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THE SITUATION ROOM

Plight of the Libyan Rebels; "We Will Not Accept Any Compromise"; The Risks in Helping the Rebels; "I Was Tortured, Raped and Beaten"; Al Qaeda Plotting in Yemen?; To the Moon and Beyond!; Libyan Rebels in Retreat; Should U.S. Recognize the Rebels; Can the Gadhafi Family Cut a Deal?; Making Millions off Gadhafi

Aired April 9, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A ragtag army with more passion and training, and now there are growing doubts about whether Libyan rebel forces can succeed in ousting Moammar Gadhafi.

Also, should the U.S. recognize the opposition as Libya's legitimate government? What is the CIA role in the country? I'll ask the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers.

Plus, an exclusive interview with a woman who is now the face of the Gadhafi regime's brutality, telling her story of rape and torture to CNN's Nic Robertson.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're vastly outmanned and outgunned and increasingly on the retreat. Libyan rebel forces are proving unable to maintain many of the gains they've made thanks to the NATO attacks on Moammar Gadhafi's forces. And this week, the U.S. General, who was in charge of the no- fly zone before NATO took over told Congress the likelihood of rebels ousting Gadhafi by military force is low.

Listen to some of the sights and sounds along with CNN's Ben Wedeman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time to go. Those rams are coming closer.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): All right. We are retreating yet again. That includes Pierre (ph). That includes Chazzie (ph) and that includes our new friend (INAUDIBLE) -

ALI (ph): ALI (ph).

WEDEMAN: -- who jumped into the car in a moment of panic. So, yes, we are moving back yet again.

This is becoming something of a pattern, you may have noticed by our reporting is that we are moving generally in a backwards direction, because this ragtag group of rebels simply doesn't seem to be able to hold ground. They haven't learned the basic tool of warfare is to shovel. You need to dig yourself a trench and hide rather than stand along the road and wait for the artillery shells to come stinging over your head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

WEDEMAN: Does your mother know you've done this? She says it's OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WEDEMAN: And what are you going to do with it? Do you know how to use that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WEDEMAN: Really? You did training?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

WEDEMAN: Somebody? Who taught you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?

WEDEMAN: Who taught you how to use the gun?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My uncle.

WEDEMAN: He promised me he would not fight or go forward.

All right. This entire battle of Eastern Libya takes place along this very long road. And what will happen is, the opposition fighters and the opposition army will move ahead on this road, and also there's a road on the side, as well, that they move up and down on.

But what oftentimes happened, every time they make an advance, they come under bombardment by the Libyan Army artillery and they come rushing back. Already on this day, we've had to move three separate times because we came under artillery bombardment.

So here they have regrouped. We don't have any idea what they're going to do. Yesterday, they just spent most of the day hanging out. In fact, yesterday was kind of an odd day because they panicked several times, mad rush to the rear. But there was, as far as we could see, no incoming artillery of any kind whatsoever.

So here they are, the guys we've been following around for quite some time. Some of them have absolutely no military experience whatsoever. They were able to get their weapons out of arsenals. They looted from the Libyan Army. They're big on style. Here, check this dude out here. Hey, looking good. So they're very big on style.

We've seen similarly well styled fighters back in Sierra Leone 11 years ago. So this man like us often spends a lot of time looking at the horizon, because one of our worries is that the Gadhafi forces could be outflanking us in the desert. They seem - the Libyan army seems to be much quicker at adapting to the new situation than these men who seem to just follow the same tactics day after day and the result is, unfortunately, for them, no advance and usually just retreat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us from Eastern Libya.

There are new questions about the capabilities of the rebels over there in Eastern Libya and whether they will have the power to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi. Should the United States have a hand in helping arm them?

Let's bring in our Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty. She's working this and other parts of this very, very explosive story - Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

One of the big questions is, should they - the United States actually recognize the rebels, the opposition? There already are three countries that have done it, France, Italy and Qatar, and there may be others coming up. And supporters say now is really the time for the United States to do it, that it shouldn't wait. But others say will it really change anything.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The U.S. says Moammar Gadhafi is no longer the legitimate leader of Libya. So why not recognize the rebels?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is full of praise for them.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: These were not soldiers. These were not trained military forces. They were doctors and lawyers and university professors and economists and, you know, young men who were students. And they are being attacked by mercenaries, by ruthless forces that Gadhafi is utilizing to show no mercy against his people. And they are courageous. They are moving as fast as they can to try to form themselves into a military operation.

