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SMERCONISH

Crisis in the Middle East; The Politics Of Gaza; CIA Apologizes For Snooping On Senate; Clinton Claims He Could Have Ordered Bin Laden Killed Americans with Ebola To Be Flown to U.S.; NYT: Pot "Far Less Dangerous" Than Booze

Aired August 2, 2014 - 09:00   ET

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


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Hey, good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish.

Big issues to cover this morning including whether Israel is justified in its use of force against Hamas and why many in Congress won't even touch that issue.

Plus, President Clinton said that he could have killed Osama Bin Laden. But we have the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit - he says there's much more to that story.

And pot politics. Should everybody just get stoned? Wait until you hear who says so.

We have a jam-packed program so let's get started.

We begin this morning in the Middle East. At the center of the turmoil this morning, an Israeli soldier still missing after a firefight that shattered the cease-fire intended to last through the weekend. Israel assumes 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin was captured. President Obama is pointing the finger at Hamas. For its part, Hamas says it doesn't have Goldin. Hamas does say however that it lost contact with fighters in the area where the soldier was reportedly taken.

Meantime, Congress has approved another $225 million for Israel's Iron Dome defense system.

With us now from Jerusalem is Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesman.

You know, Mark, I have watched many of your appearances here on CNN since this conflict began - interviews in front of an American audience that I guess underscore how important American opinion is to the ongoing Israeli effort. So here's my concern - as an American father of four, I worry that regardless of how it all began, the net effect is to create yet another generation of Palestinians growing up to hate Israel and to hate the United States, kids who 20 years from now will turn terrorist and pose safety risks to Americans as well as Israelis. How do we end that cycle?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER'S SPOKESMAN: Michael, I think the opposite could be true. We know that in the larger Arab world that the New York Times wrote a big piece of that the day before yesterday and even in Palestinian society that people are angry with Hamas. They are fed up with its radical agenda, its violence, its violence that ultimately doesn't just hurt Israel but hurts the Palestinians as well. They are losing credibility at home. Their political position is being undermined. And actually, this could be a good thing. Ultimately, if Palestinians understand that Hamas only promises them violence and destruction and further suffering while the more moderate Palestinians - people who believe in peace and co-existence for Israel - offer hope. So when this is over and Palestinians look at the rubble around them in Gaza and say, "Why was this conflict necessary? Why did Hamas force this? Why did Hamas continue to shoot rockets into Israel even though Israel urged them to stop? Why did Hamas reject seven cease-fire proposals?" I repeat - seven cease-fire proposals were either rejected or violated by Hamas, the last one - as you know - yesterday. I believe that the Palestinians are smart enough to understand that the tragedy - the reason for the tragedy is Hamas.

SMERCONISH: I had a caller to my radio program this week who implored me to stop reporting on the situation in Gaza, he said, as if it's a ball score. "Don't simply report it with regard to a raw death count because" he says "that's so misleading" and but for the Iron Dome, the situation would be demonstrably different. But in the court of world opinion, many are looking at the circumstance and looking at that bottom line in terms of how many innocent civilians are dying, which I guess makes me ask the question of that net net. When it's all over - and we all pray that'll be sooner than later - what will be Israel's standing on the court of world opinion?

REGEV: Well, actually, we have seen from leaders across the globe, especially in the United States and Canada or in western Europe but also in countries like Australia and other democracies, we've seen people stand up for Israel's right to defend itself, condemning Hamas for the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and condemning Hamas for rejecting repeated cease-fire opportunities. And I always ask this question: "Before you criticize Israel, what would you do if more than 3,000 rockets are being fired on your cities in a three-week period? What would you do if terrorists were tunneling under your frontier with automatic weapons, with explosives, with rocket-propelled grenades? How would you expect your government to respond?" And I think when you put the question that way, people do understand. What choice does Israel have? Not to defend our people, to do nothing about the incoming rockets, to allow them to tunnel under our borders and come across with weapons to kill our people? Of course we have to act to protect our people and we do so in a very difficult combat situation because as what has been widely reported, Hamas deliberately embeds its terrorist military machine inside Gaza civilian population, using that population as a shield, deliberately putting Gaza civilians in harm's way.

