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CNN CROSSFIRE

Coffin Controversy

Aired April 23, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: the coffin controversy. Why does the White House want to keep these pictures out of the public eye? Do President Bush's critics just want to exploit them for political gain? And what do these sobering images say about the war in Iraq?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Some 700 American heroes have given their lives so far in Mr. Bush's war in Iraq, but only now for the first time have we seen images of the flag-draped coffins of our war dead. Why doesn't the Bush administration want you to see these images?

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: We'll put that question and many others into the CROSSFIRE in a moment. But, for now, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, this weekend, thousands of people will come to Washington on behalf of something called the right to choose. Busloads of them will march to the Capitol in the name of something called reproductive freedom and justice. They will proclaim their right to control their own destinies and the sovereignty they have over their bodies. In short, they will come to celebrate their prerogative to select certain constitutionally protected health services in solemn consultation with their families, their consciences and their gods, or, if you will, with their individual faith traditions.

One thing the activists will not likely do while here in Washington is to use the word abortion, which of course is what this is all about. John Kerry's official position paper on abortion does not even use the word abortion, not even a single time. Think to yourself, why is that? Could it be that John Kerry and his fellow abortion promoters don't want you to think about, not even for a second, what it is that they're really promoting? I think so. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: There is...

CARLSON: Why don't they use the word abortion, Paul? Because that's -- why are they of ashamed of abortion?

BEGALA: You know what? There's enough newspeak on both sides of this debate to make Orwell

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, let met give you the other side.

President Bush doesn't talk about the fact that he considers it to be murder, that he wants it to be a crime.

CARLSON: He should. He should.

BEGALA: Therefore, those who do should go to prison.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He says -- this is his quote from Vice President Cheney: Children should be welcomed in life and protected by law.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He thinks it should be a crime. He thinks it's murder and he thinks women who have abortions should go to prison.

(BELL RINGING)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You're not defending it, because it's indefensible.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Why doesn't President Bush say what he really means?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If you think it's murder, you should call it murder.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: That was pathetic.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: In just 10 weeks, America will turn over control of Iraq's sovereignty to Iraqis. So, it's a good time to ask the question first made famous by Bob and Doug McKenzie on "Great White North." How's it going, eh?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, not well, apparently.

The British in Basra are facing suicide bombers who have blown up a school bus full of children. Fallujah is on the knife's edge of chaos. Baghdad has become the Middle East's version of the Wild West. And so the Bush administration is defining sovereignty downward.

Reports indicate that the new Iraqi so-called government will have no control over the military and no power to enact laws. The new government will, one suspects, have complete authority over truly important issues like whether Iraqis use the hated designated hitter rule in baseball.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Still, Dr. Condoleezza Rice surveys the turmoil and offers -- quote -- "a very upbeat report" -- unquote -- further proof that our foreign policy leaders are either fools, fabricators or more likely both.

CARLSON: Actually...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: ... in this case, they're telling you the truth, Paul.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: There are reports that up to half of the Iraqi so- called soldiers ordered into battle over the last three weeks have refused to fight at all.

The idea that this new government, whatever it is to be, would have control over this army which doesn't even fight, over a police system which is totally, totally incapable of doing anything...

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: ... is ridiculous.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Right. So why did she say things were great?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Yes, I agree. She should just tell the truth. They messed it up.

CARLSON: Actually...

BEGALA: Now Kerry's going to have to clean it up.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) CARLSON: Well, speaking of John Kerry, John Kerry has promised to carry on the legacy of Bill Clinton. Apparently, he meant it. During a press conference with reporters yesterday, Kerry said -- quote -- "I don't own an SUV."

The problem is, there's a Chevy suburban, which is one of the biggest SUVs you can buy, parked at Kerry's mansion in Sun Valley, Idaho. Asked about this, Kerry immediately blamed his wife -- quote -- "The family has it. I don't have it," he said. In other words, as columnist Mickey Kaus put it, "I didn't inhale my SUV."

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Two ironies here. First, when Kerry wants to mortgage his wife's house in Boston for a campaign loan, it's their house. But when their suburban becomes embarrassing, it's her SUV.

