patrol spots a suspicious antenna. Lieutenant Joe Whitener stops to ask questions. And that's when his difficulties begin.
LT. JOE WHITENER, U.S. ARMY: (INAUDIBLE) not Afghani living around here.
ROBERTSON: The response, no. Going in, they are shown a TV set hooked to the antenna. The questions continue.
WHITENER: Ask them if they have seen anyone that is not Afghani.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but I asked before.
ROBERTSON: Again, the answer, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody.
ROBERTSON: An invitation for tea. And so the questioning continues.
WHITENER: Do they intend to vote?
ROBERTSON: Whitener departs with smiles, but little else.
(on camera): Did you get anything useful information, anything that helps you build your picture?
WHITENER: No, sir. No, their answers were pretty much all preprogrammed.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): A well appointed guest house and some prior intelligence arousing suspicion at yet another village.
WHITENER: Ask them if any foreigners have ever stayed here.
ROBERTSON: When translated, the answer, a resounding no. Outside, the villagers asked for financial help building a mosque. Lieutenant Whitener makes it clear only if they tell him the truth.
WHITENER: Tell him that if there's bad guys here, we can't come and help. ROBERTSON: Again, the interpreter translates an answer now all too familiar to the young officer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... bad guys. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
WHITENER: The intelligence we got was basically that something was going on in that compound. And I mean, you know, somebody wasn't telling the truth.
ROBERTSON (on camera): There is no simple answer to the question of whether or not the troops are being told the truth. But with so many questions outstanding, they have little choice but to keep asking.
Nic Robertson, CNN, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
BLITZER: A past war fueling a new debate involving presidential candidate John Kerry. His anti-Vietnam War stance has outraged some veterans, including one decorated sailor who has publicly debated him on the issue. I'll talk live with Vietnam veteran John O'Neill, his first television interview in years. This will be a CNN exclusive. That's coming up next.
Plus, supporting Kerry's military record. I'll also speak live with Michael Meehan. He's a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. We'll get to all of that.
First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.
BLITZER (voice-over): Palestinians angry about the assassination of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Rantisi continue to battle Israelis. Arab militants fired homemade rockets and mortar rounds at Jewish settlements. And Israeli troops shot and killed at least three Palestinians.
Nepal protests. Pro-democracy demonstrators defied a ban on public gathering in Nepal, clashing with police in Katmandu. The demonstrators are demanding a multiparty government instead of the current Cabinet dominated by supporters of the king.
India votes. Three weeks of parliamentary elections began in India, the world's largest democracy. When it's all over, the vote is expected to keep Prime Minister Vajpayee's ruling coalition in power.
Striking gold. A wildlife park in Beijing has a new reason to celebrate the Chinese year of the monkey. A rare golden monkey has given birth to twins. The odds of that happening are about one in 10,000, which means that in the eyes of animal lovers and animal experts alike, these golden monkeys glitter. And that's our look around the world.
BLITZER: Under pressure from Republicans and the news media, John Kerry's campaign today said it's working to release the Democratic presidential candidate's Vietnam-era military records and put them on his campaign Web site.
Kerry's long public career has been linked to Vietnam since the very beginning. He first rose to public prominence as an opponent of the war.
BLITZER (voice-over): After John Kerry came home from Vietnam, decorated with combat medals, he became an outspoken critic of the war.
JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERAN: We came here to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the lost vestige of this barbaric war.
BLITZER: Leading Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 33 years ago this week.
KERRY: We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose their sense of morality.
BLITZER: Kerry accused President Nixon of prolonging and war and fellow soldiers of war crimes. In some cases they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals, cut off limbs, blown up bodies randomly shot at civilians.
Vietnam veteran John O'Neill was out raged.
JOHN O'NEILL, VIETNAM VETERAN: And I would like you to tell me about the war crimes you saw committed there and also why you didn't do something about them.
BLITZER: O'Neill challenged Kerry to debate and they did, first on "The Dick Cavett Show."
KERRY: I did take part in search and destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground.
O'NEILL: I think there's something particularly pathetic about me having to appear on nationwide television and trade polished little phrases with you to defend the honor of 55,000 people that died there, the 2.5 million of us that served there. I think further that the justification that Hanoi uses for keeping our POWs is that they were engaged in criminal acts there. BLITZER: Kerry now says his use of the word atrocities to describe soldiers' actions was inappropriate.
KERRY: I think some soldiers were angry at me for that. And I understand that. And I regret that because I love them. But the words were honest but on the other hand they were a little bit over the top.
