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CNN Larry King Weekend

Highlights From the Week's Interviews

Aired December 02, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: looking back on a dramatic week, including allied gains and allied losses.

Our guests: Secretary of State Colin Powell. His thoughts on the war effort and where we go from here. Former Taliban prisoners Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry share their incredible story. Also, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel talks about his country's role in the war on terrorism, and hijacker Mohamed Atta's trip to Prague. Plus, we'll talk about heroes and the miserable business of war with Senator John McCain.


Thanks for joining us. There were major developments in the war against terrorism this past week, and we've had some major guests to tell us what it all means. Topping the list, the secretary of state, Colin Powell. We sat down with him at the State Department for an exclusive one-on-one.

And before diving into the news of the day, a personal thought. I wanted to know if the secretary of state enjoyed being secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, November 26, 2001)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, very much so. It's exciting to see history being made every day, to work with the dedicated people who are here in the State Department, to work with my colleagues in the administration, to take on challenges such as Afghanistan, but at the same time to take on opportunities such as a new relationship with Russia or China, helping African nations enter the world of trade in the 21st century, work with our friends here in the Americas on a new free trade agreement for the Americas and see democracy spread throughout the Americas.

So even though we're in a war right now, it is also a time of opportunity and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to help President Bush seize those opportunities.

KING: I remember when you were national security adviser and they used to say that this -- there automatically is a clash between the national security adviser and State. Do you have a clash with Condoleezza Rice?

POWELL: No. I have no clash with Dr. Rice.

There is always tension between State, Defense, national security adviser and the CIA, and this is creative tension. We each bring different perspectives and we bring different constituencies to the process.

And the national security adviser's job is to reconcile these different points of view and to make sure that all the tensions are creative tensions and not destructive tensions. And her final job is to make sure that the president gets the best information that he needs to make a decision, and that's also our jobs as Cabinet officers.

KING: So you do argue.

POWELL: Oh, sure with fiery...

KING: You're from New York.

POWELL: Incredible arguments. But, I mean, argument is how you get the best out of people, it's how you test the strength of somebody's position; through argument.

So within this team, between Vice President Cheney, myself, Dr. Rice, Don Rumsfeld and George Tenet, you have people with strong views, with strong constituencies. And I think it serves the president well for us to bring it all on the table and not hide it.

KING: Before we get to current issues, there's lot of stories around that the far right wing element of the Republican Party is very angry, mostly at you. They feel you are the least war-like of this group. And there's more criticism coming from that end of the party than from the liberals on the left or the centrists. How do you react?

POWELL: Well, in the first place, I've seen more war than most of them have, so I know what war is about. I've been in wars. I've run wars. I've conducted a number of military operations. So I think I know a little bit about what war is and I think I know how to prosecute a war when a president has decided that that's what we ought to do.

And so I take criticism as part of the job. I sometimes get hit from the left, I sometimes get hit from the right, and it's part of working in the Washington environment.

But the client I serve is the president of the United States and the client he serves are the American people. And as long as I'm serving those two clients, I'm doing my job.

KING: The late Chappie James, first black four-star general, told me once, "Nobody hates war more than a warrior." True?

POWELL: I think every sane person, to include warriors and especially warriors, hate war, because we see the consequences of war. But when it is necessary to go to war, then you do it, you do it to the best of your ability.

KING: All right. President Bush, when asked what would happen if Iraq did not allow inspectors in, Hussein did not allow inspectors in, he said that, today, quote, "He'll find out," end quote.

POWELL: That's an excellent answer. He'll find out.

KING: What does that mean?

POWELL: Well, the president didn't say what it meant today, so I'm not going to prejudge what it might mean.

But we have been pressing Iraq for the last several years, since 1998 when they threw the inspectors out, to let the inspectors back in. The inspectors are not there to do anything harmful to the Iraqi people. The inspectors are going back in for one single purpose, and that's to make sure that Iraq is complying with the agreements it made at the end of the Gulf War to give up all weapons of mass destruction activity. And the only way we can be sure of that is the inspectors go back in and are allowed to do their work the way they see it proper to do their work. And that's what these U.N. resolutions are about and that's what the economic sanctions are about.

KING: But a term like "he'll find out" is threatening, isn't it?


KING: "He'll find out" ain't I'm going to send you a...

POWELL: Well, I think he should see it as a very sober, chilling message: He'll find out. There are many options available to the international community and to the president.