DOUGHERTY: Clinton has met with the rebel leaders personally, but the administration still is cautious. The president authorized the CIA to send in agents to learn about the rebels and assess their needs. Clinton's special representative, the State Department's Christopher Stevens, seen here in 2008 in Tripoli, is on the ground in Benghazi, scoping them out.

MARK TONER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We sent somebody in to get that kind of on the ground assessment of the - of their identity, of their leadership structure, to talk with them firsthand and to see what direction we think they're moving in. We've seen some positive signals.

DOUGHERTY: Recognizing the rebels, a senior official tells CNN, raises serious issues. It would acknowledge that Libya is now a divided country. And could the U.S. be sure the group represents the whole opposition movement?

It's a bit early, this official says. Maybe they turn out not to be the right folks. But Secretary Clinton knows the timing is urgent.

CLINTON: What NATO is doing is buying time, buying space.

DOUGHERTY: So far, the U.S. is providing what's called non-lethal humanitarian aid. The administration hasn't yet decided to arm them or provide financial assistance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And a senior U.S. official tells CNN that there actually are things that the United States could be doing right now short of recognizing the rebels, and he points out that there are organizations and groups around the world that the U.S. funds, but he says you want to be very careful to make sure you know who the rebels are.

So at this point, Wolf, you'd have to say that caution is winning out over urgency.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, the U.S. did shut down its embassy in Tripoli, remove all of the American diplomats including the Ambassador Gene Cretz (ph) from the embassy. But there are some diplomats, at least a few representatives from the State Department who are talking to the rebels in Benghazi. Is that a permanent presence there, do they just come in and out?

DOUGHERTY: No, there's a special representative. He's not been on the ground. They're not saying exactly how long he would be there. But - and it wouldn't be permanent But it's very important right now, that's the key thing, he's talking with them, he's getting to know them and, of course, reporting back to the State Department on what he's finding out.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is over the State Department. Thank you, Jill. Thanks very much.

Moammar Gadhafi, can anyone persuade him to step down? We're getting some answers. That's coming up.

And a special investigation you'll see only here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're digging deeper on companies and personnel in the United States that have made millions of dollars off of Gadhafi.

And how much do we know about the rebel forces battling the Libyan dictator? I'll ask the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As the fighting rages in Libya with the rebels knocked back on their heels, is there still a chance for any political solution? Is there an exit strategy for Moammar Gadhafi?

And joining us now from New York, Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" that airs here on CNN.

From the opposition, from the rebels' perspective, if Gadhafi gave up and he handed over power to his son, let's say, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, would that really make much of a difference?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": No. Clearly the rebels are looking for the dismantling of the regime. And from their point of view, for Gadhafi to go and leave it to his sons or even the intelligence chief, I don't think any of that would be acceptable.

I think if the Gadhafis were to leave, that would be acceptable. I don't think they're looking for, you know, death or an immediate trial in Libya as the only outcome. I think if the Gadhafis were to leave and certainly would not to be in power, that would be a solution.

But from what I understand what the rebels are saying, look, they want a different regime in Libya. And they don't want any of the Gadhafis involved even in the transitional period.

BLITZER: It's not a pretty picture in Libya right now. Listen to this exchange that the - the head of the U.S. Military Africa Command, General Carter Ham, had with Senator John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Would you say that the situation on the ground is a stalemate or an emerging stalemate?

GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Senator, I would agree with that at present on the ground.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. So that's not the way it was supposed to be with a robust NATO air cover, a no-fly zone to protect civilians, three, four weeks later, it's not supposed to be a stalemate, is it?

ZAKARIA: Well, it's -then and I would add one caveat to that, Wolf, which is it is a stalemate because of NATO air power. In other words, withdraw the no-fly zone and it wouldn't be a stalemate. Gadhafi's forces would be on the march.

