Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
GOP Senators Reach Deal on Terror Detainee Legislation; Two Of President Bush's Biggest Foreign Foes Keep Up Drumbeat of Defiance; Bush Said He Would Send Forces Over Pakistani Border To Get Osama bin Laden; Madeleine Albright Interview
Aired September 21, 2006 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, two of President Bush's biggest foreign foes keep up their drumbeat of defiance right here in the United States.
It's 5:00 p.m. in New York, where Iran's president blames U.S. hostility for any problems and Venezuela's leader calls President Bush a sick man.
The day after President Bush told me in an exclusive interview he'd send U.S. forces into Pakistan after al Qaeda, we'll take a close look at how the military might actually carry out such an order. And I'll ask former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, if that order should be issued.
And former president Bill Clinton takes the gloves off and goes after the Bush administration on the war in Iraq. We have details.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We'll get to those top stories in a moment.
But first, we have breaking news. New developments on Capitol Hill right now, where the White House and rebel Republican senators have reached a compromise on interrogations and trials for terror detainees. This is a significant development.
Let's go straight to our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.
Andrea, what do we know?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after three days of intense closed-door negotiations between the three, as they've come to be known, renegade Republicans in the White House, according to the majority leader a deal has been reached. They came out of his office after about an hour and a half of closed-door discussions this afternoon, John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham. All of them saying that they had reached agreement with the White House on three key issues.
They include what many had considered to be the deal-breaker, what's known as Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The White House wanted to make clarifications in the conventions, but McCain, Warner and Graham wanted to make sure that that wouldn't make the U.S. troops vulnerable, those who were captured on the -- on the combat field.
The second issue has to do with the -- with the use of what's known as coerced testimony, the introduction of that into a trial involving suspected terrorists.
And then the third issue has to do with the use of classified information.
On all three of these issues they say they have reached agreement.
Now, John McCain, a former POW, was one of those leading this group, came out and said in his opinion he was pleased with the final results.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I want to just say the agreement that we've entered into gives the president the tools that he needs to continue to fight the war on terror and bring these evil people to justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOPPEL: Now, of course there are a number of other smaller issues, what they call sort of tier two, tier three issues, about nine of them, Wolf, that they still have to resolve. And this still has to make its way through the Senate and the House.
We had the Housed Armed Services speak -- House Armed Services chairman, Duncan Hunter, who was there with the crowd when they came out to address reporters. And he indicated that there could be some difficulty. In particular, over one of those three key issues. And that is the use of classified information.
There are those out there who do not want that information to get to a detainee, to get to one of those suspected terrorists. So clearly there are still some hurdles to go before this bill could land on the president's desk -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Have they already, Andrea, spelled out the exact specific details? As they say, the devil is in the details. Do we know specifically the language that they've worked out? Apparently, they've worked out some language, I guess.
KOPPEL: Right. I can tell you, I was just in the hallways talking to Lindsey Graham, who is briefing reporters. And as you can imagine, it was a herd of people around him. He was going into some of those details. Specifically, his issue that was the key issue for him was the introduction of classified information. And what he told us was that if classified information is used by the prosecution, and that information would send suspected terrorists either to prison for a very, very long time, or to death, in that case the information, the classified information would have to be shared with the detainee.
That is one exception, Wolf. I'll make sure to get back to you later with more details on the other issues.
BLITZER: All right, Andrea. Thanks very much.
And this note. We are expecting to hear -- we're told the president of the United States will be making a statement on this specific issue. He's on the campaign trail right now. He's going to be speaking to reporters. As soon as we get that, we'll bring it to you.
President Bush presumably very happy about a deal worked out with the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House. We just saw the announcement coming in. We'll follow this story.
Other stories we're following, they're two of America's biggest antagonists and thorns in the side of President Bush. Today Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez held court in New York, calling Mr. Bush "very dangerous." And Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, insisted he has no animosity toward anyone and denied his country is pursuing a nuclear weapon.
