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Ex-Iraqi General Leading Attacks on U.S. Soldiers?; Scott Peterson Hearing Begins

Aired October 29, 2003 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: "In Focus" tonight: the California wildfires. As firefighters battle the infernos, law enforcement searches for arsonists. Who would deliberately cause such devastation?
CNN has learned the Pentagon believes it knows who is behind the attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq.

And dramatic testimony at the D.C. area sniper trial, as a 14- year-old boy tells the jury what it was like when he was shot and gravely wounded.

Good evening. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

Also ahead: Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing finally gets under way, after four delays a day of arguments over what evidence will be admitted during the hearing.

Plus, has an unwritten rule been broken? Is President Bush now open for blame over intelligence failures before 9/11?

And an exclusive first look into the first high school in the nation for gays and lesbians.

Also, Washington, the most powerful city in the world. We're going to show you the surprising political influence of that city's social center.

We're going to get to the California fires in just a moment. First, though, here's what you need to know right now.

Pentagon sources tell CNN, a former Iraqi general is believed to be financing and coordinating the continuing attacks against U.S. troops and others. His name is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the Iraqi military northern regional commander and the king of clubs in the most-wanted deck of cards.

For the latest on this breaking story, here is senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, as you said, Al-Douri was one of Saddam Hussein's closest confidants. In fact, his daughters was married to one of Saddam's sons, Uday. He was, as you said, the commander of the Iraqi military in the northern sector and the king of clubs in the famous deck of cards, No. 6 on the most-wanted list. He's the highest ranking former official still at large, with the exception of Saddam Hussein himself. Now, Pentagon officials tell CNN that the capture of several suspected members of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group in northern Iraq provided the intelligence that points towards Al-Douri as the mastermind behind the attacks. And that connection with Ansar al-Islam indicates that those forces are working hand in glove with so-called foreign fighters with links to al Qaeda in conducting the attacks against U.S. troops -- Paula.

ZAHN: Now that we have identified the man we think is responsible for these attacks, will it make it any easier for U.S. forces or intelligence to help curb the violence against our troops?


MCINTYRE: Well, they're focusing a lot on trying to find Al- Douri, just as they're focusing to trying to find Saddam Hussein. In fact, they believe he is in the same general area, an area north of Baghdad.

But just like the hunt for Saddam Hussein, it's very hard to find single person. They're beefing up their intelligence gathering by adding personnel to try to facilitate the flow of intelligence. And they're pressing very hard to find both men.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks you for the update on your birthday. Happy birthday.

Another headline you need to know tonight: The jury in the trial of alleged D.C. area sniper John Allen Muhammad today heard from a 14- year-old survivor of the shootings. A doctor testified about the boy's massive injuries. Two other witnesses put the car Muhammad drove at the scene of two of the sniper attacks.

Now to the inferno in California, 600, 000 acres burned by 13 fires 2,000 homes destroyed. The death toll now stands at 18, including a firefighter, the damage estimated at $2 billion. And now Pacific Ocean winds are pushing wildfires into the mountains.

As we put this catastrophe into "Focus" tonight, we'll go live to the fire lines to hear firsthand from the devastation from a fire victim and get the latest from an arson investigator.

First to CNN's Martin Savidge in Stevenson Ranch, California.

Good evening, Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Paula.

As you just said, the tragedy of the wildfires in Southern California has grown today with the death of the first firefighter. Two others were critically injured. The death and their injuries took place at the Cedar Fire. That's about two hours south of us in San Diego County. It brings the death toll now in California to 18. Most of the victims have died trying to escape the flames. Let's tell you where we are. This is the Simi Valley fire. A point of location, it is about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It's a fire that has been burning since the weekend. This is specifically the Stevenson Ranch area. And its here that firefighters have been vexed for the past 24 hours trying to keep the blaze under control, trying to keep it away from a number of homes here.

The Stevenson Ranch area has several hundred homes located in subdivisions. It also backs right up against I-5, which is a north and south highway. For a time, I-5 had to be shut down this afternoon, as firefighters were using it as a natural firebreak. They were able to keep the fire from crossing over farther east. This fire now has a desire to want to spread to the north and to the east.

