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Hamas Vows Revenge Against Israel, U.S.; Did Bush Administration Drop the Ball on War on Terror?

Aired March 22, 2004 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Fury in the Middle East. Israel targets the founder of Hamas.

SILVAN SHALOM, ISRAELI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Sheikh Yassin is the godfather of the suicide bombers.

BLITZER: Vows of revenge against Israel and America.

War on terror. Did the Bush administration drop the ball? An ex-insider drops a bombshell, and the White House fires back.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: .. is deeply irresponsible, it's offensive and it's flat-out false.

BLITZER: Al Qaeda escape. Did that high-value target tunnel under Pakistani troops?

Health warning. What you need to know about possible links between anti-depressant and suicide.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORT for Monday, March 22, 2004.


BLITZER: The Middle East on the brink of a new spiral of violence. Palestinians are vowing revenge for Israel's assassination of the Hamas spiritual leader considered a terrorist by the Israeli government and the Bush administration. We'll go live to Gaza City in just a few moments.

But first, a quick and coordinated response from the White House to extremely powerful accusations by its former counterterrorism adviser. Richard Clarke says the president ignored repeated warnings that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks, allegations the White House is vehemently denying.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us, in the administration, that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to. MCCLELLAN: The assertion is something we could have done to prevent the September 11 attacks from happening is deeply irresponsible, it's offensive and it's flat-out false.

SEAN MCCORMACK, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Mr. Clarke's recommendations are remarkable for what was not in them, Wolf. And there was no recommendation what we should do to fight terrorism here in the homeland.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of the stuff. And I saw part of his interview last night, and...


CHENEY: It was as though he clearly missed a lot of what was going on.

BLITZER (voice-over): The Bush administration striking back against the former counterterrorism chief who has served one Democratic and three Republican presidents.

In his new book "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," Richard Clarke alleges President Bush was asleep at wheel before the 9/11 terror attacks. And that he and his administration ignored repeated warnings that could have prevented them.

RICHARD CLARKE, FRM. COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: He never thought it was important enough for him to hold a meeting on the subject. Or for him to order his national security adviser to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject.

BLITZER: Clarke says immediately after 9/11, the president was obsessed with Saddam Hussein and ignored intelligence that said there was no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.

CLARKE: The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door and said, I want you to find whether Iraq did this.

Now he never said make it up. But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

BLITZER: Administration officials call Clarke's accusations absurd. But he's equally offended by Mr. Bush wearing the mantle of a wartime president.

CLARKE: I find it outrageous that the president is running for reelection on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.


BLITZER: Clarke is the latest former Bush administration official to question the handling of the war on terror. The former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has said the Bush White House was looking to out of Saddam Hussein from the very start of the administration.

And the former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay who found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has questioned the intelligence the Bush administration used to justify the war against Saddam Hussein.

So is Richard Clarke a courageous whistle-blower or an angry ex- employee with an axe to grind? Joining us is another former national security council staffer, Dan Benjamin, was director of counterterrorism in the Clinton administration. He's the co-author of the book "The Age of Sacred Terror." You worked for Richard Clarke the Clinton White House.


BLITZER: So what do you make of his allegations?

BENJAMIN: His allegations track with what the discontent he was expressing for quite awhile after the new team came into office in January of 2001.

And I have to say that his critique of the emphases in the war on terror also tracks with what a lot of us in the counterterrorism community have been saying. It very much stands up to what we have said in our book, "The Age of Sacred Terror."

BLITZER: But the White House is coming back and saying, you know what? You had eight years in the Clinton administration to get rid of Osama bin Laden, to destroy the al Qaeda. You had repeated terror threats, the first World Trade Center, the Cole, the twin embassy bombings. You didn't do it over eight years.

BENJAMIN: Well there's no question it was a tragedy that we couldn't get him in those first eight years. But what is also the case is that we were working flat-out to get him. We found out how hard it is to get him. We've been working flat-out since 9/11 and have still not been able to find and to capture, kill bin Laden.

I think Dick's argument here is that we could have done better and might have had more successes and possibly even more prevention had we been working flat-out after the new team came in in January 2001.

