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9/11 Commission Issues Report; Hollywood and the Democratic Party; Victims' Families Have Mixed Feelings About 9/11 Report; What Are the Political Implications of 9/11 Report?; Civilian Charged with Prisoner Abuse in Afghanistan

Aired July 22, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): After 20 months.


ZAHN: After 160 witnesses, after 2.5 million pages of documents, after all this, the final word from the 9/11 Commission.

And those Democrats.

CHEVY CHASE, ACTOR: I'm frightened by Bush.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER/AUTHOR: George W. Bush and his ilk, they actually despise our troops.

ZAHN: And their controversial friends.


ZAHN: Good evening. Welcome. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.

If you were expecting the final report from the 9/11 Commission to name heads that should roll, you may be disappointed tonight. The commissioners, five Republicans, five Democrats, issued a unanimous report today sparing any individuals of blame. But the report does identify failures, oversights and many lost opportunities. It also makes urgent recommendations to prevent another attack as bad or worse than 9/11.

On that day nearly three years ago, the report says the nation was shocked, but should not have been surprised.


THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: On that September day, we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time. As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability, and, above all, a failure of imagination.

ZAHN (voice-over): On that day, nearly 3,000 people were killed. The 567-page report concluded that government agencies didn't share information or leads to keep pace with the enemy, that the failures to place over many years and many administrations, and that the response on 9/11 was improvised and ineffective.

LEE HAMILTON, VICE-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: The fact of the matter is, we just didn't get it in this country. We could not comprehend that people wanted to kill us, they wanted to hijack airplanes and fly them into big buildings and important buildings.

ZAHN: The report provided more specifics, identifying nine points of vulnerability, more missed opportunities. In addition:

KEAN: Our military forces and covert action capabilities did not have the options on the table to defeat al Qaeda or kill or capture either bin Laden or his top lieutenants.

ZAHN: The report emphasized how successfully the 9/11 hijackers identified U.S. vulnerabilities and preyed on them.

KEAN: Our government did not watch-list future hijackers, Hazmi and Midhar before they arrived in the United States or take adequate steps to find them once they were here.

ZAHN: The CIA failed to put 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Midhar on a watch list or notify the FBI when it learned he had obtained a U.S. visa in 2000, nor did the CIA develop plans to track hijacker al- Midhar or hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi when it learned al-Hazmi had obtained a U.S. visa and had flown to Los Angeles.

The CIA did not notify the FBI when it learned in January 2001 that al-Midhar had met with a major figure in the plot to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen.

KEAN: They did not link the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, described as interested in flight training for the purpose of using airplanes as a terrorist act to the heightened indications of attack. Our government did not discover false statements and visa applications or recognize passports that were manipulated in a fraudulent manner.

Our government did not expand no-fly lists to include names from terrorist watch lists or require airline passengers to be more thoroughly screened.

ZAHN: The problem of lax airport security made far more chilling yesterday when this surveillance tape was made public showing some of the hijackers passing through security checks at Dulles Airport on 9/11.

KEAN: Our border, immigration and aviation security agencies were not integrated into the counterterrorism effort.

ZAHN: Problems across the board. Yet, the report does not place blame on any one agency or individual.

KEAN: Our goal is to prevent future attacks. Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time. We must prepare and we must act.


ZAHN: Two 9/11 Commission members are with us tonight from Washington, Democrat Jamie Gorelick and former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration and Republican Slade Gorton, former senator from Washington state.

Welcome to you both.


ZAHN: Thank you.

Commissioner Gorelick, among the things that the commission cites is -- quote -- "the failure of imagination" as the most important reason that the U.S. was unprepared for 9/11. Are we armed with a broad enough collective sense of imagination now?


We are clearly more aware of the terrorist threat. We are more cognizant of the things that we should be looking at and collecting, but we are not collectively organized. I mean, one salient fact comes out of our report, which is that we do not have unity of effort. And that is why we've made the recommendations we have to bring people together, to cross-pollinate, to cross-fertilize and to make sure we are thinking as agilely and creatively as the enemy is.

