Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Lieberman Discusses Nation-Building in Afghanistan; DiGenova Talks About Military Tribunals; Sciolino Addresses Iran's Relationship With U.S.

Aired November 17, 2001 - 19:00   ET


AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Joe, it's great to have you back.


HUNT: You elevate us, Joe.


HUNT: In Afghanistan, the Taliban retreated from Kabul as the Northern Alliance, aided by U.S. special forces, occupied the capital city.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Taliban are high-tailing it to safer ground. They will find none. No matter how long it takes, Afghanistan will cease to be a haven for tyranny and for terror.


HUNT: But what about terrorist leader Osama bin Laden?


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There isn't any reason to believe he's in Pakistan. There's every reason to believe he's in Afghanistan, and as is the case undoubtedly with Omar, there are lots of places bin Laden could go.


HUNT: Earlier in the week, the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, issued a threat. In an interview with the BBC, quote: "The current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause, that is the destruction of America. If God's help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time. Keep in mind this prediction," end quote.

Bob, what about all the gloomy forecasts about how tough it would be to defeat the Taliban?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, the Taliban seem to be in the same category as the Rocky Republican guard and the Serbian forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. But there's still the question of whether there's going to be guerrilla warfare.

The more interesting question right now is who has replaced them. The Northern Alliance produced more opium for the European market in the last year than did the -- did the Taliban. They're bad guys. And the real question we're there -- I hope we're not there for nation building -- nobody has been able to do any nation building in Afghanistan for a couple of hundred years. I hope we're there to get Osama bin Laden and the people who perpetrated the killings of September 11.

But I must say that the power of the Taliban was greatly exaggerated.


HUNT: Joe Lieberman, if we're not there for nation building, there's just going a future haven for Osamas, isn't it?

LIEBERMAN: I think you're right, Al. First, let's say that this was a thrilling week, and both to see the military victories and to see the excitement, the thrill of the Afghans to be free again. We're in this for our national security, not for the humanitarian reasons as we were in the Balkans, for instance. But this had a humanitarian effect on the people who are living there.

Now we've got to do some nation building. And even though the Bush administration said they weren't going to do it, in working with the United Nations now and setting up a plan with the special representative Brahimi, the former Algerian prime minister, it's pretty clear that we're going to try to bring the former king in and have him be a central figure around whom a coalition government can form.

Because just as you, if we just walk away from it and there's tribal warfare again, it's not only going to be, as Bob said, continued peddling of drugs to Western Europe, there's going to be the kind of chaos in which people like bin Laden will thrive.

HUNT: Kate, the man who was almost elected vice president of the United States a year ago makes sense, doesn't he?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": He does make sense. May I just -- did Bob look a little sheepish? I've never seen Bob look sheepish, so I wouldn't recognize the look. Bob was one of the many people thinking weeks ago that our engagement in Afghanistan looked like a Vietnam quagmire. It didn't look much like one then, and it sure doesn't look much like one now. They are surrounded, they're isolated militarily and diplomatically, unlike guerrilla forces against the Soviet Union, who, of course, were unified against the Soviet Union and helped by the United States. It looks like bin Laden and the al Qaeda is in the Hitler bunker phase of this war, which is not to say it won't be a difficult phase, but to their enormous credit, Don Rumsfeld seemed perfectly confident and he's giving us every reason to believe in that confidence, given how the -- what has gone on so far.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Well, maybe what Bob meant to say was that the Taliban would -- al Qaeda would be hard to get out of Afghanistan, not so much the Taliban. Osama bin Laden is still hidden somewhere, we're chasing him around, don't know if we'll get him, although his third in command was gotten this week, which is another reason to be cheerful.

But now that the Afghans can fly kites, they have to find a way to live with each other. And the diplomacy was always going to take longer than the war itself, and at one point the State Department was trying to slow things down in order to try to get something in besides these drug-dealing Northern Alliance.


CARLSON: We left once, but we can -- America cannot leave again, because it will devolve into tribal warfare.