BLITZER: Which raises this question, he was a career federal civil servant, highly respected going back to earlier Republican administrations as well. Were you surprised when he was held over into the Bush administration?

BENJAMIN: Not very. Dick is first of all deeply patriotic, he is eager to work for the government. I think that his whole life was invested in this kind of work. And I think he found it deeply rewarding to be so close to these issues, to really work on national security.

This has been his entire life. So I wasn't very surprised. And I must say he's also been very, very highly valued in Washington. He's known as an insider's insider who knows where all the levers and pullies are in government.

BLITZER: At the same time he was demoted at the beginning. During the Clinton administration, he had a cabinet-level jobs as counterterrorism czar. And he was demoted to a certain degree in the Bush administration.

BENJAMIN: During the Clinton administration, at end, he had a place at table as someone who was going to speak specifically for counterterrorism issues. And he was made national coordinator for counterterrorism.

He was stripped of that rank when the new team came in because frankly they didn't think that terrorism was such a big issue that any one person should be at the table to speak for it.

And historically, that has meant that terrorism has not been taken as seriously in the discussions of national security policy.

BLITZER: The other charge that they're making against Richard Clarke is that his -- one of his best friends, Rand Beers, worked for you on the Clinton administration on the National Security Council. He teach, of course, with him at Harvard, at the Kennedy School. And that Rand Beers is now one of the top national security advisers to John Kerry.

In other words, politics behind these allegations.

BENJAMIN: I don't think it's politics because I think Dick is doing so well in the private sector with his consulting and with his speaking that I don't think he's looking for a way to get back in.

And what's more is everyone in Washington, everyone in the political world knows exactly what Dick's strengths are and his failings.

I don't think he needs to audition for a job. This is because he felt strongly about the issues.

BLITZER: Are you surprised the way the White House is now going after him?

BENJAMIN: I'm not surprised. These are very, very serious accusations. And in fact, they go to the president's perceived strength in the election. Of course, they're going to fight back hard.

BLITZER: One final question. One of the charges the vice president made and others in the White House is once he was demoted at the start of the administration, he didn't attend a lot of the high- level meetings where the decision were made.

So as a result, he didn't know what the president and vice president were really doing to fight Osama bin Laden.

BENJAMIN: Well that's impossible. Dick was the pointman in charge of coordinating counterterrorism policy. If he didn't know what the policy was, and he didn't know what steps were being taken, then no one did. And there was no policy.

So it's simply inconceivable. If there were principals' levels meetings on terrorism, he had to be there.

BLITZER: Dan Benjamin, thanks very much for joining us.

BENJAMIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And in just a moment, we'll hear a very, very different view from the Bush administration. James Wilkinson, the president's deputy national security adviser for communications. He'll join us live from the White House. Stay tuned for that.

Here's your turn though to weigh in on this important story. "Our Web Question of the Day" is this: do you believe President Bush has been more focused on Iraq than al Qaeda? You can vote right now. Go to We'll have the results later in this broadcast.

A targeted killing in the Middle East prompts new threats of terror in the United States. Israel strikes the founder of Hamas, now they vow revenge. We're live from Gaza.

No quick capture. Did a top al Qaeda operative slip away from Pakistani troops?

Word of warning. A possible connection between suicide and some popular anti-depressants. Why the government wants new warning labels. This is information you need to know. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. As promised, an entirely different view from the Bush administration. James Wilkinson is the president's deputy national security adviser for communications. He's joining us live from the White House. Jim, thanks very much for joining.

You know Richard Clarke, he's got an outstanding reputation going back many many years in Washington, why shouldn't the American public believe what he says namely that the president was asleep at the wheel going into the months before 9/11?

JAMES WILKINSON, DEP. NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: You know when I go try to buy this book tonight I'm going to look probably in the fantasy fiction section of my local bookstore. But there are so many inaccuracies in this book. For example, he says that he could never get a meeting. He asked for one meeting with the president of the United States. He asked for that during this time of research and he to briefed on cybersecurity. I brought an email I want to read to you. He claims he could never get a meeting yet, Wolf, I work for Condi Rice and we meet with her every single morning in the situation room. Anyone is welcome to come to those meetings and Dick Clarke refused to come to those meetings. He thought they were beneath him. Let me read you a note that was sent to him.

