Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War Activities Recounted

Aired March 11, 2007 - 13:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Even as insurgent attacks increase in Baghdad, there are new dangers on the horizon from Russia to Latin America, to nuclear terrorism on the high seas. We'll look at all the angles with the best of the business coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR, but first, a look at what's happening in the news right now.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Rick Sanchez. We're going to get back to John in just a little bit. First up, what we want to do is try and catch you up on some of the headlines. President Bush is in Uruguay today. It's the second stop on his five-nation tour of Latin America. He discussed easing trade restrictions with Uruguay's president and both agreed to talk some more. But not everybody welcomed Mr. Bush with open arms. In the capital of Montevideo, demonstrators burned American flags in protest of U.S. policies.

U.S. and Iranian envoys blamed each other's countries for the chaos in Iraq but at least they were talking, something the administration said they would not do. Both attended a one-day international conference in Baghdad aimed at improving Iraq's security situation. No real progress was reported but the U.S. ambassador to Iraq called the talks constructive and business-like.

Underscoring the security concerns in Iraq, the car bomb detonated at a busy checkpoint near Sadr City today. Twenty people were killed, 45 more wounded. I'm Rick Sanchez. Certainly, if news breaks, we'll break in and bring it to you. In the meantime, let's go back to John and THIS WEEK AT WAR.

ROBERTS: More U.S. troops are headed for Baghdad as insurgents step up their bloody attacks. But this week is proof that Iraq is far from the only danger facing the United States. Russia appears to be up to its old tricks. Latin America is erupting in protest against the American devil. And American cities are still vulnerable to nuclear terrorism. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week. On Monday, U.S. and Iraqi forces patrolled Baghdad's Sadr City for the first time in over two years. Tuesday a blue ribbon panel set out to probe the treatment of wounded veterans in VA hospitals. Wednesday, President Bush took off on a week long trip to Latin America seeking to offset the influence of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez who calls Mr. Bush, quote, the devil. Thursday General David Patraeus, the new ground commander in Iraq said insurgent attacks have risen since the stepped-up security campaign began and are likely to go higher. Friday, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki took a walk through Baghdad demonstrating how safe it was as delegates gathered for an international conference this weekend..

Joining us this week, Michael Ware on the security situation in Baghdad, Jeanne Meserve on preventing nuclear terrorism inside the United States and Matthew Chance on a cold war mystery in Russia. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

General David Patraeus met the media this week and warned that military force alone can't end the violence. But is Iraq and the region for that matter, ready for a political solution? CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad this week, in New York, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He's the former Baghdad bureau chief for "The Washington Post," also author of "Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Inside Iraq's Green Zone." And here in Washington CNN's military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired. Michael Ware, this conference that Iraq invited people to, including the United States, Iran and Syria, do you think that that's going anywhere? There's another meeting that's to come up in a couple more weeks involving the ministers. Do you see this as being the start of a process that could bring stability to Iraq?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not particularly. I mean, there's absolutely no incentive whatsoever for the winners of this conflict so far regionally, certainly most particularly Iran, to take their foot off the accelerator. Essentially, what's America prepared to offer Iran to help stabilize the region rather than destabilize it? And I think at this point in time, America's not prepared to pay the price. And let's not get overblown about this so-called conference this week. This is a meeting of bureaucrats. This is deputy foreign ministers and others getting together. It's a meeting for a meeting. And if Ambassador Khalilzad's appearance is to mean anything, then, you know, it really puts it out of context.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, perhaps -- maybe it's the first step down the road to some sort of progress. But at the same time, there was tremendous violence this week, much of it against Ashura pilgrims. More than a hundred were killed in a suicide bombing at Ashura and at his first press conference since taking over the command of U.S. forces on the ground, General Petraeus on said Thursday said that he expected that violence was going to increase. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PATRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: There have been violence, sensational attacks. Schools, health clinics and marketplaces have all been attacked. Car bombs have targeted hundreds of innocent Iraqis and in recent days, Shia pilgrims were killed in a barbaric manner by thugs with no soul.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: But Rajeev, at the same time, David Patraeus also pointed to some good news, saying that sectarian violence, those death squad killings that we have seen so much of in Baghdad over the last year have been reduced somewhat. A little bit of good news, a lot of bad news, what do you make of all this? RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think like many things in Iraq, it's sort of a mixed bag. But I think what we've seen from the reduction in sectarian violence isn't necessarily because of operations that are being conducted by the additional U.S. forces that are pouring into Baghdad at this point. It's because Shiite militia leaders, most notably Muqtada al Sadr, have made a calculated decision to pull their people back from the brink, not to engage with the American forces. And I think a calculated move to sort of have the American forces focus more on the Sunni insurgents. I think they're trying to wait it out. I think what was also interesting from Patraeus's comments this week is that he had made some reference to perhaps suggesting that the Mehdi army, Sadr's militia, could see some sort of future as an auxiliary security force in that country, suggesting that he may not be trying to essentially kill or capture all of them but trying to work with them and trying to perhaps co-opt them into some new security structure.