This comes as a key U.S. ally is irked by comments President Bush made right here in THE SITUATION ROOM about the war on terror.
CNN's Zain Verjee standing by. So is our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.
But first we want to go to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He is in New York at the United Nations with the latest developments -- Aneesh.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iran's president came to New York to give one address at the building behind me. Instead, that was far from the only time we heard him speak.
RAMAN (voice over): Whatever you think of Iran's president, this week you simply could not ignore him. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was everywhere, gracing the cover of "TIME" magazine, delivering a primetime address at the United Nations General Assembly. And for a man who rarely gives interviews to Western journalists, a sit-down with NBC, a day later with CNN.
And if by today you thought he was done, there was more. A press conference at the United Nations filled with words of compassion for a people whose country he has called to be wiped off the map.
PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): I'm not anti-Jew. Jews are respected by everyone, like all human beings, and I respect them very much.
RAMAN: It was all an aggressive attempt by Ahmadinejad to challenge the U.S. definition of Iran as a state sponsor of terror and to challenge the image of its president as a man intent on gaining a nuclear weapon, something all week he denied. So did it work? His closest audience was of course New Yorkers. And while they got the message, they weren't dropping their guard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a fascinating -- it's a fascinating thing in this world of P.R. how he presents himself as just this normal guy, the son of a blacksmith, I believe, and a family man. I just hope it's not a ticking time bomb what he has got going on behind closed doors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very passive regarding the U.N. General Assembly meeting, but when he started speaking about the Jews, I felt very strongly that this is something that should not be tolerated.
RAMAN: A point of view that echoed at this pro-Israel rally this week. Thousands pouring out to condemn the past statements of Ahmadinejad that Israel be wiped off the map, that the Holocaust was a myth.
Hundreds of Iranian-Americans, too, came out to demand Ahmadinejad step aside.
RAMAN: And Wolf, Ahmadinejad was supposed to speak again tomorrow at Colombia University. There were protests ahead of that speech. And it's now been canceled. Both sides say due to logistical reasons -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Aneesh, thank you very much.
Aneesh Raman at the U.N.
President Ahmadinejad's comrade in anti-American arms belittling once again President Bush. One day after Hugo Chavez called the president the devil, Chavez today added insult to injury. He restated his devilish comment and added a few other choice words.
Let's go to CNN's Zain Verjee. She is in New York following this part of the story -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's going at it again. Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, as you say, calling President Bush a devil. This time at a packed church in Harlem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): I think he's the devil. Right now they told me yesterday, last night, that I should be very careful because they could kill me. Well, I'm in god's hands. I'm not afraid. God would only know. REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: You don't come into my country, you don't come into my congressional district, and you don't condemn my president. If there's any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans whether they voted for him or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: Leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi called Chavez a thug as well. Chavez didn't really respond to any of those comments, but he also continued his tirades against the White House, adding more insults on to each other.
He says that President Bush is "an ex-alcoholic and a sick man full of complexes not qualified for the job." Now, the White House hasn't commented on Chavez' insults today. He was speaking in Harlem, as I said, to some of America's poorest families, promising to give cheap home heating oil to thousands of families -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much.
Zain is in New York today.
In my SITUATION ROOM interview yesterday with President Bush he said he'd send U.S. forces over the Pakistani border to try to get Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders. And the question is this: Would the U.S. do such a thing despite -- despite strong opposition from Pakistan? How would it unfold if, in fact, the president were to give such an order?
Let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if the U.S. military had Osama bin Laden in its crosshairs and it had to violate national sovereignty to get him, it's probably a case where they would ask for forgiveness later rather than permission ahead of time.
MCINTYRE (voice over): When it comes to getting America's designated most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, President Bush told CNN's Wolf Blitzer the Pakistani border offers no protection.
BLITZER: Would you give the order to kill him or capture him?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Absolutely.
BLITZER: And go into Pakistan?
