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U.S. Claims Chalabi Not Target in Iraqi Police Raid; Sen. Warner & Rumsfeld Answer Reporter Questions After Latest Senate Hearing into Abuses in Iraq

Aired May 20, 2004 - 13:58   ET




DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Is he friend or foe? Soldiers raiding the Iraqi home of a man once considered a valued informant by the Pentagon.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Your kids at risk for a very adult problem. New guidelines for guarding against high blood pressure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this had happened in the private sector, heads would roll.


GRIFFIN: Billions and billions in mistakes uncovering astronomical miscalculations at NASA.

WHITFIELD: And proof that it pays to be nice. Why acting first class might get you a free airline ticket.

From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien are off today.

GRIFFIN: And I'm Drew Griffin. This hour of CNN's LIVE FROM... starts right now.

WHITFIELD: Riding high in April, shot down in May. That's the life for Iraqi Governing Council member and longtime Pentagon friend and informant Ahmed Chalabi. As you know if you've been watching CNN, Chalabi is seething today about the unceremonious raiding of his home and offices in Baghdad. He says it is political, an act of failure by the Coalition Authority which whom his relations are nonexistent, he says. Coalition officials say it is a fraud investigation that doesn't target Chalabi directly.

With more on insights on the sudden intrigue, a mere six weeks before the transfer of power, here is CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Well, indeed, it was overnight that this raid by Iraqi police was staged on the home and compound of Ahmed Chalabi in a wealthy Baghdad neighborhood. Now, Iraqi police moved in and word came afterwards that they had in hand arrest warrants for 15 people related to a fraud investigation that included kidnapping and other charges.

It is said that Ahmed Chalabi was not one of the people that they were searching for, but a number of people taken into custody by Iraqi police and weapons also recovered from the site. It is said also that U.S. forces did not directly participate, but that they were at the site and observing what was going on.

Now, as you say, a very angry Ahmed Chalabi held a press conference several hours later in Baghdad.


CHALABI: I am now calling for policies to liberate the Iraqi people, to get full sovereignty now, and I am putting the case in a way which they don't like. I have questioned Brahimi's role, they don't like. I have opened up the investigation of the oil-for-food program, which cast doubt about the integrity of the U.N. here. They don't like this.


STARR: So Ahmed Chalabi having his reasons why he believed they raided his home. But the U.S. clearly had separately become quite disenchanted with him. A lot of people in the U.S. intelligence community felt the information that he had provided simply didn't pan out on WMD and other matters -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Barbara, let me ask you about something else that took place last night. Was it indeed a targeting of a wedding party or was it a safehouse for foreign fighters last night?

STARR: Indeed, that is the question on the table in Baghdad as well. At the coalition briefing, General Mark Kimmitt talked about this. He said, the coalition will investigate the entire matter. You see the video here of bodies being buried, Iraqis saying these are people killed in a wedding party attack. The coalition still says it was a safehouse being used by foreign fighters coming in from Israel (sic).

Here's what General Kimmitt had to say.


BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: We're satisfied that the intelligence that we had, the multiple correlated evidence that got us there, and the actions of our forces on the ground, what they found and what they brought back, foreign passports, money, weapons, satellite communications, would be inconsistent with a wedding party for sure and fairly consistent with what we have seen throughout this country time after time after time, which is the flow of foreign fighters to come in to terrorize and kill the Iraqi citizens.


STARR: So Fredricka, the military saying they will continue to investigate this incident and they say that video that has now been shown around the world is inconsistent, in their words, with what they believed happened there and the target they believe they struck -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Interesting. Thanks very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Well, so is Chalabi the Bush administration's golden boy or something else? That question came up minutes ago at the daily White House press briefing.


QUESTION: Is this figure, who was extremely close to this administration as a driving force behind the ultimate goal of toppling Saddam Hussein -- in the president's mind, is he still a credible figure of Iraq's government and does he have a role in the president's estimation in Iraq's future?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: He is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. He has been working with the coalition in the past. In terms of going forward, it's going to be up to the Iraqi people to determine who it is that represents their country. It is what the Iraqi people think going forward in terms of who is going to be overseeing their efforts.

QUESTION: Nobody buys (ph) into it's (ph) the Iraqi people...

MCCLELLAN: Well, that's the fact.

QUESTION: Does the president of the United States, who has relied heavily, as have others who have served him, on the counsel of Ahmed Chalabi, believe his credibility is intact?

MCCLELLAN: It is up to the Iraqi people to make determinations about who they want leading their country going forward and who they want involved in their government.

