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President Bush Holds News Conference; Army Chief of Staff Would Like to Keep Current Level of Troops in Iraq Through 2010; America Adam Gadahn Facing Treason Charges

Aired October 11, 2006 - 12:05   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States holding a news conference today. A long one, indeed. A little bit more than an hour.
I'm not sure what that says, but there was certainly quite a bit of material to cover. You heard it -- North Korea, Iraq, the economy, and the final question there about immigration.

I want to go ahead and bring in some of our correspondents at this time.

John Roberts, if I may begin with you, you've been covering the White House and inside the beltway happenings for many, many years. Let me bring up North Korea to you.

What I heard the president just say is, you know, we've been doing some finger-pointing here back to the 1994 agreed framework during the Clinton administration. And now this six-party joint agreement, just in September of 2005. Both of those agreements violated, if you will, according to the president, by North Korea.

What next? What is his next option?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the next option is to try to get the six parties -- all of the six parties in the talks together at the table, make sure that the other four partners that the president has got, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia put the arm on North Korea. China has said that it's not against sanctions; however, it's not said that it's for sanctions.

But what was really interesting, Heidi, was when he was asked directly by Martha Raddatz of ABC about it, what's his red line now, the president skirted the issue.


ROBERTS: He ducked the question, didn't answer, because his red line has been they cannot have a nuclear weapon. Then they had a nuclear weapon. Then they cannot test a nuclear weapon. Now they've tested a nuclear weapon.

So the president keeps setting these red lines and he keeps on moving them, which also spoke to another question that he was asked: does the United States appear feckless by laying down all of these red lines, all of these conditions, and then when countries cross them, nothing happens? So both North Korea and Iran are getting the idea that they can pretty much do whatever they want right now and nothing much is going to happen to them, because until and unless the president can get strong support in the Security Council from countries like Russia and China to really do something about it, these countries will pretty much have free reign to do what they want.

COLLINS: And quickly, John, we heard Condoleezza Rice in speaking with Wolf Blitzer the other day talking about the reason why perhaps North Korea is so interested in a unilateral discussion as opposed to these six-party talks that they walked away from last time around, because they don't want to face the pressure of their region, if you will. They'd much rather talk with the United States directly, one on one.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, Ron Kaplan has got an interesting article on that coming up in the upcoming -- or has one currently in "Washington Monthly" magazine, in which he says what Kim Jong-il is looking for is bilateral talks with the United States to improve his position on the world stage vis-a-vis China. That who he's really worried about is China, and if he can get the United States to talk directly with North Korea, he can say to the Chinese, see how important I am? I've got the world's last superpower at my table here talking with me one on one without you being here, so you better realize that I'm a force to deal with.

So that's one of the reasons why he wants those talks. He also probably feels like if he talks directly with the United States he might get a better deal.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take a moment now -- first of all, thank you for that, John. Stay with us please -- to welcome in our international viewers who are watching us from around the world. And right now let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

A couple of questions sort of spring immediately to mind.

Suzanne, I think the conventional wisdom is as the president holds a news conference like this, to kind of change the subject. Foley had disgraced -- former congressman Mark Foley and those headlines of that scandal had pretty much dominated the political landscape here at home for a while. So the thinking is North Korea provides the president with an opportunity to change the subject.

What's -- what's your analysis of this?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, it was very interesting. I think that's absolutely right, because senior administration officials, even before this press conference, said, look, this is the president and the Bush administration trying to get back on the offense here four weeks before the midterm elections. And there are two things that you heard over and over from this president.

He kept talking about the stakes are high, they couldn't be any higher. And his focus was national security. That, of course, is an issue where the Republicans are strong. They play well in the polls with the American voters. He kept talking about that.

He also said, too, that the economy, the state of the economy is good. And that those two issues are the issues that voters really care about.

That's the hope from the administration. But clearly, the polls do not really bear that out.

National security, of course, a big issue for voters. But the attention has been on the Foley scandal. The attention has been on the Iraq casualties. Those are things that really upset Americans, and they are paying attention to those.

So that is why this press conference happened in the first place. And that's why you heard the president emphasize those two issues.

