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THE SITUATION ROOM

Flag Burning Debate and Vote in Senate; Setting Prisoners Free in Iraq; Rains Continue to Drench Northeast; Saddam Believes He Can Evade Death Because U.S. Will Seek His Help; Ramsey Clark Interview; Report Shows More Hurricane Katrina Fraud and Waste

Aired June 27, 2006 - 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: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, burning questions, scorching debate.

It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, where the Senate is poised for a vote over this question: Should the Constitution be amended to ban flag burning?

It's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad, where the government is letting go of Iraqi prisoners, hoping to let go of the past. But do the newly-freed prisoners have American blood on their hands?

And how might Iraq move forward with the alleged past sins of Saddam Hussein still looming large? I'll speak with the former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark. He's now representing Saddam Hussein.

And in the Northeast, fears and floods. Will nature follow up on the unyielding rains with a devastating tropical depression?

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

It could happen any minute. Right now there is heated debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and we're watching and waiting for a vote over a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban the burning of the American flag.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by. She's got the latest -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

And there is really a mad scramble going on here on Capitol Hill right now to try to figure out exactly where those votes are going to be. As we've been talking about, they are expected to be very close. Quite a cliffhanger.

In fact, I talked to one Republican staffer who was in the middle of preparing two press releases for his senator, one that hailed the passage of this and one that talked about how sad he would be if this would be defeated. So that's what's going on now.

I talked to one Democratic senator who said he actually stood up in the Democratic lunch, private lunch today, and said, "Look, we just need to know how you're going to vote." They really want to get a good sense of exactly how this is going to come down when this vote starts, probably within the hour. But having said all of that, the conventional wisdom at this point from Democrats and Republicans, Wolf, is that they will likely, likely fall short of getting the two- thirds majority needed to actually pass this constitutional amendment.

Now, when we see these votes begin in about a half an hour, we actually will see first a vote on something that is short of a constitutional amendment, a regular law that will attempt to say that flag desecration is wrong and actually ban desecration and burning. But it will fall short of actually trying to amend the Constitution.

The goal there by these senators, mostly Democrats, is to try to get around the Supreme Court rulings that have said that laws -- that laws banning flag desecration are unconstitutional. But following that we will see this actual constitutional amendment.

And I can show you on the screen what it says. It's very short. It's actually just one sentence. It says, "The Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

So there you see, as proponents of this say over and over again, this actually doesn't ban anything. It simply says that Congress should have the power to define this and to actually ban flag burning if in fact 38 states do approve this constitutional amendment. But again, we're not there yet. We have to see what happens with this vote, these set of votes, I should say, within the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

And we'll stay on top of this vote. As soon as it happens, we'll bring it to our viewers. It could come up this hour, as Dana just noted.

Meanwhile, as Congress considers a flag amendment, the public is considering how Congress should proceed in the Iraq war. A new Gallup poll asks, "Should Congress outline a plan for Iraq withdrawal, or should it be left to the president and his advisers?"

Check this out. Fifty-seven percent of the public says Congress should outline the plan. Thirty-nine percent say the Bush administration should do that.

The president says American troops will return when the Iraqi government is better able to defend and handle itself. Iraq's prime minister says part of that depends on large acts of forgiveness.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, has more -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was just two days ago Iraq's prime minister announced his 24-point reconciliation plan that included releasing prisoners from jail. Today we went out to the notorious Abu Ghraib jail to see those prisoners being released.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice over): As the prisoners wait for their release, they get a lecture from the other side of the barbed wire on reconciliation, delivered by the country's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

"Your release is real," he explains. "It's not a political game or propaganda. We need to unite Iraq and condemn violence."

Polite applause. Then, as al-Rubaie tries to leave, prisoners appeal for all detainees to be released. Minutes later, the prison gates open. Among the 450 men on their way to freedom, none with American blood on their hands, according to al-Rubaie.

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: All these were detained on a security basis. And none of them have been incriminated or convicted of killing Iraqis or Americans or Brits or any of the coalition or Iraqi security forces, or Iraqi civilians, for that matter.

"Eighteen months I was detained," complains Aziz al-Nuwami (ph), a Sunni from Falluja, "and they only investigated me once." He shows me his U.S. military charge sheet. It says he made car bombs.

(on camera): And it says you test positive for explosives. Had you been handling explosives?

