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Iraq Asks for U.S. Air Strikes; Obama Briefs Top Lawmakers on Iraq; Reality Check: Cheney Slams Obama on Iraq; Commando Raid Captures Key Terrorist

Aired June 18, 2014 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much.

Happening now, Iraq wants air strikes. President Obama huddling with Congressional leaders while Pentagon planners review possible targets.

As terrorists target Iraq's biggest refinery, is it time for the U.S. to act?

Grabbing terror suspects -- as U.S. intelligence questions the alleged Benghazi mastermind, we're taking you behind-the-scenes of a Special Ops raid to show you how they do it.

And medical marijuana -- a new twist in the political debate over pot.

Does weed work or not?

We'll hear from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

He'll react to what Hillary Clinton told us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

New urgency in Iraq right now as insurgents attack the country's biggest oil refinery. Baghdad is bracing for a terrorist onslaught and it's asking for U.S. help, namely air strikes. As Pentagon planners look over lists of likely targets, President Obama has been huddling with top lawmakers and is meeting this hour with the secretary of State, John Kerry.

Our correspondents and analysts are standing by to bring you all of the coverage that only CNN can deliver.

We begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, military officials tell me that the Pentagon has presented the president with several military options for Iraq, including sending in military advisers and limited air strikes. I'm told there is a draft target list, but that that list is very fluid and constantly being re-evaluated. Meanwhile, today we saw the regional implications, as Iraq accused Saudi Arabia of backing ISIS militants, a charge Saudi Arabia vehemently denied.

This as those militants continued their march toward Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): For ISIS militants, more celebration.

(VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: This time, parading through the streets of Baiji after attacking a crucial oil refinery there.

By nightfall, both militants and the Iraqi government were claiming control.

ISIS fighters are now within 37 miles of the capital, Baghdad. Multiple officials tell CNN that the Pentagon has prepared a draft list of possible targets, as well as other options, including deploying more U.S. military advisers.

But the president, who met with Congressional leaders today at the White House, has yet to decide a plan of action.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Options like air strikes, as the president said, he's not ruled in or out, but there has to be a reason for those. There has to be an objective.

Where do you go with those?

What does it do to move the effort down the road for a political solution?

SCIUTTO: A political solution is, by all accounts, dependent on Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki welcoming minority Sunnis and Kurds into his government in a meaningful way.

But today, Maliki's own deputy, a Sunni himself, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that is far from a reality.

SALEH AL-MUTLAQ, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: If you ask me, did I take a real power sharing during my presence in the government, I'd say definitely no. We were almost isolated from the decisions, especially regarding the security issues.

SCIUTTO: As the crisis deepens, the administration is coming under increasing pressure from Republicans to take action.

SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: Isn't it a little bit late?

The territory has already been lost. The cities have already been taken. The weapons -- U.S. weapons have already been seized. The banks have been robbed. Oil may or may not be in control of the extremist groups, which is a great source of monetary resource. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Well, Senator, it's only late if you suggest that we could have stopped it. There is very little that could have been done to overcome the degree to which the government of Iraq had failed its people. That's what has caused this problem.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCIUTTO: Iraq is now the second largest oil producer in OPEC, trailing only Saudi Arabia. And that's why the crisis has helped drive up world oil prices. This is why you care at home.

And as you can see, this is just one day. The price up more than a dollar. The price now at a 12 month high.

And this is because -- one reason it's causing increased concern is because that increased production from Iraq has helped the world economy recover after 2008.

But let's look at the map here. Because here's the reason why oil prices are not going up, even more than they have so far. And that's because when you look at Iraq's oil exports, 90 percent of them come out of the southern part of the country, through these pipelines here. So far, the southern part of the country has largely been insulated from the violence up north.

Now, what is important about events today, Baiji, where ISIS militants have advanced today, accounts for about one half of Iraq's domestic gasoline production. That's very important to Iraq's domestic economy. Also, huge implications for the Iraqi military's war fighting capability, that that is now under threat from these militants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a serious, serious concern.

I want you to stand by, Jim.

As the situation deteriorates, Iraq's leaders formally asking for U.S. help. President Obama has just briefed Congressional leaders about possible U.S. options, including military options.

Let's turn to our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns.

He's over at the White House.