ROBERTS: He certainly did indicate that in the press conference that in order to get some kind of political solution, that people who have been attacking the Iraqi government or Americans may need to be brought into that process. General Marks, General Patraeus also said the troop levels are going to have to stay high through the fall and perhaps into 2008. Are we already seeing an increase in the mission here before it gets going?

BRIG. GEN JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): No, I wouldn't say that. I would say what David is saying is, that it's far too early to draw an assessment in terms of what he's going to need in the aggregate. He's only got two of the initial five brigades in Baghdad right now. So through about May or June is when you'll have that increase and then you've got to sustain it. So he's making a very fair assessment that he's going to need that force through the end of the year. But you got to keep delivering.

ROBERTS: But he's talking about an extra 2500, 2600 now. Might that climb to 5,000 or 8,000 or another 10,000 by next year?

MARKS: I couldn't speculate but that additional troop strength right now primarily goes to some enablers, some increased intelligence folks, some other types of enabling forces that you would see on the ground to include military police. You've got to have an increase in military police for training and for handling a lot of the bad guys that you're now rounding up.

ROBERTS: I want to drill down just a little bit on what Rajiv was talking about a second ago in terms of the Mehdi militia. On Monday, Jennifer Eccleston was reported that for the first time in a long time, U.S. troops were on patrol in Sadr City. Here's part of her report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. and Iraq forces, police and army, conduct door-to-door operations, a major sweep in the Shia bastion. Al Sadr and his Mehdi commanders are thought to have fled the area, their foot soldiers keeping a low profile, avoiding a confrontation with U.S. troops for now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Michael Ware, you've spent a lot of time with Mehdi militia members. What do you think is going on? Are they just laying low for now or could this really be a sea change in things on the ground there?

WARE: It's no sea change John at all. I mean what we're hearing, the intelligence we're getting from the Mehdi army militia itself, from talking to his cell leaders and mid-ranking company commanders and from talking to U.S. military intelligence is that it's clear that this is a classic guerrilla tactic. They're pulling back. They're waiting to see what their enemy does. There's a lot politically on the table. They're capitalizing on this. I mean, there's been some disruption of Muqtada's network. There's been hundreds of arrests. Not many of them meaningful, but nonetheless, the leadership ranks have also been penetrated by some of these arrests. Meanwhile, you have Muqtada backing Iran, according to western military intelligence, while thousands of American troops enter his stronghold unopposed. It's clear a deal's been cut.

ROBERTS: General Marks, it seems that a result of this is that a lot of these militia members, a lot of these insurgents are moving to other areas like the Diyala (ph) province and they're causing tremendous havoc there. Does the United States have enough forces on the ground, even with this surge to contain a spread of sectarian violence?

MARKS: The real question is not necessarily do you have enough force to go after all those other troops or the other bad guys that have been displaced. You don't want to spend a lot of time and energy chasing bad guys. You'll chase your tail. You'll do exactly what they want you to do. They'll drag you into a hole. You've got to establish what is the center of gravity. That's been defined as Baghdad. That's where the focus has to be. So it's OK right now for them to go elsewhere. It's kind of what the intended outcome would be, so you can focus where you need to focus.

ROBERTS: As General Petraeus tries to get a handle on the violence on the ground, this past week in Congress, Democrats came up with a couple more measures to try to end the war. They would bring troops out sometime between March of 2008 and the end of that year. Here are some of the back and forth earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: By July of 2007, if progress is not demonstrated, if the president cannot certify that progress is made, we begin the redeployment of our troops out of a combat role in Iraq.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R) MINORITY LEADER: The Democrats are using the critical troop funding bill to micromanage the war on terror, undermining our generals on the ground and slowly choking off resources for our troops. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Rajiv, what do you make of this whole process here? Is this just political grand standing?

