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THE SITUATION ROOM
Senator Gordon Smith Denounces Iraq War Policy
Aired December 8, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, thank you very much. 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 tonight's top stories.
Happening now -- a powerful new denunciation of the president's Iraq policy from a fellow Republican. Senator Gordon Smith calls the current course absurd and maybe even criminal. Tonight Mr. Bush's still growing Iraq problem and what he'll do next.
Also this hour, classic Rumsfeld, the defense secretary goes out the way he came in with a sharp tongue and without any apologies. You'll want to see his farewell to his employees over at the Pentagon.
And Jimmy Carter under attack, serious attack, a critic accusing the former president of the United States of distorting history. At issue, Jimmy Carter's new book and his credibility.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
First tonight a new political punch in the gut of a president more battered and bruised than ever over Iraq. It comes from a Republican senator who had supported the war, but now Gordon Smith of Oregon is publicly blasting the president's Iraq policy in very harsh and emotional terms, and even questioning whether it's a crime. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has more on Smith's dramatic about-face.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from the beginning of the Iraq war to now, the president has been able to rely on a fairly broad base of Republican lawmakers. He can't anymore.
CROWLEY (voice-over): The Republican senator from Oregon describes himself as quiet supporter of the Iraq war. He is neither any longer.
SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: And I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal.
CROWLEY: Et tu Gordon Smith.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator from Oregon.
CROWLEY: It happened quietly in the early evening just before the year-end recess, Smith who has a reputation for bringing passion to the Senate floor brought that in an unblinking brutal assessment about the situation on the ground, pre-war intelligence and the president.
SMITH: I believe him to have a stubborn backbone. He is not guilty of perfidy but I do believe he is guilty of believing bad intelligence and giving us the same.
CROWLEY: It is the first defection from what has been a reliable roster of Republicans supporting the Iraq war.
SMITH: I tried to be a good soldier in this chamber. I've tried to support our president, believing at the time that we had been given good intelligence.
CROWLEY: He is unlikely to be the last political soldier doing an about-face.
STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: Now that the midterms are over, now that the study group report is out, I think we're increasingly going to see what Republicans really think about the conduct of the war.
CROWLEY: And within a day of Smith's speech, it became a Democratic bullet point, advantaging what is a blow from the base of a president already under intense pressure. A war-weary public, a newly strengthened Democratic Party and a damming report from a panel full of marquee names, but there is the politics of the situation...
CROWLEY: ... and there is the reality.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a lame duck president and while that means he doesn't have a lot of power any more or his power reduced. It also means that the impact on him, the influence on him that people can have is frankly little.
CROWLEY: Aides say at least a dozen of the senator's Republican colleagues have approached him with positive responses, including they say, one extremely conservative senator who told Smith, that's how I feel.
CROWLEY: Smith is still looking at the Iraq Study Group recommendations, but he says it seems to call for cut and walk. I'd rather do it quicker than later, says Smith, but either way, it won't be pretty. Wolf?
BLITZER: Candy Crowley, a powerful story. Thank you very much.
On Capitol Hill tonight, a top Senate Democrat and war critic is applauding Senator Smith's decision to speak out against the president, and his Iraq policy. I spoke with the incoming Majority Whip Dick Durbin here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: Let me say something about Gordon Smith, my Republican colleague from Oregon. He is widely respected. He's a thoughtful man. He's an independent thinker. I know that what he read on the Senate floor is something he personally wrote. I actually went up to him ahead of time. I didn't know the topic of his speech and I saw that he had written it out in his own hand. It came from the heart.
And when he says that he believes this must come to an end, I know it's heartfelt and when he says that it's gone beyond limit of making a bad policy decision, I think he's right. You know we thought that perhaps the 3,000th soldier, American soldier to die in Iraq wouldn't occur until after January 1, but at the pace that we're losing American soldiers in December, sadly, it may happen sooner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: At the White House tonight President Bush is wrapping up a week. It's clearly dominated by his Iraq problems and a bipartisan panel's rebuke of his policy. And he scheduled a new series of Iraq strategy sessions in the immediate days ahead.
Let's turn to our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Republican Senator Gordon Smith's speech is a stark reminder for this president that he can no longer count on our take for granted Republican support for this war and also come January Republicans will not be in charge of Congress. So a president who for the first six years of his administration paid little attention to Congress all of a sudden is doing a lot of outreach.
