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AMERICAN MORNING

Ten U.S. Soldiers Reported Dead Already Today; President, Vice President Will Take Questions on Their Version of Events Going Back to 9/11

Aired April 29, 2004 - 07:00   ET

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


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The president and vice-president going before the 9/11 Commission today. Historic testimony, but no historical record.
And what's behind the increasing number of Americans dead in traffic accidents? America's dangerous roads on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome everybody. We've got lots to cover today, especially coming out of Iraq. Some breaking news to report.

We are just getting word from military spokesmen in Iraq that eight U.S. soldiers have been killed in a car bomb attack. It happened south of Baghdad in a town that's called Birmuda (ph). We don't have much more information than that.

Of course we're going to continue to update you, though, on the situation.

In a separate incident, a ninth soldier was killed in Baghdad in an RPG attack. Lots of bad news to start off the morning with.

HEMMER: Bad news there. Meanwhile in Fallujah there may be some promising signs of change there today. Tony Perry of "The L.A. Times" with us throughout the week.

New information today that Iraqis will take over security in that town.

We'll find out what it means for the Marines and also for dealing with the insurgents. It could be a significant move forward. We'll have to wait and see what comes of this at this point.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Cafferty is with us this morning -- hello.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Coalition could use a move forward. A couple of new polls out; one of them indicating that a substantial majority of the people in Iraq would like us to pack up our stuff and go home now.

While a new poll in this country spells that the number of people supporting the war in Iraq is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. We'll take a look at that.

O'BRIEN: Interesting poll numbers coming out. All right, Jack, thanks.

Let's get right to our top stories this morning. President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney will go before the 9/11 Commission today. No firm timetable has been set, but White House officials expect the private meeting to last about two hours.

All ten members of the Commission are expected to be on hand. We're going to take you live to the White House in just a few moments for a report on that.

One of President Bush's most popular tax cuts might become permanent. The House voted yesterday to approve a bill that would eliminate what is called the marriage tax penalty.

But some Democrats say the government can't afford the tax cut, which would cost the Treasury $105 billion over the next decade. The bill now heads to the Senate.

At least two dozen people, mostly children, were killed in a traffic accident in Columbia. The incident happened in a suburb north of the capitol city of Bogotá. Officials say a construction backhoe rolled down an embankment; then hit a school bus.

Federal officials now warning of possible terrorist activities in the west Los Angeles area. In a statement authorities say they have received a potential threat indicating an attack on a shopping mall in the general vicinity of the federal building. As of now the information is uncorroborated, and the credibility of the source is unknown.

In Montana, a powerful spring snowstorm dumped eight inches of snow in some areas just one day after most of the state was actually enjoying unseasonably warm weather. The snowstorm packed strong winds, forced at least two highways to shut down. The storm was part of that same system that knocked out power to thousands of customers in Washington State.

Amazing when you see the pictures from yesterday from there, how beautiful it was, and then they're digging out.

HEMMER: The tail of Mother Nature just kind of whipping us on her way out.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HEMMER: Want to start with that tough news again breaking out of Iraq.

Ten U.S. soldiers reported dead already today, eight apparently in one incident in a car bombing south of Baghdad, two others involved in two separate incidents, not a whole lot of information involved in those, but at least one RPG attack involved, so we will follow the latest on what's happening there. Also, the latest from Fallujah today, word this morning of a tentative agreement aimed at ending weeks of violence between the Marines and the insurgents inside that town.

I talked with Tony Perry, the "L.A. Times" reporter providing some captivating coverage for us this week, asking him what he knows about the reports of a deal reached with former Iraqi generals already today.

Here's Tony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY PERRY, LOS ANGELES TIMES: A deal has been struck between the U.S. and various Iraqi officials to end the Marine siege of Fallujah to prevent the Marines from having to assault the downtown area, to wipe out the insurgents.

Instead, an offshoot of the Iraqi army to be called the Fallujah New Protective Army or some phrasing like that -- will take over from the Marines in the next seven to ten days.