(voice over): He denies the charge but adds he fears that just because he's a Sunni from Falluja he will be arrested again.

(on camera): And this is -- this is where the camera was in the telephone?

(voice over): Twenty-three-year-old Jawad Musad (ph) shows me his cell phone case. He says he was detained for having a camera cell phone, held for seven months, accused of photographing U.S. troops. But like everyone else being released, says he is innocent. From behind the wire, others still being released say they, too, are innocent.

"If the government is really sincere," he says, "they will release all prisoners. Then there is a chance of reconciliation."

AL-RUBAIE: Of course, there is a remote possibility that one in a thousand and one in 10,000 might be going back and do something wrong. But this is a risk we have to take.

ROBERTSON: Already the government says it is getting positive signals from intermediaries. Their reconciliation amnesty is working.

(on camera): This is the sixth of seven prisoner releases planned for the month of June. In total, about 2,500 detainees are expected to be released.

(voice over): Officials say they plan to let still more go, but won't say yet how many or whom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: I also asked al-Rubaie why he thought this reconciliation plan of releasing prisoners would work. He said it's been tried around the world. When there's violence and disharmony, the way to end that is for people to reconcile their differences, and that's why this government is trying this method of an amnesty, releasing some prisoners -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson, thanks very much.

Let's go to Sophia Choi. She's joining us with a developing story, potentially very significant story involving the Israelis and the Palestinians -- Sophia.

SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, CNN has just confirmed the Israelis are conducting air strikes now in northern Gaza. They struck a roadway used by Palestinians to launch rockets, according to the IDF.

We're also getting some information from The Associated Press, and it is now quoting Israel radio, saying that Israeli planes attacked a bridge in northern Gaza. And tanks were said to be on the move.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Potentially, it could mark the beginning of a major Israeli military assault into Gaza. We're going to watch this story very closely and see what unfolds. We'll go there live as soon as we get more information.

Other news we're following.

The building home to the U.S. Constitution is actually shut down right now, surrounded by water. And these are taxing times at the IRS. Its basement is completely flooded.

In Washington and in the Northeast, grounds and sewers are drinking up unyielding rains. But many places have reached their limit.

Brian Todd is watching this story for us. He's joining us live -- Brian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Over the past 48 hours, nearly a foot of rain in some places. Flashfloods, motorists stranded, traffic lights out. At least five U.S. government facilities closed. Over the next 24 hours more rain on the way, and a city still grappling with those same problems could be overwhelmed. What if this weather barrage had been a terrorist attack?

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: If this had been a life-threatening incident for lots of people, I think we would have had pandemonium on the streets.

TODD: CNN analyst Richard Falkenrath is an expert on homeland security who's about to join New York's police force as its director of counterterrorism. Falkenrath and other experts say Washington has a poor record handling population flow during natural disasters. Command and control, they say, a huge problem. Too many jurisdictions in the metropolitan D.C. area with no one agency or official making key decisions.

Officials at the D.C. Emergency Management Agency say they can't help it if roads flood and lights malfunction in bad weather. But if terrorists strike...

BARBARA CHILDS-FAIR, WASHINGTON, D.C. EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We'd have traffic management plans, rerouting efforts. And then we're not looking at everybody coming in and going at the same time. So we would have -- we have plans in place to kind of maneuver folks to get out of town.

TODD: But Falkenrath worries about another factor all major cities would face during a terrorist attack.

FALKENRATH: If the people stuck in those traffic jams felt that they were at risk themselves or their families were at risk somewhere else, I think you'd have a lot of very problematic behavior by individual commuters.

TODD: As for the federal government, agencies still closed, like the Justice Department, have kicked in their so-called continuity of operations plans to function from other locations. Experts say those plans, for the most part, have worked well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But the experts we spoke to, along with the Department of Homeland Security, in a recent report point out D.C. is hardly alone here, that most major cities have poor contingency plans for evacuation and other emergency procedures. Experts say it's almost impossible to evacuate a major city efficiently under any circumstances, and one expert says, Wolf, in most cases of terror attacks the best strategy is to, as he says, shelter in place, have a readiness kit where you work, go to a safe location very nearby, ride it out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

And for those singing about the rain, there's a lot to be suggested that this is not going to end today. Rain, rain, go away, come again another day. It's still here, and it's going to stay here for a while.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider. She's at the CNN weather center -- Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, unfortunately, you're right, it's not going to go away.