Every time that it approached subdivisions, the firefighters were successful at keeping it at bay. No homes have been destroyed today. In fact, only 16 homes have been damaged since this whole fire broke out. But it is still very volatile, still very lively, and still potentially dangerous. It has now burned an area covering over 40 miles, or 110,000.

San Diego County, it got even worse. More evacuations have been ordered down there, 50,000 people now out of their homes. That is the Cedar Fire, the biggest and deadliest in California -- Paula.

ZAHN: The magnitude of all this very difficult to put into perspective.

Martin Savidge, thanks so much.

Thousands of people have had to leave behind personal belongings collected over a lifetime, as the raging fires headed toward their homes. Some will come home to find nothing left but rubble and ash. Others are much more fortunate.

That includes Millie Bearchell, who actually had a home to come back home to in San Diego. And she joins us now. Thank you very much for dropping by this evening.


ZAHN: When you went back to your home for the first time, describe to us what you saw in your neighborhood.

BEARCHELL: When we went back home, it seems almost like a ghost town, a lot of ash, soot on cars and in the street. And when we did get into the house, it almost seemed like someone had been in and robbed us, with pictures off the wall that we had grabbed and the doors were left opened and closets. And the ash was just all around.

But, fortunately, we did have a home to go back to.

ZAHN: Well, Mary, that's what I was wondering. When you were forced to evacuate, did you think you might come home to nothing?

BEARCHELL: Sure, that runs in the back of your mind. And, again, how do you anticipate and what do you take? And what is of value? Material things aren't what's important, but it's the mementos and it's those kind of things. And so, when you're leaving and you're taking it all, you're wondering, did I grab what -- the pictures and those kinds of things? And it does run in the back of your mind, am I going to be coming back?

ZAHN: Oh, it's just so heartbreaking to hear all those choices that you had to make. Now, I understand, you helped set up a shelter for a lot of those folks who found themselves in the same situation as you did, evacuated. Tell us about some of their stories.

BEARCHELL: Yes, ma'am.

My husband and I are Salvation Army officers for 21 years. And we have done many other disasters, emergency service. When we were given the evacuation notice, within a half-hour, we, ourselves, opened up a shelter at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center and made a quick run to Costco to get some items and put right into service our own shelter, which, as it turned out, we had to spend the night there, our family, as well.

ZAHN: Well, you're very lucky to go home to a home, period. And we appreciate your sharing your story and the story of your hard work with us this evening. Good luck to your family and the rest of the folks in your community.

BEARCHELL: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Two of the California blazes, the Grand Prix and the Old fires, are suspected of being set by an arson or arsons.

Alan Carlson, fire investigator with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, joins us from Lake Arrowhead, near San Bernardino.

Welcome, sir. Thank you very much for joining us at such a busy time.


ZAHN: Hello.

Can you characterize for us the status of this arson investigation tonight?

CARLSON: I really can't go into the discussion of the investigation itself, other than, it's ongoing. We have put together a large amount of resources to continue the investigation. And sometimes, these things will go on for quite a period of time. But we don't give up easy.

ZAHN: I know you're working very hard around the clock.

I understand that, over the last 24 hours or so, you have compiled what you think is a pretty accurate profile of who might be behind a couple of these fires. Share that with us. Who are you looking for?

CARLSON: Again, I can't really comment, other than the profile -- or the drawing has been released. And we are looking for that individual. We'd ask that anybody that not only might see someone that matches that drawing, but somebody that may hear somebody talking about the fire or fires in a way that they shouldn't know unless they happened to have been there at the time it started.

ZAHN: Are you able to tell us whether you suspect this is caused by a one-time arsonist or a serial arsonist?

CARLSON: I can't comment on that.

ZAHN: And is there a difference in behavior between those two profiles?

CARLSON: There is a difference in behavior.

Oftentimes, in the wildland, we see serial arson taking place much more commonly than in structure-type fires. Oftentimes, the individual works up from a smaller-type fire to larger fires or multiple-type fires.

ZAHN: Mr. Carlson, do you see any similarities between these fires that we're talking about tonight and any other arson-related fires?

CARLSON: Having just joined the investigation here in the last couple days, I really couldn't comment on that without doing some other looking at the records of other fires.

ZAHN: Well, we know you got a lot of work to get done. And you've certainly laid the groundwork in this investigation so far. Thank you very much for bringing us up to date on the investigation, sir. Good luck.

CARLSON: Certainly.

