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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Military Moves Into Triangle of Death; Is Pakistan's Democracy at Risk?

Aired June 18, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, on the offensive -- with fresh reinforcements, the U.S. military moves into Iraq's Triangle of Death. We have some dramatic new video of a gunship as it goes after insurgents.

A key ally in the war against terror facing some domestic unrest.

Is Pakistan's democracy at risk? Could its nuclear arsenal fall into the hands of Islamic extremists?

And even as she builds a lead among Democratic rivals, is Hillary Rodham Clinton suddenly too macho for some feminists?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

With fresh troops adding new muscle, the U.S. military is moving against Al Qaeda in a new offensive outside Baghdad. We have some stunning new video showing how much firepower can be brought against the insurgents.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie, the U.S. military, I take it, now is at full strength?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The fifth and final so-called surge brigade is in combat, part of what the U.S. military is calling a major new offensive to go after insurgents who have fled Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still waiting on confirmation that we have no friendly units east of (INAUDIBLE).

MCINTYRE: The U.S. military's self-described surge is moving outside Baghdad...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over.

MCINTYRE: ... into the so-called Triangle of Death, as this edited video from a U.S. apache attack helicopter shows. The offensive kicked off a few days ago, with Iraqi soldiers said to be in the lead. Here, the helicopter gunship engages insurgents who fired against Iraqi Army troops Friday near Iskandariyah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) fire.

MCINTYRE: A nearby building provides no refuge for the insurgents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel at home (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire.

MCINTYRE: Four are killed before the rest surrender, waving a white cloth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is now waving a flag from the original house.

MCINTYRE: It's a small victory for the U.S. troop buildup that has yet to prove a success. During a quick stop in Iraq Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wished Iraqi leaders were making better use of the time bought with American lives.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Our troops are buying them time to pursue reconciliation and that, frankly, we're disappointed with the progress so far.

MCINTYRE: But now three days later, the White House insists President Bush was impressed and reassured, following a 52-minute secure video conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and other members of Iraq's Presidential Council.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: And U.S. commanders in Iraq continue to portray the picture as a mixed bag, with some success and some setbacks. General David Petraeus says this latest offensive is going after areas where Al Qaeda and the insurgents are believed to have been pushed out of Baghdad by the American crackdown -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This video that has now been released by the Department of Defense, Jamie, is very dramatic and very clear -- a video obviously taken from these aircraft. But it's been a while since we've seen them release this kind of video. At least I haven't seen a lot of it lately.

Is there a new policy, new strategy to release more of the gunship camera, if you will?

MCINTYRE: Well, this video was released because the U.S. military is trying to show that the surge is moving outside Baghdad and having some effect. But, again, this is -- this is a small victory. We've seen a lot of these. The real question is, is overall the policy going to result in that political reconciliation that could allow a troop drawdown? And General Petraeus is being cagey about what his recommendation is going to be in September, laying the groundwork for probably asking for more time for the policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thanks very much.

Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon.

The U.S. is now betting on Mahmoud Abbas. After the Hamas take over of Gaza, the Palestinian president has named a new government in the West Bank and the Bush administration is now ready to back it, including with a lot of dollars.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee -- Zain, the announcement came from the secretary of state.

Some critics already suggesting good dollars going after bad dollars.

Tell our viewers what's going on.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. is essentially saying that Mahmoud Abbas made a hard choice so the U.S. is now rewarding him with hard cash.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Millions of U.S. dollars, stopped after Hamas won Palestinian elections last year, will now flow to empty coffers in the West Bank. Unlike Hamas, the government of President Mahmoud Abbas rejects violence and says it will recognize Israel. So Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Abbas' new prime minister the U.S. is behind him.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: And I told him that the United States would resume full assistance to the Palestinian government and normal government-to-government contacts.

VERJEE: The U.S. will now allow American companies and banks to do business in the West Bank, help Palestinians deliver basic needs like roads and clean water, make good on an $86 million pledge to boost President Abbas' security forces and push for negotiations with Israel over a Palestinian state.