KING: Do you ever look back, Mr. Secretary, and say, "We should have gone there 11 years ago"?

POWELL: Gone where?

KING: Iraq. Should have gone in...

POWELL: We did go to Iraq.

KING: I mean, go in and take them, you know.

POWELL: What we did was exactly what the international community said we should do. The coalition came together to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We accomplished that mission. When that mission was accomplished and was finished, President Bush, on the advice of all his military and civilian advisers said, "Time to stop the war."

There was never, ever any planned intention to go to Baghdad during that conflict. It was not the mission that was given by the international community. Moreover, it was not the mission that the president had selected for the United States armed forces. Moreover, when the proposition was put to the United States Congress for them to pass resolutions supporting the president's efforts, they only supported it to accomplish the U.N. mission, which was not to overthrow the regime or go to Baghdad, but to kick the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. That mission was accomplished, and we all...

KING: Is there anything in hindsight...

POWELL: In hindsight, we did what we set out to do. Now, there are a lot of people said, "Well, you should have changed the mission at that point and gone on to Baghdad." But that was not the mission, that was not the decision that the president and the international community was prepared for.

We all hoped that Saddam Hussein would not survive the aftermath of that, but he has. And that's why these sanctions remain in place, that's why the president said the kind of thing he said earlier today and why we have kept this regime fairly well bottled up.

They're a danger. They continue to try to develop these weapons, and we will keep the pressure on them to make sure that these weapons do not become a serious threat to the region or to the world.

KING: We'll be right back with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell right after this.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, November 26, 2001)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein agreed to allow inspectors in his country. And in order to prove to the world he's not developing weapons of mass destruction, he ought to let the inspectors back in.


QUESTION: And if he does not do that sir, what will be the consequences? If he does not do that, what will be the consequences?

BUSH: That's up for -- he'll find out.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, November 26, 2001)

KING: We're back with the secretary of state, Colin Powell. We're at the State Department in Washington on this edition of LARRY KING almost live, because it was done this afternoon for tonight. We never lie to our public.

Mr. Secretary, you're going to Russia next week. What's the agenda?

POWELL: I'll be in Russia two weeks from today, I guess it is, and I'll meet with Foreign Minister Ivanov and President Putin. We'll talk about many things: the strategic framework that President Putin and President Bush have discussed with respect to strategic weapons, and I'm sure we'll be talking about missile defense as well. KING: How have they done, Mr. Putin and the Russians, since you've taken office?

POWELL: It's been an interesting 10 months. We had a rocky start, you may recall, when we had the spy caper, which people forget about just a months later, when we threw out 52 of their spies, and they threw out 52 of our citizens who had done nothing wrong. But we got over that, and ever since then the relationship has been in the upswing.

From the day that the president met President Putin in Slovenia in their first meeting -- they have now met again in Genoa, and they've met now in Crawford and Washington, D.C., and with each meeting, the relationship has become closer, not only in a personal sense, but as you begin to understand each other's policies and each other's needs.

And so I think we are now seeing a very, very strong and growing relationship with the Russians on areas where we are in agreement. And where we still have differences, we pursue those differences.

KING: Relationship similar to Reagan-Gorbachev isn't it? They really got along.

POWELL: Yes, they got along. And these two gentlemen, President Putin and President Bush, get along very well. I was down at Crawford for part of the visit, and I watched them in Washington, I've seen them on other occasions, and they get a long very, very well. The respect one another, and they appreciate each other's point of view, and that's the basis of the strong relationship.

KING: You're a military man, and now you're our chief diplomat, so this question is military. How's the war going?

POWELL: Well, the war's going pretty well, I think, in fact, better than pretty well, I think it's going darn well right now.

I think that we started off with a good political and diplomatic strategy of bringing the coalition together. We couldn't have gotten a war without a coalition -- without the Pakistanis, and the Uzbeks, and the Tajiks, and the Turkmens, and even the Iranians and others all coming into to help us -- without our strong British friends who have been so terrific, without all of the other organizations and countries -- international organizations and countries that helped us.

So we built that coalition together, and then the Pentagon put together a very strong military plan that we all participated in watching it being shaped and putting our advice forward. And that plan unfolded in a very, very sensible and effective way. Sometimes you don't see exactly what's happening.