ZAHN: The youngest victim in the D.C. area sniper shooting says the ordeal brought him closer to God; 14-year-old Iran Brown testified today in the trial of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad.

For more on that and the rest of the day's proceedings, I'm joined now from Virginia Beach by "Washington Post" reporter Michael Ruane. Ruane is also the co-author of the book "Sniper: The Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation."

Thank you so much for being with us tonight, Michael.


ZAHN: Share with us some of the testimony of this very adult- like 14-year-old that you heard in court today. RUANE: Well, Paula, it was a very dramatic moment. Everybody was waiting to see if Iran was going to take the stand. His mother was hesitant about it this morning, but changed her mind.

He walked into the courtroom at about 12:09. He's a tall, lanky, handsome young man now, with a big shock of black hair tied back in a ponytail. He didn't say much. He gave all his answers in short, sort of teenage brief answers. At one point, he was asked what happened. He said: I pulled up in the car. I got out. I got shot.

I think he was sort of beautiful to see today, compared to the sort of autopsy photos that we've been looking at all week. Here is a kid who could easily have been in these photographs. And he was just sort of an apparition of a terrific-looking teenager.

ZAHN: Yes, he's just a courageous young man. I understand there was a lot of talk about a Chevy Caprice again in the courtroom today. Bring us up to date on that.


Once again, the Caprice was seen the night before the Iran Brown shooting in the neighborhood. In our book research, we found several other people who had seen it the day before in the neighborhood. It was also seen several times at the killing of Ken Bridges on October 11. We also got the first heartbreaking details, a detailed eyewitness account of his death. An eyewitness testified that he heard a loud bang, saw Bridges clutch his chest, say, "Ouch, ouch, ouch," and fell flat on his face.

The Virginia State Trooper who got there minutes later said he was dead. There was no pulse and he was deceased.

ZAHN: What was reaction in the courtroom today to this very graphic testimony all the way around?

RUANE: Well, it was interesting. Iran did not look at John Muhammad, who sat at sort of the end of the defense table. But Muhammad watched him very carefully when he walked in the room.

Iran was a striking figure. And he had sort of a white shirt on. But it was interesting that they did not exchange glances.

ZAHN: I guess that shouldn't be too surprising.

Michael Ruane, thank you for your insights tonight. Really appreciate you spending a little time with us.

RUANE: You're welcome.

ZAHN: I'm joined now by somebody who is very close to 14-year- old Iran Brown and his family. Victims rights advocate Gregory Wims has been working with the family since just after the boy was shot. He joins us now.

Welcome. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. GREGORY WIMS, VICTIMS RIGHTS FOUNDATION: Welcome.

ZAHN: You have probably spent more time around Iran Brown than just about anybody, other than a family member. We heard a little bit about his demeanor in the courtroom today. How is his recovery going?

WIMS: It is remarkable.

The first thing I wanted to say is, Iran is our American hero. When all the shootings were taking place, and as I worked with the different families who had that lost a loved one, the one ray of hope was that Iran was able to survive. And As the months went on and as they saw that he in fact was healing quicker than the doctors had said, it gave hope to all the victims. All the victims who are coming into the courtroom now, they are just praising God for his survival.

And to answer your question about him, before he was shot, he was a model student. He was an honor roll student, as he is today. He was one that knew God before he was shot. He was a young man that came to God early. And during the rush to the hospital, when his aunt took him, he was praying. He also told his aunt that he loved them. And he just put his faith in God's hand. And we saw what happened. He's here today to come to the courtroom and give his testimony.

ZAHN: And yet it's also been widely reported, as we just heard from Michael Ruane, that his mother really didn't want him to testify, but he ended up doing so. What happened?

WIMS: Well, they were able to be convinced that the graphic pictures that had been shown previously, last week and earlier this week, of those people who had been shot, as you just heard earlier, Mr. Bridges, who clutched his heart, wouldn't be shown and they wouldn't ask him a lot of very detailed questions. That helped the mother feel at ease. And it also helped Iran.

But I have to say, we at the Victims Rights Foundation had really been prepping him and his mother probably for the last four months. We wanted to let them know what would happen in the courtroom. And I was glad to hear your reporter from "The Post" just say that he walked in and he didn't look at the defendant, because we told him, the best thing for him is not to look at the person that is being accused, but look directly at the people who question him and then just walk out.