RICE: But the Palestinian people also need to know that there is a viable state that is possible.

VERJEE: The U.S. hopes that cash will boost Abbas' own currency among Palestinians and make his rule over the West Bank the better choice, compared to a chaotic and isolated Hamas-run Gaza.

Mideast experts say money is not a quick fix.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: We can certainly push the aid out the door. We can certainly show that Hamas can't govern. But actually solving this problem and making the West Bank work is really, really hard.

VERJEE: Critics also say the money is going to leaders known for corruption.

The question they ask is will the money restore credibility or be squandered away again?

Some Arab diplomats tell CNN the biggest obstacle to peace isn't money. They say it's the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: And, Wolf, of course, obviously all of this will be discussed when President Bush meets the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did the secretary, Zain, say anything about helping the Palestinians in Gaza who are now under the control of Hamas?

VERJEE: Yes, Wolf, she did. Secretary Rice basically said the U.S. is not just going to turn its back on the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in the chaos of Gaza. She said the U.S. is going to give $40 million to U.N. relief agencies on the ground and they will distribute aid whenever they can to the Palestinian people in Gaza.

She said this: "We will not leave Palestinians at the mercy of terrorists" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much.

Zain is at the State Department.

Since seizing control of Gaza, Hamas leaders have joined calls to free a BBC correspondent kidnapped by a Palestinian militant group back in March.

Alan Johnston joined the BBC in 1991, for the past three years has been the only Western reporter permanently based in Gaza. Since Johnston's kidnapping, there has been ongoing rallies and calling for his release. Johnston's kidnappers are from what's called The Army of Islam, a small faction apparently influenced by Al Qaeda. They released a video yesterday denying that a deal for Johnston's freedom has been reached.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- let's hope Alan is released soon and in good shape.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's hope, indeed.

Here's some discouraging news, Wolf.

Iraq is the second most unstable country in the world, behind only Sudan. That's according to something called The 2007 Failed State Index. They have indexes for everything now.

That index is put out by "Foreign Policy" magazine and an independent research group called The Fund for Peace. What this means is that Iraq -- where the United States has poured hundreds of billions of dollars, sent in more than 150,000 troops and lost more than 3,500 young men and women -- fares worse in this survey than war torn or poverty stricken places like Somalia, Zimbabwe, The Ivory Coast, Congo and North Korea.

The index found that Iraq suffered a third straight year of deterioration last year, with lower results when it comes to things like social, economic, political and military indicators. Guess who else makes the top 10 most unstable companies in the world?

Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces are still fighting the Taliban almost six years after the U.S. invasion there. Afghanistan is the eighth most unstable country in the world.

The report says the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan "show that billions of dollars in development and security aid may be futile unless accompanied by a functioning government, trustworthy leaders and realistic plans to keep the peace and develop the economy."

So here's the question -- what does it mean if Iraq now ranks as the world's second most unstable country, behind only Sudan?

E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

Thanks, Jack, for that.

Coming up, Pakistan, tackling allegations it's going soft in the war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KHURSHID KASURI, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: Why should I feel pressure?

Pakistan has done more than any other country. We have arrested more people, more Taliban, more Al Qaeda. And, furthermore, you didn't let me complete my sentence. We've lost more soldiers than NATO/ICEF combined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: My one-on-one interview with Pakistan's always outspoken foreign minister. That's coming up. What he says about accusations his country is turning a blind eye to the terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden.

Also, is Hillary Clinton stumbling in the race for the White House?

Why she may be losing some traction among some supposedly core voters. We'll tell you what's going on. And can someone really stop being gay?

An Evangelical leader now takes on the controversy and has some surprising words.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A key anti-terror ally in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda now accused of actually harboring terrorists -- a nuclear power in a very, very dangerous corner of the world. Pakistan facing a constitutional crisis right now, after firing the top -- the country's top judge.

Can the president, Pervez Musharraf, keep his own job?