SMERCONISH: Where your economy seems to be thriving, why - many Americans want to know - is it necessary that $225 million be spent in support of the Iron Dome?

REGEV: Well, first of all, I want to thank the President and the Congress and the American people. Iron Dome is an amazing success story. It's an Israeli-American joint venture. It's funded largely by the United States and we appreciate every dollar. It's saved lives. We've had hundreds of rockets intercepted by Iron Dome. Those rockets - Iron Dome has a computer system that will only intercept a rocket that is going to be a dangerous hit - it's going to hit in the middle of a city, in the middle of an urban area. A rocket that's going to fall in the sea or fall in an open field, it doesn't have to intercept. And it - if you think about it, it's intercepted maybe 500-plus rockets coming in. That means we could have saved 5,000 lives. That's a ball park figure but thousands of lives have been saved by Iron Dome. And I think this is a value to the United States too because this anti-missile system works. It can help protect Americans. It helped protect other American allies. We think it's a good investment for everybody.

SMERCONISH: Mark, the situation now with regard to 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin - how will this impact what's going on on the ground in the foreseeable future?

REGEV: Well, at the moment, there's an ongoing military operation in the area of his kidnapping to try to locate him and bring him home. When you have a kidnapping like this, the army has orders in place that you immediately try to seal off the area and you go house-to- house or in this - in this particular situation, tunnel-to-tunnel to try to locate the serviceman who's been kidnapped by the other side. If they succeed in taking him out of the immediate area, so your chances of finding him are reduced dramatically. So at the moment, the operation is focused in that part of southern Gaza where we believe he could still be. Hopefully, we'll find him.

SMERCONISH: Mark Regev, thank you so much.

Next, the politics of the situation in Gaza. If polls show that more than one-third of American Democrats think Israel has gone too far in response to Hamas, then why hasn't then there been more debate on that issue by members of Congress?

Plus this--.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: I nearly got him and I could have gotten - I could have killed him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: If an American president had Bin Laden in his sights, why didn't he pull the trigger?

And what do you think? Should everybody just get stoned? Wait until you hear who's saying the Feds should repeal the federal ban on marijuana.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Israel says its assault on Gaza is strictly self-defense and that its military is acting with the utmost restraint. Polls here indicate some Americans don't buy that, especially Democrats. Slightly more than a third of Democrats polled by Pew Research said Israel had gone too far in its response to its conflict with Hamas. 47 percent of Democrats told Gallup that Israel's actions during the current conflict were unjustified.

With me here in New York, Michelle Bernard, political analyst, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women. Also here, Newsday columnist Ellis Henican, co-author with former Florida governor Charlie Crist of the book "The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat."

Interesting to look at that polling data. I guess, read differently, glass half-full as opposed to half-empty, overwhelmingly, Americans are supportive of Israel in this regard. Hasn't been a lot of debate however, Michelle, on Capitol Hill.

MICHELLE BERNARD, BERNARD CENTER FOR WOMEN PRESIDENT & CEO: Well, and what I would say is that we don't see our Congress doing anything on the domestic front so it's not surprising with regard to this conflict to see them doing absolutely nothing.

SMERCONISH: They do nothing on anything.

BERNARD: They do absolutely nothing on anything whatsoever-

SMERCONISH: So why should this be different?

BERNARD: --and also, with this, the images are so horrifying and I would venture to guess that we've got members of Congress who have Israeli constituents. They also have people with ties to Palestinian constituents (INAUDIBLE). Think a lot of them have just decided that they're going to stay out of it completely.

SMERCONISH:: Are you surprised, Ellis, by the lack of debate on Capitol Hill regarding this issue or do you think they've - as Michelle says - taken the polls to their people and listen to (INAUDIBLE).