(WEATHER REPORT)

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

We'll continue to stay on top of this story.

Let's go to New York. Jack Cafferty's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Did you say the IRS building is flooded?

BLITZER: A little bit, yes.

CAFFERTY: Oh, sorry to hear that.

BLITZER: The basement.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that's too bad.

BLITZER: They're still in business, though.

CAFFERTY: Oh.

Some members of Congress want to know why President Bush claims he can sometimes just ignore the law if he feels like it. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter is holding hearings on Mr. Bush's use of something called bill-signing statements.

The president reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard a measure on national security or constitutional grounds. President Bush has done this 110 times to challenge 750 separate laws passed by the Congress, including a ban on the torture of detainees and the renewal of the Patriot Act.

Specter calls it a challenge to quote the plain language of the Constitution. And Senator Dianne Feinstein says if the president's going to nullify part of the law, it should be done using the veto, something President Bush has never done. But the White House insists it's important for the president to express reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions of laws, because, of course, he's the decider and he can decide these things just by looking at them.

The Justice Department, of course, also defended the president. No surprise there. It's the president's Justice Department. You think Alberto Gonzales is going to come out and say President Bush is abusing his power? Not a chance.

Here's the question. When is it OK for the president to revise, interpret or disregard a law?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, for that.

And to our viewers, if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions, plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to CNN.com/situationroom.

Up ahead, Republicans launching verbal attacks on "The New York Times" with the White House leading the way. We're going to show you why they're so upset with the paper's reporting on a secret bank surveillance program.

Also, his first trial isn't even over. Now there's word Saddam Hussein will face another court case this summer. I'll talk about that and more with his lawyer, the former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, 10 months after Katrina, get this, tens of thousands of abandoned cars litter the streets of New Orleans. Now there's a new effort to try to clear them away. We're going to take you there.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Republicans are united in outrage at "The New York Times" for publishing details of Bush administration efforts to track terrorists' money around the world.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now live with the latest developments -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today Republicans on Capitol Hill stepped up their barrage on "The New York Times" in another move that will rally conservatives in advance of the midterm elections.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: If another attack occurs because of this information going out and giving the terrorists at least a leg up in regards to what they know and not know and changing their method of operations, if that attack comes the people who have written these stories and the people who have made their decisions should look in the mirror.

HENRY (voice over): From the president on down, Republicans have been reading from the same script.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The disclosure of this program is disgraceful.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that is a disgrace.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Disgraceful and illegal.

HENRY: They're teeing off on media reports questioning the legality of a Bush administration program that uses an international database to review the banking transactions of thousands of Americans. The story was also reported by the "Los Angeles times" and "Wall Street Journal," but the attacks have focused on "The New York Times."

The chance to beat up on a newspaper with a liberal reputation is too good to resist for an administration struggling to keep its conservative base happy.

CHENEY: "The New York Times" has now made it more difficult for us to prevent attacks in the future. Publishing this highly classified information about our sources and methods for collecting intelligence will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts.

HENRY: But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was less certain than the vice president when pressed Tuesday on what evidence there is the leak has compromised terror probes.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: None of those things have had time to proceed. So we really don't have any basis right now for knowing exactly how it's influenced things.

HENRY: Snow did charge "The New York Times" endangered lives by bucking a tradition of media organizations agreeing to keep government secrets at a time of war. But "Times" executive editor Bill Keller defended the decision to publish, writing, "I think it would be arrogant for us to pre-empt the work of Congress and the courts by deciding these programs are perfectly legal and abuse-proof based entirely on the word of the government."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Unlike the NSA domestic surveillance program, very few Democrats have raised concerns about this banking program. In fact, Republicans feel that they are on solid legal ground here, which is why they're firing away at "The New York Times" and other media organizations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Last night here in THE SITUATION ROOM we heard from Bill Keller, the executive editor of "The New York Times." And he said among those enlisted by the White House to try to convince "The New York Times" not to publish this story was Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, one of the most ardent critics of the president when it comes to the war in Iraq.

What's the White House saying about that?

HENRY: A perfect example of why the White House feels confident that they're going to get through this controversy and that it's really not much of a controversy. I spoke to Congressman Murtha's office, obviously a high-profile critic of this White House and the war -- on the war in Iraq.