MCINTYRE: U.S. intelligence generally believes Osama bin Laden is hiding among sympathizers in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border southern Afghanistan. But U.S. commanders say if they knew exactly where, they wouldn't wait for Pakistani permission to go after him or for other most wanted terrorists, for that matter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will go where we need to go to go find them and go get him.
LT. GEN. Karl EIKENBERRY, U.S. ARMY: Intent of our commander in chief, President Bush, is very clear to commanders at every level, including my level and down.
MCINTYRE: It wouldn't be the first time the U.S. crossed the line into Pakistan. Back in January, the CIA fired a missile at a compound near the border, hoping to kill bin Laden's number two, Ayman Zawahiri. He was not among the dead.
And in 1998, the U.S. sent cruise missiles through Pakistani air space to try to get bin Laden at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government was told only after the missiles were en route.
The rules of engagement are not written in stone.
EIKENBERRY: They allow me the authorities that are needed and the flexibility that's needed to, as we say, take the fight to international terrorism.
MCINTYRE: The options boil down to two, really -- a cross-border snatch mission by CIA or U.S. military Special Forces, or airstrikes from manned or unmanned planes. And Wolf, another reason the U.S. might not want to say anything ahead of time, the long-held fear that too many people in the Pakistan government are too close to al Qaeda and might compromise the mission -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's interesting. And you pointed out in your piece, Jamie, that when I interviewed John Abizaid, the overall U.S. military commander for the Central Command, which is in charge of that region, including Pakistan, earlier in the week he clearly hinted that if they have the word that they knew where Osama bin Laden or others were, they would take action.
The president was very forceful, very specific in saying absolutely they would do that. But there is concern that any such talk, even such talk, even if it's understood, could undermine President Musharraf, who is highly respected by the U.S. right now.
MCINTYRE: And that is the real danger, Wolf, by making any of this public. It's something that we sort of privately have known that this would be the case. But one of the things you'll see if this should ever happen is the U.S. would be greatly emphasizing the Pakistani role cooperation, they might even try to give Pakistan credit for the kill if that would give President Musharraf some political cover.
BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.
Jamie, thanks very much. We're following breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Only moments ago, an agreement was announced involving the techniques to be used for terror detainees here in the United States by civilian interrogators, al Qaeda suspect terrorists. The announcement was made on Capitol Hill. Now the president of the United States has been speaking with a reporter in Tampa, Florida. He's been explaining his view.
Let's listen to see what he says.
BUSH: The members of the United States Senate are working with my administration to meet our top legislative priority. And that is the law that will help us crack the terror network and to save American lives.
I had a single test for the pending legislation. And that's this: would the CIA operators tell me whether they could go forward with the program? That is, a program to question detainees to be able to get information to protect the American people.
I'm pleased to say that this agreement preserves the most single, most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks. And that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets. The measure also creates military commissions that will bring these ruthless killers to justice.
In short, the agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do, to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them. I hope the Congress will send me legislation before it wraps up their business next week.
BLITZER: The president briefly making a statement welcoming this agreement worked out over intense negotiations in the past few days between the White House and rebel Republicans led by John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham. Very pleased by this deal.
We're getting the specific details. We'll get them to you as soon as we know what they are.
In the meantime, let's go up to New York and Jack Cafferty -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I don't know if this is part of the reason or not, but President Bush is improving in the polls. Recent approval ratings show the president with a high of 45 percent in the "Los Angeles Times"-Bloomberg poll, to a low of 37 percent in "The New York Times"-CBS poll.
They're not going to crown him homecoming king any time soon, but these numbers are better than they've been in a while.
Why? Well, some think it's because the White House has renewed focus on terrorism and national security, or the five-year anniversary, perhaps, of 9/11. Others think falling gas prices might have something to do with it.
And then, of course, there's the possibility that vast numbers of people have decided that President Bush isn't such a bad guy after all.