But the first thing you have to do is build your force up. You can't start out with a major air campaign on day one; it takes time to generate the force. And that's what the Pentagon did so well under Tommy Frank's leadership -- General Franks, and under Secretary Rumsfeld's direction. And then they slowly went after air defense systems to make our skies free for our planes to fly. Then they went after Taliban military installations. They went after the camps. And then slowly but surely, as we started to get our special forces people in on the ground, they were able to direct that air power down to assist the Northern Alliance to take Mazar-e Sharif initially, and then to do what they have done in Kabul, which is essentially to have their forces outside the town, but they do have some forces inside the town providing security inside the town, and that's gone very well.

The real challenge now is in the southern part of the country where there is no Northern Alliance equivalent. And now we have Marines going in, we have other forces operating there. It'll probably take a little bit longer, but I think the military campaign is going just about the way we anticipated it would.

KING: The Russians fought in Afghanistan for a long time. Did they help us with regard to advice?

POWELL: They have given us a great deal of advice. We have gone to school on their experience.

KING: They had a rough time.

POWELL: They had a rough time, but this is a different kind of conflict. They were fighting a nation that was united against them, and they tried to do it with blunt force. We are fighting a nation that really isn't in the hands of the Taliban -- they didn't really want this kind of regime over them. And so you can see those fissures start to break it up into its different components: Pashtuns, Northern Alliance, Tajiks, Uzbeks, all sorts of folks who are now very happy to see the Taliban regime go.

So it's quite a different campaign.

KING: Is Osama bin Laden's capture or death a must?

POWELL: I think it is something that we have to pursue. We have to get Osama bin Laden because he is the head of the organization we're after.

KING: He's more than just a symbol.

POWELL: He's the head. He's a symbol, and he is the head. And so as long as he is there, then you can expect him to continue to try to regenerate any part of the organization that we do take down.

But it is not just Osama bin Laden. It is also the Al Qaeda network that he runs, but which is semi-autonomous. In about 15-plus countries, there are cells. We have to go after all those cells.

But as the president made clear from the very beginning, it's terrorism and terrorists we're after. And there are other terrorist organizations, there are other forms of terrorism around the world that we have to turn our attention to. That's why he keeps reminding the American people, reminding the international community, reminding all of our friends, that this is a long-term campaign that will go on for years, even if we got Osama bin Laden tomorrow.

KING: And might we -- you don't want to comment on, specifically, when he said, "He'll find out" -- might we have to go on to Iraq? Might we?

POWELL: I don't want to answer that in the speculative manner that the question often comes to us. The president has all of his options. The Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein is an evil one. They are developing -- tried to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. inspectors and the U.N. sanctions have kept them rather constrained. We control something like 80 percent of the money available to Saddam Hussein. We know what that money is being spent for through the oil for food program.

And so the president has all of his options, and he will look at all of those countries that continue to provide safe havens and harbors for terrorists.

KING: So when you say...

POWELL: It's not useful to try to draw out from us what is the president going to do, when the president has all of his options. He can decide.

KING: But when you say, "long, long, long time," that's not just Afghanistan, right?

POWELL: It's not Afghanistan. It's not just Iraq. It's terrorism. What we're after is terrorism. And terrorism wherever it is, if it's the type of terrorism that has a global reach, that it could affect our interests, the welfare of our citizens or the interests of our friends in a way that it becomes an interest of ours, that is on our agenda.

KING: We'll be right back with the secretary of state, Colin Powell, right after this.



(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, November 26, 2001)

KING: We're back with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

POWELL: Is something wrong, Larry?

KING: No, you should show your sense of humor more in public. You do have a great sense of humor. And I know this is very serious business here, but you do have a great sense of humor.

By the way, if Iraq happened -- and again, I'm not saying you're to speculate -- would that destroy the coalition, if we have to take action there? POWELL: Larry, this is all speculative. What we might have to do will be something we'll make a judgment on in the future. And at that point, you can be sure the president would consult with his coalition partners.

KING: Fighting terrorism. In World War II, there were kamikaze pilots, right? The poor men were on a ship, and here comes a plane. How do you fight someone who is willing to die?

POWELL: Well, you give them every opportunity to show that willingness before they're able to conduct the attack. You have to use your intelligence assets, your law enforcement assets, try to get into their networks, use your financial tools to find out how they're being funded. And you've got to stop them, and hopefully, have them commit their suicide before they have a chance to do it against one of our targets.