They will not comment on his call to "The New York Times" trying to get them to stop from publishing this story, but basically they're just saying that Congressman Murtha says this was a classified program and he's not going to comment at all. That's a clear sign that this White House got a little bit of support from somebody they were not expecting to get it from -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Ed Henry, for that.

And let's get back to the developing story we're following out of the Middle East. Let's go to Jerusalem. CNN's Paula Hancocks standing by. There's reports that Israeli warplanes may be on the move right now.

What's the latest?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we know at the moment is there have been some air strikes in northern Gaza. The Israeli defense forces telling CNN that they have -- they have launched some missiles from the air at a road where Palestinian militants had been using to launch missiles into Israel.

Now, for some weeks, Palestinian militants have been launching a lot of missiles into Israel proper. No one has been seriously injured in those attacks, but it's something that the Israeli forces have said they wanted to stop.

Now, of course, this does come at exactly the same time when hundreds of Israeli troops are on that border, the Gaza-Israeli border, and the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been threatening to send the forces in if an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped on Sunday is not given up.

Now, as far as we know at the moment, those tanks on that border have not been moving. This is the latest information we have from the defense forces. But we do understand that there has been an air strike on northern Gaza -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Paula. We'll stay on top of this story, together with you. When you get more information, let us know. When we know what's going on, our viewers will know it at the same time right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.

And coming up, he's one of Saddam Hussein's lawyers and a former United States attorney general. Ramsey Clark in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.

Plus, the most comprehensive report on second-hand smoke in decades. Are you at risk? Our Internet reporters will show you the situation online.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Sophia Choi for another close look at some other important stories -- Sophia.

CHOI: Wolf, if federal prosecutors have their way, seven suspected would-be terrorists will await trial right where they are in jail. The government filed the motion today, asking that the group be held without bail.

All seven are accused of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI's office in north Miami Beach, Florida. Six are in custody in Miami. The seventh was arrested in Atlanta.

Well, so far so good at the site of a train derailment east of Houston, Texas, today. Crews and hazardous material teams are there working to get things back on track now. No one was hurt. Two of the 12 cars from the derailed freight train contained flammable methanol, but a rail company spokesman says it did not leak.

Well, if you have to be stranded, why not the Grand Canyon? Still, hundreds who did become marooned at the canyon's north rim yesterday because of an Arizona wildfire were escorted out today. The 50,000-acre blaze does not threaten the area but it did jump the only highway in and out. People are now being taken out on an old slow forest road, tourists first, then park employees.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, Sophia, for that.

And coming up, there are many more victims of Hurricane Katrina than anyone first thought. And among them, the American taxpayer. We're going to tell you how your money was spent, or should I say misspent.

And attention nonsmokers. Think there's no danger in being around those who smoke? Think again. There's a new study, and it's very, very disturbing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Iraqi officials are announcing another trial for the former dictator Saddam Hussein. He'll face charges starting in August with -- in connection with the killings of as many as 200,000 Kurds in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, his current trial continues amid a debate on what role, if any, Saddam Hussein can play in actually trying to help unify the country.

I'll talk about all that and more in just a few minutes with Saddam Hussein's attorney, the former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First, though, let's go to CNN's Mary Snow in New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as Saddam Hussein faces closing arguments next month in this current trial, it seems he's come up with a plan to change his fate. Now, this, as questions are raised about the role of his supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Saddam Hussein apparently believes he can evade a death sentence because he thinks the U.S. will seek his help in stopping the insurgency ravaging Iraq. That is according to Hussein's chief defense lawyer, who recently spoke with the Associated Press and the "New York Times." One Iraqi expert suggests the idea says more about Saddam Hussein's mindset than about reality.

PHEBE MARR, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: He's isolated. It's wishful thinking. And in addition to that, it may be one of the few ploys that the defense lawyers have.

SNOW: Though Saddam Hussein can likely be counted out of any type of peace negotiations, some have suggested including loyalists to the former Iraqi leader. That's something that Iraq's prime minister discounted on Sunday when he said Saddam Hussein's supporters would be excluded from the nation's reconciliation plan.

MARR: To be frank about it, I don't know how many Saddam loyalists there are. My guess would be that it's a small number.

SNOW: But some Middle East experts say whatever their number, those loyalists have to be brought into the system in some way.

JON ALTERMAN, CSIS MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM: What Saddam's loyalists coming on board would do is it would send the signal that this is really over, that the old Iraq has made peace with the new Iraq.