So I am very glad to know that he did just as we had instructed him to do.

ZAHN: It sounds like he learns a lot from all of the teachers in his life.

WIMS: Yes. He's a great student. He's a great kid. And more important to all of our young people throughout America, he's not afraid to say he loves God. And I think that's the message that he would like to send to young people.

ZAHN: Gregory Wims, thank you for sharing your insights with us tonight. WIMS: Thank you.

ZAHN: Scott Peterson goes back to court, as the prosecution lays out its case. What new revelations will emerge about the murder of his wife and unborn child?

And the president's handling of the 9/11 attacks was off limits to political criticism, until now. As the race for the White House heats up, is September 11 now fair game?

Also, U.S. troops' tactics in question, as an officer risks court-martial for being too rough on an Iraqi prisoner.


ZAHN: After being postponed four times, the preliminary hearing for Scott Peterson got going today in a California courtroom. The day was consumed by arguments over what evidence to include or exclude from the hearing. The 31-year-old is accused of killing his wife and their unborn son.

In Modesto tonight, our own legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who was in the courtroom today.

Always good to see you, Jeffrey.


ZAHN: Now, I understand those of you who were observing what went on today got a pretty good idea of what the government's case against Scott Peterson might look like. What are the outlines of that case?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it's fair to say that the government's case is off and crawling. We didn't move very quickly today.

But the focus was on DNA evidence. The only witness today was an FBI scientist, who was testifying about the mitochondrial DNA, which concerns the DNA of hair. And the key issue here is, a hair was found on a pliers in Scott's boat. And the government is attempting to show that that hair belonged to Laci, the theory being that Scott killed his wife with the pliers in the boat and then dumped her body in San Francisco Bay. That's where the government appears to be going, but it's not going there very fast.

ZAHN: And there was a lot of argument about just how effective this kind of testing is, right?

TOOBIN: Right.

This is not the kind of DNA that most people are familiar with, with blood, where there's PCR-RFLP. Those are the familiar kinds of DNA. This is a DNA that deals mostly with hair, which has not been tested as much by the courts. It actually came up in the Westerfield case in San Diego. They used it, but it hasn't been as familiar a part of the court system as the other kinds of DNA. And so Mark Geragos, the lawyer for Scott Peterson, has been challenging whether this is actually a legitimate, useful, reliable kind of DNA.

ZAHN: We mentioned Scott Peterson at the top of this report in the courtroom today. What was his demeanor like?

TOOBIN: Well, it's interesting, Paula.

A lot of times, when you see people who have been in jail for several months, they start to look drawn. They start to look tired. They start to sort of look physically diminished. Scott Peterson didn't look that way. I thought he looked pretty healthy and still looked pretty robust. His hair -- we have followed the color of his hair very closely. It seems to have gone back to its original brown. He's not longer a bleached blond.

But he looks like he's bearing up pretty well and he's following this case very closely. His family is arrayed there behind him. The family of -- Laci's family, the Rochas, are there, too. It's certainly tense between the two of them. But Scott Peterson looks pretty good for a guy who has been in jail for several months now.

ZAHN: And how long could this all drag on?

TOOBIN: Drag on, I think that's the right term.

We were told five days. From the looks of things, I would say 10 days is more likely. But, here in California, where the Red Cross is doing such wonderful work helping out with the fires, amazingly enough, there was a Red Cross disaster relief truck in the press compound here. The sheriff said the press apparently needs some disaster relief. So they were giving us coffee and doughnuts. And so the press is grateful to the Red Cross here, as we are where they're fighting fires.


ZAHN: Oh, I just think they're worried about all you trying to hammer each other for exclusives out there.


TOOBIN: That's right. That's right.

ZAHN: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.

An American officer fires a gun while interrogating an Iraqi prisoner. Now he could be court-martialed, even though he may have saved American troops from a terrorist strike. How tough should the U.S. treat its prisoners in a war zone?

And we're going to take an exclusive look inside the nation's first and only high school for gay students.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your life is worth less than someone else's just because you love someone who is a boy.



ZAHN: Welcome back.

It is America's only high school for gay teens, 120 students who say they would face violence and harassment in a regular school.

