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IN THE ARENA
9/11 First Responders Speak Out; Inside the Hunt for Bin Laden
Aired May 2, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program.
I have a rare opportunity tonight. CNN often comes to you live from Ground Zero, but what we almost never get the chance to do is come inside where the buildings once stood, to stand on what so many have called hallowed ground.
Thousands of people died right here and now their killer, Osama bin Laden, is dead as well.
Is it justice? I'll leave that question to some hero firefighters. I'll be talking to them in a minute.
But first, I want to show you what has happened to what used to be the World Trade Center. Over here was Tower Two. It was the one that fell first just 56 minutes after it was hit by United Airlines Flight 175. And over here is the new 9/11 memorial. It will open on September 11th of this year. The names of every one of the victims of 9/11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania will be inscribed there.
Tonight we're going to explore all aspects of this story. Here's some of what we're doing on the program.
SPITZER (voice-over): A man who went on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
ROBERT GRENIER, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: He's probably going to end up dead pretty quickly.
SPITZER: The CIA station chief in Islamabad on the morning of 9/11. He says bin Laden's death is a good career move. For bin Laden.
Then E.D. Hill with someone who knew Osama bin Laden, not as a monster, but as a man.
E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What was he like as a younger man?
SPITZER: The Saudi journalist who covered bin Laden says the man he knew died a long time ago.
And President Obama. He pulled off what nobody in a decade could do. The lonely decision a president has to make. He talks about it this hour. Stay tuned.
SPITZER: And we've just learned that the president is coming here to Ground Zero this Thursday to meet with 9/11 families. We'll keep you up to date on that as well.
Now for the reason we're here. We don't like to overuse the awful footage of what happened here in 2001, but tonight in this place, it seems appropriate to remember. Take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: It never gets any less powerful or awful, especially for the people who are here. Four firefighters who lived to tell about that day join me now.
Richard Picciotto was the highest ranking officer to survive the attack. Mickey Kross was on the fourth floor of the north tower when the building collapsed. George Bachmann was badly injured in the collapse of the north tower. He's now retired from the FDNY. And Kenny Specht has been both a police officer and a firefighter. He is the president of the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation.
Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here. Thank you needless to say for your bravery, your heroism. Every one of you stands for all we believe in.
George, let me start with you. As you see this site, it brings back memories. Tell us, take us back to 9/11. What happened? Where were you?
GEORGE BACHMANN, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: Well, let me say that it's great to be on with you, Eliot. Thank you for having us. Yes, my firehouse is right directly across the street. A lot of 10 -- engine 10. The Ten house, the only fire house to be destroyed on 9/11.
And I was here when it initially happened. And thanks to Chief Picciotto here, he saved my life on the 40th floor when he turned us around and gave a mayday.
And I thank you, Chief. And my memoir is being sold at barnesandnoble.com, so I hope you don't mind me hawking my book.
SPITZER: No. No. With all the proceeds going where?
BACHMANN: The proceeds going to the Wounded Warriors Project as well as the Firefighters Burn Center, Eliot.
SPITZER: Right. And you know, you guys all have amazing stories to tell. Let me ask you, Richard. Is this justice? Bin laden is now dead, he was killed. Is this justice? Do you feel as though finally there's vindication?
RICHARD PICCIOTTO, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: It's definitely justice. Justice delayed a bit. I wish he would have died nine years ago. Actually 14 years ago.
PICCIOTTO: Before it happened. But it's definitely justice. I'm glad that he'd dead without -- you know, I'm not happy over the fact because any time I think of September 11th, I think of the 3,000 people that died because of him.
PICCIOTTO: So it's definitely justice that he's not with us anymore.
SPITZER: And when you look at this site, you see trees behind us that are now blooming the first time here on this site. Those trees have leaves. Is this a sign of life rejuvenation? Does it make you feel as though the city and the nation are coming back?
PICCIOTTO: It's a tremendous sign that life is blooming here again after so much destruction. You know when I go back nine years ago and think of what this place looked like, it was worse than a war zone. I mean it was terrible.
SPITZER: Look, I was here, my office was one block away. I was here that morning and what was there for months and years afterwards is rubble of pit.
Richard, let me ask you. Did you ever lose confidence that there was going -- Mickey, did you ever lose confidence that there was gong to be justice? That we would somehow do what needed to be done?
MICKEY KROSS, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: Well, oddly enough, I just finished a book the other day -- about two days ago. Peter Bergen --
KROSS: "The Osama bin Laden I know," I just finished it a few days ago. And as I closed the book, I was thinking about that. This is almost 10 years, where is this guy?