ZAHN: What about that enemy, Commissioner Gorton, that you, in listening to the commission and hearing today, would be led to believe that perhaps al Qaeda is smarter than us, more fleet-footed than we are?

GORTON: Al Qaeda certainly was smarter and more fleet-footed than we were before 9/11. For less than $500,000, they defeated every American defense mechanism. And nothing that any of our intelligence or armed forces entities did in dealing with terrorism pre-9/11 even so much as slowed down that attack.

Al Qaeda as an individual organization is far more decentralized today because much of it has been destroyed. Probably its ability to plan long term is lessened, but, at the same time, there are more organizations, more organizations copying the kind of activities al Qaeda engaged in, which spreads the danger more broadly.

And while we have made many positive changes and while we must reflect on the fact that there have not been any successful attacks in the United States for well over two years, the danger is still very much there. And unless we take the measures that we've recommended in this report, those dangers will probably increase.

ZAHN: And Commissioner Gorelick, of all the failures cited, including intelligence gathering, aviation security and emergency response and poor congressional oversight, which of these has really been fixed in a satisfactory way? GORELICK: We've begun to fix most of them. I'm not sure we've made much progress on what is one of the most important, which is congressional oversight.

We have certainly become more alert. The FBI has certainly taken steps to turn itself from a law enforcement agency principally to one that also cares very deeply and is skilled at intelligence. But we, I think unanimously, believe that we need to have a much higher level of effort and we need to take down the obstacles to people cooperating with each other and coordinating with each other across spectrum, which they're not doing today.

ZAHN: Senator Gorton, finally tonight, we know that a lot of the 9/11 families we have interviewed over the last several years were really hoping that in this report you would see a concrete target for their anger and their blame. The report does not do that. Do you understand why some of those folks might be disappointed tonight?

GORTON: Well, of course we understand that, but we had to look to the statutory duties that were set out for us. And they were fundamentally two in nature. One was to write a factual report that gave the history of all of the important facts that led up to al Qaeda, all of the decisions, all of the decisional failures that led up to 9/11 in a fashion that it would be as relevant 50 years from today as it is today and to use those facts to look forward and to recommend steps in the future.

We were appointed in a partisan city by partisans in the Congress and in the White House. We have managed to come together unanimously on every single word in our report and on every single footnote, largely because we did not engage in the blame game. But there are plenty of facts in this book and in this report that allow other people to make whatever conclusions they reach. We've set out those facts for the people of the United States. We've recommended how we can be safer in the future.

Those were our two charges. Conclusions of other natures are for other people to make.

ZAHN: Slade Gorton, Jamie Gorelick, please stand by. We are going to be coming back to you in a few moments.

But, nearly, as we mentioned, 3,000 people died on 9/11. Many victims' families have been watching the commission's work from the very beginning.

Joining us now, Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles F. Burlingame III was the captain of American Flight 77, which slammed into the Pentagon, and Robert McIlvaine, whose son Bobby died at the World Trade Center.

Good to see both of you.


ZAHN: Were you satisfied with the findings of this report? BURLINGAME: Well, of course, I haven't read the entire report. It's 500 pages long.

But we did get an overview today from the commissioners, the families, and they hit the high points. And I am satisfied, because I believe after the joint inquiry that the main focus in our first line of defense is intelligence and domestic security.

ZAHN: Bob, I know that some family members I've spoken with today were disappointed that the indictments in these reports were so broad, that there were no individuals really single out in this report. Do you feel that way?

ROBERT MCILVAINE, FATHER OF SEPTEMBER 11 VICTIM: Well, I'm very upset and I'm very angry, because I don't know why we can't have accountability, you know? It's supposed to be a democracy.

A lot of people messed up horribly, and my son suffered a horrible death. And we gloss over this -- failure of imagination. I have no clue what that means, imagination. It didn't take a lot of imagination. The threat is there. I want to know why couldn't someone during the summer of 2001 just put out a report to the FAA, the FAA get information. I want to put blame.

I'm angry at George Bush. I'm angry at the CIA. I'm angry at the FBI. But no one is held accountable. I don't care what they say about the report. They still could have held people accountable. Some heads should be rolling.

ZAHN: Debra?