ELLIS HENICAN, NEWSDAY COLUMNIST: I'm not surprised at all, Michael. And it has nothing to do with the polls. It has to do with the power and balance in Washington. The Israeli lobby is hugely affected, the beautifully-finance and relationships that goes back decades. The Palestinian side has squat. I mean, they have no money for this stuff, no relationships, and frankly, some pretty bad PR over the years. Question is - if those pictures that we've been seeing - is that going to change any of that? SMERCONISH: Or is interpretation from arm chairs across America where

people look at this and they say, "Israel has no choice but to defend itself" and having heard many times over, "If we faced a similar situation where missiles were being lobbed into the United States, we'd be acting in exactly the same fashion."

HENICAN: Good argument. And it was really true on Day One and a little less true on Day Five and every day, it becomes a little less true as you see more of those civilian pictures.

SMERCONISH: Yesterday, President Obama addressed foreign affairs and the U.S. standing in the world. I love you to watch a piece of video and then react to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Apparently, people have forgotten that America - as the most powerful country on Earth - still does not control everything around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Ellis, I made the point here last weekend that overall, when asked about foreign policy and this president, he gets very low numbers. 36, 37 percent approve. When you go to the internals and you say, "Well, what about Syria? What about Ukraine? What about x, y, and z?", there's agreement, it seems, with the individual approaches but the totality is such that people say, "This isn't going so well."

HENICAN: It is. Which of those places would you like to invade? And the answer of most Americans is none of them. But Michael, diplomacy is frustrating. I mean, this thing of getting the allies and trying to find a pressure to put on people, it's not nearly as exciting as attacking somebody. I think the results in the long run are better but no, it doesn't have the same visceral enthusiasm that we can rev up (INAUDIBLE).

BERNARD: I mean, I push back on that. Excuse me. Completely disagree. I think if we take a look at everything that is happening around the world, particularly if we look at John Kerry's negotiations in Israel with the conflict and how people are looking at the United States, the fact that we are - as the president says - "the most powerful nation in the world" and our voice doesn't seem to matter anymore, I think is a very significant problem. If we look at Russia and the fact that Putin was happy with taking in Edward Snowden over there, sort of spitting in the face of the United States. Things that are happening in Syria, things that are happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it is the negative impact of sort of this overreaction to the Bush doctrine of democracy building and I think that the Obama administration has let that go and the world is suffering as a consequence to that.

SMERCONISH: What about the politics on the Republican side of the aisle? Will there be - as we move from the midterms in the fall toward 2016 - a split between hawks and Libertarians? Or will the Rand Pauls within the GOP become more hawkish?

HENICAN: It doesn't look like that. I mean, at this point, they're running down two very separate tracks. If you know where they end up, I think it's just going to be - there's going to be internal conflict about it. There is no central agreement.

BERNARD: I think - I think we're going to see Libertarians become more hawkish. I think when it - when we talk about national security and the national security of the United States, they become more hawkish. When we're talking about domestic policy matters, I think Libertarians will remain Libertarians. SMERCONISH: With so many hotspots around globe, will the midterm elections hinge more on foreign policy than we would have believed a year ago?

HENICAN: That's probably right. I mean, I would still fall back on my usual answer which is that most stuff has to do with jobs and how comfortable we feel. But yes, you know, there's a lot more of that than most of us would have expected a few months ago.

SMERCONISH: Stay tuned. Michelle Bernard, Ellis Henican, thank you so much for being here.

Here's something you don't hear every day. The CIA apologizes for spying. I'll tell you to whom they apologized.

Plus, you'll hear from a former CIA agent who expects to be named in a report about controversial interview techniques used after 9/11.

And Americans with Ebola coming back to the U.S. at the same time health officials say the outbreak is moving faster than they can keep up with.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: When the CIA was accused last March of hacking senate staffers' computers, Director John Brennan said nothing could be further from the truth. Said Brennan at the time, "We wouldn't do that." Well, it turns out they did do that.

Brennan 'fessed up on Thursday after receiving the findings of an internal investigation. Agents accessed documents stored by the senate intelligence committee in its probe of alleged torture post- 9/11. That probe's findings - due out soon - might turn out to be explosive.

With me now from Memphis, Tennessee is Phil Mudd, the former Deputy Director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center. He served in that role from 2003 to 2005.

