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President Bush Working to Counter Criticism About War in Iraq; New Details About Death of Steve Irwin

Aired September 5, 2006 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Just nine weeks until election day. President Bush is working to counter criticism about the war in Iraq. He's got the second in a series of speeches ahead today.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back, lawmakers. Summer is over and your job is on the line. We'll tell you how worried you should be.

S. O'BRIEN: Overnight, new details about the death of Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter.

And what's his legacy going to be?

We're going to talk to another legendary name, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau.

M. O'BRIEN: And this story -- crossing the line. A young football player cold cocked by a parent. But that's just part of a very ugly picture on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Welcome, everybody.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

Thanks for being with us.

President Bush with part two of his pre-election pep talks on the war on terror. And now we're hearing more about a national strategy for combating terrorism. It's all leading up to the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and the November elections, of course.

White House correspondent Elaine Quijano in Washington for us this morning -- good morning, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

Aides say that the president's speech today is going to focus on the nature of the enemy that the United States is facing, how they think and why the United States should take the threat seriously. Now, to underscore that, the White House, earlier this morning, released this document. It is an update, really, to documents in the past. It's called "The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" and it's a follow-on to previous documents that we've seen, one released in March, another one released in 2003.

Now, there's been a lot of talk about President Bush's use lately of the term Islamic fascism to describe the threat. Well, the report, prepared by the National Security Council, describes it as "the terrorist, violent, extremist ideology, a form of totalitarianism following the path of fascism and Nazism.

Now, we have certainly heard President Bush, as commander-in- chief, trying to define the enemy before. Aides say what is different now is that the enemy is changing. They say it is more dispersed and they also acknowledge that the terrorist ideology has served as inspiration for other movements.

Of course, what is also different now, we are just two months away from a general election. Democrats now are trying to argue and make the case that the president's policies, supported by Republicans, have made the country less safe.

Today, we're going to hear the president defend his strategy. He's giving a speech to the Military Officers Association of America -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much.

Elaine Quijano at the White House.

You can see the president's speech on global terrorism today on CNN.

Our live coverage begins at 1:20 Eastern time -- soldier.

S. O'BRIEN: It's really the third round of presidential speeches aimed at lifting sagging support for the war. A new CNN poll shows why the White House is concerned.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed say they approve of how the president is handling his job. Fifty-five percent say they disapprove.

And Congress fares even worse. Thirty-one percent surveyed approve of how congressional Republicans are doing their jobs. Thirty-five percent happy with congressional Democrats.

Discontent, though, deep and bipartisan. Sixty-four percent are unhappy with Republicans. Fifty-seven percent say they're displeased with the Democrats.

The poll was conducted for CNN by the Opinion Research Corporation.

According to that poll, as well, congressional candidates in both parties really have their work cut out for them. Lawmakers return to Washington starting today.

CNN Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel is live on Capitol Hill -- hey, Andrea, good morning. ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

And don't let that first piece of legislative business on the congressional docket fool you. It's a bill to ban horse slaughtering.

Over the few remaining days left in this Congress, lawmakers on both sides will be focused like a laser on three issues, according to a Republican leadership aide -- security, security, security.


REP. ROY BLOUNT (R), MAJORITY WHIP: We're dealing with energy policy, immigration policy, national security in a way that I think we can explain where we're for.

KOPPEL: And that's not all. Over the next five weeks, the Republicans' ambitious agenda includes whether to authorize warrantless wiretaps and legalize military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees; completing a bill to authorize defense spending for next year; and wrapping up negotiations on money for homeland security.

But privately, Republicans admit, only days away from the 9/11 anniversary and only weeks before mid-term elections, their primary goal -- to convince voters Republicans are strong on national security, while Democrats are weak.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY WHIP: The main thing to remember is that we went on offense after 9/11 in order to protect Americans here at home. That policy has been a 100 percent success.

KOPPEL: And a new CNN poll by Opinion Research Corporation shows why that's their strategy. Iraq and terrorism rank among voters' top concerns.

But Democrats are fighting back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This time with liquid explosives.


KOPPEL: Firing the opening salvo in what they say will be an intense partisan battle to cast Republican leaders as incompetent while insisting Democrats are tough on security, too.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The overall grade the government gets in homeland security is C minus. Better than failing, not a D, but close to not good enough.

