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THE SITUATION ROOM

Charges Filed Against Jose Padilla; Bird Flu Fears

Aired November 22, 2005 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, thanks very much for joining us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information arrive at one place at the same time.
It's 1:00 a.m. right now Wednesday in Tikrit, Iraq, where top U.S. officials narrowly missed being hit by an insurgent attack. The frightening incident, all of it, recorded by cameras.

And it's 5:00 p.m. at New York's LaGuardia Airport, where flight delays are stacking up. The holiday travel rush being hampered by weather. We'll update you on what's happening across the country.

Also, in Queens, New York, where a teacher is out of a job where she is pregnant and single. And her firing may be perfectly legal. We'll show you why.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A near disaster for the U.S. mission in Iraq. A mortar attack coming close to the top American diplomat and the top American military commander in the country.

Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now with details on what happened -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, an unusual look today at what happens when the mortars start flying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice over): It happens almost every day in Iraq. A mortar attack, but this time it was caught on camera as high-level U.S. and Iraqi officials attended a ceremony in Tikrit, where the U.S. was handing back to the Iraqis a complex of palaces that had been a military base.

Everyone ducked for cover and there were a few moments of chaos, but no one was hurt. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and top commander General George Casey were in the audience. No one can say if the attackers knew they were there.

It all underscores the growing debate about whether the very presence of U.S. troops is making them a target and when Iraqi security forces will be ready to take over. U.S. military commanders agree an early pullout would be destabilizing. Clearly, they now expect months of ranker perhaps not seen since Vietnam. LT. GEN. JOHN VINES, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: The debate and the bitterness is disturbing. But after all, we are a democracy, and that's what democracy is about, is people will have differences of opinions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And Wolf, both administration opponents and supporters appear to agree on one thing, that the Iraqis must make political progress on their own. The U.S. military already is war-gaming what might happen if the Iraqis do ask U.S. troops to leave -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thank you very much.

Barbara Starr reporting.

Moving on now. Charges have been fired against a United States citizen the government once claimed plotted to detonate a so-called dirty bomb. But that allegation is not mentioned in an indictment that some say was too long in coming.

Let's bring in our Justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's got the latest -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Padilla's detention has been extremely controversial. He is a U.S. citizen held for more than three years and not charged until today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice over): After more than three years in military custody, enemy combatant Jose Padilla has been criminally charged and will face the accusations against him in a court of law.

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting in violent jihad.

ARENA: Padilla faces life in prison if convicted on three charges: conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas, providing material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to provide that support. But there's no mention of dirty bomb, no mention of blowing up apartment buildings in the United States, both allegations made very publicly in the past by Justice officials.

Padilla's lawyers say that's because the government can't back them up.

DONNA NEWMAN, JOSE PADILLA'S ATTORNEY: They now say conveniently it's irrelevant. How, can I ask, is such a thing irrelevant, holding somebody in solitary confinement, a citizen seized on our soil, for three and a half years with a little pen become irrelevant?

ARENA: Justice officials say they are not backing away from the earlier allegations. They say prosecutors brought charges that they could prove in court. During a press conference just over a year ago, then Deputy Attorney General James Comey cautioned that most of what Padilla allegedly confessed to couldn't be used in court.

JAMES COMEY, FMR. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't believe that we could use this information in a criminal case because we deprived him of access to his counsel and questioned him in the absence of counsel.

ARENA: The indictment may avoid a Supreme Court showdown over how long the government can hold a U.S. citizen without charges.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: Padilla's lawyers asked the justices to hear his case, and the administration was facing a deadline next Monday to respond. Padilla's lawyers say that they want to go forward, but it's unclear whether the justices will choose to hear the case now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. What about this other case, this other American citizen now convicted of trying to plot an assassination against the president?

ARENA: That's a man, a 24-year-old, Abu Ali. As you said, he is a U.S. citizen, and he was convicted today of both joining al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush.

Now, he confessed while he was in custody in Saudi Arabia. He says that he was tortured, though, which made him give a false confession. But a jury rejected that claim of torture and they convicted him. And he could get life in prison.

His lawyer tells CNN that he's disappointed in the ruling and will appeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena. Thanks very much.

Kelli Arena reporting for us.

