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Encore Presentation: CNN Presents: Marine Barracks Bombing

Aired August 5, 2006 - 15:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Gerold Butt was a BBC radio correspondent in Beirut.
GERALD BUTT, FORMER BBC RADIO CORRESPONDENT: Here was the first concrete proof, in my mind, anyway, that the conflict in Lebanon had moved up several notches. Here we were dealing not with bombs in a conventional sense, shelling, sniping, that we had got used to, here were people who were prepared to give their lives for the cause, and if necessary, cause the deaths of hundreds of people.


ROBERTS: Coming up, the real beginning of the war on terror.


JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: This is the kind of positive step that grows out of Secretary Rice's trip to the region last weekend. It begins the process of putting in place the foundation for a lasting solution to the problem. Obviously this resolution alone isn't that solution, but it's the beginning and builds on the work that the Secreatry accomplished.

So, we will have consulatations here today. We'll see what the initial reactions are. We are prepared to move as quickly to adopt the resolution as other council members are prepared and we'll see what those reactions are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Hezbollah has already issues its reaction, saying as long as there is one Israel soldier in Lebanese land, and we're not even talking about Shebaa land here, we're talking about the land that has been occupied in recent fighting, they will continue to fight. The resolution is obviously missing a timetable for the Israeli withdrawal from the Lebanese occupied land, recently, and I understand that your position, this is going to come simultaneously with the formation of the international forces. Where does this leave us Mr. ambassador?

BOLTON: I don't think I'll comment on what Hezbollah may or may not have said. I think the important thing we need to do here today is to begin to get the reactions of other council members, obviously this is going to be an important discussion here. I think everybody needs to take an appropriate look at this document. I know it's taken us some time to produce it and I think in fairness, people are going to need to read it, reflect on it over night and I hope everybody will reflect on it and then will be prepared to move. Yes, sir? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. ambassador, how long do you expect it will take between now and the time of deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon? And also, do you expect any council members will be willing to participate in this force as long as (INAUDIBLE).

BOLTON: I don't really think I'm in a position today to make a prediction on the timing of deployment, but we're prepared to see what the reaction is here today and then we'll have to build on that. I think the objective is to bring a lasting solution and to do that as quickly as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me ambassador. Why do you think that Israel, you've heard from the Hezbollah side, why do you tink that Israel would stop fighting, when it calls on Israel only to stop offensive actions and it characterizes all the actions it's in Lebanon as defensive?

BOLTON: Well I think if you read the text of the draft, operative paragraph one, it does call for a full cessation of hostilities, which of course is what President Bush and Secretary Rice's objective has been, building on, in particular, two aspects. One, that the Hezbollah stops all attacks. And second that Israel stops offensive military operations and I think that is the, those are the steps that are called for at the outset. This is not a resolution that provides the comprehensive solution. I'm sure there are aspects of it that are displeasing to almost everyone, but the point is that this is a way to get started and that's what we hope to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you expect the Secretary General to send, you know, to sort of conduct a shuttle mission? Will he only be supporting U.S. and other countries' efforts to produce a settlement? Can you give us some sense of how that's going to play out?

BOLTON: I think the diplomatic activity is really already under way in a variety of countries, the United States, of course, France, Great Britain and others. There's no one recipe that's going to bring this to a succesful conclusion. I think there are a range of diplomatic activities underway and I think they should all be encouraged. Yes sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know the differences you have with the French side to get to what we are today. How would you personally qualify what we have? Is it the compromise? Is it a deal? What's the headline you would put on it?

BOLTON: Probably a pretty boring headline. I would say this is a fusion text. We have always had the same strategic objectives. We and French and British and many others. There were obviously some different approaches to the resolution of the problem but we felt that for maximizing the overall chances to do what we all fundamentally want to do, which is not return to the status quo ante. We want this to be a transformational solution that moves the region beyond the problem that has existed for so many years.