KOPPEL: Also this week, Democratic leaders penned a highly critical letter to President Bush about his Iraq policy, telling him he must replace civilian leaders at the Pentagon.

And later this week, Senate Democrats also intend to call for a vote of no confidence on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

Still, political strategists say don't expect much substance to get accomplished.

STU ROTHENBURG, "ROLL CALL": It's an opportunity for photo-ops. This is much more about strategic positioning than passing legislation.


KOPPEL: With that in mind, Democratic leadership staffers tell CNN they intend to go toe to toe with Republicans on security, determined not to repeat the mistakes of the '02 and '04 campaigns, when they were stuck playing defense. Instead, expect every day this week they'll be focusing on security -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Andrea Koppel for us this morning on Capitol Hill.

Andrea, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: New trouble today in Lebanon. An assassination attempt aimed at a high ranking security and intelligence officer from that country. Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehade escaped with minor injuries, but four others are dead.

Shehade helped investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

CNN's Anthony Mills live from Beirut with more -- Anthony.

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, security sources here tell us that a roadside bomb targeted the convoy of Lieutenant Colonel Samir Shehade, who is deputy chief of intelligence for Lebanon's internal security forces, as he made his way northwards up the coast from the coastal city of Sidon toward the capital.

Four people, they say, were killed in that attack. He himself was lightly injured and six people are also injured, some of them seriously.

Now, the interesting thing about this attack was that he had played a central role in the investigation into the assassination in February 2005 of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. He had also overseen the arrest about a year ago of four of the country's top pro-Syrian security chiefs on suspicion of involvement in that murder.

And, of course, this attempted assassination the latest in a string of more than a dozen that have rocked Lebanon over the last year-and-a-half, all of them, almost, targeting anti-Syrian politicians -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And so at this point is it -- is the primary suspect in this case, could it be Hezbollah? Or are there many others that might have wanted to assassinate him? MILLS: Well, Miles, evidence is difficult, if not impossible, to come by. But anti-Syrian politicians who constitute a majority in parliament, on every occasion, pretty much, when there have been assassinations here and anti--- and attempted assassinations of anti- Syrian politicians, they pointed the finger at what they call a Syrian security regime, which they say was set up here when Syria occupied Lebanon with its troops and remains active. And they say that despite the withdrawal of Syrian troops, these Syrian intelligence agents, the intelligence network, continues to operate and to direct these assassinations.

And, of course, Syria has said that it has nothing to do with them. But the anti-Syrian politicians, that's where they've pointed the finger in the past and no doubt where they'll be pointing it now -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: So plenty of suspects to go around, it sounds like.

Anthony, thank you very much.

Anthony joining us from Beirut -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Happening in America this morning, in New York, near Buffalo, authorities say they are tightening the noose in the hunt for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips. The escaped inmate accused of shooting troopers last week. One died, the other is in serious condition. Police are warning hunters to stay out of the woods of western New York for fear that they might be mistaken for the fugitive.

In Rhode Island, a trial gets underway today in that horrible nightclub fire that took place three-and-a-half years ago, the one that killed 100 concertgoers. The owner of the club, Michael Derderian, is facing involuntary manslaughter charges. Jury selection begins today. The fire was sparked by the pyrotechnic special effects of the band that was performing, called Great White.

In North Carolina, the Duke men's lacrosse team is back practicing again today. It's five months after that scandal that forced the cancellation of last year's season. The Blue Devils began a five-week training camp. They've got a new coach. It's the first time the team has practiced on campus since those rape allegations surfaced against three players back in March.

In New Hampshire, two people were seriously hurt after a single engine plane veered right off the runway, slammed into a hangar. It all happened while they were trying to take off. A man from Massachusetts, a woman, as well, being treated this morning at a Boston hospital.

And take a look at this videotape from Providence, Rhode Island. A little girl playing in the Laundromat. And there's the guy. Police say he snatched a $20 bill from that little 7-year-old. She was with her mom in the Laundromat trying to get some change. The man ran off. Thanks to the girl's description, though, police arrested a suspect and have charged him with second degree robbery. A youth football coach facing child abuse charges now after he did this. Take a look. Here he is, running across the field. Slams into that player right there. It happened in Stockton, California.