It was more consultation today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in to talk to the president about the way forward in Iraq, but when you listen closely to the president's words, he's really speaking in generalities about the Iraq Study Group's report. He really will not be pinned down on specifics, what potential changes he may make. And when you listen closely to the words of his spokesman, Tony Snow, he's also making clear that while the president is reaching out while he's listening, in the end he's going to do what he wants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about Iraq. And we talked about the need for a new way forward in Iraq, and we talked about the need to work together on this important subject.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the president's going to do is what you would expect a commander in chief to do, which is to take a careful and thoughtful look at the report. And as you know, there are other recommendations and suggestions and analyses coming his way in the very near future. And it's his job, and people around the table understand this to try to come up with the best complex of policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Now those other reports that Tony Snow is referring to, of course the Defense Department, State Department as well as the National Security Council here at the White House conducting separate internal reviews of Iraq policy. The president right now in listening mode, as they say -- he's going to have listening sessions next week, Monday at the State Department, Tuesday a secure video conferences here at the White House talking to military commanders in field. Wednesday he'll be at the Pentagon talking to top officials there.
The bottom line is the president is preparing a speech likely to come by the end of the month where he will finally lay out his changes on his Iraq policy. Wolf?
BLITZER: And maybe even before Christmas that speech. Thanks, Ed Henry reporting for us.
Gordon Smith a powerful, powerful speech, sounding very much like a Democratic critic John Murtha. We're going to continue to follow this story for you.
A brand new CNN poll shows President Bush's job approval rating remains stuck below 40 percent as he faces intense new pressure to change his approach in Iraq. Thirty-seven percent of Americans now say they approve of the way Mr. Bush is doing his job. That's a point lower than his approval rating in our survey late November.
A new Associated Press/Ipsos poll puts Mr. Bush's approval rating down at 33 percent and it shows his approval rating on Iraq is at an all-time low. Only 27 percent approve of the way he's handling the situation in Iraq. Seventy-one percent disapprove.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the grim search for bodies goes on. Seems each day people are kidnapped, tortured and then killed and dumped. Our Nic Robertson joins us from Baghdad with more on this. Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, every day we get grim statistics from the police about bodies found around the city, dozens of them to strewn throughout the city, many of them shot in the head, shot in the chest. Had their hands bound, eyes blindfolded, many showed signs of torture, the results of sectarian killings, we're told. Today we got a rare opportunity to get out with the police and see how they deal with this problem.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): On Iraq's rivers, a grim duty, searching for bodies. Baghdad's fable (ph) Tigris River has become a dumping ground for the sectarian death squads stalking the city streets.
SAMIR FATAH, POLICE DRIVER (through translator): One day we recovered 70 bodies. They had been kidnapped and killed by terrorists.
ROBERTSON: as the killings have escalated, the river police are getting busier.
MUSHTAQ AQEEL, POLICE DRIVER (through translator): Most of my job is looking for bodies. Because of the situation, we have no other work now.
ROBERTSON: Each day patrols go out. Each day they say they find at least six or seven bodies, although none of this training mission.
(on camera): The police patrol about 100 kilometers about 60 mimes of the river here. They say there are some places it's so dangerous when they go there, they need to take six patrol boats.
(voice-over): Police divers (inaudible) joined the force together 12 years ago. They trained for life saving. Now young recruits are taught how to recover the dead.
FATAH (through translator): Most of the bodies we recover, their hands are tied and they've been riddled with bullets. Most have been killed intentionally.
ROBERTSON: As the daily sectarian killings have grown to 40, 50, sometimes more than 60 so far this year, it has become routine for relatives missing loved ones to come to the river and search. Fatah and Aqeel recently returned from training in the U.S. Their patrol boats and equipment are U.S. supplied, part of the beef up of Iraqi security forces. Both are happy for the support. Both feel powerless to stop the killings.
AQEEL (through translator): My job affects me psychologically because I live other people's grief, people who have lost a brother, a father. I live moments of tragedy, not happy moments.
ROBERTSON: On the Tigris River, as in the rest of Iraq, there is no doubt plain sailing is not in their future.