SNOW: And even some who say former enemies will have to work together in the new Iraq equate Saddam Hussein's inclusion in the new equation with ruin.

ALTERMAN: You can make peace with the people who have supported Saddam, but it seems to me that you can't use Saddam as a way to get there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And as for the question about the role of Saddam Hussein's loyalists in the insurgency, the experts we spoke with said it's unclear where the backbone of the insurgency lies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you very much.

Let's get some more insight. For that, we turn to someone very familiar with Saddam Hussein and the cases against him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now is Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general, now one of Saddam Hussein's attorneys. There's talk that Saddam Hussein is thinking of making a political comeback, talking to some of his other attorneys. Is that at all realistic in his mind? RAMSEY CLARK, ATTORNEY FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN TEAM: I don't think he has any thoughts of a political comeback. I've never heard him say anything about it or seen any indication of it. The thing that he always says and is always clear is that he's torn apart by what he sees happening to his country, to the people of Iraq. And the thing he says above all is Iraqis should never kill Iraqis. You've got to join together.

BLITZER: So the Saddam loyalists, the insurgents who say they're loyal to Saddam Hussein, who are involved in a lot of these attacks, he doesn't want them to do that? He wants them to lay down their arms?

CLARK: He doesn't want any Iraqis killing Iraqis. He wants the Iraqi people to be unified. He thinks the worst thing that can happen is for them to kill each other. And he abhors talk about sectarianism.

BLITZER: Is he planning on making any statement to his supporters, to his followers, that would make that point?

CLARK: Well, he's said it several times in court. He's always said, "Iraqis should not kill Iraqis. We are a people. We're all the same together, and we cannot fight each other."

BLITZER: Is he fatalistic in the sense that he expects to be executed?

CLARK: He's certainly fatalistic in the sense that it's a long- term attitude, that what will be will be, and his enemies have him in their power and they intend to kill him. That's what he believes, I think.

BLITZER: The Dujail phase of the charges against him now wrapping up, coming to an end. That particular trial coming to an end. Another one about to begin supposedly in August.

One of his other attorneys, Khalil al-Dulaimi, is quoted in the "New York Times" as saying this: "Those executed at Dujail deserved to die according to Iraqi law. They were part of an illegal organization plotting to kill a president, and they killed some of his bodyguards. They were threatening the stability of the country." Do you support that line of defense that Mr. Al-Dulaimi made?

CLARK: That's translated from Arabic. I think what he was saying is that there were 148 people there sentenced to death more than two years after the assassination attempt. And it wasn't just one assassination attempt. Remember, Tariq Aziz said they tried to assassinate him. There were a string of them.

They were all by the Dawa Party. The Dawa Party was an Iranian party. It was centered in Tehran. The president -- Saddam Hussein testified at the trial that the first announcement of the Dujail assassination attempt on him came from Tehran.

BLITZER: So did the people who were killed at Dujail deserve to die?

CLARK: Well, I don't think anybody deserves to die. I think what he was saying is that they were sentenced to death under Iraqi law and it was for treason against your country in time of war, including an attempt to assassinate the president by the Dawa Party, 148 people out of a city of 75,000 maybe, in a war in which maybe 40,000 Iraqis had been killed that year.

There was a bloody Iran-Iraq war going on -- people that fled from Dujail to Iran. And the Dawa Party was centered there. They'd been sentenced after two years of investigation, based on confessions, to death. And it was a mandatory law. We used to have in the United States mandatory law. If you're convicted of treason, death.

So if you follow the law -- I'm opposed to the death penalty in every case. Always have been. The only attorney general in history to oppose the death penalty. So I can't say I think they should have been executed. But I can say that it's clear that's what the law was.

BLITZER: That's what the defense is. One of your other colleagues, Khamis al-Obeidi, who was murdered in Iraq only within the past few days, back in November, he said, "We think that it's impossible to hold a trial in Baghdad in these security conditions and that the court should be transferred to a location outside Iraq."

You're about to go back to Iraq in the coming days. Are you convinced that there can be security for you and your colleagues to have a trial involving Saddam Hussein and his other co-defendants?

CLARK: Well, obviously, three have been murdered now, or assassinated, three lawyers. All Iraqis, I've believed from the beginning and said from the beginning, that the people who need protection are the Iraqi lawyers and their families and their investigators. We never were able to investigate the case. We can't send an investigator out without protection. He wouldn't get past the door.