You see there always was a big military imbalance. On the one side, you had the army however dysfunctional, however bad. And on the other side, you had a bunch of rebels, a few defecting units of the army that had raided munitions depots and gotten weapons. So at the end of the day, Gadhafi always had more force.

On the other hand, he has the whole world arrayed against him. He has this no-fly zone in place. He has blockages on his ports. He has sanctions. So it's not a pretty picture for Gadhafi either.

But this is why right now the political and diplomatic track is the most important one. Militarily, the only way to change this stalemate would be for NATO to escalate dramatically, that is to go beyond just a no-fly zone and really moving into a kind of aggressive degrading of Gadhafi's military and the regime. That's not what the U.N. Resolution allows for. I don't think that that's what President Obama wants to do.

So they have to try and work on the political route and see if there are pressures that can be brought to bear on Gadhafi to make him understand that he has an exit strategy, but it means leaving Libya, it means his family leaving Libya, and it means in no way, shape, or form will they control Libya any - any longer.

BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much. Fareed's show, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" airs every Sunday here on CNN, 10:00 A.M. Eastern, replayed at 1:00 P.M. Eastern. Fareed, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a SITUATION ROOM special investigation. Ahead, the U.S. companies that made huge profits from Moammar Gadhafi.

And the face behind the horror stories of the Gadhafi's regime's brutality. CNN has an exclusive interview with Eman al-Obaidi (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For years from the point at which the U.S. declared that Moammar Gadhafi had changed his ways, almost until the point when the U.S. and its allies started bombing Gadhafi's regime, a number of U.S. companies were reaping big profits from the Libyan leader.

Brian Todd has been digging into this story for us. Brian, what have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, over the past three years, according to federal records, the Libyan regime has spent more than $8 million lobbying in the U.S. Libya's oil wealth was a potential gold mine during that period, and there were plenty of people in the U.S. more than willing to take Moammar Gadhafi's money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Every day, there are accounts from Libya of the viciousness and brutality of this man, but before this war, Moammar Gadhafi had renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and had really improved his image with the West. Thanks in part to lobbying, consulting, and law firms in the U.S. who made millions off him.

TODD (on camera): One of them is the Livingston Group, which works out of this building. It's headed by former Republican Congressman Bob Livingston. Federal records show the firm made about $2.5 million over less than two years setting up meetings with congressmen and looking after Libya's interests in Washington. A Livingston aide said he wouldn't go on camera with us. But both the aide and Livingston himself have acknowledged the firm's work with Libya.

TODD (voice-over): Livingston and his aide say the firm stopped working for Libya's government in 2009 to protest the release of the accused Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison.

Another firm called the Monitor Group made several million dollars in its dealings with Libya. According to documents posted online by a Libyan opposition group, the Monitor Group charged the Libyan government $250,000 a month between 2006 and 2008. In return, according to the documents, the firm sent academics from Harvard and elsewhere to meet with Moammar Gadhafi. Some of them wrote positive articles about the Libyan leader. They advised Gadhafi's son, Seif, on the thesis for his Ph.D.

The Monitor Group offered to produce a glowing biography of Moammar Gadhafi for nearly $3 million, which the firm now calls a mistake. The group even proposed helping Gadhafi set up his own National Security Council.

Did the Monitor Group skirt U.S. law in its dealings with Libya? The documents say one person who went to Libya for the Monitor Group, former U.S. Defense Official Richard Pearl briefed Vice President Dick Cheney after returning. Contacted by CNN, Pearl wouldn't go on camera but denied ever briefing Cheney. We couldn't get comment from Cheney's office.

Paul Blumenthal of the nonpartisan watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation says if Pearl briefed Cheney, that part of the Monitor Group's work in Libya could be illegal, because it's not a registered lobbying firm.

TODD (on camera): What did the Monitor Group do that was deceptive, in your opinion?

PAUL BLUMENTHAL, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: Well, the Monitor Group, just by not being a traditional lobbying organization, really should have registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which has a much broader definition of who is a lobbyist and who should register than the traditional lobbying law. And in this case, they were working to bring intellectuals to Libya who had foreign policy ties in America to elites, whether it was Dick Cheney or people in the State Department, the Defense Department. And they really wanted these intellectuals to be able to influence policy on Libya.