Maria Hinojosa got exclusive access inside the Harvey Milk School to find out what it's all about.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few first days of school are quite like this, students cheered just for walking in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are in darkness!

HINOJOSA: And jeered just because of who they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're headed for an awful place.

HINOJOSA: But two months later, the focus at Harvey Milk, America's only gay high school, has returned to teaching and, for one typical student, learning.

Cyrus Newlin has been homeless for two years, ever since he told his mother he's gay.

RICARDO "CYRUS" NEWLIN, STUDENT: Every time I said "I loved you" to my mom, she wouldn't exactly say it right back, but she would say, "Yes." So I ran away to New York.

HINOJOSA: He lives in the Ali Forney shelter for gay youth now, rising at 6:00 a.m., walking through the darkness to school, where homeless kids can get fed and even change and take a bath.

NEWLIN: I always wanted to go to school, back to school. And this is my officially last chance to graduate and get that high school diploma.

HINOJOSA: He is like many kids at Harvey Milk, sometimes rejected by friends or family and viciously abused at school, many neglected and acting out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some severe concerns as a guardian, as to, is that child going to be safe in that mainstream school? Which bathroom is that child going to use? What gym class is that child going to take?

HINOJOSA: To get into Harvey Milk, they have to prove they can't function anywhere else and desperately want to learn. NEWLIN: If they get beat up by a lot of people, in other words, that a couple of them were -- they had to hide so bad in school, being straight, wearing baggy clothes. Some of them were being raped in the locker rooms.

HINOJOSA: David Tobo says he was attacked at his high school.

DAVID TOBO, STUDENT: I really was so scared for my life. I really do not understand what would push someone to think that, I mean, your life is worth less than someone else's just because you love someone who is a boy.

HINOJOSA: Kimberly was born a boy, but wants to be a girl. At Harvey Milk, kids can work that out.

KIMBERLY HOWARD, STUDENT: I don't have to worry about, does somebody knows I'm a boy, does somebody know I'm gay, if someone is going to beat me up after school, is the police going to help me, do my teachers wonder what I am, how do other teachers and the principal feel about this? That's what Harvey Milk gives me.

HINOJOSA: And do the things these unusual kids like to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because, if you notice, on the new listing of electives is poetry on there.

HINOJOSA: And some of the typical ones.

NEWLIN: We have to think about coming up with money for like school trips, graduation caps and gowns and whatever.

HINOJOSA: Many of these students were dropouts, or were about to be; 60 percent of the graduates have gone on to college, where Cyrus wants to go, so he can get a job and build a life like his life at Harvey Milk, where being gay won't matter.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: Coming up, the presidency of George W. Bush may be remembered for his leadership after September 11, but now is it open season for opponents to blame him for the attacks?

Also, we'll give you an aerial tour of the devastating fires that rage at this hour in California.

And tomorrow, the controversial journalist who exposed repression inside a post-Taliban Afghan family.


ZAHN: Here are some of the headlines you need to know at the bottom of the hour. A firefighter has been killed, two others injured fighting the so-called Cedar Fire in San Diego County. It is the first fatality of a firefighter in the southern California wildfires. Pentagon sources tell CNN tonight that a former Iraqi general is believed to have been financing and coordinating attacks on U.S. troops and their allies. Izzat Ibraham al-Duri is the king of clubs in the deck of cards showing the most wanted Iraqis.

At the trial of alleged D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad, witnesses put his car at the scene of two of the shootings. The jury also heard from a shooting survivor, a 14-year-old boy who says the experience quote, "brought me closer to God."

Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark has added a weapon to his political arsenal, criticizing the Bush administration over the attacks on the U.S. on September 11. Here is part of what he said.

"There is no way this administration can walk away from its responsibility for 9/11. You can't blame something like this on lower-level intelligence officers, however badly they communicated memos with each other. The buck rests with the commander-in-chief, right on George W. Bush's desk."

Democrats have, for the most part, avoided directly criticizing or the blaming the White House for anything having to do with 9/11. Has this topic now become fair game? Let's check in with two of our regular contributors. Here with me in New York is Joe Klein, columnist for "Time" magazine. And in Washington Torri Clarke, former Pentagon spokeswoman. Welcome to you both.



ZAHN: So, is the whole game changed?


ZAHN: Was this a mistake on Wesley Clark's part?

KLEIN: Absolutely.