We've got the story this morning from Rich Ibarra.

He's from our affiliate, KCRA.


RUDY GARRIDO, STOCKTON BEARS COACH: Well, I just seen him charge and hit him like that on the back of the head. I mean...

RICH IBARRA, KCRA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stockton Bears' Coach Rudy Garrido shows how the assistant coach from the opposing team put the hurt on one of his players, rushing out to hit the player from behind and knocking him to the ground.

GARRIDO: For a parent/coach to come out and attack one of my kids, it's -- it's just something that's just terrifying.

IBARRA: The Stockton Bears, in the dark uniforms, faced the Redskins from Riverbank. It was toward the end of the game, less than a minute to play. The score had the Redskins leading 16-6. And then a second after the play ended, a late hit.

The Redskins played hit by a Stockton Bear and right after that, a Redskin player's father, who is also an assistant coach, runs onto the field to deliver his own knock down tackle.

(on camera): Immediately after that, fans from both teams crowded onto this field and they started to trade punches.

(voice-over): Among those at the game was Jose Santillanes and his 11-year-old son Joseph, who was playing for the Bears.

JOSE SANTILLANES, PARENT OF BEARS PLAYERS: The majority of them were just trying to get all of the -- everybody just rushed in all at the same time and they were just trying to get everybody away from everybody and trying to make sure that the kids are safe.

JOSEPH SANTILLANES, STOCKTON BEARS PLAYER: It was just scary just -- a guy just grabbed that kid and threw him. And then everybody just rushed in. I was scared.

IBARRA: The assistant coach made a getaway over a tall fence, but later surrendered to police.


S. O'BRIEN: That report came to us from Rich Ibarra from our affiliate, KCRA, out of Stockton, California.

The coach, Cory Petero, could face up to six years in prison if he is convicted. The father of the boy that Petero hit says his son suffered bruises to his stomach and to his jaw. And, of course, all the parents ran onto the field. A big melee ensued, setting a fine example for the young people of Stockton, California.

M. O'BRIEN: I guess you'd call that unnecessary roughness.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, all around.

M. O'BRIEN: On many levels.

All right, let's get a check of the forecast.

Chad Myers is at the CNN Center -- hello, Chad.


Good morning, Soledad.


S. O'BRIEN: Still to come tonight, new pictures show a very drastic change in Cuba's Fidel Castro. He is now talking about his recovery and his plans for the immediate future. We'll tell you what he's saying.

M. O'BRIEN: Then you'll meet an Iraqi power broker who wants the U.S. to stay for now, but he also wants help from Iran.

S. O'BRIEN: And the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin -- he died when he was hit by the stingray in a freak accident. But he is a man who truly spent his life putting himself in danger in front of the camera.

We'll ask this morning explorer Fabian Cousteau about taking deadly risks to teach the world about wildlife.

Those stories and more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: No end to the wave of violence in Iraq. The bodies of 33 men found scattered throughout Baghdad Monday. The victims were bound at the hands and feet. Apparently, they were tortured.

Now, 50 miles south of Baghdad, police have been trying to secure the city of Karbala ahead of a religious festival on Saturday. Iraqi police say they killed 14 gunmen.

There's a new Shiite power broker in Iraq. Cleric Abdul Aziz Al Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq. Unlike many Iraqis, he does not want to see U.S. troops pull out any time soon.

CNN's Michael Holmes joining us from Baghdad with more on the cleric who has become quite a power broker -- Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

Yes, he doesn't want U.S. troops to leave any time soon. But that's not for ideological reasons, as you will hear. You hear about Iraqi leadership and you might hear the names of the president, the prime minister and other ministers, but many will tell you the real power lies with the man named Abdul Aziz Al Hakim.


HOLMES (voice-over): April, 2003 -- southeastern Baghdad, a triumphant return for Shia power broker Abdul Aziz Al Hakim. "In the name of god, we welcome Al Hakim!" is the chant. Few knew then how powerful this man would become.

ABDUL AZIZ AL HAKIM, CLERIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Of course, it was very emotional for me to meet with my people after Saddam fell. I was longing to see them. My goal in this life is to serve those great people and I am very proud to be part of it.