I just spoke a little while ago with the foreign minister of Pakistan, Khurshid Kasuri.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: The decision to go ahead and depose the chief justice has caused widespread demonstrators on the streets of Pakistan and it's caused a lot of anguish outside of Pakistan, fearing that democracy could be lost in your country.

I wonder how concerned you are, as a member of the cabinet, as to the reaction that's unfolding. Because, as you know, there has been deep, deep concern.

KASURI: You know, ironically, some of the things that are happening are because of the freedom that Pakistan has. Pakistan is a pluralistic society. Pakistan has a very free and a vibrant media and the credit for that, to a very large extent -- people may or may not wish to give it to him -- is President Musharraf.

When he took over there was only one channel, the Pakistan Television, PTV. That's it. Now there are so many that I can't count.

And our media is very independent. It's independent in the sense that there are no holy cows, unlike some countries, even in America, they'll say on security, on foreign policy, the American media is relatively soft. Our media...

BLITZER: Will this chief justice be allowed to come back?

KASURI: The president has said openly that he will abide by the judgment of the supreme court and I have no doubt to -- and absolutely no reason to doubt that. That we don't know what the judgment of the supreme court will be, but whatever it is, the president is on record as having said that.

BLITZER: The journalist, Ahmed Rashid, also wrote this in the "Washington Post." He said: "Pakistan today is the center of global Islamic terrorism, with Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mohammed Omar probably living here."

And, as you know, there is a lot of concern that the effective sanctuary you've given the Taliban along the border with Pakistan, with Afghanistan, has enabled, perhaps, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an opportunity to hide out there and rebuild their terrorist network.

KASURI: I strongly reject any suggestion which says that we have given sanctuary. Let's put the record straight. The Mullah Omar belonged to Kandahar, which is in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. And Taliban -- and the Al Qaeda operated from within Afghanistan until 9/11.

In those bombings of Tora Bora, these people ran away. And some of them went into the tribal areas. Now, American and Pakistani intelligence is in close cooperation with each other. If there is a failure, it's fair to say it's a collective failure. Let's not pin it onto Pakistan.

BLITZER: Because the argument is you're not doing what -- what you should be doing...

KASURI: Well (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: ... in going after...

KASURI: My...

BLITZER: ... these groups.

KASURI: My argument, with great respect to -- first of all, when you say we are not doing what we should be doing, we have lost most soldiers on that border than NATO/ICEF combined.

BLITZER: But you're here in Washington.

Hasn't the U.S. been pressing you to step up, do more?

KASURI: No, no, no...

BLITZER: Wasn't that why the vice president, Dick Cheney, went to Pakistan?

KASURI: No. I've been here. I met the Sec -- I met Secretary Rice. She understands what we are doing. People who understand what we are doing don't press, because they know how much we are doing. There's the highest level of cooperation between intelligence services of the two countries. There are a lot of announced and unannounced visits between the two intelligence setups. Lots of people interact with each other. And because of that, there's a great degree of trust between them.

So the stories that you sometimes feel, you read in the media, do not reflect the (INAUDIBLE)... BLITZER: So you're not feeling pressure from Washington?

KASURI: Why should I feel pressure?

Pakistan has done more than any other country. We have arrested more people, more Taliban, more Al Qaeda. And, furthermore, you didn't let me complete my sentence. We have lost more soldiers than NATO/ICEF combined. And do you know -- look at the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan with NATO/ICEF and look at the casualties there. We have lost -- the ratio of those who have lost Pakistani soldiers is one to two or one to 1.5.

I will leave the rest to you, the why.

Do you know?

Because this is hand to hand combat. We don't -- we have aircrafts. We can also bombard from the air. We also have -- we can have shelling there. But we don't do it, because we cannot afford -- they're our own people...

BLITZER: All right...

KASURI: We cannot kill them randomly. We cannot go for bombing. And, therefore, it shows the level of commitment -- hand to hand combat. People have lost their lives and we would wish that their sacrifices will also deflected by the rest in the media.

BLITZER: One final question, because we're almost out of time.

How worried should the U.S. be that potentially your country and its nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of Islamists terrorists?