ZAHN: Why?

KLEIN: Obviously, George Bush bears some of the responsibility for not reading the tea leaves, but so does Bill Clinton, so do a whole bunch of other people.

This was such an unimaginable act, that nobody could have predicted it in advance. And I think that Clark has been running his mouth about things like this. Yesterday he said that Donald Rumsfeld leaked his own long hard slog memo and he said that he knew that on the basis of rumors from Sunday TV shows. You cannot expect to be elected president of the United States if you're as irresponsible as this. Sorry.

ZAHN: But, Torri, Wesley Clark wouldn't be doing this unless someone told him he would have resonance out there with voters. CLARKE: Well, he's been listening to some strange people then. I think we to start a fund and put a dollar in it every time Joe and I agree, because I agree with him completely.

He's completely wrong -- Clark is -- it's not about a blame game. And I think what it reflects is, Wesley Clark hasn't found his footing yet as a candidate. Even the "New York Times" story today said he added to the confusion about his own stands.

I honestly couldn't tell you what his latest position was on going into Iraq or not, or the reconstruction fund or not. And I think they're just throwing some things out there to see what sticks. But, I think if you try to exploit the horrors of 9/11, which was unimaginable, as Joe said, it's going to blow back on you.

ZAHN: Why don't we go back and take another look at some of the imagery that was so powerful shortly after the attacks of 9/11.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.


ZAHN: So you listen to that address to the nation and you see what Wesley Clark did and you don't think any other Democrats will follow suit?

KLEIN: No, I don't think so at all. I don't think that you can't gainsay what the president did during the first month or so, or even up until Afghanistan.

The question, the big question about this administration is, obviously, we are facing a new world, a new challenge that was very complicated. Did they make the right choices about how to fight what is becoming a global war against Islamic radicalism? Was going to war in Iraq the right choice? Those are the kind of questions you can raise here, but raising 9/11 is just silly.

ZAHN: Torri, let's talk about the story out of the Pentagon tonight. The Pentagon now believes they know who the general is, the Iraqi general behind these vicious attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers. What's the significance of this break through?

CLARKE: Jamie McIntyre, as we all know, is a terrific correspondent. He has great sources in the Pentagon, but it is according to unnamed officials. Now, it seems logical, some of these attacks, recently, look like they had a fair amount -- a centralized planning and control. That general is as good a candidate as any. And he is one of the last remaining ones hanging out there.

What's interesting is where you hear some of this information may be coming from, the Ansar al-Islam. So, clearly, the Iraqis were mixing it up with some terrorist groups.

Very, very interesting. The good news is, every time you get one of these guys it increases your chances of getting another one. If you hear things about him and people point fingers at him for responsibilities, then you're closer to getting them.

ZAHN: Joe, closing tonight, let's quickly turn to flap over the mission accomplished banner that we all saw prominently displayed on the aircraft carrier. The White House had to back pedal a little on their statement when they said, basically, they had nothing to do with it. The Navy put it up.

KLEIN: The Navy asked for it, but the White House provided it. And the White House provided it, because they thought the mission had been accomplished. Obviously, this White House, this administration had no idea what it was getting into in Iraq and still trying to figure out the path to get from here to some kind of stability and they haven't figured it out yet.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, Torri Clarke, thank you both for dropping by tonight.

CLARKE: Thank you.

ZAHN: How rough should American troops be on Iraqi prisoners if it means foiling terrorists attacks. We're going to look at the case of an officer who could be court-martialed for firing a gun during an interrogation.

And Washington, D.C. is America's seat of power, but we're going to show you where the big decisions are really made. It involves and awful lot of women.


ZAHN: The U.S. Army reportedly has charged one of its own officers with criminal assault. The "Washington Times" says lieutenant Colonel Alan B. West is accused of putting his pistol next to a prisoner's head and firing it. The paper says even though the tactic helped foil a plan of attack on U.S. troops, the army says he went way too far.

I am joined now from Washington by former senator Max Cleland.

All ways good to see you sir.


MAX CLELAND, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Thank you Paula.

ZAHN: Do you think the army was right in making these charges?