KING: Which didn't happen pre-9/11.

POWELL: Didn't happen pre-9/11. But I think we're doing a much better job now, working within the coalition, on rooting up financial networks, finding people who have buried in, people in Spain, in Germany and elsewhere. Some of our friends in the Gulf region are giving us tremendous access to bank records and information that will help us trace these kinds of organizations. Not only will this lead to people who are willing to kill themselves to get at us, but it will also make it harder for them to do that because they are now being watched and we're now ripping up those networks.

KING: Have we stopped some things we'll never know about?

POWELL: I'm sure we have.

When you put this amount of effort against it -- FBI, thousands of agents, the Central Intelligence Agency, other intelligence agencies, when you get all of our coalition partners working together to do the same thing, this gets inside their planning and decision cycle. They have to be far more careful than they ever were before. They can't with impunity say, "Well, let's get a visa and go to the United States." A little harder now and they're being watched more carefully.

So this gets inside their planning cycle, and I'm sure that we have stopped some attacks, just as sure as I am that they are still planning other attacks.

KING: Any thoughts on John Ashcroft's decisions to hold people -- people not of American birth against -- without, you know, sort of, like habeas corpus, without having charges?

POWELL: Well, you know, what happened on the 11th of September was not just an average crime. It as a crime against the United States, but a crime against humanity. Some 4,000 people lost their lives; this wasn't routine. And we discovered that we had a lot of vulnerabilities in our society. And I think what the administration is trying to do, what Attorney General Ashcroft is trying to do, is to go against these immediate vulnerabilities we have and do it as quickly as possible.

So interview people that we think may be sources of information, do a better job of watching our borders, taking other actions that in this emergency are warranted, and the American people expect us to take in order to protect them during this very, very serious time of high tension.

KING: So we have to bend a little then?

POWELL: I think we have to show a little willingness to do things we might have not done before September 11. But I'm also sure that as we find ourselves more secure again -- once again secure in our own society, that some of the things that are inconveniences now will go away and go back to our normal way of doing business.

KING: Did the scenario of September 11 ever come up in your years of discussion? Was it every said, "You know, what if they ever take a plane and go into a building"?

POWELL: It may have happened. I mean, there may have been some people who had war-gamed that out, but I had not war-gamed it out. And it was a shock to all of us.

But it was a very well-executed, well-planned, extremely sophisticated operation. Very, very difficult to intercept unless you had intelligence that it was going to happened and you could have found the people who were planning such a thing.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Colin Powell right after this.




POWELL: We have a vision of a region where Israelis and Arabs can live together in peace, security and dignity. We have a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side-by-side within secure and recognized borders. We have a vision of a region where all people have jobs that let them put bread on their tables, provide a roof over their heads, and offer a decent education to their children.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, November 26, 2001)

KING: We're back with our remaining moments with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.

The speech in Louisville, the reaction to it, any surprise?

POWELL: The reaction was far more favorable than I had anticipated, and I'm very pleased by that reaction. In that speech I tried to lay out a comprehensive vision that the United States has for the Middle East, for Israel and Palestinians -- Israelis and Palestinians. We have to end the violence. We have to recognize the frustration that exists on the Palestinian side. We have to move forward to land for peace and find a way for these two peoples to live in peace in this wonderful land.

KING: Is this in a change, Mr. Secretary, from -- the hypothesis originally of the Bush administration was, of course, a hands-off, solve it yourself; did September 11 change all that; that nation- building is part of our process now; we are involved?

POWELL: No. It really wasn't changed by September 11. In fact, if it hadn't been for September 11, I would have given the speech earlier. We were planning this speech from early August on.

And what we were trying to do for the first months in the Bush administration was to try to bring in effect the Mitchell plan, which was a plan put together by Senator George Mitchell and a number of distinguished international leaders who came together, which said, "Let's get a cease-fire and then from cease-fire to confidence- building measures and then get back to negotiations under U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, land for peace."

So we had not been able to get there. We hadn't been able to get this cease-fire going. And we had made a judgment that, let's try to escalate the level of dialogue with respect to security relations and getting to the cease-fire.

And this speech was for the purpose of laying out the whole situation as we saw it for both sides and saying, "We're prepared to engage at a higher level with General Zinni and Assistant Secretary Burns. But both sides have got to come to the table prepared to give, prepared to compromise." This is not something that can be solved by Colin Powell or President George Bush or General Zinni. It can only be solved by the two parties. And anybody who thinks that there is some new magic plan waiting in a closet somewhere, they're going to be disappointed.