What are you learning over there -- Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was a brief meeting with Congressional leaders. Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said the president did talk to them about Iraq. He said he did not believe he needed authority from Congress in order to take the steps he might take. And he said he would keep them posted.

Now, earlier, there was a briefing, of course, here, Jay Carney's last briefing in the White House Briefing Room. He said it's up to Iraq to figure out Iraq's problems. He also said the United States is considering all of its options. The military option remains on the table.

However, he said, U.S. troops would not be sent back into combat in Iraq.

That does leave open the possibility of air strikes, of course. And that is something the president has not made a decision on.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Any action that he might contemplate when it comes to direct military -- the use of military force -- would be to deal with the immediate and medium term threat posed by ISIL and to make sure that our first and foremost objective in the region, which is to deny extremists a safe haven, is pursued and achieved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now one big concern that's being talked about here is the possibility of the United States cooperating with Iran on a solution in Iraq. Congressional Republicans have been expressing bewilderment that the United States would even consider such an idea.

Jay Carney said there would be limits to any agreement of that type.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARNEY: I can tell you that we are open to engaging the Iranians, just as we are engaging other regional players on the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq. Any engagements we have with the Iranians will not include a discussion of military coordination or strategic determination about Iraq's future over the heads of the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now we're told here at the White House Secretary of State John Kerry has just arrived, presumably to talk with the president about Iraq and other matters.

One running debate right now is about whether the United States ought to get involved in the question of the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri Al-Maliki, whether he ought to be prime minister.

Jay Carney said today that it is up to the people of Iraq to decide who their leaders are and that the United States will deal with whoever the Iraqi people pick -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Though we are hearing more and more members of Congress, including Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying it's time for Nouri al-Maliki to go. As long as he remains in power, it's unlikely there's going to be any progress.

Joe Johns at the White House. When you get word on what happens, what's going on in this meeting that's ongoing, about to begin between the president and the secretary of State, let us know. We'll come right back to you.

We're all waiting anxiously to see if the president makes up his mind any time soon.

Up next, Dick Cheney, an architect of the Iraq War, blaming President Obama for today's desperate situation. Now the White House is hitting him right back.

And we'll get an Iraq reality check. The former CENTCOM commander -- there he is -- Retired General Anthony Zinni, he's standing by.

Plus, Special Ops commandos snatch and grab a top terror suspect. We're going to take you behind-the-scenes to show you how it was done.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Dick Cheney says it's all President Obama's fault. As vice president in the Bush administration, Cheney was a key architect of the 2003 Iraq invasion, which was followed by years of bloody insurgency, sectarian warfare and terrorism.

Now he's written an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" with his daughter, Liz, saying Obama failed to finish the job and now, quote, "We are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory."

Our Tom Foreman is joining us.

He's got a little reality check -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT:

Yes, you know, Wolf, when Dick Cheney speaks, he's one of those characters here in Washington who can excite tremendous passions on either side of an issue. And that is precisely what he has done now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Even as ISIS brutally rolled through Iraq, the op-ed piece by the former vice president and his daughter is slamming President Obama for allowing, quote, "a security threat not seen since the cold war," saying, "Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror threat and Mr. Obama is talking climate change."

On Capitol Hill, a swift counterattack from Democrats.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If there's one thing this country does not need, it's that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars.

FOREMAN: To be sure, the in the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the George W. Bush White House, where Cheney was a huge player, made many miscalculations. The war was initially expected to cost $50 billion to $60 billion and be relatively short. Instead, it lasted nine years and cost at least $800 billion.

The administration thought a reinvigorated Iraqi economy and oil trade would help pay for the war. That did not happen.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

FOREMAN: And that didn't happen either. Instead, insurgents began attacking viciously, and even after Cheney told CNN in 2005...

CHENEY: In the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

FOREMAN: ... it went on and still does. No wonder some of President Obama's defenders are pleased to see Cheney take the spotlight for a bit.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's obviously always good to hear from former Vice President Cheney.