Moving on to new fears over bird flu. Let's bring in CNN's Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta with the latest on that -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, today officials in Russia say they've detected bird flu in 200 swans that were found dead in the southern region. They say they're trying to determine if it's the same deadly strain that's killed thousand of birds in Asia. Meanwhile, there are new outbreaks and infections elsewhere.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice over): Today China reported three new outbreaks of bird flu in its poultry population. Two happened last week in China's western region, killing some 268 birds and prompted the need to put over 75,000 birds to death. A third outbreak in a southern China province killed some 2,500 birds and caused the extermination of nearly 100,000 others.

Chinese officials say they're aggressively fighting the disease. LIU JIANCHAO, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): The Chinese government and people are making great efforts to fight bird flu, and we have done well in controlling it. We've adopted successful and immediate action, but fighting bird flu is a long and painstaking effort.

VERJEE: Meanwhile, Canada confirms a case of bird flu in a duck in British Columbia near Vancouver. Now the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan have banned poultry from mainland British Columbia. Canadian officials say the infected duck had the H5 strain, which is not the same as the deadly strain seen in Southeast Asia.

One virologist says there is a critical difference.

DR. TODD HATCHETTE, DALHOUSIE UNIVERSITY: It's like two people wearing a blue blazer and gray trousers. They may look the same, but inside they're completely different.

VERJEE: Yet, despite the difference in the strains, Canada has still killed some 56,000 birds on the farm where the infected duck was found.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to deal with it. We cannot take the chance that this virus will turn into something more dangerous.

VERJEE: And in Japan, travelers flying into the country from 11 bird flu-effected regions are having their shoes disinfected. Travelers are asked to clean their shoes on mats soaked in an antiseptic solution.

Japanese officials worry that tourists could have poultry manure on the bottom of their shoes which could possibly bring bird flu into the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Wolf, there's also a case of bird flu reportedly in Vietnam. Reuters say a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy has contacted the deadly strain and is said to be recovering.

Now, none of this changes the number of humans affected by bird flu. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, 130 humans have been infected and 67 have died.

Wolf, back to you and Jack in THE SITUATION ROOM. And I hear an ugly rumor that the two of you will be neglecting me for the rest of the week. Is it true?

BLITZER: I know I'll be off.

Jack, and I know you're going to be off as well.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's correct.

VERJEE: So what am I suppose to do?

BLITZER: You'll have to live without us.

CAFFERTY: That's right. Just deal with it.

VERJEE: I can't.

CAFFERTY: You're a grown woman. Handle it.

VERJEE: I can't. I can't, Jack. You're deliciously blunt and excitingly acerbic.

CAFFERTY: Don't me talking that way to me. I'm not old enough to hear that kind of stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack. What's your question?

CAFFERTY: Turkey time in the nation's capital, a city where, let's face it, it's always turkey time, now isn't it?

President Bush, in an annual tradition, pardoned two turkeys today. They were named Marshmallow and Yam. And that's, I think, Marshmallow. And Yam stayed in the truck.

Following the ceremony, the birds got a police escort to the airport and then were flown to Disneyland. This is all thanks to PETA, that humorless animal rights group that didn't like the conditions where the turkeys used to go.

They used to send them to a farm in Virginia. PETA didn't think that was an appropriate setting for them. So they prevailed on President Bush to send these two to Disneyland.

However, that's only two. And there are many other turkeys roaming the nation's capital, like all of our elected officials in Congress who voted themselves a $3,100 pay raise and then left on vacation for two weeks last week.

So the question is this: Is the turkey the only thing worth pardoning in Washington, D.C.?

CaffertyFile@CNN.com. And we also accept sympathy e-mails for Zain who has to work on Thanksgiving while Wolf and I are away.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Up ahead, the secretary of defense. I'll ask Donald Rumsfeld about the current debate on how things are going. My interview with him, that's coming up.

And for another view on the war's progress, I'll speak live with former Florida senator Bob Graham. I'll ask him what intelligence he saw in the run-up to the war when he was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And how far will you be going this Thanksgiving? With bad weather and bad traffic conditions, it's going to be tough going for many Americans. We'll tell you what to expect.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush getting ready to get out of Washington. He's over at Andrews Air Force Base right now, getting ready to fly on Air Force One to the ranch in Crawford, Texas. There you see the president, the first lady. They're getting out of town like a lot of people, including myself, getting out of town tomorrow.

There he is, the president, getting ready to spend Thanksgiving with his family in Crawford, Texas.

