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Tim Robbins Discusses Play "Embedded"; Illegal Immigrants Killed; Amnesty International Sparks Furor; New Operation in Iraq

Aired May 25, 2005 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new military offensive. U.S. marines hunting insurgents in western Iraq. But the bombs keep on exploding in Baghdad. Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

BLITZER: America accused. Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to investigate U.S. officials tied to abuses.

WILLIAM SCHULZ, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA: And if those investigations support prosecution, those foreign governments should arrest any official who enters their territory.

BLITZER: Some journalists have lost lives in Iraq. But a controversial play suggests embedded reporters are in bed with the military. I'll speak with its author, actor and activist Tim Robbins.

Runaway bride, she led police on a goose chase. Now, she's charged.

MAYOR SHIRLEY LASSETER, DULUTH, GEORGIA: I think I was a little stunned they went for both the felony as well as the misdemeanor.

BLITZER: Could her cold feet have her cooling her heels in jail?


ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Wednesday, May 25, 2005.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

Iraq's insurgents kept up their campaign of violence today. Authorities say two civilians were killed in a pair of Baghdad car bombings. But U.S. and Iraqi forces are taking the fight to the insurgents in western Iraq. Let's go straight to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, for a second time in a month, Wolf, U.S. marines, some 1,000 of them, are on the move again trying to keep insurgents on the run.


MCINTYRE: U.S. commanders describe Operation New Market as a routine mission designed to disrupt and interdict insurgent activity. The military says some 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops have so far killed at least ten suspected militants, including a Muslim cleric who was allegedly firing an automatic weapon.

It's the second such operation conducted by U.S. troops this month in western Iraq. This time focused on the Euphrates River city of Haditha where it's believed insurgents fled after an earlier Marine operation, dubbed Matador, drove them from the border region with Syria.

COL. STEVEN DAVIS, U.S. MARINES: This particular area has been subject to a very fierce intimidation campaign of the citizens, as well as the folks that are starting to target the military and the infrastructure installations.

MCINTYRE: Some images from the battle, a U.S. marine writes an identification number on the forehead of an Iraqi man detained during a search. An Iraqi accused of having too much ammunition for his weapon faces the wall blindfolded while his mother and sisters plead for his release. And a U.S. marine searches through a desk drawer at a Haditha school. U.S. commanders say most Iraqis in Haditha want the insurgents out.

DAVIS: And we get a number of tips on our hotlines and via the radio broadcasts, things like that, that are helping us remove the insurgents from the population base.


MCINTYRE: The U.S. military says it still has no information, meanwhile, to confirm the condition of suspected terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A day after postings said he was wounded on the Internet, some military officials say they're beginning to think that report might be accurate. But they also say it could be disinformation from a Zarqawi rival -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jamie, what about the report suggestion now that the Pentagon has decided to suspend searching for MIAs in Korea, in North Korea, that resulted in the Korean War? What do we know about this?

MCINTYRE: Well, it has happened. Since 1996, the U.S. has had 33 different missions to North Korea recovering 200 sets of remains from the Vietnam War. But with the current rising tension between the United States and North Korea, the U.S. is no longer comfortable with the restrictions on those teams, particularly the fact that they're out of communications for a long time.

And the feeling is that, if something were to happen between the United States and North Korea, if there was a nuclear test, the U.S. isn't comfortable having a team of 25 or 30 people in North Korea with no way to get them out. And so they're suspending them temporarily until they can come up with either better rules, ways that they can reassure that the U.S. team is safe, or until tensions ease between the two countries.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks very much. Moving on, other important news we're watching. The language stinging and the allegations are grave, including allegations of widespread torture and mistreatment of prisoners. The accused, top members of the Bush administration, including the president himself.

They're singled out in a just-released human rights report by Amnesty International, which is calling for an international investigation. Amnesty International, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, suggests foreign governments should consider arresting top U.S. officials when traveling abroad for supposedly violating human rights.