"Condi noted your absence this morning and asked me to remind you of the importance she attaches to the meeting and her expectation that all senior directors will be there."

Why didn't Dick Clarke go to these meetings? Let me remind you, it was Dick Clarke that was in charge of terrorism for this country when the attacks on the USS Cole happened. It was Dick Clarke who was in charge of terrorism for this country when the attacks on the embassies in Africa happened. It was Dick Clarke who was in charge of terrorism for this country when the threat was building towards 9/11 and it was Dick Clarke who was in charge of terrorism for this country in June when the FBI said 16 of 19 hijackers were already here, Wolf. And on the day of 9/11, he was giving a speech on cybersecurity. This book is full of so many inaccuracies.

BLITZER: Jim, he makes the point, he made it last night on "60 Minutes," he makes it in the book that if the president had convened a cabinet-level meeting before 9/11. That perhaps some of the low- level word that some of the hijackers were in the United States, plotting against the U.S., maybe the word from FBI agents or CIA officers would have come to the top of his level and perhaps they could have avoided 9/11. That's an extremely serious charge.

WILKINSON: Well, Dick Clarke, by the way, also claims to be a member of the cabinet, he didn't have cabinet status. There are people around this world working to hunt down al Qaeda and all groups of terrorists where they live, where they hide, where they plot, where they raise money. A meeting doesn't make that more aggressive. It was happening. Dick Clarke, I want to point out a very important point here, Dick Clarke, only at Condi Rice's orders submitted a list of ideas, it was a group of ideas, we accepted almost all of them except for arming the northern alliance that was up in 10 percent of the country in Afghanistan.

All of his ideas, Wolf, were overseas...

BLITZER: What about...

WILKINSON: Wolf, let me finish. The terrorists weren't overseas, the terrorists were here in America. By June, the FBI says 16 of 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks were already here. I just don't see what this focus on process and titles and meetings. Let me also point something. If you look in this book you find interesting things such as reported in the "Washington Post" this morning. He's talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of "X-Files" stuff, and this is a man in charge of terrorism, Wolf, who is supposed to be focused on it and he was focused on meetings.

BLITZER: What about the other charge that he makes is that the president and the vice president, the secretary of defense, the deputy secretary of defense, they were all literally obsessed with Saddam Hussein and Iraq after 9/11, even though the CIA and the FBI repeatedly told them Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden or 9/11.

WILKINSON: Let me ask the question this way, let me go even further than you. Wouldn't your viewers have found it strange if the president didn't ask about Iraq? Wouldn't they have found it strange if they didn't order his counterterrorism team and his FBI director and his intelligence director to look in every corner of the globe for who might be involved? I just don't see the point with all this Iraq business.

I was working at central command for the last year as you know from our time together. In the northern and southern no-fly zone, Iraq was shooting at our pilots hundreds of times a day. Iraq had dug in deep. Iraq was threatening its neighbors. I just don't see the point of this Iraq connection. I think the American people would be comforted to know that this president wanted to know everything possible. I want to bring up another point, Wolf.

I brought with me a copy of the January issue of "Publisher's Weekly." It shows that this was supposed to come out April 27 of this year. Do you think it's a coincidence, and you've been in this town a long, could it be a coincidence that this book is released the very week he's giving his public testimony before the 9/11 commission. A commission we've spent hours with. We've given documents, 800 tapes, cooperating with fully and private, working on these sorts of issues. Is that a coincidence? I think the publisher and Dick Clarke have some answering to do. Why is he focused on book tours and these sorts of things. He should have been focused on terrorism like this president is.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Wilkinson making the case for the White House. Jim, thanks very much for joining us.

