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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired May 16, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Amman, Jordan, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
In just a few minutes, I'll speak with veteran journalist Seymour Hersh about his new article on the prison abuse scandal. Was it part of a secret operation order by the highest levels of the U.S. Defense Department?

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Powell says he was shocked by the U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Powell spoke at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. He said the Bush administration is not hiding from what happened in Iraq and, as he put it, quote, "we will deal with this."

Joining us now from the forum to talk about Arab reaction to the prisoner abuse scandal and continuing conflict in Iraq, the Arab League secretary general, Amre Moussa.

Mr. Moussa, welcome to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

Are you satisfied, Mr. Moussa, with the way the U.S. government is dealing with this prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison?

AMRE MOUSSA, ARAB LEAGUE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Well, the whole situation in Iraq is disturbing everybody in this region. It's not a question of what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison alone. The future of Iraq, the restoration of sovereignty, the question of ending occupation, the question of the U.N., the future of Iraq, the role of the Arab community of nations, the concern of the Arab community of nations, there are so many things about Iraq that are unclear and there is no -- what can I say -- a proper process of consultations and helping each other.

We are ready to help. We definitely want to help. We don't want to enter into confrontation with the United States or vice versa, but we need to do the right thing in order to guarantee that Iraq will move from chaos to stability and to sovereignty. BLITZER: Well, right now, Lakhdar Brahimi, the special U.N.- envoy is getting ready to come up with some sort of interim government beginning on June 30th that would take charge, setting the stage for free elections next January. Are you confident this process that the Bush administration has put in place will work?

MOUSSA: I cannot say that we are confident that it would work, but we hope it would work. And, you know, in order for any system or any proposal to work, you must have the consent of the people of Iraq, and the people of Iraq are there. You can ask them and a process for asking them, for ascertaining their views about their future is very much in order.

Their views and their consent is the sole guarantee for a successful operation, be it the transfer of authority or of sovereignty at the end of June or the next elections.

The people of Iraq have to participate. This is the point. And they are saying so. Many of them saying that we want to sit, we want to you hear us. So we are ready to help. And...

BLITZER: Mr. Moussa, Mr. Moussa...

MOUSSA: ... and indeed the help of the Arab League, the help of the Arab nations is very important.

BLITZER: You're a former foreign minister of Egypt. There are widespread reports here in the United States that the U.S. government routinely hands over certain detainees, suspected terrorists of al Qaeda or other organizations to Egypt or Jordan or Morocco, Saudi Arabia for interrogation. What can you tell us about that?

MOUSSA: Well, I can't really tell you much about that. But this falls within the framework of cooperation, vis-a-vis international terrorism, but I don't have enough information to brief you on this.

BLITZER: Secretary of State Powell, earlier on "Meet the Press" here in the United States, complained that he felt the Arab world in general was not giving enough importance to the brutal murder of Nick Berg, the American who was beheaded, supposedly by Abu Musab Zarqawi and his group and Iraq.

Are you ready to condemn that murder forcefully the way the secretary of state would have liked?

MOUSSA: All decent people wouldn't accept such a treatment of any human being, being it in the prison or outside of the prison. So, no, sir, we are against such acts of extreme violence and despicable attitudes toward human beings.

BLITZER: As you know, the Arab League is getting ready for a summit in Tunisia later this month. Will it endorse the Israeli government's proposal for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza?

MOUSSA: Well, this proposal is there, but if the Israelis want to withdraw why don't they withdraw? Why don't they withdraw? But then we hear that what Mr. Sharon has said that he needs time until the end of 2005, and the minister of defense is saying they need five years to finish this withdrawal. So a lot of confusion and the -- we are afraid they are not serious about it.

BLITZER: What do you expect to emerge from the Arab Summit?

MOUSSA: Well, the Arab Summit has an agenda of priority items: Palestine, Iraq, reform and the -- a new Arab League or a reformed Arab League. So we have four main items, in addition to other items. But I predict, I believe that the outcome will be a very important and successful.

BLITZER: Amre Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, joining us from Jordan.

Mr. Moussa, thank you very much for spending a few moments with us here on "LATE EDITION."

MOUSSA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Another explosive article on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Was the abuse part of a wider, secret operation ordered by the Pentagon? Joining us now, the author of the article, The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh.

Sy, welcome back, once again, to "LATE EDITION."

What is the main headline that you've come up with, the main thrust of this major explosive allegation against the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?

SEYMOUR HERSH, "NEW YORKER": Well, the root causes for what happened in Abu Ghraib was not six or seven young American soldiers, but it emanated from a policy that had been set much higher.

BLITZER: Well, specifically what did you learn?

HERSH: What happened is, after the Afghan war got going, there was a lot of frustration inside the Pentagon. Rumsfeld is a very, you know, action guy. And we were having trouble with our special forces going -- we would get a tip -- let's say there was a terrorist somewhere, Sudan, any -- it doesn't matter. In order to send special forces in to interrogate and take possession, you had to talk to the American ambassador, to the American commanders on the ground.

Rumsfeld decided, no, let's just cut it out. He set up a very secret unit inside that was called the special access program. It's, inside the Pentagon, it's known as the SAP, mostly used for building airplanes, Predators, secret -- when you have a secret major construction project you set up a SAP inside the Pentagon. It's all in the black world, that is, covert. The budget's there.

He did this for a covert operation, which I'm sure didn't make the CIA very happy.

But anyway, he set up a special operation where we recruited people specially from Delta Force, SEALs, some CIA paramilitary guys. And this team, all operating under aliases, for the -- until now, went around the world, just did what they had to do. If there was somebody who was a suspect, they'd grab him. They had their own interrogation facilities.

BLITZER: Without the knowledge of the CIA?

HERSH: The CIA was a party to this program, but it was run out of the Pentagon. The Pentagon was running it through this SAP. And the way it worked is, as I say, these guys had no -- probably using foreign aliases...

BLITZER: So, your bottom line, though, is that this program, this secret program was used and set the stage for, what, the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison?

HERSH: Well, let me just finish. What it was was that this operation was going great and getting a lot of results. Some of the best people they captured, the second cut went to Guantanamo. They had a series of prisons somewhere around the world.

And in the fall of 2003, last fall, things got very bad in Baghdad. We had the U.N. explosion, remember, that -- it exploded, the Jordanian embassy, there was a lot of talk about insurgency, from when the generals began talking there was only 5,000 Baathists out there, we had to crack them. The interrogation system we had going wasn't working.

Rumsfeld, through his undersecretary for intelligence, Steve Cambone, cut an order. They changed this secret program and ordered this secret program to send a squad or some people -- I can't tell you how many -- part of their assets into Baghdad, into the prison. The instructions were, let's get tougher, let's use much more coercion, let's use sexual intimidation, because that's -- in the Arab world, that's the easy way to make somebody talk, and maybe you can even get somebody so frightened, he'll go back into the community, become an asset. Let's go see if we can find out who's running the insurgen...

BLITZER: In violation of the Geneva Conventions?

HERSH: Geneva -- look, when you start talking about violations of the Geneva Conventions and what's been going on in the last year, it's a pretty extensive list.

BLITZER: Here's the Pentagon reaction, the spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, speaking for the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld: "Assertions apparently being made in the latest New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture."

And then Di Rita goes on to add this. He said that there was -- let me read specifically what he said, from this statement: "No responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses as witnessed in the recent photos and videos. To correct one of the many errors, in fact Undersecretary Cambone has no responsibility, nor has he any responsibility in the past, for detainee or interrogation programs in Afghanistan, Iraq, or anywhere else in the world."

HERSH: The question, obviously, is, was there a covert program that was operating around the world collecting terrorists, a very secret program, very successful, was part of that program diverted to the Baghdad prison system? And of course nobody in the Pentagon would have authorized the kind of stuff you had.