O'Neill, himself awarded two Bronze Stars in Vietnam, was encouraged by President Nixon to give it to Kerry.
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go on some of these TV shows, like the Cavett thing, you're going to get banged. You'll feel terribly discouraged. You have to remember to get back and reassure people that those few that come back, like Kerry and the rest, don't speak for all.
BLITZER: O'Neill, the son of a Navy admiral, had spent his last 12 months in Vietnam patrolling enemy waters as the officer in charge of a swift boat, in fact, O'Neill says, the same vessel that John Kerry had led before he returned home.
BLITZER: Today, John O'Neill is an attorney. He's turned down Republican overtures to speak out during John Kerry's previous campaigns. This year, he has not given any interviews until now.
John O'Neill is joining us now live from Houston.
Mr. O'Neill, thanks very much for joining us.
Why have you decided you want to speak out against John Kerry right now?
O'NEILL: I have no choice, Wolf. I would far rather be home or on the other side of a TV camera than being on television.
I haven't been on television in many, many years, had very little involvement in politics. But I was in Coastal Division 11 with John Kerry. I arrived about two months after he left and I had the same small boat he did. His allegations that people committed war crimes in that unit and throughout Vietnam were lies. He knew they were lies when he said them. And they were very damaging lies.
That speech you played for example in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was broadcast for POWs when they were actually being held in Hanoi. The admiral, Admiral Zumwalt, whose son was my closest friend who gave him that medal in the picture you showed, that was one of the people that John Kerry was claiming was a war criminal. Admiral Zumwalt was one of the greatest heroes in the Navy. He was a man that introduced women to the Naval Academy, who stood and saved ships in World War II by himself. And, finally, I had no choice but to come forward.
BLITZER: He did say on "Meet the Press" on Sunday that some of the words he used were probably inappropriate. He says he wouldn't use those words today, but he was young and he was passionate and he was anti- -- very anti-war. Can you forgive him for that?
O'NEILL: Actually, what he said was -- or at least the part I got was that it was a little bit excessive. It's really not a matter of forgiveness. It's a matter of fitness to be the commander and chief of all U.S. forces.
There's a book that he published, it's a book called "The New Soldier." And I hope you can see this book. It costs $1,700 to buy the book now that he published because they won't permit the reprinting of the book because they don't want the American people to see the book. He's the author of the book "The New Soldier." And every American should take a look at this book. It begins with a caricature making fun of the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima.
My father was on Iwo Jima. The damaging lies that he told about war criminals have haunted people's entire lives. So it's just a little bit late in the course of a presidential campaign to say it's a bit excessive after, you know, coming forward with lies for a period of more than 30 years.
BLITZER: As you well know, there will be charges made that you're getting involved now for political reasons, because maybe you're a Republican -- I have no idea -- or the Bush people are encouraging you to do so. Tell our viewers why exactly you are doing this now.
O'NEILL: It's not just me, Wolf. I think you are going to find many people, many people from Coastal Division 11 are coming forward now. I've been in contact with them. We drew the black name.
We would much rather stay at home. Most of us would much rather have nothing to do with this. I have been contacted at least 50 times over the past 30 years by Kerry's opponents at various times. I have refused to do it. Why are we coming forward? Because we were there. We know the truth and we know that this guy is unfit to be the commander in chief.
BLITZER: One final question, I've been to several rallies of Kerry supporters. I see a lot of Vietnam veterans there, Max Cleland, the former U.S. senator from Georgia. So many of these guys are passionate about John Kerry, especially those who worked with him, served with him, in Vietnam. How come they have such a different impression of him than you do?
O'NEILL: Wolf, what you've got is the same seven or eight people recycled over and over again. I think you'll find when you match numbers out of Coastal Division 11, the people that knew him, the people that came from the unit like I did, I think you'll find that he'll get less votes than a Republican would get in South Boston.
I think you'll find people are very, very angry at John Kerry. They remember his career in Vietnam as a short, controversial one. And they believe only Hollywood could turn this guy into a war hero. I saw some war heroes, Wolf. John Kerry is not a war hero. He couldn't tie the shoes of some of the people in Coastal Division 11.
BLITZER: John O'Neill, thanks very much for joining us on this very, very sensitive subject.
O'NEILL: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: And supporting John Kerry's military record and position on the Vietnam War, just ahead a very different point of view. I'll speak live with Michael Meehan. He's a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign.
Plus, modern day superhero. He's able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look at this, rocket man. He's coming up.