TODD (voice-over): We spoke with Eamonn Kelly, a partner with the Monitor Group who's leading an internal investigation into the firm's dealings with Libya.

TODD (on camera): What do you say to the critics who say you not only made a lot of money off a brutal dictator, but you did indirect lobbying for him, and you should have registered and didn't do that?

EAMONN KELLY, PARTNER, MONITOR GROUP: First of all, we were working in Libya at a very different time in history. The international community at the time that we were undertaking that work believed, as did we, that there was an important possibility that serious and significant reform could take place. And we believed we could support that. We were not working for Gadhafi. We were working for Libya. If we discover that there was anything inappropriate that we did, we will take all appropriate measures to remedy it. TODD (voice-over): Plenty of others made millions off Gadhafi. Randa Fahmy Hudome's lobbying firm got more than $1 million a year for three years to push for Libya to be taken off America's list of terrorist sponsors. It was all registered and above board.

TODD (on camera): But critics say you knew about his history and you knew about the chance that he could maybe never change and you made a deal with the devil.

RANDA FAHMY HUDOME, LOBBYIST: I didn't make the deal with the devil. The Bush administration made the deal with the devil. I didn't do that agreement. The Bush administration did it. I only implemented that policy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Hudome says her contract with Libya was not about money. It was about U.S. national security, working with Libya to renounce terrorism, keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of a dictator. She says if Gadhafi had those weapons now, he would be using them on his own people - Wolf.

BLITZER: That Monitor Group, they also be on Gadhafi dealt with someone else who was pretty unsavory.

TODD: That's right. According to the documents, they dealt with a key contact for them was Abdul al-Senussi. He is Moammar Gadhafi's brother-in-law. He is linked to the Lockerbie bombing, to the massacre of hundreds of prisoners at Abu Salim Prison in 1996 and to the bombing of a French airliner over Niger.

When we talked to Eammon Kelly about that, he said, "Look, at the time, things were different in Libya. We thought the leadership had renounced their past." And he said, "We were dealing with the leadership we were presented." He is sorry that the work didn't bring about some more reform in Libya - in the Libyan government.

BLITZER: Let's not forget the State Department who is encouraging people through the Bush administration -

TODD: They were.

BLITZER: -- and the Obama administration to try and improve relations between the United States and Libya.

TODD: Absolutely. Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Brian.

Panicked rebels forced to retreat, furious at NATO. We're going to tell you why.

Plus, is it time for the U.S. to change its strategy in Libya? The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is here and he's weighing in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the past month, rebels in Libya have faced defeat after defeat and now seem perilously close to disaster. What does a town look like after Gadhafi's soldiers have retaken it and crushed any hint of dissent?

CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson showed up in one of those towns this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rubble and smashed concrete where once Zawiya Central Mosque stood. Four weeks ago, the government brought us here to see their victory over rebels.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Over here, the remains of the mosque right on the Central Square. This mosque was being used by the rebels as a medical clinic. It was one of their medical centers where they were treating their wounded.

This is where the mosque stood. It's been so demolished, so destroyed that all that are left in the ground are a few floor tiles like this. I mean, look around you here, you can't even see where the walls were. It's been so heavily pulverized into the ground.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In this city, President Obama and European leaders say Gadhafi's forces must withdraw. Instead, they're removing and repressing any hint of the rebels. Around the corner from the former mosque, more sinister signs of cover-up.

ROBERTSON (on camera): This is one of the medical centers that was used by the rebels, this wrecked (INAUDIBLE) site here and the doors here firmly shuttered, steel plates on the inside. Up here, the main entrance here to the hospital, as well, shuttered shut. In fact, not only is it shuttered, but it's been welded shut. There's no way for us to get inside this former rebel hospital now. It's actually been welded shut, absolutely closed.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): And lest any rebels return, a few yards away under a tree, a carefully camouflaged government tank. The only voice the government wants now almost on cue with our arrival, a pro-Gadhafi rally. When officials take us to the city hospital, they stifle any hint of anti-regime comment.