What happened is you changed the system. You brought in some people. We also read in some of the military intelligence people in the prison system in Baghdad, we read them into this program which got people in the program very upset.

This is a small, little unit. And you started the ball rolling. And you know, and there's clearly -- I can tell you that by the end of October, maybe a month or two after this program began, I'm telling you categorically the CIA, on the advice of its general counsel, bailed out. They said, "We're out of this stuff. It's too crazy."

They didn't bail out of the covert program around the world because it's too valuable for us. It's a very important piece of the war on terrorism. They pulled their people out by the end of October from the interrogation program going on at Abu Ghraib and other prisons.

BLITZER: Because it was too sensitive, is that what you're saying?

HERSH: Because it was out of control.

BLITZER: All right, let me read to you what Major General Antonio Taguba -- in fact, let me play it for you -- what he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, on Tuesday. And he's the general who investigated, did the initial investigation, one of your heroes in this entire matter. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GENERAL ANTONIO TAGUBA: We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a pretty serious statement. He says they did it on their own.

HERSH: I mention in this article that Taguba was totally cut out of this, and I quote somebody as saying one of the people who knows a great deal about this program as saying, Taguba gets inside and goes "Holy cow, what's going on?" He was not read into the classified program.

We're talking about a program in which maybe 150, 200 people at most, including the secretary of defense, the undersecretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, understood what was going on. It was a very secret program.

These guys come into the prison. They're not in uniform. Janice Karpinski, the former commander...

BLITZER: The brigadier general.

HERSH: ... right, who ran the brigade, she told me when I talked to her about this the other week, she said there were people around she called the "the ghosts." They were wandering ghosts. They would show up here and there.

BLITZER: Here's a fascinating element of your article. Someone came up with the idea to strip these guys, to make them naked, to take pictures of them, to have hoods, to have dog leashes, if you will. Who came up with that idea?

HERSH: Well, if you think a bunch of kids from rural West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania did, you know, absolutely not. And what happened is, the idea was, look, it wasn't completely irrational. You go -- in the Arab world, again, intimidation, sexual intimidation is a real -- it's a blackmail tool.

You can go and threaten anybody, go into these communities, some Sunni, go in to his community and show those pictures around that you've taken. And, by the way, my friend said many of the most egregious photos we saw, thumbs up, remember all that? They were posed for the purposes of getting embarrassing photographs.

You can maybe convince some Sunnis to go back under fear of having these pictures spread to their family, go back inside the community and start telling you what's what.

We needed to know what's up, not only because the war was going bad, but don't forget though, we have an election year coming up the next year. Last fall was a turning point in this war. It was a point -- I write about this extensively...

BLITZER: Because remember also, Jeremy Sivits, who was going to apparently plead guilty in this first court martial this coming week, he suggested, apparently, that if his superiors knew what they were doing, piling these guys up naked, taking pictures of them, abusing them, forcing them to masturbate, whatever, they would go crazy, he said, if they knew about it. You saw that statement that he made.

HERSH: Sure. I also saw a welter of conflicting statements. I can tell you that Ivan Frederick...

BLITZER: One of the MPs.

HERSH: Yes. He's definitely going to testify that pictures, photographs were posed.

So we just have -- I think the real issue here is -- and I think the ball is in the court of the Senate Committees. Donald Rumsfeld and Cambone, among other generals, testified before the committees all for 10 days, did not indicate any suggestion there was a secret operation going.

BLITZER: Well, they couldn't, because they would violate security.

HERSH: There was a lot of body language and a lot of statements to the effect you're getting the whole story.

BLITZER: One final question. The president of the United States, what did he know?

HERSH: God knows.

BLITZER: You don't know.

HERSH: No.

BLITZER: You don't know if Rumsfeld briefed him on this?

HERSH: Oh, Rumsfeld -- one of the things that's interesting about the story, Wolf, is this first protest comes in on January 13th, the first report. And we know from Rumsfeld's own chronology, by the 16th, he's not only briefed about this, he tells the president. I'd love to know what he told the president.

As Rumsfeld said himself, there's 18,000 court martials a year. Why is this so interesting?

BLITZER: Seymour Hersh, thanks so much.

HERSH: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Might see you next weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

HERSH: No, I hope -- again, I said so last week, no more.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens this coming week. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, thanks.

Coming up, the abuse scandal prompts release of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners, but will it be enough to undo the damage? We'll talk with two key U.S. senators.

Then, the face and force of television's "Meet the Press," a conversation with the veteran journalist Tim Russert.

And presidential candidate Ralph Nader, are his political prospects on the rise?

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" Web question of the week: Should the U.S. government release all of the prisoner abuse photos? You can cast your vote. Go to CNN.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in the program.

But up next, two leading United States senators debate the prison abuse scandal and the countdown to handover in Iraq.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The actions of a few do not reflect on the fantastic character of the over 200,000 men and women who have served our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush standing solidly behind U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now from Tallahassee, Florida, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence as well as the Armed Services committees. And here in Washington, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He, too, serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Senators, welcome, both of you, back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Chambliss, I'll begin with you and get your response to these explosive new charges. You just heard Sy Hersh, Seymour Hersh, of The New Yorker magazine, say that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created this clandestine, black operation that effectively set the stage for the prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

First of all, as a member of the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee, are you familiar with any of this?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, obviously, Wolf, we can't talk about classified operations, but let's just think about this thing for a minute. First of all, Mr. Hersh is a very well- respected journalist. I enjoy reading his articles.

But when you look at this, first of all, it came from anonymous sources. That's always reason to wonder, really, what kind of information it was. And secondly, it flies in the face of everything that the one individual who was involved in these incidents has come forward and said about what happened. Namely, Specialist Sivits has said that if the higher-ups had known about this, they would have been slammed.

Now, assuming that there was this special, elite commando group, we had 43,000 prisoners at one point in Iraq. Only a handful of those are what we refer to as "high-value targets."

Now, I understand that common sense isn't used very often in Washington, but common sense would tell you that we're going to concentrate on the high-value targets from an interrogation standpoint and not on these foot soldiers who were rank-and-file folks that apparently are the ones that were the real victims here.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Chambliss...

CHAMBLISS: Doesn't excuse anything that happened, but...

BLITZER: I was going to say, without violating national security secrets, classified information, can you confirm, though, that there was this special access program, this secret unit that the defense secretary expanded to interrogate certain high-value terror suspects in Iraq?

CHAMBLISS: I don't know whether there was of the makeup that Mr. Hersh has referred to in his article, but, you know, it only makes sense that we have special operations forces operating in Afghanistan, in Iraq, as well as in other surrounding areas to do any number of missions, some of which may involve interrogation.

But I don't know that there was any expansion of any particular special forces group or any design plan to use those folks in interrogation matters.

BLITZER: And, presumably the Intelligence Committee, of which you're a member, would have been alerted, supposedly would have been notified, at least the chairman, the vice chairman, if there were such a decision, is that right?

CHAMBLISS: Without question.

BLITZER: All right.

Senator Lieberman, you're not a member of the Intelligence Committee...

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: That's right.

BLITZER: ... but you are a member of the Armed Services Committee, and you're well-briefed. You've been around for a long time.

Does it have the smell -- does it pass the smell test, the allegation that Sy Hersh, Seymour Hersh made in The New Yorker magazine?

LIEBERMAN: It's hard to tell. This is a very serious allegation that Sy Hersh is making. It must, like everything else about the prison abuse scandal, be investigated, and the search of truth should take us wherever it leads. That's the only way we're going to restore the honor of the United States and the honor of the 99.9 percent of American military who live by the law.

But I've got to say two things here, Wolf. The first is, was there such a special interrogation anti-terrorist unit? The second is, can you link that to what we see in the pictures happened in cell block 1-A at Abu Ghraib? And that's not clear.