Traffic jams all over the country already. Bad weather in parts of the country are going to cause some serious problems for a lot of travelers. Coming up, we have live pictures coming in from Chicago, from Los Angeles, from San Francisco.

Traffic jams already beginning. A potent storm system and a sudden cold snap will create a Thanksgiving mess for lots of travelers.

Joining us now, we have reporters all over the place. Ali Velshi is watching some of the traffic problems on the road. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is watching the travel sites online. We've got Bonnie Schneider, our meteorologist.

But let's go out to LaGuardia, in New York City, first. That's where we begin our coverage with our Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff.

What's it like there, Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, quite crowded. And typically it is busy here at LaGuardia Airport at this time as business people try to get out of New York, to get back home. But in addition to the business people, we've got plenty of families here as well, starting out their Thanksgiving holiday a little bit early, trying to get out.

And they're not having all that much trouble getting out. The departure board is OK. But have a look at the arrival board there.

Everything in yellow is delayed. And the delays are pretty bad right now.

Boston, two hours; Columbus, two hours; St. Louis, two and a half hours. All delayed. Serious problems.

We'll certainly have more problems tomorrow. The best bet for some people at this point, if they still want to fly and not have to deal with a big crunch, maybe flying out very early Thanksgiving morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Allan. Thanks very much.

Let's bring in our own Ali Velshi now. He's watching some of these problems. He's got "The Bottom Line" -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Allan's at LaGuardia. Newark, Boston having those kinds of delays. And that's not the worst of it.

The worst of it is that some 37.3 million people will travel more than 50 miles away from home this Thanksgiving, according to AAA. And 83 percent of those people are going to go by car.

Now, if you are in the Great Lakes region or the Northeast, you are worried about the storm that could be dumping two, three inches of snow on some people. That is going to slow people down.

The good news, gas prices aren't as high as they've been over the last year. The bad news is you're still going to pay about 32 cents per gallon for self-service unleaded more than you did a year ago.

So, Wolf, good and bad. But if you're driving, take it slow.

BLITZER: Ali, thank you very much.

Abbi Tatton is watching all of this online. Some traffic information available.

Abbi, what are you getting?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, a good place to start is to look at your state's Department of Transportation. We're looking here at New Jersey and the New Jersey turnpike there.

Many of the states Web pages have live streaming traffic cams. So you can check out for yourself the road that you're going to be traveling on.

You can also go to the maps that they have, look at where you're going to be, click on the particular camera there, and pinpoint the road that you're going to be on.

Also, other sites like traffic.com allow you to personalize your travel plans, and they'll let you know of any trouble spots coming up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thank you very much.

Let's check the weather situation. Our meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider, is joining us from the CNN weather center.

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: Coming up, the former U.S. senator Bob Graham on the battle over prewar intelligence. We'll tell you what he's saying now. He was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the eve of the war.

And the Pentagon chief on the defensive over Iraq. Is he doing all he can for the troops? And when will he bring them home?

Tough questions for Donald Rumsfeld, all that coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM.

In a recent op-ed in "The Washington Post," my next guest said this of President Bush -- and let me quote -- "The president has undermined trust. No longer will the members of Congress be entitled to accept his voracity."

Bob Graham is the former Democratic senator from Florida. He was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the run-up to the war.

He's now joining us from -- you're in Tallahassee, is that right, Senator?

BOB GRAHAM (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: That's right, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Welcome back to CNN. Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to play for you -- well, actually, before I play for you, what did you mean when you wrote that the president has undermined our trust and that members of Congress are no longer going to be able to go to the bank on what he tells them?

GRAHAM: Well, the president said that there were a hundred or more Democrats who had access to the same intelligence that he did, that they should have verified the accuracy of that intelligence before they based their vote on the representation that thee were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

I'd always thought from George Washington, forward, that the American people and members of Congress could rely on, put their faith in statements made by the president, and they weren't going to be held responsible for going behind what the president had stated to determine whether it was truthful or not.

This new standard that President Bush has set fundamentally changes the relationship between the American people and their president and between the executive and the legislative branch. To use a Ronald Reagan statement, we now -- we can trust, but we also have to verify that that trust is warranted.

BLITZER: Well, you were the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and you were privy to the most sensitive information. Almost everything presumably that the president himself gets in those days.

