Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


President Bush Finally Acknowledging Existence Of Secret CIA Prisons All Around The World; Senate Debating Measure by Democrats Calling to Remove Rumsfeld; Many Republicans Distance From President Bush For Midterms; Growing Divide Between Bush Administration and Public's View of War in Iraq; Saxby Chambliss Interview

Aired September 6, 2006 - 16:00   ET


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, al Qaeda on trial, it's 4:00 p.m. in Washington, where President Bush confirms key al Qaeda operatives have been held in secret CIA prisons and now they're at Guantanamo Bay to face military tribunals.

Senate Democrats call on President Bush to change course in Iraq by changing his defense secretary. Can they get anywhere with their campaign to replace Don Rumsfeld? I'll ask a top Republican Senator.

And out on the campaign trail in this midterm election, President Bush seems to be the issue. As Democrats run against him, many Republicans run away from him.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're accused of the most heinous crimes from the bombings of U.S. embassies to the 9/11 attacks. Now President Bush says 14 top al Qaeda suspects will face military trials at Guantanamo Bay. The suspects include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged al Qaeda mastermind, and others tied to bloody attacks on Americans. The president says they were held in previously secret CIA prisons where they were subjected to what he calls tough treatment, which he says saved innocent lives.

In the meantime, the U.S. army has issued a new field manual banning the torture and the degrading treatment of all prisoners, and the Pentagon today announced that all prisoners will be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. Our Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel is standing by, but let's go to the White House, where it's been a very busy day. Ed Henry with all the latest information, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Busy indeed, Wolf. President Bush finally acknowledging the existence of these controversial secret CIA prisons all around the world. The president doing that just days before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and also just two months before those critical midterm elections. The president revealing that 14 senior members of al Qaeda, previously in CIA custody, being questioned and held by the CIA, have now been transferred to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay for prosecution for their alleged crimes.

The president declaring that this previously secret CIA program has helped keep potential mass murderers off the streets and amid the international outrage about these so-called CIA black prisons, the president insisted today the techniques used on these detainees were tough, but legal. He insisted there was no torture. And the president also claimed that the intelligence gleaned from these sessions these detainees have helped thwart terror plots all around the world.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This program has been and remains one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists. It is invaluable to America and to our allies. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeed in another attack against the American homeland. By giving us information about terrorist plans, we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives.


HENRY: But of course there are media questions about why the president is revealing this previously secret program now, right before the midterm elections and right in the middle of a series of speeches on the seminal issue in those midterm election, the war on terror, where the president has been basically framing the Republican case.

The president insisted today his move was not sparked by politics, but sparked instead by the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision in June, which basically held that military commissions could be used to prosecute these suspected terrorists, but only if there's a legislative framework from Congress in place.

So the president immediately today sending legislation to the hill and putting the ball in Congress's court, demanding that they get this done in September, before going home for the year. The president finally is going to keep the pressure on tomorrow. Part four in this series of speeches on the war on terror in Atlanta. He is going to talk about gaps in security that led to 9/11, and talk about programs like the Patriot Act that he says he instituted and have helped thwart more terror attacks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president may deny that this has anything to do with politics, but it's clearly going back to that political playbook that worked so well for the Republicans in 2002-2004, by hammering away that they're saving lives, that the president is preventing another 9/11. Clearly there are political, serious political overtones in this decision to release all this previously classified information today. HENRY: Wolf, it's the elephant in the room. At the very outset of this series of speeches, the president insisted he didn't want it to be politicized. Let's face it this issue is front and center in the midterms, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House, thank you. The president called on Congress to urgently pass the legislation dealing with the detainees. Let's get reaction from Capitol Hill on all of these developments. Our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel is up on the hill and what are they saying up there Andrea?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, as you know, military tribunals and putting terrorists on trial are just the kinds of issues that Republicans are looking to highlight just two months out from congressional midterms, so-called wedge issue. Republicans want to show themselves as being strong on national security, portraying the Democrats as being weak if they don't support this kind of legislation.

Now, while Republican leaders quickly embrace the president's proposal, in fact, for one, the second most powerful Republican in this Senate, Mitch McConnell, saying that it strikes just the right balance, Republicans are by no means all on the same page. You have John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain, former POW, possible 08 presidential candidate, all of them saying that they have drafted a rival proposal.