HOLMES: Al Hakim spent years in exile in Iran, became part of the Iranian formed Badr Brigades. Today, he heads its political wing, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq, or SCIRI. He is also widely regarded as perhaps the most powerful man in Iraqi politics, his every word scrutinized by all.

As for his country's surging sectarian and insurgent violence, while not civil war, he warns it could easily get out of hand.

AL HAKIM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I do not consider it a civil war, but it could lead to a large conflict between Baathists, their coalition with extremist Muslims and the ordinary people. They could be able to conduct major crimes against Iraqis or maybe the Iraqi people could eliminate these groups. No one can expect what would happen then.

HOLMES: He is always heavily guarded both physically and with the words he chooses. An ardent opponent of foreign troops in Iraq, he says the United States can't leave now.

AL HAKIM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Considering the policy the U.S. adopted from the start, when they disbanded the Iraqi military, any sudden withdrawal could now lead to chaos and confusion in Iraq, and a victory for the terrorists.

HOLMES: The U.S. and others claim SCIRI receives Iranian support and Shiite militias Iranian cash. Al Hakim says show me the evidence.

Last month, the Iranian ambassador called for the reconstruction of Iraqi security and intelligence services to include Iranian assistance. Abdul Aziz Al Hakim says it's not such a bad idea and perhaps the issue should be a regional one not involving the U.S.

AL HAKIM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Of course, we do not want to solve one problem and create another one. But we are asking whether they could help us or not.

But how?

This needs to be discussed. We might need a more regional security system that all countries can participate in.

HOLMES: He says democracy is working in Iraq, despite the violence, most of which he blames on Saddamists, Baathists and al Qaeda, an organization that killed his own brother in 2002.

AL HAKIM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): They play an active role. They have been welcomed by the Baath Party of Saddam's loyalists. They are the real enemy for the Iraqi people and they will be in the future if they stay.


HOLMES: Now, Miles, SCIRI, of course, is the political wing. Its military wing is known as the Badr Brigades, which many consider a militia. They are armed. They are not out on the streets, however, in any numbers.

It's interesting, the U.S. and the Iraqi leaderships, they know how powerful this man is. We got access to a lot of video. And among the video were ministers, including the prime minister, meeting with Al Hakim at his office, not theirs.

And there was one extraordinary picture where he was walking up some stairs and an Iraqi policeman in uniform, over whom Al Hakim has no control, snapped to attention and saluted.

He is a very powerful figure here -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow!

That speaks volumes right there, doesn't it?

All right, Michael Holmes in Baghdad, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to take a look at the campaign trail as folks get on the road for Michael Schiavo, the husband of Terry Schiavo. It's payback time as he campaigns against the politicians who didn't support him.

Plus, the White House is out with something called "The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism."

Our guest is homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.

We'll talk about all of that.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: It's now been a year-and-a-half since the very public, very emotional struggle over Terry Schiavo's life. The widower of the woman who spent so long in a coma is now taking some politicians who got in the middle of that debate to task.

The story from CNN's Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Michael Schiavo, it's payback time.

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRIPAC: We'll get these people out. If it takes me forever, I'll do it, you know? I couldn't.

CANDIOTTI: Schiavo is backing candidates who backed him and targeting those who supported political efforts to keep alive his late, brain-damaged wife, Terry.

SCHIAVO: If you're a Democrat or a Republican and you believe that government should not be in anybody's personal private affairs, I will back you, I would support you, I will do what I can to help you win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you an eagle?

CANDIOTTI: In the weeks before she died, Terry Schiavo became a cause celebre. Her heart-wrenching case spearheading a volatile debate over whether she should live or die.

SCHIAVO: I sat there and I watched Congress convening over my life when just a week before that, they couldn't even tell you who Terry Schiavo was.

CANDIOTTI: Schiavo changed his registration from Republican to Democrat. He formed a political action committee called Terripac. Donations so far are modest, about $60,000. His manager says they're fielding endorsement requests from California to Rhode Island.

In South Florida, Schiavo is campaigning against state Republican Representative Susan Goldstein because she supported efforts to keep Terry Schiavo alive. Her Democratic primary opponent is newcomer Martin Kiar.