HARRIS: And Suzanne, just a quick follow-up with you. And give me a moment to set this up.

Heidi, there was a question you asked pointedly about this new study today that eventually will be published in a British medical journal that reports 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict.

Remind everyone of the question you asked and the president's response.

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly. I asked about the president about Iraq. He talks a lot about the stakes, the stakes being very high. And as we know, there is a report that has been released today by a group of American and Iraqi health officials that puts the number of Iraq casualties at 655,000 who died in the course before -- Iraq -- leading up through the Iraq war to this very point.

Now, President Bush, when he talked about this back in December, gave the figure of $30,000. This 655,000, that's 20 times greater than what the president talked about.

He dismissed the report. He says it was not a credible report. He talked about methodology, didn't get into the details.

But I pressed him on that number, does he stand by that number, 30,000? He would not answer the question. And, of course, it begs the question whether or not that number has in fact gone dramatically up -- Tony.

COLLINS: But Suzanne, curious, too, your take on certainly being there in the front row. The president did make mention several different times of this increased violence. He has been accused over the past -- at least the past couple of weeks of not really leveling with the American people about what's going on over there.

Did it sound different to you in any way? MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it sounds very consistent in terms of the strategy here. They talk about the risk here, the big stakes here that Americans have to pay attention to that. And that really plays in well to the strategy that they have been using weeks and weeks now.

The president, if you listen to his speeches, he is talking about national security. He wants American voters to pay attention to that, because he ultimately wants to make sure the majority in the House and the Senate, the Republicans maintain those majorities so he can get something done in the next two years -- Heidi.

HARRIS: Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, thank you.

We want to bring in our senior political analyst now, Bill Schneider.

And Bill, the president mentioned a couple of times that the issue in this election in just a few weeks is going to be security, followed by the economy. And you have some polling on both of those subjects.

Let's talk about terrorism first.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. We asked people just this weekend -- this was before the North Koreans claimed to have launched a nuclear test -- "Which party would do a better job on terrorism?" And as you can see there, now Democrats have moved into a slight lead, 45 to 40 over Republicans in Congress, in terms of handling terrorism.

That's interesting not because the lead is big, but because it's the first time we've seen Democrats rated higher than Republicans on the terrorism issue. So that's got to be of some concern to the administration.

We don't know the impact of the North Korea test. Will that change the issue? There's a debate now over whether the Clinton administration or the Bush administration is more at fault.


SCHNEIDER: It's the political season, so politicians are pointing fingers at each other. At the moment it's not a good issue for the administration.

HARRIS: And Bill, if we could go back to that graphic again, you look at the numbers in September, and clearly this was the period when a lot of focus was on 9/11. And there seemed...

COLLINS: Anniversary.

HARRIS: Yes, the anniversary of 9/11. And there seemed to be a bounce there for the administration.

What has happened since?

SCHNEIDER: What has happened since is increasing violence in Iraq, growing sense that the Iraq war is not helping the United States and the world in the war against terror, that the Bush administration's policies are not working. But the big question now is, will the North Korean nuclear test now be seen as a setback and failure of the Bush administration's diplomacy? The president trying to argue just the opposite today.

HARRIS: And what are the American people saying about who would do a better job on the economy just weeks ahead of this midterm election?

SCHNEIDER: Not even close. And this is interesting.

The president touted the economic record. But look at this, the Democrats have moved even further into the lead. It's now a 19-point lead; Democrats in Congress would handle the economy better than Republicans.

There are some good signs on the economy -- lower gas prices, a higher stock market. But Americans are still nervous, how long will this last?

There are also some negative signs -- lagging wages in the economy. There's been productivity gains but not wage games. And also, people are nervous about the drop in housing prices, which is where a lot of Americans have their wealth tied up.

So the economic signs are mixed. And no question at all, the economy is not an issue that is helping this administration or the Republican Party.

HARRIS: Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, thank you.


COLLINS: We're going to take a quick break, but don't go anywhere, because we have quite a bit more to talk about just moments after the president of the United States addressed -- a news conference and the press there in Washington. We are going to talk about Iraq, some of the comments that he made, and go straight to the Pentagon for a live report from there.