In their proposal they want to guarantee detainees the right to see all evidence before them, all evidence which could even included classified information. Nevertheless, John Warner, just a short time ago, earlier today, saying that he was optimistic they would be able to bridge their differences.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: But I am confident, having met with my leadership yesterday and indeed talking with others, that I think the Congress can come to a resolution of such differences as remain. One relates to the how evidence which could be characterized as derived from classified documents, how that would be treated in these various trials. It must be addressed, that issue.


KOPPEL: Now, another member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has endorsed what Warner was just talking about there, Carl Levin, was not nearly as optimistic.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Classified material that is used at trial, but in those occasions you then make sure that the defense and the defense lawyer can see the same material that a jury is going to see, so that they can have the same opportunity and opportunity to comment on it or defend against it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: And Wolf, the challenge before all of these lawmakers is the fact they only have a few weeks before this congressional year ends. As you heard President Bush say, it is a top priority for him. It's a top priority for Republican leaders. The question is, will they in fact be able to reach some sort of common denominator, Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Andrea, we'll see where this goes. Andrea Koppel on the hill.

After more than a year and amid accusations of torture, today the Department of Defense published an updated version of its manual on prisoner interrogation techniques. The Defense Department says the manual reaffirms its commitment to treat all detainees humanely.

At one point officials considered keeping certain interrogation procedures secret, but ultimately they decided to make the entire Army manual public. Only moments ago, the Pentagon posted it on-line. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has details if you want to take a look at it, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, that's correct. You go to the army Web site and here it is in the bottom right-hand corner. I'm going to zoom in on it so you can see. It's the first link under Army Headlines. It's a close to 400-page document, but you can look at it for you yourself.

In this it includes eight actions that are now banned based on past abuses, some of those include forced nudity or sex acts, no longer allowed, no use of hoods or duct tape over the eyes, no use of beating, shock, inflicting pain, no use of simulated drowning.

Those are just four of the eight actions that are banned. There are also three new interrogation techniques that have been approved. Two of those for all prisoners of war and one of those just for unlawful enemy combatants. You can read all of this on-line for yourself, again at the Army Web site, and the Army says that all of the actions and techniques in this manual comply with article III of the Geneva Convention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I think that we should point out, Jacki, that that manual refers to all detainees held by the U.S. military. It doesn't necessarily oblige detainees held by the CIA or other civilian, non- military agencies. More on this part of the story coming up.

Meanwhile, the Senate is debating a measure by Democrats calling on the president to remove the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but is this so-called no-confidence motion going anywhere? Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash joining us now from the hill, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this measure is going nowhere. It is expected to die on the Senate floor within the next few hours, but that's just fine with Democrats because they think that they've achieved their political goal, which is to force a Senate debate on Iraq and really zero in on the man that they have decided will symbolize best all that has gone wrong with the war in Iraq, and that of course is Donald Rumsfeld.

And the language of this nonbinding resolution is really as simple and straightforward as the strategy behind it. It says, "President Bush needs to change course in Iraq to provide a strategy for success. One indication of a change of course would be to replace the current secretary of defense."

Now, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid conceded that they are trying to use Donald Rumsfeld to make a broader political point. He certainly suggested that in his statement, and that point is that they believe, and they're making this case over and over on the campaign trail -- that the administration has had a lot of mismanagement when it comes to the Iraq war.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This amendment is bigger than Donald Rumsfeld. This is about changing course in Iraq, and the president demonstrating to the American people he understands America cannot stay the course when the present course is taking our country in the wrong direction.


BASH: Now, in terms of the Republicans, and many of them have gone to the Senate floor. Some -- although actually I should just say, about one so far has specifically defended Donald Rumsfeld. By and large, Republicans on the Senate floor are saying that Democrats are engaging in political theater.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Our friends on the other side of the aisle talk about a change in direction, fresh ideas, new direction. Those are campaign slogans. They're not about solving the problem. They're not about beating the enemy, defeating the enemy that declared war on us.