SPITZER: Right. And now we have an answer.
KROSS: And then I wake up two days later and I find out that he's gone.
SPITZER: And deservedly so. Your answer, is this justice?
KROSS: Well, he tried to kill me. And now he's dead and I'm still here. SPITZER: Right.
KROSS: So I guess that's kind of a justice in that respect.
Kenny, let me ask you a tough question. Should we be in Afghanistan? Do we continue this fight? Should we be fighting in Afghanistan? In Pakistan? What do you think?
KENNY SPECHT, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: Let's be honest, it's the fight in Afghanistan and eventually yesterday into Pakistan that led us to where we are, which is the death of Osama bin Laden.
The question is, should we have been there before? Absolutely, yes. It was a mission that needed to be fulfilled. I think now we have to ask ourselves, is that mission fulfilled? Do we need to remain in Afghanistan? Do we need to remain in Pakistan? I guess that's the question that we're going to have to ask ourselves now.
SPITZER: Let me ask you the tough question, should we?
SPECHT: Yes, I don't think that the job is done. And I look back on -- the Navy SEALs carried out a tremendous operation yesterday. That Navy SEAL 10 with Lieutenant Michael Murphy from Patchogue out where I live in Long Island embedded in the mountains of Afghanistan years ago. And all but one survived.
SPECHT: There was a job that started back then. And that job still needs to continue now.
SPITZER: You want to continue that job until we defeat al Qaeda until it's gone altogether?
SPECHT: I think to a man we both know that it's probably never going to be defeated forever. But we need to maintain a presence. We need to show that what happened yesterday, we're going to continue to work at it.
SPITZER: I see you shaking your head. You think we -- we --
PICCIOTTO: We definitely need to be there. We have to fight this global war on terrorism. I mean, just because bin Laden is gone, that doesn't mean al Qaeda is gone, that doesn't mean terrorism stops.
We have to fight this like we said nine years ago, wherever terrorism is. And we have to fight by their rules, not our rules. It's not the Geneva Convention type of fight that we're doing anymore.
SPITZER: George, I want to go back to last night. Where were you when you heard this? What did you scream out? What was your first emotional response to this news?
BACHMANN: I was with my daughter Tara and my wife Anne. She's a senior nurse at the fire department. And we let loose with a happy glee. But speaking as a Vietnam veteran, with two Purple Hearts, let me just say, the country still needs to be vigilant.
And just a word to the infantrymen of this country, we are the backbone and soul of this country, and this has proven through this process of eliminating Osama bin Laden.
Mickey, is this a holy site to you? We're turning it into a park, a memorial -- office towers. Is this always going to be a holy site? Some place when you walk here your heart beats a littler faster?
KROSS: I live in the area. I live 10 minutes. I'm here all the time. So for me, it's my neighborhood.
KROSS: But when I entered this site just now, I felt oh, I'm back.
KROSS: I'm back. Because I spend a lot of time here. Not only was I here for 9/11. For the nine months that followed, I spent a lot of time --
SPITZER: Helping the clean-up?
KROSS: Yes, I was involved in the recovery and the --
SPITZER: Is it amazing when -- you know, you think back to that clean-up. And I think everybody has seen the images. It was rubble piled almost to the sky. And now what we see is life. What does it make you think?
KROSS: I know when I came out I was on top of the rubble.
KROSS: Me and the chief. In fact I was following him.
PICCIOTTO: We were in the rubble. Then we were on top of the rubble.
SPITZER: So you guys were on the same floor, is that right?
KROSS: We were together, yes.
SPITZER: Tell me what happened. Up there in the tower.
KROSS: Oh, you mean when the building fell down?
SPITZER: Yes. KROSS: Well, when it first fell down, I was completely buried. I was completely covered up. I was curled up in a little ball. And there was -- I had no sight. It was total silence. After the building fell, it was a complete silence. I didn't feel anything. I had no sensation.
And actually wasn't sure if I was alive. I thought that I might be dead. Because I tell people is that, having no experience being dead, you don't know what it's like. So --
PICCIOTTO: I felt the same way.
KROSS: You're not feeling anything.
PICCIOTTO: We were in the same stairwell and the same thing -- I describe it the same way Mickey does. The noise, the shaking was tremendous, you know, we heard it 30 minutes earlier when the south tower went down, then we heard it again even louder because it's our building. And the south tower took 10 seconds, our building took eight.