ROBERTSON: Little hope for an end to the sectarian killings, and it is these killings that are beginning to change the sectarian map in Baghdad as the insurgents and militias move in to communities and try and force out the opposing community. People who have are being forced to move their areas, changing the face of Baghdad. Wolf?
BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad for us. Thank you. Jack Cafferty is off today. He'll be back next week.
Coming up tonight, Donald Rumsfeld's long good-bye -- hear what he has to say about the war in Iraq and his worst day.
Negligent Republicans who did nothing wrong, that's the interesting twist to a Capitol Hill sex scandal. It includes some shocking never seen before instant messages that range from racy to raunchy. Also, Jimmy Carter and some tough criticism from a former colleague. Find out why the former president of the United States' credibility is now being questioned.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Mark Foley's congressional page scandal was one of the nails in coffin of the Republicans' hold on power on Capitol Hill, but now an ethics panel says GOP leaders did not violate rules in their handling of Foley's sexually charged computer messages, but they were still negligent. The report contains more startling examples of Foley's online contacts with teenage boys. We're going to show you some of them online in just a moment.
First, though, let's turn to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the House Ethics Committee made clear today that lawmakers failed to protect 16- year-old pages in their care from Mark Foley's behavior, yet there will be no sanctions, no censure, no punishment, just some harsh criticism.
BASH (voice-over): Republican lawmakers and aides were willfully ignorant about Mark Foley's inappropriate conduct with young male pages. That's the conclusion of an exhaustive two-month House investigation into the pre-election scandal that rocked Washington. Yet the House Ethics Committee determined no one broke any rules, so no one will be reprimanded.
REP. DOC HASTINGS (R), ETHICS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: 20/20 hindsight is easy and we recognize that doing the right thing in a sensitive situation can be very hard and difficult.
BASH: The committee found the weight of evidence shows House Speaker Dennis Hastert was told last spring about a questionable Foley e-mail long before it became public, even though Hastert testified he did not remember. But House investigators concluded no one knew about sexually explicit instant messages like this where Foley asked a former page, do I make you horny?
No punishment for anyone, despite the tales taken from sworn testimony of aides witnessing questionable Foley behavior with teenage pages. The subcommittee observed a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Representative Foley's conduct, the report said. Former House clerk Jeff Trandahl testified he warned the head of the Page Board last year Foley was a quote, "ticking time bomb" and said he'd been concerned about Foley's behavior since 1995 when he came to Congress and even confronted him some 10 times.
Here you had a closeted gay guy who was putting himself in a situation of being one on one with young people, Trandahl said. The report is especially tough on the House speaker's top aides for not taking action despite warnings from Trandahl and former top Foley aide Kirk Fordham. It concludes the weight of the evidence shows Fordham did talk to Hastert Chief of Staff Scott Palmer about Foley's behavior three or four years ago and that Palmer did confront Foley.
KIRK FORDHAM, FORMER FOLEY AIDE: I'm not looking to gloat or you know, point fingers today. I think the report points out where the breakdown has occurred. I think there are some people that are going to look back and wish they had acted differently.
BASH: Now during the height of the Foley scandal in the fall, Republicans said that Democrats actually knew about it, even tried to spread the word of the Foley e-mails and this report Wolf, concludes that Republicans were right about that. They say that in the spring -- excuse me -- November of 2005, Matthew Miller (ph), who was a leadership aide for the Democrats in the House got the e-mail, gave it to Democratic Campaign Committee with the sole purpose of trying to leak to reporters.
BLITZER: Dana Bash, I don't think this story is completely done yet.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. There are still investigations, federal as well as state in Florida. We'll watch this saga. That House Ethics Committee report includes some extremely sexually explicit instant messages and e-mail Foley exchanged with former pages.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's 104 pages of instant messages, probably the most comprehensive collection we've seen of these so far and we're talking about Mark Foley, who was chatting online with former congressional pages saying things like thanks for the photos. You're very handsome. You're a stud.
There's also e-mails here where he gets a little more graphic. He talks about taking a shower. He says could we shower together? And the former page says, yes. There's also another one here where he says, OK, ILY and the hit asks what is that and he says I love you. There's also another one where the former page says he's coming to town and he says I have been anxious to see you for months, me too. Maybe we could meet at the airport.