WILKINSON: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Grief and anger in the Arab world over the killing of the Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Will the United States now be the target of the Palestinians' fury? We'll have a live report from Gaza City. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: In Gaza, a stunning display of grief and rage, as Palestinians mourn the founder and the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israel used attack helicopters to assassinate its most implacable enemy, the man behind countless suicide bombings. But as vows of revenge echo throughout the Middle East, indeed throughout much of the world, the consequences have yet to be seen. Let's go live to CNN's Ben Wedeman joining us in Gaza City -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, tensions are high in Gaza even though it's midnight. A little while ago, we received reports that some Israeli armored vehicles had entered into the northern part of the Strip. According to Israeli military sources, they went in to prevent more Qassam rockets from being fired into Israel. Apparently earlier today or early this evening, four of those rockets had been fired over the border, no casualties or injuries in that case.

At the same time, we heard reports that in Rafah, the southern end of the Gaza Strip, there was some intense fighting between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces there. Meanwhile, Gaza, at the moment, is quiet, but we have been hearing throughout the evening, sporadic gunfire and explosions, and of course, during the day, Gaza was in an uproar as more than 100,000 Palestinians came out to attend the funeral of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who, of course, was killed at the break of dawn this morning -- Wolf,

BLITZER: Very briefly. This three-day period of mourning. Will the Palestinians basically not retaliate during these three days or are you bracing for retaliation during this period or right afterwards?

WEDEMAN: The expectation is retaliation will come sooner rather than later. And there's no indication whatsoever that the three-day period of mourning will mean there will be no attack. In fact, we've heard at least from one of the Palestinian factions that their response, their revenge will come less than 24 hours after the killing of Sheikh Ahmed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us from Gaza. Ben, please be careful over there. Thank you very much.

The killing of the Hamas leader is sparking fury in the Arab world. As thousands took to the streets in Lebanon's refugee camps, the Islamic militant group Hezbollah attacked border outposts and pledged that Israel will pay, quote, "a heavy price." There was a mass demonstration at a Palestinian camp near Syria's capital, where the crowd called for revenge and vowed a struggle until death.

And as a crowd in Cairo burned U.S. and Israeli flags, Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak called Israel's action, and I'm quoting now, "cowardly." There are fears that Arab anger over the Yassin assassination could spill over into an attack on the United States.


HASAN RAHMAN, PLO REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED STATES: It steers emotion across the Arab and Muslim world, everyone is angry at this criminal behavior.

BLITZER (voice-over): Even though U.S. and Israeli officials insist Washington had no advance notice of plans to assassinate Ahmed Yassin, those assurances faced heavy skepticism in the Arab world. Hamas claims the operation had the consent of what it calls the terrorist American administration. And added that America must, quote, "take responsibility for this crime,"unquote. It was a rare Hamas threat against the United States, and it fueled fears of terror attacks against U.S. targets.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATL. SECURITY ANALYST: There's a potential that the United States government interests abroad are going to be targeted by Hamas specifically in retribution for this assassination. Everything from tourists to our embassies and consulates are a direct target.

BLITZER: U.S. officials say any threat against the United States is taken seriously, both abroad and at home.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Hamas has been a terrorist organization for a long time. If they're threatening the United States, our interests either abroad or domestically have to take the threats seriously.

BLITZER: For now, the Department of Homeland Security's threat advisory remains at a mid-level yellow alert, an assessment of the risk of a terrorist attack is elevated but not high or severe.


BLITZER: Battling al Qaeda in Pakistan's rugged tribal region. Did the prime target escape a massive Pakistani assault. We're live from Islamabad.

Preventing terrorist attacks on American trains. The Homeland Department Secretary Tom Ridge announces some new security measures.

And they're off, a race from the days of Imperial Russia back in the spotlight. We'll explain. We're back in 60 seconds.


BLITZER: Pakistan's huge military offensive against suspected al Qaeda forces may have suffered a serious setback. Officials say a top al Qaeda operative possibly the group's No. 2 leader may have escaped through a tunnel found near the site of a fierce battle. CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is covering developments. He's joining us from Islamabad on the phone. Nic, what's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest is we're being told by Pakistani intelligence sources the negotiations that have been going on for the last few days are beginning to make progress. At the moment, what we are told by these intelligence sources is that the local tribesmen aiding and abetting, according to Pakistani officials, aiding and abetting the al Qaeda elements have agreed to allow the Pakistani officials into the area to search the area.

