Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Harry Belafonte Lashes Out; President Bush's Answers Questions; Wildfire Blazing in Southern California; FDA Debates Weight Loss Pill

Aired January 23, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you the day's top stories.
Happening now, it's 7:00 p.m. in Michigan where an icon of American industry is struggling. Ford Motor Company, the first to mass produce the automobile, announces mass layoffs.

In New York where it's 7:00 p.m. a one time pop icon turned actor now turns his fury against President Bush. I'll ask Harry Belafonte why he's so angry.

And it's 7:00 p.m. in Washington, where the FDA weighs over the count sales of a weight loss pill. A scientific panel offers its blessing, but is the pill really safe and effective?

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

After decades of declining sales and a $1.6 billion loss in North America last year, Ford says it now knows what it calls the way forward. That's the name of the company has given a sweeping restructuring plan that will cut up to 30,000 jobs, and close 14 facilities, including assembly plants in Wixom, Michigan, St. Louis and another near Atlanta. Union leaders call the plan disappointing. The great grandson of founder Henry Ford says it's necessary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL FORD, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, FORD: These cuts are a painful last resort, and I'm deeply mindful of their impact. They're going to affect many lives, many families, and many communities. And we'll do everything we reasonably can to ease the burdens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Ali Velshi is joining us live from Wixom, Michigan, where some 1,500 auto workers are now facing unemployment. Ali, what a day.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Bill Ford made that statement this morning at 10:30 this morning, and with that months of speculation came to an end. But just as it came to an end, we left Dearborn, where that announcement was made, came here to Wixom, Michigan, where now a new struggle begins for those 1,500 workers who are going to find themselves out of work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DARRELL HOFFMAN, FORD WORKER: It hurts. You've got - you've got a family here. You know, a lot of friends.

VELSHI (voice-over): Darrell Hoffman has 38 years on the job. He'll soon be out of work. He and up to 30,000 other Ford employees across North America. Darrell works at the Lincoln Town Car plant in Wixom, Michigan. He's proud of his work and of the cars he builds.

HOFFMAN: Look at that car. That car's beautiful. Every reality show you see has got a new Town Car in it.

VELSHI: While the official word came down in Ford today, the people in Wixom have been on edge for months. There emotions have been twisted and turned by the daily whispers that one day their plant would be spared, the next that it was on the chopping block.

KIM CUNNINGHAM, WAITRESSL: It's been terrible for some of the people. They're a nervous wreck. They can't make plans. We feel bad for them. They can't start a family. They can't buy a home, cars. They don't know what's going on. And you can't build a life on uncertainty.

VELSHI: At least now there's certainty. The plant is one of 14 across North America that is closing. But certainty doesn't pay the bills.

HOFFMAN: I've got a 23 and a 21-year-old daughter, and I've got a nine-year-old son. We're survivors.

VELSHI: After GM's 30,000 job cuts last November, and Ford's 30,000 now, you'd think auto-making this America was facing extinction. It's not. Toyota and Honda and other non-American car companies have little trouble building and selling cars in America. And making money doing it.

HOFFMAN: I'm a pretty good paint repairman. And I'm going to find a job. Whether an American company or foreign company, it's going to happen. So here I am. I mean, I'm ready to go to work.

VELSHI: And for those who aren't over the shock of the layoffs yet, Darrell has these words.

HOFFMAN: Ali, I would say work hard, stick to what you believe in, just keep going for it, day in, day out. Don't sit down. Because they'll run over you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI (on camera): Darrell is a fighter, Wolf. I've got to tell you, we talked to a lot of people today. Not everybody is that hopeful about their future or that encouraged by a bad situation. But this is a real situation that thousands and thousands of families across America are facing tonight. One can only hope this was the right move for Ford. And that it gets to grow back to the giant that it once was, Wolf?

BLITZER: Ali Velshi in Michigan for us. Thanks, Ali. Good reporting.

President Bush is leading an aggressive sales campaign for the administration's domestic surveillance activity. In a speech today in Kansas, he said the eavesdropping being conducted without court orders is legal and does not violate any civil liberties. Let's turn to our national security correspondent David Ensor for more. David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know when "The New York Times" broke this story of the surveillance, the bush administration was at first pushed back on its heels, but today it came out swinging.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (voice-over): The Bush administration went on the offensive for its warrantless domestic surveillance program by the National Security Agency, the nation's eavesdroppers. Officials from the president on down arguing that the program is aimed only at monitoring al Qaeda's communications in and out of the U.S.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: And if they're making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why.