KASURI: None. No. No reason at all. Pakistan has strong institutions...

BLITZER: If President Musharraf goes down, though?

KASURI: Well, he is not going to go down now, because why should he?

Because he has done so many good things. Our economy is thriving. He's said -- he has promised election, elections that will be free and fair. And we'll go according to the mandate of the people.

But whatever may happen, one thing is absolutely clear -- Pakistan's nuclear weapons are in very safe hands.

How do I know?

I am a member of the National Commander Authority. I know the sort of measures that have been taken. And we are consulting with all our friends. We are following all the latest procedures for safeguarding our weapons.

BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us.

KASURI: A pleasure to be with you.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, torrential rains leading to deadly floods in North Texas. The National Guard joining the hunt for those believed swept away.

And new allegations about the torment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops. Did Donald Rumsfeld know about the Abu Ghraib abuses months before the American public knew?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol Costello.

She's monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a woman and a girl are dead after torrential rains swamped towns in North Texas. National Guard helicopters and emergency boats were in force today rescuing scores of people trapped on rooftops. Entire families had to climb to safety from their attics. At least eight inches of rain fell early today, causing creeks to overflow and closing part of I-35.

People are flocking to Tulsa, Oklahoma to eye that 1957 Plymouth Belvedere. This isn't just any car. It was buried underground in a concrete vault for 50 years to celebrate Oklahoma's statehood. The rust-covered car was dug up on Friday. In its trunk was a five gallon can of gas that cost 24 cents a gallon. There are also post cards from 1957 guessing Tulsa's current population. The person with the closest guess wins the car. And, of course, if that person dies, then, of course, the closest relative will get the prize.

Checking the bottom line now, if you're planning a move to Moscow, bring money. For the second straight year, the Russian capital has been named the world's most expensive city. Mercer Human Resource Consulting looked at housing, food, transportation and entertainment costs. A luxury two bedroom apartment will run you $4,000 bucks a month. London is number two on the list, followed by Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That doesn't sound too bad, $4,000 a month for a luxury two bedroom. In Manhattan -- you've lived in New York. That could go for a lot more than that.

COSTELLO: Yes. No, that's true. But they didn't say how big those bedrooms were, because, you know, you could get a two bedroom, even in New York, and it has 500 square feet.

BLITZER: Right. And it can cost more than $4,000 a month, too.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol.

We'll check back with you shortly.

Coming up, she's one of the most powerful women in the United States.

But is White House hopeful Hillary Clinton's popularity sinking with some feminist voters?

And stunning new allegations about Abu Ghraib.

Did top officials, including the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, know about prisoner abuse months earlier than they admitted?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, White House police have given the all clear. The Secret Service evacuated the White House press center in Jackson Square, across the street from the White House, just a little while ago. That after a bomb sniffing dog reacted to a vehicle being used for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit. Police checked out the vehicle thoroughly and say nothing was suspicious. Nothing was found. All clear over at the White House.

Duke University has reached a financial settlement with three former lacrosse players falsely accused of rape. The school had suspended the students, who were later cleared by North Carolina's attorney general. They may file suit against the former D.A. Mike Nifong, who has been disbarred for his mishandling of the case.

And NASA says everything looks good for Space Shuttle Atlantis to return home later this week. It's testing computers on the International Space Station which malfunctioned last week.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

White House hopeful Hillary Clinton is getting a boost in the polls. A just released "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 39 percent of Democrats surveyed picked the New York senator to be president. That's if Al Gore isn't in the race. Twenty-six percent prefer Senator Barack Obama. John Edwards is third, with 13 percent.

But Senator Clinton may have to make up some ground with a core group of potential supporters.

Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello.

She's watching this part of the story for us -- Carol?

COSTELLO: You know, Wolf, it's surprising, because you would think that these women, who are a lot like Hillary Clinton, would rally around her. But while Senator Clinton enjoys a whopping two to one level of support from women over Barack Obama, she is not winning over some baby boomer feminists.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): You would think Hillary Clinton would embody a feminist victory -- a woman long described by certain conservatives as a femi-Nazi now a viable candidate for president of the United States.