CNN's Mary Snow joining us now from New York with more details -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Amnesty International says what is unprecedented about this report is the call to investigate such high-ranking U.S. officials. It also says this is the group's strongest criticism of the U.S., the U.S.'s handling of terrorist suspects since 9/11.


SNOW (voice-over): Amnesty International's criticism of the U.S. is scathing. It compares U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the old Soviet prison system, calling it the gulag of our times.

WILLIAM SCHULZ, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA: We have documented the use of torture and ill treatment, widespread throughout the world. We've documented that the U.S. government is a leading purveyor and practitioner of this odious human rights violation.

SNOW: The human rights watchdog group accuses U.S. officials of engaging in a wall of secrecy around interrogation policies at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. It cites what it calls "ghost detainees," inmates hidden from the Red Cross, beatings, the use of dogs to incite fear among inmates, and transferring detainees to countries that practice torture. It says if the U.S. fails to hold those responsible accountable then other countries should step in.

SCHULZ: Amnesty International calls today on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior U.S. officials involved in the torture scandal.

SNOW: It calls for an investigation of President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which it labels a torture architect, along with former CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, among others. The White House did not mince words.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just think it's ridiculous and not supported by the facts, when you look at all that we do to promote human rights and promote human dignity in the world.

SNOW: The Defense Department in a statement said, "The U.S. detains enemy combatants to prevent them from continuing to wage terror and war." And it says, "The combatant status review tribunals provide an appropriate venue for detainees to meaningfully challenge their enemy combatant designation," unprecedented rights for detainees, says the Defense Department.

And from the State Department...

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Country after country around the world, you'll see the United States is supporting democracy and supporting the fight against terrorism.


SNOW: The U.S. is by no means alone on the list of countries being criticized. Asked why it singled out the U.S. in its report, Amnesty International says the U.S. represents itself as a champion of human rights and is a model for the rest of the world -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting from New York, thanks, Mary, very much.

The U.S. Senate handed the Bush administration a victory today. On a vote of 56-43, it confirmed Judge Priscilla Owen's nomination to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote was largely along party lines.

Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana were the only Democrats to vote for confirmation. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was the only Republican to vote against confirmation. The president first nominated Owen four years ago. Confirmation became a foregone conclusion following a bipartisan compromise agreement that ended the possibility of a Democratic filibuster earlier in the week.

After approving the Owen nomination, the Senate moved quickly on another controversial Bush nominee. Debate now underway on John Bolton's nomination as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Critics say Bolton's abrasive character, treatment of co-workers, and allegations he took liberties with government intelligence make him unfit for the job. Right now, though, it appears supporters might be able to have enough votes to confirm him. It's not a done deal yet. We'll simply have to wait and see. The Senate is expected to vote on the nomination perhaps as early as late tomorrow.

From Jordan to jihad in Iraq, how Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has risen to power in the terrorist world.

Housing fears. Is the bubble about to burst where you live? We'll have a closer look at the risks you face if the market loses steam.

Runaway bride indicted on felony charges. Will she now spend time behind bars?

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

More Americans than ever own homes. And that means more are facing financial risk in a market some see as dangerously overheated, warning about a so-called bubble market. But some are facing greater risks than others. Our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff joining us now live from New York with more -- Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for some time we've been asking the question, is the housing market overheated? The longer we ask that question, it seems, the riskier the market becomes.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Twenty-five miles west of the nation's capital, there is a Mecca for home builders and buyers. In Ashburn, Virginia, hundreds of homes under construction, thousands more planned.

STEVEN ALLOY, PRESIDENT, STANLEY MARTIN: If you can get the permits, if you can get pavement, then you're going to sell houses.

CHERNOFF: That kind of demand pushed new home sales up again in April. The median price nationwide for a new home now at $230,800, the second-highest level ever.

In markets like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Miami, speculation is fueling price gains. Investors putting down just 5 percent and taking out interest-only mortgages to defer principal payments. Their plan, flip the house, sell it quickly for a profit.

DEBBIE SMITH, INVESTOR: You could buy a house for $130,000, and by the time you close, it could have been worth $200,000 or more. Some people made $50,000, to $100,000, even $150,000 off a single- family home.