Phil, you'd agree with me if that's the way it went down, that spying on a senate committee - meaning a committee charged with oversight of the CIA - that would be indefensible.

PHILIP MUDD, FMR. DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF CIA COUNTERTERRORIST CENTER: I think that's correct, Michael. But as usual in Washington, the story - I suspect - is a little more subtle than the headlines and that is - in my judgment - the CIA had suspicions that the senate was accessing documents - the senate investigators were accessing documents they shouldn't have had. My guess is the CIA then undertook an investigation and what's happened in the aftermath, as Director Brennan mentioned, is I'm guessing that investigation was overzealous. Last point though, Michael, this is a bigger story. There's a lot of bad blood between the senate oversight committee because of all these allegations about CIA activities with Al Qaeda detainees. Director Brennan is on the spotlight on these issues. I think this has to do with bad blood between the senate and the agency and this is just a manifestation of those differences.

SMERCONISH: Yesterday, the President said something interesting in this regard. Nora, would you roll that video so that Phil can watch?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: We tortured some folks. Did we, Phil, torture some folks?

MUDD: I think this is a question about time and I think people have to step back - as the president said and let me quote him - and not be too sanctimonious about what happened 12 or 13 years ago. At that time, when took the first Al Qaeda detainee down - a guy named Abu Zubaydah - in the Spring of 2002, I remember those days. We used to sit at the table on Friday nights and say, "What's going to happen on Saturday?" Is there going to be an anthrax attack in America? Does Al Qaeda have access to nuclear material? And so when we took Abu Zubaydah down, we had questions - when he was non-compliant, when he wouldn't talk - about what to do with him. We went and spoke with the Department of Justice about what was legally appropriate and what was constitutional. We went and spoke with the Congressional committees, Republicans and Democrats in the senate and the House, and of course, we spoke with the President and Vice President and his cabinet about in these difficult times, what's acceptable for the American security services under U.S. law? 12 years have passed since then, Michael, and we've had the space because of the counterterrorism successes to say, "What do we think is OK now since we haven't had a catastrophic attack in those 12 years?" And we said looking back, we say today, I'm not sure we want our security services doing that.

SMERCONISH: That sounds to me-

MUDD: That's fine. I'm comfortable with what the President said. But hey, that's not 12 years ago.

SMERCONISH: OK. It sounds to me like Phil Mudd - and surely maybe not by name but by your job description - you are certainly going to be referenced in this report. It seems to me that you're saying, "Hey, I'm worried that people today these many years later won't recall what the context was when they read the black and white of what the policy was."

MUDD: I think that's right and I think - remember, we're (INAUDIBLE). I feel like I'm a young man but we're already half a generation away from the first time we took out an Al Qaeda leader. I think the black and white is going to be sort of interesting for Americans to read. It's sort of like looking at your neighbor's window and seeing what's going on in there. It's not a reflection of what's happening though in reality in your neighbor's life. That's simply a snapshot. I think people will see a snapshot that looks like a TV series. But it's not reality because it doesn't reflect what it felt like at those times. I was evacuated from the White House office building on 9/11 and it looked like a Hollywood movie set. We thought - in the aftermath of 9/11 - that those initial anthrax letters were Al Qaeda. We thought in the year after that Al Qaeda had access to nuclear material. The intensity we felt as one of the agencies along with the military, the state department and others - the FBI - responsible for ensuring that more children didn't grow up without their parents in New York City. The sense of the unknown in those years is going to be impossible to replicate. I don't disagree with what the President has said but we're not going to be able to relive those times.

SMERCONISH: Phil Mudd, stick with us if you wouldn't mind. President Clinton said that he could have killed Osama Bin Laden but he didn't due to concern over civilian casualties. We're going to listen to his explanation on tape from one day before 9/11 and then talk to the man who was the head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit and hear his rebuttal.

And Americans with Ebola returning to the States. Sanjay Gupta is here to tell us how much - if any - concern there should be.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, did you hear? Bill Clinton says that he could have killed Osama Bin Laden. Tape of Clinton's claim surfaced Thursday but he made it years back in a paid speech in Australia. Talk about timing.