Here's the question: What's causing President Bush's rise in the polls?
Your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Jack Cafferty in New York.
Up ahead, we're going to talk to the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk to her about Osama bin Laden, the hunt for him. Should the U.S. go into Pakistan, if necessary, despite what President Pervez Musharraf says?
That and Iran, lots more, with Madeleine Albright. That's coming up.
Also, he's a thorn in the side of the Bush administration. But what are the Iranian president's real motives? We'll talk to a CIA expert working on a psychological profile of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Plus, the former president Bill Clinton. He has a very blunt assessment of what he says are the real reasons behind the war in Iraq.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, was quick to voice his displeasure when President Bush told me yesterday that he'd order U.S. forces into Pakistan if necessary to kill or capture Osama bin Laden or other top al Qaeda leaders. Should Mr. Bush give such an order?
Joining us now from New York is the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. She also served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. She's in New York attending former President Clinton's Global Initiative right now.
We'll get to that shortly, Madam Secretary. But was it wise for President Bush yesterday to candidly acknowledge, you know what, if they knew they had actionable intelligence where bin Laden was, even across sovereign lines in Pakistan, they'd go after him?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I guess you asked him the question, so he had to respond. And I think he did have to make clear that we would go after Osama bin Laden.
President Musharraf, as you said, is not very happy. And I think that they need to figure out now how diplomacy can help this. But the truth of the matter is that the United States had an opportunity to get Osama bin Laden earlier at Tora Bora and didn't take that opportunity, and I think what is very important now is to make sure that we are fighting various aspects of terrorism.
But Bush, you know, has really responded to your question. And it really shows the role of the media in looking at how some foreign policy decisions are made. It's a very interesting case.
BLITZER: I know you were angry at that ABC movie that was aired a week or two ago, a movie suggesting that you and other form or officials in the Clinton administration had opportunities throughout the eight years of the Clinton administration to kill or capture bin Laden, but you didn't do the job you were supposed to do. I wonder if you'd want to respond to that allegation.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I thought that the movie was a total -- you know, was fiction. And that was our real problem with it. And on a very particular case which had to do warning the Pakistanis, the facts were totally wrong.
It was Secretary Cohen and the Defense Department that wanted to make sure that the Pakistanis did not think they were being by India at a time that we were launching cruise missiles against Osama bin Laden. So when the missiles were already in the air, Joe Ralston, who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was with the Pakistanis.
So they -- I think there is always a concern in that part of the world that they think somebody else has launched the missiles. But I think that now that President Bush has responded to the question, President Musharraf is warned about this. And I hope very much that they work out some way that this is not a cause for greater problems than we have at this point.
BLITZER: If you were still secretary of state, what would you be doing differently, if anything, as far as Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is concerned. Would you be talking directly with him even as he goes forward and enriches uranium?
ALBRIGHT: I think the real problem is that I don't think it's the right time for president-to-president talks. What I have thought far long time is that we need to have a dialogue with the Iranians.
You can't accomplish anything if you are not talking to the other side. We make peace with our enemies, not with our friends. And so I would have advocated and do advocate dialogue.
But I think that it is not necessary at this stage at a presidential level. And I am really sorry that President Ahmadinejad has not taken opportunities here to talk about the real issue, which is how to lessen nuclear danger and instead has used the platforms at the United Nations to make spirited attacks. I don't think it's been very useful.
BLITZER: You were invited to attend the Council on Foreign Relations meeting with the Iranian president yesterday. You didn't go. Was it a statement you were making by not going? Or was there another problem?
ALBRIGHT: No, I was asked to do some activities with the Clinton Global Initiative, talking to the heads of state that are here. And I thought that was a better opportunity for dialogue with some other heads of state.
BLITZER: Was it appropriate for that group, the Council on Foreign Relations, to invite him to speak?