BASH: Now in terms of the politics of Donald Rumsfeld, some Republicans in tough races like Senator Rick Santorum has said that he stands behind Senator Rumsfeld, but actually he has become -- excuse me, Secretary Rumsfeld, but he has become a symbol not just for Democrats, for Republicans, some of them trying to separate themselves this election year from President Bush. For example, Tom Kean of New Jersey, Republican running for Senate there. He came out last week and said he does think it's time for Secretary Rumsfeld to go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you -- Dana Bash on the Hill for us.

Meanwhile, there's new evidence of a growing divide between what the administration is saying about the war on Iraq and what Americans actually think right now. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, President Bush is trying to build support for the war in Iraq by linking it to the war on terrorism. Is it working?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Public support for the war in Iraq remains weak. The latest figures: 39 percent of Americans favor the war, 58 percent are opposed. Not a significant change from two weeks around. Americans don't like to fight wars they can't win. That's why President Bush talks about the prospects for victory in Iraq.

BUSH: Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat to our enemies, who have staked so much on the battle there.

SCHNEIDER: But only a quarter of Americans believe the U.S. and its allies are winning, while 12 percent think the insurgents are winning. The prevailing view? Neither side is winning. President Bush is making an effort to link the unpopular war in Iraq with the widely supported war on terrorism. After all, the president says, that's what the enemy does.

BUSH: For al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction from their war on America. It is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided.

SCHNEIDER: But most Americans consider the war in Iraq a separate military action. In fact they no longer believe the war on terrorism is going well -- 47 percent say they are satisfied with the way the war on terrorism is going, the lowest figure ever.

And the first time most Americans have expressed dissatisfaction with the war on terror. Anger over Iraq may be creating dissatisfaction with the war on terror. Americans who oppose the war in Iraq are deeply dissatisfied with the way things are going in the war on terror. That's true even among Republicans.


SCHNEIDER: By linking Iraq with the war on terror, President Bush may not be building support for his Iraq policy. He may be creating doubts about how he as handling the war on terror -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, as you know and as most of our viewers will remember, after 9/11, there was a brief period where top administration officials were holding out the possibility that perhaps Saddam Hussein, when he was in power in Iraq had much more to do with 9/11, although much more recently including the president in recent days has flatly said Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, yet that is not reflected in this most recent CNN poll, is it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, no. While 43 percent of Americans continue to believe Saddam Hussein is connected to 9/11. That belief is surprisingly resilient. The number has held pretty steady for the past two years, but it's not partisan. The number of Republicans that believe he was connected to 9/11 is 46 percent, about the same as others. The belief is powerfully related to education. A majority of high school educated Americans believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. And that number drops to 39 percent of those who attended college, 26 percent of college graduates, and only 19 percent of people who went to graduate school.

The better educated and presumably better informed you are, the less likely you are to think that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting number, almost half the American public at least suspects that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11 to this very day. Bill Schneider, thank you very much for that. Bill Schneider, Dana Bash, Andrea Koppel, Ed Henry, they are all part of the best political team on television, CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Jack Cafferty is off today. Jack and "The Cafferty File" return on Monday.

Up next this hour, the battle for Congress, Democrats are trying to make this election all about President Bush and the war on Iraq. Will they succeed? Plus the British leader Tony Blair under fire from members of his own party. Is President Bush's biggest ally in major political trouble right now? Later, Don Rumsfeld under attack by Democrats, and even a few Republicans. But can a top Republican in Congress come to his defense? We shall hear what Senator Saxby Chambliss has to stay when he joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.


BLITZER: As the midterm election campaigns heat up, Democrats certainly running against President Bush, many Republicans though are also running away from President Bush. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, joining us from New York. Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. They are worried about the economy in the Midwest. Gas prices and big government in the interior west, home heating oil prices in the northeast and everywhere voters are worried about Iraq. Superimposed over all of this is one name.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Though a lot of voters are angry with George Bash, he's not on the ballot this year, but it's bad news for Republicans who are. And it is the core of Democratic strategy.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: George Bush and his act- alike Mike DeWine, just care about the people at the very, very top.

CROWLEY: Republican Mike DeWine is the senior senator from Ohio. He struggles against a rip current which threatens to pull under Republicans nationwide. CNN and Opinion Research Corporation asked voters whether they were more or less likely to vote for pro-Bush candidates. The message? There is a price for an R behind your name.