And we haven't been able to protect our witnesses. We don't have any ability to protect them and to relocate them where they can survive with their families. So this small Dujail trial, which is simply to satisfy the Dawa Party -- the prime minister is a member of the Dawa Party, the Iranian Shiah party -- is not a real case. But I don't -- I've never subscribed to the death penalty, and I wouldn't...

BLITZER: Can there be a fair trial in these current security conditions?

CLARK: No. I was the one selected by all the defense counsel to present the security issue to the tribunal. And I fought with all my ability to get security. And we all knew from the beginning there's only one source for that security, and that's the United States government because at least all of these people who've been assassinated, these three, there have been allegations that it was the Iraqi government that did it, the Interior Ministry.

BLITZER: How scared are you, now that you're about to go back to Baghdad?

CLARK: Well, I feel pretty safe. I'm an American. I can get in and out. I don't live there. My family's not there. I don't have to worry about my family. And I think my chances are very good. The ones I've always worry about, and you have to worry about, are the Iraqis lawyers. How are they going to survive?

BLITZER: And is there one specific piece of hope that you have for those Iraqi lawyers? What are you appealing to the U.S. government for?

CLARK: Well, since Khamis was murdered -- we've been living together. We live in a little prison thing there within the wall during trial. He goes home when we're not in trial to stay with his family. He's got six children, his youngest child not 3 years old yet. Of course, they've got no father now.

But I feel safe there. I don't think they are safe there. I don't think they'll be safe there until the United States agrees to relocate their families, provide them with a means of surviving where they're relocated until they can do it on their own, protect their husbands while they're engaged there, provide them with investigators who are safe themselves to go to Dujail and to go to the Anfal territories in Kurdistan and investigate.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But I want to go through that anfal campaign, which is the next trial that's supposed to start in August. The organization Human Rights Watch, which you're familiar with, in 1993 they had their report on the Anfal campaign.

They said Saddam Hussein's government was involved in mass executions and disappearances; 50,000 people, 200,000 people in the Kurdish areas. There was widespread use of chemical weapons, destruction of 2,000 villages, arbitrary jailing of tens of thousands of women, children, and elderly, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish villagers.

That according to Human Rights Watch. And they concluded this: while it would be unrealistic to expect President Saddam Hussein to put himself and his closest aides and relatives on trial, a successor government in Baghdad should not shirk from its responsibility to carry out a thoroughgoing investigation of these enormous crimes and prosecute all those involved to the full extent of the law. That's Human Rights Watch, a group I'm sure you make something about. What do you make of it?

CLARK: I think they're wrong, and I think in hindsight, they would realize they're wrong, that you can't have a fair trial there because security doesn't permit it. And that's what we insisted upon in November of '05. You can't have a fair trial when your lawyers are getting killed, when you can't investigate your case, and you can't go forward. And that's very obvious.

If you're going to have a fair trial, you've got to have safety for everybody involved. And you don't have that. And we shouldn't presume innocence -- the Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, and the U.S. Marine Corps have all said that Iraq did not have gasses that were used in Anfal and or in Halabja. And they've said that in the "New York Times" and everywhere else. So we'd better wait and assume innocence.

I think the presumption of innocence is not a technical rule of evidence, it's a way of life. You'd better keep your mind open. You'd better not be prejudiced if you want to survive in this life because you're creating prejudice and hatred by threats of execution and by unfair trials.

BLITZER: Ramsey Clark, good luck when you go back to Iraq. Be careful over there. Thanks for coming in.

CLARK: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. He's standing by to tell us what he's working on.

Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Coming up here at the top of the hour here on CNN, we'll be reporting on what is nothing less than an explosion of anger across this country against elected officials who are supporting amnesty for illegal aliens.

A five-time Republican congressman who supports amnesty is fighting for his political life in a primary election being held today in Utah with national implications. We'll have live reports for you from Utah.

Also tonight, the most comprehensive study yet of e-voting machines in this country shows those machines are a real danger to the integrity of our elections. We'll have a special report for you tonight on our democracy at risk.

And the Bush administration's so-called free trade policies are giving foreign companies privileges and rights in this country that are denied to American companies. And oh, by the way, also, they're aiding and abetting an outright war on our middle class. We'll have that for you.

