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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War-Related Events Recounted

Aired April 8, 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: Iran releases its hostages. Syria's president sits down with the speaker of the House. Are we looking at diplomatic breakthroughs or cynical PR moves meant to weaken international resolve? THIS WEEK AT WAR starts in one minute right after a look at what's in the news, right now.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Rob Marciano. Here's what's happening now in the news. Cracking down on Iraqis' insurgency. That's the goal of operation black eagle. The latest joint military offensive of U.S. and Iraqi troops in the province of Yuania (ph). The U.S. military says American warplanes pounded well-armed Shiite militias, capturing as many as 36 suspected insurgents.

And a huge blaze in a poor section of the Philippine capital has left some 1200 families homeless. Fire crews had difficulty reaching the flames as they tore through the shanty town. And residents with buckets were just no match for the fire. Its cause has yet to be determined.

And after a harrowing ordeal aboard a Greek cruise ship, passengers are now speaking out. The ship hit a reef near the island of Santorini (ph) Thursday and sank. The captain and five of his crew are facing negligence charges. Passengers are describing their dramatic evacuation from the ship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDY MURPHY, PASSENGER: Well, we thank God we're here and we appreciate life more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't need all your stuff.

MURPHY: We don't need your items. We all bought jewelry and everything and it's all down there. We don't care at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: I'm Rob Marciano. We'll see you later on this evening. But now, back to John Roberts and THIS WEEK AT WAR.

ROBERTS: For most of his presidency, George W. Bush has had things his own way. Not anymore. Britain plays along with Iran run to get back its hostages. The Democratic speaker of the House sits down with Syria and Congress ties up the money to fight in Iraq with demands on how to fight and when to get out. Who's in charge here? And what are the real effects on U.S. policy? I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week. Monday, a truck bomb in Kirkuk explodes near a primary school. At least 15 die including one American soldier and dozens of young children are wounded. Tuesday, President Bush blasts Congress for putting political battles ahead of funding for the troops. Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thumbs her nose at George Bush and meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Asad. Thursday in Britain, joy as 15 hostages held in Iran are welcomed home by their families. Friday, for the first time, the Pentagon ordered four National Guard brigades to ready for a second tour in Iraq.

Here are this week's key questions. What did Iran really intended with this week's hostage release? We'll ask Aneesh Raman in Cairo. Are the new security tactics working in Iraq? Kyra Phillips has been on the streets of Baghdad. And why can't al Qaeda be contained? We'll put that to Peter Bergen. He's in Kabul, Afghanistan. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

What could have been a tragedy ended as something of a comedy this week. Dressed in ill-fitting suits and a head scarf for the one female sailor, 15 British troops held for almost two weeks by Iran gave thanks to their captors. They clearly just wanted out. But what did Iran want and what did it get? CNN's Aneesh Raman, a frequent visitor to Iran today is reporting from Cairo. Here in Washington, Robert Baer, former CIA agent, now an intelligence columnist for time.com and Karim Sadjadpour. He's a leading analyst on Iran with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. What did Iran learn from this crisis? When I spoke to him on Wednesday, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton said the takeaway for Tehran was that they could safely provoke western nations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FMR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: If I were Tehran, the conclusion I would draw would be full speed ahead on the nuclear weapons program and possibly other, even bolder actions against the U.S. and the UK and Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Karim Sadjadpour. Bolton told me, he said he thought that the diplomatic route that Britain took was exactly the wrong thing to do, that the west should have gotten tough with Iran to make this thing work.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: I disagree with Mr. Bolton. Three decades of U.S. sanctions haven't really borne much fruit. Iran is still atop the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror. And I think from the British perspective, this was a very delicate situation. But in the end, their strategy worked. They got their sailors out without incident. They were unharmed after two weeks and they didn't admit to any wrongdoing. They didn't issue apologies to Iran. So I think from the British perspective, what they did was fairly successful.

ROBERTS: Bolton also suggested that this was a huge win for Ahmadinejad. Take a quick lessen to what he told me about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOLTON: The spotlight was on Ahmadinejad the whole time. He made the call. He gets the credit for the hostages getting out. He stage managed this to his advantage. He's the one pushing the nuclear weapons program. I think we've got real trouble ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman, was this a win for Ahmadinejad? Will he be emboldened by this? Could there be more trouble ahead?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think certainly he got a PR coup of sorts. This is a man the British government has vilified often. Here are British military personnel in those stark images, smiling, showing him gratitude as he smiles back. I disagree with Mr. Bolton, though, I don't think this was Ahmadinejad's call. From all the indications we got in Tehran, he wasn't calling the shots. It was the supreme leader and in practice, it was a man named Ali Larijani (ph) who is a relative pragmatist in terms of the context with Ahmadinejad. So I think in the end, to not show division, they had Ahmadinejad as a face of the release. But I don't think he was orchestrating this from behind.