JENNIFER DUFFY, COOK REPORTER: We mostly see incumbents telling voters I will be with the president when I agree with him, but I won't be with him when I don't.

CROWLEY: Sherrod Brown is a Democratic House member gunning for DeWine's Senate seat.

REP. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Mike DeWine voted for the Iraq war, and I voted against the Iraq war.

CROWLEY: Ohio ranks fifth in states with the highest number of Iraq war-dead, and like the rest of the nation, has seen the downward spiral of the support for the president and the Iraq war. The president and Iraq, Republicans and the president, they are inextricably linked.

JOHN GREEN, UNIVERSITY OF AKRON: Most Ohioans realize that Senator DeWine is not in charge of the war effort. But he's a strong supporter of the Bush administration and many people do hold President Bush accountable for the problems in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Republicans counter the Iraq attacks with what they hope is their campaign ace card, the war against terror.

SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: I voted for the Patriot Act to find and stop the terrorists. It makes a difference. Sherrod Brown voted to deny these tools to our terrorist fighters.

CROWLEY: And as the president stumps the country, insisting that Iraq is part of the war on terror, he is echoed on the Republican campaign trail in word and in picture. 9/11 Mayor Rudy Giuliani has left the streets of New York for Republican hustings everywhere.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: We're interesting in Senator DeWine being reelected all over the country because he's someone who's a leader in the effort against terrorism.

CROWLEY: Bottom line, we are better at protecting you. It worked for Republicans in '02 and '04. They hope it will drive their discouraged voters to the polls in '06, except that something is different now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He failed us on the Intelligence Committee before 9/11, and on weapons of mass destruction.

CROWLEY: Instead of avoiding the issue of the war on terror, Democrats are taking it on, convinced that this time, Republican arguments won't work on a hardened electoral.


CROWLEY: In the end, though, Republicans are not aiming for hardened voters. They know those are Democratic votes. What Republican contenders need to do is get their own voters out of the doldrums and into the voting booth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, what did you find out about an issue closer to home, the economy? Is the current state of the economy, jobs, gas prices, if you will, is that helping or hurting Republicans?

CROWLEY: It's hurting Republicans and it's hurting Republicans in places where they really have counted on to deliver Republican congressmen. It's hurting in places like Ohio, and Indiana, Michigan, Illinois. Remember, those are states where you have to go, you know, sometimes for a piece to get to the grocery store when you're out in some of the rural areas, so the high price of gasoline certainly is hurting.

You know, as gasoline prices go up, housing prices are going down. That makes everybody just a little nervous, seeking that equity go away. So the economy is a very real subject out in the Midwest and in other places. It's just that Iraq and the president put this patina over the economy, and it colors everything and makes it look pretty bad for Republicans.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you. Candy Crowley doing excellent reporting for us as she always does. Remember, she's part of the best political team on television. CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Let's check in with Zain Verjee for a closer look at some other important stories making news.

Hi, Zain.


It's welcome news in Beirut. Israel announced today it's abandoning all control posts in Lebanon and turning them over to international forces. The agreement took effect a little more than five hours ago. It calls for Israeli forces to give up the blockade of Lebanese seaports and airports. Under a deal worked out between the Lebanese and German governments, the German Navy will ultimately take control of the posts.

Pakistan's prime minister is talking tough about Osama bin Laden. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is disputing an ABC News report that bin Laden would not face capture in Pakistan if he agreed to lead a peaceful life. Aziz tells CNN that there's no immunity for terrorists. At the same time, Aziz is praising a peace agreement with pro-Taliban tribal leaders. It's designed to end violence along the Pakistani-Afghan border.

Today, the Iraqi government is to begin assuming direct control of its military forces from the coalition. The event underscores the long-term effort by U.S.-led forces to transfer power to the Iraqi government, and it occurs as more violence rages in Iraq.

Thirty-four bodies were found today in Baghdad, the latest sign of Sunni-Shia sectarian violence, and six border police were killed in a suicide car bombings in Sinjar in northwestern Iraq. An Iraqi government officials tells CNN that the government executive 27 so- called terrorists today, including one woman. Iraq's parliament speaker warned today Iraq will collapse by the end of the year if warring and bickering groups fail for reconcile.