So we felt that it was very important for France and United States and Britain and others to stay together on this. And I think we've accomplished that in this text. I hope other members of the Security Council will approve of it, join as co-sponsors and we can move on it quickly, but in fairness to them, they're just seeing it a few hours ago. They need to check with their capitals and get their reactions and we'll see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ambassador, under a second resolution that would follow this, could you talk about a Chapter 7 mandate that would be given to the international force?

BOLTON: We expect the force would have a Chapter 7 mandate. Yes, sir? Better late than never.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As has clearly been established that without, I mean, effective United Nations intervention and involvement there is going to be no cease-fire, absolutely. So after this resolution has been adopted, how long will it take for the end to hostilities? Do you have any timetable at all?

BOLTON: Well, I think it depends on the reactions to the parties. We're prepared to move quickly if the next stage, the next resolution would be appropriate even in a matter of days, we would be prepared to do that. We want to move as quickly as the members of the council are prepared to move.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, ambassador. What is the significance of mentioning Shebaa Farms twice in this draft resolution because it was pointed out by the ambassador of France. And how much did you really coordinate with the other governments, such as the Lebanese government and the Israeli government, during negotiations? And what do you do if Hezbollah saying at the outset saying I'm not playing this? Do you go ahead and adopt it or do you have plan B? What do we think when you adopt a resolution that is rejected already.

BOLTON: It is fundamental to resolutions 1559 and 1680 that the borders of Lebanon be delineated and demarkated so the government of Lebanon can exercise full sovereign control over that territory and the implementation of 1559 and 1680 are, I think, central and basic to the long-term solution that we're seeking. That's why that reference is in there.

In terms of consultation, we have certainly been in close consultation with the governments of Lebanon and Israel at the ministerial level and levels below that throughout. So we're hoping that those governments, which are reviewing the text now, will be able to find it supportive.

I'm going to have toe good in now. I'll try and come back later. Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: All right, you've been listening to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, talk about the full report of this draft resolution that both the U.S. and the French have agreed upon, which will now be presented to the full Security Council. They will all pore over those details and it is a possibility the vote could come as early as Monday or Tuesday. We'll have a full report on this U.N. draft resolution, the reaction, the timetable, what it means, what is expected of this draft resolution. A full report at the top of the hour at 4:00 Eastern time. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Now back to more of CNN presents.


ROBERTS: The plan was as ruthless as it was daring. A delivery truck, a high-tech bomb, an unsuspecting target. October 23rd, 1983, the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.

Who was behind the suicide attack? And how did they pull it off? We get down to the details of that deadly day.


ROBERTS (voice over): Sunday, October 23rd, 1983. It's just after 6:00 a.m.

The night before had been calm, but as the sun creeps over the mountains, guards remain on high alert. They'd been warned to be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, they were shooting Marines, Marine patrols couldn't go through the southern suburbs, it's a lot like Iraq today.

ROBERTS: At their airport headquarters, many of the Marines are still in bed. That Sunday morning, reveille is replaced by a massive explosion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We interrupt this program to bring you this bulletin, this just in from Beirut.

ROBERTS: According to a report compiled by the Department of Defense, this is how the attack unfolded.

At approximately 6:20 a.m., a yellow Mercedes-Benz water delivery truck turns off an access road on to the parking lot of the Marine barracks. It then circles several times as it picks up speed. Suddenly, the driver crashes through a barbed wire fence, driving between two Marine guard posts without drawing fire.

Seconds later the truck plows through a gate and crashes into the barracks. The bomb is detonated. The force of the explosion reduces the building to rubble, crushing many inside.

ADMIRAL JAMES LYONS, U.S. NAVY (RET.): This was the largest non- nuclear explosion since World War II. Somewhere between 15,000 and 21,000 pounds equivalent TNT. It was an eight-foot crater in the ground there. It just blew everything apart.

ROBERTS: Twenty 20 seconds later, a second explosion. A car bomb rips through the barracks of the French peacekeeping force just a few miles away, killing 58 paratroopers. Rescue efforts continue for days. At times, hindered by sniper fire. Retired Colonel Timothy Geraghty was the Marine commander in Beirut.