ROBERTS: Well, we certainly heard some thoughts from the British sailors and Marines on Friday. They came out to talk to the public for the very first time about exactly how this thing went down. Here is what Captain Chris Air told the world about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. CHRIS AIR, BRITISH ROYAL MARINES: The Iranian navy did not (INAUDIBLE) They came with intent, heavy weapons and very quickly surrounded us. We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who in our impression, came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: They came out deliberately. Bob Baer, what do you make of all this? What was it about on Iran's part?

ROBERT BAER, FMR. CIA ANALYST: First of all, the Islamic revolutionary guard corps, the group that took the hostages are under the control of Khomeni (ph), the spiritual leader. This is not an entirely parallel government that operates on its own. So this was intentionally -- the hostage taking was taken by Iran. It was done by the supreme leader.

ROBERTS: What was it all about? What was it for?

BAER: Retaliation for taking five members of the Islamic revolutionary guard corps in Irbil (ph) on the11th of January, taking diplomats. Iran is sending the message, don't ignore us, don't start playing with us. ROBERTS: Bolton also told me in that interview that he thought that this was about the nuclear program and about Iran testing the waters. Here's what the "National Review" online said in how they characterized what Ahmadinejad did and the west's reaction to it. In an editorial on Wednesday, they said, quote, by committing an act of war, Iran has simultaneously made itself look peaceful and made the west look impotent. Do you believe Karim that this was Iran testing the west, pushing the edge of the envelope, provoking, seeing what type of response would come back, in the event that it does decide to step up its income program?

SADJADPOUR: Well, John, I think this was much more an act of desperation rather than provocation. We're trying to ascertain the world from Tehran as they see it, as Bob mentioned, the Iranian officials being detained in Iraq. You have sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. You have financial coercion taking place. You have U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. So I think Iran wants to show the west that, if you want to reciprocate, we have the means -- I'm sorry, if you want to escalate, we have the means to reciprocate. And don't think a hard line approach is going to moderate our behavior.

ROBERTS: It seemed to also suggest this. If you engage in diplomacy, then perhaps a window is open for dialogue. Tony Blair, the British prime minister picked up on that in a press conference that he gave on Thursday after they were released. But he also drew some red lines to say that Iran has got some responsibilities too. Take a quick listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The possibility of a different relationship with the international community is there. But it has to be based on proper support for the will of that community. And the choice in the end is one that Iran will have to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Aneesh, is Iran likely to make those changes?

RAMAN: No, I don't think we're going to see any real change in policy from Iran. The message as we've alluded to here, in terms of this entire standoff was this, both that Iran has strength and resolve against pressure from the west and that it does reward diplomacy. That it seems was a not so subtle hint by the Iranian government in terms of how they think the nuclear dispute should end. Within Iran and Ahmadinejad sort of gained, has retained popularity among the hard-liners. The hard liners would have liked to see the standoff go on for some time more. It does seem that a pragmatist mindset in the end, when this was done in a magnanimous fashion of orchestrated images, won out within the government. And so there is a little bit of hope that these new lines of communication the prime minister has talked about, which specifically means Ali Larijani, could develop some sort of diplomatic resolution to the nuclear front. Iran, by all indications is not going to change anything. ROBERTS: In the big picture Bob Baer, it does seem to ratchet up tensions. You wrote in "Time" magazine that the U.S. military buildup in the Gulf is fanning Iranian paranoia. You have agreement from retired U.S. Air Force General David Baker who said quote, more ingredients continue to be added to the recipe for some sort of armed conflict between coalition forces and Iran. I believe that both sides are moving toward that event. There's plenty of room for mistakes, miscalculations or wrong moves on all sides. Do you think that some kind of conflict is inevitable here?

BAER: I think the chances are pretty good. It may happen by accident. Something is going to kick it off. There's going to be a border crossing. The Iranians expect to be attacked and they will retaliate immediately against all the Gulf States, against the U.S. fleet. I think as long as we have that fleet, three aircraft carriers in the Gulf, the next couple weeks, we're running a real risk of going to war whether on purpose or incidentally.

