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Sen. McCain Visits Rebels In Libya; Says Gadhafi Must Go; New Trouble for Obama in 2012?; Backlash Over U.S. Drone Attacks; Brutal Attacks Against Medical Personnel in Bahrain

Aired April 22, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Brooke.

Happening now, the biggest and deadliest protest yet in Syria. Citizens risking their lives to share their rage at President Bashir Al Assad. This hour dramatic videos and firsthand accounts of another Arab nation exploding.

Plus, new high level calls for the U.S. to take direct aim at Moammar Gadhafi and force him out of power dead or alive. Is that the only way to end this war in Libya?

It's not a great way to begin his re-election campaign, we will look at drop in the president's poll numbers and why voters are in such a pessimistic mood.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Candy Crowley. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It appears to be the biggest outpouring yet of anti-government anger in Syria, and the bloodiest. Thousands of protests marched near the Syrian capital and in several other cities. Government security forces took to the streets, too, reportedly firing on demonstrators at random and acting like what one activist called an armed gang. Amnesty International now says at least 75 people were killed.

CNN's Arwa Damon shows us some of the violence up close.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, activists that we have been talking to were saying they were going to call for the largest demonstrations since this uprising began for Friday. It was seen that they did manage to accomplish that. But at the same time, it seems as if Friday's demonstrations were also the deadliest since the uprising began some five weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice over): A child's voice cries, my brother, my brother, as we see a man carrying the body of a horribly wounded boy. We can't show the video, it's too graphic, and CNN cannot verify that it was shot on Friday. But the posting says it's from Izraq (ph), and we were able to reach a man call Tariq (ph) in the town. He says that seven people had been killed Friday, including his own father, when secret police opened fire in Izraq. His mother wails in the background cursing the regime and calling on Arab leaders to intervene. Tariq says that after all of the brutality, there is no option but for the regime to leave. Across Syria, on a scale not seen before, protests broke out following Friday prayers. And in many cases reports and eyewitness accounts say security forces resorted to indiscriminate and lethal force.

This video shows to men apparently trying to reach a body lying on the street. But the ferocity of the gunfire drives them back. And increasingly protestors are calling not for change but for the end of the Assad regime. Shows of defiance, despite the risk of death, this was the account of one protester in the city of Homs, which is seen unrest for much of the week.

We were protesting against the government. We were-we went for about one hour. Then suddenly and from nowhere, the police were about 200, 300 meters away from us. They started shooting. First they aimed toward the air, then they aimed toward us. Actually a guy next to me, he got shot in the head. People were screaming, people were running away. It was actually like hell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: It would seem that despite the pledges or reforms, despite lifting the emergency law, Syrian security forces continue to resort to lethal force when it comes to silencing those who even dare call for change.

As the day wore on, and the death toll rose, the activists that we were talking to continued to vow that they would not stop demonstrating until they had brought about an end to the Assad regime. And so, it would seem that in yet another Arab state, a barrier of fear was fallen, Candy. CROWLEY: Arwa, thanks.

Now to Libya where Senator John McCain has been getting a firsthand look at what the rebels are going through. The Republican is urging President Obama to do more to stop Moammar Gadhafi from slaughtering his own people.

CNN's Reza Sayah spoke with McCain during his visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Reza, the president has taken some criticism for not having a, quote, "end game" in Libya; a way to get out and a way to end it. What did Senator McCain have to say about that?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we asked him about that end game. And he didn't provide much clarity either. But as far as the opposition, supporters and the opposition leaders were concerned here, they were extremely pleased with his visit. They already liked him because of his staunch support of the opposition and this military intervention. And I think after this visit they are going to like him even more.

He basically came here and told the opposition everything they wanted to hear. He praised the uprising, called it a powerful example of what freedom could be. Of course, the U.S. has been long criticized for getting involved in military operations without envisioning and establishing an end game and exit strategy and achieving it. We asked Senator McCain what he envisioned and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: End game that I envision is a departure of Moammar Gadhafi and the Libyan people being able to set up a government by themselves, with the assistance primarily of the Europeans, but also the United States of America. Libya is much closer to Europe and the Europeans have greater ties to Libya and greater interests.