But you'd be wrong.

SUSAN DOUGLAS, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: People feel like Hillary has tried too hard to be more like a man.

COSTELLO: Feminist author Susan Douglas says Hillary Clinton has taken on a mantel of political masculinity, especially when it comes to her stance on the war.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: And I think it was time to say enough is enough.

COSTELLO: Some would say tough is an attractive quality post- 9/11. But feminist and filmmaker, Nora Ephron, says Clinton: "Currently takes the utterly lame, testosterone-driven position that we should have gone in with more troops."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE," COURTESY TRISTAR)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I would give anything to marry Walter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Ephron, whose film, "Sleepless In Seattle," so successfully captured what women wanted in the '80s, didn't always feel that way. She once loved Hillary Clinton so much, she said: "Hillary would have to burn down the White House before I would say anything bad about her."

But to Ephron and to some other feminists, Clinton has lost her mantle of political feminism.

CNN couldn't reach activist Jane Fonda, but quoted in "L.A. weekly," she goes as far as to say: "It may be a feminist progressive man who would do better in the White House than a ventriloquist for the patriarchy with a skirt and a vagina."

The underlying fear is that Clinton will make the same mistakes as a macho George Bush.

DOUGLAS: Feminism was not about being more like men. It was really about challenging patriarchy and making our society more humane.

COSTELLO: As feminist columnist Anna Quindlen put it: "Clinton doesn't quite capture the fantasy of being authoritative and down to earth in equal measure."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: And Quindlen said that in her column in "Newsweek" magazine.

Hillary Clinton's camp told me Hillary enjoys disproportionately strong support among women and is winning the women's vote decisively. And that is absolutely true.

But if they're not feminists, who are they?

Well, they're mostly moderates who make less than $50,000 a year and who did not attend college.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol.

Thanks very much.

So, how do Hillary Clinton's feminist credentials stack up?

Joining us now to discuss this and more, Senator Clinton's former press secretary over at the White House, Lisa Caputo, and Arianna Huffington. She's the editor-in-chief of huffingtonpost.com.

Thanks very much for coming in.

Lisa, you would think that this would not be a problem for Hillary Clinton, to be criticized by some of these feminists. What do you make of this?

LISA CAPUTO, FMR. HILLARY CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, you know, Wolf, I think the whole thing is fascinating because we really wouldn't be having this dialogue if she weren't a woman. And I think that what is important to note is that she has got the support behind her of the president of the National Organization for Women, the president of Planned Parenthood, the president of EMILY's List, the president of the Feminist Majority.

So I think what you see is a combination of both diehard feminists, as well as the combination of moving to the middle and getting the centrist moderate female voter. So from where I sit as an observe of this, it certainly seems to me that she does have the disproportionate share of the women's vote -- both feminists and moderates.

BLITZER: All right.

Arianna, what do you see?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: What I see is that really the women that you quoted and the women captured in the poll are looking for a woman who is going to be an agent for change. And Hillary Clinton is perceived as somebody who is going to perpetuate the status quo, and especially when it comes to the war.

Even in the last debate, where she was the clear winner, as far as I was concerned, in terms of style and in terms of knowledge, she said that the country is not -- is safer now than it was before 9/11. Now, that is the status quo Republican position. So those who want to see real change, whether in foreign policy or in domestic issues, are concerned that she is actually not going to bring that, and that is more important to them than the fact that she is a woman.

BLITZER: Is it just the war in Iraq that is behind this criticism from these feminists, Lisa, that is driving this criticism from the people we just heard in Carol's report?

CAPUTO: You know, Wolf, I think it's just so interesting. I mean, oftentimes, women just don't do other women favors. I mean, that is sort of the sad reality of our society. But I think as far as the war goes, you know, she and the Democrats, all of them, have been great proponents of ending the war and having a withdrawal of troops, and pushing forward and moving our troops out and ending it, versus prolonging it.