ROBERTS: Not a good thought to end this on. Thank you for that. Bob Baer, Karim Sanjadpour and of course, Aneesh Raman in Cairo. Thanks very much.

Later on this hour, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a high-level tour of the Middle East. Will politics derail policy?

And straight ahead, the secretary of Defense says it could be months before we know if the new security plan in Baghdad is working. Can we wait that long? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Thursday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that there was a great reluctance to indulge in happy talk about the security situation in Iraq and that it could be months before any real progress is seen there. In military terms in political terms, can the administration wait that long? Our Kyra Phillips is in Baghdad. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr at her post and with me here in Washington in the studio, Flynt Leverett. He's the former Middle East analyst on the national security council, now a senior fellow with the New America Foundation. On Monday, Kyra reported on a walk through Baghdad's Durah market with the new guy in charge, General David Petraeus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Petraeus says U.S. troops can't leave Iraq until areas like Durah are secure and self-reliant.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: We can study all the language and culture that we want. We're never going to have the feel for it that a lieutenant colonel like this has right here.

PHILLIPS: And Lt. Colonel, what does it mean to have General Petraeus here in this market? This market was dead in the past and we've brought back life the colonel tells me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So the Iraqi colonel, Kyra, is saying that there's a bit of a success story in there. Is it an isolated one in Baghdad?

PHILLIPS: Well, that's a great question. There are areas that are safe. There are areas that are not safe. There are areas that are safe and then days later, become unsafe again. So it's so hard to say that one area really is doing well. I mean the Durah district right there, we went into it, there's improvement, 120 shops have opened versus 600. Still a long way to go and still, a death squad haunts that area. So how do you define safe, secure, a success story? There really isn't one that is absolutely safe. It's day by day, John, truly.

ROBERTS: Senator John McCain was there last week and he was proclaiming that there's success on the ground. He took a tour of the Shorja (ph) market with General Petraeus and then came back and gave a press conference afterwards. Here's what McCain said about his tour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R) ARIZONA: Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I have been here many years, many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport. Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Flynt Leverett, John McCain went out, but he went out surrounded by 100 soldiers, couple of helicopters flying overhead, snipers on the rooftops. Did he do any favors for his argument that things are getting better in Iraq by going out there with all these people and then coming back and saying, success.

FLYNT LEVERETT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I don't think so. It really came across as kind of a Potemkin (ph) village exercise. The media went out the next day and interviewed vendors, people who live in the neighborhood and the general thrust of the interviews is McCain is crazy to say things are as good as he described them. I don't think it played very well for him.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, the military likes good PR, likes to have people say, hey, what's happening on the ground with the so- called surge is a success. Do they think that McCain has gone off the reservation with this proclamations of how good things are?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was Secretary Gates this week that cautioned against such as you said happy talk. That was really a moment at the Gates press conference, a moment of extreme caution. Most commanders, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff are very cautious about security progress in Iraq. What they are looking for is enduring progress, not these little episodes where things seem to be going well.

ROBERTS: Kyra, all this talk, all these arguments in Washington over timetables and funding, how are they affecting troops on the ground? Let me just give you a quick idea of what General Petraeus said on the CBS program "Newshour" on Wednesday. He said quote, the Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock. So we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and perhaps put a little bit more time on the Washington clock. Is there a concern there, Kyra, that the political debate here could hamper the chances for success of this so-called surge?

PHILLIPS: I wish everybody involved in that political debate could come here to Iraq and just live in this environment for a couple weeks. They would say that it's just not that easy. I mean you just can't find a solution that quickly. I sat down with the minister of interior today. This is the man who's in charge of all the police officers. And I asked him, point blank, if U.S. troops left tomorrow, would you be able to secure your country? And he said no, absolutely not. These police officers need U.S. troops to train them, to be by their side and to help them. There is no way they could take over security. He couldn't give me a time line. He couldn't tell me in a month, in six months, in a year. Bottom line, no, this country isn't ready to take over security. They need U.S. troops.

ROBERTS: So Flynt, the interior minister saying, don't pull the troops out because we couldn't sustain security here. Does this so- called surge need to be given a chance without all this heated political rhetoric surrounding it?