ENSOR: As part of three days of national security events to make its case, the administration also put out a respected four-star general.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States and we would have identified them as such.

ENSOR: General Michael Hayden, now the nation's number two intelligence officer, was head of the NSA in late 2001 when President Bush authorized it to listen in on certain international calls by Americans without a court warrant.

HAYDEN: This is -- this isn't a drift net where we're soaking up everyone's communications. We're going after very specific communications that our professional judgment tells us we have reason to believe are those associated with people who want to kill Americans. That's what we're doing.

ENSOR: Critics of the president's program include a former top White House counterterrorism aide.

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER W.H. COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I don't see any loop hole that would authorize what he's doing. In other words, I think what they're doing is illegal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (on camera): The administration faces hearings early next month on whether the law should be changed or acquire approval of all domestic surveillance. But administration officials, apparently believing the program may actually be a political asset are now aggressively promoting it as part of the war on terror, Wolf.

BLITZER: David Ensor reporting. Thank you very much. The president appears to be losing some support on the subject of domestic spying. In our new poll, the majority of Americans, 51 percent, now say the authorization of wiretaps without a warrant is wrong. That's up five points from two weeks ago. And as David noted, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings early next month whether the president's domestic spying program is or is not legal. I spoke earlier today in THE SITUATION ROOM with the panel's chairman Republican Senator Arlen Specter. He says he's keeping an open mind, but has his doubts about the president's claim that Congress approved wiretaps without warrants when it authorized the use of force after the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PA: If the president had asked for authority in the PATRIOT Act we would have had a determination as to whether Congress wanted to give it to them. But to say that there was congressional intent in the resolution for force, I think is a stretch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Specter also says he sees no evidence the president's authorization of secret eavesdropping qualifies as an impeachable offense.

Just hours from now, the trial of Saddam Hussein resumes in Baghdad. But the former dictator will be facing some new judges. The two top judges on the panel are no longer hearing his case. CNN's Michael Holmes has the story from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is almost fitting that the restart of the Saddam Hussein trial is mired in courtroom drama. Because so were the earlier sessions. Two defense lawyers murdered, a judge quitting, and this. Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants appeared to be running the show at various times, leading to criticism chief judge Rizgar Amin and his ability to control the proceedings. Now he has quit. And a court official told CNN he will be replaced when the trial recommences, with a new chief judge, Ralph Rashid Abdul Rahman (ph), a Kurd who has been watching the trial as a member of a backup committee of judges. It is an interim appointment at the moment, perhaps even just for a day, while efforts continue to talk Rizgar Amin out of quitting. Also Monday Amin's number two Saeed al Hamash (ph) was moved from the case after claims he was once a Ba'athist, something he denies.

Meanwhile, a Jordanian newspaper has quoted one of Saddam's defense team as saying he met with the former leader in Baghdad Sunday and he's in good health and high spirits and looking forward to the resumption of the trial. Michael Holmes, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And this footnote. Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general is in Baghdad helping the Saddam Hussein legal defense team. Let's go to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Zain Verjee standing by with a look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. An airplane scare occurred in Florida, the associated press reports that a man on a Continental flight that was about to take off from Fort Lauderdale, ran up the aisle and banged on the cockpit and then jumped out of a plane door. Officials caught him on the tarmac and took him to the hospital. The police in Broward County say he's going to be arrested once he's released.

And in Florida he spent over half his life in prison. Now Alan Krotzer (ph) he's a free man. The judge freed the 45-year-old after new DNA tests proved him innocent. He spent over 24 years in prison after robbery and rape convictions. He had always maintained he had never even been at the scene of the crime. In California, it wasn't rush hour that caused this massive traffic jam. Three left lanes of Interstate 805 are open again after a freeway sign collapsed in San Diego. The accident backed up traffic for several miles. Officials say a recycling truck was heading north on the interstate when it struck a sign 20 feet above the road that spanned all five lanes. At least one person's been hurt after being hit by wreckage.

And it's a case millions of you have personal interest in. Today the Supreme Court refused to hear a case against the company that makes Blackberries. It involves claims of patent infringement against Research on Motion. The court sent the case back to a trial judge where an injunction could take the handheld wireless device completely off the market. I know, Wolf, you have a Blackberry, right. Does Jack?