ROBERTSON (on camera): The mothers here tell us these babies have a fever and that's why they're in the hospital. They also tell us that the situation in Zawiya is just fine, that everything's OK. Of course, just outside this room, there are government officials, government minders who are keeping an ear on everything that they say.

(voice-over): The new hospital director appointed since the rebel defeat delivers the government message. They are firmly in control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't have any shortage in any department for the medical supplies. ROBERTSON: The unspoken message here, the government is not about to give this city up. Rebels not just defeated but repression of the very freedoms they fought for.

(on camera): It's not just the mosque that's missing here, it's the voice of dissent that was so strong six weeks ago. No one on streets here will voice any opinions against the government. That voice has been snuffed out, crushed, removed the same way this building has been reduced to rubble. Nic Robertson, CNN, Zawiya, Libya.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The rebels may have been taken a beating from Moammar Gadhafi's forces, but they continue to insist that the Libyan leader and his inner circle must leave. CNN's Reza Sayah sat down with one opposition spokesman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The regime has suggested they're open to a deal whereby Colonel Gadhafi would step aside and his son Saif Gadhafi would take over power. Would you consider this deal?

ABDUL HAFIZ GHOGA, LIBYAN OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN (through translation): We will not accept Gadhafi or any of his sons or aides ruling us ever again for even one hour.

SAYAH: What concessions is the opposition prepared to make to end the bloodshed?

GHOGA: We ask that Gadhafi and his family leave Libya and that he step down from power. We want him to be put on trial for the horrific crimes that he has committed.

SAYAH: Those don't sound like concessions. They sound like demands. What concessions are you prepared to make?

GHOGA: What kind of concessions can we offer a regime that is killing its people? We will either win or the other side will defeat us. We have no other option.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The rebels suffering a series of setbacks and pleading for help. Should the United States be doing more? What are the risks?

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan. He's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Wolf, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: What can you tell us about these rebels? Who are they?

ROGERS: Well, that's one of the biggest problems we've experienced is we just don't have a good handle on who they are. It's getting better. We're starting to understand who they are.

There are some 140 tribes and they're still very tribal in Libya. About 30 which are politically active and Gadhafi has tried to intermarry, hire people, he had had the friends and family plan of governance to try to calm down the tribal differences over the last 40 years.

So it's been difficult for us to try to assess you know, we know what they're against. They're against Moammar Gadhafi, but we're not sure what they're for. So that's one of our difficulties and I think it's one of the rebels' difficulties in trying to get organized.

BLITZER: How significant is the al Qaeda presence among these rebels?

ROGERS: It's - well, we don't know necessarily amongst the rebels. We do know that they would gladly pick up arms and kill as many of Gadhafi's regime as they possibly can. But the al Qaeda there was a pipeline during the Iraq war.

We know they sent maybe as many as 25 fighters to Iraq over time. So there is significant presence there. They are there. We don't think they're the dominant force there and we do think the other tribes and rebel factions are at this point certainly the more dominant force in trying to unseat Gadhafi.

BLITZER: France now Italy, other countries are beginning to recognize the rebels, the opposition as the legitimate government of Libya. Should the U.S. be doing that?

ROGERS: I'd walk very, very slowly down that path. Until we have an exact determination of who they are and one of the things we have to remember, a lot of the ex-pats that were outside aren't viewed very favorably or at least they're not welcomed as great leaders when they return to Libya.

These are the folks on the ground hearing shots fired in anger, trying to organize themselves. Be careful about trying to recognize ex-pats. We've been down that road before and it wasn't all that successful. We need to learn from the past.

That's why I would be careful. We need to be on the ground in a diplomatic way talking to these people and trying to understand them and getting a better understanding before we make any commitments to the rebels other than the no-fly zone and trying to keep his forces off balance.

BLITZER: I take it you're not yet ready even to supply weapons from the United States directly to the rebels?

ROGERS: You know, I think we've gotten a lot more sophisticated, Wolf, since the days we used to handguns to rebels to overthrow governments. That should be the last thing we do. I think it's really the lowest common denominator in trying to remove Gadhafi from power.