QUESTION: ... the United States funded his movement, who delivered intelligence to the United States that was not borne out in fact. You are saying that it is up to the Iraqi people and the president has no opinion about whether he retains his credibility?

MCCLELLAN: It is not the president's place to weigh in on who is going to be the future leaders of Iraq. That's for the Iraqi people to decide. He is someone who has been a member of the...

QUESTION: You've dodged that, your (ph) president is not going to weigh in on whether or not he thinks his credibility is....

MCCLELLAN: I'll point out that he has been someone that has served on the Iraqi Governing Council. That Governing Council is going to be coming to an end as we transfer sovereignty here in a few weeks. That's where the focus is now. And Mr. Brahimi is working to name the members of that interim representative government. Then we will move forward to free elections beginning next January as the president talked about with members of Congress.

QUESTION: ... doubts about this war in Iraq?

MCCLELLAN: The future of Iraq...

QUESTION: ... point out he's part of the Governing Council?

MCCLELLAN: The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people. And the president talked to members of Congress about this is -- we're now at a point where Iraqi leaders will be emerging and being able to take hold of their future.

QUESTION: No opinion on this man that the U.S. hitched its wagon to?

MCCLELLAN: I've addressed your question.


WHITFIELD: McClellan's boss was on Capitol Hill today pumping up his fellow Republicans on Iraq, next year's budget and, of course, the election. It was a closed door, no press event, after which Mr. Bush got lavish reviews for what lawmakers called his confident, purposeful, principled remarks.

Describing the audience, the GOP's Lamar Alexander quipped: "This was the choir and the choir was in tune."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there's a lot of work to do before sovereignty is turned over to an interim government in Iraq on June 30. Speaking to diplomats from coalition countries at the State Department today, Powell says the U.S. will seek a U.N. resolution endorsing the new transitional government once its members are named.

And he says that could help win over those who oppose that mission.


COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: Public opinion will support all of us when the people of the world see that the security situation has been brought under control, these former regime elements and anti- coalition militias have been defeated, the terrorists have been dealt with and the reconstruction effort is under way, under sovereign control of the Iraqis themselves.


WHITFIELD: And we'll talk to retired Major General Don Shepperd about all of this later on this hour. GRIFFIN: Fredricka, more investigations in the prisoner abuse scandal. The Pentagon, the CIA and Justice Department now looking into the death of an Iraqi detainee, whose body appears in some newly discovered and gruesome photos.

In this one, Specialist Charles Graner of the 372nd Military Police, smiling and giving a thumbs up over the body. Specialist Sabrina Harman, a member of the same unit, is shown in a similar pose. Both soldiers are among the seven already charged in the case. U.S. officials confirm the Iraqi died after being questioned by CIA personnel.

The mistreatment of detainees by U.S. troops may not be confined to Iraq. Allegations also are coming from Afghanistan.

Here with that is CNN's Ryan Chilcote in Kabul.


RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You've heard about prisoner abuse in Iraq. You'll soon hear about Afghanistan.

LT. COL. TUCKER MANSAGER, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Lieutenant General David Barno, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan commander, has directed a top to bottom general officer-led review and assessment of all coalition detention and holding operations in Afghanistan.

CHILCOTE: We can't show you the U.S. military's detention facilities or its detainees in Afghanistan. The U.S. military says that would be a violation of its media ground rules and the detainees' rights. But the military spokesman here says that they have about 20 holding centers in Afghanistan. They say each site, as part of the review, will be visited. The study is to be completed by mid-June.

Last week, this man, Sayed Nabi, an Afghan police officer, told U.S. military investigators and the media he was sexually abused by U.S. soldiers while he was held in eastern Afghanistan last summer. He said he was too ashamed to go public with his allegations until he saw reports of sexual abuse out of Iraq.

Ahmed Zia Langari, of Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, says he was present as Nabi told investigators from the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division, that on one occasion he was stripped naked and sexually assaulted.

AHMED ZIA LANGARI, AFGHAN INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: Two or three soldiers, American soldiers, came, and also one interpreter, and touching his, you know, sexual organs. And he said that I didn't understand what they were doing. He was saying that he was feeling that something is inserted into anus, maybe some device or something like that.

CHILCOTE: Langari says the man alleges he was also stripped naked and photographed. This time at a jail at the Kandahar air base.

The human rights group also wants to see autopsies of two Afghan detainees who died in the custody of U.S. soldiers in 2002.

(on camera): The U.S. military spokesmen here says they are very comfortable with how they handle their detainees in Afghanistan, but that there is always room for improvement. This review, they say, is part of that process.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Kabul.