SAYAH: You say that the departure of Colonel Gadhafi and I'm going to press you on this and getting more specific. What does that look like? Is this the rebel fighters waiting until he says, I give up? Can you be specific?

MCCAIN: I think it means one of three things, either he joins Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or he goes international criminal court, which is my preference, or he joins Hitler and Stalin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAYAH: Comparing Colonel Gadhafi to Stalin and Hitler is certainly a catchy response, but it also doesn't offer the clarity that you're looking for, and an end game. And it is because of this lack of clarity that I think some critics can be-are going to say that this conflict, this intervention may have saved civilian lives early on, but it could be trouble unless something changes down the road in the long term.

CROWLEY: Sure. And one of the things that has been raised is, should there be boots on the ground? Something this president and the United States, of course, and the Secretary of Defense has said, no way, no how. What did Senator McCain say about the possibility of so- called boots on the ground, which really means combat troops?

SAYAH: That's the senator's sentiments as well. He made it clear on several occasions during his visit today, that he doesn't support boots on the ground. He says he wants the U.S. to get involved but, again, he wasn't clear with that involvement either. He said that the U.S. should facilitate, provide weapons. But when we asked them what that meant, he drew comparisons to Afghanistan. Perhaps indirectly providing weapons to the rebels here, the way the U.S. spent a lot of money and providing weapons, facilitating weapons, to the jihadists during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. Even there, he said, the U.S. should not be involved directly.

CROWLEY: Reza, always on the lookout for us in Benghazi late at night. Thank you so much.

Senator McCain is not the only Republican raising questions about President Obama's military policy during a trip overseas. Critics might see that as a violation of the unwritten rule that politics stops at the water's edge.

Our Congressional Correspondent Brianna Keilar has been looking into that-Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, Senator McCain's message, the U.S. needs to do more, the rebels need more help, in the world of politics, this is tantamount to saying that the Obama administration and the president himself are not doing enough.

Senator McCain is, of course, a leading voice on foreign policy for Republicans. He's the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he really has been a leading critic on the president when it comes to foreign policy and Libya. Just listen to what he said in a hearing just a few weeks ago here, where Secretary of Defense Gates was testifying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The fact is that your timing is exquisite. At a time when the Gadhafi forces have literally, tragically routed the anti- Gadhafi forces, that's when we announced that the United States is abdicating its leadership role, and removing some of the most valuable assets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, Senator McCain is not the only Republican who has criticized President Obama with the backdrop of a trip overseas. House Speaker John Boehner was just in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and put out this statement.

He said, "Any drawdown of U.S. troops must be based on the conditions on the ground, not on political calculations. If the Obama administration insists on beginning to draw down troops in July, it must explain how the pace and scope of such a move will not undermine the tenuous progress that we have made thus far. To date it has not done so."

Now, back to Senator McCain, I just got off of the phone with one of the top aides, his spokeswoman who is traveling with him in Libya. And she insisted to me, Candy, this was not a partisan issue. That he is not speaking for all Republicans, that he is there in Libya representing himself. And she emphasized that he commended President Obama on his commitment of humanitarian aid. But while we do know, Candy, that among even Democrats and Republicans, there are desperate views about what should be done in Libya, less or more? The visual that you are getting this congressional recess is Republicans, and leading Republicans, hitting President Obama on foreign policy, and really right after they have really hit him when it comes to fiscal issues, as well, Candy.

CROWLEY: Brianna, it makes a difference whether this is-is this official business that John McCain is on, or is this a co-del, which is congressional delegation trip, which is underwritten or paid for by the U.S. government? KEILAR: Yes, I spoke with his spokesperson, Brook Buchanan. And she told me that this is an official co-delegation, and not only that, that he coordinated with the Obama administration because it took obviously the cooperation of the State Department, as well as the travel required through the military. And that this was something that he did through his official position on his official duties, as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Candy.

CROWLEY: But there were no others with him in this trip to Benghazi?

KEILAR: No, just a couple of staffers, as I understand it.