Back in a moment.


HARRIS: We will be joining YOUR WORLD TODAY in a few minutes, but we want to stay with you just to provide continuing coverage of the comments made just a moment ago. The president, in an hour-long news conference, covering a wide variety of topics.

COLLINS: That's right. In fact, one of those obviously was North Korea. The other Iraq. A little bit on the economy. And even an immigration question at the end there.

HARRIS: That's right.

COLLINS: But lots to talk about. It was fairly lengthy.

HARRIS: It was.

COLLINS: We want to go back to the issue of Iraq and bring in Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

Barbara, just before the president came out and addressed the press, you were telling us about General Schoomaker and a decision that he had made as the Army chief of staff to keep troop levels the same, the current level the same through 2010. We heard the president talk about Iraq. We heard him say that we are on the move.

Wondering your thoughts just prior to that news conference.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Heidi, what General Schoomaker was talking about with reporters here in the Pentagon earlier this morning was how he looks down the road in the future. His responsibility is to provide enough Army troops trained and equipped for combat. And what he told us is now his planning scenario, if you will, is to be able to keep the current level of troops in Iraq through 2010.

That's about 140,000, 150,000, basically 15 combat brigades. Whether that's actually going to happen or not remains to be seen. But it's an interesting glimpse into what the military is thinking down the road.

They are getting ready for it. They are planning for it. They don't know if it's going to happen.

Now, the president also saying that he spoke today to General George Casey. General Casey, of course, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. General Casey and Secretary Rumsfeld will have a press conference here this afternoon 3:00 East Coast Time.

The president said that he told General Casey if there needs to be a change in strategy, if there needs to be more troops, if they need to do something different, just tell him, and that General Casey would get the president's support on any channel that's needed. What's not clear, of course, is behind the scenes, whether General Casey has actually asked for that yet.

What we do know, Heidi, is a couple of weeks ago, of course, General Casey, General Abizaid, the other top commander in the region said, look, we're going to need to keep more troops at least through the spring.

COLLINS: That's right.

STARR: But where does it all go from there? That's what remains to be seen. And of course we in the Pentagon press corps hope to ask General Casey that in just a couple of hours. COLLINS: That's right. And the president also reminding the country that this democracy four months old. Still in its infancy, but certainly mentioning being flexible.

He said, "We are asked to be flexible. And we are."

So it will be interesting at 3:00 to find out if those recommendations, if they are made by General Casey, if they'll be taken by the president.

Thanks, Barbara.

STARR: Thanks.

HARRIS: And let's get you some -- a developing story just into us here. Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. And Kelli is following the story of a suspect that is now being sought in connection with possible threats against the United States.

Kelli, tell us.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN has learned, Tony, that an American citizen will be charged with treason for the first time in more than 50 years. Treason.

You may remember Adam Gadahn, Tony. He's been featured in five al Qaeda tapes. Sometimes with al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

He's urged Americans to convert to Islam. He's praised al Qaeda and other al Qaeda members.

Gadahn is from California. He is just 25 years old. He's a Muslim convert. He is believed to be living in Pakistan. Not in custody.

He has already, according to sources, been charged in a sealed indictment with material support of terrorism. And federal sources tell us that this latest charge of treason will come in a superceding indictment that's expected to be handed down some time this afternoon -- Tony.

HARRIS: Hey Kelli, any idea why the enhanced charge of treason?

ARENA: Well, he has appeared on several al Qaeda tapes as a spokesperson for the terrorist organization. And this has been a charge that's been debated by lawyers for quite a while.

I mean, we've -- we've sort of gotten hints that something was coming down. So this was something that they really did mull over. It's not every day that you have somebody charged with treason.

HARRIS: That's true.

ARENA: But because he represented himself as an American, spoke in English on those tapes, put himself out there as an al Qaeda member, and, of course, U.S. citizen, obviously the government felt that a charge of treason was appropriate here.


Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

Kelli, appreciate it. Thank you.

ARENA: You're welcome, Tony.

HARRIS: Let's get back to our analysis of the press conference from the president just a few minutes ago. It wrapped up, oh, about 15 minutes ago now.