CHERNOFF: "Fortune" magazine is calling it the real estate gold rush. But housing experts say it can be dangerous.

MICHAEL CARLINER, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF HOME BUILDERS: If they think they're going to make a quick buck, it's not as easy to sell houses as it is to buy them. In a soft market at least, it's not as easy to sell them. Right now, it's pretty easy. And so that's a risky proposition.

CHERNOFF: Federal Reserve officials are worried, as well. One central banker Wednesday warned buyers are going to get burned. And Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan says some hot markets could easily cool off.

ALAN GREENSPAN, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: But it's hard not to see, one, that there are a lot of local bubbles. And indeed, even without calling the overall national issue a bubble, it's pretty clear that it's an unsustainable underlying pattern.


CHERNOFF: The key to housing is mortgage rates. As long as they remain relatively low, experts say nationwide we should be able to avoid a bust. But in certain overheated markets, experts warn that supply could soon outstrip demand, sending prices lower -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff with that report. Thank you, Allan, very much.

Her experience days before her wedding made headlines. So did her fake claim of kidnapping. Now, prosecutors announce charges against the so-called runaway bride. We'll have details.

Also, border tragedy. Surveillance tape, very dramatic tape, capturing a deadly attempt to reach the United States and the desperate effort to save the victims.

Plus, blackout. A power outage cripples a major world capital. We'll take you there.


BLITZER: Georgia's so-called runaway bride is facing some very serious charges stemming from her disappearance last month just days before her wedding. Jennifer Wilbanks initially claimed she had been kidnapped and assaulted. And for that, prosecutors are filing charges against her that carry up to six years' jail time. CNN's Sarah Dorsey has more.


SARAH DORSEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first time the world saw runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks she was hiding her head under a blanket. The next glimpse might come when she turns herself into authorities now that she faces two criminal charges handed down by a Gwinnett County grand jury, and a bench warrant is issued for her arrest.

DANNY PORTER, GWINNETT COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: They've returned an indictment charging Jennifer Carol Wilbanks with one count of the offense of false statements and one count of the offense of false report of a crime.

DORSEY: The first charge, a felony, could land Wilbanks in prison for one to five years and cost her up to $10,000 in fines. The second charge, a misdemeanor, carries up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

The charges come because Wilbanks told a very tall-tale about being abducted and sexually assaulted. She later admitted the story was not true. Despite the alleged crimes, a few Gwinnett County residents we talked to believe jail time for a bride with cold feet is simply excessive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a little serious. I mean, I think she should do community service. I don't think jail time is going to do anything, really, to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like maybe, in some ways, she has already paid with all the media attention, and probably the embarrassment to her family, and whatever health problems she has to face in the future. That maybe that may have been a little bit too severe.

DORSEY: On top of the fines, the mayor of Duluth, Georgia, is asking the 32-year-old bride-to-be to pay $43,000 for manpower wasted in the search for a woman who was never really lost. The mayor was surprised at today's charges.

MAYOR SHIRLEY LASSETER, DULUTH, GEORGIA: I think I was a little stunned they went for both the felony as well as the misdemeanor, but you just don't underestimate the grand jury. They are very thorough and do what they believe is to be justice.

DORSEY: Lasseter says she has received an offer from Wilbanks' attorney to pay back just over $13,000. An official final restitution agreement has not been reached.

Sarah Dorsey, CNN, Lawrenceville, Georgia.


BLITZER: Other justice news we're following, the defense resting in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial. The pop star did not testify in his own defense, with a spokeswoman saying his attorneys didn't feel it was necessary. Actor and comedian Chris Tucker was the final defense witness. He knows Jackson's accuser and his family, and Tucker testified he was suspicious of them and their motives.

Embedded, a new DVD taking a critical look at how journalists have been covering the war in Iraq. Coming up, I'll speak with the actor and activist Tim Robbins.

And also, embedded reporters who spent time on the front lines.