And I want to go back to the first part. Let us acknowledge that we're in a war on terrorism. It's a different kind of war. If there was a special interrogation unit that really was focused on suspected terrorists, and, for instance, we had such a unit before September 11th, and it could have gotten information out of those terrorists or others working with them that would have allowed us to stop September 11th, I don't think there are many Americans who would say we shouldn't use whatever means are necessary to extract that information.

That's one question. There's a long way from that to Abu Ghraib and the prisoners we've seen.

BLITZER: All right, listen to what Major General Antonio Taguba, who testified before your committee, who wrote the original report, a very damning report, an indictment of the way the situation unfolded at the Abu Ghraib prison, among other things he said this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAGUBA: Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down, lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a shocking indictment of the U.S. military, the leadership. There was no leadership. There was no discipline. There was no training. You send in a bunch of MPs who are reservists and you say, "Do whatever" -- "Do basically whatever you want." Someone has to be punished for that, I assume.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it was a shocking conclusion from a respected Army official himself. Note that he said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Armed Services Committee and the special Schlesinger- Brown investigative committee appointed by the Pentagon should look way beyond that.

You know, I saw those pictures this week. They are horrifying. And it is a people gone wild. It's shocking to see Americans...

BLITZER: The ones that the public have not yet seen?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, exactly.

So you ask yourself, naturally, was this just a group of soldiers who cracked under the stress of war, taking advantage of the power that they had as guards over their prisoners? Or was it in some way encouraged or tolerated or at worst directed by higher-ups?

BLITZER: All right.

LIEBERMAN: And those questions have not yet been answered. We're going to answer them.

BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, we're going to take a quick break, but why don't you weigh in briefly on that specific point? Is it possible that these young MPs, who were reservists, just did this on their own, or that someone said, you know what, it's a good idea to humiliate these prisoners, abuse them sexually or in other ways, to get them to talk?

CHAMBLISS: Well, certainly it's possible that could have happened, but we do know, as Joe has indicated, in looking at these pictures, as we did this week, that there were some military intelligence officers who -- military intelligence personnel who were present. Did they influence, and how much did they influence them? I don't know. We don't have the answer to that question. We're going to continue until we find it.

But the fact of the matter is that we've got a long ways to go, from the standpoint of investigating and determining just how far up it goes. Where was the sergeant? Where was the first lieutenant? If those folks didn't know what was going on, then there's a total failure in the system, exactly as General Taguba says, and we've simply got to find out how far up it went.

BLITZER: All right. Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

Just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories, including an update tensions in the Iraqi city of Karbala.

Then, more of our conversation with Senators Lieberman and Chambliss about the ongoing insurgency in Iraq and whether that country is ready for a transfer of power.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNDIE ENGLAND, PRIVATE FIRST CLASS, U.S. MILITARY: I was instructed by persons in higher rank to stand there, hold this leash, and look at the camera. And they took the picture for PSYOP, and that's all I know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Private Lynndie England speaking about psychological operations, saying she was ordered to go ahead, stand there with the picture of the naked Iraqi prisoners.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our discussion with Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Senator Chambliss, based on what you know, did any of this result in really good information coming out of prisoner interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison?

CHAMBLISS: Well, that's the interesting thing about it, Wolf. We have no indication that any positive information came out of these folks as a result of this treatment that they received. And I don't know that we'll ever know that as many prisoners as they interrogated.

BLITZER: Let me move on and talk about another sensitive issue. What happens June 30th, Senator Lieberman, when the U.S. and the coalition hand over sovereignty, or at least limited sovereignty, to some sort of interim Iraqi government?

The secretary of state caused some, I guess, commotion this week when he suggested that if they tell the U.S. and the coalition to pull out after July 1st, the U.S. and the coalition may have no choice. Listen to this.

LIEBERMAN: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Were this interim government to say to us, "We really think we can handle this on your own, it would be better if you were to leave," we would leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Were you surprised when you heard that?

LIEBERMAN: I was surprised, but I'm sure Colin Powell was saying in the extreme, if they ever did that, that's part of being sovereign. That's part of the Iraqi people governing themselves. It's not going to happen. Any form of Iraqi government that takes over will know that it cannot itself yet maintain security.

We're looking forward to the day when we can exit Iraq, because the Iraqis are in sufficient control and their security forces are able to maintain the basic stability necessary for a government to go forward. So I don't expect it to be happen. I think too much is probably being made of Colin Powell's statement.

BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, what about this other scenario that's not necessarily farfetched? They do have free and fair elections next January as scheduled, and elect a theocracy, a Shiite- led theocracy to create another Iran, for example, in Iraq. What happens then?

CHAMBLISS: Well, security is number one, and I think Joe is right, as long as they need security, measures put in place, then Americans are going to be there.

But if they have an independent government elected and that independent government, whoever it's made up of, comes to us and says, "We can handle this and it's time for you guys to go," then, you know, I'm not sure we have any choice. But hopefully that won't be the case, but that's a part of a democracy that we all appreciate. And it's going to be up to the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, you have an important article that you've co-written with Senator McCain in The Washington Post today, in which among other things, you say the U.S. military is still understaffed, doesn't have enough troops in Iraq, need to send a lot more over. What's the problem here?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, John McCain and I feel very strongly that all along we've needed more troops than have been there, including in the prisons. When you look at what some of the causes of the abuse that we've seen might have been, a system without leadership and discipline, maybe it's because so few real interrogators were there to interrogate, so few guards were there to guard so many prisoners.

Today, I think the most important thing we have to do is to get that country secure enough so that the Iraqi people can rise up against the terrorists and the jihadists, and the Saddam loyalists, and take over their own government. And that requires security.

I think the best way to do it is a short-term surge in American forces there will create the security that will actually lead the Iraqis to take control of their own sovereignty and allow us to leave sooner than later.

BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, you want to weigh in on the whole troop level issue? Because, as you know, Rumsfeld keeps saying, "If the commanders want more troops they'll get more troops. They haven't asked for more troops."

CHAMBLISS: Well, I think indirectly we're seeing that they are asking for more troops, and I think, perhaps, that Senator McCain and Joe are correct, that maybe we do need more troops and we need to put a final push on to make sure that we bring some stability to all parts of Iraq.

In spite of all the publicity that's been surrounding Abu Ghraib and the other issues of the prisoners, it looks like, for the past couple of weeks, we've made some real gains in putting down the insurgents. And it may be that with a significant number of additional troops, we could make that final push to truly bring stability there before June 30th.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, we're going to leave it right there. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Senator Chambliss, Senator Lieberman, always good to have both of you on "LATE EDITION."

CHAMBLISS: Thank you, Wolf.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, President Bush hoping to win a second term, but not if his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, has his way. We'll get special insight on this year's race from the White House from journalist and author Tim Russert.

And later, a special conversation with Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi on prisoner abuse, the insurgency in Iraq, and the potential impact of his country's future.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now to talk about the race for the White House and a lot more, one of the best in the business, the veteran journalist, the host of the long-running television public affairs program, "Meet the Press." He's also a fellow Buffalonian.

We'll talk a little bit about Buffalo. Your dad, the new book, you have a hot new book, "Big Russ and Me." We'll get to all of that, Tim, but let's talk politics a little bit, some of the current issues.

This prison abuse scandal, which is riveting so much of the world right now, how big of a deal do you think it really is?

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": It's considerable. So was the beheading of the American citizen.

BLITZER: Nick Berg.

RUSSERT: It's quite interesting, listening to the debate within the Republican Party. Largely John McCain and Lindsey Graham saying that, you know, if we're going to maintain the high moral authority, and we should, we have to prove to the world that we can look into the abuses committed by United States soldiers, deal with them and punish the people who did it.