CHANDRASEKARAN: NO, I think the Democrats are serious in wanting to see a meaningful shift in the United States war policy in Iraq. But they are still not of one mind on how to make this happen. The compromise that Nancy Pelosi seems to have reached with members of her own party is a watered-down approach from what party liberals have wanted and it faces a tough road ahead. It's not clear that this sort of approach will make it through the Senate. In fact, there are a lot of indications that it won't, that the Senate version will be far more watered down and the president has also made it clear this week that he intends to veto a supplemental spending bill that would impose the restrictions that the Democrats want to place on it.

ROBERTS: It was pretty interesting, Rajiv, to see right after Nancy Pelosi came out with that, that the progressive wing of the party came out to denounce it. It's like Will Rogers said, I belong to no organized party, I'm a Democrat. Michael Ware, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, General Marks, thanks very much.

Coming up later on this hour, critics of the Kremlin silenced. One shot and another falls to his death. Is it a conspiracy or coincidence? We'll look at the mysterious circumstances.

And straight ahead, horrors exposed at America's top army hospital. Wounded veterans are demanding accountability. What's being done to care for those who put their lives on the line?

But first, Marine Sergeant Jeffrey Kirk was awarded the silver star on Monday. In a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, the men who served under him remembered his bravery in a battle more than two years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAFF SGT. KENNETH DISTELHORST, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Without his quick reaction of calling out grenade that had been thrown by insurgents and embedded in that house, I wouldn't be here speaking to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Jeffrey Kirk was there only in memory. Five weeks after the battle where he won his award, he died clearing a house in Fallujah. He was 24 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of our troops at Walter Reed have experienced bureaucratic delays and living conditions that are less than they deserve. It's unacceptable to me. It's unacceptable to you. It's unacceptable to our country and it's not going to continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: On Tuesday, President Bush moved to address the outcry over inadequate medical treatment for veterans. He appointed a commission headed up by former cabinet Secretary Donna Shalala and former Senator Bob Dole, himself severely wounded in World War II. The commission will investigate both the conditions recently exposed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC and how veterans are treated throughout the military medical system. But is this enough to cure the way that we care for America's wounded? CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is at her post for us along with Steve Robinson from Veterans of America who joins us in the studio. Retired Major General Paul Eaton, who used to head up the huge Army training base in Ft. Benning, Georgia wrote an op ed in Tuesday's "New York Times" saying quote, the Walter Reed scandal is simply the tip of the iceberg. President Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Congress all pointedly failed to provide the money and resources for our returned troops wherever they are, both the obviously wounded and those who may seem healthy, but are suffering mentally and physically from their service.

Steve Robinson, start us off here. How bad is the system, not just at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where we've heard about all these problems but nationwide. Also, what do you think of the Dole/Shalala commission?

STEVE ROBINSON, VETERANS OF AMERICA: On the Dole/Shalala commission, we're excited. I think there's two good people that can really look at it. But there are soldiers and family members that have been through the system that need to be there advising them, people that have been to war. Stephanie Peltke (ph), Tanya Sergeant (ph) people that were featured in the "Newsweek" article. They need to be on this commission. Whether or not it's an issue across the military, I've been to every major demobilization site. This problem of the bureaucratic delays, soldiers not getting enough mental healthcare, people not knowing how to navigate the system, not enough care providers, exists across the military force-wide.

ROBERTS: Bad conditions at the hospital?

ROBINSON: I think that's a red herring story. They wanted to talk about that. It's mold and mice. Yeah, it was bad at Walter Reed but -- and there are other installations that probably have some facility infrastructure problems. They wanted to talk about that because you can patch up a moldy wall and you can lay down a rat trap. It's easy.

ROBERTS: Much more difficult to patch the entire system. So Barbara Starr, Democrats are portraying this as, quote, this year's Katrina. That might be a little bit of hyperbole, but how much actually damaging is this for the Pentagon, the military and the administration?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know John, the question is when will all of this really begin to impact troop morale? That's the nightmare scenario. When the troops who are fighting in Iraq begin to worry that if they get wounded and they come back to the United States, they're not going to get the care that they expect. We've heard a lot about all this bureaucracy. What are we really talking about here? What we're talking was when a wounded troop comes back, after they get the trauma care, after they get the care in the hospital, this long bureaucratic process they go through to be medically evaluated, to see what their disability is, how much money they may get in disability payments once they're retired. It can all take months and months and months and it's becoming a very discouraging process for the injured troops.