NOVAK: Well, it's already -- they're already at each other's throats, the victors. Is the Northern Alliance as bad as the Taliban? Of course they are not as bad, but they are pretty terrible. And just for my own defense, I think I wrote after I had a conversation with Abdul Haq who was executed that this whole thing will collapse in three weeks, but Margaret is quiet correct, it's the al Qaeda which is very difficult.

And the whole other question is whether good Americans like Joe Lieberman want to start attacking Iraq, start trying to rearrange the map of the entire world. So I'm certainly glad that these terrible people are losing the war in Afghanistan, but the war on terrorism is still a rather foreboding prospect.

HUNT: Are you going to rearrange the whole world?

LIEBERMAN: I only wish I could. Let me say first how thrilling it is to hear Margaret do spin for Bob.

CARLSON: It's Thanksgiving, and we want to be charitable.

LIEBERMAN: Spirit is good. Look, the president correctly declared war on terrorism on September 20 in that great speech to Congress. And he made it clear that the war would not end after bin Laden or the Taliban was gone, and that's because the war against terrorism is not just to strike back at those who hit us on September 11 and destroy them, it is to prevent another September 11 from happening. And in my opinion, the next person most likely to bring that kind of destruction to the United States of America, he's got the means, chemical, biological, working on nuclear, and the motive, he tried to kill former President Bush in 1993, is Saddam Hussein. So I hope we'll start to...

O'BEIRNE: The war can't end in Afghanistan, because the threat doesn't end in Afghanistan.


O'BEIRNE: Al Qaeda, of course, even extends beyond Afghanistan, but we can't possibly feel safe, which Don Rumsfeld said that the aim of this war is we feel relatively safe, the reach of terrorism, with a global reach with Saddam Hussein sitting in Baghdad.

HUNT: We'll hear Bob on Iraq in just a minute, but I think before we get to that, I think we're going to have to talk about some kind of a force that's going to have to in Afghanistan. I think...


HUNT: ... was right this week when he said it has to be a multilateral force that's sanctioned by the U.N. but not part of the U.N., that's going to be part of nation building, and I think that's going to happen.

LIEBERMAN: It's coming together right now.


HUNT: And I think we will find Osama sometime in the near future, but that -- I think the point that several of you have made tonight, that's not the end of the threat. The threat is still there.

NOVAK: Let me respond to Joe that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.


NOVAK: The Pakistanis, they make a pretty good case, say the Indians are functioning in Kashmir -- act like terrorists. Anybody -- the Stern (ph) gang were terrorists I thing a long time ago in Israel, so I think this whole war on terrorism to go after all terrorists, as the president said at the U.N., is a rather daunting prospect.

LIEBERMAN: But Bob, we've really got to distinguish -- and if you look at Saddam, he's unique. He's different from all the others we've talked about. And believe me, he will do us terrible damage unless we do him out of power.


LIEBERMAN: Incidentally, after our military has performed so well in Afghanistan, I think some of the nations that now harbor terrorists are going to listen more closely to us, and I think that's going to help us to rid the U.S. and the rest of the world of this scourge.

HUNT: The final word, Joe Lieberman.

Joe and the GANG will be back with an airline disaster and an airline security bill.


HUNT: Welcome back. American Airlines Flight 587, bound from New York to the Dominican Republic, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 260 people aboard.


MARION BLAKEY, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: All of the evidence we have points toward an accident. It does not point toward sabotage or some act of terrorism. But certainly, again, I would not want to rule anything out.


HUNT: Congress finally passed an airline security bill after Republicans accepted federal employees as screeners.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: If we would have listened to some in this House, we would have sent the president a seriously flawed piece of legislation. The bill is a House bill with a few changes from the Senate.



REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D-OR), TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE: We could have had a bill sooner, except for the impetus of one of the gentlemen who spoke in the well earlier about this, who was dead set against having competent, well-trained federal employees doing the screening and security at airports.


HUNT: Margaret, is there concern that Flight 587 was really sabotaged, and this legislation won't prevent that?

CARLSON: It looks like it was an accident. We can't be sure, but in the post-September 11 world, that's something of a relief.

