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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interview With Stephen Push; Interview With Haron Amin

Aired January 17, 2002 - 19:30   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, survivors of September 11 rally in New York over federal dollars. Should they get more? Should they get anything at all? And Osama bin Laden is still missing. Should Afghan leaders do more help find him?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, columnist Betsy Hart. And in New York, Stephen Push, spokesman for Families of September 11. And later, Afghan charge d'affaires Haron Amin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

How much does America owe the families of those killed on September 11? $1.6 million is the official answer. That's the average federal payout to grieving survivors. Or is it? As it turns out, there's a catch. The government plans to deduct pensions, life insurance and other private death benefits from the awards, which means that some survivors could get no federal money at all. And they'll have a hard time suing to make up for the loss. Federal fine print makes lawsuits a difficult proposition.

All of this has left some families steaming. We go to a picture now of rally being held in New York City by some of those families. They're demonstrating to protest the settlement. Do they have a point? Or are they, as some have suggested, merely greedy? That's our first debate tonight.

Sitting in on the left, former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers. And to New York to Stephen Push.

Mr. Push, thanks for joining us.

STEPHEN PUSH, FAMILIES OF SEPT. 11: Thank you for having me.

CARLSON: Now as I understand it, you and other family members are upset that pensions and other private benefits are being deducted from the federal settlement money. But it strikes me that some families are upset.

But let me pose this theoretical question to go. If I go -- if I lose my job and I go to federal government and ask for assistance, and they find that I have say a million or $1.6 million in my checking account, they're going to say you don't need the assistance. You already have enough money. Isn't that sort of what's going on here?

PUSH: No, you're confusing two very different concepts. This is not need-based program. Our right to sue the airlines was effectively taken away from us, to bail out the airlines. Their liability was limited, making it virtually impossible for most of our members to sue. So something was taken away from us. And the compensation fund is merely a way of compensating us for what we gave up.

CARLSON: OK, well, you say your right to sue the airlines. I wonder, though, I guess that implies that the airlines did something provably wrong, as if they knew there was a risk and yet ignored it. But of course, nobody knew there was a risk of this happening. Airline employees were killed. Airlines were brought down.

And I wonder what justice...

PUSH: I...

CARLSON: Hold on, what justice would it bring to sue the airlines? It would enrich trial lawyers, but would it make America more just? Would it make airline traffic safer for you to sue the airlines?

PUSH: No, the airlines have had years of lax security, not taking security seriously, allowing terrorists to get on planes. And people want to sue to put an end to that behavior, to make it economically unfeasible for them to continue to endanger people's lives.

Unfortunately, we can't do that now because of this bill. But the least the government can do is compensate us for giving up the ability to get restitution from the airlines. And certainly the airlines must have thought that they were at a great risk here or they wouldn't have run to Congress 10 days after the tragedy and get Congress to give them this bailout and limit their liability.

DEE DEE MYERS, CO-HOST: Right, and Stephen raises a good point. That's you don't think there should be any federal government compensation for the families of the victims of the terrorist attack. But 10 days after the terrorist attack, Congress rushed to spend $15 billion bailing out the airline industry. And part of that deal was limiting liability, limiting the liability of the airline industries.

And didn't they then accept an obligation to compensate the family members? Isn't their beef with the Congress and their bailing out of the airline industry?

BETSY HART, COLUMNIST: Well, I do have a beef with them bailing out the airline industry. And of course, I have also beef with the idea this is automatically a problem of the airlines. I mean, in fact, the weapons that the hijackers carried on were perfectly legal. If they'd been stopped because they looked suspicious as young Arabs, then they would have been accused of profiling. MYERS: But what's legal about box cutters?

HART: But wait a minute, wait a minute, Dee Dee.

MYERS: What's -- box cut -- the security -- there's nothing illegal about it, but the airlines had responsibility for screening their passengers adequately. And they didn't do it in this case.

HART: But Dee Dee, Mr. Bush is actually making a good point. Is that this is not a needs-based program. What he's saying is this is something that people are becoming entitled to. And that's the problem.

I don't have a problem with Mr. Push and actually some of the things he's saying. The problem is, it seems to me this should have been needs-based. We shouldn't be saying that somebody who was a wealthy parent of a grown child who died in this attack, as horrendous and awful as that is, is simply not in the same footing as a single parent who died, leaving young children, who has no visible means of support.