LEVERETT: One could make that argument but one could also make an argument that the surge is not really addressing any of the fundamental security and political dynamics in Iraq, that it may have caused some of the militias to pull out of Baghdad, may have caused some of the militias to go to ground in Baghdad but you see, violence continuing outside of Baghdad, U.S. and coalition casualties continuing at significant levels. And in a way, this surge is really just, in a way, is filling time.

ROBERTS: What's the alternative, give up?

LEVERETT: I think the alternative is to adopt a new strategy that is going to recognize that Iraq ultimately develops along regional and largely along ethnic and sectarian lines. And that this whole idea of creating a national security infrastructure in an environment like this is probably doomed to failure. And we're going to have to start building both security and political structures at a regional level.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, can the surge be sustained? Retired General Barry McCaffrey said on Tuesday in a report, actually an editorial in "the Los Angeles Times" following a report that he did quote, the army is beginning to show signs of great strain. Many units are now on their third combat tour. The tours are being routinely extended, recruiting standards are being lowered. Our equipment is shot. By the beginning of this coming year, we'll be forced to downsize our deployment to Iraq or the army will begin to unravel. Looks like there's this looming collision between the needs of the military and its capabilities.

STARR: Well, the head of the army, General Peter Schomaker (ph) has said the very same thing to Congress repeatedly, that they are stretched thin, that they need money, they need rest and recuperation time. Consider this, John, they have just announced that another active duty Army unit is going to go back to Iraq for another tour of duty after only being home for nine months, back on to the front lines. So can it all be sustained? Yes, but at what price to the young troops who are carrying the heaviest burden?

ROBERTS: Not much dwell time for them. The guidelines call for at least a year, preferably two. Kyra Phillips in Baghdad, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Flynt Leverett here in the studio, thanks very much.

Coming up later on this hour, trials of a sort have begun at the prison in Guantanamo Bay. But are any courtroom victories worth the cost to America's international prestige?

And reports that a new generation of al Qaeda leaders are growing stronger. Why isn't the war on terror bringing them down?

But first, a homecoming on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. JORGE VALDEZ JR., U.S. MARINE CORPS: I figured just one more tour, my closest friends. So it was worth it. I didn't think twice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: If you think about it, Marine Sergeant Jorge Valdez has been in Iraq most of his adult life. He enlisted right out of high school, was there for the invasion of Iraq and then went back for three more tours, the last as a volunteer. Now he's home, safe and his mother can rest easy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILDA VALDEZ, MOTHER: In the last 24 hours, tears of joy. In the last 5 1/2 years it's been turmoil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You can only imagine what a mother goes through. The day that Jorge Valdez returned, he did something he hadn't done in over five years. He celebrated a birthday, his 24th, with his family.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're still an enemy that would like to do us harm. And I believe, whether it be in Afghanistan or in Iraq, or anywhere else, if the enemies are able to find safe haven, it will endanger the lives of our fellow citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: That was President Bush speaking on Tuesday. Recent news reports say that a new generation of al Qaeda leaders, younger and more experienced in battle is emerging in the ungoverned border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. How dangerous are they and how can they be stopped? CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen is on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan. He joins us now. And with me again here in Washington, former CIA analyst Robert Baer, the author most recently of the book, "Blow the House Down." Let me read for you, Peter Bergen, a quote from Michael Sawyer, who was head of the bin Laden unit for the CIA in the "New York Times." It was on Monday. He said quote, to say that al Qaeda was out of business simply because they've not attacked in the United States is whistling past the graveyard. Al Qaeda is still humming along and with a new generation of leaders. Peter, we've been engaged here in the United States in the war on terror now for the better part of six years. How is it that a new group of al Qaeda leaders is able to form itself?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is not a conventional criminal organization. This is a group that has very strongly held religious beliefs. They are prepared to take huge casualties. One of the most dangerous jobs in the world is being al Qaeda's number three. We've seen a lot of those come and go. But there is clearly a new generation. We've seen the attempt to bring down 10 American airliners back in the summer of 2006 in the United Kingdom, which is why they were regarded in the U.S. intelligence community as an al Qaeda directed plot from Pakistan. If that probably would have happened, it would have been a 9/11-style event, thousands of people dead. So clearly this organization is back. They're not back to where they were on 9/11, but they can certainly plan devastating attacks in places like London and try and attack the United States again.

ROBERTS: Bob Baer, this new generation, if you will, of leaders, is it different from the leaders of al Qaeda that we saw prior to 9/11?