Now all of these are online. It's part of the House Ethics Committee report. You can read them for yourself. Again, I told you, it's 104 pages of instant messages, some of them are very explicit, very graphic. You can use your own discretion to take a look through these. We've showed you some of the tamer ones here. You can also go to CNN.com, forward slash, ticker, where we put up some easy links -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There's a limit to what we can put on the air on this program. Thanks very much for that Jacki.
Still to come tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, defending himself against a former colleague's harsh criticism. He's accusing Carter of inaccuracies and worse in his new book about the Middle East conflict.
And Santa's helpers become the worst nightmare of speeders. Is it amusing or is it an appropriate slap to the Christmas spirit? Jeanne Moos will tell us. Stay with us.
BLITZER: There she is, Carol Costello. She's got a quick look at some other important stories making news. Hi, Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I do. Hello Wolf. Hello to all of you. An Illinois man who allegedly wanted to wage a violent Jihad appeared in court today. Federal prosecutors say Derek Sharif (ph) plotted to set off grenades at a Rockford shopping mall during the holiday shopping rush. Sharif (ph) was arrested on Wednesday. The FBI says he met with an undercover agent to try to trade stereo speakers for hand grenades. Authorities say the public was not in any eminent danger.
An E. coli outbreak may be spreading. Officials say more than 120 people in six states could now be infected with the bacteria strain. Health authorities say most of the reported cases involve people who ate at Taco Bell restaurants but they haven't pinpointed the exact source of the outbreak. Two people have now filed lawsuits against the fast-food chain.
And actor Wesley Snipes said he is looking forward to clearing his name but oh, boy, is he in trouble. He surrendered to authorities on federal tax evasion charges. Snipes entered a not guilty plea today before a federal magistrate in Florida. He posted a $1-million bond that allows him to return to Africa where he's filming a movie. If convicted of all of these charges, Snipes could face 16 years in prison. Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.
Just ahead, criticizing President Jimmy Carter, a longtime colleague, protests Jimmy Carter's latest book. We'll explore the controversy over the book entitled "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid".
And later, a few chuckles and a catch in the throat. The outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bids farewell to his colleagues over at the Pentagon.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information arrive all the time. Happening now -- senior administration officials telling CNN six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear program will resume one week from tomorrow. The officials say expect an official announcement from Beijing this weekend.
Also, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying good-bye to his Pentagon workers in his final town hall meeting, speaking very frankly and making absolutely no apologies for the war that cost him his job.
And House Speaker Dennis Hastert also saying good-bye as Democrats take -- prepare to take control of the United States Congress. He got a standing ovation. He said he expects his successor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, will bring honor to the House and serve, and I'm quoting now "with skill and grace."
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Former President Jimmy Carter is responding to the controversy flaring over his new best-seller on the Middle East. A longtime associate has resigned in protest calling the book one-sided and inflammatory. Carter says he's not anti-Israel. He's simply trying to spur the peace process forward.
Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this controversy unfold -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the former president has said he wanted his new book to be provocative. He got his wish and then some.
TODD (voice-over): A former president now stands accused of taking sides by some of those who worked closest with him on Middle East peace. Among Jimmy Carter's critics, Emory University Professor Ken Stein, who just resigned as a Carter Center Fellow. He tells CNN Carter's new book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid" distorts history.
KENNETH STEIN, RESIGNED FROM CARTER CENTER: I don't believe that a former president of the United States has special privilege of prerogative to write history and perhaps invent it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your problem with this title, "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid."
STEIN: There's too much emotion in the Arab/Israel conflict already and I think this adds heat rather than light. When you use the word apartheid what you're doing is you're saying that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the territories is equivalent to what happened to the blacks in South Africa.
TODD: President Carter claims he's not insinuating THAT Israel is perpetrating racial apartheid, but...
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territories belonging to the Palestinians. TODD: As for the inaccuracies Stein alleges are in the book most deal with dates or events. Carter says he fact-checked the book with prominent Middle East journalist and an Emory University history professor who also works at the Carter Center, but Stein also suggests Carter took material without attribution.
STEIN: Two of the maps -- two of the maps that appear on page 148 of the book are very similar, are incredibly similar, to two maps that appeared in Dennis Ross' memoir "The Missing Piece."
TODD: But Stein is clear -- he is not accusing Jimmy Carter of plagiarism. As for the former president...