CROWLEY: OK, Brianna Keilar, on Capitol Hill for us. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The U.S. decision to unleash armed drones in Libya has political benefits and military risks. I'll get a general's take on what could go wrong.

And they were the first to respond to the terror attacks on 9/11 and now many of them may have their names run through the terrorist watch list. Stand by to find out why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: As the U.S. deploys armed drones in the Libya operation, a surprise visit to Libya from the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain. Joining us to talk about that, and more, retired Major General, James "Spider" Marks.

Thanks for joining us, General.

You know, what can Senator-he's in Benghazi, which is rebel-held, fairly peaceful city. So what can he learn there?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the most important thing that Senator McCain can learn is what is the legitimacy of the transitional government that exists? What have the rebels stood up, what does it look like? Who are their leaders? Can they sustain this fight? Do they really have a sense of perseverance? Do they know where they want to go with this?

I think that is the most important thing. Now, clearly, the senator will visit the aggrieved, he'll go to hospitals. That is really important. The real thing he is going to-the real take away is what do these rebels want to try to accomplish? And can they get it done?

CROWLEY: And can he get information there in terms of who are they? Because one of the things we learn when you say to the administration you're going to arm these guys, they go, well, we're still looking at -- at who they are.

MARKS: Correct. He is really going to need -- and I don't know how well he's going to be able to do this, but he needs to get to the root of who makes up this leadership structure. Not only do they have a political crust, but down below that, who are the leaders, who are the commanders. Is there a non-commissioned officer base? Is there a sense of sustainment? Are they looking for aid? Do they have an ability to accept that aid and do something with it as they move down the road?

CROWLEY: And let me -- I want to move you to something that Senator McCain said during this visit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Right now, as we know from the fighting back and forth from Ajdabiya to (INAUDIBLE) Misrata, that there is at least a significant degree there of stalemate. That all of the assets that are needed as far as air support is concerned is not there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: OK. Is it a stalemate?

MARKS: It's inappropriate for me to assess that it's a stalemate, but my assessment of what I see is that the rebels are really risking what they can do down the road by trying to take on Gadhafi's forces with only the NATO support that they have today. Irrespective of the drone strikes that the United States has taken on, it's still air support of ground activity.

There needs to be -- if in fact this is a legitimate involvement that the United States is taking on here, there needs to be some form of a ground presence so that you can better lay his target, you can separate forces, you can assist with training and arming the rebels, or you back out and you accept the status quo, which has been designated or at least assessed to be a stalemate.

CROWLEY: Certainly looks like that.

I want to give you another alternative here. I spoke with Senator Lindsay Graham this weekend about what you should do and I want you to hear what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I like coalitions. It's good to have them. It's good to have the U.N. involved. But the goal is to get rid of Gadhafi. A military stalemate is ensuing and the only way that I know to make this thing successful is to put pressure on Tripoli.

The people around Gadhafi need to wake up every day wondering, will this be my last. The military commanders in Tripoli supporting Gadhafi should be pounded.

So I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: That's pretty bold. I mean, basically what he said was, we need to bomb Gadhafi headquarters, Gadhafi homes, we need to go after his inner circle because we need them to defect.

MARKS: Candy, we need to go after Gadhafi. You can start from the inside, work your way out or you can work your way into the middle. And what Senator Graham is suggesting is you start to attack diplomatically as well as kinetically, which is ongoing, all of those influences that Gadhafi has around them.

My view on this is that Gadhafi is not going to raise his hand and go lightly over the horizon or he's going to subject himself to some form of an international tribunal. I think he's going to stand and be totally resistant until somebody shoots him in the face or puts him in a box and he's gone.

CROWLEY: And that would require his inner circle breaking up, because they are protecting him?

MARKS: It would. It would.

CROWLEY: Let me ask about the Predator drones that now the U.S. has said, OK, let's put this in there. What do they bring to the table? I think, politically we can say, since they are unmanned, politically this makes it sustainable in the U.S., which isn't interested in a third war that involves U.S. combat troops, but are there drawbacks?