BLITZER: Let's ask Jack. Are you what they call a Crackberry?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A what?

BLITZER: People who are addicted to Blackberries are Crackberries.

CAFFERTY: No, I don't have any of that stuff, so they can take it all off the mark as far as I'm concerned.

VERJEE: Do you text or instant message ...

CAFFERTY: That's a personal question. Do I text? What does that mean, exactly?

VERJEE: You know, do you text people on a phone, on a cell phone?

CAFFERTY: No. I don't have a cell phone.

VERJEE: You don't have a cell phone?

CAFFERTY: No. VERJEE: Why not?

CAFFERTY: Because I tend not to communicate except here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The rest of the time I tend to keep to myself.

BLITZER: Guys, we've got to move on. We've got to limited amount of time on this program. Jack, what's the question.

CAFFERTY: It's only three hours long, Zain. We can't talk anymore. Did you have a bad day today? If so, there might be a good reason why. A British psychologist has come up with a mathematical formula to show why this year January 23rd is the worst day of the year for a lot of people. Now, the variables for Cliff Arnel's (ph) equation are these, weather, personal debt, monthly salary, the time since Christmas, the time since you failed to quit a bad habit, low levels of motivation and the need to take action. Take a look on the bright side. Arnel says in six months, June the 23rd will be the happiest day of the year.

Here's the question. What's your worst day of the year? You can email us at caffertyfile@cnn.com. Or you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. You know, the way those Iraqis are conducting that Saddam Hussein trial, Wolf, doesn't make me optimistic about the self-determination in that country.

BLITZER: They're just getting started. It's a new thing. Democracy is brand new over there. Let's give them a chance to show us what they can do, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Coming up. Harry Belafonte, he's on a political assault campaign calling President Bush a terrorist, the Department of Homeland Security, and I'm quoting now, "The New Gestapo." Now he's taking some tough questions, he will be at least from me. That's coming up live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, rear-end crash fires. The easy fix that might keep your car from going up in flames. We have the story.

And a little bit later, the new fat pill. It's just been recommended for approval by the FDA, but is it the magic bullet to help all of us trim down? We're going to take a closer look. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is returning today to familiar territory that's proven politically dangerous for her in the past -- namely, health care. This time the former First Lady is hoping for a better outcome as she campaigns for reelection in New York State. And later possibly for the White House. Mary Snow's on the campaign trail. She's joining us live from Rochester with more. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 12 years after her failed attempt to overhaul the nation's health care system as First Lady, Senator Hillary Clinton is once again turning her focus on the issue. She chose here in Rochester, New York, to in her words jump start talks on the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): That was then.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: Realize the hope of providing health security for every American.

SNOW: This is now.

CLINTON: I'm ready to get back into the fray, knowing how difficult and controversial it is, because I think now many more people understand that the status quo is not sustainable.

SNOW: Speaking to a roundtable of healthcare and business leaders in Rochester, New York, Senator Clinton suggested her plan under her husband's administration was too much, too soon. And she took aim at the Bush administration's healthcare policy saying it was one of deliberate neglect and flawed.

CLINTON: We already know what kinds of proposals we will hear from the president in the State of the Union in about 10 days. I would sum up his message to American families in three words -- on your own.

SNOW: It's the latest in a series of sharp criticisms of the Bush administration. Last week the senator took aim at the administration's handling of Iran. That came two days after saying the Bush presidency would go down as one of the worst in history.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTAN: The presidential campaign began last week when Hillary Clinton took on the Republicans.

SNOW: Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the fact that a White House spokesman, First Lady Laura Bush and the Republican National Committee reacted strongly to Clinton's comments is noteworthy.

SHEINKOPF: The national Republican Party understands that the New York Republicans have failed to come up with a serious candidate to face her yet. Therefore, watch the national Republicans take her on whenever possible to try to keep her in check.

SNOW: And just about everything she does is being watched closely. Like this visit to a Rochester pharmacy where she talked to seniors about the problems with the new Medicare prescription drug plan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on camera): And it wasn't before long before questions turned to her future. And some supporters in New York asked her whether or not she would run for president in 2008. She told them that her most important job right now is to get reelected here in New York and she didn't want to take that for granted. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you very much. Watching the senator from New York State.