It will be led by four former generals of the Iraqi army. These are men who served under Saddam Hussein, known as military professionals, not men who hide behind women or children or use biological weapons, for example. Men known to the Marines.

These men stepped forward in the last few days, finally -- the Marines have been calling for some Iraqi leadership to put an Iraqi face on this problem. These men have stepped forward; they've been vetted.

The Marines believe in them, they've been watching them very, very closely so Iraqi forces, army forces -- will be moving into Fallujah. The Marines after a short period of time will move out and the insurgency problem will then become an Iraqi problem, not an American problem.

HEMMER: Tony, already there were reports today that some Marines are getting ready to pack up and head out of there and also these four Iraqi generals -- where have they been -- these negotiations -- throughout the past week?

PERRY: Apparently there were extensive discussions in the last couple of days through intermediaries and then face to face. I was outside the room when the head American general, Major General James Madis (ph) met with the four Iraqi generals including a former three- star Iraqi general, Manniu (ph) a man he fought against -- and the two of them came out smiling, the two of them came out shaking hands.

General Madis (ph) stood very close to his Iraqi counterpart and said you and I are going to make this work; we're going to do it, anything I can do. It is now the two of us.

HEMMER: What's the explanation as to why now this is going into effect, Tony? PERRY: Well, I talked to one Marine Colonel -- he said what has happened is these Iraqi generals have seen what the Marines have done, seen how powerful they are, seen that they surrounded the cities and that they've beaten, killed the insurgents every time they've gone up against them and seen the power, if they didn't know it already, of the U.S. military, and they know what could happen if the Marines have to go downtown to wipe out the insurgents.

HEMMER: You mentioned the general, James Madis, the Marine there who was responsible for a lot of these negotiations -- did he tell you as to why he's trusting this measure now?

PERRY: Well, I think he has a gut feeling that these people can be trusted. You know lots of very, very, very closely -- they're not going to just walk away he said.

But he thinks it's worth a try. They've always, from the day we circled the city, April 5th, they wanted the Iraqis involved, the police, the National Guard -- well neither of them stepped forward. Now it's the Army, these generals have stepped forward, and it seems a workable solution, number of questions and bucks in a row are going to have to be dealt with but it's a giant first step.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: Tony Perry of "The L.A. Times," that last point making probably the most important a giant step forward for now, but a lot of questions still remain as to what happens in Fallujah -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, President Bush has expressed optimism about that situation in Fallujah. Here's a little bit about what he had to say yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most of Fallujah is returning to normal. There are pockets of resistance and we will -- our military along with Iraqis will make sure it's secure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll done largely before the new round of violence this month offers the first extensive look at how Iraqis see life in their country since the fall of Saddam.

Joining us this morning to take a look at these polls and also that volatile situation in Fallujah is CNN analyst Ken Pollack with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. He's live from Washington for us this morning.

Ken, good morning, nice to see you as always.

Before we get to the polls, let's talk a little bit about what we just heard Tony Perry reporting. What do you make of this plan of these four Iraqi generals who say they're going to step in to take over and lead this new Iraqi army obviously with several caveats? KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Well, Soledad, it's -- it is potentially a good way out of the current impasse. The only way that we're ever going to get out of the impasse was if Iraqis who were close to the people of Fallujah, that is other Sunni hierarchy Sunnis could be brought in and kind of broker some kind of a compromise agreement.

This is the kind of agreement that could work, but obviously devil is in the details, it's still in the early stages, it could fall apart.

I think we also have to keep in mind that while on the one hand we should be very relieved that we've gotten ourselves out of this catch-22 that we created in Fallujah, that this is going to be a compromise solution and we should remember that there are as many as several thousand hard core insurgents in Fallujah and it doesn't yet sound like this agreement is necessarily going to demand their capture, their disarmament.

If that's the case, we may simply be postponing a problem that's going to need to be dealt with still down the road.