PICCIOTTO: And so that noise was so intense for eight seconds. And then in a split second, utter silence and blackness. So I thought I was dead also.
SPITZER: Yes. You know I often talk about this. My office is one block away. I was looking out the window when the south tower went down, about 100 feet from here -- I don't know, maybe 200 feet.
You're right. Complete black. All you saw was like the sky had closed up on us. And there was this noise like you can't imagine and then silence. It was eerie. It was devastating.
Now you have an amazing thing. You were here in '93, the first bombing of the Trade Center as well.
PICCIOTTO: Yes, in '93, I was a newly promoted chief. And I was down here, one of the initial chiefs on the scene. And I was actually in charge of the evacuation of the north tower.
PICCIOTTO: So -- and I knew the problems we had in '93 evacuating the building, how long it took. And I think actually that -- you know, in a weird sort of way, that kind of helped September 11th because I knew the tremendous problems we had evacuating the building in '93.
And September 11th, we were allowed -- we were able to do it so much faster.
SPITZER: Right. PICCIOTTO: And get thousands of people out.
SPITZER: A lot of lives were saved because of that hard work.
SPITZER: Mickey, is this closure? Is there ever closure to this sort of event?
KROSS: Well, this is closure in part. It's -- one chapter is now behind us.
KROSS: But this is probably going to go on until the end of my life so.
Kenny, how about you for you? Closure?
KROSS: I don't think there's truly any closure.
SPITZER: No. You're shaking your head. There's no closure?
SPECHT: No, it doesn't close. You -- it's like you said, you hope that you look back on this, the work that goes on. New life. But I don't think that anybody that was here could ever find closure. It's with us until the day we die. That will be -- that will be my closure, really.
I mean, I -- there's time I just can't let it go. I wish I could. Believe me, I wish I could. It's just -- it's the littlest thing. Maybe even a nice day in September. A song. Crazy stuff brings it back to us. And as often as we like to think that we put it behind us, we haven't. And I think to a man, to be honest, no, there's no closure.
SPITZER: George, how about for you?
BACHMANN: Eliot, it's infused in my personality and who I am. It's part of who I am. And the men and women who lost their lives here are probably the real heroes, but they're with us everywhere we go.
SPITZER: Do you sense that there's a new unity in the country? The unity we had 10 ten years ago on 9/11? The day after there's a sense of purpose. Do you think that's coming back now, capturing bin Laden somehow has brought that back?
PICCIOTTO: I think we saw it last night. I think we saw it last night the spontaneous celebration.
PICCIOTTO: The spontaneous -- throughout the country, Washington, D.C., here, all over. I just hope it lasts. I mean -- after September 11th, it lasted a year, maybe two years, and then we lost it.
PICCIOTTO: I hope it lasts at least that long, if not longer.
PICCIOTTO: Because we need that in this country.
SPITZER: Yes, we need it. You're right. There are issues to deal with, that common purpose that we saw here, that we felt last night. It was amazing. People on the street chanting, "USA, USA." They did it with purpose, with reason. It was because of you guys.
BACHMANN: Galvanize the country.
SPITZER: Right. Well, guys, it was because of you, the heroism you showed right here on this site just about 10 years ago. So thank you.
SPITZER: We're all indebted to you. We're all indebted to you.
All right, thank you all for your service.
E.D. Hill joins us now with what she has later on tonight -- E.D.?
HILL: Eliot, that was wonderful. That really is why America is so strong. People like that. Terrific. Thanks for bringing that to us.
Coming up, we are going to talk to a man who knew bin Laden before he developed his hatred of the West. Why did he change? We get a unique perspective and blunt language -- Eliot?
SPITZER: All right. Thank you, E.D.. We'll be right back with a man who took part in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Don't go away.
SPITZER: OK. Yes.
Breaking news tonight. We're getting new details on how enemy number one was captured and gunned down in Pakistan. CNN has learned it took two dozen commandos and four helicopters who found him at the compound where he had never actually been seen by U.S. intelligence. After years of searching, finally the tip came through from a courier, an old-fashioned courier, who has broken, who told us where, in fact, he was.
It took two shots to take down bin Laden, one to the head and one to the chest. In the situation room where the president was located last night, tense indeed as they were getting real-time information and based upon that information they had to make the tough decision would they, in fact, open to the world the fact that we had taken and killed Osama bin Laden.