Zain Verjee is joining us once again from the CNN center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, again, Zain.

VERJEE: Hi, again, Wolf. Canada's reporting its first case of mad cow disease in a year. The six-year-old cross breed cow was diagnosed and euthanized in the province of Alberta. It's the third case of mad cow in Canada in the last three years. Officials say none of the animals entered the food chain.

A British search and rescue team are on the way to a building collapse in Nairobi, Kenya. At least 11 people were killed and more than 80 people injured when the five-story building that was under construction gave way. Witnesses say that more than 280 workers were inside at the time.

Sailors from a U.S. Navy destroyer intercepted and boarded a suspected pirate ship off Somalia. That followed a chase in which the destroyer fired two warning shots at the traditional boat. A wooden boat known as a dhow. U.S. Navy officials say that the dhow's crew said they had been hijacked by pirates who were using the boat to stage attacks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much. Zain Verjee reporting for us with some news making headlines around the world.

Still to come in the SITUATION ROOM, Harry Belafonte, he's been launching an all-out attack against Bush administration calling him the greatest terrorist in the world. Has the entertainer gone too far? Harry Belafonte. He is standing by. He will join us live in the SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, fat pill, it was just recommended for FDA approval, but is it really the magic bullet to lose weight? All that coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's not a cure for obesity, but it does help with weight loss. And you may soon be able to buy it without a prescription. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with more on a new drug that has apparently about to be approved for over the counter sales, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's important to node that the FDA has never approved the sale of any weight loss drugs without a prescription. Just a short time ago the agency got one step closer to doing that. A panel of outside experts called an FDA advisory board, voted to recommend the approval of over-the-counter sales of a drug called orlistat. It's made by GlaxoSmithKline and marked under the name Xenical. Over the counter it would be call Alot (ph). In various clinical trials of adults and children it's been found that those who took the drug lost slightly more weight than those who didn't, and that orlistat is generally safe. But it's also found that some patients gained the weight back right after stopping its usage. And there's also some question about vitamin deficiency caused by this drug. A doctor from the watchdog group Public Citizen suggested they reject the application, calling it quote "a desperate attempt to revive this barely effective drug."

The manufacturer says it only works when combined with diet and exercise. And Glaxo only wants people to use it for six months at a time. Over-the-counter doses would be generally lower than prescription amounts. As for its chances of final approval, that could be months away, but the FDA usually follows the recommendations of its advisory panels, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch the future of this pill. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Let's check in with CNN's Anderson Cooper for a preview of what's coming up on his program later tonight. Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, tonight on 360, a lot of talk about - in Louisiana, St. Bernard's Parish. Anger and frustration. Now a possible solution to the trailer controversy. Six thousand trailers waiting to be hooked up. They have been sitting there for months for Katrina victims. Tied up in FEMA red tape for months now. This weekend a big step made by FEMA. We're keeping them honest. We'll tell you about that.

Plus, when police were dying in car crash fires, Ford made a simple fix. But why hasn't Ford recommended the same change for other cars with similar design? A 360 investigation tonight at 10:00, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Anderson. Thank you very much.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he's called President Bush the world's greatest terrorist but he's compared the Department of Homeland Security to the Gestapo. Harry Belafonte, has he crossed the line? He's standing by to join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The entertainer and liberal activist Harry Belafonte has emerged as one of President Bush's harshest critics. He's been at it again, comparing the Department of Homeland Security to the Nazi Gestapo just weeks after calling Mr. Bush a terrorist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Harry Belafonte used to be best-known for this, the singer, actor, composer and producer launched a calypso music craze in the 1950s. A half century later though, the 78-year- old Belafonte may be best known for this. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRY BELAFONTE, ENTERTAINER, ACTIVIST: No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we are hear to tell you, not hundreds, not thousands but millions of the American people, millions, support your revolution.

BLITZER (voice over): Belafonte stunned many Americans with his attack on President Bush and his embrace of Venezuela's socialist leader, Hugo Chavez.

But it wasn't the first time Belafonte lashed out at the Bush administration. In 2002 he went after then Secretary of State Colin Powell, a fellow native of both Harlem and Jamaica, likening him to a plantation slave.

BELAFONTE: Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master.