Here's President Clinton speaking the day before 9/11.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: He's a very smart guy. I've spent a lot of time thinking about him - and I nearly got him once. I nearly got him. And I could have gotten - I could have killed him but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn't do it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Hours later, bin Laden, as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, killed nearly 3,000 people.

Phil Mudd is back with us.

Also joining us Michael Scheuer, who served in the CIA for 22 years and ran the Bin Laden unit for three of those years.

Michael, Clinton says he didn't take a shot in Kandahar, because it would have mean the killing of 300 innocents. Do you remember that particular opportunity and tell us from your vantage point what happened.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER HEAD OF CIA'S SEARCH FOR BIN LADEN: Well, I tell you the truth, which is -- which is something that Clinton stumbled into there in Australia. He had the opportunity ten times to kill him. What he's talking about is the Sunday before Christmas in 1998. Osama bin Laden happened to be in Kandahar that day, Kandahar City, and had stayed too long, having discussion was his people in the Taliban. They kept him there overnight. They put him into a room in one of the wings of the governor's palace.

And we had an asset who actually put him in the room. We knew exactly where he was. The military had spun up its cruise missiles. After two hours of deliberations, George Tenet came out of the room where they were talking about this and said no, they decided not to do it.

SMERCONISH: Why?

SCHEUER: What George Tenet told me and General Gordon, who was Tenet's deputy, was they were afraid some shrapnel from the missile would have hit a nearby mosque. Now, it was the middle of the night in Afghanistan. There would have been nobody in the mosque, but they said they were afraid --

SMERCONISH: Was Tenet upset about this?

SCHEUER: I'm sorry?

SMERCONISH: Was Director Tenet upset about this? He conveyed it to you?

SCHEUER: Director Tenet as it turned out, is a terrific actor. He was upset, but I think at the same time, we found out since on almost all of these occasions, he was telling the president that the intelligence wasn't good enough. And I have never for myself have been able to figure out how good does intelligence have to be if you are attacking a man you believe may use nuclear weapons against the United States.

SMERCONISH: The time sequence that you're referencing is post- Tanzania and post-Kenya. Is it preceding the call?

SCHEUER: It is preceding the call and it's after the current director of central intelligence, John Brennan, prevented an opportunity to capture -- kidnap Osama bin Laden in May of 1998. The Democratic Party is rife with people who are just reluctant to defend the United States if it means killing some of their fans overseas.

SMERCONISH: If there were 10 opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden in the time period that you're referencing, how many of the ten would there have been collateral damage?

SCHEUER: I would say probably six out of the ten, four were pretty clean. One would have killed a nest of emirate princes who supported anyone opposed to the United States. They would have been very little loss. Except Clinton was going to sell them $8 billion worth of F- 16s, and he decided that sale was more important than the lives of Americans.

SMERCONISH: Phil Mudd, Americans hear from this Michael Scheuer, who ran the bin Laden unit at the CIA, and I'm sure many say I guess we could have, if that's true, and had been successful, we could have prevented September 11. Is it that straight forward? Is it that simple in your opinion?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think it is close to that straight forward. Look, I work counterterrorism before that period and after. Mike was there. I wasn't.

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, if you want to take out a target, you don't have to have the intelligence for yesterday and today. You have to have it for tomorrow, because we weren't postured well to take out Afghanistan at that point, as we are today.

I think the president is wrong in saying that he could have killed bin Laden. I think he would be right if he said he could have taken a shot. That's a hugely different proposition.

The second thing here I'd like to close on is really important, and that is the suggestion here from the president -- and I know he is not saying that, but you can infer this -- is that if he had taken that shot, he might have sidetracked 9/11. I don't believe that for a second. You would have had a global campaign on al Qaeda before 9/11 to eliminate the prospect of 9/11. American people weren't prepared for that. People in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, we weren't prepared for that. I think by 1998, the die was almost cast.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me just be clear again that that's President Clinton speaking the day before September 11th, which I guess, Michael Scheuer, it makes this a remarkable piece of audio, because he's really not saying here's how the outcome could have been different.

In any event, gentlemen, thank you for a great conversation. I wish I had more time.