Also, inside the life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. How the terrorist mastermind ended up leading insurgents in Iraq.

Border crossing. We have this dramatic video of four immigrants and their failed attempt to get in the United States and the deadly consequences.


BLITZER: As we told you yesterday, United States military and intelligence officials say they still can't verify reports on Islamic Web sites that the terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been wounded. Yesterday, our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, took a close look at Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's early years in Jordan and his journey to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Today, part two of his report, how Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became the most-wanted man in Iraq.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zarqawi returned to Jordan in 1992, reuniting with his spiritual mentor, Madessi (ph).

GENERAL ALI SHUKRI, FORMER JORDANIAN MILITARY ADVISER: It was thought that to plan attacks against visitors, tourists coming into Jordan. He managed to create his own unit, if I can call it a unit, or a cell, all the time under the auspices of Al Qaeda but disengaged from Al Qaeda.

ROBERTSON: In 1994, Zarqawi was arrested and jailed for possession of explosives and plotting against the Jordanian kingdom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) as a hero. But everybody can (INAUDIBLE) at that time that Zarqawi is the strongest one.

ROBERTSON: (INAUDIBLE) jail at a relatively liberal regime. Prisoners could work on the farm in the workshops or kitchen. Zarqawi exploited the system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told the officer of the jail, "You can't touch anybody from my group. You can't touch them, because you are infidels and we are believers."

ROBERTSON (on-screen): So the prison authorities couldn't control him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Nobody can control him.

ROBERTSON: It was the same in court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): He used to give orders to his followers with his eyes, meaning "Don't talk." Another sign is when he said "God is great." Then they would repeat it after him. If he prayed, they would do so following him. If he read the Koran, they would read it after him.

ROBERTSON: What turned Zarqawi, one-time hard man, into this radical Muslim? Sheik Asmat (ph), a political dissident who also found God, thinks he knows the answer. He was close to Zarqawi in prison, even wears the white robe Zarqawi gave him to our interview.

According to Asmat (ph), Zarqawi found God before he went to Afghanistan, after waking from a drunken stupor and looking for a purpose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was drunk, threw up. And when he wake up, said to himself, "What I have done? Why I drink?"

ROBERTSON: He became a devout Muslim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He finishing the Koran.

ROBERTSON: Finished learning the Koran?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, not learning... ROBERTSON: Memorizing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, memorizing, yes.

ROBERTSON: In 1999, he was released, benefiting from the newly enthroned King Abdullah's pardon for all political prisoners. Returning to his wife and four children in this house in Zarqa (ph), he lacked work, missed his followers, and was confused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His sister went to him. She knows that he is very sad. She told him, "Remember the vision. God wants you to be a Mujahideen. It's a dream."

ROBERTSON: He followed her vision and headed back to his jihaddi roots in Afghanistan, setting up a training camp in the west of the country, far from bin Laden. Arabs from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, close to his home, came for his specialized classes in bomb-making.

Following the September 11th attacks, Zarqawi's camp was bombed. He fled west. According to U.S. officials, he turned up in a jihaddi camp belonging to a group called Ansar al-Islam, located in Kurdish- controlled northern Iraq.

By late 2002, he was on the attack. Jordanian officials linked Zarqawi to the assassination in Amman of USAID official Lawrence Foley. In 2003, Zarqawi was dubbed the Al Qaeda link to Saddam Hussein.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden.

ROBERTSON: Powell also said he was a Palestinian who had lost a leg, both details untrue. But as war in Iraq got closer, Saddam did invite Arab jihadists to Baghdad.

LT. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): From the end of 2002 and up through March 2003, Zarqawi was not part of the equation from the intelligence perspective, and I was the senior intelligence guy on the ground.

ROBERTSON: But after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Zarqawi became very much a part of the equation. In August 2003, a suicide bomber destroyed the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing a top diplomat, and more than 20 others.

MARKS: That is probably the inflection point where we began to realize we're in the midst of an insurgency.