And among my guests tonight, three of the company's top radio talk show hosts. We hope you'll join us to hear what their listeners are saying about what condition our country is in. That's coming up at the top of the hour, right here. Please join us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I don't know if you saw my interview with Carlos Gutierrez, the commerce secretary, in the last hour. But he makes the point that the country, economically, needs these illegal immigrants, and we have to find a way to get them on a path toward citizenship, economically speaking. DOBBS: Well, this is one for the commerce secretary. Just ask him what percentage over just a little less than half of 1 percent of the total GDP are the illegal aliens contributing to this economy, and at what cost to the American taxpayer and to what degree they're contributing to the profits of illegal employers?

I think that the administration's lying on illegal aliens and their importance to the economy is nothing more than a continuation of what has been an outright disinformation campaign by this administration and all of those who are seeking to excuse not securing our borders and at the same time to promote illegal immigration.

BLITZER: Lou, we'll see you at the top of the hour. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs, coming up soon.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a symbol of light, a sight for sore eyes. Where are these cars, and why have they been sitting around for so long? You might be surprised to learn where they are and just how long they've been sitting there.

And one of the president's men sees his very special wish granted. We're going to tell you how and why. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: No matter where you live, you may still be feeling the impact of Hurricane Katrina. That's because we're learning more and more about fraud stemming from the disaster and just how much it's costing every single American taxpayer. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with details -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Katrina is just the gift that keeps on giving for some people in this country who are intent on taking tax dollars. Another report out today outlining one more time how much is being lost to fraud and waste.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Ten months after Katrina, the biggest storm of modern times is still claiming victims. Among them, American taxpayers. The amount of fraud and waste taking tax dollars is estimated now at close to $1.5 billion. Despite numerous reports from various government agencies, watchdog groups say they're not yet convinced the situation is under control.

SCOTT AMEY, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: The real question is, are they doing a good job? And I think as we're seeing from these reports that there are a lot of things that need to be corrected.

FOREMAN: "The New York Times" has rolled out the latest tally of abuses, and it is staggering. Among them, almost $8 million spent to renovate a military base in Alabama that ended up housing fewer than a dozen people. About $400 million worth of trailers that are still sitting empty.

And literally thousands of cases of suspected fraud, people submitting bills for recovery work they did not do, for losses of homes, cars, businesses, even children that they apparently never had.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The magnitude is just incredible. And it seems to be a bottomless pit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: That was my conversation with Senator Susan Collins from Maine a short while ago. She is surprised by the depth of this. And it takes a lot to surprise a seasoned senator in this town. FEMA, of course, says they're trying to fix all of this.

But in all, the "Times" report today echoes what we've heard in recent months from the Government Accountability Office, the Red Cross, FEMA, Congress, the attorney general, and a legion of taxpayer watchdog groups, all of which say the same thing, Wolf. The true cost of Katrina to American taxpayers is still climbing, and no one can yet say what the final bill will be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much. It's simply staggering. Amazing. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way right now to try to remove one of the more glaring reminders of the disaster, thousands of abandoned cars littering city streets. CNN's Sean Callebs is in New Orleans with details -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many residents say it is frustrating, simply demoralizing, to have to look at the wealth of abandoned cars day in and day out ten months after the hurricane hit this area. Well, now the state is paying some $33 million to have all these vehicles removed over the next two-and-a-half months.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice-over): One by one the junk cars that have been a blight on the New Orleans landscape since Katrina are being hauled away. And for residents who have gazed daily at these mud-encrusted, flooded-out vehicles, it's about time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they can clean them up a little faster than what they've done.

CALLEBS: For ten months, empty promises from city leaders pledging to have the cars, trucks, and boats hauled off. Now Mark Stafford's (ph) company, DRC, based in Mobile, Alabama, has a $33 million contract to do the job. And he's pledging to have the 26,000 cars abandoned in New Orleans out of here by the end of August.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a complete eyesore, and it's very demoralizing to drive down your neighborhood streets and see this day in and day out. CALLEBS: Back in March, the city had a contract with a different company to remove the vehicles. But that fell apart after questions were raised about the company's ability to do the work. FEMA has funneled close to $60 million to the state to do the job, but officials say hooking them up and hauling them away isn't as easy as it sounds because each vehicle, even though it's junk, still belongs to somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's really not an easy concept to have somebody's private property, take it to a staging area without notifying them, and allowing them the chance to claim that property.