ROBERTS: Barbara, commanders say that they are committed to fixing this. Are they paying lip service to that? Do you think it's genuine?

STARR: Genuinely, yes, they do want to fix it. I don't think there's a commander out there who wants to see a wounded troop suffer. But it's a real question of national commitment. How much money is the country willing to pay? No one can calculate the cost. There are thousands and thousands of wounded troops that were not expected. And these -- there are going to be more. And these are young people who are going to require medical care for the rest of their lives possibly, maybe another 50 or 60 years. So we're talking about a national financial commitment here that could last for another half century, John.

ROBERTS: Steve Robinson, you were up on Capitol Hill on Friday. How much money is Congress prepared to throw at this?

ROBINSON: I'm talking to both Republicans and Democrats and I'm seeing significant movement toward addressing this issue from both sides. It's gotten to the point where nobody can ignore it anymore. And until we develop that national philosophy on what is owed, we're not going to know what to do. We may just be throwing band aids at the problem. We really have to understand who is this generation, what do they need and are we delivering it?

ROBERTS: As was mentioned in the op-ed of "The New York Times" that we read a little portion from, Major General Paul Eaton was pointing to these injuries that sometimes aren't readily noticeable from some of these service members who are coming back. One of those is traumatic brain injury. Here's how Barbara Starr reported on that on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARR (voice-over): TBI is often the invisible wound of this war. Soldiers injured especially in blasts from roadside bombs suffer debilitating brain injuries as blast waves rock delicate brain tissue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, what's the military doing to address this issue now?

STARR: Well, they're just beginning to figure out, I think, John, that they have a very serious problem on their hands. It's not something that they expected. And what they are trying to figure out is how do you screen troops, how do you find out? If it is a debilitating injury such as ABC newsman Bob Woodruff, that's one thing. But what about the young troops that may have been exposed to IED attacks time after time? Not traumatically injured but multiple exposures. They're just beginning to address this issue. They really don't know what they're facing yet.

ROBERTS: And Steve Robinson, back to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center situation, some people are saying that more heads should roll and one of the heads is Lt. General Kevin Kiley, the surgeon general who was in charge of Walter Reed from 2002 to 2004. On Tuesday in Congress, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri read a letter from a wounded service member. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE McCASKILL (D) MISSOURI: Rather than addressing the problems he was more aware of than anyone, he continued to downplay and minimize the issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So they're saying that as wounded veterans, they think that Kiley should go to help fix the system, at least give the perception of really fixing the system from the top to the bottom. Would that help?

ROBINSON: I don't know. I'm going to let the secretary of defense determine who should be responsible to lead the nation in caring for the returning veteran, but it is a leadership issue. It's quite clear that just about everybody in the chain of command knew what was going on and punted it to somebody else. And right now, they're still talking about junior NCOs and I'm certain that Secretary Gates is going to -- he's going to make a recommendation and he's going to put a smart person in there.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Steve Robinson from Veterans for America, thanks very much.

Still ahead, noisy protests in Brazil as President Bush began his tour of Latin America. Can he win the PR battle against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez?

And coming up next, is there a nuclear bomb in that cargo ship? Could we find it before the unthinkable happens to an American city?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: A suitcase nuke explodes in an American city. High drama for Jack Bauer at Fox's hit show "24," but what's the reality? Is there any way to guarantee that terrorists can't smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States? In an article in this week's "New Yorker," Steve Coll looked at this problem and how to stop what he called quote, the unthinkable. He joins me here in Washington. Also with us is CNN's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. First let's take a quick look at how Jeanne reported on the potential threat from terrorists with nuclear weapons back in December.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The detonation of even a small nuclear weapon in an American city would be catastrophic, computer models show, with tens of thousands of people killed instantaneously. Explosion of a radiological dirty bomb would do serious economic and psychological damage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Steve, you said in your "New Yorker" piece that quote, the world is awash in uncontrolled radioactive material. What's the U.S. doing to counteract any of that coming to our shores?

STEVE COLL, THE NEW YORKER: It's hard to deploy a shield essentially of radiation detectors which they hope will pick up either materials or devices at overseas ports or perhaps in U.S. borders or even interior places like truck stops, mail facilities, airports.

ROBERTS: You had an example of that. In 2005 there was a container that was spotted in Sri Lanka but got away before they could get a handle on it?