BLITZER: And just this weekend, Belafonte accused the Department of Homeland Security of suspending citizen's rights like the, quote, "new Gestapo." Talk like that seems to be making some Democrats nervous, including Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: You know, I never use Nazi analogies because I think that those were unique. And I think, you know, we have to be careful in using historical analogies like this.

BLITZER: And Senator Hillary Clinton reportedly took pains to avoid being photographed with Belafonte at a children's defense fund event in New York this month.

But Belafonte is standing behind his no-holds-barred assault on the president.

BELAFONTE: In the dictionary anyone who brings terror to people is an act of terrorism and a terrorist.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Bush today defended his tactics in fighting the war on terror even as critics like Harry Belafonte keep trying to hold his feet to the fire.

Joining us now from New York is Harry Belafonte.

Mr. Belafonte, thanks very much. Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.

BELAFONTE: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: The new Gestapo. You know, those are powerful words, calling an agency of the U.S. government, the Department of Homeland Security with, what, about 300,000 federal employees, the new Gestapo. Do you want to take that back? BELAFONTE: No, not really. I stand by my remarks. I am very much aware of what this has provoked in our national community. And I welcome the opportunity for us to begin to have a dialogue that goes other than where we've been having one up until now. People feel that I talk in extremes. But if you look at what's happening to American citizens, a lot is going on in the extreme.

We've taken citizens from this country without the right to be charged, without being told what they're taken for, we've spirited them out of this country, taken them to far away places and reports come back with some consistency that they are being tortured, that they're not being told what they've done. And even some who have been released have come back and testified to this fact.

BLITZER: But let me interrupt for a second. Are you familiar -- and I'm sure you are, because you're an intelligent man -- what the Gestapo did to the Jews in World War II?

BELAFONTE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And you think that what the Department of Homeland Security is doing to, you know, some U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism is similar to what the Nazis did to the Jew?

BELAFONTE: Well, if you're taking people out of a country and spiriting them someplace else, and they're being tortured, and they're being charged without -- or not being charged, so they don't know what it is they've done.

It may not have been directly inside the Department of Homeland Security, but the pattern, the system, it's what the system does. It's what all these different divisions have begun to reveal in their collective.

My phones are tapped. OK? My mail can be opened. They don't even need a court warrant to come and do that as we once were required to do.

BLITZER: But no one has taken you or anyone else, as far as I can tell, to an extermination camp and by the tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, even millions decided to kill them, which is what the Nazis did.

BELAFONTE: Well, Mr. Blitzer, let me say this to you, perhaps, just perhaps had the Jews of Germany and people spoken out much earlier and had resisted the tyranny that was on the horizon, perhaps we would never have had...

BLITZER: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, are you blaming the Jews of Germany for what Hitler did to them?

BELAFONTE: No, no. What I'm saying is that if it an awakened citizenry, begins to oppose the first inkling of the subversion of government, of the subversion of our democracy, then perhaps an early warning would have saved the world a lot of what we all experienced. I'm not accusing the Jews at all. BLITZER: Well, I just heard you say perhaps if the Jews of Germany had done something earlier then that might not have happened. That's what I thought you were getting at.

BELAFONTE: Well, what I was getting at really is that if all citizens, the Jewish community, the Christian community and all else had taken a very early aggressive stand rather than somehow suggesting or thinking or feeling that this would have gone away, we might have found that Germany would have been in a far different place than it wound up in.

BLITZER: Let me get through some of these other points, because we don't have a whole lot of time.

BELAFONTE: OK.

BLITZER: When you were in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, you said that Bush is the greatest terrorist, the greatest tyrant. Are you saying that President Bush is worse than Osama bin Laden?

BELAFONTE: I'm saying that he's no better. You know, it's hard to make a hyperbole stick. I obviously haven't had a chance to meet all the terrorists in the world, so I have no reason to throw around the words like the greatest or make some qualitative statement. I do believe he is a terrorist.

I do believe that what our government does has terror in the center of its agenda. When you lie to the American people, when you've misled them and you've taken our sons and daughters to foreign lands to be destroyed, and you look at tens of thousands of Arab women and children and innocent people being destroyed each day, under the title of collateral damage, I think there's something very wrong with the leadership.

BLITZER: What you did say in Venezuela was that President Bush was, and I'm quoting now, the greatest tyrant in the world and the greatest terrorist in the world.

BELAFONTE: Yes, I did say that.