BLITZER: Before the break, we spoke with John O'Neill, a Vietnam veteran and a longtime critic of John Kerry's position on the Vietnam War. Joining us now, Michael Meehan. He's a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign.
Let me get your quick kick reaction to what we just heard from John O'Neil, a very passionate denunciation of John Kerry.
MICHAEL MEEHAN, SENIOR ADVISER, JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN: Sure.
Mr. O'Neill certainly has earned his right through his service to speak whatever he wants and have his opinions. We would disagree that -- with some of his characterizations. Senator Kerry volunteered to go to Vietnam, not once, but twice, two tours of duty, did serve in that Coastal Division 11 on the same boat.
And Senator Kerry won a Silver Star For Bravery a Bronze Star For Bravery and then three Purple Hearts leading that division. Admiral Zumwalt, who he referred to, is actually the man who awarded Kerry the Silver Star For Bravery during his service. So I certainly would say that his characterization of John Kerry's service is inaccurate.
BLITZER: What about the notion that John Kerry came back and accused his fellow troops of atrocities in Vietnam?
MEEHAN: I think Senator Kerry's testimony before the Senate in 1971 where he talked about others had talked about the things that happened during times of war, and that's what he testified before the Senate on, is that we had a war where things like this were happening and they didn't need to happen.
He apologized for some of his word choices. He was a young man who came back, had seen a lot in Vietnam, wanted this country to end that war, and came back and worked very hard to bring that war to an end.
BLITZER: Do you know anything about this book that Mr. O'Neill referred to in which he says that Kerry basically humiliated or debased the U.S. military? MEEHAN: Well, I think there are a lot of charges that went back and forth. This was a very difficult time for this country in Vietnam, the time around Vietnam, continuing the war for year after year.
And John Kerry had seen a lot in his time over there, four years in the Navy. And he earned the right to come back and say, we've got to come and stop this war. And he did join the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. It was a group of thoughtful people, moderate people who wanted to end the war. It's people who have gone on to fight for Agent Orange relief, to go on and fight for veterans' benefits.
It's been 30 years that these people have gone and worked to help restore the honor to our veterans now that they are back. And Kerry is quite proud of his time that he served in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
BLITZER: On Sunday, John Kerry told Tim Russert that if anyone wants to see his military records, they can go to campaign headquarters and review whatever they want. A reporter from "The Boston Globe" went the next day and he was told to leave. He wasn't allowed to see the records. What happened?
MEEHAN: Well, that reporter has seen many of Senator Kerry's military records. And today, our campaign is actually going to post on the Web site what the U.S. Navy has for his military records.
John Kerry has a record in the military that he's running on, not running from. We're putting it up on the Web site for everybody to see the military records that he has.
BLITZER: The complete file?
MEEHAN: Everything the U.S. Navy sent to Senator Kerry, we'll post on the Web site. The whole world can see.
BLITZER: What time do you think that will happen?
MEEHAN: It takes about a few hours actually to get it up on the Web site. So you can start looking tonight and it should all be up by this time tomorrow.
BLITZER: So his biggest regret right now, John Kerry, looking back on the whole Vietnam experience, his role in the anti-war movement, is what?
MEEHAN: Well, I think he said this weekend that he regretted some of the language that he used during his testimony. And that is something that he has apologized for and feels that he has regrets. But in terms of his service, in terms of his crew members, he's very proud of the men that he served with and the time that he served in the military.
BLITZER: Michael Meehan, from the Kerry campaign, thanks very much for joining us.
MEEHAN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Our hot "Web Question of the Day" is this: Should foreign prisoners being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have their cases heard in U.S. courts? You can vote right now. Go to CNN.com/Wolf. We'll have the results for you when we come back.
Plus, flying high. Look at this. It's not a bird. It's not a plane. It's a new world record, though. We'll explain. That's coming up.
BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." We've been asking this question: Should foreign prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Naval Base have their cases heard in U.S. courts? Look at this: 43 percent of you say yes; 57 percent of you say no. As always, we remind you, this is not a scientific poll. By the way, you can continue to vote on our Web site, CNN.com/Wolf.
Rocket Man sets a record. It's our picture of the day. Look at this stunt. Professional stuntman Eric Scott used his rocket backpack to propel himself 13 stories high and into the record books. Scott is an Air Force veteran who appeared as Rocket Man at the Olympics, as well as on tour with Michael Jackson. Look at him go.
As always, we remind you as well, we're on weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon Eastern. I'll see you tomorrow. Until then, thanks very much for joining us.
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