So let's first focus on the actual need. But of course, that's not what has happened. And as a result, we have victims literally attacking each other, demanding more payments. Not only squabbling amongst themselves, but then you have victims of other terrible atrocities, not only other terrorist attacks, but victims of other murders, victims of other heinous crimes. How do you then say well, it's fair to give these folks a million and a half dollars even though they may be very wealthy in and of themselves, but we're not going to say give money to those people who died as a result of the bombing in Oklahoma City.

How do you then stop these resentments and these terrible animosities, which I think are going to poison the well here?

CARLSON: OK, now Mr. Push...

PUSH: I think...

CARLSON: I think you're making a contradictory point here. You have said that you want the airlines to be sued or punished in some way. So I think I'm quoting you that "it would be economically unfeasible for them to, you know, run dangerous airlines," implying that somehow they're at fault here. But the federal government has already stepped in and has taken as a series of well-publicized measures to make airline travel safer. That's already happened. Your suing is not going to make it more safe.

PUSH: And even now the airlines are trying to get out of making those changes. They've gone back to Congress and tried to get out of it. They're saying they can't meet the deadlines.

Just a few days after September 11, one airline executive told Jane Garvey when she said that they couldn't have any more knives in planes, well how will the people in first class cut their steak? The airline executives still don't get it. And it's just unfair to take money away from the families of the innocent victims of this tragedy and give to the executives of the airlines and to the investors of the airlines that have used poor judgment.

HART: But Mr. Push, I don't think anybody's really saying that. And I think if you want to say the airlines are liable, and fine, it seems to me that would be at least a case to make in a court of law. But then, how do you say well they should compensate the victims of the families of people who died in the terrible tragedy and who are suffering terrible emotional loss that no amount of money could make up for...

MYERS: There's no question about that.

HART: But they're not the small businessman, who say, had a newspaper stand there at the World Trade Center and has lost his complete livelihood and had his life displaced. Where does it stop.

MYERS: The Congress took the ability to sue away from the victims.

HART: No, they didn't, Dee Dee. They have the right to right to sue.

MYERS: But let's talk about another aspect of it. They've limited liability in such a way that it makes it unfeasible. But let's look at another aspect. You said the victims have taken squabbling amongst one another. What does that have to do with the value of the program? People who leave money to their families in wills, leave their estates, their prized possessions, their life savings, their families often get into squabbling matches.

HART: That is a great point.

MYERS: Because no one would argue they shouldn't be able to leave their things.

HART: No, that's exactly right.

PUSH: People aren't squabbling with each other. People...

HART: No, but...

PUSH: You're mischaracterizing what our members' concerns are. The reason there's a rally tonight is not because people are squabbling among themselves over how much money they're going to get. They're squabbling because the Justice Department is not following the law. Congress passed a law. They took away our right to sue. They gave an exchange for that.

HART: As you know, they did not take a way the right to sue.

PUSH: A tort based -- they effectively took away our right to sue. And they gave in its -- let me finish. They gave in its place a program that would provide us with some compensation in exchange for taking away that right to sue. Now the Justice Department is trying to take that away. And that's what people are upset about. HART: In fact, Mr. Push, I don't entirely disagree with some of the points that you're making. What my problem is with the entire idea of going from, we want to help these people, we want to reach out, as Americans have done, Dee Dee, to the tune of $1.5 billion. And taking it and saying, we want to help these people and move into an entitlement, where people now feel I have a right to this money.

And the great unmentionable is that might not be the airline. It might be Osama bin Laden who's the henchman who did it. And maybe there isn't a way to get these people to pay right now.

(CROSSTALK)

PUSH: This all could have been avoided by not taking away our right to sue the airlines.

CARLSON: Now I know -- I can see you're hot to sue. So how about this? How about you're acting as if the airlines caused this tragedy. When in fact, we know who did, and that's Osama bin Laden. And I'm wondering if you've given any thought to suing -- its an enormous family with many holdings, trying to attack some of that money, the people responsible for it.

PUSH: And actually, there are some people pursuing that legal action. But that is going to be a symbolic action that's not going to provide much compensation for the families, because so little money has been recovered.