COLL: One of the detectors that they had placed at the port of Colombo rang but they couldn't determine which container it was until it had been loaded. So they tracked down five different ships in the open seas --

ROBERTS: ...with satellites and --

COLL: Satellites and they scrutinized their manifests. They send out the atomic bomb squad to board a couple of the ships to make sure they were clean. They stopped two other ships in U.S. territorial waters about 10 miles off of New York City. They chose that distance because in the unlikely event there was a bomb on board, they wanted some space between them and Manhattan.

ROBERTS: And it turned out to be --

COLL: It turned out to be clean. Those two ships were clean. They found the ship eventually in Asia and it had essentially contaminated radioactive material mixed in with scrap metal.

ROBERTS: SO was basically trash.

COLL: Stuff that had been dumped improperly.

ROBERTS: So Jeanne Meserve, what's the greater threat here, from terrorists getting their hands on an actual nuclear bomb as we saw in the fantasy of "24" or material that could be used to make a dirty bomb?

MESERVE: The higher consequence event is clearly a nuclear weapon being detonated but the higher threat is from a dirty bomb. They really don't feel that that many people would be injured or killed by a bomb of that magnitude, but they say there would be contamination over a multi-block area. The economic consequences could be serious. And the psychological consequences could be really severe. We were all raised to be terrified of radiation. And so even something that's relatively small, relatively contained could just send a shockwave through the country.

ROBERTS: Steve in your article, you outlined some of the challenges facing the United States as it tries to grade this so- called nuclear shield. Let me just read a quick quote from that. You said, quote, many detectors are still too crude to distinguish among different types of radiation. They ring just as loudly if they locate a nuclear bomb or contaminated steel or for that manner, bananas which emit radiation from the isotope potassium 40. And you also say in your article that it's much more difficult to detect highly enriched uranium 235 because its signature is much lower than some these other isotopes, particularly one that would be used in a dirty bomb. So what kind of a challenge is it?

COLL: You've got it exactly right. There's research under way to try to improve the ability of these detectors to discriminate among isotopes. There's some reason to think that they will soon be able to tell bananas from highly enriched uranium. But the problem of detecting the dull emissions of highly enriched uranium is daunting and some physicists believe it's so hard that it might not even be worth trying.

ROBERTS: It can be pretty easily shielded?

COLL: It can be easily shielded and for that reason the Department of Homeland Security and the nuclear weapons labs are trying to detect shielding as well as the underlying material in the hope that that may also stop some smuggling.

ROBERTS: Jeanne, you talked to some experts about this for the reports you've done. How aggressively are terrorists trying to obtain material either for a full-blown fission nuclear weapon or just a dirty bomb?

MESERVE: Everyone wishes that the intelligence was good enough that we really knew. Nobody has a firm handle on it, but the belief is they are actively pursuing, trying to get radiological material. There has been instances, some of them fairly recent, of buys in eastern Europe, Russia, that have been stopped, but we don't know how many were stopped.

ROBERTS: The black market, Steve, more conducive to this type of material left over from medical imaging devices or something like these suitcase nukes that we hear were in Russia and where are they now or old nuclear weapons that are being brought to the United States to be decommissioned?

COLL: Dirty bomb materials are basically commercial materials. They're bought and sold every day worldwide. They're imported, exported, moved between facilities and there are just many more of them around. They're also difficult to dispose of and there's in the hands of private businesses who find them sometimes a burden and just get rid of them. So if you were trying to acquire radiological materials, you would find it much easier to acquire dirty bomb material than fission material which is generally controlled by governments, usually militaries, sometimes civilian facilities.

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, in his article, Steve cites the cost of building this nuclear shield system at about $10 million.

COLL: $10 billion.

ROBERTS: $10 billion. I'm sorry. But compared to the cost of what would happen if there were to be a dirty bomb or, god forbid, a real nuclear bomb exploded in an American city, how does it compare?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, some people say it's worth the investment. But there are others who say the money might be spent in other ways -- for instance, securing the fissile material that's already out there. They would argue that more money should be put in that direction to keep this material out of the hands of the evildoers rather than putting up this elaborate system, which may or may not work, in the end.

ROBERTS: What's the level of anxiety about this, Steve?

COLL: I think that there's an understanding that this is a low probability event. But when you look at an adversary that has declared an intention to do something of this kind, you have to take it seriously. And there is evidence that al Qaeda is interested in this kind of an attack.

ROBERTS: Let's hope for the moment it remains only on 24.

Steve Coll, Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much.

Later on THIS WEEK AT WAR, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez told the United Nations that President Bush is "the devil."

Exactly how much trouble is the United States in in Latin America?