Finally, it was the president himself who made that fateful decision, not one he wanted to get wrong, needless to say. He said we've got enough, we've got him, let's go. And later on that evening, last night, we all heard that wonderful news that, in fact, Osama bin Laden, in fact, was dead.
And, in fact, as we have learned since then, he was buried at sea within the 24 hours required by Islamic law.
The hunt for bin Laden has consumed U.S. intelligence for years. And joining me now are two individuals who were part of that search and (INAUDIBLE).
First, Robert Grenier was one of America's top spies for nearly three decades. He was the CIA's chief officer in Pakistan during 9/11 and headed the CIA's Counterterrorism Center after that. He's with us from Washington, D.C.
And joining me from Austin is Lawrence Wright who devoted years researching al Qaeda and bin Laden for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."
Thank you both for joining us.
Richard, let me begin with you. There is a serious dispute going on. Was bin Laden actually being saved? Was he being hidden by our supposed allies in Pakistan? The Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, people are saying must have known where he was in a compound literally on the outskirts of Islamabad, the capital of the nation.
Do you believe that they in fact knew where he was?
GRENIER: Is that addressed to me?
SPITZER: Yes, indeed it is.
GRENIER: Yes. No, of course, we don't know. And I strongly doubt that they were active parties to the conspiracy. I mean, if you put yourself in the position of bin Laden and those who were charged with protecting him, would you trust the Pakistanis?
I remember that there were a large number of al Qaeda elements, including a significant number of al Qaeda leaders, who have been either killed or captured directly through the cooperation of the Pakistanis.
I can't believe for a moment that bin Laden or those close to him would have brought the Pakistanis into their confidence. However, if at some point they had independently determined for themselves that he may well be hiding there, it's conceivable -- I don't think it's likely, but it's conceivable that they might simply have decided to let a sleeping dog lie. SPITZER: Lawrence, let me turn to you. What does his capture and his being killed mean for al Qaeda? Is this the end of al Qaeda? Will they be able to survive without him?
LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWERS": Well, al Qaeda could not end without him being killed or captured. So at least we've gotten that far. Certainly the organization will endure, at least for a while. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number-two guy, will take over. He's proven to be a terrible manager. His own terror group in Egypt, al- Jihad, he ran into the ground.
He's not charismatic. He's anti-charismatic. There'll probably be a struggle for succession within al Qaeda. There will be tremendous centrifugal forces on the al Qaeda affiliates such as the -- al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb and so on, that are really basically nationalist in their goals, not internationalist in the way that bin Laden had been.
Without bin Laden as a figure head and an inspirational figure, those affiliates may likely break off and begin to follow their more natural pursuits.
SPITZER: Well, Lawrence, let me stay with you and ask you this question. Is what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East a fundamental repudiation of al Qaeda? In other words, is the ideology that bin Laden was trying to disseminate -- is it being repudiated by the Islamic world as we watch these revolutions that speak to freedom sweep North Africa?
WRIGHT: Yes. You know, the main trend in this revolution is modernist, reformist, anti-corruption. It is not a jihad. It is not a -- it is not a turning towards violence either. In Libya, that is different. But in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Syria, what you see are people who are struggling to be free and a part of the modern world.
And they're not following al Qaeda's violent, jihadist ideology. So there was a tremendous repudiation. That's not to say that chaos may not ensue in some of these regions, such as in Libya and in Yemen and that al Qaeda will exploit that chaos and use it for its own ends.
SPITZER: Richard, let me come back to you. Given that reality, do you think it's going to get harder and harder for al Qaeda to recruit new members as, in fact, this revolution of freedom, which is not an Islamist revolution as best we can tell sweeps across much of the Islamic world? Will it get harder for them to add new members?
GRENIER: Well, that's certainly the hope. And in the broad scheme of things, I think that's actually quite likely. What we're seeing right now is that this is working on a number of different levels. You have recognized religious leaders, including people whom we would consider to be extremists who have overtly rejected bin Laden and his doctrine.
They have rejected his organization because of the large number of Muslims who've been killed throughout the world. There is very little sympathy for bin Laden or al Qaeda. We may see a slight spike in sympathy for bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of his death.
But fundamentally, his support within the region has gone way down. And most importantly, essentially he and his organization have been left behind. What's most significant about this is that they're not even part of the conversation. It's not as though those who are responsible for the Arab spring have rejected bin Laden. They're not even thinking about bin Laden or al Qaeda.