MARKS: Well, the Predator -- first let me speak just a little bit about the Predator. It has great experience from combat, both in the Balkans and then over the course of the last decade certainly in southeast Asia.

So it's a proven weapon system that does exceptionally well both reconnaissance versions and the multi-use version, which really means the armed version. So we know how to employ those things.

They are medium altitude, which means they operate below 25,000 feet. They have a long endurance. They can loiter, they can hang around, it doesn't --

CROWLEY: Better than plan planes.

MARKS: It doesn't put a pilot at risk, and all of the infrastructure of trying to get a pilot if a pilot gets down, if an aircraft goes down. So a Predator has a great capability.

The risks, certainly, in my view, is that if you lose a Predator, it can be shot down, there might be some technology exploitation. I think that's not a big deal, nor should it work into the calculation to use them. However, again, it sends a signal to the rebels that we're with you and we're still on your side.

I find it a little bit cynical that we're still trying to do this exclusively from the air. There should be, as I've said, boots on the ground. They don't have to be U.S. boots, but there should be some form of a presence supporting them if in fact we're serious about supporting them.

CROWLEY: Well then, let me ask you one thing about the Predator drone that I don't understand. Is I know they're very precision- oriented. That they can -- they can --

MARKS: They are.

CROWLEY: They can hit a target that it's programmed for. But don't you have to have boots on the ground to tell you what to hit? I mean, isn't it totally dependent on what sort of information you have?

MARKS: Well, it is dependent on information, but a Predator can employ it's weapon system, a hellfire missile, for example, but that target can be lased or at least designated by another system, and it doesn't have to be from somebody on the ground, another Predator could do it for you.

CROWLEY: Another Predator could spot something?

MARKS: Correct.

CROWLEY: Tanks coming this way or that way?

MARKS: Working in tandem.

CROWLEY: And then see it.

So there's really not -- I mean, they could use -- if a Predator goes down, number one, there's a human being doesn't go with it. But number two, the -- it doesn't seem as though we are dealing with very sophisticated -- we're dealing with a massive army, I think, with Moammar Gadhafi but not one sophisticated enough to make use of what the Predator might have.

MARKS: Well, the challenge still remains is that Gadhafi in a very cynical and hideous way is tucking his forces and targets into the population. So if you go after the targets, there will be a collateral damage concern and an estimation that has to be made before you pull the trigger on that missile.

CROWLEY: OK. Thank you so much, as always, for all your vast knowledge of this, appreciate it. Happy weekend.

MARKS: Thank you. Thank you, Candy, you too.

CROWLEY: New photos just released of the man believed to be behind the possible bomb plot near Columbine High School. We'll have an update on the case.

Plus, what caused a shutdown at a nuclear reactor here in the U.S. and was anyone at risk? Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: This just in, CNN has confirmed that the Libya's deputy foreign minister says the Libyan army may withdraw from the besieged town of Misrata. The foreign minister went on to say that the tribes could deal with the rebels. Of course, more details as they come to us. Probably cautionary note that the Libyan government has said a lot of things that did not come to pass.

There are new developments in the search for a suspect in that possible bomb plot on the anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School. Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, the FBI has just released new photos of the man wanted for questioning in the incident. It occurred at a shopping center near the school. A camera shows him in the mall minutes before a security guard noticed a fire. Investigators say that, so far, there is no link to the shooting anniversary.

A failed breaker is being blamed for the automatic shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Georgia. The company which owns the plant says there were no threats to public health or safety during the Wednesday incident, and that all components which could have caused the problem are being replaced. The reactor will be restarted once that replacement is complete.

And 17 states attorneys general are urging the maker of a controversial new malt beverage to stop targeting young drinkers. They call Blast by Colt 45 a "binge in a can." The drink resembles sugary soda, but actually contains 12 percent alcohol, more than a typical can of beer. The manufacturer says Blast is only meant to be consumed by those above the legal drinking age -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Yes, but they sure do look like they are aimed at young people, that's for certain.

SNOW: They certainly do, yes.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Mary.

The American people are downright gloomy and grumpy right now, and that could give the Republicans fresh ammunition against the president. Can they milk the pessimism for votes?