Prime Minister Sharon has made it clear that he has to have security and the absence of violence in order for him to do the things that he is ready to do for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people know that they have to get the violence down in order to get what they want: opening of the closures, removal of the Israeli Defense Forces in places that Israeli defense forces in places that they shouldn't be, ending of settlement activity and getting to negotiations. So both sides require things and both sides are going to have to work this out face to face.

KING: Do you see in your lifetime a Palestinian state and Israel living in peace?


KING: You do.

POWELL: I think it is possible. Now, I don't know what my lifetime is anymore, Larry...


POWELL: ... my age.


KING: Every time I moderate a debate on this issue they get upsetter and upsetter.

POWELL: It's the toughest account that I deal with every day. But the reality is that it'll only be resolved when the violence ends, when both sides realize they're going to have to make difficult compromises to get back to the negotiating table. But it can be done if they come to the negotiating table with a willingness to understand the point of view of the other and a willingness to see each other as partners to move forward.

KING: Are we pro-Israel?

POWELL: We are pro-Israel. We have been pro-Israel since the day we...

KING: That is not stated.

POWELL: Never, never will. But I'm also pro-humankind, and I'm also pro-Palestinian to the extent that they are human beings, to the extent that they have a desire to see their children grow up in peace.

And so my job is to try to bring the two sides together so that they can find a way to live in peace in this blessed, wonderful land.

But the security of Israel will never be put at risk as we move forward.

KING: Two other quick things. A post-Taliban government: Are we going to be involved in that?

POWELL: We have an ambassador, Ambassador Jim Dobbins, who is in Bonn now. He was instrumental in getting the Northern Alliance to send representatives. I'm very pleased with what Ambassador Dobbins has been able to do.

Now, we are helping. We are there as facilitors. We're, I like to say, pushing and prodding. And our presence is very, very important. But it's going to have to be Afghan leaders who decide what kind of provisional government that we put in place.

KING: And finally it's been said that no matter who was elected, Gore, Bush or McCain, Colin Powell would have been secretary of state. So give me your assessment of this president. Now, I'm not asking for some flowery thing. We all got to know him. You got to know him, right? You didn't know him that well beforehand. Give me your assessment, in closing.

POWELL: I think he's doing a great job. The American people think he's doing a great job. He was tested mightily on the September 11 events. And I think he has shown what he is made of. He has shown the strength of his character. He has shown the kind of determination that is built into his very fiber. And I think he is a great leader for this nation and a great leader for the world at this time.

KING: Do you see it in meetings when the doors are -- when we don't see it?

POWELL: I see it all the time. I see it in meetings. I see it in international conferences. You know who you're talking to when you're looking at George Bush across the table. He is straightforward, direct, honest. And people know they are looking at America when they talk to George Bush.

KING: Thank you. Always good seeing you.

POWELL: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Secretary of State Colin Powell. We will be back with more of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.



KING: Welcome back.

Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry have an amazing story, and they're lucky to be alive to tell it. These two young American women were held prisoner by the Taliban for over 100 days. Their rescue, complete with special ops forces, was right out of a Hollywood action movie.

Our first question to Heather and Dayna was simple: Why were they there in the first place?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, November 27, 2001)

HEATHER MERCER, FREED TALIBAN PRISONER: Well, we went to serve the Afghan people through relief and development projects. We did different development projects, building homes for refugees, doing food distributions around the country. And then just Dayna and I personally trying to serve Afghan women and children outside of our home.

KING: Dayna, have you done this in other places around the world?

DAYNA CURRY, FREED TALIBAN PRISONER: Yes. I worked in Uzbekistan for two years and actually there, that is where I heard about the need in Afghanistan, all the different widows that were there and all the poverty and that made me want to go and serve there.

KING: Now, in serving, were you also, Heather, doing what might be termed missionary work? Were you converting people? MERCER: Some people might use the word. But I would say it another way. Obviously, we are Christians. And who we are is people who love Jesus. And so it is a natural overflow of our lives when, in a culture where religion is of the highest priority, you come daily to conversations dealing with issues of faith. And it is just a natural progression in relationship, even -- and daily greetings, saying hello and good-bye. In the Muslim culture, they often use different religious blessings in that context. So, to discuss religion in their culture is not a strange thing.