The pressure is mounting for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to step down. Seven junior members of his government resigned today to protest Blair's refusal to leave office. The departures came as British newspapers reported that Blair plans to stay on until next July. Blair's popularity has sagged amid government scandals over sleaze and mismanagement, and controversy over the wars in Iraq and Lebanon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you. Zain Verjee reporting.

Up next, Don Rumsfeld under fire today in Congress by Democrats and a few Republicans as well. I'll talk about it with Senator Saxby Chambliss. He's a top Republican in the Senate. He's sticking with the defense secretary.

Also, Joe Lieberman -- he is back in the Senate for the first time since he lost that Democratic primary last month. We have got some exclusive sound with the senator who is now running for reelection as an independent. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Senate Democrats are pressing a motion of no confidence in the president's Iraq policies, and no confidence in his defense secretary. But is there any chance Don Rumsfeld will be replaced?

Joining us now is Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. I want to talk about Don Rumsfeld and his tenure at the Department of Defense in a moment, but I want your quick reaction to what John Kerry, you colleague -- Democratic colleague from Massachusetts -- said today regarding the president's new policy in dealing with these al Qaeda detainees, decided now to take them out of secret CIA prisons and send them over to Guantanamo Bay where they'll face military commissions.

John Kerry saying this: "Today's shift in policy follows the sad legacy of five years, during which this administration abused our Constitution, violated our laws, and, most importantly, failed to make America safe."

Your reaction on this change of policy on the part of the president?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, those comments by John obviously were made during the course of the political campaign. And it sounds like he's still on the campaign trail. Frankly, what the president did today, I think, is a very positive step in the right direction, because what he did was, he began to tell the American people how each one of these high-value targets has helped us, from an interrogation and providing information standpoint.

And now we're removing these folks from the custody of the CIA. They're going into the custody of the Department of Defense. And they will then make a decision as to whether or not to hold them, whether or not to try them under the new process that we're in the process now of establishing.

So, I think what the president said today and what has been done, relative to the transfer of these prisoners, is a positive move.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator McCain that all these suspects, these al Qaeda suspects, should know what kind of evidence they have, the government has against them, as opposed to keeping some of the evidence a secret? McCain telling the Associated Press, "I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information, because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used."

He speaks, himself, as a former POW.

CHAMBLISS: Well, John is my good friend. And we are going to have a discussion as to how we proceed, relative to establishment of the proceedings whereby we try these individuals.

There are four critical areas that we are having to deal with. And this issue of what kind of classified information and who it's given to is one of those four issues.

I'm very skeptical, Wolf, of providing all of the classified information that we have obtained for the prosecution of an individual and giving it to that individual. You know, we don't have any guarantee that these folks are going to be convicted. They are going to be tried in the normal course of a criminal trial, not exactly the same, but somewhat the same, as we do in the military and on the civilian side.

If we give these individuals access to classified information, you better believe...

BLITZER: So, you disagree?

CHAMBLISS: We know what they're going to do with it.

BLITZER: You disagree with Senator McCain?

CHAMBLISS: Well, I'm not sure. I say it's going to be discussed. And we are going to, hopefully, come to some positive conclusion that all of us can agree on.

And John and I have had some discussion about this. There are other folks who feel very strongly the other way, that they shouldn't be given any of this information. But it's a very sensitive issue that is going to have to be part of this debate on how we deal with these individuals, from a prosecution standpoint.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Democrats -- a lot of Democrats -- want to get a vote of no- confidence, in effect, against him.

Listen to what Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, says.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This amendment is bigger than Donald Rumsfeld. This is about changing course in Iraq, and the president demonstrating to the American people he understands America cannot stay the course, when the present course is taking our country in the wrong direction.


BLITZER: Would it help your fellow -- your fellow Republicans -- excuse me -- who are in political trouble come November if the defense secretary were to step down in these coming weeks?

CHAMBLISS: I don't think so, because Harry Reid just said it. This is bigger than Donald Rumsfeld.