You concluded that there was no imminent threat or real threat from Saddam Hussein. You voted against the resolution. What did you see that many of your Democratic colleagues who voted for the resolution, like John Kerry, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, what did you see that convinced you this was a bad idea to go to war that didn't convince them?

GRAHAM: Well, first, it's not true that members of the Congress get all the intelligence that's available to the president.

BLITZER: I didn't say -- I didn't say members of Congress. I said you, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, get...

(CROSSTALK)

GRAHAM: And it is not true that the chairman of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee get everything that the president sees. And we shouldn't.

The president is the commander in chief. And there are going to be some issues which are of such a sensitive nature that they can't tolerate even distribution to a small group of members of Congress.

My basic reason for voting against the war was a strategic one, that I felt that while Saddam Hussein was an evil person, he lived in a neighborhood with a lot of evil people, and that the challenge to the United States was to decide against which evil we should be applying our military strength. In my judgment, it should have been al Qaeda in Afghanistan, not Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That it was al Qaeda that had just killed 3,000 Americans and had the capability of waging terror around the world.

They were our greatest adversary. And second...

BLITZER: But correct me if I am wrong, Senator. Correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't you see the entire national intelligence estimate, the -- including the classified version...

GRAHAM: Oh, yes, I saw the...

BLITZER: ... and there was information in there that you saw that convinced you that it was more murky, some of the -- some of the threats that were presented in the declassified version of that NIE that was presented on the eve of the war?

GRAHAM: Yes, and I might say, there would not have been a national intelligence estimate, except for the fact the Senate Intelligence Committee demanded it. The president, up until days before asking Congress to vote to authorize war, had never requested that there be a national intelligence estimate.

When we got it, the first version was classified, and it had a number of dissents, particularly from agencies like the Department of Energy on whether Saddam Hussein was re-constituting his nuclear program, and from the Department of State. It had conditions and nuances that made it less than a clarion call for war.

The next thing the administration did was issue what they said was a public version of that classified national intelligence estimate which had stripped out all of the doubts and conditions, and was an all-out call for war.

BLITZER: In fairness, though, to the president of the United States, isn't it the director of the CIA, who was then George Tenet, shouldn't he be held accountable for the bad intelligence that was provided to the president? Or do you blame the president for, as many of his critics are now saying, cherry picking what he wanted to tell the American public?

GRAHAM: Apparently, what happened, according to reporting by "The Washington Post," is that in the spring of 2002, CIA representatives were called to the White House and directed to prepare a document which would be the public explanation for why we should go to war with Iraq based on weapons of mass destruction. It was that document which had been prepared three or four months earlier but had been held back that we received as the so-called public document of the national intelligence estimate.

It was not a public document. It was a...

BLITZER: So -- but just...

GRAHAM: ... propaganda piece to build -- to build the emotion necessary for war, and the emotion necessary to get the American people to believe it was a greater threat to them than was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we're out of time. But a quick question. Was the president the victim of bad intelligence, or is he responsible for creating that bad intelligence?

GRAHAM: Well, the -- all of the directors of the major intelligence agencies, including the CIA, are appointees of the president of the United States. So he has ultimate responsibility.

There was bad intelligence from the intelligence agencies. There was also a tendency of the administration to select from that bad intelligence those parts of it which supported his case that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which required us to redirect our attention from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein and, therefore, go to war. A series of statements which have, of course, now been proven to be false.

BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Senator Graham, thanks very much for joining us from Tallahassee. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, my interview with the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. I'll ask him about the uproar in Washington over the war in Iraq. That's coming up.

Plus this: an Al-Jazeera reporter killed in a U.S. air strike two years ago. Now a British tabloid is reporting claims that President Bush wanted to target the network itself. We'll show you what's going on in that report, how the White House is reacting. We've got the latest on that score.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was a critical influence in the decision to send U.S. troops to Iraq. And he's now a prime target in the debate over how soon they can and should come home.

I spoke with the defense secretary on General Peter Pace, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs on CNN's "LATE EDITION" about their mission and their critics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: John Murtha, the ranking Democrat of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, had strong words this week, caused a huge uproar in Washington. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Our military's done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of Americans want to know, Secretary, when are the troops coming home?

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think it's important to say a couple of things about that sound bite that you just gave us. First of all, in a democracy, people can have a good debate and a discussion and have views, and that's fair enough. That was true in World War II. There was a debate and disagreement. It was true in the Korean War, the Vietnam War. And it's true in this war.