KING: But, Dayna, you were charged with preaching Christianity. So we get this straight, is to proselytize a faith -- is that illegal?

CURRY: Yes. But their definition for proselytizing -- they really believe that giving aid to make people change their religion. That is what they consider proselytizing. And we are completely 100 percent innocent of that. We were just trying to love people and serve them and help them any way we could.

KING: Dayna, you were surprised that you were arrested?

CURRY: Very. It was quite a shock.

KING: How did it happen? Tell us what happened, Dayna.

CURRY: We were just visiting an Afghan family. The beggar children, everyday, were on our street, asked us every single day to come and to visit their family and to -- so we just went that one day to visit them. And we had equipment with us to show a movie, if they wanted to, and they asked us when we went there if they could see it.

And so we showed the them the film. And when I left there, there were Taliban men waiting there to take us. So I don't know, we said -- we think it might have been a setup. We are not really sure.

KING: Heather, was the film a religious film?

MERCER: Sure, it was a film on the life of Jesus. Jesus in the Islamic faith is one of the four holy prophets of Islam. And Afghan people are fascinated with movies. This particular family is very interested to see the story of the life of Jesus. And so, on their request, we did show it to them.

KING: How long were you actually, Dayna, in prison?

CURRY: For 105 days.

KING: How were you treated?

CURRY: Considering the circumstances, really well. If I would have known I was going to be in an Afghan prison, I would have expected it to be a lot worse. And they really did give us the best that they had and they treated us reasonably well.

KING: They didn't question you at length? They didn't torture you in any way? Were you given good food? CURRY: For their standards, it was pretty good. But, of course, what we are used to wasn't -- it was hard. They cook with a lot of grease and things like that. So we were not really used to that type of food. But they gave us the best they had. And we are thankful they treated us so well.

KING: Were all of you aid workers, Heather, together?

MERCER: Yes, we were. The six ladies were together in one particular room in each of the four prisons. And then the men were separated on the men's side of the prison.

KING: Had there been a trial, Heather, and if you had been found guilty, what was the punishment?

MERCER: That's a good question. I don't think we know the answer to that. We heard rumors of all sorts of things. But there was no telling what the end result would be. So we are thankful that we are here today and -- we are just really thankful that we are here.

KING: Before we ask about your rescue, girls, ladies -- sorry -- what were your impressions of how women were treated there, Heather?

MERCER: That is a good question. I mean, under the Taliban regime, of course, women have been oppressed. They have been denied just -- normal human rights. The right to have an education, the right to medical care, just really, the right to opportunities and the right to dream dreams.

So I'm really thankful that it seems like there is going to be a new day coming for the women of Afghanistan. And we really hope that the new government that is in process gets established and really is favorable towards the women.

KING: How did it affect you, Dayna, seeing -- you're a woman -- seeing how women were treated?

CURRY: It hurt. It was -- a lot of times it made me angry, you know. to see how they were disrespected and a lot of times we would have Afghan women over and they would just start crying and telling us how hard their life is, and it was hard to see.

KING: Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry are at our New York studios. How were you rescued, Heather?

MERCER: Well, as I think the story has been told, that special forces from the U.S. military came in with a helicopter, and did a phenomenal job.

KING: What were you doing at the time?

MERCER: During the time of the rescue?

KING: No. As they came -- when you first knew they were there, where were you, what was happening to you? MERCER: Sure. We were just sitting out in a field waiting for them to arrive. And just praying like crazy.

KING: You knew they were coming?

MERCER: Yes, we knew they were coming.

KING: And how did you know that?

MERCER: Well, our government had arranged, once we were released from the prison in Ghazni, we made contact with them, and they let us know that they were going to come in that evening to take us out.

KING: What were those moments like, Dayna, waiting?

CURRY: Wow, I think we were all just really so excited that this might be the day that we get to go home. It was also a tense moment because the city was really tense and we were waiting and it took a little bit longer than we thought it was going to take. But we were just so thrilled when we saw the troops coming and when we got on the helicopter it was just amazing. It was a complete dream come true.

KING: Is it true, Dayna, that you set fire to scarves and clothes to guide the choppers in?

CURRY: Well, Heather is the one that started it, and we started adding our scarves as well, to make a fire, so the helicopter could see us better.

KING: Do you have any anger, Dayna?

CURRY: Anger towards who or what?