Second, Kerry almost always travels in private planes, both on the campaign trail and in his busy personal life. There is literally no mode of transportation that wastes more fuel than private aircraft, none. So maybe John Kerry ought to stop lecturing the rest of us about fuel efficiency.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: John Kerry can ride in anything he wants...

CARLSON: Yes, I agree.

BEGALA: So long as -- no, so long as he is willing to stand up to the Enron, ExxonMobil lobbyists who have written the environmental laws for George Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Why is he blaming his wife?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Why is he blaming his wife on this, Paul?

BEGALA: I think we finally have a president who will stand up to these -- wait, let me make my point. George Bush allowed a parade of corporate dirtbags to come into the White House and write our environmental laws.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: John Kerry is going to stand up to them. He can ride in my SUV if he wants, for all I care.

CALLER:

CARLSON: He's blaming his wife. He's like, it's not mine. It must belong to Teresa. That is so cowardly. Come on.

BEGALA: God bless him.

On a more serious and indeed tragic note in, 1997, "Sports Illustrated" called Arizona state linebacker Pat Tillman -- quote -- "the best player you've never heard of, a guy without much size or blazing speed, but with a brain and cajones" -- unquote.

Man, were they right. Tillman graduated in only 3.5 years with 3.82 GPA. And although he wasn't 6-feet tall, he was a standout safety in the pros for the Arizona Cardinals, where he set a franchise record of 200 tackles in the 2000 season alone. And then, after September 11, this free spirit walked away from the NFL and from millions of dollars. Pat Tillman enlisted in the Army. He became a Ranger. He prepared to fight.

At a time when politicians wrapped themselves in the flag, Pat Tillman refused to even speak with the media about his very profound act of arm patriotism. Yesterday, Pat Tillman was killed in action fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Now, the Christian faith teaches that greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Pat Tillman went beyond even that lofty ideal. He laid down his life for total strangers and for our country. Rest in peace, Pat Tillman.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: That was lovely. That was lovely and true.

And, in fact, that -- I heard someone say today, why are we making such a big deal out of this man who was killed, when many have been killed? And I can see the point. And yet, this man really didn't have to go. There's no draft. He was leaving so much behind, millions behind. Just a few weeks after his honeymoon, he left and shipped out to basic training. It's remarkable. He is a hero.

BEGALA: And his brother continues to serve, who was also a star athlete himself. He continues to serve in the armed forces. And no matter what side of the war you're on, you have to admire the heroism of guys like Pat Tillman and everybody else he serves with. We know about Tillman because of his sacrifice and because of the notoriety he gained in the NFL.

So, rest in peace, Pat Tillman.

CARLSON: Amen.

BEGALA: Well, should the Bush administration repeal its policy of censoring images of flag-draped coffins? Next, we will debate whether Jack Nicholson was in fact right in "A Few Good Man" when he bellowed, you can't handle the truth.

The coffin controversy when CROSSFIRE returns.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

Pentagon policy bans pictures of deceased military personnel leaving or arriving at air bases. But hundreds of such images were released, mistakenly, according to the Pentagon, under the Freedom of Information Act. Others were taken by a military contractor who later was fired for it. Does the public have a right to see these images?

We are debating that. In the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Albert Wynn -- he's a Democrat from the state of Maryland -- and former Congressman Bob Walker, Republican of Pennsylvania.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Thank you both for coming. Good to see you again.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: These images showed up on the Internet. Now CNN is running them. Most of the major media are running them.

They're dignified. They show our fallen heroes. It doesn't matter what side of the war you were on. I think that this brings honor and a reminder to all of us of the sacrifice that others are making in our name and in our defense. Why on earth doesn't President Bush want to honor these men by showing their sacrifice?

BOB WALKER (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, I think the fact that the president said where they should be honored is during their funerals, where the individual can be focused on, rather than where the groups who have made the sacrifice can be shown, is the right thing.

And right now, I will agree with you. They're being handled in a very solemn way. The question is whether or not, at some point in the future, those images might show up in a way that's less than complementary of the people and the sacrifices that they made. So, the Pentagon's position was that where the media should cover the sacrifices of our troops was at the funerals, where the individuals' own record and his own heroism could be appropriately discussed.