So the expectation over time is that young people, as they look for a way to address the key issues in their lives, are not going to be looking for terrorist solutions. They're not going to be looking to al Qaeda.
SPITZER: Lawrence, I want to quote to you something you said in your Pulitzer Prize-winning book. A brilliant, brilliant book. You said towards the end of it that al Qaeda's -- that bin Laden's strategy was to lure America into the same trap the Soviets had fallen into, Afghanistan.
Are we now mired in Afghanistan even though we have gotten rid of Osama bin Laden and arguably defeated the ideology of al Qaeda?
WRIGHT: Yes, we are. We're -- you know he -- it was a trap we fell into. He wanted -- he provoked us in order to go into Afghanistan. And we went in. It was proper that we should have gone in to try to get -- get topple the Taliban and get bin Laden. We failed to get bin Laden in that effort.
But the effort to try to recreate that culture has led us into I think a mistaken stance. We're going to -- there really only two outcomes in Afghanistan. One is that we stay and prop up a dictatorship or warlords and drug lords running a phony democracy, or we withdraw and the Taliban recapture much of that territory and create a terrorist haven.
Those are terrible alternatives. But I think that reducing our present somewhat in Afghanistan while still trying to help the government stabilize and create an army and a police force that are reliable, I think that is the proper stance for us now Afghanistan.
SPITZER: All right, Lawrence Wright, Robert Grenier, thanks so much for joining us.
GRENIER: You're very welcome.
SPITZER: Up next, will the death of Osama bin Laden bring unity to Washington? We'll bring you the latest comments from President Obama. Stay with us.
SPITZER: Just moments ago, President Obama spoke before a dinner of congressional leaders at the White House, and addressed the killing of Osama bin Laden. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Last night as Americans learned that the United States had carried out an operation that resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden, we --
You know, I think we experienced the same sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. We were reminded again that there's a pride in what this nation stands for and what we can achieve that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics.
I want to again recognize the heroes who carried out this incredibly dangerous mission, as well as all the military and counterterrorism professionals who made the mission impossible. I also want to thank members of Congress from both parties who have given extraordinary support to our military and our intelligence officials. Without your support, they could not do what they do.
I know that the unity that we felt on 9/11 has frayed a little bit over the years. And I have no illusions about the difficulties, the debates that will have to be engaged in the weeks and months to come. But I also know there have been several moments like this during the course of this year that have brought us together as an American family, whether it was the tragedy in Tucson or most recently, our unified response to the terrible storms that have taken place in the south. Last night was one of those moments. And so tonight, it is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face. But to all of you here tonight, we are joyful that you could join us. And please have a little bit of fun. All right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: All right. I know if you can hear right now in the backdrop here in New York City at Ground Zero, there are bagpipes playing. This is spontaneous, or perhaps not so spontaneous festivities that we're seeing here across the nation. In fact, the bagpipes traditional way of celebrating for the police department seems to be that's who it is. It's kind of hard to see often in the distance, but certainly adding to this joy that you saw as the president was speaking about unity of purpose that he alluded to. Our senior political analyst David Gergen joins us now.
David, let me ask you this. The president spoke about the need for unity. Will it last?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Eliot, it does open a fresh hope and a fresh chapter in Washington, but we've gone through several chapters before as the president just said. And now unity of 9/11 which brought us together for several weeks did shatter or disappeared over time. And it's been very, very elusive since then and indeed polarization has deepened as you well know.
I think the big test, Eliot, of course, it's not going to last all the way through the election season but the big immediate test and the most important one is here at home. Now will the Congress get together over this national debt ceiling and over the deficit crisis, the debt crisis that we're in? As you know, the deadlines are looming just over the horizon. The negotiations begin this week. They could have been extraordinarily contentious. I think this gives the president a fresh stature, new stature. And it has changed the atmospherics that perhaps we can get through this debt crisis in a much more unified way than anyone would have imagined only yesterday.
SPITZER: You know, David, I want to pick up on something you just said. It seems to me it fundamentally changes the way the president will be viewed by the public. Now maybe not for terribly long but certainly as of this moment a foreign policy that has perhaps been notable for its lack of particular successes. A lot of emotions and a lot of perspectives people agreed with, but no tangible results. Now he has perhaps the single most important result that the public wants to see. So does that change the way the Republican Party and the entire public will view him and hence the way this conversation will play out as we go forward?