KING: Talibans, people who imprisoned you?

CURRY: Really, no. I mean, because they really did treat us well, and even some of them told us we were like their sisters, and treated us -- exceptionally well, considering. I mean, I was angry at how I saw the Afghan women being treated. But I have fully forgiven them in my heart because I don't think they fully understand what they were doing.

KING: Do you like the Afghan people lot?

CURRY: I love them. They are the most hospitable people in the whole world.

KING: I have heard.

CURRY: Yes, you just walk down the street and say, come and have tea with me. Come over, and let's just talk.

KING: What are you going to do now, Heather? I mean for the immediate future?

MERCER: Well, I think we are just needing to deal with the new situation we find ourselves in, and process all the decisions with different people that want to hear the story of the last 3 1/2 months. But I want to spend time with my family. That is really the top priority, and then eventually go back to Waco, Texas, where I went to college, and set up home base there for a while.

KING: Dayna, how do you like, or not like, being besieged by media? CURRY: Well, it is a completely new experience. I mean it is -- never slept in a more comfortable bed in my life than the Ritz Hotel, and the different, getting new outfits. This outfit is from Bloomingdale's and it was just a free gift. I could have never bought it for myself. So, those things are really fun, but at the same time I think we are a little overwhelmed, just all the people that want to hear our story. We want to tell it, but just -- I think, we just...

KING: Give you a break, a little.


KING: Are you going back home, too?

CURRY: I'm going to go to Nashville, and spend time with my family, and then I will probably go to Waco, as well -- and have my base there.

KING: You'll both be home at Christmas?

CURRY: Of course.

MERCER: Absolutely.

CURRY: Can't wait.


KING: Happy holidays to both of you, and Godspeed.

MERCER: OK, thank you so much.

CURRY: Thank you. You too.


KING: When we return: one-on-one with the president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel.


BUSH: Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry decided to go to help people who needed help. Their faith led them to Afghanistan. One woman who knows them best put it this way: "They had a calling to serve the poorest of the poor, and Afghanistan is where that calling took them."



KING: Since September 11, our show has made a special point of talking to world leaders. On Friday I interviewed the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel. He was in Lany, that's near Prague.

And I began by asking President Havel what part his country is playing in the war on terrorism.


VACLAV HAVEL, PRESIDENT OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC (through translator): Well, I believe that our citizens should make solidarity to Americans. Everybody could see the up-surge of patriotism and they made their support known by bringing flowers to the American embassy. And I believe that this is very important and very good.

KING: There have been reports that Mohamed Atta has met with Iraqi intelligence officers in Czechoslovakia and that there were fears of a possible terrorist action in your country. Is that true? What can you tell us?

HAVEL (through translator): As far as I know from our end, intelligence services, Mr. Atta has been to this country two times. Once in 2001, this year, and maybe 70 percent sure that he met an intelligence officer who held the post of a diplomat in Prague. But what they actually talked about is not known. No recording has been done. And there was only an agent monitoring the movement of the Iraqi diplomats or intelligence officer who was later expelled.

Sir, we have some threats against Radio Free Europe, but that happened two or three years ago, long before the two meetings took place.

KING: Do you fear terrorism in your own country?

HAVEL (through translator): I believe that what happened in New York and Washington was a big warning and a big challenge to our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) significant needs, also to this country, to this society, to this nation that we are no more citizens of only our country, but we are citizens of this planet and, in fact, looming over the whole humanity, also looming over us. I believe the reaction has risen in this country, as well, and our politicians and citizens understand it.

KING: The relationship between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin is certainly on a high ground. What's your relationship with Russia these days?

HAVEL (through translator): I believe that we have good relations. I personally made good friends with both Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Yeltsin, whose merits, I believe, are still not fully estimated. I still haven't had the occasion to meet Mr. Putin, but I'm sure we have good relations. I welcome the improvement of relations between NATO alliance and Russia, between the U.S. and Russia.

But I believe it should be well-considered how, in technical terms, the friendship should be organized. We should not only think of replacing a comity by a commission or vice versa. And that's a much wider issue. And it's, again, food for serious thought of the future security architecture of this world.

KING: Mr. President, if the United States were to go into Iraq, would Czechoslovakia support it?

HAVEL (through translator): I believe that the Iraqi regime is very brutal, very cruel and probably threatened its neighbors, and it is in breach of human rights.