BURLINGAME: Well, I think one of the things that the commissioners made clear today is that it wasn't people who failed us. It was institutions that failed us.

It was the systemic problems with the intelligence gathering analysis and sharing. At the FBI, it wasn't need to share. It was need to know. And it was a culture. It was a cultural problem. So even in the snippets of tape that you heard, for instance, at the air traffic control centers, they sound disorganized. But they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. They were following protocol and they were faced with something that they hadn't been faced with ever before.

They thought they had a conventional hijacking. There was nothing in any of the threat reporting that summer that suggested it would be anything but a conventional hijacking. They didn't know when and where and they certainly didn't know four airplanes.

ZAHN: Bob, based on your briefings and everything you have read over the last several years, in your mind, if you have such a problem with this failure of imagination concept, do you believe that someone in the government should have been able to figure it out that jets, commercial jets could ultimately be used as bombs?

MCILVAINE: There's no question on my mind. I made all the commission hearings. I remember Tenet saying -- my hair was on fire. And I specifically remember the one time he said to the panel, there's just so much information I could have given the administration, but I can't make policy.

And talking to -- I mean, hearing the FBI, hearing the CIA, hearing the State Department, I don't think those barriers were as high as everyone talks about. The millennium threat, it seems like everybody was working together. I mean, to me, the warnings, like Debra said, they had no warnings about hijacked planes. There was plenty of warnings about hijacked planes.

In July, Richard Clarke was there. He warned that there was an imminent attack coming. Ashcroft was warned. They did not make terrorism a priority in the summer. They met once in the entire summer. And this is what's mindboggling to me. Yet, they say, intelligence failures. But to me, the failures starts right at the top.

ZAHN: Debra, last night, we saw for the first time the dramatic video of the five high hijackers who seemed to effortlessly get on board that flight from Dulles Airport that your brother piloted.

When you saw this video, which we're going to see here shortly, what went through your mind?

BURLINGAME: You know, the families knew that this video existed and it was very hard to see. It is still very, very hard for me to look at that video, because knowing that four of those five hijackers were put through secondary screening, seeing the guys, we are fairly certain which ones of the five actually carried out the murders in the cockpit.

So that's very hard to look at. But, you know, it's easy in hindsight to see what we all should have done, what could have been done. But the fact of the matter is that those five hijackers, they hadn't committed any crimes until they stormed the cockpit. They were carrying box cutters. Box cutters were permissible. We didn't have a proper passenger screening in place. We still, by the way, don't have a proper passenger screening in place.

So another thing that went through my mind, aside from the fact that looking at it, knowing that my brother had probably two hours left to live at that point, is that we still are not -- we still need to task our leaders to demand of the airlines that they do what they have to do and to stop taking airline lobby money, because we're talking about national security and that should not be for sale.

ZAHN: And the issue of security is something we will address with you two in a couple of minutes, if you wouldn't mind staying with us, Bob and Debra.

We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, preventing another September 11, what the report says we should do to protect ourselves against future terror.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The 9/11 Commission's final report does more than dissect what went wrong. It makes recommendations on how to defend the U.S. against future strikes, among them, to create a national counterterrorism center, name a national intelligence director, improve transportation security, improve air passenger screening, and put New York and Washington at the top of the emergency funding list.

The report also recommends the U.S. safeguard the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan, build a relationship with Saudi Arabia that goes beyond our need for oil, stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and follow the trail of terrorist money to gain intelligence.

Joining us once again from Washington, two commission members, Democrat Jamie Gorelick and Republican Slade Gorton.

Welcome back.

Before we get into the specifics of some of those recommendations, Jamie, I wanted to ask you tonight about your reaction to Bob McIlvaine in our last segment. He lost his son at the World Trade Center. And he said he's very angry about the conclusions of your report, that there doesn't seem to be any accountability in it. No heads have rolled.

GORELICK: You know, Paula, I was listening to him and actually looking back into the book while he was speaking.

And the fact of the matter is that while we do not say such and such a person should be fired, we do say things like, during the summer of threat, the summer of 2001, the domestic agencies were not effectively mobilized. We make very clear observations of things that went wrong and whose obligation it was to make them right. And I think that that acquits very well our responsibility.