Right now, we're told, the negotiations trying to nail down how many people can go in, how many Pakistani government representatives can go in and when they can go in. The announcement about 12 hours ago by Pakistani officials that they discovered a network of tunnels they believe the potential for high-value targets to escape the area, and the state of the negotiations seemed to indicate at this time that perhaps the operation is beginning to wind down, it seems very likely, given what we're told, given that expectations of finding Ayman al Zawahiri in the area are lowered by Pakistani military officials. It does seem that the operation is winding down, Wolf, and it does appear that no high-value target at this time appears to be likely to be caught -- Wolf. BLITZER: Nic, based on what you know, was there ever a real high-value target? Because there are some suggestions now that the Pakistani government deliberately leaked that in order to divert attention from other problems it has namely nuclear weapons technology exports?

ROBERTSON: Certainly, the Pakistani officials that briefed us both publicly and privately have maintained that there definitely was a high-value target. They say, however, it could have been Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy. Then they said perhaps it could be an Uzbek Islamic militia commander associated with al Qaeda, then they said perhaps it could be a local tribal bandit from that area. They do continue to maintain that a high-value target was there. What they do appear to be doing is finding a way to back away from the possibility that perhaps the high-value target can be brought in.

Certainly, there is speculation among the population here, that perhaps President Musharraf spoke before all the facts were known that perhaps he had an agenda. Perhaps the agenda was to divert attentions from discussions he had the day he made the announcement from discussions he had earlier that day with Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps on the issue of proliferation, of nuclear weapons. So there is certainly that question in the community here, why did President Musharraf go so far out on a limb, make such a statement, and at the end of the day, Pakistani government, really, not having anything to show for it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Islamabad, thank you very much for reporting.

Attacking the heart of Hamas -- to Israel he was a heinous butcher. To Palestinians, a prominent leader. Up next, more on Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a man who incited faith and fear.

And what about the leader of al Qaeda? Are U.S. forces closing in on Osama bin Laden? We'll explore that in greater depth. Much more coming up when the former defense secretary William Cohen joins us live.

And words of warning, why the FDA wants new labels on antidepressants.


BLITZER: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announces new steps to protect the United States' rail systems. And a judge rules on whether public statements made by Scott Peterson can be used in his murder trial.

That, much more, coming up.


BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN.

A strike against Hamas generating fears of a new wave of terror, potentially targeting the United States. I'll speak with the former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

First, though, a quick check of the latest headlines.

An investigation by the Treasury Department says former Secretary Paul O'Neill received 140 government documents that should not have been released to him after he left office. They were among the 19,000 documents he used to write a book critical of President Bush. The current treasury secretary says the department is changing the way it handles classified documents.

Nigeria says it's willing to give temporary refuge to the exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide currently is in Jamaica, but Nigeria says Caribbean leaders want him out. If he accepts the Nigerian offer, Aristide can stay there for a few weeks, but then, Nigeria says, he has to find somewhere else to live.

Hundreds of thousands of angry Palestinians joined in the funeral procession for the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israeli forces assassinated Yassin. Hamas vows revenge.

Israel says he was the godfather of suicide bombers, but it may have made him a martyr.

CNN's Paula Hancocks takes a closer look now at Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, a group that has always sworn to destroy Israel, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was himself killed by an Israeli airstrike as he left a mosque near his home in Gaza City early Monday.

The partially blind 76-year-old cleric had been confined to a wheelchair most of his life, paralyzed in an accident as a child. Part of the wheelchair littered the street at the site of the attack. Gaza residents holding up shreds of his bloodied clothing and calling for revenge.

Only Sunday, Israel's Cabinet vowed a -- quote -- "war on Hamas," calling the organization a strategic enemy. Israel has long pursued a policy of so-called targeted assassinations of the Hamas leadership in reaction to the group's suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets.