Let's get the view from Baghdad with our Baghdad correspondent, Arwa Damon, who joins us now live.

Arwa, the president acknowledging that it is -- it is a very difficult fight right now. And also acknowledging if there needs to be a change, he wants to hear it from his generals, and that he will entertain those conversations openly. But I have to ask you as someone who has spent time embedded with U.S. forces in country, in Iraq, and in the capital of Baghdad, have you seen evidence of a change in tactics from U.S. forces?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, the changes have been very subtle. And as we heard the president say, this is a very dynamic environment. And the military is constantly trying to adapt itself.

If we look over the course of the years, they used to go from a banging on doors policy. Right now they have a knocking on doors policy.

They have been very subtle, though. They are very subtle changes in the way that the U.S. military operates here.

Now they are efforting, for example, not going out on these massive raids anymore, detaining all military-age males. They are trying to go on more specific targeted raids that are based on intelligence.

Of course, when they do go around and wound up entire neighborhoods, it does aggravate the Iraqi population. But the question at hand really is, is this working and what is and isn't working in Iraq? And if you speak to a lot of Iraqis, when they look around them, they are really saying nothing has changed since the beginning of the war -- Tony.

HARRIS: So, Arwa, what's the -- what's the game changer here? It seems the president is pinning a lot of his hopes on this government being able to deliver.

DAMON: He is, Tony. And this is an issue.

The Iraqi people, for the most part, view this government as being weak and ineffective. There are serious questions here on the ground amongst the Iraqi people, amongst other politicians, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, even amongst American officials here as to whether or not he really is the man for the job.

If we look, for example, at certain successes that the president -- President Bush highlighted in his speech, he said that the prime minister had a number of plans in effect, political steps moving forward. He cited that the president -- that the prime minister -- sorry -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was trying to bring Sunni and Shia together.

This is an issue, because even if he can sit down Sunni and Shia political leaders at the same table, that is not the core problem. The core problem is not either your average Sunni or Shia who lives in the streets of Iraq. Your problem in dealing with the Sunni-Shia issue is dealing with the militias, and there have not been active steps taken by this government to disarm the militias.

They're obviously looking for a political solution. No one wants a flat-out confrontation in the streets of Iraq, especially not in the streets of Baghdad, where most of that sectarian fighting would probably be concentrated. But at the same time, people are looking at this government and saying, what are you doing?

They are looking at the new agreement that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki put out just before Ramadan began. It was an agreement that was coined "The Ramadan Agreement". That, too, only focused on setting up committees. Really, for many people here that is not enough to deal with the violence -- Tony.

HARRIS: CNN's Arwa Damon for us in Baghdad.

Arwa, thank you.

COLLINS: We want to get over to our news desk right now and Fredricka Whitfield, who is following a story in Florida.

Fred, about a helicopter crash there?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And Coast Guard is on the scene of what could be either a rescue or recovery.

You are looking at live pictures right now of a chopper that went down just outside of Key Largo, which is the northern most island of the Florida Keys, just about an hour south of Miami. Coast Guard on the boats, as well as overhead, trying to carry out as this mission.

Also, divers we saw moments ago in the area of this helicopter trying to investigate whether the two people who were reportedly on board this helicopter, whether they are still in that chopper, or if they had miraculously somehow gotten away. Bottom line, the two who were reportedly on this chopper have not been located.

So this is an active scene of either a rescue or a recovery taking place there in the waters off Key Largo -- Heidi and Tony.

COLLINS: Wow. I mean, those are phenomenal pictures. HARRIS: Yes.

COLLINS: And if I heard you correctly, Fred -- a lot going on out here, so forgive me, but you did say that the two people believed to be on board had not been located?

WHITFIELD: They have not been located. So it's unclear as to whether they managed to get out, some other measure before these rescue crews could get on the scene, or whether this is going to be the kind of operation that everyone hates to see. Whether it would be any sort of recovery mission.

COLLINS: All right. Well, Fred, thank you so much for that.

The Coast Guard on the scene there.

HARRIS: And let's get you now to YOUR WORLD TODAY right now, with Michael Holmes and Ralitsa Vassileva.

We'll see you tomorrow.