If Donald Rumsfeld being removed as secretary of defense would move us in a positive direction and help us win the war in Iraq, we wouldn't have to worry about it.

Donald Rumsfeld is a class individual. He would remove himself. So, when Harry Reid says this is bigger than Donald Rumsfeld, he's right. But why are they choosing Donald Rumsfeld to throw darts at?

We have had this debate on the floor of the Senate time and again, over the last two months, as to whether or not we ought to set a timetable, as to whether or not we ought to withdraw from Iraq. Most of the Democrats have voted with us on that issue. There should not be a timetable. We should not withdraw until the fight is won.

And Donald Rumsfeld is not the guy that is going to determine when we withdraw. That's a decision for the president to make.

BLITZER: We will see how this fight unfolds in the coming hours.

Thanks very much, Senator, for joining us.

CHAMBLISS: Sure, Wolf. Always good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And a Capitol homecoming tops our "Political Radar" today -- Joe Lieberman returning to the U.S. Senate today. It's the first day back for the senator from Connecticut since he left the Democratic primary last month. Lieberman is now running for reelection as an independent.

Also in town, by the way, is Ned Lamont, the man who beat him in that Democratic primary.

Following all the action, once again, let's bring back Dana Bash. She's on Capitol Hill -- Dana.

BASH: Wolf, you know, the Senate is like a club. So, there was a lot of speculation about just how Senator Joe Lieberman would be treated when he came back to the club today, because, of course, only a handful of Senator Lieberman's Democratic colleagues still support his bid, his independent bid, to run for reelection.

Now, we caught up with him just after he first came back, as he cast his first vote since losing Connecticut's Democratic primary. And he said that his colleagues were warm and -- and collegial.


BASH: You expected some cold shoulders. Did you get any?



BASH: Was it awkward?

LIEBERMAN: I didn't feel awkward at all. I'm -- I'm returning feeling very encouraged about my independent candidacy for reelection to the Senate. We're drawing support across party lines. Frankly, I feel like I have got a -- a mission, a reason, and -- and a lot of support from people back home, even though I don't have a political party supporting me.


BASH: Now, the stars did align in a bit of an awkward way today, because Ned Lamont, the man who did win the Democratic primary, of course, in Connecticut, made his D.C. debut today.

He made the rounds around town, looking for support from some key unions. He's also coming here to the Capitol. He is going to meet with the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, and he's also going to meet with Senator Chuck Schumer, who runs the Senatorial Campaign Committee.

He is -- they're going to talk about potentially getting some funding from the national Democratic Party to go into the -- to his race against Senator Joe Lieberman.

Now, our Deidre Walsh caught up with him. And Senator -- and Ned Lamont told her that he's trying to also broaden his campaign, broaden the way people look at him. Of course, people look at him as the anti-war candidate. He says he's trying to make the case that he is someone who knows about other things, like jobs and health care -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, good work all around. Thanks very much.

Up next: President Bush announcing some major new changes in the war on terror. We will talk about it a little bit more in our "Strategy Session" -- Bill Press, J.C. Watts standing by live.

And busting bunkers in southern Lebanon -- next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to follow Israeli forces as they try to destroy Hezbollah hideouts close to the border.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: And we're just getting this coming into CNN: Reuters and Associated Press reporting that the former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison. This follows his April conviction on racketeering and fraud charges. The scandal clearly ended his political career back in 2003. We will follow this story for you -- former governor of Illinois getting six- and-a-half years in prison.

President Bush calling on Congress to authorize military trials for top al Qaeda suspects, including an alleged 9/11 mastermind. This comes as the Senate is tied up in a rancorous debate over the president's national security policies and the future of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," CNN political analyst, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, and Democratic strategist Bill Press.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Bill, if the Republicans manage to hold on to the Senate and House in November, which a lot of Democrats don't believe will be the case -- but, if they manage, over the next two months, to turn things around, analysts might, at that point, look back to this day, look to the president's speech today, fighting the war on terror, and refer to some of these excerpts.

Listen to this.


BUSH: They are still trying to strike America and they are still trying to kill our people.

They are in our custody, so they cannot murder our people.

With these prosecutions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Repeatedly, in that speech, he was saying, you know what? For five years, we have been connecting the dots. There have been no major terrorist incidents in the United States since 9/11. If you reelect Republicans, you will be safe.