So every feminist I know is certainly in support of that position. But you have to do it in a thoughtful and intelligent way. You can't just wield the hammer and withdraw troops. You have got to be orderly about it.

BLITZER: Same question to you, Arianna. Is the war in Iraq behind this criticism?

HUFFINGTON: The war in Iraq is of course incredibly important. But it's not the only issue, Wolf. I think we have a country where in the latest AP poll, 75 percent believe we are on the wrong track.

This is going to be a change election, and people who were quoted and people who were captured in this poll want to see a change candidate. I think that is really the overriding issue. And the war is sort of a second (ph) issue within that.

And we see other parts of her career in the Senate that make the same point. For example, the fact that she supported a flag burning bill which clearly is not a major issue, just because she wanted in a very calculated, triangulated way move to the center, as Lisa said. Well, these things are seen as playing the system rather than wanting to change the system, which is seen as basically not doing right by large majorities of people.

BLITZER: Well, Lisa, let me pick up on that thought. The political fallout, is this good for Senator Clinton, that she is being criticized by some of these feminists that we just heard, including Jane Fonda, because that would make her presumably more attractive to the center?

CAPUTO: Well, look, Wolf, you're always going to have criticism if you're a political candidate and somebody is seeking public office. The fact of the matter is, during my time in politics and to date, I have never seen a better organized organization around women and capturing the women's vote. I mean, this is right down to the grassroots in the Clinton operation, led by Ann Lewis. In fact, about a week ago, they launched a cross-country effort with Billie Jean King, a pronounced feminist.

So, I would say, you know, this is not surprising to me. But let's remember, Wolf, you have to govern from the middle. We all know that, especially you. You've covered politics for a long time.

And so I think what you're seeing is somebody who's experienced, as Hillary Clinton is, who has a long track record being a realist and setting the stage for her vision for the future and how she would govern the country.

BLITZER: I'll give Arianna the last word.

Go ahead, Arianna.

HUFFINGTON: Well, you know, actually, Lisa summed up the problem with those -- in terms of those who disagree with Hillary Clinton. Governing from the middle often means being wishy-washy, not standing for anything, not being passionate about anything. And the big issues of our time are not in the middle.

Seventy percent of the American people want us out of Iraq. Seventy percent want universal health care. These are not issues in the middle, and I think the women captured in this poll are looking for someone to bring the passion that is necessary to change America.

BLITZER: I'll leave both of you with this quote from Bay Buchanan, a conservative who wrote a book about Hillary Clinton, "The Extreme Makeover of Hillary Rodham Clinton".

She wrote in her book this: "First and foremost, Hillary is an ardent and radical feminist. Of all the liberal causes of her past, this is the one most deeply rooted. She does not just represent radical feminists; she is one of them."

All right. I'll leave our viewers with that thought just so that we get Bay Buchanan's concept into this discussion as well.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in.

CAPUTO: Thanks, Wolf. Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: Lisa Caputo and Arianna Huffington here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up head, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Thought you heard the last of it? Guess what/ There are new details emerging of what top Bush administration officials might have known, and they might have known about it a lot sooner than earlier said.

That's coming up next.

Also, Mike Gravel's most unusual campaign video. Jeanne Moos gazes at it, looking for deep hidden meaning. She's going to tell us what she found.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They were truly shocking pictures and they did, indeed, shock the world -- U.S. troops tormenting Iraqi prisoners. Now there are new allegations about who knew what and when.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's looking at this story.

The suggestion, Brian, is that top officials at the Pentagon knew more than they earlier led on.

Tell our viewers what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they may very well have known earlier than they let on, according to what a top investigator told a prominent journalist. It speaks to the tension at the highest levels of the Pentagon during one of its worst crises of the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): May 2004: Just days after these images of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were made public then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress he himself had just found out how serious the abuse was.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If the president didn't know and you didn't know and I didn't know, and the -- as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press. And there they are.

TODD: But a new report claims senior military leaders were given extensive information on the abuse shortly after the first complaints were filed months earlier, in January.