I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: And I'm Heidi Collins.

Have a great day.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers all around the world as we continue this edition of YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Let's look at U.S. politics now. It seems as though more news is bad news when it comes to the disgraced former congressman Mark Foley. The number of Republicans who find themselves being pulled into the scandal is increasing.

Here's Dana Bash with the latest.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Oklahoma City, Jordan Edmund, a former page who may have received sexually explicit messages from Mark Foley, told his story to the FBI.

STEPHEN JONES, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PAGE JORDAN EDMUND: Jordan answered all of their questions relying upon his memory as it exists.

BASH: In Illinois, House Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters he doesn't think his aides tried to hide Foley's inappropriate contact with pages, but said if anyone did, they'll be fired.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: They'll be under oath. And we'll find out. If they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs.

BASH: Some GOP officials and lawmakers blame Hastert's staff for bungling the Foley matter, allegedly not informing the speaker about a questionable e-mail aides knew about at least a year ago.

HASTERT: You know, in 20/20 hindsight, probably you could do everything a little bit better.

BASH: Meanwhile, another Republican lawmaker, Jim Kolbe, admitted he passed along, but do not follow up on, a complaint from a former page about Mark Foley five or six years ago. Kolbe said the former page contacted his office about an a e-mail from Foley that made him "uncomfortable".

The Arizona Republican's statement said he recommended informing the House clerk, Jeff Trandahl, and Foley's office. But Kolbe did not confront Foley himself. "I assumed the e-mail contact ceased since the former page never raised again with my office," Kolbe said.

Kolbe was a page in 1958. He made a point of noting his affinity for the program and desire to make it a meaningful experience for the pages. "I visit with pages at the back of the chamber to explain politics and parliamentary procedures on the House floor," Kolbe said.

In another development, Jeff Trandahl, the former House clerk Kolbe informed years ago about a Foley e-mail, issued his first public statement, promising to cooperate with the FBI and House Ethics Committee investigations.

Trandahl is critical to the who knew what, when, of the Foley scandal. CNN was told he observed and heard about Foley's troubling behavior towards pages for years.

(on camera): Sources say Trandahl brought his concerns several times to former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham, the Republican who says he tried to get he says he tried to get top GOP aides to intervene about Foley's behavior. Kirk Fordham is expected to testify before the House Ethics Committee this Thursday.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


HOLMES: All right, plenty more to come on YOUR WORLD TODAY. Do stay with us.

VASSILEVA: We'll be right back.


VASSILEVA: And welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY. I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Let's update you on some of the top stories for this hour.

U.S. President George W. Bush urging serious repercussions for North Korea's reported nuclear tests, but says the U.S. has no intention of attacking the regime. At a news conference in the Rose Garden, he pushed for strong action by the U.N. Security Council. On Iraq, the U.S. president acknowledged tough times in the country, but he added there were positive political developments that support his policies.

VASSILEVA: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Washington should speak directly to North Korea to diffuse the nuclear dispute. He also says the U.N. Security Council must take firm action against Pyongyang. Meanwhile, Japan will impose a total ban on North Korean imports. North Korea says more tests are on the way if there is more pressure from the United States.

HOLMES: All right, let's turn to the war in Iraq now. A controversial new survey says the conflict has claimed a lot more Iraqi lives than previously thought. It puts the war death toll at more than 650,000. Critics, however, including the U.S. president, are not convinced. We're going to take a closer look in a moment.

But first, we want to look at allegations of widespread torture in Iraqi jails. U.N. human rights investigator Manfred Nowak recently said quote, "The situation, as far as torture is concerned in Iraq, is now completely out of hand." And he went on, "Many people say that it is worse than in the times of Saddam Hussein."

While those words infuriated the Iraqi interior ministry, it invited CNN's Arwa Damon to visit one facility herself. Here is her report.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All the men in this cell are accused of violent crimes, ranging from murder to terrorism. All but one sitting quietly in this 15 by 24 foot cell claim innocence.

But not Abdul Rahman.

ABDUL RAHMAN, IRAQI PRISONER (through translator): Yes, I attacked the Americans because we are a country under occupation and resistance is our right. Anyone who does not attack the Americans is a coward.