I think the interesting thing about the sound bite you just showed us is that very few Democrats or Republicans supported it. And I think that's an important message for our troops.

BLITZER: Was that a smart idea for the Republicans -- You're a former member of the House -- to come up with a vote? Democrats say that was simply a political stunt to embarrass Congressman Murtha, who's been such a strong supporter of the military, a retired U.S. Marine, decorated, injured during his service in Vietnam. Was that smart of your Republican colleagues?

RUMSFELD: Jack Murtha is a fine person. I know him. I think what's important, though, just as everyone can say what they want, we also have to think of what the words mean to the enemy.

BLITZER: So are you happy that they asked for that resolution on Friday?

RUMSFELD: I wasn't in town. I was in Australia. I was not involved in any of that. The Congress does what the Congress does. And I think the important thing is what I said...

BLITZER: But you were suggesting, you were suggesting -- excuse me.

RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute. The important -- the important thing is that very little support went to Jack Murtha. The Democrats didn't step up and support it, and Republicans didn't step up and support it. And I think it's important for our troops to know that.

BLITZER: Was it smart for the Republicans to ask for that resolution, in effect embarrassing Murtha?

RUMSFELD: Time will tell. I don't think it was an embarrassment to Murtha. He's a grown man. He's a fine person. He has a distinguished record in Congress. I don't think it's embarrassing at all.

BLITZER: Well, the -- one of the Republican Congresswomen, Jean Schmidt of Ohio, basically called him a coward.

RUMSFELD: I don't think that's correct. I think she quoted somebody.

BLITZER: She quoted a letter that -- she got a letter. But she read it...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: It didn't even refer to Congressman Murtha.

BLITZER: Yes, it did.

RUMSFELD: I don't think it did.

BLITZER: It did refer to Congressman Murtha by name.

RUMSFELD: Well, I wasn't in town. If you say that, maybe you're right.

BLITZER: Yeah. But you don't think he's a coward?

RUMSFELD: Of course not.

BLITZER: It's getting ugly here in Washington, as you know.

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, I've been around here since I first came in 1957, and been in and out of this town. I've seen lots of times that we had wonderfully collegial cooperation between the parties, and I've seen times when we didn't. And I think that it's important to understand that there are effects to this. I like to put myself in other people's shoes. If you put yourself in the shoes of the terrorists, if they get to believe that all they have to do is wait, because we're going to pull out precipitously, then something enormously valuable has been lost. If that country -- think of that country being turned over to the Zarqawis, the people who behead people, the people who kill innocent men, women, and children, the people who are determined to re-establish a caliphate around the world, the people who are looking for a safe haven. That would be a terrible thing for our country, for the safety of our people.

BLITZER: General Pace, Lieutenant General John Vines, a top U.S. military commander in Iraq, quoted in today's New York Times as saying this: Lieutenant General John R. Vines, the second-ranking officer in Iraq, used a telephone interview during the Capitol Hill debate to say that American troop levels could fall by 50,000 by the end of 2006, to below 100,000. About 150,000, 160,000 troops in Iraq right now. Is that the game plan?

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The commanders on the ground, General Abizaid, General Casey, General Vines, continuously review the size of the force that they have right now, and they look at both how they might need to increase in case certain factors come into play, and how they might be able to decrease. And they do that across the board.

They will then make their recommendations through General Casey to the secretary and the president, and we'll have an opportunity to do the analysis here in Washington. I'll have the opportunity, along with the other joint chiefs, to make our recommendations to the secretary and the president. And when a decision is made, then the announcement will be made.

But it is certainly true that the commanders on the ground are always looking at both how to ramp up and how to ramp down, given circumstances on the ground.

BLITZER: The exit strategy depends on how quickly the Iraqis can step up to the plate and get the job done militarily, security-wise, themselves. Last month, the Defense Department said that there were 116 Iraqi battalions that are being trained right now. But only one -- only one -- is at a level where they can operate on their own without U.S. assistance. In an Iraqi battalion, how many troops are there?

PACE: Between 500 and 700. And the term exit strategy is really not a good discussion. What it is, is a turnover of responsibility from coalition forces to the Iraqi armed forces, as they're ready to take charge.

BLITZER: But...