That will give us standing to go to the Arab world and say, OK, who killed Nick Berg? Who hung Americans from the bridges? Why don't you have as much outrage about those deaths as you do about some of the concerns you have about the Iraqi prisoners?

John McCain was eloquent today talking about, as a former POW, that the United States doesn't torture people. We're better than that, and when we make a mistake, we admit it, and that's what distinguishes us from others.

BLITZER: Did you have a chance to see the latest article in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersh? He was on this program earlier. And he makes an explosive charge that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld specifically ordered an expansion of some black program, a clandestine operation in order -- and that, in effect, set the stages for the abuse.

RUSSERT: He called it "Operation Copper Green." I asked Secretary Powell about that, and he said, well, I think the Pentagon is going to respond. The Pentagon is denying it.

Both Senator McCain and Senator Biden said the investigation must go forward, and part of it must be how high up it goes. Both said they do not believe that National Guardsmen would do these kind of activities without some kind of suggestion or guidance or whatever that they -- that there (ph) was the suggestion that they don't bring dog leashes and hoods over to Baghdad with them.

I think it's an important story. I don't think there's, in any way, moral equivalency between the United States of America and the terrorists. We're going to find out what happened and correct it. And I don't think that will -- what the others will do. Terrorists won't do that.

BLITZER: You have been around Washington for a long time. I have too. I thought Rumsfeld when he went to the Abu Ghraib prison visited Iraq this week, did himself a world of good. But you know the mood when the wagons are circling in Washington. Can he survive this uproar?

RUSSERT: What Republicans are telling me is that the president wants to go to Normandy on June 6th and talk about -- celebrate our success in World War II

BLITZER: 60th anniversary of D-Day.

RUSSERT: Yes, and not be in a situation where he has to be talking about the torture of Iraqi prisoners or the future of Don Rumsfeld. So I think the window was small for this issue to be resolved. The people are suggesting that there's plausible deniability for people at the senior levels of the Pentagon. We will find out.

The importance is that it's a bipartisan investigation. And it's also important again for the U.S. and the world that we can tell people we do the right thing when people do the wrong thing by finding out what happened.

BLITZER: I have two quotes from two influential Republican chairmen in the Congress who said something fascinating this week. Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee said this, he said, "It would be foolish, not to say ruinously arrogant, to believe that we can determine the future of Iraq."

And Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote this, he said, "We need to restrain what our growing U.S. messianic instincts, a sort of global social engineering where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated to promote democracy by force, if necessary."

Two influential Republicans seeming to move away from a major pillar of this administration's foreign policy.

RUSSERT: Wolf, there's very, very serious concern amongst Republicans on the Hill and that you talk to. The president's disapproval for handling Iraq is now up above 55 percent. His job approval is down to 42 percent, and it's all directly related to Iraq in their minds.

If, in fact, we were pursuing weapons of mass destruction and there are none, then the president said we were going to remove Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq. Yesterday the Secretary of State Colin Powell said if the Iraqi government asks us to leave, we'll leave. Eighty-two percent of the Iraqis say that the United States' occupation should end. If an Iraqi runs for office, all politics is local. He can't embrace America. He has to say, all right, we're going to end the occupation or we're going to have it as a quasi-security force, whatever.

I can't find anybody in Washington who honestly believes we're on the road to a Jeffersonian democracy. There's real concern that we are creating perhaps another Islamic theocracy like Iran, perhaps a haven for terrorists. It's going to be a long and difficult slog to bring stability to Iraq, much less democracy.

BLITZER: And there could be a civil war there. That's totally not without possibility, either.

Let's take a look at these latest numbers. The job approval numbers for the president, the new Newsweek poll. His job approval rating's now 42 percent, 52 percent disapprove, 6 percent don't know.

How significant is that number?

RUSSERT: Very significant. It's a major red flag. Matt Dowd, the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign, a very smart man, said that presidents election numbers, vote numbers, usually lined up at their job approval numbers. Forty-two is a long way from 51.

Now it's only May, and we can't be calling an end to the campaign just as a year ago you couldn't say that George Bush was unbeatable. But the fact is this is a major red flag for the Bush campaign.

BLITZER: In our CNN-Time Magazine poll, likely voters choice for president, 49 for Kerry, 44 for Bush, 6 for Nader. We're going to be speaking to Nader in the next hour of "LATE EDITION."

I watched "Meet the Press" today. You pressed John McCain on whether if John Kerry came to him and said, "You know what? Stay as a Republican, but I need you as my vice presidential running mate." He repeatedly said no, even though Senator Biden said it would be a good idea.

What part of no do you not understand from John McCain?

RUSSERT: Well, Joe Biden endorsed John McCain for vice president. I then said to Senator McCain, "Would you take the phone call from John Kerry if you knew what it was about?" He said, "I would always take the phone call." But he insists he will not do it.

BLITZER: One other fascinating point, at least this is inside journalism for those of us, when you interviewed the secretary of state, I'm going to show the viewers right now what happened. All of a sudden we see him for a second, then we see the Dead Sea. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT: In February of 2003, you placed your enormous personal credibility before the United Nations and laid out a case against Saddam Hussein citing...

POWELL: I'm not off.

EMILY MILLER, PRESS AIDE TO SECRETARY POWELL: No, they can't use it. They're editing it.

POWELL: He's still asking me questions.

Tim, I'm sorry. I lost you.

RUSSERT: I'm right here, Mr. Secretary. I would hope they would put you back on camera. I don't know who did that.

POWELL: It was really...

RUSSERT: I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate.

POWELL: Emily, get out of the way.

Bring the camera back, please.

I think we're back on, Tim. Go ahead with your last question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Now, I've never seen that on television before. You had edited -- you had taped that interview with the secretary earlier. You could have edited that out. What exactly happened?

POWELL: Well, I've been doing "Meet the Press" for 13 years, Wolf, and it's never happened to me. We were interviewing the secretary of state. They say you have around 10 minutes, because they had other interviews waiting. And one of his aides told our person on the ground, "OK, wrap it up." So in my ear piece, they say "Wrap it up."

So, I said, "Finally, Mr. Secretary, one last question," and he was fully prepared to answer it. Suddenly, the aide got a bit overaggressive and jumped up and demanded that the camera pull away from the secretary of state. Now, this is someone paid by the U.S. taxpayers, trying to cut off an interview with an American journalist and the American secretary of state.

To his credit, Colin Powell really was a general. He took control and said, "Get the camera back here. I want to answer the question. Tim, go ahead. Ask me again. What is your final question?"

I have been -- you know, I've been in countries where staffers pull the plug on people. This is the United States of America. It really is unacceptable. I'm happy to say that Colin Powell, the secretary of state, called me from his plane as he left Jordan and said, "I apologize for the glitch." And that was the end of it.

BLITZER: He's a gentleman.

All right, let's talk a little bit about about "Big Russ and Me." It's number one on the best-seller list. It's an amazing, amazing story about you and your dad and how he raised you, lessons learned for a life for everyone, basically.

What's the major lesson you think that John Kerry and George W. Bush should learn from your dad?

RUSSERT: That the older they get, the smarter their father gets. That's the fundamental premise.

My dad is the most innate (ph), optimistic man I ever met. His glad is two-thirds full. He was born in the Depression, Wolf. He left school in the tenth grade to go fight in World War II. He was in a terrible plane crash, his B-24 Liberator. He came -- six months in the hospital.

He then came home and worked two full-time jobs as a sanitation man and a truck driver. His only mission was to educate his kids. Everything else was secondary.

I learned more by the quiet eloquence of his hard work, by his decency, by his loyalty, than I could ever learn in any textbook.

BLITZER: And these lessons are applicable to everyone, not just those of us who grew up, like you and me, from Buffalo, New York.