BLITZER: So you did use the word, the greatest.

Here's what you were quoted as saying in "The Raleigh News and Observer" on January 16th. And I'll let you amend or clarify your remarks.

"When you have a president that has led us into a dishonorable war, who has killed tens of thousands, many of them our own sons and daughters, what is the difference between those who would fly airplanes into buildings killing 3,000 innocent Americans? What is the difference between that terror and other terrors?"

Now that raises the issue of moral equivalency. Are you saying what the Bush administration, what the president is doing is the moral equivalent of what al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden ordered on 9/11? BELAFONTE: I think President George W. Bush, I think Cheney, I think Rumsfeld, I think all of these people have lost any moral integrity. I find what we are doing is hugely immoral to the American people and to others in the world.

BLITZER: And the same, or if not worse than al Qaeda? Is that what you're saying?

BELAFONTE: Well, I don't want to make those kind of comparisons. I'm not too sure all of what al Qaeda has done. Al Qaeda tortures. We torture. Al Qaeda's killed innocent people. We kill innocent people. Where do the lines get blurred here?

BLITZER: Well, I think the argument is, and correct me if I'm wrong, that al Qaeda deliberately wanted to kill as many people as possible in the World Trade Center and those two buildings. They didn't care if they were executives or janitors or crooks or anybody else. They just wanted to kill as many Americans as possible.

The U.S., when it goes after terrorists, there may be what's called collateral damage, but they're trying to kill enemies of the United States, those who have engaged in terror or similar actions. Do you understand the difference?

BELAFONTE: I understand the difference. What I don't want to get stuck with, or be guided by, is what you call collateral damage. That does not cleanse us morally. All of a sudden, it's beyond our capacity or our means to have made a difference in what we've done to thousands and thousands of Arabs.

I'm quite sure if you went through each and every body, you would find that somebody was a baker, somebody was a store keeper, somebody was a cab driver, somebody was a student. I don't know, you know, murder is murder. And just because you may do it under different guises does not remove the moral imperative.

We are in this war immorally and illegally. And we have no business doing what we do.

BLITZER: What about -- and these were very, very damning words that you said a few years ago, and I wonder if you still stick by them. When you call Colin Powell, the secretary of state at that time, or Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser now the secretary of state, plantation slaves.

It's one thing to disagree with them, but when you get involved in name calling with all the history of our country, plantation slaves, isn't that crossing the line?

BELAFONTE: Not at all. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of plantations in America where people are slaving away their lives. You know, one of the big problems that we have in this country is the inability to be honest and to be straightforward.

We've never had a dialogue in this country on the real issues of slavery. I don't even want to get stuck there. But what I said about Colin Powell is that he serves his master well. And in that context, I was asked to describe what that meant. And I used the metaphor of slavery and the plantation. And I stand by it.

So Colin Powell was viewed to be this rather moderate, honest human being. He stood before the United Nations and lied and knew he was lying. I mean, where do we draw these lines here?

BLITZER: How do you know Colin Powell knew he was lying? He says, and he's said as many times, he says he thought he was giving accurate information, although he subsequently learned that it was not accurate. But there's a difference between misspeaking and lying.

BELAFONTE: Mr. Blitzer, you have access to a lot of information. More than once we've discussed the fact that Colin Powell went before his president, went before others and said, "I can't say this. It is not correct. There are things about it that touch me deeply and disturb me."

And all of a sudden there he was in front of the U.N., despite this disclaimer, doing what he did. The world's at war. People are dying every day. These are human lives. Where do you draw this line of distinction?

Is it because they're over there and we're here? Is it because we sit on some righteous place saying that we're the finest nation in the world and that all else is less than we are? That's unacceptable in 21st century society.

BLITZER: Harry Belafonte, unfortunately we have to leave it there, we're out of time. But it was kind of you to spend a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I see you're not backing away from one word of what you said.

BELAFONTE: No, I can't. Dr. King is my mentor and I believe in truth, and that's what I'm doing.

BLITZER: Harry Belafonte, joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM, thank you very much.