We don't have any sanctioning authority. And that is the responsibility of the executive agencies and, ultimately, the president. And he has this full report. I feel for Bob. I understand how he feels, although I'm sure I can't feel it completely, but we have heard from the families very often and with great feeling. I think we do assess responsibility.

ZAHN: Senator Gorton, I'm going to move on to something that I think those of us watching the hearing today were quite chilled by. And it's something one of your fellow commission members said, Thomas Kean, in his opening comments, when he basically said that, while the U.S. is safer, we are not safe.

And I'm going to put up on the screen right now the latest results of a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll that shows that 51 percent of the public believe an act of terrorism is likely to happen in the next several weeks. Is it appropriate they feel that way?

GORTON: It is appropriate that they feel that way, particularly if it causes them to take action and to ask their members of Congress to act promptly with respect to the recommendations that we've made.

I'm not sure that I would predict that something is going to happen in the course of the next few weeks, but we know that terrorist actions have taken place all over the rest of the world. We know there have been some attempts here in the United States which have been intercepted and interrupted. And we know that they will try again. And we know that an election period is a particularly vulnerable time.

So the more quickly we can act, not only in these -- with respect to these defensive mechanisms -- and I think, quite properly, an awful lot of attention is being paid to them today -- but to try to reach out to deal with these people at the source, to make better friends and the countries from which they come to see to it that we are safer than we are today is vitally important.

Yes, public knowledge, public awareness, public concerns, public apprehension is going to be our ally in telling members of Congress they can't delay, they need to act promptly.

ZAHN: Final question for you, Commissioner Gorelick. Do you think this Congress has the political will to enforce these recommendations that you made quite pointedly today in this report?

GORELICK: Paula, I sure hope they do. And I think they're forewarned now that we have identified problems and we have proffered solutions.

Now, it's quite possible that our solutions aren't perfect, but they cannot do nothing, because if we have another event, and most experts say we are likely to, the blame will then fall squarely on their shoulders. We are at a moment in time when we have a bipartisan commission coming together without dissent on recommendations for change.

And the change is bold. And some people will have to give up turf, but there is absolutely no reason why the two political parties and the different constituencies cannot come together to make us safer. We are told, American citizens are told all the time, well, we could be attacked, but go about your lives, and that's a very confusing message. Now they know that there is something that they can do. They can rally the political will to make us safer.


ZAHN: Commission members Jamie Gorelick, Slate Gorton, we very much appreciate both of your perspectives tonight. Thank you for being with us.

GORELICK: Thank you, Paula.

GORTON: Thank you.

ZAHN: And coming up next, more conversation with 9/11 family members and their reaction to this final report.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

Now that we've heard the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, let's turn again to Debra Burlingame and Robert McIlvaine, who both lost family members on 9/11.

Let's talk a little bit about what Thomas Kean had to say earlier today. He believes we're safer in the United States but not safe. You won't even get on a plane today, will you, Bob?

MCILVAINE: No, I won't. But I have -- the main reason for that is, I just don't want to push the button. I only have one son left and the fact that I just don't want to take a chance. And after reading about -- after '93, the shoe bombers and how easy it is, I just don't want to take that chance.

I just, you know, having one left, I can't imagine him losing enough parent. Especially, we won't fly together. My wife will fly, but I just take a train now.

ZAHN: Is there anything you heard today that gives you any degree of confidence that some of these changes that we've heard recommended will actually be implemented

MCILVAINE: I don't think what we're doing in the Intelligence Committee is going to do a darn thing.

I just heard a little -- the idea of changing oil policy in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a big part of this. And it seems like the big elephant in the middle of the room, our relationship for the last 50 years with Saudi Arabia and us supporting these monsters throughout the Middle East all because of oil. And I just heard that. I'd like to know what the recommendation is. How do we change this policy?

I think that's what people in the world hate, is our foreign policy, because we support these monsters as long as we're getting natural resources.


ZAHN: Well, that's an interesting point you raise, because they talk about so-called broadening the relationship beyond oil. How do you do that? It's a good question you ask.


MCILVAINE: And that is the first time I heard that point from someone on the commission.