There are so many other things we can and are doing to continue to put pressure on him. I wouldn't look at these -- the government advances as complete losses. It's going to happen. They have, you know, certainly still a military superiority, ut remember, they can't hold that area. They don't have a lot of support in that area.

We're cutting off their money. We're making it very difficult to get supplies in. If you notice, I think their PR spin was we have supplies of everything, which tells they don't have supplies of everything. They're just trying to spin that message.

And so that will continual pressure is where we think and I think the United States can play the greatest role in unseating Gadhafi without advance military weapons systems in the hands of people we don't know what they'll do with them after Gadhafi is gone.

BLITZER: You're the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. You oversee the CIA. What is the CIA's role in all of this?

ROGERS: Well, I can't talk about classified materials or operations they may or may not be engaged in, but I can tell you. I mean, one of the things FBI does and has legal authority to do is collect information so that policymakers like Congress or the president or even the military can make good decisions.

BLITZER: Excuse me for a second. You're saying the FBI or the CIA?

ROGERS: I'm sorry, CIA.

BLITZER: OK, you said FBI. I want to be precise.

ROGERS: That's that the old Freudian slip as an old FBI guy. I think we kind of do everything right, but --

BLITZER: Go ahead, make your point.

ROGERS: Yes, the CIA, we would expect to go to places and even difficult places and hard places to collection information. So that we have good assessments about who these folks are, who's winning, what tribe is in, what tribe is out. All of that is really valuable information to us and you might expect the CIA might play that type of role.

BLITZER: How realistic is it there will be a real crack in Gadhafi's inner circle? We've seen some of his aides, Moussa Koussa, the former foreign minister bolt, defect to Britain. How serious of a possibility is there that there will be mass defections and he'll go down?

ROGERS: Remember that pressure I talked about, that noose is pretty tight. Even though they had some advances militarily, that noose is getting tight. They're going to run out of money. There is lots of pressure being put on these defections.

The most significant one was Moussa Koussa because how close he was to the Gadhafi regime. We know that other folks are having thoughts and consideration of defection. We know that the Gadhafi sons have reached out to talk to people about how they get out of this mess. All of that is good because that tension that, chaos, it builds. They're losing confidence in themselves to hold together as a government. And I will tell you, I think that -- I think in the days ahead, there are going to be other significant defections as we move forward here that I think are going to be very harmful to Gadhafi's ability to keep control of the situation.

BLITZER: A lot of people have expressed concern that NATO isn't doing the robust type of attacking as the U.S. did when it was in charge of the air strikes. John McCain, Lindsey Graham among others. Would you support a more assertive NATO action against Gadhafi's forces?

ROGERS: I mean, I would like to see a robust target set. They had that target set. That's how we got engaged. We took out all their air defenses. That was one unique capability the United States had and I argued absolutely, we should do that.

And making sure they don't get successful advances with heavy armor, artillery and other things. I think is absolutely in NATO's charge and they should do it.

Here's the one thing where I disagree a little bit. I think it's good that NATO is trying to flex its muscle and exercise its military a little bit. We can't do this in all places and we won World War II because we had all our allies fighting and they invested in their military and capabilities.

This is NATO's chance to invest in its capabilities to test its capabilities, to push the limit. We should help. We should support them. If there are missions that we can do because we have a unique capability, we should do it.

But we should encourage them to be efficient and to be good. I want them spending money. Otherwise after this is over, they stop spending money on their military and say, United States we need you in. Maybe in all cases that's not the right answer.

BLITZER: Congressman Rogers, thanks very much for coming in.

ROGERS: Thanks, Wolf. I appreciate you having me.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stay in touch. She says she was tortured and raped by Gadhafi's hinchmen. Now she's telling her story on camera for the first time. It's a CNN exclusive.

Plus, growing concern al Qaeda may be taking advantage of unrest in Yemen to plot new terror attacks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She literally burst into the world headlines screaming her charges of rape and torture to reporters at a Tripoli hotel. Eman Al Obeidy spoke for the first time to CNN to our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.