DAMON: Latif (ph) is believed to be a member of al Qaeda in Iraq. He was arrested in Samarra. He says he was fighting for Iraq's freedom. His hatred runs deep. The war, he says, changed him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was after all that I saw them do to us, after they detained and raped our women. They killed my cousin. She was only seven years old when they attacked her. Why? And when her brother tried to get her, they attacked and killed him. So who's the terrorist now?

DAMON: Even though he confessed to attacking U.S. troops, he has been waiting ten months to be sentenced by an Iraqi court.

(on camera): We've been given a free reign to speak with any of the detainees that are located here. The Iraqi government was so enraged that allegations that torture might be worse than in the times of Saddam Hussein that the Ministry of Interior organized our trip to this facility.

(voice-over): The prisoners were clearly surprised to see a TV crew inside the walls. Though the prison guards remained close, the inmates did not seem intimidated.

Lowai Akram (ph) says he knows the system well. He has been in and out of jail six times since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Akram says the first time he was detained, he was tortured. But now, he says, the situation in prisons is completely different.

Ministry of Interior officials here, who do not want their identities known, also say there has been a shake-up in the way jails are run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Before we used to detain people indiscriminately, and this created many problems. Now the policy of the new minister is different. Now we only detain people based on specific intelligence.

DAMON: No one here complained of torture during our visit. And they did have the opportunity to do so. Most complaints were not about the facility or treatment, but the lengthy judicial process that keeps them here for months on end, they say, without explanation.

Arwa Damon CNN, Baghdad.


VASSILEVA: Every day brings new reports of violent death in Iraq. We tally up the attacks, but it's hard to get a sense of the true human cost of this conflict. A new survey uses a controversial method to attempt to do that. And while these are only estimates, not a count of how many people have been killed, the numbers are staggering.

Barbara Starr has details.


STARR (on camera): The survey, done by a team of American and Iraqi public health researchers, estimates that some 600,000 Iraqis have been killed in the battle since the war began. This study was done based on a random survey of some 1,800 households in Iraq. Experts say in a war zone, such a survey is very difficult to conduct. And, of course, the results cannot be confirmed.

But a number of experts that CNN spoke to who looked at the survey said it appeared to them that the methodology was indeed sound. Now the survey found that the number of deaths attributable to coalition forces has actually declined over time in Iraq, but these sectarian violence still causing a great deal of tragedy. Gunfire remains the most common cause of death, according to the survey. And deaths also from car bombings are now on the rise since last year.

The statistics are difficult to confirm, but there is an awful lot of information out there from Iraqi government officials about what they believe is going on in their country. According to the Iraqi Health Ministry, still for the last many, many weeks, about 1,000 bodies of dead Iraqis delivered to the central morgue in Baghdad, almost every month. And the Iraqi Migration Ministry estimates that some 300,000 Iraqis have been displaced since the war began. All of this a glimpse into the tragedies and difficulties of that war-torn country.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


VASSILEVA: Well, that figure is some 655,000 Iraqis. That's far greater than any number we've heard so far.

HOLMES: Yes, multiples higher. That's right. Back in December, U.S. President Bush, for example, estimated about 30,000 Iraqi civilians had lost their lives. That's about 20 times lower than the deaths cited in this report.

VASSILEVA: A private Iraq body count group estimated the number of civilian deaths falls between about 44,000 and 49,000. It bases its statistics on media and eyewitness accounts.

HOLMES: All right. We are joined now from our Washington bureau by John Zogby. He's president and CEO of Zogby International, that conducts political polls in the U.S., as well as opinion polls in Iraq.

And thanks for your time.

You do this for a living. Why such a massive increase in the numbers in the numbers? Is the methodology good?

JOHN ZOGBY, ZOGBY INTERNATIONAL: The methodology of the survey, I think, from what I've seen so far is quite good, following all the rules of random sampling to a degree that it's possible in a country like Iraq, and cluster sampling. zeroing in on sampling points that are representative.

I think where some of the disconnect may very well be is that this was indeed according to the methodology statement that I read a nationwide survey, including clusters of areas that are not within the daily purview of where the media are and where many public officials are who report those body counts.