Confirming it had targeted Yassin, Israel said he was part of the Hamas terror framework actively supporting such attacks by his followers, and was thus -- quote -- "marked for death." An Israeli court sentenced Sheikh Yassin to life in prison in 1989, but he was freed in 1997 under the terms of a deal brokered by King Hussein of Jordan. He escaped a previous Israeli attack in September 2003 with a light injury.

The most recent suicide bombings in the Israeli port city of Ashdod were carried out by Palestinians coming from Gaza. And Israel has made it clear that it will continue to hit back at those that dispatch or inspire the attacks that have left nearly 1,000 dead in the last few years. Yassin founded Hamas in 1987, during the first Palestinian intifada.

And he had always angrily warned Israel that the attacks on Israel would continue despite his policy of targeted killings. His comments late last year now echoed added meaning: "The jihad will continue, and the resistance will continue until we have martyrs."

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: Joining us now with his insight on the Israeli assassination of the founder of Hamas and the stunning new criticism of President Bush's war on terrorism, former Defense Secretary and our world affairs analyst William Cohen.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Should Americans be nervous now, worried, about possible retaliation by Hamas or other Islamist groups against U.S. targets?

COHEN: I think we need to be really concerned about it.

Any time have you an emotion that is running this high, given the fact that you have had the assassination or elimination of a spiritual leader of the Hamas, then you have to anticipate that there will be some sort of retaliation. Wherever that may take place, over in the Middle East or elsewhere, I think we always have to be concerned about that.

BLITZER: How dangerous would Hamas be against U.S. targets? We know they're very dangerous against Israeli targets.

COHEN: Well, since we are exposed virtually the world over, depending upon where they are located, they certainly -- it's not only Hamas. We could have actually other Islamist groups or fundamentalist groups who take this as an opportunity to retaliate in the name of Hamas. It's not just Hamas itself. So it's something we have to take into account, be concerned about and be watchful for.

BLITZER: If you were in the government right now at the Cabinet level, what if anything would you be doing in the aftermath of this assassination?

COHEN: I think as far as from a military point of view, I would certainly want to place on much higher alert perhaps some of our facilities on the global basis, but with some caution. I think we have to play it moment by moment, take the intelligence that we have collected around the world to see what spikes of information we have, but be much more cautious in the immediate aftermath of this and see how it plays out. BLITZER: Let's talk about Richard Clarke, the former Bush administration counterterrorism adviser. You worked with him very closely during the Clinton administration, when he was the counterterrorism czar. What do you make of these accusations he's now leveling against the president?

COHEN: Well, first, I'm not a close associate or friend of Richard Clarke's. I did work with him while he served at the White House. I found him to be an intense and very passionate individual, really consumed with his job about the threat of terrorism and the need for counterterrorist plans, some of which I did not necessarily agree with in terms of proposed action, but I never doubted his conviction that we needed to do more.

I can't comment on what his relationship was with President Bush or the administration following our departure, but he's a very intense, passionate individual.

BLITZER: Was he an intelligent individual? Did he know what he was talking about on these issues involving terrorism?

COHEN: I think he was a fairly good student about the threat that we were facing. There were -- some of the recommendations that he would make in terms of more aggressive action I think that we questioned, in terms of the feasibility of carrying them out under certain circumstances.

But I don't think I ever doubted that he was someone we should deal with, listen to, challenge, but he was an important part of the Clinton administration.

BLITZER: You're going to be testifying, I believe, tomorrow, is that right, before the 9/11 Commission?

COHEN: Right.

BLITZER: They're looking to see if 9/11 could have been avoided. Richard Clarke is suggesting, well, if the president had paid more attention, it might have been avoided. But you spent eight years -- or at least four years -- in the Clinton administration as the defense secretary. Could it have been avoided, looking back with hindsight?

COHEN: I think you can go back over the last 20 or 25 years and say, had we taken certain steps 20, 30 years ago, even most recently during the Clinton administration, certain things that we might have done, we might have avoided 9/11.

And that's the purpose of this hearing, is to exam all of the might-have-beens. Could we have done things within our system? And I think it will be important to examine, what are the institutional objections and obstacles that prevent us from taking a quick action?