MARTIN KIAR, SCHIAVO SUPPORTER: He's holding elected officials accountable that exploited his private life and Terry's private life for their own political gain.

CANDIOTTI: Incumbent Goldstein declined a CNN interview and provided only this statement: "As a mother of a non-verbal daughter with autism, my vote on the Terry Schiavo matter was a deeply personal one."

Schiavo's political crusade took him to Connecticut, where he's backing Democrat Ned Lamont. For Schiavo, it's a chance to get back at incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman, who wanted a federal court to weigh in on the Schiavo case. NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATE CANDIDATE: I think those are decisions that are private and they belong with the family. And I think it's a fundamental difference between the senator and I.

CANDIOTTI: Schiavo, who remarried and has two children, is getting threats. Police are investigating who used an online donation form to say "saw your kids, need more security."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I feel for you so much.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

CANDIOTTI: Despite his growing single issue appeal, Schiavo insists he has no political ambitions of his own -- for now.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, flooding, mudslides and wildfires -- we'll tell you what parts of the country are affected by all of those things.

And the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin -- he certainly tempted fate over the years, but he died doing something that really wasn't that risky. We'll talk to a Cousteau about risks, rewards and plain old bad luck ahead.



JOHN SIMONS, WRITER, "FORTUNE": Genentech is the world's second largest biotech company. One of the reasons that they're on the list now is that they have basically discovered four drugs. Each one can be used for various pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer.

These drugs sell over a billion dollars a year and their stock has quadrupled in the last three years. They've been growing earnings at about 50 percent a year.

Analysts expect a little bit of a slowdown in their growth, but long-term, it's still a very, very promising stock.





MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Mourners are paying tribute today to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. He died yesterday after being stun by a stingray. We're now learning his death was captured on videotape. Irwin stayed conscious long enough to pull the stinger out of his chest. Irwin was famously risky, and less famously very cautious in the way he approached wild animals. A few years ago we asked him if he carried anti-venom.


STEVE IRWIN, "THE CROCODILE HUNTER": You know, I catch the most venomous snakes in the world in Africa, of course in Australia, the top 10 most deadly snakes, the United States of America, Southeast Asia, all over the place. Man, I'm playing with cobras, black mambas, taipans (ph). The trick, the secret that I use, is don't get bitten.


M. O'BRIEN: Don't get bitten. Good advice. Given all that he did, it is amazing that he would die the way he did. Explorer and filmmaker Fabien Cousteau is the grandson of underwater pioneer Jacques Cousteau. He joins us now from the Brooklyn Aquarium.

Good to have you with us, Mr. Cousteau.


M. O'BRIEN: When you think of all the things you saw Steve Irwin do, it is truly remarkable that a stingray would be something that would kill him. Statistically, it's almost improbable, isn't it?

COUSTEAU: It's an unbelievably rare tragedy, and accident, yes. It's very, very rare.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, try to give us a sense. Are stingrays dangerous to people? I was at sea world not many years ago, and they have basically a petting zoo where you can actually pet the stingrays there.

COUSTEAU: Correct. Stingrays are non-aggressive. Something like this would be more of a defense mechanism, if the animal feels cornered. It's more of a mechanical reaction than a voluntary reaction, where its stinger and tail curve up, and in this case, it's just a matter of the wrong place at the wrong time, and my thoughts go out to his family and friends.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, they say, according to the videotape that people have seen, he was not in any way disturbing this stingray. A lot of times you see them kind of at the ocean floor, they're covered over with the sand. You can almost barely see them. Is it really possible that he was just swimming along and all of a sudden, boom, the stinger came up? What could have happened?

COUSTEAU: Well, you know, other than getting in to the mind of the stingray, we don't know exactly what happened. I didn't see the footage myself, but a plausible scenario might have been that he would have been swimming up above the stingray, and its automatic defense reaction when it feels threatened or feels like it needs to be defending itself, would be to do just that, and who knows. Maybe there was a swell that pushed him in to it or whatever. I think, more importantly, we should focus on the condolences towards his family, though.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. It's -- your cousin actually was with the expedition on the Great Barrier Reef. Have you had a chance to talk to him much and have a sense of how things were going?