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Wolf, you're right, I think this far, in -- in terms of -- they have only got one issue, all right"?

They can't defend the economy. They can't defend health care or Social Security. They can't defend the war in Iraq. They have got to make terror the issue. But I don't think it's going to work today.

I think what we saw today, what -- and the American people see is pure political grandstanding. I mean, after the administration admits now it has conducted this secret network of prisons around the world, torture prisons, for five years, it has violated the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo Bay, now forced to change that by the Supreme Court, has held over 500 people there without seeing a lawyer, without any rights whatsoever, without even knowing what they're charged with, and now, two day after Labor Day, suddenly, the administration says, we're going to start obeying the law, sort of.

I think it's too little, too late. And the American people won't fall for it.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I do think, Wolf -- I don't think it's the only issue that Republicans can run on.

I think the economy is very good, and all the vital signs are good in the economy. But I think people are concerned about their safety here at home. And I think the president has done a good job in that area. How we handle detainees and how we handle those people that we have captured, as far as people, you know, wanted to kill us, that would have killed us, I think it's a good thing, what the president has done.

He's asking Congress to define this. OK, J.C. Watts, Bill Press, you disagree with me on how we have handled this. You tell us what torture is. You tell us what we can and can't do.

But, Wolf, I, for one -- and I know many people in this country believe that we should not allow the bad guys to just run free and allow, you know, politicians in Washington to determine how they will be prosecuted.


BLITZER: You know a lot of Americans, Bill -- you know this, because it happened in 2004.

PRESS: Sure.

BLITZER: You know a lot of Americans will say: You know, I disagree with the war in Iraq. I'm not happy, necessarily, with the price of gasoline. But, when all is said and done, I want to be safe from terrorists.

PRESS: And I think what Democrats are saying is, we want to keep you safe. We want to fight the war on terror, but -- this is a novel concept -- we want to obey the law at the same time.

You know, we are Americans, after all. We're not like the terrorists. We have higher moral values. We believe in the rule of law. And we should follow the rule of law.

Again, Bush, this is a president, his attorney general told him, and the president said, Geneva Conventions don't apply.

BLITZER: All right.

PRESS: He said it was quaint and obsolete to obey them.

BLITZER: Take a look at this -- these numbers on -- when we asked the American public, in our CNN poll, "Are you satisfied with how things are going for the United States in the war on terror?" if you take a look at these numbers, 2002, 75 percent said they were satisfied. It's gone down now to 47 percent. Less than half of the American people are satisfied.

WATTS: Well, Wolf, and I think those numbers, I think, in 1975, the issue was framed. And I think, over the last several months, last nine or 10 months, I think the president has lost his edge in framing this issue, and letting the American people -- or giving the American people benchmarks on what success is in Iraq, in the war against terror.

And when you have got the opposition out there every day saying the things that they're saying, and you're out there rebutting these things periodically, that's not good enough.

PRESS: I think what happened is, the president, I agree, has lost his edge, because the focus is on Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. And the American people don't buy that Iraq is part of the war on terror.

BLITZER: Still two months to go, and a lot can happen between now and then.

PRESS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: As you remember, in 2004, two...


BLITZER: ... two months before the election, a lot of people already were calling him President John Kerry, as you know.


PRESS: I remember too well.


BLITZER: All right. We will see what happens. And that is why we are going to be covering the story extensively.

Bill and J.C., thanks very much.

Coming up: U.S. health officials bracing for the next flu season? Will there be enough vaccine to go around this time? There's new information just coming out. And we're going to have the latest for you.

Also, coming up in our next hour, we will hear from the family of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin for the first time, plus new details on those frightening moments right after his fatal attack.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Zain for another look at some other important stories making news -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, Tropical Storm Florence is gaining strength over the Atlantic and could become a hurricane by the weekend.

But forecasters say it's too soon to tell if it will reach the U.S. Florence is centered east of the northern Leeward Islands and is moving north-northwest toward Bermuda. On its current track, the storm doesn't appear to pose any threat to oil and gas facilities.