ZAHN: Commissioner Gorelick basically says she hopes this Congress or the next upcoming Congress will have the political will it will take to get these things put in place. Are you optimistic or pessimistic? BURLINGAME: Well, it would be facile to say I'm optimistic, simply because I want them so to do it.

And I think -- you know, Tim Roemer called this the perfect storm. Here, we have a catastrophic event that resulted in 3,000 deaths that the whole country felt, not just us. So it's not like they can't relate. We have these family members who are committed to seeing this through and the -- there's a downside. It's an election year and partisan politics gets involved.

The upside is we can -- we can demand of -- of our leaders, on pain of being booted out, you have to respond. We should ask the candidates. We should demand what are you going to do to push this forward?

Now, the commissioners' report, I don't think is necessarily the last word. They've delivered a blueprint, and as Commissioner Kean said today, we've done the best we can and if you don't think it's so hot, show us something better. But do something. And so we're going to agitate.

ZAHN: Well, the other thing we have to acknowledge is I don't know of anybody personally who's had a chance to read this whole report since it was released overnight. And, obviously, everybody is going to be digging for more and more dirt.

In the end, do you think your question was answered tonight about your frustration that there seems to be a lack of accountability in this report? Commission member Slade Gorton shot back and said, look, this isn't about playing the blame game; this is about putting recommendations in place that ultimately could make America safer.

ROBERT MCILVANIE, SON DIED AT WORLD TRADE CENTER: I understand what the commission's job was and every time I went down, I was hoping I would get more information.

But I still don't feel good. I just feel that there's just too many unanswered questions out there. And for the sake of my son's legacy, I really want to answer those for his sake.

ZAHN: Debra, what about you?

BURLINGAME: I urge Bob to read this. Because we did get a summary of a larger points, but I sifted through this as best I can in a few hours and there's an awful lot of detail in there. There are a lot of answers in terms of historical factual answers.

And I -- and I am glad that the commission did not get into the blame game, because I think that would have been terribly destructive.

We are safer today. We have armed cockpits, fortified cockpit doors. We have two-thirds of al Qaeda...

ZAHN: All of which could have saved your brother's life.

BURLINGAME: Four cockpit doors but we also have two-thirds of al Qaeda and most of all of the leadership gone. We've amassed a huge amount of intelligence out of the war in Iraq. That is helping us.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate both of your perspectives here tonight, and I know there's nothing that will ever ease the pain of what you all have had to endure.

Thank you for sharing your personal stories with us tonight. Thank you. Appreciate it.

MCILVANIE: Thank you.

ZAHN: We're going to take a short break here. Just ahead, the candidates and the political impact of the 9/11 report straight ahead.


ZAHN: The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks was bipartisan and today, political leaders were calling for a bipartisan response. Both President Bush and presidential hopeful John Kerry say they want better coordination among the government's branches.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look forward to studying their recommendations and look forward to working with responsible parties within my administration to move forward on those recommendations.

As well, we look forward to working with the Congress on the implementation of ways to do our duty. And the most important duty we have is the security of our fellow countrymen.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to break down what this report has underlined, which is the separation of different duties and responsibilities within the intelligence community.

The bottom line is that this is not a time for bickering. This is not a time for politics. When it comes to protecting our security in the homeland, there are no Democrats; there are no Republicans; there are just Americans and there's America. And there's the American interest.


ZAHN: While unity and teamwork are now encouraged, that does not mean politicians won't use the findings to push their own agendas. After all, is this an election year.

Joining me now to discuss the report's political implications, regular contributor and "TIME" magazine columnist, Joe Klein; in Washington for us tonight, Andrea Seabrook, congressional reporter for National Public Radio.

Welcome to both of you.

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Hi, Paula. ZAHN: How long will this little love fest last? And I say that facetiously, but you hear so much talk about this bipartisan support. How many days of this will we hear this message?

KLEIN: Well, I think you just -- you just made an earlier -- an important point in the earlier segment.

I read the executive summary today and that's it, and I think it's what most people read. And that was studiously bipartisan. It didn't take any shots at the key characters.