FOREMAN (on camera): But killing the messenger does nothing to help the White House deal with the message here. In short, that the current president has made some dire miscalculations of his own.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Early on, President Obama preached better relations in the Middle East, which has not paid off. He's captured and killed some big terrorists, but events in Libya and Syria have raised questions of commitment. And there are broad fears that groups like ISIS are enjoying new momentum on the very ground where Americans died to defeat them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: So the real question and challenge for the White House is this. These headlines about Dick Cheney will last a day or two, Wolf. They will fade very rapidly, but the overarching questions of whether or not this White House's agenda and political plans for the Middle East are working, those are going to be around for a while, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly will be. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Let's discuss what we just heard. Joining us, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; Douglas Ollivant of the New America Foundation, retired U.S. Army officer, who had a key planning role in Iraq, later was director of the Iraqi National Security Council in both the Bush and Obama administrations. He's a managing partner with Mantin (ph) International, which has clients in security, aerospace and defense. Also joining us, former commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni.

To all of you, thanks very much for joining us.

General Zinni, you were strongly opposed to going to war in March of 2003. You thought it was a mistake. I remember, and I've got the quote here. You said in the summer of 2002, you said, "Attacking Iraq now would cause a lot of problems. Iran is about to turn around 180 degrees. We ought to be focused on that. They're the ones that funded Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. That ought to be a focus, and I can give you many, many more before you get down to Saddam and Iraq."

You firmly believed Saddam Hussein was contained inside Iraq, that there was no need to go to war. So when you hear Dick Cheney and others who supported going to war come out so publicly now blaming all of the problems on President Obama, what say you?

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, FORMER COMMANDER OF CENTRAL COMMAND: Well, you know, Wolf, it reminds me of a starting pitcher who gives up ten runs in a first inning, leaves the game and blames the bull pen for the loss.

I mean, first of all, we've got to get the politics out of this. This is serious business. Mistakes were made, certainly, by the Bush administration. They ought to take the example of the president, George W. Bush, to heart. He has kept quiet. I don't think advice, comments or criticism from those who bungled this in the beginning is helpful. There have been mistakes made by this administration, too.

I don't take a political side, but the politics have got to stop at the water's edge when we have a serious foreign policy issue on our hands.

BLITZER: So do you believe the vice president and the former vice president Cheney has any credibility when it comes to Iraq?

ZINNI: I do not, and I respect Vice President Cheney. He was very helpful when I was doing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and went beyond to try to help me with my mission. So this certainly isn't personal.

But I really think right now we've got to figure out what needs to be done over there. We are not moving the way we should and as quickly as we should and in the direction we should, in my mind. But resurrecting a failed strategy and policy and operational design from the past and claiming it in a revisionist way as victory is ridiculous.

BLITZER: I'm going come back to you, because I want to look ahead and get your thoughts on where the U.S. should go from here in dealing with this current crisis. So stand by for a moment, General Zinni.

Doug, let me bring you into this. You worked on Iraq for -- in the Bush administration and the Obama administration.

DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, FORMER DIRECTOR, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Right.

BLITZER: When you see this debate for what's going on, who is to blame, you hear Cheney and a lot of other Republicans saying they had victory when the U.S. was going withdraw. The U.S. never really negotiated a status of forces agreement. President Obama simply wanted to get out, and as a result, the U.S. and everyone else is paying a huge price right now. It's all President Obama's fault.

OLLIVANT: I don't think there's any question that President Obama wanted to get out of Iraq, just as every United States citizen wanted to get out of Iraq. But the bottom line is that the Iraqi politics were never going to allow a residual force to stay in Iraq past -- past 2011. What we called the SOFA, they called the withdrawal agreement.

BLITZER: Status of Forces Agreement.

John McCain and others say he was in Baghdad. He heard from Nouri al- Maliki, saying he was open to it, but the Obama administration never seriously pursued it.

OLLIVANT: Well, like in politics here, the leadership may want something. That doesn't mean they can bring their rank and file along, let again sell it to their grassroots constituents.

BLITZER: There was never a chance that Nouri al-Maliki would have 5,000 or 10,000 U.S. troops to remain following that total withdrawal that President Obama actually negotiated with the Iraqis before he left office.

OLLIVANT: That's correct.

BLITZER: You never thought that was true.

Gloria, I want to play a little clip for you. This is Lindsey Graham, like John McCain, puts a lot of the blame right now, if not all the blame on President Obama. You interviewed him last Sunday. Let me play this little clip, your exchange with Lindsey Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The stubborn-headed president we have who thinks he knows better than everybody else who withdrew troops and exposed this country to the inevitable needs to change his policies quickly. If he does, we can still save this.

BORGER: Stubborn-headed president?