And Pakistan is about to get a small slice of U.S. drone technology similar to the weaponry that's driving a wedge in its relationship with Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The 2012 presidential campaign is just getting underway and there are growing signs President Obama could be in some serious trouble. Joining us to talk about it in today's "Strategy Session," CNN's political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, also Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, she is founder and CEO of the Impacto Group.

OK, let me start with this, I think, amazing number in "The New York Times"/CBS poll, which is that 70 percent of all respondents think the country is in the wrong direction. Worse, that's 12 points higher than it was in February.

And you know, Paul, that there are a couple things that pollsters pay special attention to. One of them is what we call the right track/wrong track, and the other is, does this person care about people like you.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: And this is a bad number.

BEGALA: Absolutely. And this is where, I can brag, this is where you're smarter than the average bear. Most media polls, they look and they just say, oh, A is beating B; Obama is beating Palin. Doesn't matter.

What matters are the numbers you're citing, are we moving in the right direction, do you think this president cares about people like me.

So his choice is this, he can either tell us things really are better, and you hear a little of that, 18 months of job growth, and that's real; or he can take my preferred strategy, which is blame the other guys.

You know, you can't persuade people things are better than they are, but he can persuade them that the Republicans are even worse than he is. And the contrast, he has to be a little more elegant because he's our president, but that contrast I think is going to be absolutely critical to him because I don't think he can persuade people that things that are great, particularly with gas prices spiking, which is what I think is driving this, but he can say, look at those Republicans, they're even worse, they're in the pocket of the oil companies.

CROWLEY: So it's the adult approach, the blame game is what he's looking for?

SANCHEZ: The oil companies. Now, all of a sudden, we're talking about oil companies.

You know, I've seen that movie before, and it was under Bill Clinton. I will say there were some things done right under Bill Clinton.

He, after the pounding, that you could say of the '94 election, came together, worked with Republicans. You saw welfare reform. He was kicking and screaming at the time, vetoed it twice before we got it passed. Telecom reform, which created a lot of jobs and opportunity in this country.

I think you're hearing a lot of kicking and screaming from President Obama, but not necessarily the muscle to get things done. He owns this economy. That is the distinction.

CROWLEY: Not if Paul can help it. SANCHEZ: Well, and he can run from it as much, but facts are hard things to deny. He didn't get ahead of the gas prices going up, he didn't get ahead of private sector growth.

And a bigger number, that underlying number, is the number of Independents, now two to one that do not believe the president is taking the right leadership on the budget. That's what people are going to be looking at.

CROWLEY: But let me show you the president's approval rating right now. Approval rating, 45 percent; disapprove, 48. OK.

You know, it's basically even, and that's really not bad for a guy two-and-a-half years into a presidency, where you're a big old target. And the fact of the matter is that Congress fairs much worse, and Republicans have not been able to get traction. Seventy percent of the country says we're going in the wrong direction. It's not showing up in a positive for Republicans.

Why is that?

SANCHEZ: Well, I think, fundamentally, voters are very upset with both. They want Republicans and Democrats to work together to deal mostly, you'll see in the polling, the spending, the budget cuts, long-term growth of this economy. And they are upset, and I think they every right to be.

We saw the pounding in 2010. And it's also an instant gratification voter group. They want to see the benefit of the doubt with Republicans this time, but they're just as willing to move the tide the other way. The distinction is, in 2012, they're not going to be looking at Boehner, the Speaker of the House. They are going to be looking, focused entirely on the president.

BEGALA: Well, not entirely, because there will be a Republican nominee, and he or she will come through a pretty bruising primary process.

But it is instructive. That same "New York Times" poll that does have the president at 46, which, you're right, is not bad given everything, already has the Republican Congress, only about 100 days into their term, and a 75 percent negative.

That's astronomical, and it's disastrous for the Republicans. I mean, that trend can't continue because they will hit 100 pretty soon and the whole country will hate them. And this is the choice that voters are going to say, do we want on these budget issues to essentially end Medicare in order to give tax breaks to the rich, or do we want the president's approach, which says, yes, rich people are going to have to pay a little bit more, but we'll protect Medicare?