But there are a whole 400 pages and a whole bunch of footnotes where they're going to be all these nuggets that reporters are going to be digging through over the next couple of days.

And that's when the partisan attacks will start. Not by the president or John Kerry, but by a lot of surrogates. You're already seeing it among the Republicans in the Congress.

ZAHN: Andrea, react to something that commission Chairman Tom Kean had to say earlier today about politicizing this process.


TOM KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: I think people who try to politicize our work on this commission, they're going to do so at great political risk, because I think the country is sick and tired of that.


ZAHN: So in spite of no individual blame being asserted in this report, there's a lot of ammunition in here, isn't there, Andrea?

ANDREA SEABROOK, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: There is. There's a lot of ammunition. And I don't think that, even as Joe says, you need those little nuggets for the partisanship to start.

You know, I'm a reporter and I'm paid to be skeptical, and I would like to be showed up on this point. But, frankly, what I saw in Congress today was not even two hours going by before the Republican House leaders, you know, every single one of them, lined up, had a press conference where they talked and talked and talked about everything they had done already to help the United States combat terror. And then they talked about the bad things that had happened in the 1990s.

There was no sort of admission at all of the fact that the 9/11 commissioners spread the blame evenly across the federal government. Democrats had their...

Zahn: Will the public see through this, Joe?

KLEIN: Well, I hope they do, and I hope that all these guys just calm down a little bit. This is just way too serious for these kind of partisan hijinx. I think that, as Andrea said, the report is going to cast blame on the Clinton years, and it's going to cast blame on the Bush years. The problem is only Bush is running for reelection this year. And so the threat to him is far more immediate, which is why you see the Republicans, not the Democrats, making a big deal of this already.

ZAHN: Andrea, I want to call your attention to a poll just released today by CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup. A marked decline in the number of people who are satisfied with the way things are going on the war on terror.

Do you believe the president will successfully use the recommendations in this report to help turn these numbers around?

SEABROOK: I think he has to make a genuine effort at using the recommendations in the report in order to turn those numbers around.

I think what Joe said is absolutely correct, that the White House, the Republicans have a horse in this race right now. Democrats have a horse in the race, too, obviously, but John Kerry is not named in that report.

And so, you know, the battle is going to be on the Republican side to try and show that they are taking this seriously and that they're trying to do something to turn around these failures that happened under Democratic and Republican administrations.

I think if they don't do anything, that the American people at least will have the right to blame them for it.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the fear factor in this upcoming election. Another poll result showing that 58 percent of Americans believe terrorists will strike in the U.S. before election day. How does this affect, Joe Klein, the election dynamic?

KLEIN: Well, I think to go back to that last question, the most important thing that President Bush can do to turn the perceptions around is to foil whatever is coming; is to foil a dirty bomb coming into a port somewhere. I think that that is the most important thing that's out there right now.

I think people are rightfully afraid and from what I hear, you know, in the intelligence community, they're pretty -- pretty skittish right now, too.

ZAHN: Can you help us understand in a more specific way, Andrea, what the nature of this threat might be?

SEABROOK: Well, I don't know about the nature of the threat. There have been so many different scenarios and, in fact the imagination has started since 9/11 for us to imagine these kinds of things.

But talking about this poll, I think that in general, up till now, it has favored the Bush administration when Americans have felt threatened, because they see and, to some extent, still see the Bush administration and Republicans in general as being more hard on terrorism, harder in terms of, you know, getting the military up to snuff and that sort of thing.


SEABROOK: I think you could see that change, though.

ZAHN: We've got to leave it there, you two. Joe Klein, Andrea Seabrook, thank you both.

KLEIN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up -- my pleasure. A former Green Beret charged with assaulting a prisoner. What will allegations of a violent past mean for his case?


STEPHEN PASSARO, BROTHER: I definitely think that it will be impossible for David to receive a fair trial.



ZAHN: The severe beating of a detainee in Afghanistan, allegedly at the hands of an American civilian working for the CIA. That was the focus of a federal court hearing yesterday in North Carolina.

The accused, David Passaro, could face trial later this fall, though a date won't be set until after September. He is the first civilian to face prisoner abuse charges.