RUSSERT: But we were blessed by growing up in God's country.

BLITZER: You grew up in the south side. I grew up in Kenmore, which is a northern suburb.

RUSSERT: Rather affluent, you were.

BLITZER: It was real affluent, yes, it was...

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT: No, but I was stunned by the reaction across the country to "Big Russ and Me." It's universal in its application. People say to me, you know, "Big Russ is unique to you, but I have a Big Russ too."

People want to talk about their dads, the influence they had in their lives. All the times they would say something to us, when we rolled our eyes and said, "Yes, right, here comes another sermon." They're right, every step of the way.

And particularly now, when I have my own son, and I'm trying to teach him in 2004 that he's always, always loved but never, never entitled. That's what Big Russ taught me. You've got to be prepared. You've got to work hard. You've got to be accountable for your behavior. Those lessons will last a lifetime, if you can learn them and pass them on to your son.

BLITZER: Congratulations on the book.

RUSSERT: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: An excellent read, and congratulations on everything else.

RUSSERT: Go, Bills.

BLITZER: You're right.

(LAUGHTER)

"Big Russ and Me, Father and Son: Lessons of Life" by Tim Russert. Everyone should go out and buy a copy of this book.

Still ahead, Ralph Nader's candidacy gets a boost from the U.S. Reform Party, but will it make a real difference come November? We'll talk with the independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. He'll join me live.

And remember to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Should the U.S. government release all of the prison abuse photos? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results for you later in the program.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll talk about Iraq's future with Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi in just a moment. Also, Ralph Nader standing by.

But let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Joining us now with the latest on the countdown to the handover and the fighting still going on in Iraq is Adnan Pachachi. He's a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. He's widely assumed to have an important role in the interim government beginning June 30th.

Mr. Pachachi, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get to the June 30th handover, what we can expect. That's coming up. But first of all, how much damage to the U.S. and the coalition has there been from the prison abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison?

ADNAN PACHACHI, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL: Well, obviously it was a shocking thing, and the spectacles that we have seen left a really very bad impression.

But I don't think this is going to affect in any way the development toward the formation of an interim government by June 30th.

BLITZER: What do you think will happen or should happen to the Abu Ghraib prison in the short term, as well as after June 30th?

PACHACHI: Well, you know, there was a lot of sentiment that it should be leveled now, should be destroyed, but obviously we need another prison to replace it, and that will take two or three years to build. Also it will be very costly.

So, while the sentiment is there, because this prison reminds people of the odious crimes committed by the former regime, but I think we have to think it over more carefully to see whether it can be done right away or not.

BLITZER: The secretary of state, Colin Powell, reiterated today that if the interim government or the next government after the January election, at least the scheduled election in Iraq, were to ask the U.S. and coalition forces to pull out, they would have no choice but to pull out.

Is that your understanding, that the U.S. and other coalition military forces would leave if the interim government after July 1st or the new elected government asked them to leave, that they would leave immediately?

PACHACHI: Obviously, because this would be the decision by a sovereign Iraqi government, and the sovereign Iraqi government has the right to ask any foreign troops to leave the country. I think that is a foregone conclusion. But...

BLITZER: Is it the same, Mr. Pachachi, is it the same, the interim government, which is going to be appointed as opposed to the elected government in January? Do both have sovereignty, enough sovereignty to demand a pullout of foreign forces?

PACHACHI: Yes, I think both of them will have sovereignty, the same sovereignty. Of course, the elected government would have greater legitimacy because it's elected. But as far as sovereignty is concerned, the government that will takeover on the 30th of June will be internationally recognized as the sovereign government of Iraq. And the coalition administration would cease to exist on that date.

BLITZER: Is it, in your opinion...

PACHACHI: And there will be an American Embassy instead.

BLITZER: In your opinion, Mr. Pachachi, is it conceivable that either the interim government or the new elected government would ask the U.S. and coalition military to pull out?

PACHACHI: Well, as you know, Wolf, our main concern now is the problem of security. And until we have the means and we have enough Iraqi forces to confront the dangers of the al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, I think we'll probably be needing external help. And that's why I believe that the multinational force, which the United Nations will recreate the resolution of the Security Council sometime next month, will define its role. But it is there with the approval of the Iraqi government, and anything it does has to be done in consultation with the Iraqi government and with its approval.

BLITZER: Your colleague, Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, says that after June 30th, all of Iraq's oil revenues should be under the control of the new interim Iraqi government. Is that your understanding of what will happen?

PACHACHI: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I mean, it will be a totally -- completely independent, sovereign government. And it's entitled to run the affairs of the country and do whatever it thinks fit for the benefit of the country. I agree with that.

BLITZER: The CIA, Mr. Pachachi, says that it's almost certain that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist, personally executed, beheaded Nicholas Berg, the American citizen, the videotape that many of us have already seen around the world so far. Tell our viewers what you know about this Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.

PACHACHI: Well, I mean, let me first say that this was a horrible crime. It's outrageous, inexcusable, and really, it's shocking, beyond words.

And, well, I've read some of the letters that Abu Musab Al- Zarqawi has written, and really he says very frankly he wants to foment trouble and create conditions for civil war in Iraq. He's a very dangerous terrorist.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea where he might be hiding out? Do you believe he is still in Iraq?

PACHACHI: Well, this seems to be the general idea. Of course, I have absolutely no information, no certain information about that. But it's quite conceivable that he's in Iraq.

BLITZER: What do you believe the U.S. and its coalition partners should do if they captured -- if they found Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite cleric who is calling for the ouster of the U.S., who's opposed to the U.S. and calling for the removal of all U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq?

PACHACHI: Well, my understanding is there are some efforts being made still to defuse the crisis and try to let Muqtada al-Sadr dismantle his Mehdi army and perhaps also surrender his weapons. And it's quite possible, also, that the legal proceedings against him may be postponed for a while if he complies with the other conditions. This is what I heard.

BLITZER: And explain to our viewers the relationship between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shiite leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, because there's widespread confusion about the possibility that, since the Shiites are the majority, 60 percent estimated, in Iraq, that they could someday vote in democratically some sort of Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq.

PACHACHI: I don't think this will happen. It isn't as though all the Shias of Iraq will vote the same way. I mean, this is not a political party. Among the Shias, as well among the Sunnis, for that matter, you have all kinds of beliefs. You have communists. You have capitalists. You have socialists. You have nationalists. You have religious people. You have even atheists.

So what really divides the Iraqis is not their confessional affiliations or their religious beliefs, but rather, their political beliefs. So this idea of the Shia as being considered like one monolithic party is not so at all.

BLITZER: Mr. Pachachi, one final question before I let you go, Saddam Hussein, he's going to be tried by some sort of Iraqi jury, some sort of Iraqi court. When do you believe the U.S. and the coalition should hand him over to Iraqis?

PACHACHI: Well, we were assured by the coalition that at the appropriate time he'd be handed over. But we are still, of course, gathering evidence. The court has been established, as you know, and we feel that we are determined, in fact, that he should stand trial in Iraq by this court.

But it will be an open trial with all the due process and the right of appeal and lawyers and so on, and there would be some probably foreign judges also appointed. But the fact that he is a prisoner of war does not in any way affect our right to try him for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

BLITZER: Adnan Pachachi, thanks so much for joining us from Baghdad. Good luck to you. Good luck to the Iraqi people. These are difficult months to come.

PACHACHI: Thank you very much to be with you again.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Let's turn the corner now and bring in one of the U.S. presidential candidates. Ralph Nader is joining us live here in our studio, the independent candidate.

I want to get right to this issue that we were discussing, Mr. Nader, involving Iraq, the prisoner abuse scandal. You wrote to the president saying what?

RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Saying basically that this was a scandal that goes up to the highest levels of government. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld prides himself on iron control of the Pentagon and involvement in details.

Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker reported that the policy, in terms of abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, came from the secretary's office. And certainly he was alerted by the International Red Cross and many other reports months before that. BLITZER: But are you confident that the investigations now under way at the Pentagon in the U.S. military will get to the bottom of exactly what happened?

NADER: No. It's very hard for Rumsfeld to investigate himself. That's just human nature. Should be a congressional investigation or an international commission of very distinguished people including those from the United States.

BLITZER: Well, the Congress, presumably the House and Senate armed services committees and the intelligence committees are investigating. Is that adequate as far as you're concerned?

NADER: It depends. If the Republicans are in charge of the committees and they don't exercise subpoena power, it may not be adequate.

BLITZER: Well, what is your suspicion? What bottom line, what do you believe happened?

NADER: Well, nothing like this. It's so widespread, and so many people know about it in the military, all the way up to four-star generals. It's quite clear that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz knew what was going on because they wanted tougher interrogation in Afghanistan, and they allowed that kind of debased standard to flow over into the prisons in Iraq.

Right now what Rumsfeld's doing is what George W. Bush has been doing. They're hanging by their flatteries. They're trying to wrap the troops around their shame. And they're bungling, and they're a mess by flattering the troops. But the truth will come out. There's just too many people in the Pentagon, too many people outside the Pentagon in intelligence circles and state department who want the truth to come out.

BLITZER: These, supposedly, there was one standard for Iraqi military, who were arrested as POWs, the Geneva Convention would apply to them. But if they're terrorists, if they're suspected terrorists, they're not wearing a uniform, they don't belong to any state necessarily, they're not a member of a state like Iraq that endorsed the Geneva Convention, a separate set of rules could apply. That's the argument that the Bush administration makes against these high- suspect targets in Afghanistan and even in Iraq if they're not wearing uniforms, for example.

NADER: No, if we stand for a moral -- on the moral high ground, as America should stand for, that's just quibbling. First of all, many interrogation specialists, especially those that we've seen on "Nightline" and elsewhere recently, show that it doesn't work, that torture does not work. It debases the torturer. It creates more enmity, more terrorism recruits all over the Islamic world. Especially now with the pictures.

BLITZER: What are you -- what is your bottom line as far as the U.S. policy in Iraq? I take it you want the U.S. military to get out tomorrow. NADER: Well, I've been following the Iraqi situation for many years, Wolf, very, very closely. Saddam Hussein was our brutal dictator when he would slaughter suspected communists.

BLITZER: That was in the '80s when he was fighting Iran?

NADER: Right. Exactly. And under Reagan and Bush I, the U.S. Department of Commerce licensed U.S. corporations to sell him weapons -- materials for biological and chemical warfare. I mean, you can't get much worse than that.

BLITZER: But then he invaded Kuwait.

NADER: Then he invaded Kuwait. Then he was no longer our brutal dictator. He was our enemy. And in 24 hours, George Bush the first could have toppled him, but he decided not to because he wanted the buffer against the Ayatollah regime and Iran.

Now we're stuck in this quagmire. And the Iraqi people, the mainstream Iraqi people, have to be separated from the insurgents. You don't separate them from the insurgents if you're signaling all kinds of ways from Washington of a permanent military occupation, including oil company domination of their oil resources.

The way you signal a separation, you give the Iraqi people a stake in the future, is you give them a set date for withdrawal of U.S. military and corporate occupiers, continued humanitarian aid, put in international peacekeeping troops from neutral countries who have experience with that, plus Islamic countries, and you get -- internationally supervised elections. The key is you cannot adhere the Iraqi people to your mission in Iraq if you put in a puppet regime.

BLITZER: So you're -- but are you saying -- what kind of deadline would you give?

NADER: Six months.

BLITZER: So in other words, you wouldn't pull out tomorrow, you'd give the U.S. and the Iraqi people six months to work it out?

NADER: Yes, a responsible withdrawal. The key is not to install a puppet regime with 14 military bases in Iraq, which is what the Pentagon is planning. Let's face it. The Bush regime wants a military base in Iraq. They're pulling more of the bases out of Saudi Arabia. And the corporate interest, that is so influential over Bush, want that oil resources.

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to take a break. But when you say the Bush regime, that's a pretty derogatory way of phrasing a democratically elected president of the United States.

NADER: Selected president of the United States.

BLITZER: Well, he is the president of the United States.

NADER: No, but he was not elected by a majority of the people. He was selected by the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: All right. But I just wanted to make sure you were deliberately using the word "regime," it wasn't some sort of slip of the tongue.

NADER: No, it was not a slip of the tongue.

BLITZER: It was a deliberate Ralph Nader statement. All right. Ralph Nader, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

We have much more to talk about, including Iraq, including other issues facing the president. The deadline: What will the new Iraq look like after June 30th? We'll also ask the man in charge of training Iraqi troops, U.S. Army Major General Petraeus. He's standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tell us your opinion in our Web question of the week. Should the U.S. government release all of the prisoner abuse photos? Cast your vote right now, cnn.com/lateedition.

Still ahead, more with the independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with independent candidate for president, Ralph Nader.

The overall war on terror, a lot of Americans still very concerned there could be yet another terror attack. If you were elected president of the United States, chances are slim, but if you were, what would you do right now to make sure that al Qaeda or some other terror group wouldn't attack the United States?

NADER: I wouldn't produce policies abroad that increase terrorism. That's the first rule of combating terrorism. You don't want to do it as we're doing in Iraq.

BLITZER: But don't you believe that these people are -- fundamentally hate the United States no matter what the United States does?

NADER: Yes. Yes. It's a criminal gang. But why produce more recruits? I mean, there are enough people like General Odom, who headed the NSA, General Zinni, who is a marine general in charge of Middle East policies, and Dick Clarke and others, who are basically saying by our Iraqi provocations, our Iraqi occupation, we're moving away from focusing on stateless terrorism.

So we have to keep alert in this country, but there is so many asymmetries, Wolf, so many imbalances. Look at the amount we put on airports. And yet there are 100 chemical plants in this country that the EPA says if there is a sabotage on any one of them could produce a million American casualties. Almost nothing's being done on that.

So we do have to stay alert. But we can't turn our whole country into an obsession with a criminal gang and distract attention from living wage, and universal health care, and environmental cleanup, and public funding of public campaigns, and cracking down on corporate crime fraud and abuse. All the things and many more that are affecting Americans' daily lives.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. economy turning around? The administration, the White House points out in the last few months, nearly a million new jobs have, in fact, been created and they're taking credit for the tax cuts that they pushed through the Congress for spurring this economic growth.

NADER: But a majority of the workers are still being left behind. They make less in real inflation-adjusted dollars than workers made in 1973.

So it's, you know, it's coming around a little bit, but the jobs are not the high-paying jobs, and it isn't enough to produce a trend, and we still have problems of affordable housing and lack of public transit, and unemployment and underemployment. You've got probably 14 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed, or who have stopped looking for work.

BLITZER: So what's going to be the decisive issue in this election? Will it be the economy, jobs, or will it be Iraq, or the war on terror?

NADER: Nobody can say because nobody can predict. However, Bush seems to be self-destructing in the polls and in the lack of appreciation by more and more Americans that he doesn't really care about workers and consumers.

BLITZER: We're going to get to the horse race shortly, but this other, of course, this other big issue that's out there, the high cost of gasoline right now, over $2 a gallon.

These are record highs that we're seeing in the United States, a country that loves big cars, SUVs. Americans love to drive cars; they don't want to spend a lot of money for gasoline. What would you do to reduce the price of a gallon of gas?

NADER: Well, the most basic thing should have been done years ago, tougher fuel efficiency standards. And both parties, especially Republicans, have been askance (ph) on that issue. I mean, that's what will guzzle less gasoline.