ROBERTSON: Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the U.N. bombing. More bloody attacks in Zarqawi's name followed, targeting not just U.S. troops, but Iraqi security forces and Iraq's majority Shiite population, his web-posted exploits rapidly propelling him to the most popular insurgent among the newly emerging radical jihadists like himself. He is also the most wanted insurgent, by now worrying about being caught. In a letter to bin Laden, he sounds worried. "Eyes are everywhere," he says. Later, and more confident, he calls for bin Laden's blessing, and gets it.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Dear brother Abu Musab al Zarqawi is the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq, so we ask all our organization brethren to listen to him and obey him in his good deeds.

MARC SAGEMAN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Right now it's a marriage of convenience. There are definitely some marriage differences between Zarqawi and bin Laden.

ROBERTSON: Former ally Maquezi (ph) and others criticize the brutal beheadings carried out by Zarqawi. Other less radical allies doubt he could be killing fellow Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe he do something against Iraqi armies. But, what happened about the Shia and the other people? I think it's not true.

SAGEMAN: Zarqawi is very much a part of the new generation, the new leadership of this whole social movement. The new leadership is far more aggressive than the old leadership.

ROBERTSON: Despite U.S. and Iraqi efforts to capture or kill Zarqawi, he remains at-large, a powerful magnet for more foreign jihadists to join the deadly insurgency in Iraq.


BLITZER: That excellent report from our Nick Robertson -- two- part series of Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

When we come back, debating the role of embedded journalists and their relationship with the United States military.

The actor and activist Tim Robbins, standing by to join us live. His new DVD is critical of recent coverage.

I'll also speak, live, with two reporters who spent time as embedded journalists in Iraq. That's all coming up next.


BLITZER: They put their lives on the line and some have lost their lives covering the war in Iraq. A new video out next week takes a highly critical view of journalists deployed by U.S. military units. Released only through the internet distributor Netflix, "Embedded" is a controversial play from the actor Tim Robbins. It's now on DVD.

CNN's Brian Todd, joining us now. He's got more on this new video. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this play fuels a debate that's still with us, more than two years after journalists were first sent out with combat units in Iraq.


(voice-over): They've brought us real combat in real time from really close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some fierce resistance coming from Fedayeen fighters using both small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

TODD: The embedded reporter, a controversial job not only for its proximity to danger. In his off-Broadway play "Embedded," now on DVD, Academy-award winner Tim Robbins takes hold of a long-standing criticism of the process, the perception of the embedded reporter as mere mouthpiece for military spin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Military sources say troops fanned out across southern Gamorrah (ph) today to see strategic oil fields. These oil fields are considered strategically important because of the enormous wealth they will produce for the people of Gamorrah.

TODD: Robbins is an acidly vocal critic of the war, but has never been to Iraq. As writer, director, and star of "Embedded," he never hides his agenda and barely conceals the people and places he depicts. Gamorrah is clearly Iraq and so-called fictitious characters, including grotesque, war-mongering cabinet members named Dick, Gondola, and Rum Rum, don't leave much to the imagination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is the coalition building?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Slow. But good news -- Luxembourg is in!

TODD: With the exception of front-line soldiers, one of whom is played by Robbins, and one reporter with a conscience who bucks the embed system, not many are spared.

In a scene reflecting the military's training of embedded journalists, CNN's script editing process is ridiculed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scripted executive producers will click on the colored approval button to turn it from unapproved red to approved green. If your editors make a change to the script after approval the button will turn to yellow. All this said, you are free to write what you want provided you do not reveal troop location.

TODD: Other networks, slammed for cheerleading.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The picture of the statue falling says a lot about us as Americans, about our willingness to lend a hand and our can-do spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just that sort of pure emotional expression, not choreographed, not stage-managed like so many things seem to be. It's really breathtaking.

TODD: We asked a "Washington Post" reporter, embedded with a Marine unit during the battle of Falluja last November, her overall impressions of the play.

