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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Bush Admitting United States Has Secret Overseas Prisons; One of Iraq's Top Political Leaders Suggesting Iraq Could Collapse If Bickering Political Leaders Do Not Reconcile; Mahmud Durrani Interview; Jane Harman Interview
Aired September 6, 2006 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now. A presidential admission of an open secret. President Bush confirming that men who are suspected of wishing to do America harm were held in secret CIA prisons around the world, and to get them to talk, they were given techniques that did not amount to torture, but were, in his words, very tough.
The president says some al Qaeda members are now at Guantanamo Bay to face military tribunals, and no matter how evil their anti-U.S. wishes, new Pentagon rules say they and other prisoners are not to be beaten, forced into nudity, or given electric shock treatment.
And would Osama bin Laden ever be excused for his heinous crimes if he vowed to live in peace? We'll tell you why Pakistan is calling immunity for the world's most-wanted terrorist unthinkable. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In a major change in policy, President Bush is now admitting the United States has secret overseas prisons, and he is announcing new plans for dealing with some of the top terror suspects in U.S. custody. He says many are now at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and he wants new laws clearing the way for them to face military tribunals.
Among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks as well as Ramzi bin al Shibh, dubbed a would be hijacker and Abu Zubaydah, an accused liaison between Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda cells.
All this coming as Americans are increasingly unhappy with the war on terror. A new CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation finds only 47 percent of those asked satisfied with how things were going, and that's down from a 51 percent last year, and 75 percent back in 2002.
We're covering all the latest developments for you. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is standing by with details on the new military guidelines in dealing with detainees. But let's go to the White House, our correspondent Ed Henry has word of the president's latest announcement. Ed? ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at the outset of this series of speeches, the president insisted he did not want politics to get involved, but today he released some secret information that cast him in a pretty favorable political light, fighting terrorists.
HENRY (voice-over): President Bush decided to finally acknowledge the existence of secret CIA prisons around the world just days before the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and two months before the midterm elections, revealing that 14 senior members of al Qaeda previously in CIA custody have been transferred to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay for prosecution.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT: This program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill.
HENRY: Among the 14 terrorists in custody are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Abu Zubaydah, a field commander for Osama bin Laden and Ramzi ben al Shiba, a would-be 9/11 hijacker. Amid international outrage about the so-called black prisons in Europe and elsewhere, the president insisted that techniques used on the detainees were tough but legal.
BUSH: I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world the United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it.
HENRY: And the president claimed the intelligence gleaned from the CIA program thwarted terror plots in the U.S., United Kingdom and Asia.
BUSH: If it were not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.
HENRY: But Democrats immediately asked why the president was revealing this now in part three of a series of speeches framing the seminal issue in the midterms, the war on terror. And Democrats demanded to know why it took so long for the administration to embrace the Geneva Conventions.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NY: But their bull in a china shop approach, ignore the constitution, ignore the rule of law, has made us worse off than we would have been had they gone to Congress originally. The detainees are suing. Their status is in limbo. We're worse off than we were.
HENRY: But the president insisted his move was motivated by the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision back in June which basically held that military tribunals could be used to prosecute these alleged terrorists, but only if Congress set up a legislative framework. With the clock ticking on the legislative session. The president today has now sent up legislation to the Hill and is demanding that Congress act quickly. Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the White House. Ed, thank you.
The president's announcement came as the Pentagon announced sweeping new guidelines for the treatment of detainees. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is joining us with details. Jamie?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the Pentagon has argued all along that its policies were in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, but under fire it's decided that the letter of the law is the way to go.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): After more than a year of contentious internal debate over how much to reveal to potential terrorists about American detention policy and interrogation tactics, the Pentagon has decided to make all procedures conform to the Geneva Conventions.
The new Pentagon directive says, "All detainees should be treated humanely and in the n accordance with U.S. law, the law of war, and applicable U.S. policy. And the details are spelled out in the revised Army Field Manual which Congress has made the law regarding the treatment of prisoners.