CLELAND: I do not. I think they need to give him a medal. They're in a guerrilla warfare situation where you can't determine who is friend and who is foe. And the incident occurred, as I understand it, with an Iraqi policeman who was responsible, an informant said, for an attack on American troops. That's why Colonel West isolated this individual and went through an interrogation process and found out where a future sniper attack was going to occur on him and his troops. And thus, saved the life of some of his troops. And I'll tell you, in terms of war, it's not just rough, it's deadly. And you have to go out to Walter Reid to see some of the amputees this week to realize that our American troops are in deep trouble. They are very much in harm's way and they ought to give the colonel a medal instead of taking action against him.

ZAHN: And with the lines as blurred as you say between friends and foes.

Where do the rules begin?

Where should they end?

CLELAND: First of all, you protect yourself and your troops. Step number one in war. And that's what we've done. We put 130,000 troops on the ground in harm's way to be attacked by members of the al Qaeda that are reconstituting themselves and Iraq -- al-Islamic Brigade that you mentioned, old Saddam Hussein loyalists. A whole coalition is now beginning to step up its attacks against American troops. And they are in harm's way and they're scared. I understand that, they ought to be scared. To attack this colonel, though, and say he didn't do the right thing by interrogating a prisoner that ultimately resulted in the saving the life of his troops is wrong.

ZAHN: Are you basically saying that the end justifies the means?

And if you are, isn't that a dangerous military policy?

CLELAND: Well, first of all, he didn't kill the prisoner, he didn't hit the prisoner. And you have to understand, we are part of the Geneva Convention out of 1920 and we are a humane society. But in Iraq, on the ground, it is inhumane and you can be blown up and killed by a sniper, by a bomb, by a landmind at any moment. And that's the world our soldiers live in and they have a right to protect themselves. That's what Colonel West did, did the best he could, under the circumstances, to protect himself and the troops. And ought to give him a medal for saving American lives and not take judicial action against him him.

ZAHN: What do you say to the critics of this young soldier who suggests that U.S. integrity is hurt when it doesn't follow these rules?

CLELAND: U.S. integrity has to do with why in the world are we there in the first place, exposing our young men and women to this kind of assault in shooting gallery where we're on the strategic defensive and the enemy has every opportunity to line up attacks against us. That is the integrity we ought to question. What are we doing there in the first place. The integrity of the soldiers is total. They're there with great courage and under tremendous pressure. And they're doing the best they can to survive and make it home. And I think they're doing the right thing there by protecting themselves first and in combat, that's exactly what you have to do. ZAHN: Senator Max Cleland, thank you for your time tonight, appreciate it.

CLELAND: Thank you.

ZAHN: When we come back the latest information on the California fires and a bird's eye view of the devastation. 600,000 acres burned, 2,000 homes destroyed, 18 dead.

An inside look at where the decisions are really made in Washington and the select group of people who make them.


ZAHN: If your image of politics is men in smoke-filled room making earth-shaking decisions, you may miss a key part of the picture. According to our next guest over the last 50 years in Washington a select group of women have exercised enormous influence. C. David Heymann "The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and the Politics in the Nations Capitol."

We asked him why people in our audience should about these women?


C. DAVID HEYMANN, AUTHOR: Women are becoming more and more becoming part of the political process in a town that's been up to now at least historically and traditionally male orientated and male dominated.


ZAHN: So you're saying these other women paved the way?

HEYMANN: I think these women definitely progenitors of the new crop of women.

ZAHN: Let's talk about some of the women now that you profiled. Top of the list, Kay Graham. Nancy Reagan learned the hard way, if you didn't kind of play with her, you were basically dead meat, right?

HEYMANN: Right. Well, Kay Graham, of course, had her own -- I mean, one of the interesting things about Kay Graham is that she -- life came full circle. She started off as a typical housewife taking care of her children and kowtowing to her husband, in an era when that was common and ended up as one of the most power moguls, media moguls in the United States.

ZAHN: Evangeline Bruce.

HEYMANN: Evangeline Bruce. Self-educated, grew up in Europe. Joined the OSS, you know, as a late teenager was a member of OSS, where she met her husband, David Bruce. Very brave woman. She lost her daughter when her daughter was 29, her daughter was killed by her then husband, and had to face up to that. Was accused in the press of being a bad (AUDIO GAP) of the western world. Ended up becoming the ambassador to France, and, as Bill Clinton said at her death in 1997, he said, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her, and that's true.

ZAHN: And finally, Sally Quinn.