COUSTEAU: We haven' unfortunately, because of the circumstances and because of the media attention and everything else and the time difference, we've been trying to get in touch, but we haven't had a chance to talk yet.

M. O'BRIEN: If people -- the average person, diving or otherwise, or just wading in to the water comes across the stingray, what should they do?

COUSTEAU: Well, just leave it alone. If you want to observe it, that's fine. Give it its space. If you happen to be in the water where you know where stingrays are -- I mean, there are over 200 species of rays, and a lot of them in warmer waters where people typically go sunbathing, and diving and swimming. It's very logical to just shuffle your feet and, you know, if you do that, you'll have -- the stingray's first reaction is to swim away. So basically, you know, you just use basic precautions, and you shouldn't have any problems. The most common injuries are when people step on the stingray, and it has that reaction, and the person either gets stung in the foot or in the leg.

M. O'BRIEN: But that's generally not fatal. This couldn't have happened in a worst place for Steve Irwin. Tell me just final thoughts here...


M. O'BRIEN: What is Steve Irwin's legacy to the world?

COUSTEAU: You know, although we have different approaches I think he was a warrior for the planet. He's an environmentalist that leaves behind quite a legacy and quite a message that' essential, that we listen to whether it's to thrill and interest the younger generations into caring about the animals, or what's going on, for example, with global warming. I think he was a man that really portrayed his care and love for the planet, and for the inheritance that future generations will take on.

M. O'BRIEN: Fabien Cousteau, thank you for your time, sir.

COUSTEAU: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a new risk for men who become fathers in their 40s and beyond, autism. It's in our "House Call" this morning. That's ahead.

COUSTEAU: And the White House releases a new strategy to fight terrorism. Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend is our guest, up next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: New this morning, the White House releasing a national strategy for combating terrorism. The report lays out the administration's views on successes and challenges in the war on terror nearly five years after September 11.

Joining us this morning from the White House is the president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. Nice to see you, Ms. Townsend. Thanks for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: The 9/11 Commission, as you well know, made a bunch of recommendations when they wrapped up their work and then last year, they assessed how the government had done in responding. And if this -- you know, they put it on a report card. And if this were your child's report card, you'd be absolutely horrified. Because there's F's and lots of D's, and not very many A's. Why not more focusing from the president on instituting some of the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission?

TOWNSEND: Actually, Soledad, we have made much progress in the war on terror, including on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, but also on things like intelligence reform, the recommendations of the Silverman/Robb commission. And all of those things -- intelligence reform, the reorganization of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security -- are all steps that we've taken to better protect the American people, as well as our fight overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

S. O'BRIEN: There are lots of specific steps, though, that critics have said would be easy to do and have not been done. Here's Rudy Giuliani when I interviewed him on the fourth anniversary of 9/11. Here's what he said about what was relatively simple to fix. Listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC MAYOR: A lot of things can be done to assist, and probably should have been done faster, including setting up a bandwidth just for emergency personnel, dedicated to emergency communication, and getting that implemented all throughout the country.


S. O'BRIEN: There are some people who say -- when you ask the question, are we safer today than we were five years ago? -- the answer has to be, no, because you don't have something as simple as that when the technology's there. How do you respond to that?

TOWNSEND: Well, Soledad, we actually have created -- there is additional bandwidth that is available and there is a plan in place working with telecommunications industry to make sure that additional bandwidth becomes available as the telecommunications industry and the first responder community work together.

We take that issue very seriously, and spend a great deal of time working with the first responder community to make sure that we're getting them the bandwidth and the communications equipment that we need. The Department of Homeland Security works very closely with the first responder community and gives grant monies specifically designed to address this problem.

S. O'BRIEN: Are you saying that in New York City today that exists? There's a special bandwidth where they can communicate an absolute disaster that we saw on 9/11? That exists today, is that right?

TOWNSEND: I didn't say that, Soledad. What I said is we've made progress. Additional bandwidth has become available. There is not a sole dedicated bandwidth capability. But we have made additional bandwidth available, and we continue to work this problem -- that is interoperable communications among first responders -- as a priority.

S. O'BRIEN: There are some people who would say, OK, if it's a priority, why five years later, almost? Is it not something that can be done when you consider that, technologically, everyone will tell you, it's not that hard to do?