BAER: Yes, it is different. It's mainly more amorphous. What happened was when we went into Afghanistan in October 2001, it split up. It did put the organization out of business for a while. They fled into the tribal areas, into Pakistan. They got out of the major cities in Pakistan, Karachi. They're harder to follow now. But in a way, it makes them harder to catch. Because what we're seeing is that they are showing up in places like Iraq. They're getting battlefield training, going back to the tribal areas and some of these people that are troops are fighting actually have American visas in their passports. They've been through the United States. They are capable of hitting the United States. And so we essentially hit this bee hive and all the bees scattered.

ROBERTS: Different nationalities as well?

BAER: Different --

ROBERTS: They were predominantly Egyptian and Saudis before.

BAER: Egyptian and Saudis before. But now you're get all across, Indonesians, a lot of Muslims from south Asia, some converts from France, for instance, Europe. They're very difficult to follow now because what's happening is, these guys are getting recruited or they're recruiting themselves in Europe, going to Iraq, going to Afghanistan, getting training and coming back. We don't know who they are.

ROBERTS: Peter, these jihadists who are coming as Bob said, through Iraq, becoming battle hardened in Iraq and then going to Pakistan or taking over some of these cells, are they much more experienced than al Qaeda leaders were before in battle?

BERGER: Well, certainly if you've gone to Iraq, you're fighting the best army in modern history, the U.S.military and to some extent, the British military. So certainly these are battled hardened and certainly there is evidence that people going from the tribal areas, learning in Iraq. They're coming back, which is one of the reasons that we're seeing this huge upswing in suicide attacks. We just had one here in Kabul this morning. And in the streets behind me, the police are looking for other potential suicide attackers. Usually when there's one, there is often another car, trying to look for targets of opportunity. This has been the third suicide attack in Kabul, which has been relatively stable for the last several months. The anticipation is there will be a lot more, according to a U.S. military official I spoke to today. Incursions into Kabul, the capital, have gone up 25 percent in the last several weeks by terrorists looking for targets of opportunity.

ROBERTS: As Peter mentioned just a few minutes ago, there's believed to be a nexus between camps in Pakistan, the London bombings of the trains in 2005 as well as this recent plot to attack a number of aircraft carrying on liquid bombs. How urgent is the threat being provided by this new generation of leaders.

BAER: It's extremely urgent. It's a new generation and they're just getting their training now. What's happening in London, mainly east London, other cities in Britain, they're training, they're recruiting themselves, getting on the Internet and they are going back to Pakistan, the tribal areas to get explosives training, trade craft training, how to avoid surveillance and then they're coming back. There was a bombing attempt on 7/21 in Britain to blow up some buses and subways. It only failed because they didn't have refrigeration for their bombs. They are trying to correct this by bringing people back for training. But there's another point, even in New York City, they're finding Muslims that are disappearing. I heard this from the New York police department that may be going back to Iraq, may be going to Taliban territories in Pakistan and are on their way back. That's what scares me.

ROBERTS: Peter Bergen, what's being done to try to attack this new generation of leadership? They know where the camps in Pakistan. Do they have a plan to go in after them?

BERGEN: Well, You know it's s a tough one, John. They're in Pakistan, these training camps. The U.S. Military can't go into Pakistan. Just today, U.S. Military officials said that they know where Mullah Omar lives, that they have coordinates in a compound in Quetta where he comes and goes from, Quetta being a city in southwest Pakistan. It's not for a lack of knowledge. It's a problem, Pakistan will not for domestic political reasons let U.S. Military in any great numbers go into Pakistan. While that continues to be true, this problem, I think, will continue to fester.

ROBERTS: And, of course, now Pakistani President Perez Musharraf is having political difficulties of his own, leaving people to question, if he falls, then what happens? Peter Bergen in Kabul, Bob Roberts in the studio thanks very much; appreciate it.

Coming up are Democrats harming the United States by forming a separate foreign policy? We'll take a look at both sides of that story.

And the White House faces off with Congress over military funding, is it what the voters want or is it undercutting the troops on the front lines?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Senator Arthur Vandenburg (ph) once said that partisan politics should end at the water's edge. She also said it didn't mean foreign policy was not subject to debate, in fact, quite the opposite. So are congressional Democrats meddling in foreign policy or performing their proper role in a two-party system?

A.B. Stoddard writes about congress for "The Hill" newspaper. She joins up from New York. And with me here in Washington, Mike Allen, Chief Political Correspondent for Politico.com.