PACE: There is one Iraqi division capable of handling 15,000 to 20,000 men right now, operating independently. There are four Iraqi brigades, each capable of handling 3,000 to 5,000 men, operating independently. There are 36 Iraqi battalions, between 500 and 700 men, operating independently, meaning they are controlling the Iraqi territory on their own.

BLITZER: But they need U.S. help.

PACE: U.S....

BLITZER: Only one -- you were saying 500 to 700 Iraqi troops can operate on their own completely without American involvement.

PACE: What I'm saying to you is every U.S. battalion over there also needs American support from the standpoint of its intelligence, from the standpoint of air, medevac and the like.

BLITZER: Because people hear that, 100,000, 200,000 Iraqi troops, but only 500 to 700 can operate on their own? After almost three years and $200 or $300 billion, only 500 to 700 Iraqi troops are capable of operating on their own?

PACE: No. I think that's a very serious misreading of what we've been trying to say. And in fact, I think we've done ourselves a disservice trying to equate the way we grade our own forces the way we grade Iraqi forces.

We have levels C-1, 2, 3 and 4, and we apply those to U.S. troops.

And a battalion of U.S. Marines, like I commanded, will be a C-1 on a certain day and down to C-3 another day, depending upon how many resources they have, how many troops and the like. So I think we've done ourselves a disservice.

What is most important for all of us to understand is that there are over 210,000 Iraqi forces on the ground right now. Well over two- thirds of those are operating in the field as we speak. There are some -- it's even more than that. There are 95 battalions of Iraqi army right now, operating in the field.

BLITZER: But only one is capable of operating by itself?

PACE: That's not...

BLITZER: Because it was three a few months earlier, but it's gone down to one. Is that right?

RUMSFELD: Wolf, that is a red herring, that concept.

Let me just say, the Iraqi security forces are functioning.

They provided security for the October 15th referendum. They're going to provide security for the December 15th election. They're out there, not hiding in their barracks. They're out fighting and providing security every single day.

The United States Marines in Iraq get support from the Army in terms of combat support, combat service support.

Our NATO allies in Afghanistan get support. BLITZER: All right.

RUMSFELD: To constantly raise that single issue is mischievous.

BLITZER: But these are standards that the...

RUMSFELD: And there are people...

BLITZER: ... U.S. military has put forward. We didn't put them forward. These are standards that the commanders on the ground have put forward: level 1, level 2, level 3.

RUMSFELD: And we have units, as General Pace says, that are level 3.

I sat down with a general the other day and I said to him, OK, this unit's level 3, C-3.

And he said, That's right. And he said, The one that just went into Iraq is C-1, the best.

And I said, If you had to go to war right now, which one would you want to go to war with?

Oh, he said, I'd want to go to war with the C-3.

Why?

Because they're battle hardened. They're tested. They just don't happen to fit a precise little definition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Part of my interview last Sunday with the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"LATE EDITION" airs Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Still to come, a startling report that President Bush once discussed bombing the Al-Jazeera news network's headquarters. The White House call it outlandish, but do many people in the Middle East believe it's true?

And she's pregnant, unmarried and having her baby, but she doesn't have a job because she was fired. A teacher's emotional complaint against a Catholic school.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. officials are totally dismissing a report in a British tabloid that has sparked some serious concern over at the Arab television network, one the papers says came very close to being a target for U.S. bombs. Let's get the specific details -- Zain Verjee standing by at the CNN Center.

What's going on, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, is pressing the British government for more information on this report, which basically says President Bush once wanted to bomb the network headquarters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): The Arab--language satellite television network Al-Jazeera has been a thorn in the side of the Bush administration since the run-up to the war in Iraq.

And senior officials have expressed their displeasure with Al- Jazeera's coverage in the past. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once called it outrageous, vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.

Now the British tabloid "The Daily Mirror" is reporting that President Bush once considered bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar, a key U.S. ally. Citing what it says is a top-secret memo from Prime Minister Tony Blair's office, "The Mirror" reports that President Bush was so angered by the network's coverage of the U.S. offensive against insurgents in Fallujah, he considered ordering an airstrike against Al-Jazeera.

The paper says Blair talked Bush out of it during the White House meeting on April the 16th, 2004. Al-Jazeera is taking the report seriously, given its troubled history with the administration. One of its reporters was killed in an American airstrike in Baghdad in 2003.

There was a similar incident in Afghanistan in 2001, although no one was killed. Given those incidents, the network says, in a statement, it would cast serious doubts in regard to the U.S. administration's version of previous incidents involving Al-Jazeera's journalists and officers.