HART: That's exactly the point is that today in our economy, people have the sense that when somebody happens to me, somebody must pay, not necessarily the person or people culpable, but the person who can afford to pay.

PUSH: Yes, the airlines are culpable.

HART: In this case, it's the airlines and the government.

PUSH: But the airlines...

(CROSSTALK)

PUSH: The airlines and the government are culpable. The failures, the very well publicized failures of...

HART: Mr. Push, I...

CARLSON: OK, I'm afraid...

PUSH: of intelligence, failure to aviation security.

CARLSON: OK, I beg your pardon. We're going to have to interrupt you both. Mr. Push, Ms. Hart, thank you both very much for joining us.

And next, Osama bin Laden is still at large. Are our new Afghan allies doing everything they can to find him? We'll ask the Afghan government's new representative in Washington when we return. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MYERS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Afghanistan today, re- opening the long-shuttered embassy there and restoring full diplomatic status to that war-torn country. Powell also pledged that the United States would make a significant contribution to the estimated $10 to $15 billion cost of rebuilding Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, American military commanders are complaining that tribal leaders in Eastern Afghanistan are not cooperating with American special operations forces in the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, in rooting out weapons caches, and in providing valuable intelligence that could help prevent future terrorist attacks.

Here to talk about all that and more is Haron Amin, the new charge here in Washington for the Afghan government.

Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

HARON AMIN, CHARGE D'AFFAIRES, AFGHANISTAN: Thank you.

MYERS: Now, Mr. Amin, the United States is, in addition to pledging billions of dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan, we're spending $90 million a month prosecuting the war. We've pledged to free up $240 million in frozen assets here in the United States for use immediately in Afghanistan. And we're putting our troops in harm's way. Shouldn't your government be doing more to make sure that tribal leaders are cooperating with special forces, helping go into those caves, find Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar and the rest of the Taliban and al Qaeda leaders that are there?

AMIN: Well, indeed, these tribal leaders should cooperate. The key is how to get them to cooperate. We've got a new administration in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai has taken over. He needs the funds to make sure that the government would not fail.

There is some credibility element here. The funds that were frozen in the United States of America have been made available. All the documents that needed to be signed with the finance minister were signed by me and him. So that's in motion. Those are assets of Afghanistan.

In the meantime, the money that we have requested for reconstruction of Afghanistan in setting this whole cycle in motion, this whole wheel in motion, that is about $20 billion.

MYERS: Right.

AMIN: It is requested from the international community. And they're all going to be providing. So the United States will pay some of that, not necessarily all of it.

MYERS: But pay some of it and help round up some of it from the international community.

AMIN: Well, indeed, remember there was a terrorist clique in Afghanistan. There were the Taliban in Afghanistan. We helped get rid of them. Al Qaeda was rooted out of Afghanistan. Now there is something in place for that.

We can either make it or not make it or break it. And in this context, it's important to make sure that this administration is going to succeed. And the way to make that succeed is to take away people from war, warfare, warlordism, and banditry towards reconstruction, rehabilitation, repatriation, and development.

CARLSON: Well, wait. I mean, you've got a Catch-22 here, if you don't mind my saying it, Mr. Ambassador. U.S. government, through Donald Rumsfeld has said a number of times that U.S. aid is partly contingent on the help of our Afghan allies in finding al Qaeda leaders, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

And yet last Wednesday, a number of Taliban ministers were rounded up outside Kandahar. They surrendered to our Afghan allies and they were let go immediately upon swearing allegiance to Mr. Karzai. That doesn't sound like they're trying very hard.

AMIN: Can you give credence that those individuals who were released were definitely Taliban ministers? They were not.

CARLSON: See, it's funny you say that because...

AMIN: They're following the...

CARLSON: The first response, and this was deeply telling I thought, the first response of many Afghan authorities was to deny this ever happened. And yet spokesmen, two different from Gul Aga, told reporters from the Associated Press and from Reuters that they witnessed this and that it happened.

So not only did they not round up these guys and keep them in custody for Americans, but apparently they lied about it.

AMIN: Well, let me say that our administration, the administration under Mr. Karzai, is very adamant in bringing individuals that were responsible for crimes against Afghans and with the Taliban's links to international terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to the incidents of September 11.