ALBRIGHT: Yes, I'm a -- I'm one of the board members on the Council on Foreign Relations, and I think that it is appropriate for the council to serve as a venue in order to have discussions. From what I've read about it, I wish it had in fact before more of a dialogue, but I think part of the problem is that the president of Iran is only into sending and not receiving.
So, I think that it probably wasn't that useful. But I do think that the council was absolutely right in making that decision.
BLITZER: In the last hour I interviewed Republican Senator George Allen here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's discovered only recently that his mother comes from a distinguished Jewish family in Tunisia, that his grandfather is a Holocaust survivor who was picked up.
He didn't know, he says, about his Jewish roots. He knows about them now. He's talking about it for the first time.
This is a story that hits home to you, because you only discovered relatively later in life about your Jewish heritage.
ALBRIGHT: Well, absolutely. And I think that it shows the very complicated genealogy that exists in this day and age. And I believe him when he says he didn't know it before, because I didn't know it before.
But I think that we all come from very complicated backgrounds. And what I think is interesting, and it goes to a point that I've made a lot of times, Wolf, in connection with my book now, "The Mighty and the Almighty," in that we have to see people as individuals, because group identity is a very complicated aspect.
People make decisions, their families do. And so I think we should all be enriched by the variety of threads in our backgrounds.
BLITZER: I'm going to let you go back to the -- former President Clinton's initiative. You guys are doing very interesting, exciting, important work in New York. We're going to have Sir Richard Branson on later to talk about $3 billion he announced today over there on what he's going to do to try to stop global warming.
Madame Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.
ALBRIGHT: Well, it's a great initiative, Wolf. And I'm so glad you are going to talk to people about it. I think it shows what President Clinton can do to empower all of us to make a difference. BLITZER: Appreciate your coming in. Thanks very much.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
BLITZER: And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to talk about the CIA and what it knows about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They are working on a psychological profile of this man. We're going to try to get some details.
And why did the Bush administration choose to go to war in Iraq? The former president, Bill Clinton, offering up a blunt assessment.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures are arriving all the time. Happening now, devilish defiance. Today the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran is not seeking a nuclear bomb. And the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez raises his devilish talk to an even hotter level. Calling President Bush, and I'm quoting now, "a sick man unqualified to be president."
Also, they've made a deal. The Bush administration and the once revolting Republican senators, they find compromise on the terror interrogation bill. The White House says it will allow CIA interrogation of terror suspects to go forward.
And did the United States threaten to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age after the 9/11 attacks? Pakistan's president says yes in a TV interview. We are going to tell you how he explains his claim. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He's made many shudder and cringe with his vows to push forward with his nuclear program, his calls for Israel's destruction and his claims that the Holocaust was a myth. But Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took a stab at playing the nice guy today. So which is the real Ahmadinejad? Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he again commands the stage. A rock star presence at the UN today. What drives Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We met with a man who is profiling him on the day the Iranian president took on the world's biggest fears about him. In one breath saying Iran does not need a nuclear bomb. And another, addressing an earlier statement that Israel should be wiped off the map.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I'm not anti-Jew.
TODD (voice-over): But what is this man who captures so much of our attention? We spoke with Dr. Jerrold Post, founder of the CIA's psychological profiling unit who is now working on a profile of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On the reference to Jews - Can he have one position and not the other. What do we read into this?
DR. JERROLD POST, FORMER CIA PROFILER: What I read into this is his sophistication that he knows for this audience he cannot afford to be as blatantly anti-Israel as he was before.
TODD: Beyond words, Post says, there's a paradox in his appearance. We never see Ahmadinejad's wife or three children. But there's an outward confidence in the smiles. Some say, smirks.
POST: I'm really impressed that a master of the media he is. He conveys not only externally, but I think it reflects internally as well. A sense of being totally at ease.
TODD: In his suits, usually open collared, often dark. But at the UN, the "Miami Vice" look. A common man image, says Post, and something else.