As congress enjoys its Easter break, speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to the Middle East, including a controversial meeting with the Syrian president Bashar Al Asad (ph) setting off a war of words between the speaker and President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: We came in friendship, we came with hope, we came determined that the road to Damascus would be a path to peace.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Asad leave the Asad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community. When in fact they're a state sponsor of terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So President Bush had hoped that Nancy Pelosi would have a road to Damascus moment, turn around and go home. A.B. Stoddard, was it the right thing or wrong thing for her to do?

A.B. STODDARD: Well it should be said Nancy Pelosi as a veteran of the House Intelligence Committee knows what she's talking about and she's speaking for many Democrats and actually a few Republicans in seeking a dialogue between the U.S. And Syria. This trip in some ways backfired for her. And looking at it politically speaking, I think she had little to gain and much to lose from botching a diplomatic effort in the Middle East. ROBERTS: What do you think, right or wrong thing, Mike?

MIKE ALLEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans got to have fun with this; the House Republicans called it the fool's errand. Vice President Cheney said this was rewarding bad behavior, not disagreeing with A.B. But just telling you what the speaker had in mind, her people saw this as a chance to stand up to the president and to remind him that she's also a voice to deal with and, of course, you and your viewers know, the one problem with the Republican pushback is that the Republicans on the trip, five Republicans in Syria, just this week.

ROBERTS: Sounds to me, Mike, like you are disagreeing with A.B. but I could be wrong here.

One person who really liked it was forming President Jimmy Carter. Here's what he said on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Syria can be quite helpful in swaying the negative tendencies of Hamas and certainly they can have influence that can be beneficial in Hezbollah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, President Jimmy Carter thinks there are benefits to the dialogue with Syria even if they're not playing nice. But A.B. what about this idea that it looks like she may have fumbled a message she was bringing from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Because Olmert's office had to almost immediately afterwards clarify what Pelosi said.

STODDARD: That's what I was referring to in terms of it backfiring. Because they sort of rejected her declaration, it really kind of validates what the administration is saying, whch is that you're not secretary of state, it's not your role to come in and make these declarations, especially when they turned out not to be true.

ROBERTS: Is this undermining foreign policy, Mike? Let me just read a couple of editorials. This was a rare occasion when "The Wall Street Journal" and "The Washington Post" both agreed on something. Friday in "The Wall Street Journal" and Thursday in "The Washington Post," quote, Democrats took congress last fall in part by opposing the war in Iraq. But it is becoming clear that they view their election as a mandate for something far more ambitious, to wit, promoting and executing their own foreign policy albeit without the detail of a presidential election.

"The Washington Post" said, we have found much to criticize in Mr. Bush's military strategy and regional diplomacy. But Mrs. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it's foolish. ALLEN: Well and if you are going to go against the president, as A.B. points out, do something very risky, you have to hit a home run. If you're going to carry a secret message from one leader to another, keep it a secret that protects you from having this back and forth go on. What the speaker's office said that the message she gave to Syria did include the tough conditions about engaging with Israel, but that got lost in the translation. What the speaker vulnerable to being said she was incompetent in how she handled this.

ROBERTS: Another big issue this week, Senate majority leader Harry Reid says if President Bush vetoes this supplemental spending bill, with the provision to extract the troops from Iraq in a year's time, we're going to go after the funding; we're going to cut it off. President Bush didn't like that one bit. Here's what he said on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Congress' failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to. That is unacceptable to me and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A.B.. Stoddard, did Reed overstep by suggesting that he might cut off funding? Did he give the Republicans a big stick to whack him over the head with?

STODDARD: There are 96 Senators in this U.S. Senate on record recently opposing cutting off funds for the war. I'm not at all surprised that Senator Reed is ratcheting up the rhetoric during the recess. Democratic aides expressed concern to me about this, that the president would dominate the message while home on holiday. It only took three days for him to get into the rose garden and blast them. And so they know that even though they're taking their message district to district, member by member there's no match for the winner of the bully pulpit.

ROBERTS: Who do you think is winning this P.R. battle, Mike?

ALLEN: This is the best thing that's happened to the president in some time. Maybe since his re-election because he's very smartly characterized this as support for the troops, not support for the war. And John, you're there all the time. Usually he's back on his heels, right? This is giving him a chance to be on the offensive. Its two issues the conservatives like, the budget and the troops. You're going to see the president out early next week with the same message again in front of a military audience. And as we head toward April 15th, when the Pentagon said they'll have to start moving money around, they're going to be hitting the Democrats even harder.