There's no legislation that's going to protect us from every bit of terrorism, but this legislation is going to do more than what was in place before. Senator Trent Lott was in New York in Times Square, turning on the Nasdaq ticker when he looked over and saw a screen filled with smoke and fire, and he said to his aide, "is that Afghanistan?" And he said, "no, it's Queens." And Senator Lott then said, we're going to get back and we're going to send the president a bill by the end of the week, which they did.

HUNT: Joe Lieberman, if this legislation had been in effect September the 11th, could those terrorists have pulled off what they pulled off?

LIEBERMAN: It's hard to say impossible. But I'll tell you, Al, if this legislation had been in effect on September 11, it woo have been very, very hard for the terrorists to do what they can.

Our Governmental Affairs Committee did two hearings since September 11 on airline security, and when you look back at how lax, how weak our airline security was before the 11th of September, you see the vulnerabilities we created which the terrorists took advantage of. It's really shameful.

This bill closes all of those vulnerabilities, and therefore I think it's going to make aviation travel safe, and therefore will also help our economy, because people will get back on the planes.

HUNT: Kate O'Beirne, Tom DeLay says it's a victory. A few more victories like that, and you want to bring on some defeats, I would think.

O'BEIRNE: Well, what he was probably referring to is the House bill was more comprehensive. It dealt with transportation beyond planes, it dealt with trucks and other things, it dealt with the runway, other parts of the airport, not just the screening, so it was a more comprehensive bill in that respect.

But I think we have to keep some things in mind. The weapons used by the hijackers on September 11 were perfectly legal under FAA rules. So the same people who are now confiscating (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and nail clippers permitted knives to be brought on board planes. And just the other day, we now have 6,000 National Guardsmen stationed at airports, and I can't help thinking this is more window dressing than anything else to make us all feel better, because just this week a frustrated fan thinking he was going to be late for a game he wanted to get to, he might miss his plane, went running past all our new beefed-up security, and closed down the Atlanta Airport, and crippled air travel on the East Coast for hours.

I mean, that shouldn't happen even under the modifications made since September 11.

HUNT: Twenty thousand new federal workers, unionized workers make you feel good, Bob?

NOVAK: Well...


NOVAK: What happened is that the Republicans capitulated, regrettably, on this -- on putting all these people on the federal payroll, because they lost the public relations war. And when politicians lose the public relations war, when the people are against them, Joe, they capitulate. Principle goes down the drain. If you talk to anybody in the federal government, they know they can't fire anybody. They can't fire anybody, and no matter how incompetent or how miserable they are. That's why the federal government is so poor, and that's why almost all governments are so poor.

And what they were trying to do was have a supervised force, not like these people they have now, and people like you, Al, and you, Joe, just wouldn't let that happen. Now I'll say one thing about this fight...

LIEBERMAN: The American people wanted the public to do that too.


NOVAK: But the American Airlines flight, I must say, there is -- if it's an accident, there's never been an accident quite like it. Doesn't mean it's not an accident. But I guarantee you that the government is going to have to have a smoking gun to say that this was sabotage, even if they suspect it, because this would put the airline industry and the economy in a bag, if they were to say, hey, this looks like it might have been sabotage.

O'BEIRNE: By the way, a colossal mechanical failure that they can't explain doesn't exactly boost people's confidence. And within 30 minutes of the crash, before anybody really knew anything much, the government was asserting there's no evidence of sabotage, because they are so anxious for it not to be.

NOVAK: Of course. Of course.

O'BEIRNE: So, the public better not catch a whiff.

CARLSON: It's like saying anthrax has got to be domestic, because if it's international, it would scare people to death and we'd have to do something about it.

HUNT: I think that's incredible circumstantial, that just within a matter of weeks or months after this that suddenly we have an unprecedented crash of this sort. We've never had a crash like this.

LIEBERMAN: There have been ones like it, but nothing exactly like it. You're absolutely right. So, look, if we learned anything from the early days of the anthrax attacks, it is that people who are in positions of authority are supposed to be experts ought not to answer questions they don't have the answers for and ought not to try to make the American people comfortable if they don't have the basis for doing so.