And so, I mean, translated, the media clustered in about five or six cities, and that's where much of the body count comes from. There is so much more to Iraq than just five or six cities.

HOLMES: You make a really good point. I've been there many times, and as recently as last month. When we were there then, we were talking about these numbers, and how rubbery, if you like, they are. The U.S. would say numbers are down, and then you'd find out they weren't counting car bomb victims. And as you say, the Baghdad morgue is perhaps the biggest source of death tolls, but it's just one morgue. And a lot of people aren't taken to that morgue. Do you think that this could really be an accurate figure?

ZOGBY: I can't vouch for it 100 percent, but I'll vouch for it 95 percent, which is as good as it gets in survey research. I know PIPA, the group at the university that conducted the polling in the U.S. I know of the group that -- the university that published and conducted the survey on the Iraq side. In fact, we've used them ourselves. These are good researchers. I have read their methodology statement. It is a good one and a sound one.

I don't know the specific questions they asked. One of the things I'd like to know is, above and beyond the count, where they place blame, where the public places blame for the deaths. That can get a little squidgy, in the sense that you're going to get a lot more people blaming allied forces, blaming America than might be directly involved in the killings.

But in terms of the sampling of methodology that was used, this is sound and this is going to generate quite a bit of debate.

I don't think that there's anybody in my business who responsibly believes that 30,000 to 40,000 or 45,000 Iraqis have been killed since March of 2003.

HOLMES: Right. That was always a nonsense figure. I mean, you just needed to do the math day to day with 100 people being found in the streets some days.

ZOGBY: Excuse me, Michael. But 100 people found in Baghdad, or Mosul or Al Ramadi (ph).

HOLMES: Yes, absolutely. Actually normally just in Baghdad. And there are a couple of areas in Iraq that are far more violent than Baghdad itself, believe it or not.

Just finally, John, do you think this group being fairly reputable. The number I saw being criticized. The number of the sampling, I think was 1800 people, but that's a decent-sized sample. We recorded our own CNN poll today there was only 1,000 people.

ZOGBY: And CNN, and my company are others are able to call U.S. elections and European elections with pinpoint precision using a sample of a thousand; 1,800-plus sample in a country like Iraq is more than enough to do the job and to get the ballpark figure that they got here.

HOLMES: Right. Very, very important coming from you, John. Appreciate that. John Zogby of Zogby International. A lot of criticism over this report already from the White House, saying it's not credible. But as you say, there's a lot there to be taken very seriously.

Thanks, John.

All right. We're going to take a short break. Now don't go away. YOUR WORLD TODAY continues.


VASSILEVA: Welcome back. Seen live in more than 200 countries across the globe, this is YOUR WORLD TODAY. Welcome, everyone.

Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad gets an invitation from an unlikely source. Israel's vice prime minister, Shimon Peres, says Mr. Assad should come to Jerusalem if he wants to improve relations. The Syrian ruler said Monday he's ready for talks, but questioned whether Israel's government has the strength to move toward peace? Peres says President Assad should come to address Israel's parliament in person. Israel's government repeated Tuesday that it will not negotiate with Syria, accusing it of backing terrorists.

HOLMES: Israel is celebrating the holiday of Sukkot. That is a festival sometimes referred to as the season of rejoicing. Many Israelis making a traditional journey this week to a biblical site in the West Bank.

John Vause explains why some believe this year they have even more reason to celebrate.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Jews, the religious holiday of Sukkot is a week-long celebration, marking an end to the historic 40 years of wandering in the desert. And here in the West Bank city of Hebron, this week tens of thousands will visit the tomb of the patriarch, where tradition has it Abraham is buried. He's considered the father of the people of Israel.

SHAUL HALTON, JEWISH RESIDENT: Here, I start to be a nation. So you see that for 4,000 years, we tied to this place.

VAUSE: Most of those who come here are deeply religious. They believe God promised all of the land including the West Bank to the Jews. Like Araz Godley (ph) from Jerusalem. The Palestinians, he says, have no place here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why they need the West Bank? We don't have any other place to be in the world.