CARTER: My maps came from an atlas that is publicly available.
TODD: We tried to contact the firm that Carter says he got those maps from, the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem to see if they got them from Dennis Ross. We were unable to reach that company. A spokeswoman for President Carter's publisher, Simon & Schuster, says they are tracking these accusations but they stand by the president's book -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, thank you for that. And this note -- we invited President Carter to come back here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He could not today. We hope he'll join us in the coming days.
And as Brian Todd just mentioned, Professor Stein suggests the former president's book contains several maps that are extremely similar to those in a memoir by a top veteran of Middle East diplomacy.
BLITZER: And joining us now is Dennis Ross, he's the former chief U.S. Middle East negotiator; he's the author of "The Missing Peace, The inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace," an important, important book on the subject.
Dennis, thanks very much for coming in.
DENNIS ROSS, AUTHOR, "THE MISSING PEACE": Nice to be here.
BLITZER: So who is right, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, or Ken Stein who worked with him for a long time, a man you know quite well?
ROSS: Well, look, I'm not going to get into a debate over who is right, other than to say that in terms of what I have seen from the book -- and I have to be clear, I haven't read the book, but I looked at the maps.
BLITZER: You haven't read "Palestine Peace not Apartheid"?
ROSS: I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I looked at the maps and the maps he uses are maps that are drawn basically from my book. There's no other way they could -- even if he says they come from another place they came originally from my book because...
BLITZER: We're going to put them up on the screen on the wall behind you. But the whole notion -- what's the big deal if he lifted maps from your book and put them in his book?
ROSS: You know, the attribution issue is one thing, the fact that he's labeled them as an Israeli interpretation of the Clinton idea is just simply wrong. The maps were maps that I created because at Camp David and then with the Clinton ideas, we never presented maps, but we presented percentages of withdrawal and we presented as well criteria for how to draw the lines.
So after I left the government, when I wrote this book, I actually commissioned a mapmaker to take those and produce them for the first time.
BLITZER: And then he put virtually the same map in his book without saying this came from you. I want you to listen to what he said specifically about this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I've never seen Dennis Ross' book. I'm not knocking it, I'm sure it's a very good book, but my maps came from an atlas that's publicly available. And I think it's the most authentic map that you can get.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, you heard his explanation how -- but you say your maps wound up in his book.
ROSS: Well, the reality is the place he got it from had to get it from mine. I published it before, number one. Number two, you would think that if you wanted to write about the facts of what went on, you would go to a book where a participant actually wrote them and then developed the maps in light of what we had put on the table.
Now, again, if the purpose is to say, you're presenting facts, then you should present facts. To say that his map is an Israeli interpretation of the Clinton ideas is simply not true. These were the Clinton ideas. If he were to say that...
BLITZER: On that point, he's told me that he understands better what happened at Camp David, where you were one of the principal negotiators, than the former president himself. I want you to listen to this exchange that we had the other day, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program, because he did a great and heroic effort there. He never made a proposal that was accepted by Barak or Arafat. BLITZER: Why would he write that in his book if he said Barak accepted and Arafat rejected it?
CARTER: I don't know. I don't know. You can check with all the records, Barak never did accept it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSS: That's simply not so.
BLITZER: Well, who is right, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton on this question which is so relevant as to whether or not the Israelis at Camp David at the end of the Bill Clinton administration accepted the proposals the U.S. put forward?
ROSS: The answer is President Clinton. The Israelis said yes to this twice, first at Camp David. There were a set of proposals that were put on the table that they accepted. And then were the Clinton parameters, the Clinton ideas which were presented in December, their government, meaning the cabinet, actually voted it.
You can go back and check it, December 27th the year 2000, the cabinet voted to approve the Clinton proposal, the Clinton ideas. So this is -- this is a matter of record. This is not a matter of interpretation.
BLITZER: So you're saying Jimmy Carter is flat wrong.
ROSS: On this issue, he's wrong. On the issue of presenting his map as an Israeli interpretation of the Clinton ideas, that's simply not so.
BLITZER: What about this issue that is part of the title of his book that Israel in effect has created an apartheid on the West Bank in the Palestinian territories?
ROSS: You know, obviously, I disagree with that. You know I would -- as a general point, Wolf, I would say everybody's entitled to their own opinion. They are not entitled to their own facts.