These are people that we're hunting. These are people that you're hunting. Our authorities will fully cooperate. But you remember that right now, we have certain instability in many parts of Afghanistan. The reason for that is that the government lacks the funds. We need these funds. We need the international cooperation, making sure that what we have set in motion would indeed be in motion, making sure that the administration has the funds to disseminate funds in such a way as to enhance what we're after.

We can either do this in the right way or not the right way. And I would think that the international community, realizing that if it walks away, doesn't do what it is required to do, you'll be back to square one. And that means, what is it, the nest will be back. The habit (ph) will be back. And terrorists from across the border, across the region, will hop back into Afghanistan.

MYERS: Well, you were previously the representative of the Northern Alliance here in Washington. Now of course the government's expanded beyond that. But during, for many years, Iran was an ally, helping to support the Northern Alliance through many tough years. Now Iran is back in Afghanistan building relationships. Is that acceptable to your government? It's certainly not acceptable to the American government.

AMIN: Well, remember that Afghanistan has to coexist in Afghanistan as a member of the international community has to have relations. We have got relations with all countries. We don't have special relations with any countries, unless those countries in light of international relations, choose to have that sort of relations.

We would like to have enhanced relations with the United States of America, if this is the desire and the course that the United States would like to take. Indeed, Iran is a neighbor. We have to live with Iran. Pakistan is a neighbor. By our agreements, we have to live with Pakistan. It's a next door neighbor.

But remember that we have to coexist. And for as long as there is consensus in the interests of Afghanistan and where our interests all mix, I think that we can work on this. And through back channels, there have been certain contacts even with -- between Iranians and Americans.

One of the joint ventures of a common policy was Afghanistan between the two countries. So the idea is where the interaction is. And I think the interaction so far is to yield the kind of objectives that I think would enhance regional stability.

CARLSON: Part of the argument you're making, I have to say, I've heard before. It's a common one from developing countries. We want to help whatever the U.S. interest is, but we need more money.

I just want to give you one example of a way in which our Afghan allies can help on the cheap. Now today, the United States government released some videotape that was apparently found apparently by Americans in caves in Afghanistan. And it showed the faces of a number of al Qaeda terrorists. And I'm wondering, Ambassador Amin, why couldn't these faces be put on, say, wanted posters and put up by your government all over Afghanistan or say broadcast on whatever limited television is available there? Or their names read on the radio? This is a cheap way to help us find Osama bin Laden. Why not do it?

AMIN: Tucker, when you talk about Afghanistan, I've been there, we don't have a lot of means. We don't have a lot of the facilities that you have here. This is a country that has been absolutely ravaged.

Sometimes the ministers are not able to even talk to each other because the phones don't work. The electricity's completely shot throughout the city. Some of the ministries don't even have windows. You've got plastics hanging all over.

So you've got all the stuff. And of course, the collateral damage also damaged some of the ministries. The idea -- objective back then was to get the Taliban out the cities. You have this at hand, but trust me that with the flow of the funds in Afghanistan, the unfreezing of the assets in the United States of America, we will have something to play with.

In six months' time, we will be in a much better position. And trust me, that the intention here is to completely bring these individuals to justice. They are more dangerous to us than they are dangerous to you because they live currently in Afghanistan or the surrounding region. We want to make sure that they're brought to justice, because otherwise individuals like myself, like Mr. Karzai, the younger generation, people with ideology, people with commitment to the Afghan population, these people would be in harm's way.

MYERS: Now as you know, there's a split in the United States about what should the United States long-term role be. Senator Joe Biden, who's chairman the Foreign Relations Committee believes the United States should play some kind of a permanent role in the peacekeeping mission there. President Bush and the administration disagree with that. They think it should be done by other countries. Where does your government come down?

AMIN: We strongly believe that whatever the consensus the international community comes up with, that is important and we respect that. In light of the international -- the United Nations legislation and also assistance in this context. We would want the United States to remain there for as long as it desires. So beyond that, we would desire for the United States to remain there.

MYERS: Well, do you believe there can be success without a U.S. presence?

AMIN: Well, I think that the United States I'm sure could delegate its power, you know, delegate some troops or some authority to another country to work on its behalf and to that sort of relations.