It's not Florence, but a fuel cell problem that is grounding the space shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle was supposed to lift off today. The launch was delayed until tomorrow, at the earliest. When Atlantis does lift off, it's expected to deliver a major new portion of the International Space Station.

And getting flu vaccines should be a lot easier this year. The Centers for Disease Control says, more than 100 million doses are expected to be available in the U.S. That's 19 million more doses than last year. The CDC says, anyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good news for a lot of our viewers out there.



BLITZER: And thank you for that, Zain. Appreciate it.

Up next: the detainee dilemma. We are going to show you how the Bush administration arrived at its latest plan for dealing with terror suspects. And coming up in our next hour: Is Pakistan going soft on Osama bin Laden? New reports raising some serious questions about the hunt for the world's most wanted terrorist. We're going to talk about it with Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More now on our top story.

In a major change of policy, President Bush announcing plans to try top al Qaeda terror suspects previously held in secret CIA prisons -- the move comes after years of wrangling over what to do with captured terror suspects.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is joining us from New York with more -- Jeff.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the president could not have been clearer. Without the interrogation methods and detainment policies pursued by the United States for the last five years, America would likely have suffered devastating attacks.

So, why announce a series of changes and modifications of this approach? Because of what might be called collateral damage.

BUSH: To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question and, when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America and on the battlefields around the world.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): In unprecedented detail, the president today charted what was learned, who it was learned from, and, up to a point, how it was learned. And he was cryptically revealing about the methods.

BUSH: The procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.

GREENFIELD: So, why then announce that, with the transfer of 14 high-profile suspects, there were no more detainees held in CIA prisons around the world? Why announce that all detainees would have access to lawyers and would be shielded, at a minimum, by the provisions of the Geneva Convention?

One reason may be all the grief that he has taken on this whole issue. Ever since the September 11 attacks five years ago, no issue has more vexed the Bush administration than the treatment of those it has captured on and off the battlefield.

In the spring of 2004, pictures surfaced of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, pictures that all but served as recruiting posters for al Qaeda.

In June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the president's claim of all-but-limited power to designate detainees as enemy combatants and to hold them indefinitely, without recourse to courts or lawyers. In December of 2005, the president reluctantly signed on to a bill sponsored by Senators McCain and Warner and other members of both parties, defining and limiting how detainees could and could not be treated, either at the hands of the military or intelligence officers.

In June of this year, the Supreme Court held that the military commissions established by the administration as a way to try detainees were unauthorized by federal statute and violated international law.

Criticism from abroad has been almost unending. Back in May, a U.N. panel criticized the use of CIA prisons, and also called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo.

And, just today, as the president was speaking, a panel established by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists was meeting in Washington to investigate the question of terrorism and the treatment of detainees.

(on camera): But, while the president did announce some modifications of policy, his rhetoric was unapologetic, and fit right in with the case he has been making for the last week or so. Yesterday, he told us he knew better than his critics the nature and intentions of the enemy.

Today, he argued that he knew how they had to be dealt with -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jeff, thank you -- Jeff Greenfield reporting..

Still to come: public spending and secret senators. Who is now holding up a bill that would let Americans know where their tax money is going?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Will the public ever get access to a public searchable database of federal spending? Last week, the online community helped out Republican Senator Ted Stevens and Democrat Robert Byrd, who have since removed holds on the bill. But now the bill faces some new obstacles.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been following the story. She is joining us live -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, some answers to all this on this blog. This is the Web site of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who wrote last night, "My Democrat colleagues have not yet cleared this legislation."

But hold on. A few minutes later, Senator Frist was back, writing, he just heard a Republican senator has not cleared this bill.

Well, all these new developments set the bloggers who have been following all this off on the warpath again, trying to track down what the holdup was. A spokesman for co-sponsor of the bill Senator Tom Coburn says their -- their office learned that Republican Senator Ted Stevens yesterday had reinstated his hold -- no comment yet from Senator Stevens' office.

What about the other hold? Well, that was from Democrat Robert Byrd. Their office said that their hold has not been reinstated. It was taken off last week, and there it remains.

Well, back to the blog here of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who wrote that there is work that needs to be done on both sides of aisle on this legislation. He vows to bring this to the floor, holds or no holds -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.


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