ROBERTS: I got a feeling that Harry Reed stepped in it in this particular occasion and the president is just trying to push his face in it.

A.B. Stoddard, Mike Allen, it's always good to see you, thanks.

ALLEN: Happy Easter, John.

ROBERTS: Same to you.

Up next, it seems like just about everyone is calling for the U.S. Military prison in Cuba to close. But there are no plans to close it.

Straight ahead, we'll talk to a man who helped craft the U.S. Detainee policy and a man who fought it all the way to the Supreme Court and won.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: More than five years after the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was designated as a place to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists, it remains a flash point for critics who charge it tramples on prisoners' rights and undermines U.S. Credibility. Has this military prison become indefensible? Two key players in this debate join me now. In Berkeley, California, John Yoo. As a Justice Department lawyer he was an architect of the White House policy on detention and interrogation. Now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley.

And here with me in the studio, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift. He successfully challenged the Bush Administration's policies on military tribunals before the Supreme Court last year. As the defense attorney of Salam Hamden (ph) and continues to represent Hamdam (ph) even now.

In a March press conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded that Guantanamo Bay is the focus of international and domestic criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Guantanamo has become symbolic, whether we like it or not, for many around the world. The president has said he'd like to close the detainee facility there. I'd like to close the facility there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: John Yoo, everybody wants to close the facility, yet it remains open. You wrote the guidelines on detentions in military tribunals. Has Guantanamo become more of blight on America's reputation than it's worth?

JOHN YOO, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT BERKELEY: There's no doubt that Guantanamo has become the focus for international and domestic opposition to the war on terrorism. But even if you closed it down you would have to have a detention facility somewhere like Guantanamo Bay we're at war. That war would get to hold enemy combatants until the end of the conflict. You need to have a secure facility. I don't think it would be a good idea to put one in the United States, which might invite more terrorist attacks. And we're going to need to have a detention facility as long as we have detainees to hold in the war on terrorism.

ROBERTS: Let me go to a statement on that, the former Associate Attorney General Patrick Philbin was appearing before the House Armed Services Committee recently. He was addressing that idea of if you don't put detainees at Guantanamo Bay, you've got to put them somewhere Here's what he said about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL PATRICK PHILBIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY: The only alternative to holding enemy combatants at Guantanamo would be bringing them on to U.S. Soil. As a practical matter that would raise a serious security concern for whatever facility was constructed to house the detainees and for the American community around that facility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And Commander Swift, you heard the arguments. Is it an untenable risk to bring these people on American soil? We need to have them off to a prison facility like Guantanamo?

LT. COMMANDER CHARLES SWIFT, U.S. NAVY ATTORNEY: Well, actually Guantanamo has a lot of disadvantages and having them in the United States has a lot of advantages. If it's an untenable risk, other terrorists who have been convicted and held here, those same prisons would be subject to attack. We held other members in Charleston, South Carolina in a brig there. We've held them in the brigs in Norfolk and to date, that hasn't been determined to be an untenable risk.

Since this is symbolic, not having to do anything with escape, this is more about the symbology that we send. It makes sense to bring them to the United States. It's going to make trails which everyone hopes there's going to be, much easier to do. It's going to facilitate both intelligence gathering and coordination with all the agencies because it's not cut off in Guantanamo and it's going to save the taxpayers an awful lot of money. If we're in this in the long haul, Guantanamo Bay is extremely expensive and outlived its usefulness. It now looks as our single biggest black eye out there.

ROBERTS: And john, one of the issues that keeps coming up related to Guantanamo Bay and Commander Swift has been fighting this one in court, is this idea that the detainees are not allowed to challenge the legality of their detention in court. It's also been a favorite topic of "The New York Times." They had an editorial about that on Friday. Here's what they said. Quote, it is past time for congress to undo the greatest damage done by President Bush's abuse of the Constitution when he created his system of secret prisons and public interment camps to detain selected foreigners indefinitely without any real legal challenge. Democrats in Congress, now John are saying that they may take up this issue of Guantanamo; they may seek to close it. Is that the right thing or wrong thing to do?