GERGEN: Eliot, I think that in the near term it's going to change the way not only the American public views him but very importantly countries overseas, say in the gulf, which have been worried about the presidency's steadfastness. Is he tough enough? Would he actually go after? Would he pull the trigger, I mean, Obama on Osama? And he's now proved that he is tough enough on that. And I do think it's going to help in the short term here at home. Because whatever anyone may say about his foreign policy, the notion was taking hold that it was a weak and inconsistent foreign policy. But there are some still some great challenges but this is going to help him overseas. And here at home, there's going to be a sense that, you know, you may disagree with him on x, y or z, but when somebody stands up, a Republican stands up in New Hampshire now or Iowa and says this guy doesn't have what it takes to run a foreign policy, the retort is going to be instantaneous. Oh, yes? Obama got Osama. Where was your guy? So, you know, I think that retort is going to be very powerful for a while to come.
SPITZER: I think that's exactly right. And I think also let's talk about Libya for just a moment, which has been dominating the news cycles for the past several weeks, of course. And in Libya at a minimum, I think this gives the president several additional weeks if not months to deal with what is very clearly a thorny problem. An area where, as you just said, the critique had been a bit of indecision, a lack of will power. Now people will say give him time. The noose that he has said is around the neck of Gadhafi, in fact, is tightening. And so let him play his cards the way he has been. This president shows patience and strategy. So I think in that context as well, probably it strengthens his hand.
GERGEN: Eliot, that point is well taken. You know, my first reaction when I heard he was going on television last night was we got Gadhafi. It never occurred to me we got bin Laden. And you have to think that this could be for Gadhafi, a sense of, wow, these guys really mean business. You know, my life may be in serious danger. Think if we got Gadhafi here in the next week or two. I think, you know, there would be a storm over that, but President Obama could ride that storm out right now. So Gadhafi is in a more vulnerable position. But I do agree with you. I think it gives the president time and the stature.
Stature is very, very important for foreign policy for a president. It gives him the stature both at home and abroad. He has more time in Libya. He can do now -- I think he can set his own timetable in Afghanistan and Iraq much more easily than he could before. When there's going to be this push coming from Democrats and others saying we got bin Laden, why don't we come home from Afghanistan, he can say no, it's in our national interest to do x, y and z and he can push back.
But I want to come back, Eliot. The White House -- I talked to a senior official there in the national security apparatus tonight. They're very upbeat about the fact that this whole operation has sent a very clear message, especially to the Arab world where there was so many doubts in places like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and elsewhere in the gulf. This has sent a message that the United States is going to be persistent. That the United States will do what it says and the United States has the capacity and the reach to carry out what it says it's going to do. Those are very important messages to strengthen us and can help us now as the gulf states were getting worried, for example, about do we have what it takes to stand up against Iran? This will help the president and his team.
And, by the way, I think it's also greatly strengthened the stature of his team. That the fact that they could carry this out flawlessly and that they met week after week after week, 24 interagency meetings altogether, many of which were presided over by the president. Not a single leak, not a single intimation of what was going on. That's absolutely remarkable in today's Washington, modern Washington. And I think that's -- I think this team, some of whose members are not very well known to the public, but not only the secretary of state, secretary of defense. Leon Panetta has come out of this extraordinarily well with the CIA, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, who's had a very -- kept a very low profile team player has come out of this extraordinarily well, too.
SPITZER: You know, David, that is exactly right. What has been demonstrated here is will power, discipline, staying power, patience and determination. All of the factors that are critically important, not only overseas, but also on all the domestic negotiations, an enormous stature boost for the president at every level. Of course, the question is, will it carry forward into the debate, the debate over the debt ceiling which is going to be very contentious in the weeks ahead?
GERGEN: Eliot, and I do think that's the immediate test. And I think this -- this is good for three to six months. What you can't say from this is -- I think it's way too early to say is this is going to re-elect President Obama. We've seen a lot of commentary on the blog sites about that.
It's important to remember the cautionary note of President George H.W. Bush when Saddam went into Kuwait. And President Bush along with Secretary Baker organized this massive alliance, sent in 500,000 troops and kicked Saddam the hell out of Kuwait, did it masterfully. And in February of 1991, his third year in office, his approval rating spiked up to 89 percent. But the economy was lousy and the year and a half that followed, in 18 months he went down 60 percent in the polls and he lost re-election. So you can't -- so it's way too early. This economy has really tanked (ph). It's a big, big question on that.
SPITZER: No question about it, David. Foreign policy gives you an immediate and great powerful boost. It's the economy in the long run that dictates the outcomes of election.
David Gergen, thank you as always. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.