We'll take the subject by the horns.

Coming up next, is Russia returning to the bad old days of Stalin and Khrushchev?

Bad luck, very bad luck, seems to be striking critics of President Vladimir Putin.

Are these just coincidences or cold-blooded murder?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ROBERTS: It sounds like something from an old spy novel, complete with shots in the night, exotic poisons and falls from high places. But if this is fact and not fiction, does it mean that Russian President Vladimir Putin is moving from democracy to dictatorship?

And could it mean real trouble for Russia's relations with the United States?

Are we looking at a new cold war?

Joining me to discuss this, our former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty. She's now covering the U.S. for CNN International.

And via broadband from St. Petersburg, CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance.

Russian expert Paul Joyal was shot last Thursday outside his suburban Washington home. It could be a simple street crime.

Or was it payback for his criticism of the Russian government, payback for comments like this description of the Kremlin's new attitude?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP,

COURTESY "DATELINE NBC")

PAUL JOYAL, RUSSIA EXPERT: We are letting everyone know that we will inflict a horrible death, a public, horrible death on those that speak out against us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Jill Dougherty, nobody is exactly sure what's going on here. But it fits into this whole Web of intrigue that saw recently the death of Alexander Litvinenko from poisoning by Polonium 210 and a month before that the death of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was harshly critical of Russia.

What do you make of all this?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, there -- oh, you have to say there are a lot of incidents that have come up in the past, let's say year, even before that. And when you start to put them together, you say is there a pattern here?

And that's the real question that I don't think anybody can answer right now.

There are some that are really, really suspicious and some that are less suspicious.

ROBERTS: Frank Gaffney from the Center for Security Policy, writing in the "Washington Times," had no question what the Joyal shooting was all about. He said: "The Kremlin's apparent willingness, brazenly now, to strike at its foes wherever they may be, is all to reminiscent of past ruthless measures taken by Russian and Soviet rulers to crush internal and external dissent." And, literally, the day after Joyal was shot, Matthew Chance, in Moscow, a very famous writer who used to write about defense issues, Ivan Safranov, died under mysterious circumstances.

What happened to him?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not altogether clear. It seems that he -- he went shopping for some fruit and returned home and then hurled himself, according to the police, out of a fifth floor window in his apartment block. He was found on the ground outside that block in the middle of the Russian capital, Moscow.

What's known him is that he was a very sort of high profile military affairs journalist at a respected Russian language newspaper. He had extremely good contacts in the Russian military and had broke a number of very sensitive stories in the past recent months.

According to his editor, who I have spoken to, they say that he said that he was -- he was working on another very sensitive story at the time of his death about Russian arms sales to countries in the Middle East, like Iran and Syria.

And so, in one sense, there is a motive for people in high places who didn't want this information to come out to perhaps silence him. That's the conspiracy theory.

On the other hand, the police have said they found absolutely no evidence of foul play.

ROBERTS: Yes, the police have said that this looks like an apparent suicide. But here he lived on either the second or the third floor of this apartment building. He bought a bag of fruit, as you said, Matthew, before he came home, and then walked up the stairs to the fifth floor and threw himself out that window.

Why would he buy a bag of fruit if he was about to kill himself?

Would that be for the mourners who came to -- to mourn his death?

CHANCE: It's -- it is a big mystery, isn't it?

And it just -- a lot of these things, not just about a Ivan Safranov death, but about lots of the other killings, as well, just -- just don't seem to add up.

It certainly isn't right if you speak to his neighbors, his family, the people who he worked with. They don't believe that somebody of Ivan Safranov's stature, who was a very strong man who had a -- who was a colonel in the Russian space force for many years, who had such great contacts in the Russian military, would -- would end his life for some reason which nobody has any idea what it could be.

At the same time, everybody around this, including the police, including his editors and his family, say they're keeping an open mind at this stage. But it is a big mystery and a lot of questions are being asked.

ROBERTS: Jill, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Safranov would be the 14th journalist to die under mysterious circumstances since Putin took power. You spent well over a decade in Russia.

Does this sound like the sort of thing that they would do?

DOUGHERTY: Well, the question is they.

Who's they?

That's the mystery, you know, who is they?

Is they President Vladimir Putin?

Is it his administration?

Is it rogue KGB people?

Is it another layer of, you know, businesspeople who are tangentially connected with things...

ROBERTS: Which is what Russian officials said about the Litvinenko poisoning, right?