And the engineers in Detroit know how to do it, and they've known how to do it for many years, but not the top executives. I think what the Bush administration should do is initiate an investigation in refinery shortages. Over 20 refineries have been closed down by the oil companies in the United States and not replaced in-situ.

As a result, the supplies get very tight, the prices go up. Of course, the speculators and the commodity markets have a role. The cartel has a role. But President Bush not standing up for consumers, and he's not stood up for consumers on many health and safety issues.

BLITZER: Is John Kerry standing up for consumers?

NADER: Not as much as I want to -- want him to. I've been trying to meet him now for two weeks, and we haven't been able to get even his campaign manager to return the call, even though he's indicated publicly he wants to get together.

BLITZER: Have you personally made that call?

NADER: Yes. I've made three calls in the last week.

BLITZER: To Mary Beth Cahill, his campaign manager...

NADER: And to John Kerry himself. And not yet. I mean, we hope to meet.

BLITZER: What about Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party?

NADER: I've talked to him, yes. Yes, I've chided him, because the Democrats in Texas are trying to obstruct us from getting on the ballot, for example. That simply is not clean politics. They can oppose what we're doing, but they can't stifle our right of free speech, petition or assembly by getting on the ballot in Texas.

Our Web site, votenader.org, elaborates a lot of these issues. And before we're through, in the next few weeks, you will see the clear contrast between what we're trying to put before the American people, and what the two parties are trying not to put before the American people.

BLITZER: All right. And we're going to get to that, including apparently your emerging as the so-called "peace candidate," the anti- war candidate. We'll talk about that. We'll talk about the horse race and Ralph Nader.

Much more of our conversation with Ralph Nader. That's coming up, right after a break.

We'll also do a quick check of what's happening in the world of news, including the latest new violence unfolding right now in Iraq.

Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing with our guest, the always outspoken, the independent presidential candidate, Ralph Nader.

Mr. Nader, let's take a phone call from Florida. Florida, go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes. Mr. Nader, you yourself have admitted that President Bush's policies have been one disaster after another. So why would you put our country at risk for four more years of such policies by cannibalizing the Kerry vote?

NADER: Because I think I'm going to get more votes from the Bush side than the Kerry. The members of the out-of-power party, this is the Democrats, come back into the fold, as John Kerry said a few weeks ago.

But there's a lot of opposition among independents and liberal Republicans and conservatives furious with the Bush administration on the deficit, on corporate welfare burdening their tax dollars, on the huge Patriot Act, big government, which they see as intruding on American privacy and violating due process, not to mention a whole host of other issues that the Bush administration is not responding to.

His own platform, the Texas state Republican Party platform, has 25 positions opposed to the Bush administration's policies. So don't make that assumption that it's going to come from the Democrats. The Democrats want to vote for John Kerry, go ahead. Vote for John Kerry.

BLITZER: The Reform Party, you're getting that -- you've received their endorsement.

NADER: Yes.

BLITZER: This is the party that Ross Perot ran on, as many of our viewers, of course, remember. But in their platform, which was approved October 10th, 2003, there are two issues that I think you won't agree with. And I want to see how comfortable you'll feel running on their platform.

A temporary freeze on all immigration, except for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. And no national, state, or local government assistance for education, Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid for anyone not a legal alien or a U.S. citizen. Are you comfortable with those two positions?

NADER: Well, I think we have to control our borders. I think our policies in Mexico and Central America supporting dictatorships and oligarchies are driving desperate people north. I think employers in this country want these kinds of people, immigrants, in order to drive down American wages and exploit them, because they can't fight back, because they're not legal here.

But I would never take away the safety net that applies to all workers in this country, fair labor standards, and you don't want to punish the small children, in terms of denying them education.

BLITZER: So basically, you're comfortable, I guess, with some of those positions...

NADER: No, I'm opposed to those positions.

BLITZER: But some of the other ones you're comfortable with.

NADER: But those are my positions. BLITZER: The CNN-Time Magazine poll, which came out on Friday, has some interesting numbers. Take a look. First of all, without you in the horse race, 51 for Kerry, 46 for Bush. If it's a three-way race, though, take a look at this. Here it is: 49 for Kerry, 44 for Bush, 6 percent for Ralph Nader. It looks like they both go down 2 percent if you get in the race. I guess that sort of backs up your argument you're taking votes from both sides.

NADER: Yes. And, in fact, there are going to be more than a few conservatives, as reports indicate in the last few weeks, who are going to stay home. They're not going to vote for the Republicans. They don't want to vote for the Democrats.

So we want to encourage them to vote for my independent candidacy. Now, I've written an open letter to conservatives in this country -- not corporatists like the corporate Republicans -- conservatives who believe in essential fairness in this country, who believe in retaining our sovereignty, who believe that tax dollars should not go to big business, who believe that the Patriot Act is being enforced out of control of American constitutional traditions. That is on my Web site, votenader.org.

BLITZER: If you were to conclude, though, that your staying in the race would hurt Kerry and virtually ensure that Bush would be re- elected, would you drop out?

NADER: No. Of course not. You don't run a presidential campaign nationally and say to your volunteers who have worked their heart out sometime in October, well, sorry.

The other thing is Kerry is getting free consulting from this campaign. We are putting on his desk twice a week issues that could win if the Democrats are smart enough to pick them up. The leading one is living wage. 47 million American workers make under $10 an hour, 6, 7, Wal-Mart wages. They've got to get to the level where they can sustain themselves and a minimum standard of living.

BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Ralph Nader, thanks for spending some time with us this morning.

NADER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: With 45 days to go until the handover of power in Iraq, will the country be able to provide its own security? We'll have my exclusive interview with the man in charge of training Iraqi forces, U.S. Army Major General David Petraeus, when "LATE EDITION" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." The commander who led the 101st Airborne Division during the war in Iraq is preparing for a new mission there right now. This time around, Major General David Petraeus will be overseeing the training of all Iraqi security and military personnel.

During the past week, I had a chance to speak with General Petraeus, from what was his home base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General Petraeus, thanks very much for joining us. I know you're heading off in the next few weeks back to Iraq for a new mission. We'll get to that momentarily.

But I just want your thoughts. When you saw those horrific pictures of the prisoner abuse, at the Abu Ghraib prison, as a soldier who's been involved in these matters for so many years, what went through your mind?

MAJ. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY: Well, it was a shock, Wolf, and I think Secretary Rumsfeld said it was like a punch to the gut. It takes the air out of you a bit, and can really set you back.

But, you know, at the end of that, you've got to do the same thing after any challenge in the battlefield over there, and that is, an after-action review, make the changes necessary, and drive on with the mission.

BLITZER: As a division commander -- and you were the division commander for the 101st Airborne Division, the so-called "Screaming Eagles" -- how do you know what's going on way down? You're commanding thousands and thousands of soldiers.

PETRAEUS: Well, you've got a chain of command, Wolf, and you've got to use it, and it has to be the extension of you.

In the north, for example, we had the assistant division commanders and I and others would make frequent visits to the detention facilities. And over time we started inviting the ICRC in, and the province council, together with an imam, and also other members of the local community. It was a good action-forcing mechanism for us, frankly, and it helped to keep things correct.

BLITZER: How many detainees, prisoners, when you were commanding the forces in northern Iraq, right from the start, how many did you have under your authority?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think, over the course of the nine or ten months that we were in northern Iraq, there certainly were more than a thousand that we actually brought in for questioning. Some of them would then be immediately let go. Others would be questioned at a brigade-level facility, and then either let go or sent to the division-level facility. Same process there. And then they'd be sent on to Abu Ghraib, if we determined that they were individuals that were serious bad guys that needed to be interrogated further, or needed to be incarcerated for a long period of time.