JACKI SPINNER, WASHINGTON POST: There is some basis for that depiction. When I was with the military, there was a degree of control that they were able to exert over me. But I think to suggest that the embedded process means that the American people are not getting the truth at all, it's just not accurate. It's never openly censored; it's more of where they're taking you, the stories that they're showing you.


TODD (on camera): The play does get into a component of this discussion that reporters and their advocates want to hit home the risks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 40 journalists have died as a result of hostile action since the beginning of the Iraq war. Four of them were embedded with coalition military units -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Two of them very good friends of mine. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that report.

When we return, the man behind the play "Embedded." The actor and activist Tim Robbins, he's standing by. Also weighing in, two war correspondents. We just heard from Jackie Skinner of "The Washington Post." She's here with me. And Walter Rodgers of CNN. He's in London.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Actor Tim Robbins took on the war in Iraq and the news media in his play "Embedded." It's now being available to a wider audience in a DVD release. Tim Robbins joining us now live from New York.

Also standing by, two journalists who were embedded during the war in Iraq. With me here in Washington, reporter Jackie Spinner of "The Washington Post." And in London, CNN senior international correspondent, Walter Rodgers.

Tim Robbins, first to you. I understand going after the war in Iraq, the Bush administration. But why the news media, the reporters who risked their lives to try to bring this story as accurately, as fairly as they could to the American public?

TIM ROBBINS, ACTOR/WRITER/DIRECTOR: It's interesting. I've been listening to your lead-ins. It's curious that that was the angle on it. If you see the DVD, you'll see that there's two journalists that are quite good and quite responsible journalists -- two characters out of five of the journalists portrayed in "Embedded" are quite good journalists. And they were embedded.

BLITZER: But bottom -- if you watched it as I did this afternoon, it makes a lot of fun of most of the journalists -- the nature of what we were trying to do during this war, trying to get some access to the front lines, which as you know we didn't have during the first Gulf War 15 years ago.

ROBBINS: Yet the hero of the piece is a person that is able to go through all the noise and get the truth out. So I'm curious about why this particular angle. I have no problem with some of the reporting that was done from embeddeds. In fact, they're incredibly courageous people that are over there doing that.

BLITZER: You do have a problem with the whole nature of embedding reporters with the U.S. military.

ROBBINS: No, I have a problem with policies within news networks that are encouraging a form of censorship. I have a problem with the nature of embedded, insofar as that you can be where the troops are launching missiles, but you tend to not be brought to the places where they land. And that's part of telling the story of a war, is the human toll that is exacted upon the people.

BLITZER: Just to go back to the war, this war in Iraq. A little bit more than two years ago, we were -- at least I was and a lot of my colleagues -- in Kuwait City when missiles were coming in from Iraq into Kuwait City. We were there to see those missiles land not far away from where we were.

ROBBINS: Yes, I understand that. But at the same time, when everyone was on the move towards Baghdad in the invasion, it was very quickly done. And we weren't seeing the human cost of the war on our networks.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to one of those reporters, our own Walter Rogers, who was moving in quickly with the U.S. troops from Kuwait up through southern Iraq towards Baghdad.

Walter, all of us remember your dramatic live reporting from the scene. What do you say to that kind of criticism?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first let me say I'm a great admirer of Tim Robbins' work -- not this play, but the rest of his body of work is really fantastic.

The problem is when I saw the excerpt from the play dealing with embedded reporters, I thought it was a comedy. I started laughing. It was burlesque. Now, all great playwrights, William Shakespeare to begin with, was a great propagandist. He took a Scottish King named Macbeth and turned him into a serial killer, though he behaved just like everybody else. Shakespeare took Lady Macbeth, who by contemporary records, was a rather charitable woman, turned her into one of the arch villainnesses of history. He did the same thing with Richard III to please his patron, Elizabeth I.

Again, playwrights are essentially propagandists, and art is not truth. Let me give you just three points. One, no one ever scripted me during the war. I never produced a package like the play suggested. I ad libbed the whole play from the Kuwaiti border all the way up to Baghdad. No one -- I never wrote a line. It was all straight ad lib.