BEGALA: And yet the very design of our great National Cemetery at Arlington and every other military cemetery I've ever been to stresses not simply the individual, but the mass. And we're overwhelmed as we see the acres of headstones, rank and file, lined up as if they were still alive and marching. And there's great power actually in the mass image as well. And I respectfully just disagree. I fear that it's political. WALKER: Well, I don't think it's political at all. As I say, I think they made a conscious decision that they would try to honor these men in the best way possible, as individuals.

I don't have a great problem with the fact that the pictures are out there now. I just hope that all people, even the critics of the war, will see to it that the pictures are used in a way that properly understands the sacrifice that the people who are under those flags made.

CARLSON: Congressman Wynn, I personally think you ought to be able to take a picture of whatever you want, as long as it doesn't endanger national security. But I think we can all agree that making political hay of these photographs is unseemly and maybe even morally wrong.

With that in mind, here's what John Kerry said today in a speech to newspaper editors -- quote -- "If you don't believe that this is the most important election in our lifetime, then all you have to do is look at your front pages. We see the haunting images of our soldiers loading flag-draped coffins." Basically, Kerry is saying -- using images of dead bodies to say, vote for me. That's wrong, isn't it?

REP. ALBERT WYNN (D), MARYLAND: Well, I think, first of all, your description is somewhat of a reach.

I think it is appropriate the way the pictures have been displayed. I think it is important that people see and appreciate the sacrifice. It becomes very vivid when you see the lines of coffins.

But the point is, I think the Bush administration is in no position to object, given the fact that they've used for political purposes images of September 11 and they found that to be appropriate.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Well, that -- I'm going to say, first off, I'm neither here as a representative of the Bush administration, nor am I here to defend that ad that you're speaking about.

I'm simply saying that Kerry is pointing, figuratively pointing, at images of dead American soldiers and saying, vote for me. And I want to know if you don't think that's disgusting. I think it is.

WYNN: He didn't say, vote for me. What he said was, this is why this as important election. And he's absolutely right. When we have this many people dying, when we have 19,000 Americans injured, it's an important election.

WALKER: And George Bush was saying that 9/11 is an important thing to remember when we do this election, too.

BEGALA: But here's the difference.

(APPLAUSE) (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... grant that Congressman Wynn just made.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: It is an important election. I think what Kerry said is inarguably true. And President Bush can say the same thing. With men dying and women now in the field of combat, it's an important election.

But Congressman Wynn makes the point, in President Bush's first ad, in the first 10 seconds of his first ad, he shows in a political ad a dead body draped in an American flag being hauled out from the wreckage of 9/11 for political purposes.

WALKER: I think it was done with a great deal of solemnity and it should have been.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I think it's grave robbing. I think it's grave robbing.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But, wait. Here's what his own aides have told "The New York Daily News."

(APPLAUSE)

WALKER: That's not true, Paul.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: And the fact is

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Those people did not die at 9/11 for George Bush's reelection, Mr. Walker.

WALKER: No, they didn't. No, they didn't, but the act of terrorism is something that

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Happened under President Bush's watch. That's true.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: Well, the fact that the act of terrorism against this country was an attack upon this country should never be forgotten in this generation or any generation to come.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Here's what his own staff, his own staff says to "The New York Daily News" today: "Bush administration officials have said privately they worry such grim images would undermine public support for an increasingly controversial war in an election year."

So dead bodies are OK for Bush in a political ad, but not in a newspaper, so that people can see the truth about the war. That's what the Bush people say.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WALKER: No. And I -- and I -- I believe that the Pentagon's policy was aimed at assuring that those individuals were properly understood for the sacrifice that they made. And I don't know what quote you're having there, but I know what the policy was about.

And it seems to me we ought to have some respect for these people when they die and assure that they are properly handled with ceremonies as they are brought back to this country. And that's the whole issue here. And I'm just afraid that some people, and maybe the politics began with it today, are not going to honor the men in that way.

CARLSON: Well, let's hope that's not true.