COL. TIMOTHY GERAGHTY, U.S. MARINES (RET.): The ground was moaning, because there were survivors in there.

ROBERTS: The United States had suffered the largest loss of military life in a single incident since Iwo Jima; 220 Marines, 18 navy sailors and three army soldiers, killed by a lone suicide bomber.

GERAGHTY: This was such an overt, pure, naked act of terrorism. We had absolutely no warning something of this magnitude had hit us.

ROBERTS: Back home, a mourning nation demanded answers. How did it happen? Who was responsible? Should the U.S. strike back? A full scale investigation began immediately. Retired Lieutenant General Lawrence Snowden served on the investigation into the attack.

LT. GEN. LAWRENCE SNOWDEN (RET.): We had every reason to believe that Hezbollah was the unit that did the job. And we do know that the operation had the support of the Syrian government, and the Iranian government.

ROBERTS: Hezbollah denies any responsibility. Mark Perry has studied Hezbollah for years, and has discussed the bombing with several members.

MARK PERRY, CONFLICTS FORUM: In the talks I've had with them in Beirut, they say the United States is not our enemy. We do not have American blood on our hands. We do not want to have a conflict with the United States. I would place the barracks bombing at the doorstep of Iran.

ROBERTS: A civil case in 2003 did just that. The judge ruled the suicide bombing was carried out by Hezbollah, with the approval and funding of Iran. Retired Admiral James Lyons testified U.S. officials intercepted a message from the Iranian ambassador to Syria.

LYONS: This is the smoking gun. There was proof positive to coordinate their attacks against the multinational force, and in particular, the United States Marines.

ROBERTS: The court also heard the videotaped testimony of the Hezbollah member known as Mahmoud.

Mahmoud described how Hezbollah ambushed a water truck en route to the compound, a similar truck laden with very sophisticated explosives, continued on to the barracks. The driver would later be nicknamed "Smiling Death" by a Marine guard who recalled the bomber's chilling expression as he crashed through the gates, just before the explosion.

SNOWDEN: It was unfortunate that so many troops were allowed to be in that building at one time.

GERAGHTY: I was criticized quite severely, one, for having that many Marines in a single building. I had absolutely no choice. We were taking shelling. It was considered to be one of the safest, sturdiest buildings in Beirut.

ROBERTS: Marine commanders were also criticized for having guards with empty weapons.

SNOWDEN: There was a real concern that if there was an accidental discharge of a weapon, some, quote, "innocent civilian" might be killed or wounded in that parking lot, but in hindsight, it was not a good idea.

ROBERTS: As the list of suspects narrowed, U.S. officials say this man, Imad Mughnieyeh (ph) was the master mind. Mughnieyeh (ph) was Hezbollah's security chief at the time of the bombing.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA AGENT: Oh, he's much better than bin Laden because he stays off television, he doesn't identify himself. And you don't ever see a defector from his inner circle, or you know, one that lives very long.

ROBERTS: Coming up, the U.S. response to terror, paralyzed by White House in-fighting.


ROBERTS: Saturday, October 22nd, President Ronald Reagan was in Augusta, Georgia, playing a round of golf on the fabled course that is home to The Masters. Late that night, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane got a phone call.

ROBERT MCFARLANE, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: At about 2:00 in the morning, I got a call from the vice president, Vice President Bush, that the Marines had been bombed in Lebanon. The president, I awakened him at about 2:00 in the morning, and advised him of it. He was shattered by the event.

ROBERTS: The president was in his pajamas when he met with McFarlane and Secretary of State George Schultz.

MCFARLANE: The president listened and physically was drained. After a long pause he asked, "Bud, how did it happen? Who did it? How can we deal with this?"

ROBERTS: Get tougher, take on the terrorists, they decided, as Reagan flew back to Washington at first light. Vice President George Bush rushed to Beirut to the bomb site. He left little doubt that the U.S. would retaliate.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to let a bunch of insidious terrorists, cowards, shape the foreign policy of the United States.