POST: I think in a very interesting way of showing kind of contemptuous attitude towards this really very impressive setting of the United Nations. If there's one place that's the land of the suit it's the UN headquarters. And here he shows -- I'm not going to be cowed by you guys. And is saying to his people back home look what a sense of mastery I have.
TODD (on camera): So is the man who has mastered all this after one year in office his own man or tool of the ayatollahs? Both, says Jerrold Post. Ahmadinejad was tutored and is still mentored by the most conservative Iranian mullahs, he says. He is deeply committed to theocratic rule but at the same time he has to come across as a man of the people to a population whose majority is under 30 years old -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report, Brian. Thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting.
Coming up, the violence in Iraq. Is it spiraling out of control? Is a civil war already in effect? We are going to go live. Our Michael Ware on the scene in Baghdad.
And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Bill Clinton sounding off. The former president blasting the Bush administration for what he says were advanced motives for going to war in Iraq. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Now to Iraq and the spiraling violence some say has the country on the brink of a civil war if not already deep into a civil war. I talked about that yesterday with President Bush in an exclusive interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You said they are coming again, the terrorists. And that's pretty frightening. What did you mean?
BUSH: It means there are people out there plotting and planning to kill Americans. And it is frightening. And that's why you know, it's important that we have the tools necessary to protect us. And I think that was in the context of whether or not we ought to have a program.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clearly that was not the right excerpt from the interview with the president. In the interview, president said he speaks with the U.S. ambassador there. He speaks with the Iraqi leadership. He speaks with the U.S. military commander, General George Casey. And they are telling him that this is not a civil war. That steps are moving in the right direction. Albeit a very, very difficult process.
Let's go to Baghdad. Our correspondent Michael Ware has been spending some time outside what's called the Green Zone. He gets out there. He did an excellent piece yesterday, Michael, on the al Qaeda movement in Iraq right now even in the aftermath of the killing of the former al Qaeda leader there, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Is this or is this not a civil war?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly feels like a civil war to the people on the street. When you go out and mix with people. Something that President Bush's sources, General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad simply cannot do. You get the sense from people that it feels like a civil war when my neighbor's body is showing up dead on the street or on the rear allotment, and it's happening repeatedly.
I can't send my kids to school because they have to cross sectarian lines. The marketplace blew up three days ago for no apparent reason. These people say this feels like civil war.
And if President Bush talks about Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey as his sources of information, these people -- everyone within the U.S. forces live in a bubble. They couldn't be further distant from Iraqi reality than humanly imaginable, Wolf?
BLITZER: But there are, what 140,000 plus U.S. troops in Iraq. Presumably they go out there just as you do. They try to meet with Iraqi people. And they report back to their commanders on what they see and hear.
WARE: Yes, there's a number of things here. For a start, we live in what we call the military calls the Red Zone. We live with Iraqis. We have Iraqis all around us. So it's very easy for us to get the mood of the people. We live with it. As petrol prices go up or go down or whether electricity was on last night or not.
The only time the military visits someone's house is for a military purpose. And it's always heavily armed and ready to go. They can't just visit, sit down and have a cup of tea and an honest chat. The other is what commanders are sending from the field doesn't necessarily reach the top. And if it does, there's so many disconnects in between.
And so many filters that I time and time again come across. Commanders and intelligence officers expressing such frustration at what they see is the distortional reinterpretation of their work before it reaches people like the president. Their commander in chief, Wolf.
BLITZER: You spent some time with al Qaeda operatives inside Iraq in recent days. How do you do that, Michael? How do you get out there and you meet these guys. You got to be scared out of your mind.
WARE: Well, Wolf, I've been here since before the invasion, entering three-and-a-half years. I'm now awaiting my fourth Ramadan, or holy month offensive. So I've been here a long time.
I met many of these people when they were still reeling from the aftermath of the invasion. This is Saddam's top generals, his brigadiers, his colonels, his top intelligence elite. So I've known them since they've become disillusioned to the insurgency. So this is not easily done. And it's come over a long time, Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael Ware is a brilliant, brilliant reporter. An extremely courageous guy. And nice guy as well. Good luck over there and be careful, Michael.