LT. GEN. JOHN KIMMON, ARMY DEP. CHIEF OF STAFF FOR INTEL: The new field manual incorporates a single standard for humane treatment as was alluded for all detainees regardless of their status under all circumstances in conjunction with all interrogation techniques that are contained within it, and there are no others.
MCINTYRE: The Pentagon considered but rejected a secret annex that would have had additional approved techniques but decided that would only cause suspicion.
MCINTYRE (on camera): Now, human rights groups are saying that the president is sending a mixed message. They applaud the Pentagon's new policies which they say generally comply with international law, but they are decrying the fact that President Bush said that the CIA can use alternate procedures which he declined to say what they were. He claimed that they were safe, tough and necessary, but human rights groups say that kind of secrecy just invites abuse. Wolf?
BLITZER: So this new army manual applies only to suspects in the custody of the U.S. Military, not in the custody of the CIA?
MCINTYRE: That's correct. The U.S. government says that doesn't mean that the CIA techniques are improper, but without knowing what they are, it's hard for anyone outside to judge. BLITZER: Jamie, thank you. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.
Also happening now on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats targeting defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once again with a no confidence resolution.
It seeks his resignation, taking a direct swipe at the Bush administration's Iraq policies. Senators have been debating it, with Republicans calling it a political stunt as they stand by Rumsfeld.
The measure won't get a vote because Republicans control the Senate, and even if it did, the resolution is nonbinding.
Is the situation in Iraq like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode? Today one of Iraq's top political leaders is suggesting that Iraq could collapse if bickering political leaders do not reconcile their differences and if the unyielding violence does not end.
Scenes of bloodshed did not end today. CNN's Michael Holmes is in Baghdad with more. Michael?
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's becoming tragically routine. More lives lost here in Iraq in just the last 48 hours, in fact, 81 bodies have been found around the capital. Thirty- four of them overnight. All of them, their hands bound, showing signs of torture, and shot in the head.
There were also bombings today. A car bomb followed by a roadside bomb in quick succession in northern Baghdad. It killed six people, wounded 46. All of them civilians. Bizarrely, it appears to have had no apparent target. The car was parked. There was no army or police nearby.
And a suicide car bomb attacked an Iraqi border police patrol 120 kilometers west of Mosul in the north of the country. That happened on Wednesday as well. Six border police were killed, and six other police wounded. Two of them critical.
To the politics now, and after calling on everyone to support the national reconciliation plan on Tuesday or Iraq would face what he called the worst possible scenario, the speaker of the parliament here, Mahmoud Mash Hadani (ph) today added that the country has just what he said three it four months to reconcile. He said we have three to four months, and if the country does not survive, the boat will sink.
MCINTYRE: Michael, thank you. Michael Holmes in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, while that Iraqi official suggests Iraq could collapse by year's end, how do Americans feel about the chances for success in Iraq? A new CNN poll asked Americans who they think is winning the war in Iraq. Twenty-five percent say the United States is winning, 12 percent say the insurgents are winning. But a majority of those polled, 62 percent say neither side is winning. Meanwhile, who might Americans vote for in midterm elections coming up? Forty percent say they're more likely to vote for the candidate who supported the Bush administration's policies.
Fifty-five percent of Americans say they're less likely to vote for that person who supported the Bush administration's policies.
Jack Cafferty is off. He will be back on Monday. Up ahead, is Pakistan now offering Osama bin Laden a safe haven? I'll ask that country's ambassador to the United States about a disturbing new report.
Also, she's the country's most famous former spy, but what exactly did Valerie Plame do over at the CIA? We'll share some new details. That's coming up.
Plus, the fighting may be over, but Israeli forces are still rooting out Hezbollah bunkers in southern Lebanon. CNN's Chris Lawrence goes along on an explosive mission you won't want to miss. Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. She's perhaps the only once covert CIA officer who has now become a household name. That would be Valerie Plame, involved in the ongoing probe of who outed her identity. A new book claiming to know exactly what kind of work she was involved in.
Our Brian Todd is joining us now with more. Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, according to this new book, the woman known as perhaps the most famous female spy in America was much more involved in the hunt for Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction than we had previously heard.
TODD (voice-over): Before the flashbulbs and fame, Valerie Plame Wilson, not just a CIA analyst or desk jockey, but reportedly a key player in a top secret operations unit.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, "HUBRIS": She was the operations chief for something called the Joint Task Force on Iraq.
TODD: That task force, according to the new book "Hubris" by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, had a crucial mission for the better part of two years beginning in 2001, to work former Iraqi scientists and other sources, launch espionage operations, gather as much intelligence as possible about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Valerie Plame Wilson, the authors say, ran many of those operations, and they write that her unit was under enormous pressure from the Bush administration.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN SECURITY ADVISER: There was no secret within the CIA that this was a top priority of the White House, of this administration, and they were pushing on all fronts to try to develop information and intelligence, reliable intelligence, on what was presumed to be Iraq's WMD capabilities.
TODD: Isikoff and Corn write that Vice President Cheney was at the forefront of that pressure, always pushing CIA analysts to find evidence. Contacted by CNN, the vice president's office would not comment on the book, but CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin, deputy CIA director at that time, said the vice president did not exert undue pressure on the agency on the WMD issue.
MCLAUGHLIN: I think the idea that the vice president was pressuring the CIA has been exaggerated. The vice president made a number of trips. He asked probing questions. Analysts answered them. That's fair game in the U.S. government.
TODD: McLaughlin says a number of CIA units were tasked to, as he says, increase the agency's reporting on Iraq, and that included weapons of mass destruction, but none of them, he says, were formed exclusively to prove that Saddam Hussein had those weapons.
The authors also say Valerie Wilson, contrary to previous reporting, had almost no role in her husband's now famous trip to Niger to find evidence of Saddam's weapons program. The Wilson's attorneys won't comment on the book, the CIA won't comment on Valerie Wilson's role at the agency. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting on that story. Thank you, Brian.
Let's check back with Zain Verjee for a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. The man known for stopping executions in Illinois has been sentenced six and a half years in prison. The former Illinois governor was convicted in April of racketeering, conspiracy, fraud and taking bribes. Before his sentencing, Ryan said people of the state expected better, and I let them down. Prosecutors had asked for an eight to 10 year sentence for the 72-year-old Republican.
Tight security today as polygamist Warren Jeffs appeared in a Utah courtroom. He is charged with facilitating rape by allegedly arranging a marriage between an underage girl and older man. Jeffs was captured last month near Las Vegas. He had been on the FBI's most wanted list since May. Today the judge said he will set a hearing on September the 19th.
And here's some extremely welcome news. The price of oil is going down. The price is now below $68 a barrel, that's the lowest price it's been in five months. Of course, that means lower prices at the pumps so good news, the average price nationwide now is $2.73 a gallon. How come? Analysts say there are a number of factors, including lower demand.
BLITZER: Going down but still very, very high, Zain. Thanks very much for that.
Coming up, new reports Pakistan perhaps going soft in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. I'll talk about it with Pakistan's ambassador of the United States. He is standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, the controversy over an upcoming network miniseries about 9/11. We're going to show you why it has some critics crying foul. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: New developments now in the Middle East conflict. Israel is saying it will end its sea and air blockade of Lebanon tomorrow. Israel initially set them up when fighting broke out to stop a flow of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. German forces will take over that duty and take up positions. Israel vacating.
The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah may be over at least for now, but Israeli forces are still on the ground in Lebanon right now rooting out Hezbollah bunkers and destroying them. CNN's Chris Lawrence was able to go along with one of those explosives missions. Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Israeli troops I spent the day with are concerned about what happens in Lebanon after they leave.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Israeli troops are on the clock. Intent on destroying what Hezbollah left behind. These are some of the last soldiers in south Lebanon. The Israeli government says it could pull them all out by the end of next week. Leaving demolition teams little time to blow up these bunkers.
LT. GABI GRABIN, GOLANI DEMOLITION UNIT: That's why we're working around the clock to find everything.
LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Gabi Grabin takes us into south Lebanon with his Golani demolition unit. They discover one Hezbollah bunker after another.
Grabin shows us how the bunkers are covered by what looks like rock and dirt, making them impossible to see from the air.
GRABIN: And the only way to find them is sending the infantry inside, going from room to room.
LAWRENCE: We follow him down to a bunker at least 50 meters long. It's so cramped you can't stand until you get to the bedroom where a bottle of Pepsi and canned food have been left behind. Grabin says fighters could have lived here for months. GRABIN: This is very deep into the ground, and this is where you could just stay inside. Even if there was bombing right above, they could stand in here.
LAWRENCE: On the other end there's a ladder, a second route back and fourth to the surface, and no more than 100 meters away, yet another bunker.
(on camera): This one contained nothing but ammunition. You can see, there are more tubes than actual mortars, meaning some of these were already able to be fired off into Israel, but more than at least 100 were just left behind, and the Israeli army has wired this entire room and it's ready to be destroyed.
(voice-over): These are just some of the weapons the IDF says it removed before we got there.
GRABIN: The fear is anything we leave here is going to be use them the minute we leave, and them be here so close using these things against us, for sure, it could be devastating consequences.
LAWRENCE: We hike another half kilometer deep into the bushes where the IDF discovers its most important and disturbing find, a rocket launcher half buried with two Katyushas still in the chamber. Hezbollah launched 4,000 of these rockets into northern Israel, destroying hundreds of homes and killing dozens of people. Now the IDF sees Hezbollah vantage points with Israeli towns just a few hundred meters away.
GRABIN: Any Hezbollah who walks around here and looks down at the homes of Israeli people, just gives you the idea of what can happen here if they're here and we're not.
LAWRENCE: The unit leaves Lebanon with that thought hoping their work and UN peacekeepers will eliminate Hezbollah's access to these weapons, but not entirely sure.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Israeli Defense Forces have pulled out of five more villages in the past two days with more withdrawals to follow. Wolf?
BLITZER: CNN's Chris Lawrence reporting from Israel. Thank you, Chris, very much. Doing some excellent work not only in Israel, but in southern Lebanon as well.
Coming up, it's a question so disturbing some say it's simply unthinkable. Would Osama bin Laden ever be given immunity for his crimes? That question comes as Pakistan strikes apparently a new deal with some pro-Taliban militants. I'll speak about all of this with the Pakistani ambassador to the United States. He is standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And how might today's announcement by President Bush concerning terror detainees play into the fall midterm election? I'll ask the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congresswoman Jane Harmon, she's standing by live as well. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Five years ago he celebrated the deaths of thousands of Americans, and even today he maintains that death wish for American blood. Yet, deep in Pakistan's mountains, might the unthinkable for Osama bin Laden can occur. Zain Verjee is joining us now with more. Zain?
VERJEE: Wolf, the most-wanted and hunted man in the world, the mind behind 9/11 getting amnesty?
VERJEE (voice-over): Osama bin Laden is thought to be holed up in the rugged mountainous tribal terrain between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A spokesperson of President Pervez Musharraf has been quoted by ABC News saying Osama bin Laden will not face capture if he agrees to lead a peaceful life. The prime minister of Pakistan rejected the report saying the official was misquoted, insisting bin Laden gets no free pass.
PRIME MINISTERS HAUKAT AZIZ, PAKISTAN: Anybody who is wanted or is a terrorist or has committed acts of terror anywhere in the world is wanted. There is no immunity for such people.
VERJEE: But the government is making deals with tribal leaders that back the Taliban. With the deal foreign residents in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan would be asked to leave Pakistan, and those who can't leave can stay if they respect laws.
HUSAIN HAQQANI, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Once you say to them, OK, all foreigners can stay once they give a guarantee that they will not engage in military or militant actions, then technically the tribes can come around tomorrow and say that applies to everyone, including Osama bin Laden.
VERJEE: Pakistani troops will stop their attacks in the region. In return, militants won't strike back in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The deal is unlikely to be effective because it applies only to a very small part of the Pakistan-Afghan border. So even if the tribes hold up their end of the bargain, there will be other parts of the border which Taliban and Al Qaeda could continue to use.
VERJEE: It's porous border, easy for anyone to slip through. A mountainous region easy to stash weapons in. It's been a source of tension between Kabul and Islamabad. President Musharraf is in Kabul meeting with President Hamid Karzai. In spite of the handshakes, both leaders have traded bitter barbs, each accusing the other of not doing enough.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: And Wolf, the White House says it's simply not true that this deal could give Bin Laden or any other Al Qaeda member a free pass, and that the Pakistani official's comments were inaccurately reported by ABC News. White House officials add that they're confident that Pakistan will keep hunting for Bin Laden -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much.
Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Mahmud Durrani. He's Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. Welcome back Mr. Ambassador.
MAHMUD ALI DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Let me read precisely the quote that ABC News attributed to Major General Shaukat Sultan, the Pakistani Army spokesman, who you say was misquoted. He is quoted as saying this: "No, as long as one is staying like a peaceful citizen, one would not be taken into custody. One has to stay like a peaceful citizen and not allowed to participate in any kind of terrorist activity." Was he referring to Osama bin Laden?
DURRANI: Absolutely not. He's not only being misquoted, he's been grossly misquoted. I have spoken to this person who was supposed to have given this statement.
BLITZER: The major general.
DURRANI: The major general last night and he told me there is no such thing. How could he have said we say and we continue to work towards that, that is the hunt for bin Laden.
BLITZER: All right, if you capture bin Laden, what would you do with him?
DURRANI: If we capture him alive, we will put him to justice. We will not leave him. There's no question.
BLITZER: Will you let -- will you send him to the United States?
DURRANI: Why not?
BLITZER: As you have other al Qaeda operatives who have been captured in Pakistan?
DURRANI: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.
BLITZER: How intense -- because a lot of people, as you know ...
DURRANI: I know.
BLITZER: ...suspect Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan right now hiding along those border regions. How intense is your search for him? DURRANI: I think it's pretty intense. We are right up to the border. We have the whole place saturated with military people, paramilitary people, with intelligence operators. We also get support from you in terms of intelligence, electronic intelligence.
BLITZER: But you don't allow U.S. forces into Pakistan to help you in that search?
DURRANI: You see, we are not Afghanistan, we are not Iraq. We have a very strong army. We don't need that help. If we needed it we would have asked you, but we really don't need it.
BLITZER: What about this deal with pro-Taliban tribes in this area that if they live peacefully, you know what? No one is going to bother them.
DURRANI: No, no. I think this deal has been misread. It is a new strategy launched by President Musharraf, and I think he's showing a great deal of flexibility in this, which I think is good. Sometimes operating just on one single channel is not good enough. You need to expand your strategy. So this is a three-pronged strategy he has.
BLITZER: Because I'll read to you what Richard Clark, a former U.S. counterterrorism adviser, told ABC News on Tuesday referring to this agreement in Waziristan. He said, "What this means is that the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership have effectively carved out a sanctuary inside Pakistan."
DURRANI: This is totally incorrect. It is preposterous that they would be allowed this. I think part of the deal, there are two, three elements which you should know. One is that there will be no cross-border movement. There will be no terrorist organizations. It will be peaceful coexisting. This is a deal we have with the tribe. And these tribal deals have been happening for decades and centuries.
BLITZER: Even though these tribes support the Taliban and al Qaeda?
DURRANI: Well, some people have supported al Qaeda other than the tribes too but, you know, now they will not support. But active terrorists will not be let off.
DURRANI: This is not meant for active terrorists, no.
BLITZER: I noticed the last time you were here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM, August 24th, you said this about the support for terrorists, for extremists in Pakistan. I want to play back what you said then. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DURRANI: I think there is zero chance of the nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the extremists. The extremists in Pakistan are a very small minority. I won't even put them in the region of two percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was a very strong statement. You said less than two percent of the people in Pakistan would support the extremists, but there was this Pew global attitude survey done in July 2006 this year, and it asked people in Pakistan if they had confidence in Osama bin Laden as a world leader. Forty-five percent in 2003 said they did have confidence in Osama bin Laden, 2005 it went up to 51 percent. Almost half of the people of Pakistan seem to, according to this Pew survey, think Osama bin Laden is a world leader.
DURRANI: Yes, with due respect, I beg to disagree with this. I said two percent is even on the upper edge, as far as I'm concerned. It's lower than this, people who are extremists and would support Osama bin Laden. There may be disillusionment, disagreements with foreign powers, maybe with the U.S., but that does not translate into supporting Osama bin Laden.
BLITZER: Bottom line is you're searching for Osama bin Laden. If you capture him, you'll give him to the United States?
DURRANI: You bet. No doubt on that.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.
DURRANI: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Mahmud Durrani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.
DURRANI: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour, he's standing by to tell us what he's working on. Hi Lou.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Wolf. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN, we'll have the very latest on the Bush administration's decision to transfer high-level terror suspects to Guantanamo Bay for trial.
Also tonight, new evidence that, candidates who support amnesty for illegal aliens are in grave danger of defeat at the polls in November. We'll have that special report. Are you listening Karl Rove? And the case of a school bus driver who allegedly forced black students to sit at the back of the bus. The driver, not fired, the community is outraged. We'll have the details.
And the National Latino Congress is taking direct aim at me and my views on this nation's border crisis. Among my guests tonight, the head of Laraza, Janet Murguia. We hope you'll be with us for all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour. Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: We'll be watching, Lou. Thank you very much.
Let's get back to our top story now. President Bush in a major policy shift saying top Al Qaeda operatives have been moved from secret CIA prisons around the world to face military tribunals at the U.S. naval base, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. U.S. Supreme Court ruled back in June that the tribunals though are unconstitutional. Mr. Bush says he will seek congressional authorization for the trials, but he also faces congressional questions about his detainee policy. Also about his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Joining us now is Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Do you give the president credit for now coming forward and acknowledging this new policy, this major change, as far as the U.S. treatment of al Qaeda detainees?
HARMAN: Well, Wolf, better late than never. He had to do this. The Supreme Court said in June that his policy is unconstitutional, but I do think the timing is suspicious. For years, many of us have been saying the international world has been saying, and many litigants in court have been saying, that his program violates the law of the Constitution.
Now on the first day of the legislative season following Labor Day in a campaign year, comes an 85-page bill and a rollout that includes talking points from the director of national intelligence, profiles of the 14 men -- heinous murderers in most cases -- who are being moved to Guantanamo, and Congress is basically being told either take this program or you're coddling terrorists.
BLITZER: Are you going to support the legislation he would like see Congress pass that would give authority for these military tribunals to take shape and to prevent certain classified information that would be used as evidence -- information that he doesn't want the terror suspects and their lawyers to have access to?
HARMAN: I'm going to review the legislation carefully, and I think everyone in Congress should. I certainly support interrogating people who are -- who have information about attacks against America so we can stop those attacks, but there are other ideas on Capitol Hill that I'm also going to consider.
And one of them is being offered by Senators Warner and McCain and Graham in the Senate, hardly rabid Democrats, and it would involve a better use of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and procedures that we've used for years.
And, by the way, on classified information, Wolf, there is a law now that protects the use of classified information in court. It's called SEPA (ph). We've used it successfully for years, so I don't buy the argument that either you deny people totally access to evidence against them or, again, are you coddling terrorists.
BLITZER: I assume you listened carefully to the president's speech today in which he openly talked about previously classified information involving these al Qaeda suspects, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others. Was there anything in there that you disagreed with in terms of the facts since you have been briefed on all this information for years?
HARMAN: Yes, well, I disagree with the timing of this rollout. I would also point out that for years, those of us who have taken an oath to protect classified information have never disclosed anything we know, and now on day one of the final two months leading up to the election, the president dumps it all out there and talks about 14 people who are, in my view, serious, heinous criminals.
So I'm not soft on any of these people, but what I'm saying is that Congress has a constitutional responsibility to protect the Constitution, to protect the laws we've passed, and to make certain that whatever process applies to these people will, in our eyes and the world's eyes, seem to be fair.
BLITZER: So what are you suggesting? The president who has the authority to declassify whatever he wants -- he can do it whenever he wants -- you are saying that he is declassifying sensitive national security information for partisan political purposes?
HARMAN: Well, I'm saying it's a bit suspicious. The timing is suspicious. He has been compelled to come to Congress because of the Supreme Court decision in Hamdan in June. He could have come to Congress right after that decision, or he might have come to Congress in July or in August, maybe, but we were out of session so, he comes now when this month, 24-7, is going to be all terror and nothing but terror.
And he is rolling out a program designed to force members of Congress in a box. Either you support an 85-page bill that expands executive power, or you are coddling terrorists. I resent that. I'm a serious legislator, and I think that Congress has a lot of good information, and we should fashion a program that carefully balances the need to interrogate people effectively, which I truly support, especially these kinds of bad guys, but, also, the need to protect our Constitution and the values on which our country was founded.
BLITZER: You are also, in addition to being a serious legislator, you are also a good politician as well. How worried are you as a Democrat that this strategy that the Bush administration, the Republican leadership unfolding now two months before these midterm elections is actually going to work as it did in 2004 and back in 2002, that the American public will say, you know what? We may not like his policies on Iraq, we may not like some of his domestic economic policies, but for five years this president has kept us safe from another 9/11. HARMAN: I think that the American people won't buy this. I do think it is important that we legislate in this area, and I do think there are some very good ideas up here, and I'm glad we're going to have a chance, or I hope we're going to have a chance and not just have to rubber stamp this 85-page bill.
But the issue of Iraq, the issue of the dangers in Iran, North Korea is very much on the mind of voters. No one is missing the fact that we are spending $8 billion a week, I think it is, on Iraq now, and that there are lives of Americans and Iraqis at risk as we speak.
This is a very -- this is a failed policy, and the administration isn't addressing that, and I think there's going to be an insistence in Congress, not just in the Democratic Party, to debate the equities of Iraq, and the president is not going to be able to change the subject.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Jane Harman is the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. Congresswoman, always good to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.
HARMAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.
Still to come, a TV miniseries about 9/11 comes in for some strong criticism even before it makes air. We're going to tell you who is upset and why. Also, the crocodile hunter's father and his moment of grief. Steve Irwin's dad is talking for the first time about his son's horrible death by stingray. Stay with us.
BLITZER: This week ABC plans to begin airing a two-part miniseries on 9/11. The program is entitled "The Path to 9/11" and it's receiving some very harsh criticism over its accuracy from democrats, liberal bloggers and former White House officials. Our internet reporter Jacki Schechner has details. Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, ABC calls "The Path to 9/11" a dramatization based on the 9/11 commission report and other sources. But liberal bloggers, liberal watchdog groups and even some Clinton White House administrators are calling the film inaccurate. Some House democrats have even sent a letter to the Walt Disney Company, ABC's parent company, asking them to review and revise the program before it airs.
Now, many of the critics have not seen the film and we should note neither have we, although we have asked for a copy. But many are honing in a scene that allegedly shows Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, appearing to refuse an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Mr. Berger has written a letter to ABC as well, and he calls the scene a complete fabrication.
Now, as for ABC, they have a full Web site dedicated to the show, and on the blog the writer and the director of the film are denying any allegation that they are pushing a "right wing agenda." Conservative bloggers think that liberals are unfairly attacking ABC.
Now, we posed many questions to ABC today and they were only able to get us a limited response by air time, but they said in a statement that the events leading up to 9/11 spark debate. It's not unusual to expect that the film would spark debate as well. They also noted that the miniseries is going to come with a disclaimer that says it is a dramatization Wolf and not a documentary.
BLITZER: The irony, Jacki, is that all the controversy, presumably, going to push up the ratings for that miniseries. Jacki thank you.
Up ahead, job pressures. Is the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, being pressured to quit? Reports suggest exactly that. One newspaper, in fact, saying it even knows when Mr. Blair will leave. And it's a reality almost too painful for a father to bear. Crocodile hunter Steve Irwin's dad is talking about his son's death by stingray for the first time. Stay with us.
BLITZER: A story coming in to CNN, let's check back with Zain for details. Zain?
VERJEE: Wolf, the Associated Press is reporting that NASA has postponed the Thursday launch of space shuttle "Atlantis" until at least Friday. It postponed it also today because of a problem it said with the power systems on board. The next opportunity was to be tomorrow. Now they're saying its Friday. If Atlantis does finally take off, it would be the first construction mission of the international space station since 2003 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thank you.
We're hearing for the first time now from the family of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, who was killed by a stingray Monday. And those who were there are also speaking out about the first emotional moments after the attack. CNN's Fredricka Whitfield has details. Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, John Stainton was Irwin's long time manager and producer. He was also a close friend and was with Irwin the day he died. On CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE", he gave his first detailed account of what happened.
JOHN STAINTON, IRWIN'S MANAGER: I know that we spent the next 50 minutes or more on CPR trying to keep him alive. There was a voice there from a researcher who was on board saying keep pumping boys, keep pumping. We know if you can do it, you can keep going, we'll keep him alive, we'll get him help.
In the meantime, we rung our emergency number here to get the medevac helicopter in. Unfortunately, the only spot that they could land was an island which was probably 20, 30 minutes steaming away from where were on the reef. So we had to make a high tale dash now, but, to get to this island to meet the helicopter. So, it was a pretty desperate time and a horrible event to do and live through.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: No sign of consciousness at all, John?
STAINTON: Larry, in my heart I think he was dead -- I think he was dead when he was in the -- I'm sorry.
KING: It's all right.
STAINTON: I don't think he was alive. I'm sorry.
WHITFIELD (voice-over): Many Australians share the grief over Steve Irwin's death. The makeshift memorial outside the Australia Zoo where Irwin was director is growing daily. Irwin's father saw it up close today as he made the family's first public remarks on Irwin's death.
BOB IRWIN, STEVE IRWIN'S FATHER: Steve knew the risks involved with the type of work he was doing, and he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
WHITFIELD: Bob Irwin says the family is declining Queensland official's offer of a state funeral.
IRWIN: The state funeral would be refused. Because he's an ordinary guy, and he wants to be remembered as an ordinary brood.
WHITFIELD: Bob Irwin says he has never known anyone else with a personality like his son's. And while that's what the crocodile hunter's fans will remember, this grieving father says he'll remember something else.
IRWIN: Steve and I we weren't like father and son. We never were. We were good mates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you like him to be remembered?
IRWIN: I'll remember Steve as my best mate ever.
WHITFIELD: Irwin's father says his son's wife and children are holding up well given the circumstances. Still, no word on funeral arrangements -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield, thank you very much, very sad story. Up next, new reports the British Prime Minister Tony Blair may soon be stepping down. Our internet reporters are following the story on-line. Stay with us.
BLITZER: British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he will not run again, but there's new pressure from his own Labour Party to resign and to do it sooner rather than later. The British newspapers, many of them available online, are even reporting when. Our internet reporter Abbi Tatton standing by with details. Abby? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, one newspaper "The Sun" the most widely circulated newspaper in the United Kingdom has set a date, it's reporting May 31st, 2007 for Blair to step down. Staying that he will actually leave eight weeks after that, after a successor is chosen. That successor widely presumed to be Chancellor of Exchequer, Gordon Brown.
Now no comment or confirmation from the prime minister on this today, on a day when the media in Britain are having a feeding frenzy over when Blair will leave, fueled by resignations and criticisms from within Tony Blair's own party, the Labour Party. Some of those members of parliament featured there on the front of "The Independent." "The Daily Mirror" newspapers asking readers today, should he stay or should he go -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And some members of his own party continuing to call him Bush's poodle. We'll continue to watch this story. Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. eastern. Back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Let's go to New York, Lou Dobbs standing by. Hi Lou.
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