VAUSE: The Palestinians make the same argument. They claim all of the West Bank for a future independent state. But this Sukkot, the Jews here believe they have even more reason to celebrate, because the Israeli government is no longer talking about evacuating any of the 250,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank. Called realignment, it was a key policy for Ehud Olmert's election as prime minister earlier this year. But since then, Israel has fought two major military offenses; one in Gaza, the other against Hezbollah and Lebanon, both areas from which Israeli forces had pulled out, Gaza last summer, Southern Lebanon in 2000.

DAVID HOROVITZ, EDITOR, "JERUSALEM POST": In terms of the public will for further such moves, well, that's been smashed by the war.

VAUSE (on camera): The Israeli government says that realignment is still alive. That, for now, it's being reassessed. And to many people here today, that the first glimmer of hope that the plan may be permanently shelved.

(voice-over): David Walder (ph) has lived in Hebron's old city for 25 years, one of just a few hundred Jews surrounded by thousands of Palestinians, kept apart by the Israeli army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people that have plans, and there are God that has plans. We know that our plan is to be here.

VAUSE: And for now it seems, seeing, there is no plan for the Israeli government to change that.

John Vause, CNN, Hebron, in the West Bank.


VASSILEVA: Well still ahead, pop star Madonna back in the news.

HOLMES: Your favorite. A lot of people say Ralitsa looks like Madonna.

VASSILEVA: One of my favorites.

HOLMES: Has the Material Girl jumped on the celebrity bandwagon of the international adoptions? We'll have the story when we come back.


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. Citing the bizarre nature of his crime, a parole board has ruled that John Lennon's killer must remain behind bars. Mark David Chapman, now 51 years old, was denied parole for the fourth time around. He's now been in prison for 25 years after gunning down the former Beatle outside Lennon's Manhattan apartment building in 1980.

The prison hearing lasted just 16 minutes. It concluded that Chapman's release would not be in the best interest of the community, and he must now remain in prison for at least two more years before his case can be heard again. John Lennon would have turned 66, by the way, this week.

VASSILEVA: Pop star Madonna has been in the African nation of Malawi visiting with orphans she helps through her charity. Now rumor has it that one of those orphans might be coming home with her to stay.

Sarah Sultoon has her story.


SARAH SULTOON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): David Banda is just 1 year old. His mother died just weeks after giving birth to him. Unable to cope, his father sent him to an orphanage to be cared for. He had little but poverty to look forward to, in a poor part of one of Africa's poorest countries, like thousands or hundreds of thousands of Malawi's babies. That's until he caught the eye of this famous visitor.

GIDEON KAMWAZA, ADOPTED CHILD'S COUSIN: He was cared before there by the orphanage, and the -- I think it was last week if not the -- last week when we heard that the kid is going to be adopted by a certain person from America.

SULTOON: That certain person is now said to be in the final stages of adopting David into her wealthy family of four. His father says he's happy his son is escaping a life of poverty.

YOHAME BANDA, ADOPTED CHILD'S FATHER (through translator): They told us that the child, today or tomorrow, will be taken together with the nurse who has been caring for him at the Mchinji mission orphanage. He will be acclimated with his adopted parents. Maybe there has been confusion with the name Donna. Donna is colloquial for rich woman and Madonna, the star.

SULTOON: No comment from Madonna's publicist. She's been in Malawi for the last week to visit her $3 million project to look after orphans, in a country where HIV, AIDS and other diseases have left an estimated one million children homeless.

Madonna's the latest in a line of celebrities to look abroad to adopt. But agencies have mixed feelings about international adoptions. One Malawian group, Eye of the Child, has written to Madonna, thanking her for setting up her charity, Raising Malawi, but also calling for resources to quote, "improve community participation and other community-based approaches to care for orphans, proposing extended family systems and financial support for orphans in schools."

Currently Malawian law does not allow cross-border adoption, but that rule is likely to be waived for Madonna. If it is, little David's life is about to change in ways his family couldn't even imagine.

Sarah Sultoon, CNN, Atlanta.


VASSILEVA: An amazing story. That's it for this hour. I'm Ralitsa Vassileva.

HOLMES: Yes. She Is. I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching CNN.