Now secondly, the play says we were told to refer only to coalition forces. That's just not true. The fact was, I always referred only to the unit I was with, the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry. As far as censorship goes, the only censorship that I encountered with one or two minimal examples -- hardly worth mentioning -- but the only censorship there was me self-censoring myself, according to the Pentagon rules, because I was not going to say, "We were crossing a bridge over the Euphrates River at this point." Probably the Pentagon wouldn't have liked it, but I would have been calling artillery on myself. (INAUDIBLE).

The play is good, but it's not real.

ROBBINS: I would encourage you to see the whole thin, because I think you might find some of your own efforts exemplified in the play. Again, there are two characters in the play that are quite good journalists.

RODGERS: Tim, let me tell you something. Politically, you and I don't have a problem. Politically isn't the issue. But the issue is the way you treat reporters and I thought that was (INAUDIBLE).

ROBBINS: What I'm saying is I do treat a couple of the reporters in the play with respect. And you'll see it when you see the whole play. The clips tell one story, the whole play tells another.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Jacki Spinner. She's from the Washington Post. She was embedded with U.S. forces. You've seen the whole play on DVD. What did you think about the portrayal of journalists in that play?

JACKI SPINNER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, I think that the questions the play raise about embedding and about the media are quite legitimate. I mean, this is something that as an embedded reporter, I was constantly vetting, constantly trying to figure out, am I being led? Am I being steered? And so any discussion about this that would give the American people a greater understanding of how we cover the war in Iraq and how we cover the insurgency from the perspective from being embedded is good.

One of the things that -- and my reaction after I saw it is, one of the things that was always frustrating to me in Iraq is that I felt like, you know, I was there taking great risk and I was there to find the truth, plain and simple. And I don't think I had the support of the American people. And I don't think that they quite understood that that was my only agenda.

BLITZER: Most of the reporters -- I think you'll agree Tim -- that was what they were trying to do -- bring the story as accurately, as responsibly as they possibly could...

ROBBINS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ...under enormous danger and enormous complications.

ROBBINS: Absolutely. And we would invite a lot of the people that were returning to see the play at the Public Theater to do talk- backs after the show, and had very lively discussions with embedded and unembedded reporters. Really stimulating discussions with audience members where audience members were able to understand more of what was going on there, what the restrictions were if there were any. And to tell you the truth, there were some that felt there were absolutely no restrictions, others that felt there were.

It's I guess up to the individual, up to the news organization you're working with, and up to your point of view.

BLITZER: When you take a look at the criticism, though, that you're receiving -- and I'm sure you'll be getting a lot more, Tim, in the weeks and months to come -- what goes through your mind looking back on how you portrayed the role of these embedded reporters? And the name of the play is "Embedded." What goes through your mind in perhaps rethinking some of what you've tried to put in this play?

ROBBINS: Again, I'll stand by it. There are characters in the play that, if you're a good journalist and a good embedded journalist, that you can see this play and see yourself in those characters. I think that the play is mostly critical of the administration's rush to war and the various reasons that we were given for it, and the duplicity and deception that happened that led us to this war.

BLITZER: Did you think, Jackie -- and I'll bring Walter in too -- that you were in effect a propaganda arm of the Bush administration by allowing yourself to be embedded with U.S. forces during the war?

SPINNER: Absolutely not. One of the problems that we had, and the reason that we have to embed, and particularly now, is that there is no safe way for us to get around the country. And that's frustrating as a journalist. I wish I didn't have to embed. I wish I could go out on my own. But I simply cannot. I have to rely on the military to get where I need to go.

And also, the military is a large part of the story. When I'm there with the soldiers, when I'm riding around in the Humvees, you know, I'm seeing for myself what's happening. There could be spin in Washington that things are going fine, but I'm out there with the soldiers getting blown up just like they are.

BLITZER: What about you, Walter?

RODGERS: Well, let me say this to Tim. Henry Louis Mencken, a great American journalist once said, the only way to look on any politician is down. And I think Tim is right to lampoon any politician of any stripe at all times.