This exclusive interview was facilitated by Moammar Gadhafi's son against the explicit wishes of the Libyan government. Nic tells us transmission of the interview was delayed almost 18 hours after the Libyan government insisted on reviewing the interview, a review that never came. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Your situation has touched the hearts of thousands of people around the world. Why do you think that is?

EMAN AL-OBEIDY, ALLEGED LIBYAN RAPE VICTIM (through translation): So the whole world can know what's happening in Libya. Libya has lived many, many years without media exposure, without exposing the facts.

Let the world know what's happening. The world has felt for me and especially women because I was raped and kidnapped, which moves people. And at the same time, the truth is coming out. Nothing remains hidden.

ROBERTSON: What should the world know about you as a person, apart from the terrible things that have happened to you?

AL-OBEIDY: I'm an ordinary Libyan citizen. Muslim, conservative, and everything they said about me is a lie. I'm well educated unlike the way the Libyan TV portrayed me. I come from a good family regardless of what they said. I'm also not mentally challenged like they said.

Just because I raised my voice and talked to the media, they blamed me and questioned by sanity. Nonetheless, I want my rights. Even without the media. I've appealed to Gadhafi and said look at what happened to me. I want him to give me my rights. I talked to him and did not talk to the other people and all that was useless.

The people who have attacked me, raped me, kidnapped me, tortured me and locked me up are still wandering the streets and are not arrested. Instead of giving me a solution, they prohibit me from travelling and instil fear in me.

Not all people believe what they are saying about me. Many people here in Tripoli greet me in the street and recognize my name and say they stand by me. And that they do not believe what is said about me. People here in Tripoli are sympathetic with me.

ROBERTSON: Do you have a message for your parents and for the thousands of people that have supported you?

AL-OBEIDY: I would like to direct a message to my parents that they keep pursuing my situation so that I can return home and be with them in the coming time period and to stay strong.

I would like to thank everyone in the world who stood with me and monitored my case and felt sympathetic to my plight. I would also like to thank CNN, which has monitored my case day by day and checked in to make sure I'm OK every day. Thank you.

ROBERTSON: What do you want to happen next? What do you want to do now? AL-OBEIDY: I hope that the way they refer to our country as a country of law, that the law can get me my right from those who raped me and did all this to me. And I hope to get my right from the Libyan state TV for libel, if there was such a thing as law.

And if there is no law, I call upon all judges, district attorneys, prosecutors, to stay home and tell them that the Libyan TV is the one who investigates and questions and judges people so there is no need for you guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ten-second portion of the interview was cut out at the request of Gadhafi with the agreement of Al-Obeidy. In that clip, Al- Obeidy spoke to the people of rebel-controlled cities of Benghazi and Misrata telling them to be strong.

A country in crisis and an opportunity for al Qaeda. Is the terror network's most active cell plotting new attacks?

Plus, a different kind of space race. The quest to build a better rocket.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Massive demonstrations this week in Yemen, protesting three decades of rule by the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. More than one hundred people have been killed in weeks of unrest in the country, which is home to al Qaeda's most active branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

That's why the U.S. announced this week it's continuing military aid to Yemen, but Washington is also sending a powerful message to President Saleh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We've made it clear to President Saleh both in public as I'm doing now and in private that violence is not a solution, and that an agreement with the opposition needs to be reached as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's over at the Pentagon. Chris, what is the impact of all these political unrest in Yemen having right now in the fight against al Qaeda?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. officials tell us that they're working under the assumption that al Qaeda will try to take advantage of the situation at some point.

He says that the planning right now has gone beyond just aspiring to attack the United States, but right now, there's nothing concrete in terms of time, place, or type of attack. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): A U.S. official says Yemen's government is preoccupied with political unrest and little is being done to find and capture terrorists.

An American counterterrorism official says the government's ability to check travellers, screen cargo and work immigration issue is all in question right now.

And that should matter to Americans because the al Qaeda group base there is considered the number one terrorist threat to the United States.

TONER: We do believe that they've taken advantage of the insecurity and poor governance in some regions of Yemen.

LAWRENCE: And if the government falls?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't that great of a government to begin with?