The White House refuses to comment, one official telling CNN, "We're not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response."

And a Pentagon official dismissed the report, calling it "absolutely absurd."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Al-Jazeera, Wolf, says that it wants to be certain that the memo cited by "The Daily Mirror" is genuine. And it's pressing Britain to verify the report.

But a spokesman says Blair's office can't comment because the memo is the subject of court action, and they just don't comment on leaks, they say. "The Mirror" says that two people are charged in connection with its release, but "The Mirror" didn't publish any part of the memo. So, Wolf, there's really no way to verify its report.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much -- Zain Verjee reporting for us.

Up next, she's pregnant, not married and now out of a job, but her firing for being an unwed mother may be perfectly legal. We will have details.

Plus, is the turkey the only thing worth pardoning in Washington? That's our question of the hour. Jack Cafferty is going through your e-mail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In a story from New York City, a schoolteacher faces an unexpected punishment for a very personal situation. One side says it's an issue of morality, the other a clear-cut issue of discrimination.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a case involving a teacher at a Catholic school where rules are different than public schools.

Still, some lawyers say, those rules have gone too far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): She's 18 weeks pregnant and unmarried. And because of that, 26-year-old Michelle McCusker is now unemployed -- at the heart of the firing, Catholic doctrine.

Saint Rose of Lima school, the Catholic school where McCusker taught pre-kindergarten, terminated her in a letter, stating -- quote -- "A teacher cannot violate the tenets of Catholic morality."

MICHELLE MCCUSKER, TEACHER: And I also don't understand how a religion that prides itself on being forgiving and on valuing life could terminate me because I'm pregnant and choosing to have this baby.

SNOW: McCusker, with lawyers from the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed a federal complaint, saying the firing is illegal and discriminates on the basis on sex and pregnancy. Lawyers say the same Catholic doctrine applied to women is not applied to male employees.

CASSANDRA STUBBS, NEW YORK CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: Does the school question the male employees about their sexual practices? How does the school punish male employees for engaging in nonmarital sex?

SNOW: The school's employer, the Diocese of Brooklyn, said no one was available to talk about the firing, but released a statement, saying -- quote -- "This is a difficult situation for every person involved, but the school had no choice but to follow the principles contained in the teacher's personnel handbook."

That handbook is part of a contract McCusker signed when she started the job. When it comes to laws for secular and religious schools, employment lawyers say not everything is equal in hiring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Religious schools can discriminate. A Catholic school can say, we will only hire Catholics.

SNOW: But among Catholics, there is division, with some charging hypocrisy within the church.

EILEEN MORAN, CATHOLICS FOR A FREE CHOICE: In spite of all the official pronouncements of being pro-child, pro-parent and pro-family, Saint Rose fired her.

SNOW: Other Catholics say, there is no discrimination in this case.

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: When you pay for your kid to go to a Catholic school, you want something different. You hold your teachers to a higher moral standard than you would in a public school.

SNOW: But lawyers say the question is, are men and women held to the same moral standard?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Lawyers in the case filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and say they are prepared to go to court to get McCusker her job back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you very much.

Jack is standing by with his question for the hour. Is the turkey the only thing worth pardoning here in Washington, D.C.? We will go to Jack.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack once again. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

Thanksgiving traditional down there in the nation's capital. President Bush pardoned a pair of Thanksgiving turkeys today named Marshmallow and Yam.

And since there are other turkeys roaming around the nation's capital, including the members of Congress, who, before leaving on a two-week vacation, voted a accept a $3,100-a-year pay raise for themselves last Friday, we have been asking this: Is the turkey the only thing worth pardoning in Washington, D.C.? Ross in Paradise California: "Yes, the turkey is the only thing worth pardoning in Washington. The rest of the turkeys get exactly what they deserve. It appears that heads are on the chopping block and many are going to get plucked."

Len in Springfield, Vermont: "You have finally discovered there are turkeys in Washington. Perhaps you would be better as a farmer and not a newsman."

V. in Starke, Florida: "Yes, pardon the turkeys. Criticize the pigs that act like turkeys."

I think that would be the members of Congress being referred to there.

Brian writes: "Remember, for the next elections, vote against any incumbent turkey. We have this problem in Pennsylvania, too, where the state legislators voted themselves a pay raise. Don't you and Zain have to go to your employer and ask for a raise?"