GRAHAM: Stubborn-headed, delusional, detached president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's pretty tough rhetoric.

BORGER: Right, and the point he's making is the point that you disagree with, and that is, you know, he said it was President Obama who could have negotiated this agreement to have a residual force and that it is his fault in no uncertain terms that we are having the problems we're having now.

Now having said that, Lindsey Graham then also went on and said, "You know what? We ought to be talking to Iran about this. We ought to be -- we ought to be soliciting their advice or, you know, talking to them at least about how we -- how we get out of this and how it can help Iraq."

So he was trying to help the White House on the one hand, but on the other hand he was saying, "You know what? We have no responsibility here."

I think the American public is sick and tired of this, Wolf, and this is why the president is at 37 percent in the polls in terms of its handling of foreign policy. Because they don't think he's got a foreign policy. Second-term presidents like to have a legacy on foreign policy. This president has got Syria, which is a mess. He's got Iraq, which is a mess. People now are questioning the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.

BLITZER: So let's talk, General Zinni, about where the U.S. should go from here. The president met with the congressional leadership within the past hour and meeting with the secretary of state as we speak right now over at the White House. What military options, if any, would you recommend?

ZINNI: Well, on the military side I think you have to look at stemming ISIS's advance. It's unclear to me what the intelligence community is telling us about their capability to go further south or disrupt business in Baghdad in any way.

So the line has to be drawn. And if it's an immediate requirement, things like advisers on the ground, air strikes, more equipment, that's sort of the emergency requirement.

But I want to say something. This isn't about the military requirements there. It's about the need to change the Maliki government's approach to the Sunnis. And if we are -- if we ever partner with Iran in any way and support a Maliki government that's not changing, we will have validated a religious war. And we will lose the support of the Gulf allies and others, the Sunni-Arab nations.

We have got to ensure, beyond just the immediate emergency measures, we may take in the military sense that there's a commitment from Maliki that's real and accepted. And we had better keep our distance from Iran and we had better get inclusive in terms of the Sunni Arabs that are our allies, because they're the ones that are going to convince that Sunni population in the north to resist ISIS if they have some hope of a better future in terms of the governance of that country.

BLITZER: Well, do you think there is any hope that Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, can do what you're recommending? Because as you know, a lot of experts -- and we've spoken to a ton of them, they simply think he's no good, he's never going to get the job done. You saw Tom Friedman of "The New York Times" last Sunday basically write him off, in his words, as a jerk.

ZINNI: Well, he's going to have to change, or he's going to end up with a runt state in the south, and he's going to have a separate Kurdish state and a Sunni state that becomes a sanctuary for problems that will plague him in the region for the foreseeable future. I think he's got to stop and smell the coffee here, because

realistically, if he doesn't make significant change, he has to go.

BLITZER: All right, Doug. You worked with him. You know this guy. What do you think? Can he change? Because a lot of folks think he can't.

OLLIVANT: I think we're putting too much blame on Maliki himself. The bottom line is all of Maliki's government is dysfunctional, especially because President Talabani was incapacitated by a stroke last year.

BLITZER: He's the Kurdish leader.

OLLIVANT: The Kurdish leader, but the Iraqi president. And he seemed to be the only one who could get all these people to a table together and get them to talk.

You know, Maliki is certainly no Mandela, but it's not like there's an equivalent of a de Klerk on the other side, someone from the minority who can come in and say, "Yes, we committed some crimes in the prior regime. We're a minority. We're never going to rule again. We have to learn how to live in this new regime. There's no equivalent figure on the other side.

BLITZER: So the bottom line is what I hear you saying is there's a good chance, a lot of experts now believe that Iraq will become three separate countries?

OLLIVANT: I hope not. That would be a bad outcome. All three of those countries would be less than the current sum. The Kurdistan would become a Turkish client state. The Sunnistan is not viable. They'd be poor, another Jordan but without a seaport. And the runt Shia state would then become the Iraq -- the Iranian client state it's now not quite accurately accused of becoming.

BORGER: So are you saying if Maliki would leave that you'd have the same problem?

OLLIVANT: Absolutely.

BORGER: That there isn't anybody there who could -- who could -- because, you know, the administration seems to think that Maliki, it's his problem, because he has been unable to perform the coalition.

OLLIVANT: I don't think he's the -- I don't think he's the sum of the problem.