So I'd say this, the folks who are investigating this better have a credible response, or ultimately the public will lose more confidence in their airlines. I do want to say one word about Tom DeLay. If he thinks that aviation security bill was a victory for the House, I have a Senate economic stimulus plan I'd like to sell to him.

HUNT: Right on, Joe Lieberman. I want to tell you this, I for one, Bob Novak, don't know what the PR war, but I feel a lot safer saying knowing that there is screeners who are paid more than the minimum wage and get decent health care benefits. As a general proposition, those people tend to be more productive and work hard.

NOVAK: I would say they would be even better if they were out on private payrolls getting more than the minimum wage, and you could fire them if they made a mistake.

CARLSON: They can be fired! Like the FBI agents and the Border Patrol, they can be fired, and we know the private did not work.

HUNT: And not only do we know the private didn't work, we know some of those private operations were awful sleazy, and that I'm afraid, Kate O'Beirne, is the final word.

CARLSON: Privatizing not working.

HUNT: Gang, calm down, we have to go. Next on CAPITAL GANG: George W., Vladimir and Texas barbecue.


HUNT: Welcome back. At their Washington summit, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin agreed to limit nuclear weapons.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand, and if we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I'll be glad to do that.


HUNT: Moving to President Bush's Texas ranch, President Putin enjoyed a barbecue dinner, but did not agree to U.S. missile defense.


BUSH: The great thing about our relationship is our relationship is strong enough to endure this difference of opinion.



VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We share the concerns of the president of the United States to the fact that we must think of the future threats. We differ in the ways and means we perceive that are suitable for reaching the same objective.


HUNT: Kate, a new day in U.S.-Russian relations?

O'BEIRNE: Al, it's clearly a new day, new weeks even, and we just have to hope that in the years ahead there will also be a new relationship. I think President Bush and Putin share more than a sense of humor and an apparent affection for each other. Russia, too, faces a threat from Islamic extremists. They clearly have sided with us in this war on terrorism. He's clearly banking the United States is going to win this war on terrorism, and of course wants to be on that side.

And after being essentially, as a Soviet Union, quarantined for the 20th century, President Putin is betting that the future of Russia is with the West, it's with majority and the West, our investments and trade with us. At the moment, we ought to be extremely grateful that he's been so -- so opposed to the OPEC cartel, that he wants market prices controlling oil prices, which has contributed to low oil prices here. It's been helping our economy.

So we have to hope that this relationship will be entirely different.

HUNT: Margaret, do you think we can trust this KGB functionary for the foreseeable future?

CARLSON: Once again, Bush said he looked into his eyes and he did not see former KGB, he saw, you know, this character in a buddy movie. Now, I think that's all well and good, yet he should at least get a prenup. Get something on paper. He says we'll do paper later.

O'BEIRNE: Quite the romantic.

CARLSON: Putin, I know, I know. But I think reality should come in first. It's also a lot easier to build these weapons than it is to dismantle them. He should get something from -- from -- from Putin other than just these words. He says he's going to go right ahead and do the missile defense testing, which would abrogate the ABM treaty. That hasn't been agreed to. I think it was more cordial discord than it was any real agreement.

HUNT: You're an old hand at watching these U.S.-Russian summit meetings, Bob, what did you think?

NOVAK: I thought this was just wonderful, because here's this little KGB apparatchik, and he is running a declining power, worried about a rising power next to him, China, it makes sense and great power politics to get in with the United States, and all he's got to do is say, "we are with you on this terrorism, you can use the former Russian republics as a base." And so, and President Bush excuses the bloody attacks on terrorists, Joe, in Chechnya -- they call them terrorists.

LIEBERMAN: I've heard.

CARLSON: Freedom fighters.

NOVAK: ... just miserable attacks. Excuses the Russian mafia that's still in business, and I think that -- I disagree with you. I think Putin is winking on the missile defense. I think he's saying, go ahead with it if you don't get too oppressive in criticizing us on the way we run our country.