Some people who know him say they're not surprised by the accusations. They say he has a history of violence. If that is the case, how did Passaro clear background checks? David Mattingly finds out.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was a civilian contractor working for the CIA in a part of Afghanistan few back home had heard of, doing a job even fewer could know about.

But in a four-page federal indictment, covert paramilitary operative David Passaro is publicly accused of beating an Afghan detainee with a flashlight during two days of interrogations. The prisoner, suspected in rocket attacks on a U.S. base, died soon after.

KERRY PASSARO, EX-WIFE: I wasn't surprised.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Why?

K. PASSARO: Because he's a very violent person. He's a very violent person.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Passaro's ex-wife is among those describing him as an abusive, volatile personality.

K. PASSARO: My daughter saw him, like, strangle me one time.

MATTINGLY: She claims Passaro, a former Green Beret, hit her many times during their 13-year marriage, but she never filed charges.

Passaro's North Carolina neighbor, Paul Rodriguez, claims Passaro once shot out his car window after his dogs chased Passaro's horse.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Short-tempered?


MATTINGLY: Dangerous?

RODRIGUEZ: I'd say so. He shot across the yard into one of my vehicles.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But again, there were never any criminal charges filed, nothing that would raise red flags in a background check.

(on camera) A U.S. official tells CNN there was a full background investigation of Passaro and that the CIA was aware of one violent incident in his past. It was an off duty fight that cost him his job as a rookie police officer in Hartford, Connecticut.

But the incident was 12 years ago. It was downgraded to a misdemeanor and resulted only in a small file.

(voice-over) Now in federal custody, Passaro was deemed a flight risk after investigators found over a dozen firearms and thousands of dollars in cash in the apartment of his girlfriend, a local police detective. When contacted by CNN, she declined comment.

Wearing the striped uniform of an inmate and now wearing a beard, he has not been able to discuss his case with his attorneys, due to the secrecy surrounding his activities.

S. PASSARO: I definitely think that it will be impossible for David to receive a fair trial.

MATTINGLY: Stephen Passaro says his brother is not a violent person and launched a web site for his defense. On it is a letter he says came from David Passaro, who writes he is the victim of a cover- up, claiming "the allegations against me are false. The Army had control of the prisoner who apparently died of a heart attack. And I've done nothing but serve my community and country dutifully, loyally, trustworthily and with honor."

His brother believes the Army is looking for someone to blame.

S. PASSARO: And David is that scapegoat.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: That was our David Mattingly, reporting from Raleigh, North Carolina. And earlier, I spoke with Peter Singer, national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of "Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry."

And I asked him if he was surprised to hear that a civilian working with the CIA had been arrested for prisoner abuse.


PETER SINGER, AUTHOR, "CORPORATE WARRIORS": Well, surprised in part. Not by the fact that we had a civilian doing this kind of role, playing a role as an interrogator, because we'd seen that at Abu Ghraib.

What's surprising about it is actually that they were arrested. This is, as far as I know, the first contractor that's been arrested for this role. And it compare to see Abu Ghraib, where we had four individuals named in Major General Taguba's report who were private contractors, allegedly involved in the tortures there and none of them have been arrested yet.

ZAHN: What does this mean if the arrest comes down?

SINGER: Well, it could be -- it's highly symbolic and that's either a good or a bad thing. It could be a good thing if this is the first step into bringing some accountability into this issue and finally treating contractors the same way we treat our soldiers, that if someone is suspected of committing a crime, that they be investigated and tried, and if they're found guilty, punished.

So that could be the good side of this story. The bad part of it could be that this is just, you know, a symbolic political step.

ZAHN: Why are civilian contractors doing this kind of work?

SINGER: Well, there's a number of reasons that go into this. Some of it's because of the gap between supply and demand. Basically, we have an insufficient supply of people who have the proper training for these roles and a huge demand right now with U.S. forces all over the region, Afghanistan, Iraq, et cetera. So there's that gap they're filling.

But, unfortunately, sometimes it's because of bureaucratic laziness, and we're filling this with people who may not have the right training or the proper background to take on these roles.