TOWNSEND: Well, this is a question of taking existing capability -- that is, existing radio systems -- and making -- adjusting them to make sure they're interoperable. These things were purchased over a matter of years. And so it's a matter of taking the systems and getting them to work together in a way that suits the needs and requirements of the first responder community. It's not just a federal issue, it's obviously a state and local issue, as well, and we work very closely with them.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's take a moment to talk about Iraq. President Bush, as you well know, has called a central front on the war on terror. Here's what he said on August 16th. Listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This war on terror is more than just chasing down people hiding in caves or preventing people from getting on airplanes that blow them up. The war on terror is fought in many theaters, and the central front on the war on terror now is Iraq.


S. O'BRIEN: The central front on the war on terror is Iraq. When you look at the number of casualties, up 50 percent over three months, I think there's a figure that says 300 people -- 300 people died in Iraq in the last week alone. If it's the central front, does it then follow, wow, things aren't going very well on the central front, so, ergot, we're losing the war on terror?

TOWNSEND: Soledad, I think that's unfair. You know, it's not just the president who's said it was the central front. Zawahiri has said it's the central front in the war on terror, as has bin Laden, who said it's either going to end in misery and defeat, or glory and victory.

And the fact is, they have -- they need Iraq. And they need it as a place from which they can plan attacks and a safe haven. And so it is a central front and -- which is why it's very important for us to continue the fight and to support the democratically elected government of Iraq, so that they can create an environment of stability and gather greater strength.

S. O'BRIEN: We asked Americans in a poll recently, a couple weeks ago, is the war in Iraq making you safer? And, overwhelmingly, they said no; 55 percent said, no, it's not. Thirty-seven percent said, yes, it is. Do you think that the war in Iraq is, in fact, making Americans safer?

TOWNSEND: There's no question, Soledad. If we weren't there, and the terrorists overwhelmed the government, the democratically elected government of Iraq, that we would have the same problem that we faced in Afghanistan, where it was an ungoverned territory -- or, it's worse, governed by a totalitarian regime that permitted people like Osama bin Laden to plan attacks against the United States from its territory. We can't permit that to happen in Iraq, and if we left, that's exactly what would happen.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, but if we weren't there, then you wouldn't have the big target, to a large degree, on U.S. troops and you wouldn't necessarily have the -- I guess, divisions, to some degree, that we're seeing right now, that have resulted in all these deaths. Isn't that fair to say as well?

TOWNSEND: Soledad, if we weren't there -- if we were to cut and run, we would leave the territory to them on which to operate and plan attacks against the United States and against U.S. interests and against our allies around the world.

S. O'BRIEN: But that's your word, not mine. I didn't say cut and run. What I said was, if we weren't there, if we hadn't been there in the first place, right -- which I think is essentially what Americans were asked in this poll, did the war make you safer? And they said overwhelmingly they said, no; 55 percent said no. So if we hadn't gone in the first place, as opposed to cut and run, which are your words there, why wouldn't it be fair to follow that, in fact, it hasn't made us safer, the war hasn't made us safer?

TOWNSEND: But, Soledad, I don't think it's that simple. We are there now, and we have to deal with what are our options? Our options are either to stay and support the democratically elected government there, or to pull out. And there are serious consequences to American security if we're to pull out. I understand what you're saying about whether or not we should be there. But the fact is, we are there, and the fact is, we have a responsibility for our own national security, as well as that of the Iraqi people, to stay.

S. O'BRIEN: So what, you're saying is we're sort of stuck there? Is that what you're saying? TOWNSEND: I didn't say we were stuck there. We have a choice to make, and it's a fundamental choice in which we have a stake, in terms of our own security.

S. O'BRIEN: Homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, joining us this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We appreciate it.

You can see the president's speech on global terrorism today. That's on CNN. Our live coverage begins at 1:20 p.m. Eastern time.

Still to come, we're "Minding Your Business."

And Megan Mullally, remember her? She played that oozing floozy on "Will & Grace." Well, she's changing gears in show business. She's got a new show, it's called "The Megan Mullally Show." It debuts in just two weeks. She's going to be our guest in the next hour to talk about that. That's ahead. Stay with us.



M. O'BRIEN: Top stories after a break. Stay with us.



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