BLITZER: Let me ask General Zinni. What would be so bad if Iraq broke up, the way the former Yugoslavia broke up into some separate countries? What would be so bad if there was an independent Kurdistan in the north, an independent Shiite-led country in the south, a Sunni- led country elsewhere? What would be so bad if there would be a partition and three independent countries emerged?

ZINNI: Well, I think Doug gave you a good reason why that's not going to work. The Kurdish state in the north is going to have problems with Turkey and Iran, who do not want to see Kurdish independence blossom in any way.

The Sunni-run state will be a poor step-cousin to Jordan and may become another sanctuary for terrorists. And obviously, the smaller state, just as Doug said, in the south would become a Shia client for the Iranians. And none of that would bode well for stability in the Middle East.

BLITZER: All right. General Zinni, always good to have you. You were very, very precise and accurate leading up to the war in 2003. A lot of folks regret the fact that your voice was not heard loud enough at that time. We appreciate what you've been saying throughout this whole period. Anthony Zinni, former Centcom commander.

Also Doug Ollivant and Gloria Borger, guys, thanks to you, as well.

Coming up, we have new details on the Special Operations raid that captured a top Benghazi suspect. So how did these guys do it? We're going to take you behind the scenes.

And a new twist in the political debate over marijuana. Our own Sanjay Gupta joins us to talk about medical marijuana. Does it work or not work? He'll react to what we heard yesterday from Hillary Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Learning new details of the dramatic U.S. Army commando operation that ended with the capture of a key suspect on the deadly attack on the mission in Benghazi, Libya. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us.

Officially the Pentagon is saying almost nothing about this raid, but CNN has fresh information.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ahmed Abu Khattala was lured south of Benghazi. Army Delta Force commandos, the FBI and intelligence agencies had been watching him for days. They swooped in Sunday night. The chairman of the joint chiefs hinting at how dangerous it all was.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The Abu Khattala operation though it may have looked rather routine, it took us months of preparation and intelligence.

STARR: Khattala, a key operative offence Ansar al Sharia, the group the U.S. blames for the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. Intelligence gleaned from local Libyans helped draw Khattala to the location.

They captured him with no shots fired, no one getting hurt. Then U.S. commandos whisked him to the USS New York in the Mediterranean. He is now undergoing questioning. Delta Force commandos had been in Libya before. In October, they

captured alleged al Qaeda operative Anas al-Libi in Tripoli in a raid that took less than 30 seconds.

Some wonder why it took so long to get to Khattala when journalists like CNN's Arwa Damon found and talked to him more than a year ago.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We met with Ahmed Abu Khattala in public at the coffee shop of a well-known hotel here in Benghazi for around two hours. He seemed to be confident, his demeanor most certainly not that of a man who believed that he was going to be detained or targeted any time soon.

STARR: So how could CNN find Khattala, and it took U.S. commandos over a year to find him? Khattala had gone into hiding. U.S. intelligence had to track him down and then get ready to move.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), FORMER U.S. AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: You have to know where he live, where he frequents and when he goes where? Does he go with his family ? Does he have a security detail? All of these questions have to be factored in. And then once you know the answer to that, then you develop your plan on how you're to going take him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The Delta Force commandos that got Khattala belonged to one of the most secretive organizations inside the U.S. military, an organization called the Joint Special Operations Command, the very same group of commandos, the same commanders that sent Special Forces to go get Bowe Bergdahl a couple of weeks ago and to go into Osama bin Laden's compound -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In Pakistan. Barbara, stand by for a moment.

I want to also bring in CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend. She's a former homeland security adviser to President Bush, a member of both the CIA and the DHS external advisory board.

So what do you think? Peter King, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee and Homeland Security Committee, he thought that this guy should be sent to Gitmo, to Guantanamo Bay.

Instead he's coming here to Washington, D.C. He'll make an appearance one of these days, after a long boat ride, in a federal court. What would have been smarter?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, the most important thing is the interrogation that's going on right now. Let's put aside for a second whether you do a military commissioner trial. The fact is what you really care about is what information you can get from him now about others who may have been involved in the Benghazi attack, what their roles were, what contacts they've had, where they may have been, who their associates are. It's that sort of intelligence. And you get that without regard to the criminal case against him because, of course, you're not going to use that in a criminal prosecution.