HUNT: Joe Lieberman, your take? LIEBERMAN: Well, Al, it is a new day in Russian-American relations. I mean, the fact is -- of course, it's more than a decade since the Berlin Wall fell, but the fact is that we don't really have ideological conflicts with the Russians anymore. We've got points of contention. They're still tough on press freedom there. Their whole treatment of Chechnya is not anything that we would accept. We don't really have territorial confrontations with them anymore, so it's time to develop a better mutually beneficial relationship.

And it's great that the two presidents, Putin and Bush, have this good relationship. But for some reason, when I watched them at Crawford high school, I kept thinking of the Smothers Brothers. They just seemed to be having such a relaxed good time. But I thought that -- I was disappointed that more tangible didn't come out of this meeting. President Bush actually gave Putin in word, if not in a document, what Putin and the Russians want, which is...

NOVAK: He gave him a pass, didn't he?

LIEBERMAN: ... dramatic reduction in our nuclear warheads, actually lower than the Defense Department told us on the Armed Services Committee they would accept about six months ago. We didn't get back what I thought we'd get back in return for that, which is Putin's agreement that we can modify the ABM and let us go ahead with our testing. So, there's more to be done here.

HUNT: I also wish you had gotten a little more on bioterrorist kind of cooperation, that's so important. Joe Lieberman, thank you for being with us. Indeed you elevated us for an entire half-hour.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

HUNT: The GANG will be back with the second half of the show. Republican prosecutor Joe DiGenova is our "Newsmaker of the Week," talking about military tribunals. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Iran with Elaine Sciolino of the "New York Times." And our "Outrages of the Week," all after the latest news following these messages.


HUNT: Welcome back to second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Republican attorney Joe DiGenova.

Joseph E. DiGenova: age 56; residence, Chevy Chase, Maryland; religion, Roman Catholic. law degree from Georgetown University. U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under President Reagan; independent counsel in the Clinton passport case; currently member of the Teamster's independent review board.

Earlier this week I sat down with Joe DiGenova.


HUNT: A military tribunal is clearly constitutional; the courts have consistently ruled so. But Joe, is it good policy to hold a trial in secret, where the odds are stacked against defendants?

JOSEPH DIGENOVA, TEAMSTERS INDEPENDENT REVIEW BOARD: Well, I think we have to understand the context in which this decision has been made. These are people who have declared war on the United States and have decided, through terrorism, sabotage and other things, to conduct warfare against innocent civilians as well as military targets.

The wisdom of the policy will be played out in the future, when we see if these tribunal are actually used, or whether or not the threat of their use will be sufficient to make people want to cooperate, turn themselves in. I think if they're used, they will likely be used overseas.

HUNT: Those people who support it -- that there are several reasons for it; that terrorists could intimidate a jury, that intelligence could be compromised, and it could become a propaganda platform. Which of those do you find the more compelling concerns?

DIGENOVA: Well, I think among the most the compelling are the fact that I think we should not ask American civil jurors to sit in cases like this at a time of war, when the people who are running these organizations have made it clear that they will retaliate against everybody in the system, including those who conducted the 1990 -- the trial of the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center. I think that the protecting of sources an methods comes second after that.

HUNT: Joe, you cite the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and yet we did prosecute and convict, I think, 10 of those terrorists. The system worked pretty well there, didn't it?

DIGENOVA: It did, but since that time at least 4,800 people have been killed in New York in retaliation at minimal (sic), for that trial in New York and the accountability of those people, as well as allegations about U.S. policy overseas.

HUNT: The president's order, as I understand it, doesn't limit it just to al Qaeda. That application would be far more widespread. It could apply to anyone that he deems may have harbored any terrorist. So when you say it shouldn't be used recklessly or indiscriminately, how can we guarantee against that when there's no judicial review?

DIGENOVA: Well, certainly if the cases are brought overseas there would be no judicial review. In the United States, even though the order says it can't by judicially reviewed, there's no question that it would be judicially reviewed because the Supreme Court reviewed the cases in 1942 of the eight Nazi saboteurs who came on soil and were convicted in front of a military commission.

HUNT: I think most people would.