GERGEN: Thank you, Eliot.
SPITZER: We'll be right back.
E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Osama bin Laden has been for years now, a symbol of all we fear as a country, a man out to destroy us and our way of life. But right now, I have a rare opportunity to talk to someone who knew Osama bin Laden, who knew him not as a terrorist, but as a man. Joining us from Saudi Arabia is Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who knew bin Laden in Afghanistan as he fought against the Soviets. Mr. Khashoggi joins us from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Thank you for being with us.
JAMAL KHASHOGGI, FORMER EDITOR, AL-WATAN: Thank you.
HILL: It's interesting to me that he is killed in a mansion, in a wealthy area surrounded by women and children, at the same time he's sending people off on a mission to give themselves up, their lives up for the cause. When you knew him, did you ever see him perform an act of kindness?
KHASHOGGI: Oh, when we were in Jalalabad, he will be just one among the crowds, endangering himself just like any other soldiers. But at that time, he was mainstream, following the guideline of proper Islamic jihad that you don't kill innocent people, you don't commit suicide.
Osama did a damaging sect to Islam. Two important things, the indiscriminate killing of innocent people, which is a big taboo, a big mistake in Islam. And the other thing is suicidal attacks. Suicidal attacks, suicidal bombing is killing us, we the Muslims. It's damaging us the Muslims. And I just don't understand how he could tolerate sitting in his house in Islamabad and hear about a young Muslim entering a mosque in Peshawar and blowing up himself. That is totally absurd in Islam. It is totally absurd by killing the innocent Muslims at the mosque and killing yourself. It's just -- I would never imagine sitting with Osama bin Laden in 1985 or up to '95 that he will allow or justify something as ugly, as horrific as that.
HILL: When you spoke with him, did he ever expressed to you his desire to bring down the west, to kill Americans, westerners, nonbelievers, infidels, however he phrased it? Did you get that sense from him?
KHASHOGGI: No. At that time in Afghanistan, his aim was to establish a just Islamic state in Afghanistan which will be a model, a success story for other countries to follow. And the same thing he had envisioned for Syria in 1982. Actually that was the drive of the mainstream Islamic movement of the 1980s or '70s is to succeed in achieving that Islamic state. But, of course, they have failed to do so. And they are succeeding now days to -- into creating the diverse democratic state, which Islam will play a role but not be the only decisive role there.
HILL: It's hard to separate who the man is and what the myth is. One of the CNN correspondents who interviewed bin Laden many years ago talked about his vanity, ironically, and that after the interview, he insisted on being able to look at the shots that have been taken of him and edit out the ones that he thought were unflattering. When you interviewed him, when you spoke with him, did you get that same sense? What was his personality like?
KHASHOGGI: Very humble. Did not like to be the center of attention. Did not like to be photographed. The first photograph ever taken of Osama bin Laden for a newspaper was taken by me. But no, he wasn't center at all.
HILL: He certainly has changed a lot since when you knew him as a younger man and the terrorist he became. Jamal Khashoggi, thank you very much for joining us.
KHASHOGGI: Thank you.
HILL: And when we come back, Eliot talks to the Ground Zero imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man who has been at the center of a great deal of controversy. Don't go away.
SPITZER: In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Americans staged patriotic celebrations at Ground Zero and across the country. How do Muslims feel about this reaction, especially scenes like this one from last night's Mets/Phillies game right after the news broke?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: USA! USA! USA! USA!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPITZER: In case you couldn't hear it, they were chanting USA, USA, USA, USA at the stadium and that occurred around the nation. On the other hand, the few Muslim demonstrations we've seen appeared to be more defiant than celebratory. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the man who proposed the controversial Islamic Center near Ground Zero. A CEO of the Cordoba Initiative, he tries to connect the Muslim world and the west. He joins me now from our studio in Columbus Circle.
Welcome, Imam Rauf. Thank you for joining us.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, PLANNED CONTROVERSIAL ISLAM CENTER NEAR GROUND ZERO: Thank you for having me, Eliot.
SPITZER: Well, let me ask a very direct question. Is it possible now to rebuild what is at best a very frayed relationship between the Islamic world and the United States?
RAUF: It's an absolute must, Eliot. We have to do that. And there's no question that the Muslim world and America has shared enormous interests. The United States has enormous interests in the Muslim world and the Muslim world has enormous interests in the relationship with America.