CROWLEY: And let's just take what Paul just said. And can you agree that Republicans who may support the Ryan plan have done a pretty lousy job of explaining what it is, because there's a big old opening here, and it's that, guess what? They're taking away your Medicare. And there has not been a strong Republican response to that, has there?

SANCHEZ: Not yet. I would say the distinct difference of what Ryan did is he put -- he took leadership and he put a plan on the table. You can debate what that plan is, but the president has yet to take that type of action and is just kicking stones at it.

I don't think that's a fair observation. The larger issue is, it's not as simplistic as tax breaks for the rich. I think that's old political puffery and rhetoric, and I think people are really going to see, you have a serious economic situation about the sovereignty -- not the sovereignty, but the long-term financial strength.

CROWLEY: Let me return you to something else. We should say, if it's political puffery, it has worked in the past. But we'll see what happens.

I want to switch you to reform policy, because we have Senator McCain over in Benghazi, in Libya, saying the U.S. has got to get more in there. I talked to Lindsey Graham for the Sunday show, and he said we need to get the head off the snake here, we need to go after this guy, which is a little outside the U.N. resolution.

Is this -- and by "this," I mean foreign policy -- going to be an issue in the campaign? And I want to show you, again, a "New York Times"/CBS poll. How is Obama handling the situation in Libya? Only 39 percent of Americans approve, and that is down from March, when 50 percent approved in March.

So the question is, the presidency is always about leadership, right? That's what an election is about, who's going to lead.

It seems to me that Republicans began a while back to say he is not leading in foreign policy. And in some ways, this is what Donald Trump has tapped into when he talks about, oh, they don't respect us overseas. And there are a lot of Republicans who don't want Trump to run, can't stand the birther issue, but think is he on to something with this whole idea that the U.S. isn't respected overseas and this is a president who is too weak.

BEGALA: That's interesting. And if Senator McCain -- first off, in defense of John McCain, there used to be this thing, you didn't criticize a president on foreign soil. I never subscribed to that.

We're in a global village. So, anything you say in Illinois is just the same as saying it in Benghazi.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And he is a true American patriot, too, John McCain. So I respect him enormously.

But I think the people who are disappointed with the president on national security, very few of them want more wars. In other words, I think the criticism is more. We already have two wars. Isn't that enough? Why are we getting into a third? And what Senator McCain, Senator Graham -- I saw the piece from your upcoming Sunday show. They seem to want more and more. And I saw General Marks, Spider Marks, a top intel officer that this country has produced in the last generation, saying, look, the only real way to do -- I'm paraphrasing -- is to boots on the ground. And boy, I don't think the American people want that.

CROWLEY: Certainly the White House doesn't.

BEGALA: Right. And I think the president's right about that. I think the last we need is a third war in the Arab Muslim world.

CROWLEY: Is the president's foreign party leadership a vulnerability for him?

SANCHEZ: Absolutely. I think -- but it's under the bigger umbrella of, is he weakening the United States, not only domestically, in terms of our ability to pay back our debts, and our strong strength in growth as a nation, but also globally as a world leader? That's fundamentally what people say.

But I do agree on the part, there is no appetite right now for boots on the ground, and I think there's a high sensitivity. There's a direct proportion to whether this is an issue in 2012 depending on how involved we continue to be on this issue.

CROWLEY: Leslie Sanchez, Paul Begala, thanks you for being here. Have a good weekend.

Even as the United States unleashes armed drones in Libya, the unmanned aircraft are being blamed for new civilian deaths in Pakistan. It's putting new strain on an important U.S. relationship.

And some 9/11 first responders feel like they are being slapped in the face by the federal government. Why their names may be run through the terror watch list.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: New fuel today for the controversy over U.S. attacks by unmanned aircraft like this one, and the threat to civilians. A source in Pakistan says a suspected American drone strike killed 25 people in the country's northwestern tribal region today. Eight of them reportedly were civilians.

Drone strikes are a big source of tension between the U.S. and Pakistan.