But if (UNINTELLIGIBLE) remain, we with love that. We would want that, because we know that the internationalized scene of Afghan politics is something that brought about the decimation and destruction of al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban.

With the international community leaving Afghanistan, a vacuum will be created that will be filled by somebody else. So the U.S. presence is important. The multinational force right now, if the United States wants to be part of that contingent, it would be good.

MYERS: Have you communicated that to the Bush government?

AMIN: Indeed, Bush administration knows that. We're in constant contact with the U.S. administration. CARLSON: OK, Ambassador Amin, we hope to be in constant contact with you in the next couple of months.

AMIN: Thank you.

CARLSON: Thank you very much for joining us.

MYERS: Thank you.

CARLSON: We appreciate it.

And when we return, CROSSFIRE's special Thursday night police blotter. Find out who's on it. We promise a particularly hard boiled segment in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. It's time for CROSSFIRE's Thursday night police blotter, the segment where we hold up, inspect, at times perhaps even celebrate people in the news whose lives have intersected with law enforcement.

First on the blotter tonight, Congressman James Traficant of Ohio. The nine-term Youngstown Democrat is facing 10 felony charges, including but not limited to, bribery, racketeering, and obstruction of justice. Traficant, who is not a lawyer, will be acting as his own lawyer.

In his defense, just as he did the first time he face felony charges more than 15 years ago. And as if the case couldn't be weirder, "Roll Call" reporters say that Traficant may try to keep Jewish jurors off the case. The reason? The congressman believes they might resent him for his rigorous defense of an accused Nazi war criminal. There is incidentally no word on how Traficant believes jurors will react to his hair. My guess, it'll be in his favor. They're like the hair. It'll help.

MYERS: Well, it certainly hasn't hurt him this far. The thing about Traficant is he is always good theater, but he's not really a Democrat. He voted with Republicans for years, as you know.

CARLSON: Not really a Democrat.

MYERS: The Democrats have kicked him out of their caucus. And now he's been welcomed into the Republican caucus.

CARLSON: I think this fellow's a Democrat when he was accused when he was accused of being a member of the mob. When he faced his first trial and people threw charges of anti-Semitism at him. And in fact, he's still a Democrat, which is why...

MYERS: Even though he votes with Republicans all the time.

CARLSON: I say Democrat 2004 with Al Gore missing, Traficant is your man. MYERS: And he'll continue to vote with the Republicans if he makes another trip to the House. But no police blotter this week would be complete without Enron, the perp in the biggest, baddest hit and run crime of the century.

As of today, the bankrupt energy giant is the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, as well as investigations by the Employment Department and the SEC. Now both houses of Congress have jumped into the act, with both feet. Seven, count them, seven Senate committees and there House committees are on the case.

Earlier this week, the subpoenas started to fly, 51 in all. And among those served so far, Wendy Gramm, the wife of Texas Senator Phil Gramm. Mrs. Gramm has been a member of Enron's board of directors for eight years now and was a member of the crucial audit and compliance committee as the company's books were being cooked.

Meanwhile, her husband is the second largest Senate recipient of Enron's largesse. He's received some $97,350 since 1989.

CARLSON: Wow, that all proves -- you know what that proves, Dee Dee? Nothing. I tell you why, because this is so complicated.

MYERS: Right.

CARLSON: Nobody, not even accountants, nobody can figure out what the crime was. So to imply that a member of the board of directors, who probably when on golf outings with Ken Lay.

MYERS: I'm not implying anything. Simply stating a fact, which is that the subpoenas are starting to fly, and one of them went to Wendy Gramm, who's a member of the Enron board of directors. It is a big and complicated investigation, but it is a criminal investigation by the Justice Department. This is not some smoky, we don't really know if anything happened. It's a criminal investigation.

CARLSON: Well, and you know what they will find out from Wendy Gramm? They will find out that Enron's board of directors has a marvelous time playing golf in Scottsdale.

MYERS: Perhaps, but...

CARLSON: That is all they will learn.

MYERS: Well, good, you can come back here and claim victory. From the left, I'm Dee Dee Myers. Good-night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. And before you do, e-mail us here at CNN at CROSSFIRE. We look forward to reading them tomorrow night.

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