One of the reasons I wrote this book was to lay out what had actually happened. We live in a world, especially in the Middle East, where part of the reason we have a conflict is because we have mythologies and you can't reconcile the mythologies. You want to make peace, you have to reconcile to reality.
BLITZER: The -- and when I interviewed him, he said he hopes this book does spark a serious debate.
Earlier today, though, he says that U.S. politicians, the news media are intimidated by the Israel lobby in the United States and they really don't speak out forcefully on the Palestinian question. Listen precisely to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARTER: There's a tremendous intimidation in this country that has silenced our people, and it's not just individuals, it's not just folks that are running for office. It's the news media as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you say to that charge. It's a very serious charge.
ROSS: Well, has it silenced him at this point or did it silence him up until now? Are we to presume that everything he has said up until today was a function of intimidation and now he's not intimidated?
BLITZER: So your bottom line on his book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid," because it is sparking a lot of controversy out there.
ROSS: Look, my bottom line is if you put something in here that I can see without question is not what the reality was, not what the fact was, that is in a sense, helping to promote a mythology, not a fact. I can -- look, we have to understand a certain history here. President Carter made a major contribution to peace in the Middle East. That's the reality.
BLITZER: In 1978 and '79, the Camp David Accords.
ROSS: Yes, and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, there's no question about that. I would like him to meet the same standard that he applied then to what he's doing now.
BLITZER: Dennis Ross, thanks very much for coming in.
ROSS: You're welcome.
BLITZER: And this footnote, the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh today vowed his Hamas-led government will never recognize Israel, and will fight for Jerusalem. He spoke in Tehran, Iran, telling a crowd he'll resist all U.S. pressure to moderate.
Still ahead tonight, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld outspoken, emotional and unapologetic as he says good-bye to Pentagon workers. You're going to want to hear what he has to say about the war in Iraq.
Plus, stunning beauty, but at what price? We'll show you the real story behind blood diamonds. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It was candid and emotional: the outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying good-bye to Pentagon employees in a Town Hall meeting today. He spoke of both his highs and lows and the troubled war that led to his resignation. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has the story.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rumsfeld's former farewell will be a week from today complete with all the military honors one would expect. But today was his chance to say good-bye to Pentagon employees and for them to say good-bye to him.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): Donald Rumsfeld's final Pentagon town hall meeting was sprinkled with some classic Rumsfeldian moments.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Secretary, how do you want history to remember you?
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: My goodness. Better than the local press.
MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld was greeted with a standing ovation as he entered the Pentagon auditorium for his swan song and he exits the stage unbowed and unapologetic for what critics say were serious missteps and misjudgments, particularly about Iraq.
RUMSFELD: I wish I could say everything we've done here has gone perfectly, but that's not how life works regrettably.
MCINTYRE: The briefingest defense secretary ever with more than 600 media appearances. And despite his frequent complaints about news coverage, he tossed a bouquet to the press corps on his way out.
RUMSFELD: As a group, they may well be year to year the most professional press corps in the Washington, D.C. area. Now, considering the competition -- I'll leave it to you to determine exactly what kind of a compliment that is.
MCINTYRE: Regrets, he has a few.
RUMSFELD: You know, clearly the worst day was Abu Ghraib, and seeing that, what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened. And -- I guess my best day, I don't know, may be a week from Monday.
MCINTYRE: That's when Robert Gates takes over and Rumsfeld retire, perhaps to write a book.
RUMSFELD: I have never written a book. I always thought I was too young to write a book. I can't use that anymore.
I might. I might. I'll have to think about it.
MCINTYRE: He wrapped up his hour-long session with an impassioned plea not to throw in the towel on Iraq and warning that pulling out U.S. troops precipitously would be a terrible mistake opinion.
RUMSFELD: But by golly, something important isn't easy. And this isn't easy. And by golly, it's important. And we better do it right.
MCINTYRE: When he leaves office, Rumsfeld will be about two weeks shy of being the longest serving defense secretary ever. A distinction that will remain with Robert McNamara, who like Rumsfeld, also left office after presiding over an increasingly unpopular war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much for that.
Our special correspondent Frank Sesno is here. I know you spent a lot of time with Rumsfeld. You did that excellent documentary for CNN Presents, but this is a crushing, crushing blow not only for Rumsfeld but for the president.
FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rumsfeld is not a guy who fails. I mean, his whole career is peppered with successes. And that's why this day was such a remarkable day. But this week turned on the Baker-Hamilton report, this Iraq study group. There was a lot more than 79 recommendations, Wolf.
In many way I think it was a sweeping repudiation of what the Bush presidency stands for.
BUSH: I will take very seriously. And we will act on it in a timely fashion.
SESNO: Little wonder the president is keeping his distance from the Iraq report, it's a buzzsaw right through his presidency. On the line and between the lines, it disputes just about everything he's fought and stood for in foreign policy.
In Iraq it says things are grave and deteriorating.
But it goes much deeper. The report effectively says the driving neoconservative belief that America can bring democracy to the Mideast through the projection of raw power was just wrong. "The ability of the United States," the authors write, "to influence events inside Iraq is diminishing."
And by saying the war hasn't worked, the report all but says the Rumsfeld doctrine hasn't worked, a cornerstone in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Rumsfeld approach was fewer trips a smaller footprint, get in and out fast and when things bogged down, stay the course.
But the facts on the ground are dire, the report says, and making no changes would simply delay the day of reckoning.
The president says he's read it, but it couldn't have been fun. It open he rejects another key piece of his world view, that rogue regimes, in this case Iran and Syria, should be isolated, intimidated, ignored, unless they change.
Baker, Hamilton and company are realists. They say, you have no choice but to do business with your adversaries.
The Iraq study group is hardly perfect. Only four days in Iraq, barely a peek outside the green zone, and no one on board who served, fought or commanded there.
But that sound you heard in Washington this week was the sound of a buzzsaw. And it sliced right through more than three-and-a-half years of hope and history.
SESNO: And so here's the question, Wolf. In turning the page on this whole thing, are people ready to walk away on Iraq? What about America's moral obligation there? What about the Iraqis? What happens if the combat forces come out? Clearly change is coming, the president will embrace it? But no one knows yet is what it's going to be or whether it will work.
BLITZER: He's going to be delivering a major speech, we're told, by the end of this year, maybe even before Christmas. You've covered presidents before. What does he need to say?
SESNO: He needs to connect. He needs to explain the policy. He needs to provide some vision of where it's going. He needs to provide some reassurance to the American people.
BLITZER: Does he need to apologize? Does he need to say you know what, I was wrong, I acknowledge that, now let's move ahead?
SESNO: I think he's said that. He may say mistakes have been made. We hear that passive since. What he's got provide, though, is a sense of the road ahead and what happened both to the American forces and others there and to the Iraqis.
BLITZER: Frank Sesno, thanks very much.
And still ahead tonight, the new movie "Blood Diamond" calling attention a disturbing trend in troubled regions: the harvesting and trading of so-called conflict stones. We're going to tell you what's going on. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The new movie "Blood Diamond" is out in theaters nationwide today. As its title suggests, the thriller traces the trail of blood and violence behind the world's most coveted jewel.
Let's turn to CNN's Sibila Vargas for a closer look -- Sibila.
SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The action thriller stars some of Hollywood's biggest names, and it's getting a lot of attention because of its content.
JENNIFER CONNELLY, ACTRESS: People back home wouldn't buy a ring if they knew it cost someone else their hand.
VARGAS (voice-over): In "Blood Diamond," Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly plays an American magazine journalist who challenges Leonardo DiCaprio's character, an African smuggler who's in search of a rare diamond that he hopes would make him rich.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR: Who do you think buys the stones that I bring out? Dreamy Americans girls who all want a storybook wedding and a big shiny rock, just like the ones they see in the advertisements of your politically correct magazine. So please, don't come here and make judgments on me, all right?
VARGAS: The film is set in war-torn Sierra Leone in the '90s, a time when more than 4 percent of all African diamonds were sold on the black market.
CONNELLY: Depending on the source of the diamonds you're considering, your money could end up funding something you would never imagine: A deadly civil war.
VARGAS: Connelly not only stars in "Blood Diamond," but is lending her face to a PSA for Amnesty International, educating people about conflict stones that are traded for cash or weapons for the sole purpose of financing civil wars in Africa or terrorism worldwide.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally millions of people have lost their lives as a result, and appalling atrocities have occurred, from the hacking off of arms and legs in Sierra Leone to terrible massacres in Angola.