Joe, it may be a slight exaggeration to call a military tribunal a hanging, or kangaroo court, but the outcome in such cases would be pretty predictable, wouldn't it? DIGENOVA: I think probably more likely predictable than if it were in a civil court. Although, again, in the case of the eight Nazi spies who came ashore, they were all convicted, only six were executed. I say "only" because obviously if it were a true kangaroo court, I assume that all of them would have been executed.

HUNT: One of the arguments that we advance in this propaganda war is to say it's not over religion, but it's over values and the preferability of our values of open society versus the closed societies that we are sometimes in conflict with. Don't we give away, with secret trials, some of that value advantage?

DIGENOVA: Well, I can see people making that argument. On the other side of that, of course, is the argument that our constitution is not a suicide pact, as Justice Robert Jackson said. It is one thing for us to, in ordinary times, provide all the civil jury protections that might happen; but this is a time of war. Needless to say, I think we're giving them more than they would ever give any American captured by them.

HUNT: If these trials were to be held, whether they were overseas or here, and they're held largely, or at lest partially in secret, wouldn't the outcome lack credibility in much of the rest of the world?

DIGENOVA: I think that, again, that argument can be made. And I think there will be people in the Islamic world who will make that argument. They will, of course, miss the point: that the Islamic world and much of it has ignored its own responsibility to reign in al Qaeda and people like that.


HUNT: Bob, is Joseph DiGenova saying that the U.S. judicial system shouldn't worry about civil liberties in times of crisis?

NOVAK: I think he is. I admire Joe very much, and I think he was a great prosecutor.

But one of the problems with conservatives when it comes to civil liberties is they're willing to say, oh my goodness, we don't care about civil liberties. But that really aggrandizes government, which conservatives are supposed to be interested in limiting. And I know that the founding fathers, who I think were basically conservatives, wanted to limit the government, and that's why they put in so much on civil liberties that we keep trying to erode.

I just wonder -- I just, the whole name "military tribunal" frightens me because maybe, you know -- maybe it's Margaret Carlson next in the dock there. And I think any time -- I think there's no reason we can't take these murderers and terrorists and try them just like we did Timothy McVeigh.

CARLSON: I would be found innocent in any trial.

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: Let me ask Kate: Do you think this is something conservatives should worry about?

O'BEIRNE: Not a bit. Bob, war aggrandizes government. There's no getting around it; it happenings to be a major government function...

NOVAK: That's why I don't like war.

O'BEIRNE: ... and responsibility. But here we are; we are in a state of war.

Terrorists -- foreign terrorists -- this only applies to foreigners -- accused of terrorism massacred 5,000 people. We know that they have additional plans in mind for American civilians, maybe up to and including nuclear weapons.

What the White House has said is: Maybe we will use military tribunals against enemy soldiers bent on killing civilians. The same soldiers, at the moment, who are subject to shoot-to-kill in Afghanistan. And I, for one, if one of the top lieutenants responsible for planning September 11 were convicted by damning evidence, but there had been no search warrant, although the evidence was open and shut, I would have no problem with that -- which can be done in a military tribunal -- nor would anybody else, I don't think...

HUNT: Margaret, there's a titanic...


HUNT: I'm sorry, Margaret Carlson...

CARLSON: How do you do, Al?

HUNT: There's a titanic struggle on the right. Who's right?

CARLSON: Well, there's also Bob Barr and Maxine Waters on the left agreeing that this is bad. So it's a lot of odd bedfellows here.

There needs to be something -- I agree with Kate partly in that these people do not deserve the total due process that they're out to destroy. On the other hand, there has to be something been Judge Ito's courtroom and an O.J. defense and a kangaroo court, because in the eyes of the world we will look not much better than the people that we are trying.

And in fact, the Milosevic trial, in an international tribunal, was a streamlined affair where, when Milosevic tried to turn it into a world stage he was cut off. So I think that that would be a better alternative.

HUNT: You equivocated on that, Margaret Carlson. I say Bob Novak is closer to right, I'm afraid, Kate. And I worry about John Ashcroft as being the most insensitive attorney general for civil liberties since John Mitchell, and maybe since Mitchell Palmer, who Bob Novak covered.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Iran with Elaine Sciolino of the "New York Times."