The problem is -- and were we used? Yes, to an extent -- but what the Pentagon did in this embedding was they did not want Saddam to go say there were huge massacres of civilians by the U.S. Army. And the Pentagon embedded us so that we could report truthfully on civilian casualties to the extent we saw them. And it worked for the Pentagon. It worked for the administration. And it worked for the cause of truth, because no one could say there were mass executions of civilians, or mass killings of civilians during the onslaught on Baghdad, because honest reporters were there doing their job.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let Tim Robbins have the last word. Go ahead, Tim.

ROBBINS: I agree with him. I think there were honest reporters there doing their job. My truck is more with the administration and the way that we led up to this war, and to the people that refused to question before the war happened. I think in the next -- the next time this is attempted, I think there should be more diligence in the networks to questioning questionable intelligence and to listening to sources within the intelligence community that were suggesting that this was trumped up and that the evidence wasn't there for weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Journalism: it's often called, Tim, the first draft of history. We try to do the best we can. We don't always get it right, obviously. But we try to do the best we can.

ROBBINS: So do playwrights.

BLITZER: And I think you raise important issues. And we'll continue this conversation down the road, Tim Robbins joining us. Walter Rodgers, joining in London. Jackie Spinner of "The Washington Post" here in Washington. Thanks to all three of you.

This important programming note -- this Sunday, we'll have a special "LATE EDITION," "Behind the Lines," on this Memorial Day weekend. I'll take you, our viewers, with me to Iraq and the Persian Gulf to see how U.S. troops are battling the insurgents. During my recent visit to the region, we had unique access to U.S. military commanders. That's a special "LATE EDITION," "Behind the Lines." It airs this Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern during the second hour of "LATE EDITION".

Senator John McCain, by the way, will join me at noon Eastern on Sunday during the first hour of "LATE EDITION."

When we come back, failed border crossing, a deadly attempt to get into the United States. We'll have some dramatic pictures. That's coming up next.


ANNOUNCER: He'll always be the man astride a tank, facing down a hardline coup in 1991. Boris Yeltsin remains a creature of contradiction: a communist who helped destroy communism, a Democrat who opened fire on his own parliament, a man who seemed on the verge of dying so many times, who nowadays looks healthier than ever.

In 1980, Yeltsin was a Communist party boss in the Urals mountain city of Svedlosk (ph). Ten years later, he was the president of the Russian Republic. The Soviet Union was about to collapse and when it did, Yeltsin moved into the Kremlin. At the height of his powers he told CNN...

BORIS YELTSIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I am not thinking about history at all and I'm not planning on thinking about it. I'm thinking about deeds. ANNOUNCER: But in 1999, in the new year's address, Boris Yeltsin shocked the world, announcing he was stepping down as Russian president, handing the reins of power to Vladimir Putin. Years of heavy drinking and heart attacks took their toll, but in retirement, Yeltsin is following a healthier lifestyle, surprising the world once more with his resilience and unpredictability.



BLITZER: Thousands of illegal immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexican border every year. Besides being unlawful, the journey can often times be deadly as well. The U.S. Border Patrol has just released a surveillance videotape that shows a March 31st attempt to cross the border at Del Rio, Texas. We warn you in advance that many viewers will find these pictures disturbing.


(voice-over): A U.S. Border Patrol camera shows four illegal immigrants wading along the narrow ledge on top of a dam that spans the Rio Grand River. The water was waist-high and moving quickly. You can see two of the men falling down. The two managed to get up, then they go single file. But the water is still powerful. Border Patrol agents reach out to rescue them, but one by one, the four go over the ledge, into the churning water below. It took weeks to recover all the bodies.


BLITZER: Very sad indeed. U.S. Border Patrol officials would not comment directly on the incident. The Mexican Consul in Del Rio, Texas, called the pictures very sad.

Other international news we're following -- a massive power outage brings Moscow to a standstill. The outage stranded about 20,000 people in underground subway tunnels and also caused major traffic jams above ground.

That's all the time we have. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Lou's in New York, with this. Lou?



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