We want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

Chris, this has been going on for a couple of years, I think, where this tension between the U.S. and Pakistan against these drone strikes.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Candy. I mean, we've seen periods of good periods, bad periods. This one is definitely one of the higher tension areas right now. It even caused a Pakistani official to question whether the U.S. was still even launching drone strikes from one of its airfields in Pakistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): A small U.S. airfield in southwest Pakistan has become the heated center of he said/she said. A senior Pakistani intelligence official says U.S. personnel have left the base where they launched drone strikes on terrorists, but a U.S. official tells CNN, "That's news to us, and we would know."

Shamsi airfield is just one of several locations where U.S. officials operate drones within Pakistan, but every dustup between the two countries is getting more attention because tensions are so high. U.S. drone strikes surged to an all-time high last year, but there have only been two in the last month, and both came within 48 hours of Pakistan demanding the attacks stop.

The latest, on Friday, killed more than 20 people. Some analysts say Pakistani protests are really just excuses.

REVA BHALLA, STRATFOR GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE: It helps to have that external threat in the form of the United States to show that this is a power that's threatening the Pakistan national sovereignty when it comes to drone strikes that injure civilians.

LAWRENCE: Pakistani officials have been pressuring the U.S. to give them drones of their own, and they are go to get their wish -- sort of.

A defense official says the U.S. is negotiating to supply Pakistan with up to 85 small surveillance drones. But these Ravens only weigh four pounds and cannot drop bombs. A far cry from the larger, faster Predator drones that can shoot hellfire missiles at militants.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: In fact, even if the U.S. were entirely denied the ability to launch those Predators from within Pakistan, it could still continue many parts of the anti-terrorism operations. A military official told us they've got the reach to get into some of the mountainous areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said it would be a little more difficult, but the only real game-changer would be is if Pakistan totally did not allow the U.S. to fly over its air space. He said that would require some big be recalculations.

But, again, Candy, no one expects anything like that to happen.

CROWLEY: Continuing tensions though, Chris, between the U.S. and Pakistan. Thanks so much for the report.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

CROWLEY: If you've been to the gas station this week, you know how bad it's getting. But what is behind the skyrocketing prices? Is there any relief in sight? I'll ask an expert.

Plus, one activist says it's unlike anything he's ever seen. An alarming new report alleges brutal government atrocities against doctors in Bahrain.

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CROWLEY: A human rights group has just issued an alarming report from Bahrain describing brutal coordinated attacks against medical personnel.

Here's CNN's Amber Lyon.

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AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Richard Sollom with Physicians for Human Rights just returned from Bahrain.

RICHARD SOLLOM, PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: It is unlike anything that I have ever seen in my 20 years of investigating human rights and violations of medical neutrality. The types of abuses that are occurring are actually quite surreal. They are so horrific and so widespread and systematic.

LYON: Sollom says Bahraini security forces have arrested more than 30 doctors and medics, accusing them of harboring protesters.

SOLLOM: It is my firm belief that the Bahraini government and its security forces are targeting physicians and nurses and other people who have eyewitness testimony to their atrocities, specifically because they are the credible people who have specific evidence of the atrocities of the Bahrain government.

LYON: PHR says Bahraini security forces have also created a climate of fear so that patients, especially those involved in protests, have avoided getting urgent medical treatment.

SOLLOM: Patients are being tortured in these medical facilities.

LYON: When we were in Bahrain about three weeks ago, we met protesters shot by security forces who said that they were too scared to seek medical attention.

(on camera): This is birdshot. The police have been using this to shoot them.

So he got out of the hospital bed and ran away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, because he was afraid.

LYON: He said he took a razorblade on his own and cut the bullets out of his leg because he was too scared to go to the hospital, because he says that the riot police came in and beat him while he was in his hospital bed. So he fled. And he still has the bullet in his eye.

He can't see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can't see.

LYON (voice-over): Security forces took over the main hospital, Salmaniya, last month. PHR documented cases where police dragged patients out of their hospital beds late at night and tortured them.