YOO: First, I think it's the wrong thing to do. Second, Congress passed a statute just last October, the military commissions act, upholding the president's policies about having the Guantanamo base and preventing the federal courts from intervening and trying to hear whether they should be held or not. It may be the case that this Congress may want to do that. I would note there were broad bipartisan majorities for the passage of the statute in October. And there's a bigger issue going on here. If you bring these people into the United States, they will get basically the full and the same constitutional rights that criminal suspects in our country get. And I think in war time in the past, the United States has never granted those kinds of rights to prisoners of war or people who, like Al Qaeda, who don't even obey the laws of war are not entitled to the same status and rights as prisoners of war. I don't think we ought to bring people like that into the United States and allow them to use civilian courts to try to get evidence and information about our war on terrorism.

ROBERTS: Commander Swift, there's also been an issue in Guantanamo dealing with mistreatment, abuse, if you will, Australian David Hicks recently pled guilty. There were allegations in his plea of mistreatment. Khalid Shake Mohammed had that lengthy confession. He also suggested that he was mistreated. We get these confessions, guilty pleas, yet are they being held for the same high standard of justice that America prides itself?

SWIFT: First I want to disagree with professor Yoo. I have the utmost respect for him as a constitutional scholar but on this one he's dead wrong.

Bringing people into the United States does not guarantee them criminal rights. The most underlying problem here, right now, the only way that a detainee can guarantee their freedom in David's case, had he pled not guilty, there was no guarantee, even if he won the trial, that he would be released. In fact, it was said he would continue to be held. The only way he could guarantee his freedom was to plead guilty for a deal that got him home and ultimately to Australia in nine months. With that kind of a political specter hanging over these, no one's going to buy it if in fact David Hicks is guilty. I mean, he's pled guilty; we should presume that he's guilty. The fact that we're still talking about whether he's guilty or not shows the absolute problems in this trial. We shouldn't be talking about it anymore. We should be done with it.

ROBERTS: Well, with Democrats in Congress, perhaps a major shift is on its way.

John Yoo and Commander Swift, thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

In just a moment, the story of an American town where yellow ribbons are going up, not in hopes of the soldiers return but in memory for a life lost. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Are we looking at a thaw in the frosty relationship between the United States and North Korea? We'll explore that in just a moment.

But first, THIS WEEK AT WAR, a remembrance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

In Portland, Maine, Angel Kohl is putting up ribbons in memory of her brother, thousands of ribbons. Neighbors gathered to sew yellow bows for army sergeant Jason Swiger, killed by a suicide bomber in Bequeba (ph), Iraq.

Valarie Swiger remembered her son.

VALERIE SWIGER, JASON SWIGER'S MOTHER: Jason fully believed in what he was doing. And fully believed that he was fighting for our good.

ROBERTS : Sergeant Swiger was killed when he stepped from his humvee to give candy to children. He was 24 years old.

Here are some of the others who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: This week brought into sharp focus the lingering fault lines in foreign policy. On one side, the conversationalists, on the other, the confrontation lists.

Britain's quiet diplomacy with Iran to win back its sailors and marines was met with harsh criticism by American hawks who mocked Tony Blair by practically begging to get his people back. Hawks thing that Iran should have been whacked upside the head with a heavy stick and forced to hand over the Brits.

And then there are the pictures of Nancy Pelosi shaking hands with Syria's Basher Al Asad. Even "The Washington Post," which pointed out that it has much to criticize about the president's foreign policy didn't think that Pelosi's meeting was a good idea. It's not the issue of talking peace with Syria; Bill Clinton sat down with Asad's father a few years ago. But he was president then. Critics derided the speaker of the house for pursuing a parallel foreign policy; the one they say undermines the official American line. They likely would have been much happier had Pelosi taken a heavy stick and hit Asad upside the head with it.

Sticks are often useful tools for diplomacy, but so is the art of dialogue. Dialogue got Libya to give up its nuclear program. Dialogue broke the North Korea impasse. There's every chance, of course, that talking to Iran and Syria would play into their hands. I was on that trip when bill Clinton talked to asad. He was just playing games and Clinton went away frustrated and furious. The world will always be filled with a few friends, a few enemies and a great number who could be persuaded. But without talking to them, how will we ever know which is which?

Turning now to some of the stories that we'll be following in the next WEEK AT WAR, on Wednesday, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur has Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte setting out on a trip to several African nations.

And Saturday is the deadline for North Korea to shut down a nuclear reactor in accordance with a six party agreement that was reached in February.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR, I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines, then CNN's special investigations unit, "After Jesus, The First Christians" A look at Christianity's earliest days and how it became the world's largest religion.

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

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