CALLEBS: Right now, DRC is hauling away about 300 cars a day but hopes to soon be removing close to 1,000 each day. That's what it will take, 1,000 a day, to meet Stafford's August deadline.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Police are going through tagging all of these vehicles, since they are private property, basically saying, "Enough is enough. If you want it, come and get it. If not, the last ride will be on the back of a tow truck to the junkyard" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sean Callebs, thanks.

The vote has just started on legislation that would ban the burning of the American flag, a constitutional amendment to do that. These are live pictures you're seeing from the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The vote has just started. There will be two votes, actually one an amendment introduced by Dick Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, then the actual constitutional amendment that would go forth and ban any desecration of the U.S. flag.

We're going to watch this vote. It should take place over the next 20 minutes to half hour or so. Once the final roll call comes in, of course, we'll bring it to you right here on CNN.

Still ahead, when is it OK for the president to revise, interpret, or disregard a law? It's a question that Jack Cafferty has been studying. It's a question he wants your email on. And he's going to read it in just a couple of minutes.

And the surgeon general says the science is very clear. A new study could mean curtains for lighting up in public anywhere. That's coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He lost both legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq last year, and his goal has been to resume his active and athletic lifestyle. In January, Army Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge met President Bush at an Army medical center in Texas and asked if they could go for a jog together. Today, they met again and they took that victory lap together on the White House track on the south lawn. We wish Sergeant Bagge only the best.

Meanwhile, the surgeon general, Richard Carmona, said the debate is over. Secondhand smoke is not harmful to non-smokers. Every year, involuntary smoking kills tens of thousands of people who don't smoke. That's according to the most comprehensive report on the subject in 20 years. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, according to this report, there are 50 cancer-causing chemicals in secondhand smoke, things like benzene and formaldehyde. And if you're a non-smoker exposed to secondhand smoke, your chance of getting heart disease goes up 25 percent to 30 percent, the chance of getting lung cancer 20 percent to 30 percent.

Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to children. It's not only linked to SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, it can cause lung problems, ear infections, even severe asthma. The surgeon general says there is no proper ventilation system that will protect a non- smoker. You've got to keep the smoke outside.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are currently 14 states that have laws that keep a private workplace 100 percent smoke-free. There are 11 states that do the same for restaurants, and only seven that do it for bars. This full report is available online, Wolf. It's only the second report ever on secondhand smoke, and it's the first in 20 years.

BLITZER: Jackie, thanks very much.

Up next, when is it OK for the president to revise, interpret, or disregard a law? Jack Cafferty going through your email. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on President Bush's use of something called bill signing statements. Using these, the president can revise, interpret, or disregard a law based on national security or constitutional grounds. The question we asked is, when is it OK for the president to do this?

Karen in Idaho Falls: "Never. Unfortunately, President Bush runs the government like a secret society. We won't know how much damage he's done to our freedoms until he leaves office and all of his secret deals surface."

William in Columbia, Maryland: "I find it interesting that Congress is debating a constitutional amendment on flag burning when the real threat to the Constitution is our president and all the senators and representatives who have failed in their oversight responsibility."

Kane in Honolulu, "Mr. Bush is not only the decider, he's also the reviser, the interpreter, and the disregarder. In short, he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. Who's going to stop him?"

Bill in Covington, Virginia: "Bush has moved us from being a nation of laws not men to a nation of outlaws and bagmen. Bush is the greatest desecrator of the U.S. flag in history and he ought to be impeached for it."

Chris in Crawfordsville, Indiana: "It was never OK. We should not have to count on his puppets in Congress to impeach him. We should be able to recall him. The American people hired him and should be able to fire him."

Susan in Homer, Illinois: "When I can disregard the law; that's when it's OK."

And Dave in Long Island writes, "Jack, it'll be OK the same day they make you the head of CNN and me a multibillionaire and both of us above the law as President Bush seems to think he is. By the way, when you take over CNN, can I have editorial control?"

No, you can't.

BLITZER: Is that happening? Are you about to do that, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I'll let you know. You probably want a raise if I do, right?

BLITZER: I'm going to get my agent to call you.

CAFFERTY: You know what? I had 500 emails; two people said this was OK for him to do. Out of 500.

BLITZER: All right. We'll check that out, Jack, who those two are. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: We should take names.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty will be back with us in an hour. We'll back in an hour. Lou Dobbs taking over right now -- Lou.

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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