DOUGHERTY: Yes. Yes.

ROBERTS: That they thought it was businesspeople.

DOUGHERTY: See, that's one of the problems here. You know, you've got layer after layer after layer and to really peel it back is very, very difficult. As I look at it, I find it pretty hard to believe that Vladimir Putin is sitting in the Kremlin saying, "Kill him." It -- just looking at the evidence, that would -- I haven't seen the proof of that.

Now, are there other layers? Are there people who are close to the power structure who want to get rid of somebody?

Entirely possible.

ROBERTS: Do you think this could have any kind of an effect on Russian-U.S. relations?

DOUGHERTY: It's already having that. I mean there are a lot of people here in Washington and in Moscow who would love to go back to the cold war. And that's the danger, I believe, because if you interpret it in light of the cold war, it gets pretty simplistic. And it's a lot more complicated.

ROBERTS: Right.

Well, hopefully, we heard -- we hope to learn more about this Joyal case and see if it somehow really does fit in with everything else that's been going on.

Jill Dougherty, Matthew Chance, thanks very much.

Really fascinating stuff.

Coming up, thousands protested this week as President Bush began a tour to promote better relations with Latin America.

Can the president make up for lost time?

THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Almost 200 years ago, U.S. President James Monroe declared that other nations should stay out of North and South America.

But is the Monroe Doctrine dead?

Are China and Russia moving in as leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez work to push the United States out?

Will President Bush now on a tour of five Latin American nations, find good neighbors or potential enemies?

Juan Carlos Lopez is CNN Espanol's Washington correspondent.

He's in Sao Paolo, Brazil for us.

And with me here in Washington is Michael Shifter. He is the program director with the Inter-American Dialogue.

On Wednesday, President Bush spoke about his Latin America tour with Juan Carlos.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a long trip. And the reason why is I want to remind people throughout our neighborhood that America cares about them. And I bring a message of hope, a message that says we -- we care about the human condition and a message of accomplish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Michael Shifter, what kind of position is President Bush in in Latin America?

In the 2000 campaign, he promised to make it a priority. Yet, like so many other things, it's really been sidelined by the Iraq War.

MICHAEL SHIFTER, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: He's in a very difficult position. There's a lot of irritation with the United States because it's been so distracted. They haven't liked what he's done in the Iraq War. It strikes a nerve in Latin America because of unilateral military action and the history of Latin America. And there's been a lot of indifference to the social agenda, to the problems of inequality, to injustice in Latin America.

And so there's a lot of resentment, a lot of distrust and he's going to have a very, very tough task.

ROBERTS: Juan Carlos Lopez, the president chose an opportune time to go down there, to try to get away from all the turmoil here in Washington.

But is he finding any less turmoil there in South America?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: He -- he will always find turmoil when he comes to South America. This trip hasn't been the exception.

But if you take in the fact that Sao Paolo, Brazil, the first city he visited, is a city of 19 million people and less than -- between 6,000 and 10,000 came out to protest, that shows you that people are focused on different things.

They want to hear what Chavez has to say, what Lula -- President Lula of Brazil has to say. And, obviously, if you ask them about Iraq, they'll give you one question, but if you ask them about Latin America they'll give you another one.

ROBERTS: Obviously, the American president still has an awful lot of influence in South America, Juan Carlos.

But with China and Russia beating down the door, how -- how much competition is the United States facing in that area of the world these days?

LOPEZ: There is a lot of competition, trade issues. China is buying raw materials and Brazil -- Brazil is one of the main suppliers to China. Trade 30 years ago was $20 million. This year it'll be $20 billion.

So it is an important time for the U.S. to refocus in Latin America. People are aware of it. But now you have countries like Brazil that have something to offer and they can be treated as partners. I think that's the difference. That's what we're seeing. Brazil is being treated as an equal and that's what a lot of countries in the region have been asking for.

ROBERTS: Michael, the White House is -- is sort of dismissing this idea, but is this really the anti-Hugo Chavez tour?

SHIFTER: Well, Chavez is a major figure and the White House is worried about it spreading its influence in Latin America. They have an anti-U.S. agenda. He has a lot of money and they're very, very belligerent rhetoric against the United States. And, plus, an emerging alliance with Iran, which is clearly of concern to the White House.

So I think the White House has Chavez very, very much in mind. The question is will they be able to really deliver and offer anything to Latin America in order to show that the United States is seriously engaged and committed?

Plus, Chavez does not represent an answer to Latin America's problems. But his rhetoric does resonate.