ROBERTS: That same week, the U.S. invaded the small Caribbean nation of Grenada, a minor crises now largely forgotten.

RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Lebanon, we have some 1600 Marines.

ROBERTS: On national television, when he turned from Grenada to Beirut, Reagan rattled the sabers.

REAGAN: Those who directed this atrocity must be dealt justice and they will be.

ROBERTS: He rejected a Marine withdrawal.

REAGAN: If we were to leave Lebanon now, what message would that send to those who foment instability and terrorism.

ROBERTS: His words became empty promises, abandoned within months.

MCFARLANE: Well, I wrote that language, and I took it seriously at the time, and intended and believed that he intended to fulfill it.

ROBERTS: At the end of the week, the first caskets began coming home. The next week, on a damp and dreary day, Ronald and Nancy Reagan went to the Marine base at Camp LeJuene to mourn, along with a grieving nation.

MCFARLANE: He always took very personal the loss of life of any American, especially servicemen.

ROBERTS: By now, American intelligence had traced the seeds of the attack to a barracks in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where Hezbollah was holed up. The Navy was ready to strike back.

LYONS: We went ahead and made up the plans. We had the photography. It was a great radar target. There's nothing else around. And we were going to take out all 250 of them.

MCFARLANE: The president called the National Security Council together. He was convinced himself that the target was responsible in the Bekaa Valley, that Hezbollah had done the deed, and that's where they trained and were armed.

There were arguments, disagreements. Weinberger disagreed, thought it would have a very negative impact on our relations in the Arab states. The president said, "Well, I believe we have to do this."

LYONS: We had the planes loaded. It would have been a minute and a half strike, in and out in a minute and a half, and we would have sent the message that everybody was waiting for us to send. We never got the orders to launch.

MCFARLANE: I was awakened at home by the situation room, with the word that the attack had been aborted. I was speechless. I said, "By whom?" and I was told the Secretary of Defense. I was thunderstruck. I went down to the office and called Cap right away and asked him, what in the world happened? He said, "Well, Bud, I believed it was a bad idea, and it would have done us great harm." and I said, "Cap, the president of the United States approved this."

ROBERTS: When McFarlane told Reagan, he said the president was at a loss for words. That Cap Weinberger, now deceased, had been a close friend and ally of Reagan since their California days. Reagan would forgive and forget.

MCFARLANE: At the end of the day, the president was so captive really to his feelings of loyalty for Secretary Weinberger that he let it cloud his judgment.

ROBERTS: The terrorist attacks continued. Soon, new truck bomb attempts at the French and American embassies in Kuwait. In Beirut, the Marines were hunkered down behind new defensive barriers, doing little or nothing. The White House seemed paralyzed.

MCFARLANE: And Cap said we simply ought to withdraw.

ROBERTS: While the fighting in Lebanon grew worse, Reagan was talking tough, right up until the end. In a radio address early in February, he called the situation in Lebanon "difficult."

REAGAN: But that is no reason to turn our backs on friends and to cut and run. If we do, we'll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere. They can gain by waging war against innocent people.

ROBERTS: Yet only three days later, the president would order the Marines out. No speeches this time. The announcement was handed out, as Reagan landed in California, to go on vacation at his ranch.

By February 26th, just four months after the bombing, the Marines had retreated from Beirut, back to ships offshore. Survivor Jack Anderson was glad to see his fellow Marines heading for home, yet was disappointed.

JACK ANDERSON, FMR. U.S. MARINE: I really wanted to see us do something to the people responsible for the car bombing. You know, hopefully in the end, they get theirs, but not at the hand of the Marine Corps this time.

ROBERTS: Coming up, Beirut's deadly lesson for today's war on terror.

LYONS: As soon as we suffer casualties, we will cut and run. We are a paper tiger.