Thank you very much.
And still to come, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, in Thailand the military has overthrown the government. Now it's warning anyone against maintaining status quo. We're going to have the latest.
And bomb threats in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour. Did the U.S. threaten to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age after the 9/11 attacks? We are going to tell you what Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is now saying.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We are joined now by a key member of the CNN security council. Our world affairs analyst, former defense secretary Bill Cohen, he is now the chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group here in Washington.
In the past hour or so we got word that the White House has reached an agreement with those rebel Republicans. Some of whom are good friends of yours. How to go forward with interrogating terror detainees and then putting them on trial. This is something the White House really wanted. We don't know all the specific details yet.
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it's hard to comment on the package without seeing it. But to the extent that John McCain and others have signed onto this saying that they can accept it, that's a pretty positive statement. And no doubt means it will pass without too much complication. BLITZER: The White House had their way in the house but they did not necessarily have their way in the Senate. But with John Warner and others, Lindsay Graham and John McCain on board. Presumably this will go forward before they go into recess in advance of the elections.
COHEN: The key issue you touched upon earlier and that is doesn't a detainee have a right when he's facing either imprisonment or execution to have access to the information against him classified or unclassified?
And there, apparently they seem to have reached some kind of agreement to carve out an exception of those circumstances. So the need to protect classified information but when you are talking about putting somebody to death, they should have a right to examine that information.
BLITZER: Fair point. Let's listen to a little exchange I had with President Bush yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: If you had good actionable intelligence in Pakistan where they were, would you give the order to kill them or capture them? And to go into Pakistan?
BLITZER: Even though Pakistanis say it's their sovereign territory?
BUSH: Absolutely. We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was not happy when he heard that. That the president of the United States would give the order to go to Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden or capture him or Ayman Zawahiri or other top al Qaeda leaders.
COHEN: I think that was one of the questions that perhaps should have gone unanswered by the president. And to keep it in the level of ambiguity. Because when you go public with a statement like that, then you put President Musharraf in a difficult position. He is either going to have to agree in advance or be dismissed as being irrelevant to this hunt for Osama bin Laden. Or being seen as being complicit in some way or his intelligence team being complicit in some way.
So he's almost in an impossible situation when you put it out front as such. So we'll see how it all unfolds. But perhaps he'll work even harder to cooperate. Although we have to point out, and this is something very important in terms of whether we undermine him or not. Back in the year 2000, he was very helpful in preventing a major terrorist attack taking place in Jordan directed against the United States and other westerners. He's been very helpful with the British, for example, most recently helping to break up an alleged terror plot of blowing up 10 aircraft over the Atlantic. So he's important to us and we don't want to put him in a position of looking as if he's either not cooperating or impotent or in any way not able to help bring about the capture or demise of Osama bin Laden.
BLITZER: A fair point. Because everybody recognizes he has got good intentions. Maybe not everybody else inside Pakistan does. But he certainly does.
COHEN: You can still have the power to go forward. You just don't have to talk about it publicly.
BLITZER: William Cohen, thanks very much for coming in.
COHEN: Pleasure to be here.
BLITZER: And up ahead, coup leaders in Thailand tighten their grip on power. Our Internet reporters are following the situation online. They are going to show us the latest. And coming up in the 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour. An emotional interview about Senator George Allen opening up about his family's newly revealed Jewish heritage. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He is getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour -- Lou.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern we'll be reporting on the rising fury in this country. Over the anti-American outburst in New York City by the Venezuelan and Iranian presidents. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is among our guests here tonight.
Also our military now stretched to the breaking point. Fighting a global war against radical Islamist terrorists. Do we urgently need more troops in the army and the Marine Corps? We'll be examining our military crisis.