SEYMOUR HERSH, "THE NEW YORKER": Two days later, the top -- the highest level, the fourth floor of the Pentagon where Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, his deputy, are staying, e-mails are flowing back channel -- high, most urgent back channels saying, here's what we got, boos, here's what's going on.

TODD: Seymour Hersh of "The New Yorker" says Major General Antonio Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib for the Army, told him the accounts to senior military leaders at the time were very graphic. On Rumsfeld's claim he didn't see the pictures until around the time of their public release in May of 2004, Taguba told Hersh, "The photographs were available to him -- if he wanted to see them."

Neither Taguba nor Rumsfeld would speak to us, but Rumsfeld former spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, says Rumsfeld was advised by legal staff at that time that "... extracting the photos from the criminal investigative process for viewing could materially affect the ongoing criminal investigation."

Taguba told Hersh he was punished for his investigation which led to convictions of 11 American soldiers, seven of them military policemen. Taguba claims he was intimidated by senior officers, laterally reassigned, made to retire early.

HERSH: This is the real message that was sent, is stay out of this, it's not good for the career. And Tony got that message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Again, Rumsfeld's former spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, responds that General Taguba's claim that he was ostracized for his investigation by senior Defense officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld "... is just not so" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Brian, amid the shocking new allegations by General Taguba, are allegations involving the abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib new details of this?

TODD: That's right. Among several things that we hadn't heard before were accounts of the abuse of female detainees, which Taguba says he learned during the investigation. But some of those accounts were not put into his report.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching the story for us.

Thanks, Brian.

Still ahead, Jack Cafferty wondering what it means when after years of U.S. efforts, Iraq is rated as the world's second most unstable country.

Also ahead, he says going from gay to straight is not like flipping a light switch. A Christian conservative leader now concedes homosexuality may be genetic and not a lifestyle choice.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a lightning rod for controversy: can someone really stop being gay? A leader of one of the nation's largest ex-gay evangelical ministries is now making some surprising comments.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, an evangelical leader is gaining notice for wading into a debate that has often polarized gay rights groups and Christian ministries who believe that homosexuality is a sin and a disorder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): It bills itself as the largest evangelical ministry to promote what it calls freedom from homosexuality. Exodus International president Alan Chambers says he has overcome his attraction to men and is now married with two children. But he is now speaking out against the term "ex-gay".

ALAN CHAMBERS, PRESIDENT, EXODUS INTERNATIONAL: For one for someone to simply think that going from straight to gay is like flipping a light switch, that's something that we want to correct at every turn.

SNOW: The shift in language may sound subtle, but it's being welcomed by some longtime critics of the ex-gay movement, which offers therapy for individuals who want to "recover from homosexuality".

DR. JACK DRESCHER, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSN. DISTINGUISHED FELLOW: To say to people before they come in the door, well, you might not change entirely is not usually the way they market these treatments.

SNOW: The American Psychiatric Association does not view homosexuality as a disorder. And therefore, doesn't see the need for treatment.

Ministries like Exodus believe homosexuality is treatable, but unlike many staunch Christian conservatives, the group's president is leaving open the possibility that homosexuality may not be a choice but be genetic.

CHAMBERS: Certainly we are body, soul and spirit. And a part of being body I believe is wrapped up in genetics and biology and things that are inborn.

SNOW: And that is where some Christian groups part ways.

MATT BARBER, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA: There is no credible evidence to suggest that people are born homosexual. In fact, there's a great deal of evidence that would suggest the exact opposite.

SNOW: That is at the heart of a heated debate that's pit God against science when it comes to controversial therapy to so-called "convert gays".

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And some psychiatrists and psychologists consider that therapy to be very harmful.

The American Psychological Association has set up a task force that will specifically look at if that therapy is safe and whether it's effective -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much. Mary Snow is watching that story for us.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File".

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: What does it mean if Iraq now ranks at the world's second most unstable country behind only Sudan?