ROBERTS: U.S. Marines approaching sacred ground, Beirut, Lebanon, where 23 years ago they lost so many of their own. But for these Marines, touching ground has even more meaning, because so many belong to the same unit attacked in 1983.

Like their comrades before them, these Marines have come in peace. Their mission? To evacuate Americans. Still, the lore of Lebanon is not forgotten. It is here where the Marines paid the ultimate price.

PERRY: Would you think that over a period of 23 years that the United States military, the memory of the barracks bombing would have faded. It hasn't. When Secretary Rice talks about perhaps a peacekeeping force, the first question in a U.S. officer's mind is, does that mean us? No one in the military wants a replay of 1983.

ROBERTS: Retired Lieutenant General Lawrence Snowden called the barracks bombing an act of war.

SNOWDEN: We wanted to strike attention in the hearts of the Defense Department, and others, that this is a way of warfare that we've got to face in the future and we're ill-prepared at this moment to deal with it.

REAGAN: I received the report of the Long Commission last night --

ROBERTS: President Reagan a day before the report went public.

REGAN: The report draws the conclusion that the United States and its military institutions are by tradition and training, inadequately equipped to deal with the fundamentally new phenomenon of state-supported terrorism. I whole-heartedly agree.

ROBERTS: Again, Reagan promised to stand firm.

REAGAN: Now, one fact, though it's already obvious, the problem of terrorism will not disappear if we run from it.

ROBERTS: But that's what the U.S. did. Four months after the bombing, the Marines left Lebanon.

MCFARLANE: I think he understood very well the withdrawal of American forces, anywhere, at any time, is a negative signal, a sign of weakness. Shortly thereafter he acknowledged that we're going to pay a price for this downstream.

ROBERTS: At a price that, many believe, the U.S. is paying for today.

SNOWDEN: I think the terrorists had good memories, and they remember that, when we were pushed up against the wall, and they successfully attacked us like that, there was a demand for the troops to come home, and they did.

MCFARLANE: To absorb such a horrific loss as the Marines suffered in Beirut, without reacting, implies that you can attack the United States and not pay a price for it. That we're too weak, irresolute, politically paralyzed, and that is intolerable for a great power.

ROBERTS: Somalia, 1993, a Blackhawk down, 18 soldiers killed after a fire fight with local militia. This picture of a soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu had an enormous impact on public opinion. Six months later, President Clinton pulled the troops out. A decision that Osama bin Laden later claimed emboldened him to strike out at America. OSAMA BIN LADEN, FOUNDER, AL QAEDA (through translator): After a little resistance, the Americans left after achieving nothing. They left after claiming they were the largest power on earth. They left after some resistance from the powerless, poor, unarmed people whose only weapon it s their belief in Allah, the Almighty.

LYONS: As Osama bin Laden has often pointed out, as soon as we suffer casualties, we will cut and run. We are a paper tiger.

ROBERTS: This cut and run reputation weighed heavily on President George W. Bush who, in 2003, sounded resolute, promising to withdraw from Iraq only when the mission is complete.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.

ROBERTS: And what about the survivors of that terrible day, 23 years ago in Beirut?

MAJOR BOB JORDAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): The lesson learned, on my point, is that, number one, you cannot make peace where peace does not exist. The only way you can make peace is to win.

GERAGHTY: These things take time. We are the good guys and trying to spread democracy. It may not all work out, and so on, but you're providing an opportunity for people to do that.

LANCE CPL. JACK ANDERSON, U.S. MARINES CORPS (RET.): Yeah, we lost some damned good people, but they died for a good reason. And, you know, the memory of those guys is not forgotten, certainly not by the likes of me. Really the first guys in there fighting the war on terrorism.

ROBERTS (on camera): The anniversary of the Marine barracks bombing will be marked again this year, for the 23rd time that the Beirut National Memorial. Veterans and family members of those killed will gather in Jacksonville, North Carolina, home of Camp LeJuene for a candlelight vigil and a reading of the Beirut victim's names.

I'm John Roberts in northern Israel. Thanks for joining us.



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