Look, the president's been very clear, agree or disagree -- by the way, both President Obama and President Bush wanted to close Guantanamo. Turns out that's harder than the president suspects.

But regardless of whether or not you agree with closure or keeping it open, the fact is there's a good track record in the judicial -- the U.S. judicial system of being able to try suspects in terrorism- related cases and win convictions. It goes back to the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998. They were convicted in federal court in New York. So there's some history here of success in trying these criminal cases.

BLITZER: If it may be easier to do it with the federal judicial system. You worked with the Justice Department.

TOWNSEND: Right.

BLITZER: You fully understand this, as opposed to a military tribunal or whatever that can go on and on and on. Quickly, what do you think? On this boat, he's on a boat coming to the United States. They're interrogating him. How far can they go during this process?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, he continues to have the right to not answer their questions. And we know from the president's policy statements, certainly, that there will be no use of force to try and extract the statement from him, but they'll take their time.

Now, you know, we know there have been cases where people have been questioned for months, but there are also instances, Wolf, where it didn't go on very long. The Boston Bomber and the Faisal al-Shazzad (ph), these are guys, they were questioned. If they didn't get any intelligence from them, they quickly moved them into the judicial process. And so it really will depend on what -- how successful these interrogations are.

BLITZER: Are they really explaining, Barbara, over there at the Pentagon why if Arwa Damon a year ago had a chance to spend a couple of hours in a coffee shop with him in Benghazi, why it took so long to pick up this guy?

STARR: Well, look, if you're going to send a military force into a situation where you could possibly run the risk of getting into a fire fight, killing civilians, causing destruction, you've got to have perfect intelligence.

It's one thing for him to meet with journalists in Benghazi, but you would be sending U.S. American military lives into what could potentially be a very hostile situation. So you want to make sure you have the intelligence. You want to make sure you've got it right.

And look, Wolf, by all accounts, this time around there was local intelligence on the ground. That is what we are told. The Libyan intelligence was provided, not by the government, necessarily -- let me be clear -- but U.S. troops, U.S. intelligence got information from Libya on the ground. So they had some source of information this time that made it totally different, that made them believe that they could execute this mission, and they did.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Fran Townsend here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much.

Coming up, terrorists battling for control of Iraq. They target a critical oil refinery. We're going to have a special report coming up right at the top of the hour.

Straight ahead, Hillary Clinton versus maybe our own Sanjay Gupta on the issue of medical marijuana. She says the jury is still out. Sanjay will explain why he explains the verdict, for all practical purposes, is in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton calling for more research on medical marijuana. She responded to a question about it during a CNN global town hall, implying to our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, that the jury is still out on medicinal use of marijuana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don't think we've done enough research yet, although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.

But I do think we need more research, because we don't know how it interacts with other drugs. There's a lot that we don't know. So on medicinal, on medicinal purposes.

On recreational, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is.

AMANPOUR: You want to wait and try it? You said you've never smoked.

CLINTON: No. That -- I didn't do when I was young. I'm not going to start now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, was a White House fellow who served as a special adviser to then-first lady Hillary Clinton. Sanjay is joining us now.

Sanjay, you've been looking through the health benefits of marijuana, specifically for medicinal purposes. Do you think enough research has been done on that or do you agree with the former secretary that more studies are needed?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think there's question more research is necessary, although admittedly, it's a very challenging thing here in the United States to do, and I'm happy to talk about that.

But it's worth pointing out, Wolf, that you know, for a couple of thousand years, marijuana was used as a medication even up -- in the United States up until 1943. It was part of what is known as the formulary, the list of medications from which doctors can prescribe. So this isn't brand-new. This is something that has been discussed before. Right now the United States is a medication known as marinol, which is a marijuana-based medication that can be used to treat symptoms of nausea, for example, after chemotherapy.

Sadovix is a known medication, marijuana based medication, used to treat MS symptoms in many countries around the world. There was lots of research done before those medications got approved. So, you know, there's research happening in other countries outside the United States that I think is really worth examining when trying to make some determinations about the future of marijuana in this country.

BLITZER: Why -- hasn't there been more official research here in the United States on the medicinal value of marijuana?

GUPTA: You know, the answer to that may lie in the sort of collision between science and sociology, Wolf. In part, marijuana is already categorized as a schedule 1 substance. That puts it in the list of substances that is among the most harmful and has no accepted medicinal benefit. That's how they describe schedule 1 substances.