Michael Scheuer and Phil Mudd, we appreciate you.

So, what do you think? Is it safe to bring the two Americans infected with the Ebola virus back to the United States? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is up next to give us the details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: One of two Americans stricken with the deadly Ebola virus are just hours away from returning home from West Africa for treatment. It is going to be the first time ever a patient with Ebola will be treated in the States. Both have been reported as gravely ill after contracting Ebola from patients they were treating in Liberia. Ebola cases in four West African nations have risen past 1,300 in what has become the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked to the head of the CDC about the prudence of bringing the patients to U.S. soil to Emory University in Atlanta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: How do you give assurances? These are your neighbors, your colleagues as well just simply getting the patient into the isolation unit. There's going to be several steps there.

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CDC: I think people do have misconceptions that somehow it may spill out or erupt. But really hope that our fears, particularly our irrational fears don't trump our compassion for someone who's fighting for his life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Sanjay Gupta joins me now from Atlanta.

Doctor, great to see you.

The social blogosphere is going a bit crazy on this. So, let's talk about misinformation. What are the straightforward facts? How concerned should Americans be about these cases coming back to the United States?

GUPTA: I think the best way to characterize it is that this is not a very contagious virus. It's not something that behaves like the flu in the air, can be spread by someone unwittingly as they walk around the airport, shaking hands with people. This is something that is highly infectious. That means a small amount of the virus can cause the infection, but it comes out of someone who is typically very, very sick. Somebody who is in the hospital or certainly in bed, which is why health care workers and family members have been the most likely to get infections from sick people.

Now, but -- you know, Michael, there is also a risk to anything, no matter how small.

I had a chance to talk to the doctor who's now lead the team that's going to take care of these Ebola patients. This has never happened before in the Western hemisphere before or the united states or this particular hospital. I asked him about it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: We know the risk is small, but it would be smaller if these patients did not come here. If you don't have anything magical to provide, why take the risk at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you've been in that part of the world and you know the level of care that can be delivered. These are Americans who went over there to supply a humanitarian mission for these individuals. Our feeling is that they deserve the best medical care to try and resolve this infection that they can get.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: It's also is worth pointing out, Michael, that, you know, they are U.S. citizens. The CDC director pointed that out as well, saying there's no exclusionary policy. The State Department does oversea medical evacuations. But if somebody wants to come home, they certainly can.

SMERCONISH: Is there no treatment except isolation? And is that a treatment in and of itself?

GUPTA: Isolation is basically the preventive measure to prevent others from getting infected. The treatment is called supportive measures. Why does someone get sick and die from Ebola? It's because they start to lose a lot of fluid. They may start to have bleeding problems as well.

So, supported treatment means you replace those things. You give fluids back. You give blood back if necessary. And you hope that gives the body enough time to fight the virus. You are buying the body time for that supportive therapy. That's what they try to do in the field over there. They think they can do it better in the ICU in the containment unit here in the United States. They may also try experimental therapies not yet approved, but I know they are in discussions with the NIH and FDA about that.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Gupta, we just showed some of that specially equipped aircraft that will transport these patients one at a time. What happens once the plane gets to the ground? How then is transportation provided? What are some of the other precautions that are taken?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, Michael, I asked that same question. I think this is an important point. Are they going to go by ground ambulance from Dobbins Air Force Base? Which is where the plane is expected to land, go from there to the hospital? Or are they going to go by helicopter or something else?

They would not tell me that. I don't know if it's because they did not have an exact plan or they were not sure or they just want to -- you know, they don't want to create media attention around it? I'm not sure.

But that is a very important step. Exactly how you continue to contain those patients, isolate those patients on the trip from the plane to the hospital. And we're going to try to find out the answer to that. But there is the containment unit once you get to the hospital. That's what a lot of focus has been on. We have some pictures that we're able to obtain of that, but basically, it's just a -- it looks like a glass box, frankly. You have to go into special anti-rooms to gown up ahead of time. And then when you get in there, you are essentially in an isolated area.

SMERCONISH: And, finally, Dr. Gupta, it seems like that part of the world which is least equipped to deal with an outbreak like this is where it is all taking place.