For example, it's very easy for -- I used to say a king can run faster than a president and a dictator can take quicker action than a congressman. And it's because we live in a democracy, there are a number of competing interests from taking the kind of action. But all of that needs to be examined. All of us have to be held accountable for whatever actions we took or failure of action that we didn't take.

BLITZER: And those hearings tomorrow. CNN will have live coverage of your testimony and testimony of other officials as well. Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary, for joining us.

COHEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Doubts about antidepressants. The FDA issuing a warning about the popular pills. Could they actually be bad for those feeling the blues? This is information you need to know.

Using his own words against him. A ruling today in the Scott Peterson trial could pit the defendant against himself. We'll explain.

And the vanishing veteran. A staple in Major League Baseball makes a dramatic exit. All that coming up.

First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.


BLITZER (voice-over): Spanish police have arrested four more suspects in the Madrid terror bombings. There are now a total of 14 people in custody on suspicion of having a role in the March 11 train bombings which killed 202 people and wounded more than 1,800.

Kosovo violence. This is a day of mourning for 28 people killed in clashes between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs. Almost 300 houses and 30 churches or monasteries were burned or destroyed in last week's violence in the Serb province. Most of the attacks were aimed at Serbs.

Disputed election. Taiwan's main opposition party is demanding a recount of the weekend presidential election. President Chen Shui- bian defeated the opposition candidate by just 30,000 votes. The election was held as scheduled one day after Mr. Chen was shot and slightly wounded in an apparent assassination attempt that critics say influenced the voting.

And the winner is -- excitement was high, the cheers loud at Moscow's first modern pig races, an event dating 100 years or more. The big winner was a pig named Apollo. His prize was a bucket of carrots with whipped cream, as well as being spared a trip to the slaughterhouse.

And that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: In the aftermath of the deadly commuter train bombings in Spain, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge today announced steps aimed at preventing similar terror attacks right here in the United States.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in New York. She's joining us now live with details -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, responding to those attacks in Spain, the director said he is adding new layers of security. They'll include helping local authorities train more dogs to patrol the trains and subways, also launching what amounts to a publicity campaign just to get word out, make sure people are vigilant, and the possibility of implements, or starting anyway, a pilot program to see whether it is feasible to screen baggage and luggage at train stations.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Unlike airports, passengers can board trains at several stops, some as simple as a lone platform. The security environment for trains will never resemble that for aviation.


FEYERICK: The director also said that they're looking into new technologies which could prevent or detect any sort of attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, tell us, Deborah, the new measures being taken to protect the nation's ports as well.

FEYERICK: A new system was unveiled today. Basically, it's a radiation detector. It looks like a metal detector, but acts like a Geiger counter. These are going to be check all shipping containers off of vessels or more accurately leaving the ports. That's one of the criticisms that some people have. They say those containers should be checked immediately.


MIKE MITRE, UNION MEMBER: These portals are located at the out gates. That means that a container will come off the ship and it will sit in a terminal for anywhere from five days to three weeks. Now, what about the workers that unload it or what about the people that live next to the port? These containers are going to sit in the port for that amount time. Wouldn't it have been more well-thought-out to do these inspections right when they come off the ship, rather than at out the out gate, when just they're finally leaving the terminal?


FEYERICK: The man in charge of U.S. borders, however, says he is very hopeful. He said that this is a major step in securing America -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick in New York -- thanks, Deborah, for that report.

Opening statements in a new Oklahoma City bombing trial, that story tops our "Justice Report." Terry Nichols is facing 161 state murder charges which could get him the death penalty. He's already serving life on federal charges for his role in the attack. Two jurors and an alternate were dismissed today after prosecutors revealed all three are related to an attorney in their office.

No hearing today on another change of venue in Scott Peterson's murder trial. No motion on the matter was filed, although defense attorney Mark Geragos said he was going to. The judge did decide to allow Peterson's TV interviews into evidence. Opening statements scheduled now for May 17.

A new warning from the government for people taking popular antidepressants about signs of suicidal tendencies. Find out if you or someone you know is at risk. We'll get to that.

First, though, a quick look at some stories you may have missed this past weekend.