BELAFONTE: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: And coming up next, he's not Oprah, but President Bush is going unscripted, at least for a time being, loosening up his style, taking questions from an audience. We'll hear what he had to say when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is getting new on-the-job training, it's something he's been avoiding, at least until recently. That would be unscripted Q&A with audiences. It's part of his campaign to try to reconnect with Americans amid controversies over domestic spying, Iraq, the war on terror, among other subjects. Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by. Suzanne? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we understand the event at least was for ticketholders only, but White House aides insist that these questions were not prescreened and you'll see from some of the questions, you will actually believe that is the case. And while the president was not on script, he certainly stayed on message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Oprah, he's not.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a question and answer period.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President.

BUSH: I hate to cut you off, you're on a roll, but, what's the question?

MALVEAUX: But President Bush is admittedly reaching out and getting personal.

BUSH: My knees are like tires, you know, and they're bald. I read a lot of history.

MALVEAUX: For nearly an hour and 40 minutes, Mr. Bush meandered from topic to topic.

BUSH: You know, sometimes I can be a little allergic for people overseas, if you know what I mean. When you make hard decisions, like Tony has made, and frankly I've made, it creates angst.

MALVEAUX: Taking questions from the audience...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just wanting to get your opinion on "Brokeback Mountain," if you've seen it yet. You would love it, you should check it out.

BUSH: I hadn't seen it.

MALVEAUX: ... And offering personal and political nuggets rarely made public. Like the first lady's reaction to Mr. Bush's warning to Osama bin Laden.

BUSH: I said some things, wanted dead-or-alive and she said, "You might be able to explain that, express yourself a little bit better than that, George W."

MALVEAUX: Working without a script before 9,000 people, most of them students, the Kansas State University event, aides say, was designed to shake up the traditional lecture series by giving the president a format where he could be himself to plainly explain to Americans why they should support his Iraq policy, and his controversial domestic spying program, which he referred to as his terrorist surveillance program. BUSH: It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics.

MALVEAUX: The talk show format worked well for Mr. Bush on the campaign trail. Now aides hope these open sessions will undercut Mr. Bush's critics harshest accusations, that the president is not honest or trustworthy, and only listens to his own counsel.

BUSH: Laura is serving dinner for retiring Alan Greenspan, and I better not be late.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: So White House aides say that the president will continue in these kind of talk show formats in the future. We also, Wolf, expect on Wednesday he'll go before the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland. That, of course, to show in light of these upcoming congressional hearings over that controversial domestic spy program, that he is not backing down. Wolf?

BLITZER: Getting back to some of those controversial remarks that Harry Belafonte has been making, has there been any reaction from the White House, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, as you know, we've put in several calls to the White House. What we do know is that they did watch those comments, they are aware of them. But they're holding off, they're holding back now and actually getting back to us on what they think about what Harry Belafonte had to say.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. I'm sure they're not happy with what he had to say. Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux over at the White House.

And we're also following a developing story in the mountains of southern California, where Santa Ana winds are fueling a wildfire that's already burned dozens of acres. CNN's Chris Lawrence is standing by in L.A., he's got the latest. What's going on, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good news first. Right now, no evacuations have been ordered. And at this moment, the fire isn't immediately threatening any homes. But take a look here. We're monitoring this fire with live pictures.

It has already burned about 75 acres. And the fire continues to burn in a remote area. The winds are blowing at about 30 miles-per- hour right now. Fire crews, the U.S. Forest Service, got the call on it about four hours ago.

They've got about 500 personnel fighting this fire. But because of those high winds, only one chopper is in the air right now. The hot dry winds are going to keep burning through tomorrow. And we've got a warning through Tuesday, Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Chris, thanks very much. Chris Lawrence on the scene for us in L.A.

Up next, rear-end crash fires. Ford modified them for police, but what about similar cars in your driveway? We're getting some answers. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Susan Candiotti is joining us now. She's been looking at one type of fire deaths in auto crashes that a number of safety critics say can and should be avoided.

What's going on, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, our story begins with the tragic deaths of three sisters in North Carolina a couple years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had a glow about them. They were beautiful.

CANDIOTTI (voice over): Three sisters, all young, two of them new mothers left in a limousine for a rock concert in Greensboro, North Carolina. They never got home. Caught in a traffic jam, their limo was rammed from behind by a pickup truck going well over the speed limit.

JAMES CANADY, LIMOUSINE DRIVER: I saw flames shooting past my window. And I said, oh, my God, we're on fire.

CANDIOTTI: Limo driver James Canady had to kick his door open.