Congressman Wynn, I want to put up my favorite -- really for this month, my favorite detail about the John Kerry campaign. There are a lot to choose from, but I think I'm going to choose this one today.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: This is from "The New York Times" describing a recent Kerry fund-raiser -- quote -- "Declaring that he is not a redistribution Democrat, Senator John Kerry told a group of wealthy and well-connected supporters on Thursday that he would soon start an aggressive campaign to define himself as a centrist."

This is really a Sistah Souljah moment, isn't it? Here's John Kerry, who has the courage to pander to the rich. Pay no attention to the speeches I give to the poor. When he speaks to the rich, he's saying, look, I'm not a redistributionist Democrat. You have nothing to fear from me. This is -- as a fairly liberal Democrat, aren't you embarrassed by that?

WYNN: No.

(APPLAUSE)

WYNN: I'm actually not at -- I'm actually not at all embarrassed but I am a little confused by your question. I don't see anything in that quote that is contradictory to where John Kerry has been.

What he said very clearly in terms of his policy was, we want to change the tax policy in this country instead of giving tax breaks to the very rich. CARLSON: Exactly.

WYNN: And he said that and he stood before an audience...

CARLSON: Oh, really?

WYNN: Yes, really.

CARLSON: Well, maybe you didn't hear what I said, then. You're right and you're right to characterize his speeches that way. When John Kerry gets up and gives a speech, as you well know, he says, you know what? The rich don't pay enough taxes. All the money, all the goodies go to the rich, and I'm going to change that. I'm going to redistribute the wealth from the rich to you, my common fellow man.

When he speaks to the rich, however...

WYNN: I'm not sure I'm qualified, but go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: When he speaks to the rich, however, he says, I am not a redistribution Democrat. In other words, I didn't mean anything I said, my dear rich people. I'm not going to hurt you.

This is horrifying. Aren't you horrified as a liberal? I would be.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WYNN: Sorry. I'm not horrified.

CARLSON: You're not?

WYNN: No. I'm not a redistribution liberal.

I don't consider it redistribution when you change tax policy to make it more balanced. The redistribution is occurring under the Bush administration.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

WYNN: Wait a minute, Tucker. Wait a minute, Tucker. Wait a minute. Bush redistributed in this way. He put more of the tax burden on the middle class. That's redistribution. And that's what we're objecting to.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Oh. Oh. Oh.

WYNN: Oh, yes, absolutely.

CARLSON: That all makes sense now. OK. WYNN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

WALKER: Again, again, that's just not true.

(CROSSTALK)

WYNN: It is absolutely true.

WALKER: No, the fact is -- the fact is that many, many people that were in the middle class were dropped completely off of the tax rolls as a result of the Bush tax plan. That's a good thing for them.

(APPLAUSE)

WALKER: The fact is that, for middle-class America, their taxes were actually reduced. They're paying less percentage today.

And the fact is that, under the Bush plan...

WYNN: OK, Bob. OK, Bob.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

WALKER: More of the tax burden of this country is being paid by the wealthy than at any other time in our history.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

WYNN: The truth of the matter is that the wealthy are paying less taxes under Bush, the wealthy are paying less taxes under Bush than they were under Clinton. That's a fact.

(CROSSTALK)

WYNN: His tax policy changes have exclusively benefited the rich.

WALKER: That's not true.

WYNN: No, it is absolutely true.

WALKER: On income taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Well, it's been damn good to Dick Cheney. I'll tell you that. I saw his tax returns in the paper. He saved a couple hundred grand.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE) WYNN: In terms of the big picture, the shift has been away from taxes on the wealthy and toward

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: Can I make a point?

CARLSON: Yes, you can, because there has been a lot of statements. So please be constructive and set them right.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: The fact is that, under the Bush plan, that the wealthy on income taxes are paying a larger percentage of the overall income tax in this country than ever before.

Now, if you want to talk about the wage taxes, which is where you usually get your figures, if you put the wage taxes in, the fact is that people are paying additional taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: But do you really wants to get rid of the Social Security tax? Are you really advocating...

WYNN: I'm talking income taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: No, are you advocating getting rid of the Social Security tax and destroying the Social Security system? Is that what you're advocating?

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: Is that what you're advocating?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WYNN: I'll tell you what I'm advocating. George Bush gave the lion's share of tax relief to the wealthiest 2 percent of America. Yes, that is a fact. That is absolutely the fact.

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

WALKER: The wealthy ended up paying more

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: There's the bell. I'm sorry to do this to you, Mr. Walker, Congressman. Keep your seats.

We've got to take a break because Tucker and I are getting wealthy off of selling ads. And so we're going to go do that right now.

But up next, Condoleezza Rice says things are going great over in Iraq. Next, we'll ask our guests if Condoleezza Rice is demented or just possessed of a wicked sense of humor.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: And just ahead, a chilling look at how the Nazis abused science in their efforts to create to create a so-called master race. Wolf Blitzer has the details.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, enemies turned allies? A potentially significant shift in U.S. policy. We'll get to that, but a hero's story as well. He gives up pro football and its fame and money to enlist in the Army. He serves in Afghanistan and makes the ultimate sacrifice for his country. New information on the death of Pat Tillman.

It's been a huge story all week, the book, the fallout and the buzz all over Washington. I'll speak live with the man at the center of it all, Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post."

And a sinister Nazi plan you may not have heard about long before the final solution, compelling images from the Holocaust.

Those stories, much more coming up right after CROSSFIRE.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for "Rapid Fire." We are talking about the war in Iraq.

In the CROSSFIRE, former Congressman Bob Walker is a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Congressman Albert Wynn, a Democrat from Maryland.

CARLSON: Congressman Wynn, yesterday, John Kerry was asked if he had an SUV. He said no. It turns out he does have one. But he said it belongs to my family, not me. In other words, he immediately blamed his wife for their SUV. This says a lot about his character, doesn't it, blaming his wife first?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

WYNN: No. No.

CARLSON: Oh. What does it say? WYNN: First of all, he didn't blame his wife.

CARLSON: Sure he did.

WYNN: He said it was herself, as opposed to his. He may have been parsing, but he wasn't blaming his wife. He knows better than to blame his wife. She's got too much money.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Mr. Walker, yesterday in a closed briefing that leaked out, Condoleezza Rice gave what was described as -- quote -- "a very upbeat report" -- unquote -- about Iraq. Is she a fool or a fabricator?

WALKER: Well, let's not -- why hurl around the whole insults? But I think the fact is...

BEGALA: Because the country's in flames. We've got 135,000 guys that don't have armor or allies and she says it's upbeat.

(CROSSTALK)

WALKER: I think the reality is, is the closer we come to the time when we are going to actually turn over power to the Iraqis, the more some of the terrorist type operations inside that country are going to try to prevent that from happening.

And I think what Condoleezza Rice is saying is that we have a strategy to move directly ahead to provide that sovereignty, and hopefully at that point, it will help spawn a far better situation in Iraq.

CARLSON: Congressman Wynn, about a month ago, John Kerry said foreign leaders support him, but he wouldn't name them. The other day, he said a lot of Republicans support him, but he won't name them either. At some point, he should name his supporters, don't you think?

(APPLAUSE)

WYNN: Well, he's got a lot of supporters. And...

CARLSON: But a lot of secret ones, too.

WYNN: No, he's got a lot of supporters, and secret ones, too.

(BELL RINGING)

WYNN: There's nothing wrong with that, as long as they come out to vote in November.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: All right, Congressman Albert Wynn, Congressman, thank you.

Bob Walker, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Next, you won't believe how the Clintons used to unwind after a long day running the country. We'll tell you. It's amazing.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Bill and Hillary Clinton wrestling fans? Who knew?

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: To help promote a voting drive, the former first lady and current senator gave an exclusive interview to the World Wrestling Entertainment, a proven way to reach almost all of the Democratic base.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Asked if she was a viewer, Clinton replied she and Bill used to watch wrestling all the time.

Paul Begala, you know the Clintons well. You know that's not true. Come on.

BEGALA: I have to admit, when I...

CARLSON: Or is it true?

BEGALA: When I worked in the White House, one night, I got off early to go watch the World Wrestling Entertainment when they came here to Washington. I love wrestling. Democrats love wrestling, it is true, because it's actually on the level, you should know. It's not like the Congress, which is

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Right. Yes, good for you for admitting it. I admire that.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again Monday for yet more CROSSFIRE. Have a great weekend. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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