HEYMANN: Well, Sally Quinn, both sides of the coin. Started off as a great party reporter and ended up in a position where she wouldn't let party reporters into her own parties. She is now the reining queen of Georgetown. Is it a peacock throne? I think it is.

ZAHN: What is the commonality among these women? Perfecting the art of sexual politicking?

HEYMANN: They each had extraordinarily powerful mothers, and they each, in turn, did not get along with their mothers. But, obviously, there was something in the gene that went beyond the conventional. I mean, these were, in their time, extremely charming, intellectual, self-educated in some cases, educated in others, strong women, who knew what they wanted. Didn't want to be a cheerleader in their husbands' lives, but wanted to share the spotlight.

ZAHN: And they were highly manipulative.

HEYMANN: They were highly manipulative.

ZAHN: And if you weren't within their good graces, forget about having any kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HEYMANN: You were dead, you were cut dead. Yeah. But what was interesting is that the parties, you know, that they held in Washington weren't like the parties that they held in New York or L.A. I mean, it was -- parties in New York are fun and entertainment, you rest after working all day, you go to a party on the weekend.

In Washington, it's business after business hours. That's where the deals are made, that's where people meet with people that they can't meet with through ordinary corridors of political activity. Henry Kissinger said he cooked up more deals at Georgetown dinner parties than he did as secretary of state. That's where he was able to sit over a drink in a social setting, in informal setting and make an agreement face to face with someone that he ordinarily wouldn't have even been able to meet with.

ZAHN: You give us a fascinating look inside that process. C. David Heymann, thanks for spending a little time with us this evening.

HEYMANN: Thank you, I enjoyed it.


ZAHN: And one more update on the California fires tonight. We're going to give you an aerial tour of the inferno that has destroyed some 2,000 homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere I look is burned.



ZAHN: Today's pictures from the California wildfires are both awesome and heartbreaking. David Mattingly is just back from a helicopter tour of the fires near San Diego. Here is what he saw.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Secured in its place in history as the largest brushfire ever in California. The enormity of the Cedar fire in San Diego County can only be appreciated from above.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere, everywhere I look is burned.

MATTINGLY: Our guide across the charred landscape is veteran San Diego pilot Ivor Scheir (ph) who takes us to the remote area where the Cedar fire is believed to have gotten its start, possibly as a signal fire started by a hunter.

These people didn't have a chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. But the winds are picking it up, and heavy growth -- you can see the cars and the effect.

MATTINGLY: Deep in the countryside, these houses were the first of more than 1,000 to go as flames raced with Santa Ana winds. For miles, there were signs of fierce firefighting and some small victories. Orange flame retardant stains the hillside where the fire was stopped cold.

But there were some big victories, as well. This entire neighborhood was spared because of precautions taken by homeowners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You notice on their properties, they have all the brush cleared away right from the edge of their homes. These people are used to the danger of fire out here.

MATTINGLY: But it's the devastation that produces the most power images. Above Scripps Range (ph), where several died and fire destroyed 180 homes on Sunday. We see entire streets and cul-de-sacs leveled. Only chimneys remain standing in the first rays of sunshine since the fire raced through.

(on camera): This is the first time in days we've been able to get up in the air to see the scope of the damage. The problem has been visibility, just too much smoke.

(voice-over): Winds from the Pacific Ocean now push the smoke eastward, where we find hot spots still raging. And just five miles away, the Cedar fire, still out of control, continues to destroy homes and lives and burn even deeper into the record books.

David Mattingly, CNN, San Diego, California.


ZAHN: And we have just learned here through city officials in Los Angeles that all of the choppers have been grounded as of now, because of the bad conditions in Southern California.

Wanted to quickly bring you up to date on what we know at this hour as these firefighters so valiantly fight the more than dozen fires that we are seeing in Southern California tonight. Some 600,000 acres affected by this, some 2,000 homes destroyed, some 13,000 firefighters out there on the job right now working around the clock, trying to contain these fires. And so far, the personal toll has been huge. Seventeen civilians killed, and a firefighter lost his life tonight fighting a fire. So that gives you perspective on just how bad things are in Southern California tonight. CNN will be on the story throughout the night. And please join us for the latest information. We'll bring it to you as we have it available.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Have a good night.


Peterson Hearing Begins>

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