But rather how, and what line-up (ph) power intervention should be undertaken is a question not only for politicians, but also for diplomats and for intelligence people.

I'm not a friend of bombing at whatever cost, but I do not exclude the possibility that, in extreme cases, human rights and liberties have to be protected by force. And if the world community arrived at a conclusion that is needed in this case, then of course the Czech Republic will support it and respect it.

KING: And finally, Mr. President, I know you were in the hospital recently. How is your health?

HAVEL (through translator): Oh, thank you for your interest. I am well now. I do not have as much energy as I had 12 years ago. I used to be -- I've been president for a long -- I was president of two states of Czechoslovakia, and later Czech Republic. In slightly more than a year I'll finish me second term, and then I hope to study and to think more.


KING: That was the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.

When we come back: Senator John McCain talks about a soldier's life, and his hellish time as a Hanoi POW. Stay with us.


KING: Welcome back.

You have heard John McCain's story many times. Five and a half years a prisoner of war. Said "no way" when offered a chance to go home ahead of his comrades. yet the senator from Arizona does not consider himself a hero.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Because I failed on several occasions, that I did not live up to the standards that I believe had been set for me, and I had set for myself. And I did, however, achieve whatever level I was able to thanks to the sustenance and help and support and love of my fellow POWs. I've often said that I -- my great privilege was to serve in the company of heroes. I observed a thousand acts of courage and compassion and love. And I will always be grateful for the opportunity of knowing those great and wonderful men I was there with.

KING: Are you still close to many?

MCCAIN: Oh, yes. Not a day goes by that I don't -- I don't get some advice and counsel, and sometimes orders from my old buddies.

KING: What can the -- what can the people back home be prepared for, and what can the military man be prepared -- what can you tell us about war, that maybe we don't know?

MCCAIN: Well, I think we ought to understand that there is no greater thing in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself. And there is no greater epitome than risking one's very life in the service of one's country and its cause.

And that's why these young men and women are so incredibly brave and it's also why sometimes we pick the young ones. But I think it's also important to understand that as they are flying in combat, or marines are on the ground, or special forces, or carrying out dangerous missions, yes, they are afraid -- they're afraid. Anyone who's not afraid is crazy. But they control that fear and they channel it into the most efficient fighting men and women in the history of this world.

They are better trained, better technologically equipped, and they have higher morale and esprit than perhaps any time in the history of our military, and that's saying a lot given the heroes that preceded them. So we can be exceedingly proud of them -- wherever they are, serving their country. And the next time you see one of them, the nicest thing and the best thing you can do is walk up to one of them and say thanks for serving.

KING: I had the honor of interviewing, some years back, the late General Chapey James the first black four star general. And we were talking about whether military men like war and he said nobody hates war more than the warriors. You agree with that?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. Chapey James, by the way, was one of the great American heroes, he broke many barriers. And no one loved him more than those pilots that served under his command in Thailand. He was just a marvelous, great American I had the privilege of knowing him.

Yes, no one hates war more, because no one knows the tragedy of war better than those who serve. No one knows how terrible it is to lose a comrade or to watch one become wounded, or lost in combat as the veteran does. No one hates war more. And yet, at the same time, we have had veterans and those who served like Chapey James who volunteered to go back time and time again, and put it on the line for the sake of their countrymen.

KING: What is it like, do you think, to fight someone who is absolutely willing to die for his -- absolutely willing to commit suicide for his cause? MCCAIN: I think it makes it much more difficult, just as the kamikaze pilots in World War II posed a much greater threat to our Navy ships and aircraft carriers. It makes you have to be much better protected and much better early warning capability than perhaps you would have to have. But I also think it makes -- it steels your resolve and it makes it much clearer to you exactly what you are facing.

I am -- there's not a doubt in my mind that etched in the minds of every American fighting man and woman that's fighting for America today, in freedom and democracy, is the picture of those planes flying into the World Trade Center. And I know it is daily, a motivation to them to serve above and beyond the call of duty.


KING: John McCain fought for his country, almost died for it. That makes him a hero in our book.

We've seen the faces of other brave men and women in the aftermath of September 11, and here are some of them, set to "Hero," sung by Mariah Carey. It's from Columbia Record's "God Bless America" album. A good chunk of the money made from this special album goes to the Twin Towers Fund.

We'll be back live tomorrow night. Until then, good evening.

(Mariah Carey, "Hero")