For example, in the Abu Ghraib case, and it appears potentially in this case, we had individuals who actually had not worked as military interrogators before, being put in the role of a private military interrogator.

ZAHN: So where is the oversight?

SINGER: That's what's been lacking right here. And a lot of cases, Congress wasn't even aware that these roles were being contracted out. On the legal side, there's often insufficient laws to deal with it.

For example, the law -- at least as it stood when this crime was committed -- there was a specific law called the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, but it did not apply to contractors working for other agencies, like the CIA. So when these crimes happen. There's a gray area, and it's often unclear where and how they could be prosecuted.

ZAHN: Because isn't it true, Peter, part of their job as one of these civilian contractors is to so-called soften up a detainee before an interrogation?

SINGER: Well, that's one interpretation of it, and that's going to be a policy debate as to whether they were carrying out the right policy or not and how legal was that policy and who approved it within the administration. But that's one of the roles that interrogators have allegedly played.

And we've had at least 37 deaths among detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq, ten of which have been ruled by the military as being homicides. Now, that means that another person was involved in the death, as opposed to being death by sickness or something like that.

So we have to look at those ten and say were they illegal? What was going on there? And that's something that's still in the air, but, obviously it's a huge issue, because this reflects not only on the military, but on the United States staying abroad. So we've got to effect a policy that solves these issues.

ZAHN: Well, this arrest certainly raises a lot more questions that we all need to explore. Peter Singer, thanks for your help tonight.

SINGER: Thank you.


ZAHN: And when we come back, when celebrities get on the political soapbox and sometimes pay a steep price.


ZAHN: If a celebrity tells you about a great party tonight, you might be inclined to go, but if a celebrity recommends a political party, would you be inclined to vote that way?

Well, in this election season, the stars of Hollywood are being loud and clear about their choice for president and, in some cases, that has not helped them at all. But has it really helped their candidate?

Here's Bruce Morton from Boston.


SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR: You know, they're putting the word out, you know? You come out against the president or this administration there's going to be hell to pay.

CHEVY CHASE, ACTOR: I'm frightened by Bush if you want know the truth.

JESSICA LANG, ACTRESS: We are in desperate need of new leadership.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Celebrities do politics. Celebrities endorse. Sometimes they go further, as when Whoopi Goldberg talked dirty about the president's name at a recent event. Mr. Bush answered back.

BUSH: My opponent has been spending some time with his base, as well, at a recent gala with his Hollywood friends. Evidently, things got a little out of hand. My name came up a few times.

MORTON: And another entertainer who sometimes talks rough, Margaret Cho, has been uninvited from participating in a unity 2004 event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a coalition of ten gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual groups scheduled for next Monday as the Democratic convention opens here.

A spokesman said the group was worried about a potential media firestorm, citing criticism of Goldberg.

Well, a question: do voters really vote for candidate A over candidate B because some actor or singer says they should?

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: With the country is polarized as it is, it might not have the impact.

Having -- having said that, it really is not good news for John Kerry. I think people think that Hollywood has different values than they do. It's culturally very liberal. They think celebrities are out of touch.

And more than that, I think those celebrities, they sounded too angry, too personal, too disrespectful of the office.

MORTON (on camera): Maybe. Historically, endorsements haven't mattered much from actors or athletes or politicians, unless the politician controls a good organization in a particular city or state.

Celebrities, on the other hand, are good at one other thing: raising money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): This land was made for you and me.

MORTON (voice-over): Two recent celebrity events, one in Los Angeles, the other in New York, raised $12.5 million for John Kerry and the Democratic Party. Serious money in a year when most candidates have rejected public financing and the spending limits that go with it.

ROTHENBERG: I think it's tradeoff. If -- if a campaign needs the money, have you to have the money to compete. On the other hand, there is risk.

MORTON: The voters, of course, will decide how the tradeoff turns out.


ZAHN: That will be a matter of time before we know all that. Bruce Morton in Boston.

We're going to take a short break, and we'll be right back.


ZAHN: That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for being with us. Tomorrow, the president speaks to the Urban League after avoiding the NAACP. A look at the White House strategy to win black votes. That's tomorrow.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Bill Maher is his guest for the hour. Good night.


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