BLITZER (voice-over): A lesbian pastor from Ellensburg, Washington, can continue to preach after winning a church trial. A methodist jury says, even though the Reverend Karen Dammann acknowledges being gay, she is not in violation of church rules against ordaining homosexuals.

D.C. demonstration. A protest near the White House targeted Syria and Syria's treatment of its Kurdish minority. The demonstration came after Syrian security forces killed at least nine Kurds after fighting broke out at a soccer game.

Out with the old. The 33-year-old home of baseball's Philadelphia Phillies and football's Philadelphia Eagles went out with a bang. Now that new stadiums have been built for both teams, Veteran Stadium was imploded.

The ball bounces. The NCAA men's college basketball tournament saw some major upsets. Two of the four No. 1 seeds are out, both losing to Alabama teams. Kentucky lost to Alabama Birmingham and Stanford lost to the University of Alabama. Also out of sweet 16, second-seeded Gonzaga and second-seeded Mississippi State.

And that's our weekend snapshot.



BLITZER: It's a topic the Food and Drug Administration says should have the full attention of parents, patients and doctors.

CNN's Jennifer Coggiola is here with an important new warning for anyone who takes antidepressants or knows someone who does.

I think that's almost everybody.

JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After news, of course, like you and I were saying today.

Well, today, the FDA did reemphasize the importance for anyone taking antidepressive drugs to be closely monitored for suicidal tendencies, particularly in the first few weeks of treatment.


COGGIOLA (voice-over): Monday, the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to 10 of the most widely distributed antidepressant drug manufactures, urging them to include stronger labels in bold print on their medications about the risks associated with suicide.

DR. DIANNE MURPHY, FDA: FDA is trying to make sure that the public knows to be aware of things to look for when you begin these therapies.

COGGIOLA: The FDA cautions that patients should be watched for dangerous behavior, like agitation, irritability and panic attacks. Psychiatrists warn, suicide risks are greatest in the first few weeks of medication.

MARCIA GOIN, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION: When one is treated with the medication, then sometimes the energy level increases and the thought that someone had in mind issue, they now have the energy to put into effect.

COGGIOLA: Warnings have never been required by the FDA and aren't now, but most drug companies issue advisories inside pamphlets that accompany the drug. There is no conclusive research in the U.S. that shows a link between antidepressants and suicide. But, in February, the FDA heard stories from some who insist there is when children take the drugs.

Terry Williams' son Jacob (ph) was 14 years old and taking an antidepressant.

TERRY WILLIAMS, MOTHER OF SUICIDE VICTIM: After four weeks of treatment, he began to show signs of agitation, which we were not aware that that was a potential side effect. And after seven weeks of treatment, he hung himself.

COGGIOLA: But this mother says her two children, both on the medications, can now live full lives.

DR. SUZANNE VOGEL-SCIBILIA, NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR THE MENTALLY ILL: I shudder to think what would happen to them if these medications weren't available.

COGGIOLA: Doctors emphasize that although antidepressive medication does come with risk, not treating the problem is far more dangerous.

GOIN: What would be tragic is if the publicity about this led a parent or children to decide to not come in for treatment, the fear that they take some medication which is going to make them worse.


COGGIOLA: If you are currently take antidepressants, doctors warn you shouldn't stop take them. Talk to your doctor first. Suddenly stopping any kind of valuable treatment unsupervised could be incredibly harmful and result in rebounds or even dangerous side effects -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good advice. Thanks very much, Jennifer Coggiola, for that.

How's this for blowing your own horn? Coming up, "The Flight of the Bumblebee" as you've never heard it before -- that and the results of our hot "Web Question of the Day" when we return.


BLITZER: An unusual conch contest is our picture of the day. That rendition of "The Flight of the Bumblebee" won the 42nd annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest in Key West, Florida. The contest is the highlight of the Old Island Days festival, celebrating Key West's heritage.

Here's how you're weighing in our "Web Question of the Day." Do you believe President Bush has been more focused on Iraq than al Qaeda? Seventy-six percent of you say yes; 24 percent of you say no. This is not a scientific poll.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


Administration Drop the Ball on War on Terror?>

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