SOLLOM: They were forced to confess to things that they did not do. For example, that Iran was behind the demonstrations, that Iran and other countries were handing out weapons.

LYON: The Bahraini government has blamed Iran for backing the protesters. Officials also told CNN that security forces are at Salmaniya Hospital to protect it from unruly protesters, and that it's now functioning normally.

SOLLOM: Well, I understand that that's what the government is saying, but the reality is quite different. When we arrived, we were met by men wearing armed assault rifles. There was a heavy tank right in front of the emergency room.

LYON: Sollom says that when he and his team tried to enter the hospital, they were detained by security forces and then kicked out. PHR says the Bahraini government is violating numerous international laws, and wants the U.S. and U.N. to push for an immediate investigation.

Amber Lyon, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: A footnote: CNN has made several requests for a response by the Bahraini government on this report. One official told us it will send us a response when it has one.

Previously, the government that has alleged that Salmaniya Medical Complex was taken over by violent opposition forces that used the facility as a command center and refused to treat patients of certain religious sects.

Republicans and Democrats say they want to control Medicare costs, but they have very different plans to do that. We'll look at what it could mean for your benefits.

And drivers can rake up huge fines when traffic cameras catch them speeding. Wait until you hear how one man proved his tickets were bogus.

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CROWLEY: President Obama and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan are spearheading very different approaches to controlling Medicare costs. It's a red-hot issue that's key to the broader battle over reducing the federal deficit, which is why we're walking over here to Tom Foreman, because he's going to spell out their plans and how to compare them. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, because it's confusing. It's terribly confusing.

Look, Medicare, let's start with the basics. Medicare, as you should know, is a federal system of health insurance for people over 65 years of age, and for certain younger people with disabilities.

Here's the important stuff. About 47 million people are enrolled in Medicare, but people who are getting older, like me, the tail end of the baby boomers, are pushing this way up, and all the early baby boomers. So, by some estimates, by 2029, the system could be in real serious trouble. That's why we're hearing all about these plans.

So let's look at some of the differences here, Candy.

Paul Ryan has created a huge stir. What you'll hear from the Democrats is that he's ending the Medicare degree. And to a degree, they would agree, because they're saying, look, we're not going to say this is an open-ended plane where we just pour money at anybody who has health issues. We will pay a set amount, and that's going to be it. That's how you control costs.

Over here, they're going to say we continue the Medicare guarantee. But, of course, that doesn't sit well with people who are saying what do you do about the deficit? So let's look at how they're going to do it.

On the Ryan plan, they're talking about vouchers to ensure it's by 2022. First off, they're telling anybody who's on Medicare right now, you're going to stay on it, it's all the same. But, by 2022, instead of paying this money directly to doctors, hospitals, all of that, the money will go to private insurers that people pick out.

So, if you're an older person, you pick somebody. They pay the money to the insurer, and it's a set amount. Once you've used up that money, you're on your own, you have to take care of your own expenses beyond that.

Over here what they're trying to do is they want the government to continue paying providers. So how are you going to lower costs? Here, classic Republican argument. By doing this, they say, you spur the market to compete with itself and that's what drives the costs down.

Over here, what they say is they can negotiate with providers. The president has this panel which would go into place in 2013, and they would be in charge of keeping track of rising costs and making sure it doesn't get out of control.

So, in the end, the Obama plan relies heavily on eliminating waste and fraud and this government ongoing negotiation to keep the costs down. The Ryan plan, more so says, look, recipients are going to have to pick up more costs, because there are too many people, this is the only way we can do it, and this will produce real savings overall. You can have your political opinion about both. And this is very broad brush strokes, Candy, as you know. But generally, that's what they're talking about.

CROWLEY: And no way to know which one of them would work, actually. At the end, you've got to take a guess.

FOREMAN: That's the problem. Well, because it's all way down the road and we're betting our future on it. So we'll see.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Tom, thanks.

There is new word from Libya that the army plans to withdraw from the besieged city of Misrata. We'll look at what that could mean for the opposition.

And they were hailed as heroes at Ground Zero, but now some of them may be cross-checked on the terror watch list.

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