HUNT: Welcome back.

"Beyond the Beltway" looks at Iran. President Mohammad Khatami addressed the united Nations last week.


MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): A most brutal and appalling crime has been perpetrated against American citizens. In the name and the people and the government of the Islamic republic of Iran, I firmly an unequivocably condemn that inhuman and anti-Islamic act of terror.


HUNT: But what about Iranian mullahs calling for death to America?


KHATAMI (through translator): The people of America should demand seriously from their government to moderate its policies to improve and change some of it.


HUNT: Joining us is Elaine Sciolino, a senior writer in the Washington bureau of the "New York Times," and author of "Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran."

Thanks for coming in, Elaine.

ELAINE SCIOLINO, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks for having me.

HUNT: It's good to have you.

Who is the authentic voice? Is it the president, or is it the more radical mullahs?

SCIOLINO: Well, there's no authentic voice -- there are many authentic voices. And one of the difficulties in understanding Iran is that there is a bifurcation of power. The so-called supreme leader has more power on paper; he controls the judiciary, the police, the military, the intelligence services, radio and TV. The president has the people. He was elected by 70 percent of the people. So it's a democratic tendency against a sort of power on paper.

HUNT: Down think that Khatami, who gave you the first interview to a Western newspaper, I guess ever, last week -- do you think he really is the genuine moderate Iranian that we've been talking about for 20 years, and has proved so elusive?

SCIOLINO: If we start using the term "moderate," we're going to get into a lot of trouble. I mean, remember what moderates did with us with Iran-Contra. I mean, Iran's the Bermuda Triangle of American foreign policy, and a lot of presidents have sort of fallen through the cracks.

But he is the real thing. He is an extraordinarily educated, charming leader who has charmed and enlightened his people. And he is behaving extremely responsibly in this whole war with Afghanistan.

NOVAK: Elaine, given the bifurcated nature of the power structure there -- an the president is -- President Bush, when he talked to the U.N., he said we're against all terrorists, and he emphasized the word "all." So which side is Iran on? Are they on -- you know, I think they've been listed by the State Department as a state supporting terrorism. Are they part of this -- the enemy in this war on terrorism, or are they an ally, as Khatami said to the U.N. when he said, we deplore the acts of September 11?

SCIOLINO: Well, it's hard to define him as for us -- for the U.S. or for the terrorists. But you're absolutely right -- that Iran is on the list of terrorist countries because of its support for Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East, as is Syria. And that is probably the biggest problem in reestablishing any kind of relationship with Iran.

NOVAK: But hose are mostly anti-Israel terrorist.

SCIOLINO: Correct. And from the Iranian point of view, they would say that's different; that's not terrorism, just as the Syrians say the same thing.

But in terms of Afghanistan, there is unity in the Iranian government among all of the officials; both the Ayatollah Khomeini, who is the leader -- spiritual leader, and president Khatami. And that is they will cooperate against terrorism, and they will cooperate in any operation in Afghanistan as long as it's under a U.N. umbrella.

HUNT: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Elaine, the most prosperous pro-Western Muslim state is Turkey. But they're strictly secular, of course. There have been increasingly large, growing pro-American, pro-Western rallies in Iran. Is it possible that there is an emerging, different model than Turkey that could have Islam and democracy? Can those pro-American feelings on the part of the people be reconciled with the Islamic fundamentalist clerics?

SCIOLINO: Well, you hit the nail on the head, because that's the key to understanding Iran, is what's going on is this guerrilla battle between Islam and democracy; or if I use another metaphor, it's kind of like experimenting with two volatile chemicals and hoping that you put the right amount in the beaker so that the laboratory doesn't blow up. And Iranian Shiite religious thought depends on debate. So there's no sort of one truth. And you've got young clerics in the holy city of Qom who are saying, this is not an Islamic republic, this is a dictatorship.

CARLSON: Elaine, in Afghanistan and other places in Central Asia, you have the young being the extremist Islamic, who hate America. And then in Iran, where 2/3 of the people were born after the revolution, they dance to rock music and seem to love the West. So you have the youth in one part being entirely different than the other. Now, what does this portend for the relations with the West and Iran?