GUPTA: It's where these outbreaks happen, Michael. It's interesting. You know, if you look at the history of outbreaks, they typically occur in locations where animals and humans come in close contact. Why? Because of these pathogens, Ebola, Avian flu, swine flu, they make a jump at some point from animals to humans.

They don't know particularly what animal is the reservoir for Ebola in Africa. They think it's fruit bats. But it's in those areas where fruit bats and humans come in contact and suddenly, a jump is made and outbreak starts to occur. Why does it start there? Because of that interplay that's so important.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, awfully nice to have you on my program. Thank you for that.

GUPTA: Anytime, Michael. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: And don't miss Sanjay's live report on the Ebola epidemic. That's at 4:30 today, right here on CNN.

"The New York Times" has gone all advocating for a repeal on the federal ban on marijuana. A "Times" editorial board member is here and you are about to hear all about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: "The New York Times" says it is high time to end the federal prohibition against use, sale or position of pot. There's an honest debate, the paper acknowledged in its editorial on Sunday, about health effects of marijuana.

And then came this: Evidence is overwhelming, says "The Times", that addiction and dependence are minor problems. And this: moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise adults. And this: claims that marijuana is a gateway drug are as fanciful as "Reefer Madness", images of murder, rape and suicide.

Joining me now is David Firestone. He's on the paper's editorial board. We should distinguish between repeal the ban and legalize, because you're not saying legalize.

DAVID FIRESTONE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We're not saying it should be legal everywhere. We're saying states should have the ability to decide for themselves like Colorado and Washington at the time. A lot of states feel they can't do that as long as the federal government is banning it from the national --

SMERCONISH: I mean, the ban remains, because people probably see the headlines and don't appreciate the fact that regardless of what some states are doing, there is a federal ban still in effect.

FIRESTONE: That's right. But 37 states now have liberalize their laws to some degree. Either full legalization or medical use, or decriminalization. Every one of the states is basically defying the federal government and saying your law is obsolete. That's why we decided, we agreed and we thought it was time to go ahead and do the same.

SMERCONISH: I like the use of the word "liberalize" because it seems to me that the liberal "New York Times" editorial page has actually taken a very conservative posture. What you've done is embrace states rights. You've said, hey, go make up your own minds and the feds ought to get out of this.

FIRESTONE: That's right. I should add, we don't agree with that for everything. We don't say that states should make up their own minds on abortion or same sex marriage or other fundamental rights. But smoking marijuana is not fundamental. It's the right the states should be able to choose for themselves, just like they choose on alcohol right now. Every state has its own rules about where you can get it.

SMERCONISH: This is not health care. This is not abortion. "The Times" is not saying you have a right under the Constitution to smoke pot.

FIRESTONE: Exactly, exactly. But we do think that it should be removed from the criminal justice system, because too many people are getting locked up.

SMERCONISH: David, what went on here? Because in the coverage and I've read all of it, you note that in 1991, 78 percent of the country said it's got to be illegal. And yet in 2013, there'd been such a reversal that the prohibition folks were now in the minority.

FIRESTONE: That's right.

SMERCONISH: What accounts for the sea change in America?

FIRESTONE: I think people saw a huge number of folks being arrested that didn't need to be. They saw their prisons jammed, their courthouses jammed with cases that really didn't need to exist.

There are 600,000, 700,000 people a year who are arrested for possession. Most of them don't go to jail. In some cases just harassed and they really shouldn't be in the system. Many of them get a black mark on their records forever. They can't get jobs. They can't get apartments -- all for possessing a substance that's far less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco.

SMERCONISH: Why did "The Times" go all-in? Because you didn't just write an editorial. You know, this had a multistage implementation, you wrote a key piece about the state right aspect of it. What was the discussion, if you can take us behind closed doors where at "The New York Times", the Gray Lady, you folks said, no, we're going to go full bore in this direction?