In my travels and meetings with heads of governments in the Muslim world, with heads of business organizations, with think tanks and with common folk, the general consensus is no one can afford to have a bad relationship with America. It is my hope and I think a clear understanding that what has happened last night with the death of Osama bin Laden and in combination with what we are seeing in much of the Arab world, we're seeing the end of a chapter of terrorism. Whether terrorism is conducted by non-state actors like Al Qaeda, headed and founded by Osama bin Laden, or the kind of terrorism by people like Gadhafi who are terrorizing their own populations, the Arab world --
SPITZER: Imam --
RAUF: Yes, Eliot.
SPITZER: Imam, let me interrupt you for a question. I have to tell you, what the American public saw after 9/11 was celebration across the Arab world and the fact that bin Laden had killed thousands of people here in the United States. And now that bin Laden thankfully has been both captured and killed, there seems to be silence in the Islamic world. There really is no, not even statements of support, very limited expressions of support for what the United States is doing. Am I misreading this?
RAUF: Well, I think that there's concern. I mean, death is a serious thing. But the general understanding, bin Laden and Al Qaeda have killed more Muslims than they've killed Americans. And this is not to make light of what he has done here in 9/11.
We have been the major victims of the acts of Al Qaeda, whether it's in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan. Your Saudi guest earlier just pointed out that it is fundamentally against the Koranic law to hurt anybody who is innocent of a particular crime. And the bombings of the innocent people in mosques in Peshawar, the suicide bombings of many people, we have been the major victims of this. So there's a great sense of relief among the Muslim community globally that this has happened.
There's, of course, great anxiety and great concern, because we're seeing a lot of upheavals in the Arab world today. And the Arab world wants -- all that they want is personal security and they want economic well being. This is what most people want today.
SPITZER: Imam --
RAUF: And therefore, the idea of building communities is where the direction of the future that needs to go.
SPITZER: Imam, what you're saying is exactly what was said earlier in the show, and we had this conversation, which is why the revolutions that are crossing North Africa and the Middle East seem to be a complete rejection of what Osama bin Laden stood for. But having said that, there does not seem to have been any substantial outpouring of support for what the United States has just done, ridding the world of a horrendous terrorist. So why do you see this dichotomy? Why is that the case?
RAUF: Well, I think there's great anxiety in the Muslim world. You know, the -- I'm from -- my parents were from Egypt and I'm concerned about what's happening in Egypt. I'm concerned that, you know, what our founding fathers in America call it the tyranny of the majority may occur in Egypt.
We need to engage and applaud the Obama administration, not only in its focus on getting and bringing bin Laden to justice, but also in how it's engaging in the Arab world to make sure that the aspirations of a common folk, what's having good governance, towards having democracy, by which you mean a government that really is for the people and serves the people rather than serving their own objectives.
SPITZER: Imam, let me interrupt you for just one moment. Let me interrupt you for one moment. We're going to continue this conversation in just a minute. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
SPITZER: We are back now with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is the man who proposed a controversial Islamic Center near Ground Zero.
Imam, let me turn the tables a little bit. What has the response been within the Islamic community in particular overseas if you know to the outpouring of joy here in the United States that we killed Osama bin Laden?
RAUF: Well, the overwhelming majority of the sentiments certainly in the domestic American-Muslim community is one of relief. And the recognition and much of the overseas community is that the emotion is understandable. America needed a healing and a closure after the impact, the traumatic impact of 9/11. And that we need to have a more important discourse on how to heal the relationship between America and the Muslim world, both domestically and internationally. And there's a great hope, there's a sense of a prayerful hope that the discourse will now move towards a discourse of healing, which is very much needed between America and the Muslim world.
SPITZER: Imam, let me ask you this. You have been a voice for moderation. You have said you want to be this coming together between the west and the United States and the moderate Islamic community. Where are you finding support within the Islamic world? Where are the nodes of support that you can point to and say here are the people, the organizations, the countries that have been most outspoken?
RAUF: Well, I have spoken with the presidents of a number of Muslim countries, heads of governments in Southeast Asia, in Indonesia, in Malaysia. I've been in contact with leaders in Turkey. I was in Saudi Arabia recently. And what I have discovered, Eliot, is that everywhere in the world, there are always -- there are moderates and what we need to do is coalesce the moderates together against extremists.
SPITZER: Imam, we absolutely -- all right. Imam, thank you so much for your time.
We especially tonight want to thank Silverstein Properties for their hospitality. We are standing in this phase that will be the future lobby of four World Trade Centers.
Good night from Ground Zero and the site of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.