So you can imagine, Wolf, a researcher who says I want to obtain funding, I want to get approvals to study marijuana as a medicine while it's already pre-ordained as having no medicinal benefit. It throws up these really challenging obstacles. So I think the idea of doing research in this country in a productive way, in a way that seemingly everybody wants really comes about if you can loosen the ability for these researchers to actually do that research. It's not easy at all right now.

BLITZER: How much politically vibrant, more politically active, do you think this whole debate over marijuana both recreational and medicinal is going to get in the United States?

GUPTA: Well, yes, I've been focused on the medicinal part of this and in part because, you know, as you know, Wolf, we talked about this, I changed my mind after looking at the research from other countries and other labs around the world, and I believe that not only can it have benefit in certain situations, but it can have benefit when nothing else has worked. I would say from a medicinal standpoint that is starting to be a message that more and more people are trying to understand.

I certainly wasn't the first person to talk about this, but I think it has gained a lot of momentum. Even just on Monday, Governor Scott in Florida has approved a certain strain of marijuana known as Charlotte's Web to help treat children who have the most challenging forms of epilepsy.

I don't think that anyone expected that sort of thing to happen in Florida, certainly this legislative session. So I think, you know, you've got 20 states around the country who have already approved some form of medicinal marijuana. I think more states are going to approve it. The big question becomes what happens at the federal level? What does the FDA do with this? What does the DEA do with this and ultimately, an organization known as NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse whose mandate it is to study drug abuse. How do they react to all this and do they make it easier to do these studies and get this more widely approved?

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Any time. Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, outside experts say they've now pinpointed where that missing Malaysia Airlines plane went down hundreds of miles from where searchers have been looking. We'll have an update.

Plus government forces battling terrorists for control over one of Iraq's most important oil refineries.

Our SITUATION ROOM special report coming up.

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BLITZER: A new theory about Malaysia Flight 370 getting attention. Outside experts say fresh analysis of satellite data point to an unsearched area.

Our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh reports.

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RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right ocean, right arc, but wrong spot. A group of independent experts say they believe Flight 370 went down here. Hundreds of miles southwest of where crews spent weeks searching.

MICHAEL EXNER, CO-FOUNDER, AMERICAN MOBILE SATELLITE CORPORATION: My personal opinion is that we're at the 80 to 90 percent confidence level.

MARSH: Michael Exner and about a dozen other experts pushed for the release of raw satellite data which government officials used to calculate the plane's possible final resting place. Now that they have it, they agree the plane almost certainly went south. But the group says five computer models place it in this tight cluster and say the search should focus here.

EXNER: This is our recommended search area. No one is claiming that we know it's at this location, but we think it has the highest probability of any area in the Southern Indian Ocean.

MARSH: There have been multiple aerial searches in the Indian Ocean with no trace of the missing plane, but they say their new target area was unexplored.

EXNER: They have already searched areas very close to the area that we have recommended but not exactly on it.

MARSH: The group says the four underwater signals detected in April unintentionally distracted search teams from looking at other areas Inmarsat had flagged. But the outsiders, Inmarsat and Australian authorities all agree the underwater pings were a lead that needed to be pursued.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: And authorities leading the search say their reanalysis of the data is almost complete and a new search area will be revealed by the end of this month. Right now we know that ships are essentially mapping the ocean floor in preparation for that second phase of the search which we'll be handled by those private entities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene, thanks very much. Rene Marsh reporting.

Coming up, a SITUATION ROOM special report as terrorists close in on the Iraqi capital. We'll take you live to Baghdad.

And CNN's original series "THE SIXTIES," the war in Vietnam. See how it began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will prevail in Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 14,000 American dead. The war in Vietnam has become the most divisive in 100 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Vietnam did was introduced us to a new kind of America. One that was not pure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't expect to do your job and feel pity for these people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Vietcong and the North Vietnamese didn't play by our rules.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are being killed. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's worth fighting for. And I don't think we can get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You started to distrust your own leaders because you started to say well, they're lying to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can assure you that we intend to carry on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was turning the public in this country against the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David Miller publicly burns his draft card. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lyndon Johnson realized he was no longer in charge

of the war. The war was in charge of him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The SIXTIES, tomorrow night at 9:00 on CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)