O'BRIEN: When Tony ended his report by saying, well, it's a giant step forward, there are all these many massive questions that still remain and I think you're right that's one of them.

But didn't the U.S. military, the coalition forces originally go into Fallujah as retaliation for the mutilation of these four contractors?

A lot of that seems to be lost in the last week of build up. What happens there if the Marines decide, OK, we're going to pull out? It's a done deal, the generals take over. What happens with the whole plan that was originally behind going into Fallujah in the first place?

POLLACK: Sure -- well, you're absolutely right, Soledad. We should remember that Fallujah was a crisis of our own making. We let our emotion carry us into Fallujah.

A lot of Americans, a lot of Marines, and a lot of people in Washington were very angry, understandably incredibly angry, at what we saw happen to those four contractors in Fallujah.

They decided to go in and try to find the people, use overwhelming military force to get at the people who did that -- I always thought that that was going to be highly unlikely and given the circumstances that we created in Fallujah last (UNINTELLIGIBLE) months, I just thought it was very likely we'd get ourselves exactly into the situation we did. We got ourselves into a catch-22 and I think that very smartly people both in Baghdad and in Fallujah and in Washington recognized that having put ourselves into this catch-22, having gotten ourselves into this trap, the most important thing was to extricate ourselves first and foremost and anything else had to come secondary.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk a little bit about this new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll out of Iraq.

And it was done really the second week of April, which was well before the most recent spate of violence that we have seen and obviously well before what we saw yesterday. A lot of its contradictory. For example, you can see it on the screen there.

Forty-six percent said the invasion of Iraq did more harm than good -- 61 percent say ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it. Fifty- seven percent say they want the U.S.-British troops to leave the country immediately.

Thirty-six percent say they shouldn't leave. Fifty-three percent say they feel less safe if U.S. troops leave.

You know, it seems to be a little bit all over the board. What do you take out of these polls? Is -- contradictions inherent in them just what to be expected?

POLLACK: Sure, I'll make a few points, Soledad.

First, I think that some of the questions in the poll were very well designed. I think others were not very well designed, and, in fact, I think that some of the headlines of the Gallup organization put on some of the conclusions are a bit misleading -- in particular, the claim that more Iraqis now support the attacks.

In fact, that's not exactly what the question asked and that's not what the Iraqis seem to be saying.

And that's the second point, which is that in many cases you have to be careful because the Iraqis are trying desperately to tell us that they are angry and they are frustrated and they are losing faith with us and a lot of the answers that you are seeing reflect that.

And you are absolutely right; there are answers that seem to be deeply contradictory, but this is been consistent all throughout our experience in Iraq. When I was there in November and the polls at the same time showed it; if you asked Iraqis what they thought about the entire war and reconstruction, what they said consistently was we're delighted Saddam is gone, we hate the fact that you're in our country, but please don't leave, because if you leave, there will be a civil war.

And honestly these polls continue to show that.

O'BRIEN: But my question to you would be then why don't we see a major uprising for example in Fallujah from the Iraqi civilians?

You're talking about well over 130 some odd Iraqi civilians killed, more than the U.S. soldiers and we report their deaths every day, five on average a day, so why aren't you seeing Iraqi saying we're sick of the insurgents too -- we want some kind of order in our country, let's get them out ourselves?

POLLACK: Well, because to some extent the people especially in Fallujah are not sick of the insurgents. The people in Fallujah are Sunni tribals who believe that the reconstruction is designed to destroy their society, to put them in the same kind of position that they kept the Shiia of Iraq for the last 80 years so they support the insurgents, at least in a passive sense.

That's one of the problems that's out there. But in the broader population, what you see reflected in the poll is that while most Iraqis do want reconstruction to succeed in another very important finding in the poll is there is still overwhelming support for building a democratic system of government in Iraq, they are deeply angry and frustrated at the United States and what we've seen you know manifesting itself on the ground over the last few weeks is that a growing number, still a minority but a growing number of Iraqis are taking that frustration and channeling it into support to various individuals -- you know rejectionist groups like Muqtada Al-Sadr's down in the south.