WHITFIELD: News from across America now. Fort Stewart, Georgia, the court-martial of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia continues. The Florida National Guardsman is accused of desertion. And his attorney, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, argued Mejia walked away from duty partly to avoid orders to abuse Iraqi prisoners.

Seniors in St. Paul, Minnesota, file a federal lawsuit against nine major pharmaceutical makers. The Minnesota Senior Federation claims drug companies conspire to block cheaper Canadian imports and keep U.S. prices artificially high.

And the General Accounting Office calls its covert propaganda. The GAO says the Bush administration violated federal law when it sent television stations videos on Medicare changes that were made to look like news reports. A government spokesman says stations knew where the tapes came from and could have alerted their viewers.

GRIFFIN: We are going to Capitol Hill where you see Senator John Warner speaking at a press conference.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (D-VA), CHMN., ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: ... felt necessary for Senate oversight. I thank you, Mr. Secretary, for the full cooperation that you and General Myers and others have given us.

At this time I think we've got to begin to focus that this investigation regarding the prison incident is ongoing. There's much to be learned. The secretary was very forthright in telling us there are things that he is still learning every day. And in due course, we will have it out in perspective and accountability.

But we've got to move on and complete our missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan and focus on this turnover, this critical turnover taking place on July 1. We want to support the president's goal to get that done.

Mr. Secretary?

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I guess I'd just say that we've been spending a good deal of time in the Senate and the House over the past week and a half and have attempted to respond this important issue and to do so in a way that is prompt and forthcoming and satisfies the members of the House and the members of the Senate.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the prison investigation diverting attention from Iraq and Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: Yes. That is not to say it shouldn't. It's too bad, but that's life. An awful lot of us are spending an enormous amount of time on this subject.

And we've got the transition coming ahead of us here to sovereignty for the Iraqi people on or before June 30th. And there's a great deal of work to be done.

On the other hand, this was a situation that needed to be addressed. The criminal prosecutions are going forward. There are six or seven current investigations that are going forward. And it is perfectly proper in a democracy for us to demonstrate to our Congress, under Article I of the Constitution, and indeed the world that this is how the United States of America, a democracy that has values and respects human beings and expects Americans to treat human beings as human beings, ought to operate. And the world has a chance to see how we do this.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you know why the Iraqi police, with the protection of U.S. M.P.s, raided the home of Ahmed Chalabi? And were you aware that it was going to happen before it did?

RUMSFELD: I'm not as knowledgeable about it. I've been spending a lot more time on the subject that we just discussed upstairs than I have on that. And I certainly was not aware that there was going to be a raid on a home, if in fact there was.

My understanding is that the Iraqis are involved in this. And I think you'd probably best ask the Iraqi leadership.

QUESTION: Have you lost confidence in Ahmed Chalabi?

RUMSFELD: It is not for me to comment on this. To the extent authorities want to inquire of people, they can do that.

RUMSFELD: And then, just as with the cases we've been discussing up there, the process should be allowed to work. People should see how it works and what transpires.

QUESTION: Why was Chalabi getting paid something like over $300,000 a month by the U.S. until very recently?

RUMSFELD: There have been a number of entities in Iraq that have been being paid money by the United States over a period of years. The Congress passed the -- I think it was called the Iraqi Liberation Act back in the late 1970s. But both houses of the Congress, signed by President Clinton, and it provided funds for that purpose.

WARNER: Thank you all very much.


GRIFFIN: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld following a briefing with senators on a very difficult day that has passed in Iraq. We'll talk about the battle to win hearts and minds in Iraq with reports coming up of attacks on civilians and a prison abuse scandal. Can it be won? We're going to talk about it straight ahead with CNN military analyst retired General Don Shepperd.

High blood pressure and American children. New information for parents to protect their kids.

And an American pastor takes his plan for sexual abstinence to the young people of Great Britain. Are they listening across the pond?


GRIFFIN: We just heard in the defense secretary trying to brief senators on what's happening in Iraq. Joining us to try to shed some light on that and other issues, retired Major General Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst.

General, yesterday was supposed to be a day we talked only about an abusive prison guard who got his justice. Instead we have dead children in Gaza, a possible firing on a wedding party, and more pictures. At what point do they throw up their hands at what is being done in Iraq?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'll tell you, don't throw up your hands, Drew. But this has been a memorable day, a memorable week, a memorable month in Iraq. Things are going terribly from a public perception standpoint. When you throw the POW scandal on top of this attack that obviously ended up in the deaths of some civilians over there, whether innocent or not, to be decided. And then you throw the Arab-Israeli conflict on top, it's a bad day for America in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of America and particularly in the eyes of the Arabs.