And Wayne in Lancaster, Pennsylvania: "When I heard President Bush pardoned two turkeys today, I figured Tom DeLay and Scooter Libby were off the hook. P.S.: Tell Zain not to worry about the rest of the week. She's the real reason we watch anyway."

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I think Wayne is on to something.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

It's the nature of live TV. So, why did a technical glitch during CNN's yesterday's coverage make some headlines online?

CNN's Daryn Kagan explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: During our live coverage of a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney, there was a technical malfunction. You're going to see it here. It involved a switcher, something we call a switcher -- we will get to that in a minute -- it's a machine that we use to switch between visual elements.

Now, that glitch resulted in that X that you saw being flashed briefly across the screen as the vice president was speaking.

The story has made it onto the Internet and various blogs out there. In response, CNN has issued this statement: "Upon seeing this unfortunate but brief graphic, CNN senior management immediately investigated. We concluded this was a technological malfunction, not an issue of operator error." And joining me to explain exactly what happened, Steve Halpern, our CNN director of technical operations.

So, we're putting you on the hot seat here. People at home, they're watching Vice President Dick Cheney, talk about his speech. That got a lot of attention, and the big X pops up.

STEVE HALPERN, CNN DIRECTOR OF TECHNICAL OPERATIONS: Right.

KAGAN: What happened? What happened? What were we trying to create behind the scenes?

HALPERN: What was getting ready to happen was, there was -- at the end of the speech, the plan was to do a -- to have a CNN logo up on the screen and use that as sort of the way of getting back from the speech back to you on camera and...

KAGAN: One of the many graphics that we use here at CNN.

HALPERN: One of the many graphics.

And the majority of graphics we use on the air, we do use a big X as a way of being able to identify at what point should the tape be cued up.

KAGAN: This is an X that you see back here in the control room and the technical people see, but that is never meant to be seen on the air.

HALPERN: Exactly.

KAGAN: OK.

HALPERN: It's being used. The control room will use that X as a way of being able to cue up the CNN logo to get it ready for air and, as -- as you see there, getting it ready.

KAGAN: And we're doing -- we're doing this now, live. So, we're showing what you're trying to do.

HALPERN: Exactly.

KAGAN: OK.

HALPERN: And that's -- that's what was being prepared during the speech. And due to the technical glitch that happened with the switcher, it accidentally, you know, got on the air because of the switch.

And it's the sort of thing that, you know, just like your computer will glitch and will suddenly lock up and do something weird, our equipment does the same thing on occasions.

Much like you have to reboot your computer from time to time to clear things up, we're going to be rebooting our equipment from time to time on a regular basis to make sure it doesn't happen again. KAGAN: We're hoping for that.

Steve, thank you...

HALPERN: Sure.

KAGAN: ... for the explanation. We hope that gives people behind the scenes and at home an idea of what happened.

And, for the bloggers and web sites out there, there you have it, a complete -- a computer glitch.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Daryn Kagan, thank you very much.

The story, though, took off on the blogs yesterday. But what did they conclude?

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is standing by with the answer -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, most of the conservatives blogs that piled on this story have concluded that it was in fact a mistake, the self-correcting mechanism at play, as I always tell people it tends to do.

But I will show you how this panned out. It started out on Drudge Report. They picked up the screen grab. And then it went over to the Political Teen. It's a conservative blogger that specializes in video blogging. And they actually slowed the video down -- down, which caused a whole new controversy, because people wondered if it was the actual video.

It was just in slow motion. Michelle Malkin, a top conservative blogger, also posted the screen grab with all sorts of links. And, basically, this even made blog on blog on mainstream media. TVNewser covers the cable industry and they were talking about Drudge talking about CNN.

But, as the day went on and other bloggers took a look at what you just heard in Daryn's report about the X and what it meant, they started to take a closer look at all the technicalities. And even some of the right-wing blogs said, look, this is probably just an overreaction on our part.

So, they came around. I mean, there are still some people out there, Wolf, who think that this is a larger conspiracy. But, on the general whole, those that we take a look at believe that, yes, in fact, it was a mistake.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thank you very much for that.

We will be back in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, more of THE SITUATION ROOM. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has been speaking with our John King -- that interview coming up. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starting right now -- Kitty Pilgrim filling in for Lou.

Hi, Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Thanks.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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