VARGAS: The History Channel's upcoming documentary "Blood Diamonds" is also taking on the issue, highlighting a side of the diamond world rarely seen.
VH-1 "Bling: A Planet Rock" and another independent documentary, "Bling: Consequences and Repercussions," explore how hip-hop's diamond-soaked lifestyle may fuel the his desire for these types of jewels.
This Hollywood attention has caused the diamond industry to take notice. Even before "Blood Diamond" finished shooting, the World Diamond Council created a Web site, contacted producers of the film, and launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign saying conflict stones account for less than 1 percent of all diamonds.
That's because of the so-called Kimberley Process, an international certification agreement created four years ago to stop the flow of conflict stones.
CECILIA GARDNER, WORLD DIAMOND COUNCIL: We're very concerned that people understand and appreciate the kind of efforts the industry has undertaken to fight conflict diamonds.
VARGAS: Amnesty International thinks there's still more work to be done, and hopes "Blood Diamond's" star power brings wide attention to this problem. The film opened in theaters today. Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Sibila, for that.
And let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Paula is standing by -- Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. Coming up about seven minutes from now, we are going to go in-depth on the Ethics Committee's report on the Mark Foley sex scandal. We're also going to look at why the U.N. is spending more than $4 million to fix up the secretary-general's home right here in New York. I'm going to ask real estate mogul Donald Trump if it's a waste of money and how much it would cost him to do that renovation.
And our top entertainment story is a movie about featured beheadings, no big stars, not a word in English. I think you just talked a little bit about it, Wolf, but Mel Gibson's betting you can't wait to see "Apocalypto." And the reviews have been mixed but interesting, haven't they?
BLITZER: "Apocalypto." Yes, we were talking about "Blood Diamond," another movie that's just coming out, but we'll be interested in your piece. Paula, thank you for that.
ZAHN: All right. Thank you.
BLITZER: Still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, one elf doing more than making toys this holiday season. Jeanne Moos showing us why some people are saying ba-humbug. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Santa may see you when you're sleeping, but there's an elf in Florida who sees you when you're speeding! CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's bad enough getting a ticket. But to get nabbed by this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Middle lane. (inaudible).
MOOS: This deputy is dashing, all right, in his tights and pointy shoes. Instead of wearing a gun...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife put the bells on it.
MOOS: His fellow officers in the Orange County, Florida, sheriff's office has a name for the guy manning the radar.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deputy Elf.
MOOS: But the speeders Deputy Elf is catching aren't laughing all the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, the Christmas guy? Oh. That's pretty messed up.
MOOS: The sheriff's office admits it's a gimmick, but in almost three hours they pulled over 150 vehicles, Deputy Elf and motorcycle cops -- lying in wait for his instructions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside lane, inside lane, a white SUV.
MOOS: 56 in a 35 mile-per-hour zone. One motorist called the sheriff's office saying it's despicable to use an icon like Santa to catch speeders.
COMMANDER KEN WYNNE, ORANGE CO, FLA SHERIFF'S DEPT.: That's specifically why we didn't choose Santa Claus. An elf is known for their impish behavior.
MOOS: Even Santa has exhibited some odd behavior lately, driving an eel rather than reindeer in a Japanese aquarium, and last December, robbing this Texas bank. Here's the 911 call.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He put his hand in his pocket, did not show a weapon. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit, hat pulled down over his face.
MOOS: And then there was the store Santa who became famous on the Internet for tackling a guy being chased by security. Not only did Santa tackle the suspect, he gave him a kick.
At least the Orange County elf patrol isn't kicking motorists.
They did recover one handgun and some pot, but mostly they just caught speeders.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I saw the elf. I think that's called entrapment. But what are you going to do?
MOOS: Actually, the elf suit isn't much help, since most speeders are already clocked before they even see the officer with the radar gun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Middle lane, 56, middle lane, 56, silver -- can't tell what it is, but that's the correct one.
MOOS: So what if he missed the make. He's making spirits bright!
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne, for that. And I'll be back Sunday for "Late Edition." Among my guests, the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, James Baker and Lee Hamilton. "Late Edition" airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for two hours. The last word in Sunday talk. Thanks very much for watching. Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.
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