GRIFFIN: There has been some progress made. We heard in a briefing out of Baghdad, the peace in Fallujah seems to be holding on. More weapons are being turned in. But all of this gets shoved into a corner when we look at what the headlines are, particularly in the Arab press.

SHEPPERD: Yes, it does. There's no question that everything that's happening makes it very difficult. It's very clear that the former regime loyalists, the people who do not want Iraq to progress to a new government that leaves them out, particularly those in the Sunni Triangle, they're doing everything they can to prevent order and security from taking place all around, to drive the Americans out, and to make sure that when we leave, either sooner or later, there's no perception of a victory by the Americans or the coalition forces in this. All this is very difficult. It's going to be a race to see if the American public sticks with the effort -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: When we leave, President Bush, of course, saying we are not going to leave until there is peace. We may turn over power and indeed in Iraq it seems that we're calling for more troops from some of the generals there. Do you believe that more troops are going to be needed? SHEPPERD: I think there's one man that knows the answer to that question, that's General Abizaid. He's the man that knows what missions he has been tasked with and how many troops it will take. It is clear to me that it is not our wish to add more people or to stay longer.

On the other hand, we cannot provide the security across Iraq. Iraqis have to. So we're trying to train them as fast as possible to take over their own security. But it may require, because of the things we have to do at the borders, things going on in Najaf and the other things that require security around the country, to add more troops now. But clearly, we want to work our way out and be seen as leading, not getting in deeper -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: What do you anticipate it's going to look like at the turnover in terms of U.S. forces? Will they take a back seat or get out of Baghdad or move to more defensive positions?

SHEPPERD: I think probably what will happen is there will be a transition time with the transition government. Clearly we're going to turn it over on the thirtieth of June to a government yet to be designated. I think probably we will try slowly to withdraw from the major population centers and let the Iraqis take over their own security. Such has taken place in Fallujah, which may serve as a model, and then gradually withdraw further and further into (UNINTELLIGIBLE) areas, and then gradually withdraw from the country. All of this has to be negotiated with the new government when it takes over on June 30.

GRIFFIN: Finally, General, Ahmed Chalabi, once the hero of the Pentagon, now pretty much defrocked by these investigations and a raid at his home. What are your feelings about this man who may have deceived everybody on the WMD search?

SHEPPERD: Yes, well, clearly he's in disfavor right now. And reportedly payments of $300,000 to $400,000 going to the INC that he basically headed, much of the intelligence that he provided was proved to be false or at least not substantiated, let's put it that way.

Now, supposedly this raid was taken -- was conducted by the Iraqis themselves. And they were looking for 15 suspects, is the words that we've been given. Perhaps in some type of a scandal. So Chalabi himself was not detained, is our understanding. So much to be seen here. But clearly Chalabi is not in favor with the U.S. right now. And clearly there's no real good connection between him and the Coalition Provisional Authority.

GRIFFIN: General Don Shepperd, thank you for joining us.

SHEPPERD: A pleasure.

WHITFIELD: Well, it is all incendiary. In particular we received quite a response to a question we posed yesterday. Namely, how much as a viewer do you want see of the war in Iraq when it comes to graphic images? Doris writes: "I think high road should be taken when it comes to showing graphic details about the war in Iraq's consequences. The more that's shown the more desensitized we become. And God forbid that we stop flinching when seeing the horrors of war."

GRIFFIN: And this from Steve: "Show it all, every last bit in as much detail as possible. It's about time we Americans understood war is not a movie."

WHITFIELD: And this response from Robert: "I think we see way too much of the few negative depressing events happening in Iraq and not enough of the positive rebuilding, uplifting events. Our men and women in uniform are doing a great job and we need to give equal or more coverage on the good things that they are doing to rebuild Iraq. Please be unbiased in your reporting." He adds.

GRIFFIN: From Emily: "We should honor our troops by reporting what is happening to them. Cover the events if they are sent home in coffins or hospital wards and support them throughout the entirety of their efforts."

WHITFIELD: And finally, from Andrew: "Too often, the debate is over whether or not we need to see these graphic images. To me the real issue is the abhorrent amount of disrespect shown to the victims and their families by plastering images of their fate across every visual medium available. We need to look at these situations from the perspective of the victims and decide how we would want to be treated."

GRIFFIN: Counting up the campaign cash. We're going to see how both Bush and Kerry's bank accounts are doing.

And the French connection, why you will not be hearing candidate Kerry speaking the language he knows very well.

Also ahead, why "thank you" and "please" could be the magic words to get you a free flight.




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