SCIOLINO: Well, Iran has terrific relations with the West, just not with the United States. And -- but again, this is another key point you're making: that you're having pro-American demonstrations in Iran. You're not seeing massive rallies of death to America. And the rallies that you do see are all sort of government-sponsored -- the anti-American ones. So that there is a yearning among the youth for something more, for something better.

They want to be able to go to university; right now only one out of the 10 Iranian kids goes -- can go to university. They want jobs, and unemployment is a huge problem. And they've got the Internet, they've got satellite television.

CARLSON: So the mullahs will lose eventually in that the young people are not going to stand for it.

SCIOLINO: Well, the repressive, theocratic part of Islam that has prevailed -- the restrictive part, will lose. Whether the mullahs lose is something else.

NOVAK: Khatami, in his interview with Christiane Amanpour that we showed, says that America has to change to get good relations. He's talking about Israeli relations. Or is he talking about something more?

SCIOLINO: No, he's talking about something different. He's talking about, basically, American sanctions. You know, Iran has got a tremendous domestic political problem too, just like we do. And it would be beyond the pale for President Bush to suddenly excuse what the U.S. government perceives as terrorism and just say, oh, let's have kumbaya diplomacy and join hands.

And that's what Iran's problem is too. You know, Iran -- we've got very, very strict economic sanctions against Iran. The U.S. started a process to sort of take small steps to see if there would be an Iranian response, but none of that has been done.


HUNT: Elaine, quickly, do you worry that the other side, that the people who control terrorism there, may try to react to Khatami's reasonably moderate-sounding views?

SCIOLINO: Oh, they have. I mean, you've seen it not in terms of terrorism, but in terms of jockeying for power. The judiciary in Iran is extraordinarily conservative, and there have been trials of political prisoners that -- just in order to embarrass Khatami as he was coming to go the United States.

HUNT: Elaine Sciolino, thank you very much for being with us.

The GANG will be back in a moment with the "Outrage of the Week."


HUNT: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

What a difference a year makes. In a story not deemed significant enough for us to discuss tonight, a study by a media consortium, including CNN, reviewed all those controversial Florida ballots, and concluded a clear plurality of Floridians on Election Day voted for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. But under the flawed system, George W. Bush won legitimately, which a recount would have shown.

The outrage is the five-member majority of the Supreme Court that decided its political preferences were more important than letting the process play out.

NOVAK: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle today is in Mexico to announce that the Democratic-controlled Senate is scrapping U.S. anti- drug certification on Mexico and other countries. Now whether or not that's a good idea, I wonder what the senator tells Mexican leaders about the Senate's failure to confirm John Walters as drug czar. Walters is well-qualified, has cleared the Judiciary Committee, and has enough votes in the Senate to be confirmed.

But he is one of many Bush appointees vetoed by Democratic leaders because of ideology. That's not advise-and-consent.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: The Reverend Billy Graham's son Franklin called Islam, quote, "wicked" and "violent," noting: "It wasn't Methodists flying into those buildings, it was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith." That's like say my attacks on Bob are by people of the Catholic faith. Recently Jerry Falwell apologized for a similar tirade, after asking his followers to send $50 each to heal his hurt for being criticized for blaming the ACLU, homosexuals and feminists for the September 11 attack.

Falwell said he was tired; maybe Reverend Graham is too.

HUNT: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: The latest media recounts of Florida ballots found that George Bush would have one in the recount Al Gore wanted. The election is over, except in the U.S. Senate, where liberal senators pursue their revenge against Supreme Court Justice Scalia's son, whose nomination as solicitor general of the Labor Department has been pending longer than any other nominee's.

Eugene Scalia is considered -- widely considered to be one of the most widely qualified lawyers ever nominated to the post, but a malicious Democratic vendetta considers his last name disqualifying. HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. If by any chance you missed any part of this program, tune in for the replay at 11:00 Eastern, and you can catch the whole thing. Coming up next: CNN PRESENTS: "Unholy War," a sequel to the acclaimed documentary "Beneath the Veil."




Back to the top