LAWRENCE: James Carafano argues that even if it topples the President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the risk to U.S. interests is somewhat mitigated.

JAMES CARAFANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Because most of the cooperation is with the military and intelligence services. Some of that can continue to go on regardless who's in charge of the government.

LAWRENCE: Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved doubling the U.S. military aid to Yemen to $150 million. Despite the instability, Pentagon officials say they have not suspended that aid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I know, it's not.

LAWRENCE: The Pentagon says Yemen's embattled president and the U.S. military still have common goals.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We both still face a threat emanating from Yemen that needs to be dealt with.

LAWRENCE: Carafano says there's a chance that a new government in Yemen could be better than the present one.

CARAFANO: There are ways we can get counterterrorism operations in the country without relying on essentially two-bit dictator to get you there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: But the Wikileaks cables revealed just how closely the Obama administration has been working with Yemen's president. One of them quotes saying he would continue to claim that the attacks on al Qaeda forces were coming from his forces in Yemen, not the Americans. Of course, the release publicly of some of the cables has hurt him politically in the current protests, Wolf. BLITZER: For the Pentagon, this is about it's as sensitive as an issue as possible. On the one hand, the U.S. opposes the violence and cracking down on the demonstrators. On the other hand, they recognize that President Saleh has been helpful to the U.S. in fighting al Qaeda.

LAWRENCE: That's right, Wolf. And one official told me that basically even just the military aid that's being given to Yemen to bolster their forces is somewhat of a side show for what the real key is that it's giving U.S. forces access -- access to targets in Yemen, and also the cooperation, an opportunity to have cooperation and partnership with the Saudi forces as well.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us. Chris, thanks very much.

A new space race is heating up right now. A closer look at the quest for a better rocket. That's coming up.

Plus, pictures worth 1,000 words. Hotshots, that's coming up as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A commercial space company is aiming to build a better rocket, one that could carry more cargo into orbit than any built since NASA's Saturn Five. CNN's John Zarrella has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elon Musk is like a big kid with a new toy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We designed this to be super tough. I mean, so you could beat the not out of it, it will still work.

ZARRELLA: The toy just happened to be a spacecraft. He sunk $100 million of his own money into developing it. We caught up with him in Washington, D.C. where it was on display. The first commercially owned vehicle to ever circle the earth and land safely back.

ELON MUSK, CEO, SPACE X: When he saw that thing take off, he said I can't believe it works.

ZARRELLA (on camera): You say the same thing.

MUSK: That's how I feel.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Musk's company, Space X is considered the leader in what is quickly becoming a commercial race to space.

MUSK: Races are good.

ZARRELLA: There's little doubt that the race is now on. 8-TK, the company that builds the shuttle's solid rocket boosters announced it's going to build a rocket called "Liberty." Bigger ATK boasts than Musk's Falcon Nine and this month, NASA is expected to announce the names of half a dozen commercial companies getting seed money to start developing vehicles to replace shuttles for carrying astronauts to the international space station.

CHARLIE BOLDEN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Ideally we would likely have multiple competitors to come down to at least two that we can use so that we could have an alternative should one falter or fail.

ZARRELLA: The Space X Dragon would be modified to carry astronauts.

MUSK: It's highly likely we would get one of the contracts for NASA for astronauts and I'm confident that we're the first to do so.

ZARELLA: Space X already has a contract for a dozen cargo flights to the station starting this year. This summer, the company expects to make the last Dragon test flight, which is likely to be docking with the space station. And as long as you're going, don't show up empty- handed.

MUSK: We're carrying food and water.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Right. Right.

MUSK: That's something that has high value once you're in orbit, but you know, if you blow up a cheese burger, it's not that bad.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Musk says despite the successes so far, a failure along the way would not be a surprise. It is, after all, rocket science. John Zarrella, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some hot shots. In India, a rickshaw operator waits for customers on the streets of Calcutta.

In England, a hot air balloon is inflated in preparation for flight.

In Japan, a sparrow sits atop of branches Cherry Blossoms bloom in Tokyo.

And in Australia, check it out. A baby red panda explores his new home at the Sydney zoo.

Hot shots, pictures from around the world. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.