O'BRIEN: Ken Pollack at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. Ken, thank you as always, appreciate it.

We should mention you can read all of the Iraq poll results on our website which is cnn.com.

HEMMER: In a moment here President Bush and the vice-president just hours away from answering questions before the Commission, the 9/11 Commission, live at the White House -- they'll be in the Oval Office for that this morning.

O'BRIEN: And death on the highway. We're going to take a look at some disturbing new numbers on traffic deaths in America. That's ahead. AMERICAN MORNING is back right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: A few hours from now there in the White House the president and vice president will take questions on their version of events going back to 9/11 a history making event today for sure.

Dana Bash live at the White House setting the scene for us there. Good morning, Dana.

DANA BASH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, and the setting will be none other, Bill, than the Oval Office itself. All ten members of the 9/11 Commission we expect to be at this setting.

It's going to last we are told about two hours and let's take a look at some of the ground rules here.

First of all, the president and vice-president will not be under oath and although this is by all accounts an historic event, there will be no official transcript for the history books. No recording of this, either.

Present at this will be the president's chief counsel and two other White House lawyers will also be there; they are going to be the ones who are going to take notes, as will, of course, the members of the 9/11 Commission. Now, there has been no shortage of criticism of the ground rules of this meeting, particularly the biggest is why -- the question is why the president and vice-president are appearing together and why the Commission agreed to that.

Now the White House is -- essentially saying this is not a game of gotcha, that what they're trying to do is help the Commission in finding their facts and that appearing together will help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: This is not a criminal investigation, this is not someone that you know and for a grand jury -- I mean, the purpose of these private sessions is for the president and the vice-president to provide information to the Commission and that's what they're going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: But the president and vice-president certainly have been preparing for this and they are waiting for the members of the Commission to arrive very shortly Bill.

HEMMER: You say they've been preparing -- any indication as to how they're getting ready for this?

BASH: Well, we are told over the past several days they have spent a couple of hours each day preparing for this day.

I've been talking to the chief counsel whom you just saw, Alberto Gonzales; they've talked to the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. They've also according to administration officials been consulting with one another before this testimony.

They've also been given some briefing books, some of the intelligence reports leading up to September 11th, they've been given the transcripts of some of the hearings before the 9/11 Commission specifically of Richard Clarke who, of course, was quite critical of the president, they understand some of the questions they will get will be about those critical times particularly in the summer and the briefings that they got about the spike in intelligence and potential attacks here in the homeland.

HEMMER: Little more than two hours away, Dana Bash at the White House -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The government is reporting an alarming increase in traffic deaths according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of traffic fatalities in 2003 reached a 13 year high.

The total number of deaths last year was over 43,000; a one percent increase over 2002, and 2003 was the fifth straight year that road deaths increased.

The safety agency's administrator says the disturbing rise underscores the need for states to adopt standard safety belt laws and also get tougher on drunk drivers.

Still to come this morning, more U.S. soldiers coming under fire in Iraq with some deadly consequences. And new details on ending that siege in Fallujah. We've got those stories just ahead.

Plus, some government employees have been on a shopping spree and guess what? You're footing the bill. We'll explain ahead as AMERICAN MORNING continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Apparently some government workers know how to use a credit card in a big way. Our market preview too with Andy Serwer, "Minding Your Business" here on a Thursday morning -- good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning to you.

HEMMER: Talking to you and me is what they're doing.

SERWER: That's right. You know forget about the $600 toilet seats. This is like way, way, way beyond that.

Yesterday Senate hearings about spending by government employees on government credit cards and, that's right, you and me pay these bills -- you won't believe what investigators turned up.

Let's check this out. Really some striking stuff. First of all, mounted deer head. How is this justified? This was to educate airmen at base about local deer populations.

Louis Vuitton briefcase? It was said that it was a personal preference why to buy that. LEGO toy robots because they needed to teach Navy engineers about robotics; that was the justification in that line; I love that.