ROBERTS: The power behind his ideology is all oil-based revenue, with the United States signing deals like the one that they signed with Brazil for ethanol.

How much can they try to marginalize his economic clout and how much can they really do to marginalize it?

SHIFTER: It's a start. It's a step. But it really needs to be followed through. The most important thing about President Bush's trip will be what happens when he comes back to the United States. Because often what happens is that presidents go down and they forget about Latin America again and we go back to the same cycle.

It really has to be follow through and sustained at a very, very high level. Then they can begin to make a difference.

ROBERTS: In terms of what President Bush should do about Hugo Chavez, take a quick listen to what the "Washington Post" said in an editorial on Wednesday: "Mr. Bush seems to understand that to confront Mr. Chavez, in words or otherwise, would be to provide him with the U.S. enemy he craves. Mr. Bush's duty is to demonstrate that those who chose alliance with the United States and the democratic world benefit more than Venezuela's motley collection of allies, headed by Cuba and Iran." Certainly, though, Juan Carlos, Chavez is doing everything he can to try to be noticed down there, staging a demonstration across the Platte River in Argentina as President Bush is in Uruguay.

How much of Chavez's popularity in South America is a result of U.S. policy?

LOPEZ: Well, I was reading a poll, a poll that came out recently that says that Chavez shares one thing with President Bush, and that's a low popularity rating in Latin America.

And you might say, well, how come?

Why is he so popular?

People like what Chavez has to say because he says things that people think about the United States. And mostly about the United States government. There is no anti-American sentiment in Latin America. People don't like the Bush administration. People don't like the Iraq War. And Chavez is very open and vocal about it and people feel that he has the stomach to say the things that most other leaders won't because the trade relations with all these countries is so important.

So the question is how long are people going to follow Chavez and how long are they going to pay attention to his -- to his anti-Bush rhetoric?

ROBERTS: Well, perhaps the White House is not engaging with Chavez, but I know from covering the White House and down with them in Argentina not too long ago, that he does get under their skin.

Juan Carlos Lopez in Sao Paolo.

Michael Shifter, thanks very much.

Straight ahead, a knock on the door that brings the war home to families across the United States. A THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The human cost of the war in Iraq continues to mount, with more soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice.

One of those heroes was laid to rest earlier this week. Army Sergeant William Beardsley was killed last month when an IED detonated near his vehicle in Diwaniyah, Iraq.

Beardsley's wife Stacy says she'll never forget the day she learned her husband was gone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACY BEARDSLEY, WIFE: I was on the couch. And I seen them in the window, military uniforms. I thought he was home. And my brother answered the door and it wasn't him. I knew that something had happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A member of the Army's 260th Quartermaster Battalion, Beardsley's family says he was proud to be serving his country.

Beardsley leaves behind a 3-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son.

He was just 25 years old.

In just a moment, another hometown supports one of its own -- a soldier on trial for the murder of three Iraqi detainees.

But first, a look at some of the others who fell in this week at war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: On Thursday, I had the opportunity to finally catch up with two of my colleagues, Kimberly Dozier of CBS and ABC's Bob Woodruff.

As I'm sure you know, both of them were severely wounded last year while covering the war in Iraq. Bob would have probably died if not for the swift action of soldiers who evacuated him.

Kimberly did die twice from massive loss of blood, but doctors kept bringing her back.

The fact that they were both there at the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation Dinner was nothing short of a miracle, testament to the amazing ability of combat surgeons to undo the terrible wounds of war.

Kimberly was told that she would probably never walk again. Bob, the victim of a traumatic brain injury, had to relearn his life all over again.

But thanks to world class military medical care and months of intense rehabilitation, they both have their lives back.

Their survival and recovery makes it all the more important that every soldier or Marine wounded in Iraq receives the same level of medical care. Miracles are possible, but not if patients fall through the cracks.

Here's a look at some of the stories that we'll be covering in the next week ahead.

On Tuesday, Staff Sergeant Raymond Girouard will go on trial for the murder of three Iraqi detainees. Supporters in his hometown of Sweetwater, Tennessee have raised more than $20,000 for his defense.

And on Saturday, organizers predict that tens of thousands of people will converge on Washington, D.C. to protest the war in Iraq. Next week marks the fourth anniversary of the invasions.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

I'm John Roberts.

Straight ahead, a check of the headlines.

And then, CNN Special Investigations Unit: "Fatal Journey."

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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