BLITZER: Did your soldiers have the information they needed, what was allowed, what wasn't allowed, as far as the Geneva Conventions, the rules of the game, as far as prisoners are concerned, did they know how far they could go in questioning prisoners, for example? PETRAEUS: Yes, they did. They did, Wolf. Every now and then, though, we did have to remind folks what the limits were, frankly. You know, this is combat out there. There are people that are doing horrible things to our soldiers, and, again, the chain of command has to be actively involved to make sure that those limits are observed.

BLITZER: You know the situation in Iraq very, very well. You worked over there for a long period of time. In your opinion, how much damage has been done to winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by these brutal pictures?

PETRAEUS: Well, clearly it's a setback, and it creates new challenges for our soldiers. We talked a lot about working very hard not only to gain the support of the people, if you will, but to retain the consent of the people.

And this makes that more challenging, without question. And we'll just have to redouble our efforts to demonstrate the reasons we're there, which is on behalf of the Iraqi people, having given freedom to them.

BLITZER: Was there a problem, a sort of built-in problem, that these MPs were reservists. They were coming in. They really weren't trained to be prison guards. They were trained for all sorts of other things, and they just got sort of thrown into that, given the shortfall of manpower, if you will?

PETRAEUS: Wolf, I really don't know that one. I'd never went to Abu Ghraib. We really just sent our detainees there, and frankly dropped them off with the information about what they had done and why we recommended that they be held longer or interrogated, and so forth. And I actually don't know the answer to that one.

BLITZER: By almost all accounts, General Petraeus, you did an outstanding job in the north, winning over support from local Iraqis. Was that largely because you were dealing with an inherently more sympathetic group of Iraqis, namely Kurds?

PETRAEUS: No. You know, that's a bit of a -- a tiny bit of a myth, I think. We did have the three Kurdish provinces in our area, but the largest province of all is Nineveh province is by far a Sunni Arab majority, which was a source for years of large numbers of governmental officials and a huge number of army officers.

There were, as an example, 1,100 former generals in Mosul alone. Mosul's the second largest city in Iraq, the capital of Nineveh. Again, well over 10 percent of the population. And that was where we spent the majority of our effort, with largely an economy of force, up in the three Kurdish areas, which generally did quite well by themselves, which we helped with projects, but didn't need to do too much more.

There was great potential for real problems up in the Mosul area. There had been considerable unrest before we arrived there. We were very fortunate to get very good Iraqi partners early on. So they literally helped us carry the rucksack, helped us carry the load. And we could very quickly start to turn to them and say, "Governor, you've got a problem," as opposed to everyone coming to us and say we have a problem.

BLITZER: Were there any significant groups of Shiite in the area under your command?

PETRAEUS: There were. We had a Shia group out in one of the cities west of Mosul. We had a very sizable Kurdish minority. But again, not by any means a majority. We had Turkmen, we had Yazidis, we had Christians, we had Shabach, and we had some very, very large tribal elements, not to mention political parties and so-called technocratic groups, as well, which included, by the way, Mosul University which had 35,000 students, an enormous place, which our soldiers helped get running again, repaired and completed the school year.

BLITZER: You're about to go back after just spending a year there as a commander of the 101st Airborne Division. You've got a specific new mission that you're about to undertake, namely, to train the Iraqi military, the security services, law enforcement, if you will. This is an enormous challenge. Can you do it?

PETRAEUS: Well, it is an enormous challenge, Wolf, but I don't think it's mission impossible. We're going to try to do the same thing we did up in the north, put together a great team of coalition soldiers, and by the way, I might add, I have two British brigadiers as deputies in there. Others already there.

And then we're assembling still more, as much talent as we can get. We have great support from the folks in Washington and General Abizaid. We're then going to partner with good Iraqis.

There is, for example, a spectacularly good minister of the interior, a fine minister of defense already in place, and work with them in building from the top, if you will, even as the work goes on out in the divisional areas where they are already and have long been building from the bottom in the form of Iraq Civil Defense Corps battalions, border police battalions, police elements, the new Iraq army, riverine police, facility protection security forces and more.

BLITZER: You realize, of course, the better the job you do in finding these Iraqis to take control of their own country, the quicker U.S. and other coalition forces will be able to leave Iraq. That's basically your goal.

PETRAEUS: Well, we're very aware of that. And again, it's a very, very important task. And it's not without challenges.

But I'd point people to the situation up in our old area in Nineveh province in particular. Very fine police chief, very fine ICDC battalion commanders, very fine governor and province council. They are all working together very, very effectively. And when they were challenged in early April, they hung tough. They've taken substantial casualties in the police force. In fact, the minister of the interior and I went back up there about two weeks ago and pinned on purple hearts and gave medals to the families of those martyrs. And he was very impressed by the operations center, the degree of coordation.

And the key there is of course, again, Iraqi leadership but backed up and very firmly embraced by coalition forces. The same is the situation in the Basra area and the entire British area down in the south, and there are other pockets as well. Hillah, for example, the biblical city of Babylon, and that province, again, you find those same ingredients. Good Iraqi leadership, good Iraqi security force leadership in a coalition embrace. And those are the keys to the success of this effort.

BLITZER: As you know, in Fallujah, though, when the going got rough a lot of those Iraqi police or law enforcement authorities simply ran away and got out of the action. What went wrong? Why weren't they ready to help out?

PETRAEUS: Well, they had some real serious challenges there, Wolf, and I think we also need to look at some other factors. We've got to equip these security forces as well as we would equip our soldiers for the kind of combat that really is involved here.

This is not just police walking the beat. This is police getting shot at by serious bad guys who want to kill them or blow them up. They've got to have body armor and kevlar helmets. They've got to have the same things that our soldiers would have.

And we have to be careful to ask the Iraqi security forces again to take on missions for which they may or may not have been trained and equipped, and only when they have truly been certified, if you will, on the tasks that we're about to ask them to perform and equipped for them and know that the coalition will be there with them should we ask them to take on those kinds of missions.

BLITZER: How comfortable are you by bringing back members of the Baath Party? Military officers, police officers who were Baath Party supporters of Saddam Hussein, bringing them back and giving them a second chance.

PETRAEUS: Well, you have to ask what kind of Baath Party members were they? I think you know the Baath Party penetrated every element of society.

And, you know, the fact that someone was a, quote, "Baath Party member," you have to ask what level Baath Party were they? And then beyond that, you need to find out were they really a bad Baathist or just, in a sense, a run-of-the-mill Baathist who joined the party because you, you know, couldn't be a professor, let's say, in Mosul University at a certain level without joining the party?

So there are a number of very admirable, courageous Iraqis who managed to avoid joining the party, refused to join it, and still managed to survive, but, by and large, the society, those that were heavily involved in the society and in the security forces, were party members.

So looking at some of those and seeing if we can take back some of the best of those, Ambassador Bremer really opened the door for this with a speech he made several weeks ago when he talked about refining how the de-Baathification policies applied. And all the military commanders in the field thought that made a great deal of sense.

BLITZER: General Petraeus, let me ask you a final question about the "Screaming Eagles," the legendary 101st Airborne Division. You've just stepped down as the commander. You've gone through a lot with these guys. What goes through your mind on this day?

PETRAEUS: Well, as we looked out at them on the field today, Wolf, I thought what a tremendous privilege it has been to soldier with them over the past couple of years, and the places we've been, and the things that they have done. They're the new greatest generation of Americans, and every American should be proud of what they accomplished during their time in Iraq.

BLITZER: General Petraeus, good luck to you. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll be speaking down the road.

PETRAEUS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our Web question of the week on releasing the prisoner abuse photos. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week asked this question: Should the U.S. government release all of the prison abuse photos? Look at how you voted. Eighty-one percent of you said yes. Nineteen percent said no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, May 16th. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday, both at noon and 5:00 p.m. eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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