Let's check out some of these others. $300...

O'BRIEN: Cosmetic surgery...

SERWER: Well, I skipped over that, it was a nose job. $300 headphones -- hey they're Bose. They're expensive, OK?

Then the Santa Claus costume that cost $325, the global positioning system, a guy bought three of them; he said that he got lost a lot. A lot.

HEMMER: He needed one for his boat, one for his SUV.

SERWER: Isn't it nice to have someone like that in the military.

HEMMER: At least they have good taste, huh?

SERWER: Yes, they do. This is amazing. In 1994, spending on these credit cards was a billion. Today it's $16 billion. It's really remarkable. And what gets to me, you guys, is that the government pays for these directly. In other words, instead of reimbursing employees, I mean, a lot of companies have switched over to that, where you have to reimburse the employees, and it actually really cuts down on that spending, does it not?

HEMMER: Market preview quickly. Hammered yesterday.

SERWER: Yes, lot of stuff going on yesterday. Well, Iraq was obviously a big question. Also fears about China's economy, you can look at that right there.

Nortel firing its top three executives, Comcast walking away from Disney so you know a lot of bad news. Some good news, though, yesterday from our parent company, Time Warner -- it's profit doubled.

That was after the bell so we will be watching that stock very closely today. We will. Yes we will.

HEMMER: Went back to the old one.

SERWER: Yes, right.

HEMMER: Thanks Andy.

SERWER: OK.

HEMMER: Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And Jack's here with the "Question of the Day."

CAFFERTY: The suggestion is it's because of the fine job you're doing over there at "Fortune" magazine with the Time Warner profits are as high as they are.

SERWER: Well I have to ad revenues are in the money, you know but I...

CAFFERTY: Etiquette suggests that a good guest knows when it's time to go home. Yesterday we talked about Fallujah where Marines are facing Sunni insurgents.

Similar situation in Najaf, where the standoff involves a Shiite cleric and hundreds of his supporters.

And there are no easy answers in either place. A growing number of Iraqis want U.S. troops out of their country now, according to the poll they were talking about a few minutes ago. This was taken before the situation in Fallujah.

Fifty-seven percent of Iraqis say that U.S. troops should leave immediately. A "New York Times"/CBS News poll shows support for the war has decreased here at home.

Forty-six percent of Americans say troops should stay in Iraq until its stable, but the same percentage say that American troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible.

So here's the question -- when is the right time for U.S. troops to leave Iraq? E-mail us at am@cnn.com. And we'll read some of the stuff a little later.

HEMMER: Whole lot to think about there. Jack, thanks for that.

NASA's Mars Rover's keep on going and going. The twins have completed an original 90-day mission.

Still more ahead, though. Opportunity getting back more than 15 gigabytes of data.

Now mission scientists turning to Rover toward its next target, a large crater named endurance.

Meanwhile, the Spirit has covered bout three-quarters of a mile. Still clicking along, aiming for some nearby hills in hopes of finding signs of an ancient lakebed there.

NASA says that Rover is -- one second -- in good shape -- hang on -- after more than three months of extreme temperature swings and dust storms on the red planet.

They pay me to read that.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Don't let yourself be distracted by any questions.

HEMMER: What's up Jack?

CAFFERTY: Have they found anything except red rocks up there yet?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

HEMMER: Lot of dirt, too. With a nice red tinge to it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I wasn't sure if that was a lot or a little, the number of gigabytes of information.

HEMMER: Listen, I want to thank you -- and you, Jack, actually -- for doubling the revenues of Time Warner.

Wonderful work. Thanks for the job security.

O'BRIEN: Are all of you quite through?

SERWER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: It's the least we could do.

O'BRIEN: Let's move on, then.

Still to come this morning, a G-rated Prince? The artist formerly known as a raunchy rocker returns, and now he's got a new tamer persona.

For that plus another American Idol gets the boot. Stay with us, you're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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