And, Congress tonight padding itself on the back for approving a 700-mile fence along the 2,000 mile border with Mexico. We'll tell you why it could be years, however, before that new fence is constructed, if ever. We hope you'll be with us for that. And a great deal more at the top of the hour here on CNN. Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. Lou, we'll be watching. Military leaders in Thailand are placing a ban on all political parties and it detained four members of the ousted government. In London, the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is calling for new elections. The State Department is calling the developments a setback and urging for a quick return to democracy. Our Abbi Tatton has been following this story from the start. She has got more -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's been no travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department. An advisory at the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Thailand does give some guidance to U.S. citizens there in the country to avoid government installations and large public gatherings and to exercise discretion when moving around.
Now we've been looking at all the images coming online in the last few days and there are many of them. Like this from YouTube shows that people are not having trouble moving around and they are free to record what is going on there in the streets. Tanks are in the streets but it is peaceful from what we've seen.
You are seeing many pictures of people wearing yellow in support of the king who has endorsed the coup. We should say the images largely coming in from urban centers like Bangkok where the ousted prime minister was less popular. And street demonstrations had been happening throughout the year.
Checking in on some of the newspapers in Thailand today, dominated with headlines of the coup. This one from a Thai daily, the headline reading "Thai National Bank states the coup did not change the economy." Wolf?
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.
Up next, the president's poll numbers are up and Jack Cafferty is wondering why. Jack is standing by with the "Cafferty File" and your email.
And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, my emotional interview with Senator George Allen. He is opening up now for the first time about his family's newly-revealed Jewish heritage. It's been kept secret for decades. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's go back to New York and Jack Cafferty. He's got the "Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. The question this hour, what's causing President Bush's rise in the polls?
Mark writes from Boxborough, Massachusetts, "The soft bigotry of low expectations. Bush's approval ratings are exactly where they were a year ago, in the low to mid 40s and that's assuming you throw out the CBS/"New York Times" poll which has him at 37.
"At this point in his presidency Bill Clinton was at 66 percent. He went to 72 percent when the Republican Congress impeached him. Just because Bush's numbers have gone to worse to bad doesn't mean they're good. Put away the pompoms, Jack."
Ken in Rockaway, Oregon, "Jack, it's gas prices, plain and simple. If the incumbent party can keep those prices down the rest of the issues are secondary."
Michael in Memphis, Tennessee, "The answer is simple. We're letting him scare us into stupidity. As an airline employee I can tell you most of the security stuff is a joke. Wake up, America, you've been had."
Carol in Gardnerville, Nevada, which is a place I used to hunt doves when I was a young man. "Could Bush be getting better in the polls because Karl Rove has hired the presidents of Iran and Venezuela in order to rally his base."
Shannon in Charlotte, North Carolina. "He has simply been more visible the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, for a lot of Americans out of sight is out of mind and they'll follow any shiny object that is dangled in front of their eyes."
Jessica writes in Brooklyn, New York, "The increased use of antidepressants in the United States."
David in Missouri, "Jack, I think it's an unknown side effect of tainted spinach called temporary insanity."
And Evelyn in Newport, Vermont. "My best guess is that they are holding the chart upside down. That can't be right. Where on earth are you getting your information?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read some more of these online.
BLITZER: You know, Jack, it's very interesting that both Hugo Chavez who has been in New York as we all know, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has been in New York. Both of them making very tough statements. They have a lot in common when it comes to exporting oil. Venezuela and Iran are major oil exporting nations. You know, they make a ton of money because of the world demand for their oil. And as a result, they are emboldened to do what they want.
CAFFERTY: Well, I think also, the fact that they are running around town here at our invitation to come to this country badmouthing our president can probably only serve to help our president. We're like family. It's one thing if I yell at my kids, but don't you yell at my kids.
BLITZER: Good advice for them, Jack. Thanks very much. See you here in an hour back in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're here weekday afternoons 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. An hour from now.
Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com