Jerry writes from Oklahoma, "The world is better off now that Saddam is dead and Iraq is free. Iraq had a Democratic election, and Iraq someday will be democratic and peaceful. Of course Iraq will be unstable for a few decades, or may even centuries, and America will most likely go broke in Bush's Iraq effort. But look at the bright side -- Sudan is worse."

Ted in New Jersey, "I finally understand what Bush means when he says we have to win in Iraq. We can't let ourselves be beaten by the Sudanese. Bush's surge ensures that Iraq is now on its way to being number one."

Don in Tennessee, "Iraq unstable? Check with Bush and Condi. Stay the course! Everything is going just fine! Iraqi politicians have no reason to settle their problems as long as the U.S. government continues to support those politicians with money and their security."

Lev in Michigan writes, "Jack, The fact that Afghanistan and Iraq are so unstable is obviously proof that we're winning the war on terror and making the terrorists desperate. Stop me if you've heard any of this before."

Werner in Miami, "Jack, It means we're almost there. Just a little longer and we can proudly say we managed to be number one. It will be nice to bring back that 'mission accomplished' banner out of retirement."

"You're good, Jack. Really good. But the earlier question today was lame. Very lame."

Werner's got a point.

And Bakersfield, California, we got this -- "What does it mean, Jack? Simply we haven't gotten into Sudan yet. Call General Pace and let's get that show on the road."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you very much. I didn't think the first question was lame by any means. I sort of enjoyed it.

CAFFERTY: Well, I'm glad. That's one.

(LAUGHTER)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in this hour.

In Bulgaria, oil workers protesting the nation's capital, demanding an increase in their monthly salaries.

In Shanghai, a construction worker tightens a nut at the construction site for what will be China's tallest building, at more than 1,600 feet.

In manila, a stock trader covers his ears while a violinist plays behind him.

And in the Black Sea, a boy flips in the air with help some from friends.

Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

Former senator Mike Gravel's presidential campaign video is causing a lot of head-scratching.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes this most unusual look at Gravel's most unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): You could never mistake this for one of those negative campaign ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caught red-handed again.

MOOS: The only thing Mike Gravel gets caught doing is staring. And staring for a minute and 12 seconds without ever saying a word.

(on camera): Do you like when he stares at you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not particularly. But my husband does that all the time, so I'm used to that.

MOOS (voice over): And then after all that staring, this Democratic presidential candidate picks up a rock and tosses it into the lake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow! You've got him throwing a rock in the water? I don't get it. I don't get that.

MOOS: He's not alone. Jon Stewart ran the video twice.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Here it is, your "Moment of Zen".

MOOS: Gravel has been more zany than Zen during the debates.

MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of these people frighten me. Who the hell are we going to nuke?

MOOS: Lob rocks, not nukes.

And in another cryptic video, the former senator gathers wood to build a fire which the viewer then gets to watch close up for the next seven minutes.

GRAVEL: don't even view them as spots. I view them as metaphors.

MOOS: Metaphors created by these two ardent technology instructors.

The senator was just taking direction.

GRAVEL: He comes up to me and he whispers at me, "Look into the camera and look serious."

STEWART: It starts with him staring into the camera.

GRAVEL: The good actors don't talk. You read their faces. You read into them.

MOOS: And once you've read and reread the face...

(on camera): Enough with the staring, but what's with the rock? What is that all about?

(voice over): The ripple effect of Gravel's political message, perhaps? Don't expect answers from creators Matt Mayes and Guston Saudin Klausner (ph).

MATT MAYES, CO-CREATOR, POLITICAL AD: I Don't think it's obscure at all. I think it's really simple.

MOOS: They just put the videos on YouTube and let folks debate the meaning.

We're searching for clues as if it were "The Sopranos" finale.

Who is that woman walking behind Gravel? What's the meaning of the fog horn?

GRAVEL: And if some talking heads don't have enough artistry in their hearts to understand what these kids were doing, that's their problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, somebody find out the answer to what that means. I want to know now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is its own point. MOOS: Or maybe this is where Tony Soprano is sleeping with the fishes.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: At least it didn't fade to black.

We're here weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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