FIRESTONE: We could have just done one editorial, but we decided that wouldn't get the attention that this issue deserves. There's a lot is going on in the world, obviously. And to really break through some of that, you had to use all the resources "The Times" can bring to an issue like this. So, it's not just six or seven editorials but it's also tremendous graphic stuff that our folks put together, side bars and videos, which are going to be on the Web site starting I believe today.

We really wanted to make it clear this was an issue we cared passionately about and we think that the government should pay attention.

SMERCONISH: I have no doubt in the polling data that suggests that Americans are on the same side at "The Times." But as a political junkie, what still interests me is the passion level. Will this motivate people to come out to vote? You know, is this an abortion like issue? Or is it a different where the consensus might be on your side of equation? But people are not going to come out just to vote on pot? Give me a 10-second thought on that.

FIRESTONE: I don't think it's a huge issue, but I think in some states, like Oregon, which is going to vote on it later this year, Alaska, a few other states, I really think this is going to bring some people out because they feel strongly about their ability as an adult to make these kinds of choices.

SMERCONISH: Great to have you here. We appreciate. David Firestone, thank you.

FIRESTONE: Thanks.

SMERCONISH: ESPN's Stephen A. Smith made some comments on domestic violence that earned him a one-week job suspension. I would like to thank him, and I'll tell you why, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, one last thing. I would like that thank Stephen A. Smith.

Stephen A. was responsible for initiating a terrific hour-long conversation on my radio program this week concerning domestic violence. It's a conversation we would not have had but for his controversy statement about Ray Rice.

Rice, you know, is the NFL player indicted on aggravated assault charges in connection with a domestic dispute involving his now wife. And despite that grisly video that appears to show Rice physically violating his wife, the NFL has suspended Rice for just two games.

Well, when commenting on that suspension, Stephen A. ignited a firestorm.

Here are some of the words from a week ago Friday that got Stephen A. suspended.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN A. SMITH, HOST, ESPN'S "FIRST TAKE": We keep talking about the guys. We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman, but what I've tried to employ the female members of my family, some of whom you all met and talked to and what have you, is that, again, this is what -- I've done this all my life, let's make sure we don't do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come or somebody else comes, whether it's law enforcement officials, your brothers or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn't negate the fact they already put their hands on you. So, let's try to make sure we can do our part in making sure that that doesn't happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: You know, having watched his entire diatribe several times, I find it disjointed and hard to follow. It's difficult to say definitively what he meant, but even more difficult to conclude that he meant to blame victims of domestic violence. In other words, I'm willing to the give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

No doubt, Stephen A.'s words were poorly chosen on a very sensitive subject, let's also keep in mind they were offered on a sport debate program called "First Take" and not exactly in a Mensa Society meeting. His job is say controversial things albeit about sports and not domestic violence.

Here's what I did hear him say. I heard Stephen A. take issue with the NFL's weak punishment of Ray Rice. I heard him say that a man has no business putting his hands on a woman and I heard him say that there will be hell to pay for any man who did so to any woman in his family.

I would like to think that his reference to, quote, "provoking wrong actions was his inartful way to say we need to de-escalate a situation when we got a hot domestic dispute. Rather than further explain himself, last Monday's Stephen A. delivered a taped apology and he said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: My words came across that it is somehow a woman's fault, this was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say. Yet, the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders. To say what I actually said was foolish is an understatement. To say I was wrong is obvious. To apologize, to say I'm sorry, doesn't do the matter its proper justice, to be quite honest, but I do sincerely apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: You know, the affect of the apology to give credibility about the complaints about Stephen A., just as his one-week job suspension lent further credence to the belief that he'd done something egregious by expressing his opinion. And the net effect of both the apology and the suspension is to lessen the opportunity in the future for open dialogue about an important matter like domestic abuse.

In other words, I fear that others will be loathed to address the issue for fear of saying something that will cause them to be punished. And it's not just domestic violence. We live amid so many controversies, matters where our differences are best dealt with the open, honest, civil dialogue, not one that welcomes only a particular point of view. Think Israel and Gaza, or race relations or abortion rights. We will never solve those issues when words are parsed and speakers suspended for speech that might be controversial, but doesn't advance hate.

That's it for me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Have a great week. I will see you back here next Saturday.