CANADY: The whole vehicle was on fire. As soon as I jumped out of the car, I heard one of the ladies scream, oh, my God, and that's all I heard. And that was it.

CANDIOTTI: The sisters were trapped in the back. The fire too fierce for anyone to reach them.

CANADY: You can see the fire just like gasoline just keep blowing up.

CANDIOTTI: The medical examiner ruled all three sisters burned to death even though only one was injured by the crash impact.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now, what the parents and some lawyers are saying now is these deaths might have been avoided with only about $100 worth of safety fixes, Wolf, if the public knows what to ask for.

BLITZER: So, what can be done about this, Susan? CANDIOTTI: Well, Wolf, when police were dying in these rear end fires, Ford did find a solution a couple years ago. It created a set of shields to go around on places around the gas tank to protect against fires in these rear-end crashes, and that has worked.

The Town car, Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Marquis models for the last dozen years have the same gas tank location as the cop cars in the rear.

But Ford did not notify every day car owners about these safety fixes. Ford is now offering the shields free for limousines, but so far, not for regular drivers. It says they don't need the shields because they don't use their cars the way police do. Now, Ford says all cars can have fires, not just theirs.

But what makes this story significant is Ford has found an answer here, and for the most part, the public hasn't been told about it. And we'll have a full report tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," and later our story will also appear on CNN.com.

BLITZER: All right. Well, excellent work you and your team. Thanks very much, Susan, for that.

Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Paula Zahn is standing by.

Hi Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Just about six minutes from now we'll have an exclusive interview with one of the survivors of West Virginia's latest mine tragedy. Could what he has to say save lives?

And then I'll be speaking with West Virginia's governor about mine safety and how it is that local crews got to the mine fire within minutes of being called. It wasn't until three hours later that mine rescue teams went in. What is the excuse for that?

And a little bit later, our "Eye Opener," could your children be in danger because of a national trend, a shortage of school nurses? One child ended up dead because of that problem. And we'll have more in what the picture looks like across the country tonight--Wolf.

BLITZER: It sounds like excellent show. Thanks very much.

ZAHN: Yes, that last story is concerning as a parent.

BLITZER: Yes, very strong. Thank you very much.

Paula Zahn comes up right at the top of the hour.

Family and friends are desperately searching for Jerry Tang. The 40-year-old San Francisco man married with two children disappeared without explanation merely two months ago. But there's an extraordinary grassroots search under way online to find him. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton-Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, police in San Francisco say that there's been no development in this case for a month. But friends of Jerry Tang are not giving up.

This web site was online within two days of his November disappearance. It's a site for information, as well as a place for organizing, producing fliers like this that have been cropping up all over San Francisco. And also keeping a running log of everything that's being done and everything that needs to be done in San Francisco and beyond as well.

The friends of Jerry Tang say that the police response has been very good. They just want to do everything they can to help--Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

We'll take another quick break. Jack Cafferty when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack in New York, Jack?

CAFFERTY: British psychologists came up with a mathematical formula to show why today, January 23rd, is the worst day of the year so that is what we asked. Is today the worst day of the year for you?

Tiffany in Columbia, South Carolina, "I had the worst day. First, someone side-swiped my car. Then my laptop completely shut down. I'm in medical school and all my notes for my upcoming test on Thursday are lost. What a day."

Laszlo in San Francisco, "January 23rd? The worst day of the year? Let's see. I was laid off five years ago on January 23rd, in favor of Hi-B visa holders, and I've been unemployed ever since. You tell me whether this is a bad day, pal."

Rick in Rochester, New York, "Thanks, Jack. Today's my birthday. Oh joy. It's all so clear to me now."

Nate in Grove City, Ohio, "My worst day of the year is usually Valentine's Day. Though I am only 22, I have never been able to celebrate Valentine's Day with someone special. However, I am hoping that this will change this year."

And David in Greensboro, North Carolina, "Today definitely the worst day of the year. It was getting better hearing Jack and Zain talk, but when Wolf put a stop to their friendly banter, the day when right down the tubes."

BLITZER: Is he a relative of yours Jack?

CAFFERTY: Zain actually wrote that one, yes.

BLITZER: Oh, Zain. OK. CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Jack, I'll see you tomorrow. Thank you very much.

That's all the time we have today. I'll be back tomorrow. Let's go to New York. Paula Zahn is standing by--Paula.

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

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines