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PAULA ZAHN NOW

President Bush Defends Iraq War; America's Prisons: New Breeding Ground For Islamic Extremists?; Venezuelan Leader Blasts President Bush at United Nations

Aired September 20, 2006 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush and two of the men who keep him up at night -- leaders of Iran and Venezuela joined as allies, and, at the same time, adversaries of the United States.
We begin here in New York, where many of the world's leaders have gathered to speak at the United Nations and try to solve some of the world's toughest crises.

President Bush is descending his -- defending, rather, his decision to not meet with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Bush says the Iranian leader knows the options before him, if he doesn't stop Iran's nuclear program.

And Wolf's going to be back with us in just a few minutes with more from his interview.

The Iranian president held a private meeting here in New York today. And, as we speak, he's sitting down with my colleague Anderson Cooper. Anderson is going to join us in just a little bit.

Also here in New York, two people you might not expect to see together. That's the first lady, Laura Bush, came to a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative to announce a program to bring clean drinking water to 10 million people in Africa.

The former president is tonight's exclusive guest on "LARRY KING LIVE."

In today's much-talked about speech at the U.N. itself, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez went on a tirade against President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): And the devil came here yesterday.

(APPLAUSE)

CHAVEZ: Yesterday, the devil came here, right here.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAVEZ: Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The White House, pointedly, had no comment, after President Chavez's remarks.

President Bush had a lot to say today when he sat down with Wolf Blitzer.

Hey, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Thanks very much, Soledad.

How are you doing?

O'BRIEN: I'm doing great.

Let's talk a little bit about what the president told you. First and foremost, talk about 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. Did he -- did the president talk about the -- the strategy for -- for finding Osama bin Laden?

BLITZER: Basically, he made it clear that the U.S. is going to do whatever it takes, even five years after 9/11, to find Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri, the top leaders of al Qaeda. He's not giving up.

And, then, he was really blunt. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: If you had good, actionable intelligence in Pakistan, where they were, would you give the order to kill him or capture him...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... and go into Pakistan?

BUSH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Even though the Pakistanis say that's their sovereign territory.

BUSH: Absolutely. We would -- we -- we would take the action necessary to bring them to justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Shortly after that, Soledad, the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, was asked about the U.S. crossing the border, going into the sovereign territory of Pakistan. And Musharraf was not happy at all. He said that would not be good. He said, leave it up to Pakistan. But I got to tell you, Soledad, a lot of U.S. officials right now are nervous that Pakistan is not necessarily doing everything it should.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's talk a little bit about what has been going on with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

President Bush, as you well know, Wolf, has continually refused to meet with him. Did you get a sense, in your interview today, that that might change?

BLITZER: No. He's absolutely not going to meet with him, certainly not before certain conditions are met. And there's no indication any of those conditions are about to be met.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Given the stakes involved -- a nuclear confrontation -- what do you have to lose by sitting down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

BUSH: Our position is very clear to the Iranians, that if they want to sit down with American officials, that they first must verifiably suspend their enrichment program. They know our position. The world knows our position.

BLITZER: If it would help to sit down, talk to them and try to convince them -- you know, there have been other moments where great leaders have made that major decision to have a breakthrough -- Nixon going to China, Sadat going to Jerusalem -- what -- what would be wrong to just sit down with him and tell him, you know what, here are the options before you?

BUSH: Yes, well, he knows the options before him. I've made that very clear.

Secondly, Wolf, in order for there to be effective diplomacy, you can't keep changing your word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And -- and one other point, Soledad. On this, the -- President Bush was very forceful in -- in saying that he takes Ahmadinejad at his word when he says he's ready to try to destroy Israel. And he says that's paramount, that's uppermost on his thinking, in dealing with the Iranian regime.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Iraq, Wolf. There's some new casualty figures out today: 8,000 people killed in just July and August, Iraqi civilians killed.

Did the president talk about that?

BLITZER: He tries to put a more positive picture forward, even in the face of a lot of experts, including many of our own reporters on the scene, that the situation is deteriorating rapidly.

But listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I will read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war."

Is this what the American people bought into?

BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi.

I would rather quote the people on the ground, who are very close to the situation, who live it day by day, our ambassador or General Casey. I ask this question all the time: Tell me what it's like there.

And this notion that we're in civil war is just not true, according to them. These are the people that live the issue.

I reject the notion that this country is in civil war, based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating.

I fully recognize it's still dangerous, and there's more work to do. The enemy has got the capacity to get on your TV screens by killing innocent people.

That's how I learn it. I can't learn it -- I can't -- frankly, can't learn it from your newscasts. What I have got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he was also forceful, Soledad, in expressing his full confidence in the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

O'BRIEN: All right, Wolf Blitzer for us -- Wolf, thanks.

Excellent interview with the president.

The president said: "I cannot learn it from your newscasts. I have got to learn it from people who are there on the ground."

All right. Let's get to our folks, then, who are on the ground.

Joining us this evening, Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware. He's been reporting from the region since 2001, spends lots of time outside the Green Zone. Our military analyst is retired Army Brigadier General David Grange. He was a commander in the first Gulf War in special-ops, stationed in western Iraq. And White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins us this everything as well.

Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Michael, let's begin with you.

You heard what the president had to say, which is, essentially, the good news that out there is not getting reported. Have you found that to be true on the ground where you have been?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, look, really, nothing could be further from the truth.

I mean, the fact that, when President Bush talks about those living on the ground, and he cites General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad, I mean, these are men who could not be more divorced from the Iraqi reality. They very much live within a bubble, be it physically within the Green Zone or be it within the bubble of heavy U.S. protection.

And this is true even for their advisers and for the commanders and the American soldiers. I mean, they never take the uniform off. The Iraqi people can never talk to them unless through a filter.

It's very different than living amongst them. And when people say not enough good news stories are being told, you ask an Iraqi family what it is that they're experiencing when their street -- the bodies of their neighbors are showing up on their streets. Their kids can't go to school, for fear of crossing sectarian lines. And the kidnapping and killings are just going on around them -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, Michael, you raise a good point.

So, let's get to how exactly the president does get his information. That brings us to General Grange.

You were there, General Grange. How exactly does it work? How -- who briefs the president on exactly what is happening? Or does he get a big filter?

RETIRED BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, no.

He -- he gets information from many field commanders. But, you know, it doesn't mean that a commander in a certain area in Iraq is going to get his word to the president. I mean, it's too many people involved, and it's not going to happen. And some of it probably does get filtered out.

But I also believe that a lot of good news does not get published by the news. That doesn't mean the situation is a good situation. I think, like Michael said, it's -- it's bad, and it's mainly getting worse right now because of Iran's influence, trying to do very much like they did in Lebanon in Iraq. And that's the biggest problem, and why Iran needs to be a clear message sent on Iraq, not just the nuclear problem.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, is there a sense that the generals who don't have something positive to say, General Grange, are -- are not going to be heard?

GRANGE: No. There's a difference between agreement, disagreement, and then alignment.

Usually, people get heard. I mean, I have always had that case, whether I agree or disagree.

But, at a certain point, you align with the decision that's made, the course of action that is taken. Or, if you don't like it, then you can leave the service.

(CROSSTALK)

GRANGE: But, no, there is disagreement out there.

O'BRIEN: Let's get to Suzanne. Suzanne covers the White House for us, of course.

Suzanne, you know, I'm curious. You hear the president, when he was talking to Wolf, and he basically alludes to the fact that he gets much more information than our reporters on the ground get, and that, in some ways, maybe we're missing the story.

How does that work in the briefing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the way the president is briefed is that, the first thing in the morning -- it's about 7:00 in the morning -- in the Oval Office, he has an intelligence briefing.

Sometimes, it's the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte. Sometimes, it's another official. Essentially, it's all of those intelligence agencies come up with some sort of comprehensive report that they give the president. It's followed by a national security briefing, as well, from his own adviser, Stephen Hadley.

And what the president gets, essentially, is a book. And it describes all the hot spots, analyzes the hot spots of the world, analyzes the threats. It's divided by region, by issue, sometimes. It even has answers to questions from the day before. But it does have those statistics, the casualty statistics, those that are wounded as well. It's very, very comprehensive.

And what people tell me is that they do not sugarcoat the facts when it comes to the president. They deliver him the hard news.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us, also, Michael Ware joining us from Baghdad, and General David Grange, thanks to all of you.

Lots of people are talking about the Iranian president's address to the U.N. last night.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is interviewing him as we speak. He's going to join us in just a little bit.

Also, in a few minutes, we will talk to two people who met with the Iranian president today, have some unique insights to share. And, coming up, we have got more top stories that we're following for you, including a frightening new threat to our security. It's one that thrives behind bars.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): On the CNN "Security Watch": America's prisons, the new breeding ground for violent Islamic extremists? Is anything being done about it?

And we have been warned before: Global warning would be disastrous. Now, after a summer of record-high temperatures, are the warnings finally becoming reality? -- all that and more when PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our "Top Story" coverage of the nuclear standoff with Iran continues right now.

Just a bit earlier, we heard from President Bush, standing by his decision to not meet with Iran's president at the U.N. this week. The president says Iran has to stop its uranium enrichment program first.

But, just last night, we heard Iranian President Ahmadinejad defend his country's nuclear program.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): All our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful, and under the watchful eyes of the IAEA inspectors. Why, then, are there objections to our legally recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Jim Walsh is an international security expert at MIT. "U.S. News & World Report" diplomatic correspondent is Tom Omestad. Both met with Iran's president today.

Gentlemen, nice to see you.

Tom, let's begin with you.

It's a -- was a relatively small, very intimate meeting, really, with the president of Iran. First impressions.

THOMAS OMESTAD, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, I mean, contrary to the widespread image that's -- we often see in various Western media, I mean, he comes off as a rather calm, I would say even serene, figure. So, it's a big jarring, compared to the popular image that -- that we have been led to expect. You know, he seems to have command of his material. He talks a different sort of language than -- than most Western politicians would normally talk, frequent references to religion, obviously, in particular Islam. But he moves across a variety of issues quite -- quite easily.

O'BRIEN: Jim, let me ask you a question of what you thought. There's a sense, I think, sometimes here in the U.S. that -- that he's crazy. Is that the sense you got in your relatively small meeting with him?

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Not at all.

I think there's a tendency in the U.S., when we have a leader we don't like of another country, or a leader we don't understand, we say, well, he's crazy. And that's a mistake.

If you like him, Ahmadinejad, you don't like Ahmadinejad, you have still got to know who you're dealing with. And, in this case, I think Tom is right. He came off as poised, relaxed, spoke for two hours. We had two hours with him. He's not a policy wonk. He's not a Bill Clinton. He talked in general themes.

But he's -- I saw no evidence to suggest that he's crazy at all. And I think we need to treat him seriously, if we're going to make any progress or avoid problems in the future.

O'BRIEN: Tom, was it a two-hour lecture? Was it two hours of Q&A? Was it a little bit of both? Or do you feel like he had good command of his material, he had a convincing argument?

OMESTAD: Well, he said from the outset he was looking forward to a dialogue, but, naturally, most of us are more interested in hearing from them than -- hearing from him than -- than we are speaking ourselves.

So, I mean, it had the -- it had the form of sort of a group interview. He did have command of his material. And I thought that he moved about very smoothly. I mean, he tended to offer very lengthy answers to questions that seemed to interest him. So, you know, I would say that it was -- for those expecting some sort of crazy Iranian president, he didn't deliver that image.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jim, give us some specifics. What exactly did he tell you guys?

WALSH: Well, we talked about Israel. We talked about Iraq. We talked about Afghanistan. I asked him about the nuclear issue and Israel.

But I -- I think it's fair to say, Soledad, this wasn't about policy. It was really more general things that he -- he admires the American people. He wants to have better relations with the U.S. He believes in dialogue. It was those sorts of things that filled most of the conversation.

And what's important here, I think, is not only what he may have said or didn't say, but the fact that he was having this meeting. He -- this is so different from his first visit to the U.N., which I think most people would say was not successful, maybe even a disaster.

In this case, he's trying to engage Americans. It may be part P.R., but it may also be symbolic communication, sort of a hint to American officials that Iran may be more ready to talk than they have been in the past.

O'BRIEN: Jim Walsh, Tom Omestad, thanks for talking with us, guys.

OMESTAD: Thank you.

WALSH: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Sounds like an interesting meeting. Appreciate it.

Reminder: We're going to hear more from the Iranian president tonight. At this moment, he's sitting down for an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's going to join us right after that interview is over, talk with us about that.

And then, later, on "LARRY KING LIVE," Larry gets some reaction from the former President Bill Clinton. That's coming up at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, right here on CNN.

Much more of our "Top Story" coverage coming up, but, first, Melissa Long is in our Pipeline studio with a countdown of the day's top stories on CNN.com.

Hey, Melissa. Good morning.

MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Good...

O'BRIEN: Good evening.

LONG: Good evening, Soledad.

Some 22 million people were on the Web site throughout the day today.

A lot of people were interested in the latest on the one-time suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey case. The story about John Mark Karr comes in at number 10 on the list tonight. Prosecutors in California are offering him a plea deal that would allow Karr to be freed on probation, if he pleads guilty to child porn charges.

Story number nine tonight -- at a Beijing zoo in China, a 6-year- old panda named Gu Gu bit a tourist who jumped over the fence, and apparently tried to give the animal a hug. Hmm. Authorities say the tourist had a bit too much to drink. Just how much? Apparently, four pitchers of beer at a local restaurant. And story number eight tonight: Thailand's king has endorsed the military coup that ousted the country's prime minister. That happened while the prime minister was in New York City to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. The general who seized power says he will restore civilian rule within a year. Thailand has now had 18 coups since World War II -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Melissa, thanks a lot for the updates.

LONG: Sure.

O'BRIEN: We are going to check back with you in just a few minutes.

Another world leader is generating controversy right here in New York tonight. Coming up next in our "Top Story" coverage: the man who got up at the United Nations and said, President Bush is the devil.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our "Top Story" coverage turns now to an explosive event today at the United Nations, where Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, launched a blistering, over-the-top tirade against President Bush. It was a bit of bare-knuckles diplomacy you really have to see to believe. And it left some diplomats speechless.

Here's correspondent Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An extraordinary show of belligerence on the General Assembly floor. Venezuela's president one-ups his Iranian counterpart, personally tearing into George W. Bush, who had spoken at the same spot less than 24 hours earlier.

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yesterday, the devil came here, right here, right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.

TODD: Hugo Chavez was just getting started.

CHAVEZ (through translator): The gentleman to whom I refer to as the devil came here, talking as if he owned the world.

TODD: Then came this ominous warning to President Bush.

CHAVEZ (through translator): I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare, because the rest of us are standing up.

TODD: A White House spokeswoman says, this is not worthy of a comment. The U.S. Ambassador chimes in.

JOHN BOLTON, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: We're not going to address that sort of comic-strip approach to international affairs.

TODD: But Chavez does get serious, repeating claims about an attempt to overthrow him in April 2002.

CHAVEZ (through translator): The U.S. has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela. And it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere.

TODD: We spoke with Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for western hemispheric affairs for President Bush, who was involved in a State Department investigation into those charges requested by Congress.

ROGER NORIEGA, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS: The U.S. had nothing to do that. As a matter of fact, we warned Chavez about previous coup plotting. And his reaction was generally, yes, we knew all about that. So, there's no credibility behind his statements.

TODD: What's more, Chavez's verbal onslaughts could boomerang.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, I think he made a mistake to do it. I wished he hadn't done it. You know, he -- he's not hurting us. He's just hurting himself and his country.

TODD: Hurting himself, analysts say, by undermining efforts to win Venezuela a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council, jeopardizing oil sales to the U.S.

On the assembly floor, Chavez seems unconcerned, leveling the same accusations he did in a recent exclusive interview with CNN Espanol.

CHAVEZ (through translator): The U.S. government has flagrantly violated international agreements and has denied visas to my security team and even to my doctors.

NORIEGA: He relies on Cuban doctors and Cuban bodyguards, as I understand it, perhaps because he doesn't trust his Venezuelan security forces to provide for his own security. The Cuban intelligence runs the intelligence apparatus of Venezuela today. They provide the presidential security. They run the -- the Venezuelan situation room.

TODD (on camera): And, Noriega says, Cuba sends operatives to train Venezuelan street thugs to harass Chavez's opponents. He says this is part of a strong grip that Fidel Castro has over Hugo Chavez. We pressed officials at the Venezuelan Embassy at the Cuban Interests Section for reaction to those comments. They did not respond.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: CNN Espanol senior anchor Patricia Janiot covers Latin American. She has interviewed President Chavez three times, most recently in Havana this past weekend. And she's at the CNN Center in Atlanta tonight.

Patricia, good evening to you.

PATRICIA JANIOT, SENIOR ANCHOR, CNN ESPANOL: Good evening.

O'BRIEN: You know, you heard the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. say that -- that Chavez is essentially a comic-strip character. Do you think he's crazy, or do you think this is all political posturing?

JANIOT: Well, it's his style.

In Latin America, we're used to this rhetoric from Hugo Chavez. He's bold. He's crude. He's aggressive when talking about President Bush. He doesn't play politics. He doesn't play diplomacy. As you can hear, he doesn't -- he doesn't like to be politically correct.

And, obviously, he enjoys making fun of President Bush, knowing that he's a leader that is not very popular in many parts of the world. And he knows he -- that gives him ratings.

Obviously, his message, Soledad, resonates in many parts of the world, when he talks about U.S. unilateralism, U.S. interventionism, U.S. invasion, U.S. what he called double standards. So, it's a message that sounds like music to their ears in -- especially in Third World countries.

O'BRIEN: Sometimes, it sounds as if there's this -- this race to be the leader of the -- the group of countries that -- that hate America. And -- and it's almost like a -- a campaign between Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez, and some others as well.

Do -- would you agree with that assessment? Do you think that's true?

JANIOT: Yes, especially under this government.

When I interviewed him during this weekend in Havana, I specifically asked him about, I mean, the relationship with this government. And he said that he had great relationships under the Clinton administration, and that he doesn't get along with this government, with this administration.

But he said, as soon as there is a new president in the United States, no matter if he's a liberal or a right-wing candidate, he will be the first one to raise his hand to try to mend and fix this relationship.

O'BRIEN: Patricia Janiot -- thanks for joining us, Patricia.

JANIOT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Well, if nothing else, President Chavez is good for book sales. During his U.N. speech this morning, the Venezuelan leader, you might have seen him waving around a book, said that everybody, especially Americans, need to read it.

The book is Noam Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance." At the time of his speech, that book was languishing number 160,772 on Amazon.com's ranking of top sellers. Well, we checked back a little bit ago. The book has gone right up the list. It's now at number 169. That's a big climb.

We're going to continue with our "Top Story" coverage in just a few moments.

Right now, Melissa Long has more of -- CNN.com countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: And, Soledad, we're at number seven.

A third premature baby has died after accidentally being given an adult-sized dose of a blood thinner medication. Two other premature babies died at the very same Indianapolis hospital Saturday, after overdoses of the same drug.

German scientists say they have found the earliest known skeleton of a child. The remains are just over three million years old, and were unearthed in Ethiopia.

And number five on the list tonight: NASA clearing the shuttle Atlantis for a landing tomorrow morning in Florida. Inspections have found no damage from the objects floating outside that spacecraft.

And, Soledad, set to come back to Earth tomorrow morning at 6:21 a.m., Eastern time.

O'BRIEN: I will be there to watch it, Melissa.

(LAUGHTER)

LONG: OK.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks.

LONG: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Going to check back with Melissa in just a few minutes.

Well, since 9/11, the U.N. has focused on keeping terrorists out of our country, but are we breeding Islamic radicals and possibly terrorists inside every U.S. prison?

Stay with us for another "Top Story" in the war on terror.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Continuing our top story coverage of the war on terror, a chilling new report that America's prisons are becoming a major breeding ground for Islamic terrorists. There are roughly two million people in U.S. prisons, six percent of them, we're told, are Muslim. The report is called "Out of the Shadows." It was done by George Washington University and the University of Virginia.

The report concludes this, there aren't enough legitimately trained Islamic religious leaders to counsel all those Muslim prisoners and that leaves the prisoners open to extremists, who are teaching them distorted versions of the Koran, versions that advocate radicalism and violence.

Let's turn to our top story panel. Somebody who converted to Islam while he was in prison is Imam Abu Qadir al-Amin. He's now a Muslim leader in San Francisco. Imam Mahdi Bray is the executive director of the Muslim American society "Freedom Foundation." He says the media is blowing all of this out of proportion. And Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. He says he was a member of a radical Islamic group that supplied extremist literature to prison inmates and that prisons are in fact fertile ground for recruiting terrorists. He's now a counter-terrorism consultant.

Gentlemen, thanks for talking with me, appreciate it. Let's go through what the study says in a nutshell, shall we. They say the prison population, in that prison population, there are currently attempts to lure those prisoners to radical Islam. And even worse, because of all the funding reasons, the government's doing nothing about it. Let's begin with Imam al-Amin. You were incarcerated and serving time for murder. Were you aggressively courted at time to be a terrorist, sir?

IMAM ABU QADIR AL-AMIN, SAN FRANCISCO MUSLIM LEADER: No sir, I wasn't. I became a Muslim because I saw Islam offering to me tools that would enable me to reform my life, to become better human being, and also to address conflicts that I had within my own personality that had allowed me or caused me to end up in prison in the first place. So Islam, I saw offered me the kind of disciplines to address my own actions, be accountable for my own behavior, as well as practicing the disciplines of Islam that made me a better human being.

O'BRIEN: The findings of the report say this. They say jailhouse Islam is based on this cut and paste versions of the Koran, and it incorporates violent prison culture into religious practice, and the potential for radicalization of prison inmates in the U.S. poses a threat of unknown magnitude to the national security of the U.S. Do you think it's true, even if it wasn't the case in your situation, that U.S. prisons are frankly ripe breeding ground for extremists who want to come in and preach this jailhouse Islam that they're talking about?

AL-AMIN: The information that I'm aware of, working with the California prison system, there are 30 chaplains who are hired by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. They form an organization called the Muslim American Chaplain's Association. They are actually very well trained individuals, who are committed to teaching Islam from the Koran, respecting the debt that these individuals have to pay to society, trying to prepare them to become better citizens upon their release from prison.

So I think there's perhaps a skewed study that promotes the prisons as being fertile ground for terrorism. I believe the opposite is true, that these individuals are actually trying to learn how to become better human beings, better fathers, better husbands.

O'BRIEN: Well let's turn and ask Imam Bray, who spent a lot of time inside the prison. What was your experience Imam Bray? Did you see main stream clerics inside the prison? Because the report says, actually, it's kind of left, because of funding reasons, to kind of any old volunteer who wants to come, in including extremists.

IMAM MAHDI BRAY, MUSLIM AMER. SOC. FREEDOM FOUND.: Well, you know, I think that's a problem for prison in terms of religiosity in general. But, however, I would say for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that indeed the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a well disciplined chaplainty that deals with all faiths, in terms of Imams, Rabbis, and other ministers of Christian persuasion.

So, therefore, it's quite systematic, in terms of what is being taught and what is being dealt with. I would say that the challenge always in prisons, and when it deals with religiosity, is indeed to be able to make sure that you have people who come in. Every Tom, Dick, or Harry shouldn't be able to come into a prison or jail. I think that certainly within the jail culture there aren't as much resources that would be there, because jails are very transitory, and they don't have a large budget that maybe a state Bureau of prisons would have or maybe the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

However, once again, I do conquer with the Imam that indeed the study I think is somewhat skewed, however I would say also, again that, you know, in prisons and there's always opportunities for extremism. The FBI reports that probably one of the most predatious and dangerous organizations would be the Christian Identity Movement, better known as the Aryan Brotherhood.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but you know, when you're talking about the Aryan Brotherhood, we're not talking about national security, we're not talking about homeland security, we're not talking about terrorism, to be perfectly frank. Let's turn to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. You were, frankly, somebody who used to hand out extremist literature. You worked for a charity organization that donated money to al Qaeda. Were you recruiting prisoners for specific missions or was it more vague and more general than that?

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, COUNTER-TERRORISM CONSULTANT: It was much more vague and general. At the time that I worked for the Al- Ahara (ph) Main Islamic Foundation, their goal wasn't to recruit terrorists from the prisons.

Instead, they had extremist literature, which they sent in there, literature which had information about Jihad, including a translation of the Koran that included a 22-page appendix entitled the Cult of Jihad, which was indeed an exhortation to violence. But their goal was much more ideological rather than specifically trying to recruit terrorists. However, by laying the seeds for that ideology, it allowed the kind of radicalism that could eventually cause someone to be more inclined to take part in a terrorist plot to take root in the prisons.

O'BRIEN: It certainly is a fascinating study. Gentlemen, we're out of time. I thank you for joining me.

BRAY: Can I jump in, please?

O'BRIEN: You know, honestly, you cannot because we are right out of time. But I appreciate it, and obviously it's a topic for much further debate. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross joining us. Imam Mahdi Bray and Imam Abu Qadir al-Amin. Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate it.

We're going to have much more on our top story coverage in just a few minutes. First though Melissa Long has our CNN.com countdown.

LONG: And Soledad, millions of people were interested in a story that you've covered tonight. They wanted to read about the Venezuelan president's harsh criticism of President Bush during his U.N. address.

And number three, Australia's tribute to the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. As you know, he died earlier this month when a Stingray barb pierced his chest. Thousands attended a public memorial service in Queensland and his daughter, 8-year-old Bindi, was so composed and such a perfect lady today at that memorial.

O'BRIEN: Oh, she sure was. It was absolutely heartbreaking, wasn't it to see her?

LONG: It was.

O'BRIEN: A little, little girl. All right, Melissa thanks. We're going to check back in with you in just a couple of minutes.

Tonight's top weather story isn't one single storm we're telling you about or even one single fire. It's the whole year, which is already the hottest on record. We're going to show you the effects of all of that in just a minute and we'll ask our top story panel of meteorologists what's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our top story in weather focuses on climate change, the catastrophic effects scientists have been warning us about for years. Are those warnings now coming true? It's been the hottest year on record so far, the second hottest Summer on record and already one of the worst wildfire seasons.

Take a look at this. It's a huge wildfire. It's been burning since Labor Day in California's Los Padres National Forrest. It's still only 20 percent contained. These changes may just be the beginning though. Here's meteorologist Rob Marciano.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): September air is a welcome relief for the scorched North American landscape, but the damage is done, and the numbers are in. January through August, 2006 saw the warmest average temperatures ever recorded. And this Summer was the hottest Summer since the Dust Bowl, the years in the 1930s when the central United States was plagued by drought and dust storms. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blistering heat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excessive heat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Punishing heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sweltering heat.

MARCIANO: In July an intense heat wave blistered much of the nation, breaking more than 50 all time highs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hot. It's really hot.

MARCIANO: Californians suffered the most. Out of 200 heat related deaths around the nation, 160 were in California. And if it seems like Summers have been getting warming for years now, you're right. Eight of the last ten summers have been warmer than average in the United States. But will the trend continue?

TOM KARL, NOAA: If you had to place your bets, you would place them on warmer than average temperatures and the likelihood of having record and near record summers will continue to increase.

MARCIANO: And record heat is causing record wildfires. Over eight million acres have burned in 2006, more land than Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. That's more land than has ever been burned since record keeping started. Why so hot? You may already know the answer.

KARL: We think there's very strong evidence that humans, in fact, are largely attributable. As Greenhouse Gases continue to increase, conditions like this past Summer become more frequent and more extreme.

MARCIANO (on camera): If global warming is making Summer hotter, what's happening in Winter? For a while now scientists have been concerned about the shrinking glaciers in the arctic. But they have always taken comfort in knowing that sea ice, sea water that freezes in the arctic regions during the colder months, comes back year after year. But a new NASA study shows that that sea ice is not returning like it once did.

JOSEFINO COMISO, NASA RESEARCH SCIENTIST: In the previous 25 years it was flat but in the last few years it has declined substantially. This is a very important result because it ties up with modeling predictions. We have expected the biggest signal of Greenhouse warming in the Winter period.

MARCIANO: Which means one of the last pieces to the global warming puzzle may be falling into place. And much of what climate forecasting computers said was going to happen, is starting to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: That was Rob Marciano reporting. Rob joins me, along with Jacqui Jeras, Chad Myers. Of course they're all part of the best weather team on TV.

Hey guys. Rob, let's start with you. You talked about that ice melting. Realistically how fast is it melting and how much of an impact could it have, not only in the U.S., but other countries as well?

MARCIANO: Well the biggest deal with the most recent study, Soledad, is that we found that the Winter sea ice is not refreezing, and that's just as soon as two years ago. How it affects people who live in the lower 48, well, you know, most of the world's fresh water is locked up in these Arctic ice caps. And if we warm the earth, they start to melt. Right now the average forecast for sea level rise, when these things start to melt, continue to melt, will be about two feet.

Now that's not that big of a deal. It will affect some coastal residents. But if we're at the higher end of global warming forecasts, then we could see the ice caps of Greenland and Western Antarctica melt. And that would lead to a combined sea level rise of over 40 feet. Then you're talking about Lower Manhattan, if you live in Sojo, work in the financial district, you're going to be underwater, Miami, Boston, these cities could be at risk. So we're hoping that the higher end forecast will be incorrect. We'll just have to wait and see. There's a lot we don't know.

O'BRIEN: Jacqui, let me ask you a question about the hurricanes. You and I talked a lot last hurricane season. It was so devastating. How much of a role did Global Warming play in just how bad that hurricane season was?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well there have been a number of papers in the last year where scientists are saying that Global Warming is the cause of the more intense hurricanes, those big ones like Rita, Katrina, and Wilma. However, I think the general consensus in the meteorology community is that it's not attributed directly to Global Warming and it has more to do with a cycle that we call the multi-dictatal (ph) cycle. This happens every 20 to 30 years. We see peeks of very active hurricane seasons, and then we'll see a big lull for maybe 20, 30, or 40 years.

Now we did kind of get lucky so far this year. We started a very active cycle in 1995, so we've been in it for 11 years now, and last year was just unprecedented and unbelievable intense hurricanes, but a lot of what happened last year, why the U.S. got hit so hard, had to do with the atmospheric conditions. Those winds, they were very light in the upper atmosphere and the steering pattern here, the Bermuda high in the Atlantic Ocean just drove these storms right into the Gulf of Mexico, right where those waters are very warm and very ripe and brought everything right here towards the U.S.

Now, this year, we still have that very, very warm water. But our Bermuda high has shifted eastward. We've got a blocking pattern here in the U.S. So storms are out there, Soledad. They're just going farther up to the north, away from the U.S.

O'BRIEN: Which is excellent, excellent news. Chad let me ask you a question. You know, it seems like a season of extremes. You see the fires, they are devastating, Summer near record temperatures, Hurricane Katrina, absolutely devastating, massive flooding in Spain. Everything's extreme. Is there a sense that the weather is progressively getting worse or is it just sort of, as Jacqui says about the hurricanes, just one of these cycles that we're in?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's kind of feeding on itself, Soledad. Right now we're moving into an El Nino possibly. That means more rain for southern California. Well if we've burned eight million acres of southern California, guess what, the land's going to start to move with mudslides, and so we're just feeding on, it's just one thing after another, and, Soledad, more people are now in the way than used to be in 1950. So when storms effect one region, you affect twice as many people as you used to.

O'BRIEN: Is this a tipping point. I mean, is this the moment in time where we look back and say this was when it all changed, do you think?

MYERS: If we took every car off the road tomorrow, we could save the planet no question. That's not going to happen. I think we are at the carrying capacity of the earth. It's like putting a thousand fish in a one acre pond. They're not all going to live. A lot of them are going to die. We're at the carrying capacity of what the earth can handle right now. If the earth is tipped one way or the other and we lose food source, we lose growing areas, well, we have a catastrophe on our hands. But it's not going to be maybe in our lifetime but certainly it's down the road.

O'BRIEN: It is scary, scary stuff. All right, Chad Myers, Jacqui Jeras, and Rob Marciano. Thanks guys, certainly appreciate it.

(MARKET REPORT)

Let's wrap up our CNN.com countdown. Melissa Long has got that. Hey Melissa.

LONG: Hello again Soledad. And a horrible crime is number two. Tonight a man is under arrest in the death of woman who was dragged behind a vehicle for at least half a mile in Colorado. Authorities say the suspect appeared in a photo found near the body.

Newborn Abby Woods is back with her family in Missouri, and meantime the woman accused of kidnapping that baby and assaulting her mom has been charged and is being held on $1 million bond this evening -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, no surprise that's No. 1. That was a fascinating story, wasn't in Melissa?

LONG: It was, very much so.

O'BRIEN: All right, thanks a lot. Still coming up at the top of the hour, former president Bill Clinton will join Larry King. You'll want to stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: President Bush and a host of world leaders are here in New York for the opening of the 61st U.N. General Assembly. It's our top story, but it's not the only game in town. This week also marks the second annual meeting of the Clinton global initiative. And as Mary Snow shows us, both the current and former presidents are the big attractions here in the Big Apple.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On one side of town near the UN, President Bush meets with the Palestinian president. On the other side of town, his wife teams up with an unlikely partner.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So please join me in welcoming America's first lady, Laura Bush.

SNOW: The first lady joined forces with former President Bill Clinton and his Clinton Global Initiative aimed at tackling global problems. At the UN Tuesday, President Bush took on other kinds of global problems.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

SNOW: While the current president met for formal UN meetings, the former president held meetings of his own. Both sharing the same international stage with separate missions and different styles.

JON ALTERMAN, CSIS MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR: There's a way in which President Bush leads. And says follow me. He sets out the goals. He sets out the agenda and tells people to follow. There's a way in which Bill Clinton says, let's all do this together. He's more inclusive. And gets people to feel that they are all part of one project.

SNOW: Their paths crossed just once inside the UN. President Bush introduced his predecessor to the Iraqi president. Outside the brief exchange, Presidents Clinton and Bush have kept apart with separate agendas.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think Bill Clinton is very clever and very shrewd to involve his own very interesting, non- governmental, non-profit organization meeting in New York at the same time.

SNOW: Some observers say for visiting world leaders, there are advantages to meeting with a former president and joining his fight against AIDS.

ALTERMAN: They are engaging with the United States on initiatives that are popular. And then you can sort of have it both ways. You can say I'm not giving into the Bush administration. But I'm not anti-American. And politically, that's useful for a number of leaders.

SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: That meeting continues until Friday. Coming up at the top of the hour, former president Bill Clinton is the guest on "LARRY KING LIVE," exclusively for the full hour. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: As promised, Anderson's just wrapped up his exclusive interview with the Iranian President Ahmadinejad. You can see it all in just about an hour on "A.C. 360" at 10 p.m. Eastern time. Anderson joins us though for a quick preview. Hey Anderson, what did he tell you?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well Soledad, we tried to talk about some of the discrepancies between what the Iranian president said at the U.N. and compare that to some of the facts. You know, at the U.N. he spoke about how Iran's nuclear program is in his words, transparent. He talked about IAEA inspectors. The truth is, IAEA inspectors have said it's not as transparent as they would like and they don't have all the information. So we sort of went back and forth on that a little bit.

We also talked a lot about his repeated references to the Holocaust. In fact, he implies that the Holocaust never happened. He says more research needs to be done and says that those who do try to research it in a correct way are often imprisoned. So we had a pretty interesting exchange on that. I'm not sure any minds were changed, but it's certainly an interesting look at the mindframe of the Iranian frame.

O'BRIEN: All right, well you can see the full interview on "A.C. 360" coming up at 10 p.m. Eastern. Anderson, thanks. That's it for us tonight. I'm Soledad O'Brien filling in for Paula Zahn and "LARRY KING LIVE" begins right now.

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