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Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Fallout

Aired May 5, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: Fallout from the abuse of Iraqi prisoners spreads.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The horrifying abuse of Iraqi prisoners which the world has now seen is absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush tries to damage control by appearing on Arab-language television.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.

ANNOUNCER: What impact will the issue have on the election campaign?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



The Bush administration is responding to attempts by terrorists abroad and political opponents at home to take advantage of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers and civilians. President Bush appeared on Arab-language television today to express his revulsion at the pictures showing the abuse.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: I'm sorry to interrupt you, Bob.

The president did not apologize today. Apparently, sorry is a word not included in this president's vocabulary, nor did our commander in chief take responsibility for the conduct of his few troops. Funny, he's more than willing to take credit for the heroes who rescued Jessica Lynch and captured Saddam Hussein. And there are new reports of mistreatment elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

We will debate the debacle in the desert right after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush intends to ask for another $25 billion of your money to pay for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Added to the $79.5 billion Mr. Bush received last April and the $87.5 billion he got in November, the total cost comes to $192 billion so far, with no end in sight, this from the president whose administration promised us that the total cost of rebuilding Iraq would be just $1.7 billion and that Iraqi oil revenue would cover the rest.

Last week, Mr. Bush's deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, told Congress he doesn't know how much of the previous of the $87 billion had already been spent, nor did he know how many Americans have been killed in Iraq. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe an administration that is so callous to the casualties and costs of a war is unfit to lead a great nation into war.


NOVAK: Paul, that's a kind of demagoguery that we didn't in the -- in World War II, when they kept asking for more money, and the Korean War. And even in the Vietnam War, we didn't have that kind of thing. Of course a war costs money. If you don't want to spend that money, why don't you join Nader and say, let's get out now...


NOVAK: ... instead of Kerry, who says we shouldn't?

BEGALA: I just want the president to just tell the truth. That's all I want. Just tell the truth.


NOVAK: Poor John Kerry. Everybody seems to be on his back these days. The latest critic is none other than my friend Donna Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000 and now is a CNN commentator.

In the Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call" this week, Donna takes Senator Kerry to the woodshed. His campaign, she says, -- quote -- "has failed to understand how to navigate one of the most important issues in American politics, race relations and diversity." Donna Brazile points out that black and brown faces are absent from the upper regions of Kerry's campaign. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Donna doesn't point out that Kerry's vice presidential list never includes his most charismatic opponent for the presidential nomination, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Senator, whatever happened to diversity?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Well, whatever happened to democracy in the Republican Party? In my party -- I love Donna Brazile. I think John Kerry is a great guy and he's got a great campaign team.

But that's part of a democracy, is that we go back and forth and criticize each other. In the Republican Party, they look North Korea, where they worships the masterful leader. Must love Bush. Why doesn't a principled Republican stand up and say, Bush is full of beans on this war, which he is?


NOVAK: Typically, you turn it to an attack on Bush.

BEGALA: That's my job.

NOVAK: Why don't they have brown and black faces


BEGALA: They do. They have lots.

NOVAK: They do not.

BEGALA: They certainly do.

Well, "The New York Times" reports today that the Walt Disney Corporation is blocking the distribution of populist filmmaker Michael Moore's latest anti-Bush film. The movie is called "Fahrenheit 911" and it reportedly explores links between our president and wealthy Saudi Arabians. "TIME" says that Disney is blocking its Miramax division from distributing Mr. Moore's film citing a contract that allows it to block a film that run far over budget or contain highly explicit material.

Well, neither situation seems to apply to Mr. Moore's film, so why is Disney blocking it? Well, Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, says Disney CEO Michael Eisner told him he was worried about endangering tax cuts that the Disney Corporation currently enjoys. So, first, Howard Stern was censored. Then a newspaper in Iraq was censored. Then the flag-draped coffins are censored, then Ted Koppel, now Michael Moore. You know, Bob, all I can say is this.


NOVAK: You know, Michael Moore is a left-wing propagandist. His stuff is vile. And it is obscene. And I say...

BEGALA: It's free speech.

NOVAK: Can I finish what I was saying, please?


NOVAK: Thank you for being courteous. And I really do believe that Michael Moore's censorship, good for Disney. (APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Remember when Howard Dean shouted to the world how he was going South?


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Texas. And then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House. Yes!


NOVAK: The little doctor from Vermont isn't running for president anymore, but he is going South finally to Sugar Land, Texas, the home of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. It's also the home of our own Paul Begala.

Going there to campaign against that famous Republican, Tom DeLay. Now, Tom DeLay has as much chance of losing his congressional seat as Howard Dean has of being elected president. But according to "The Hill" newspaper in Washington, Dr. Dean is also going to Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The Southern Democrats are less than enchanted about that. Their message to Howard, unpack your bags, but please send money.

BEGALA: I think it's great that Howard Dean is helping his party. I hope he enjoys himself in Sugar Land. They have wonderful people there. It's a fine town. It was a great town to grow up in and get the hell out when Tom DeLay moved in and became our congressman. So I think it's great. This is a wonderful thing. You want to censor Howard Dean now and not let him go


NOVAK: I understand that, on the contrary, the Republicans are financing him.


NOVAK: Any place you want to go, Howard, we'll pay for it.



BEGALA: God bless Howard Dean.

Well, as the criticism mounts on the issue of prisoner abuse in Iraq, President Bush concentrates his damage control efforts on Arab television viewers. What's the political fallout and how is the administration handling it?

And then later, we'll tell you what the presidential campaigns don't want you to know about their campaign buses.

Stay with us.

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.



NOVAK: As more facts on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal are revealed, the cries on the left are getting shriller and louder and Democrats are trying to make this an election issue. Can President Bush calm the outrage both here and abroad?

The president appeared on Arab-language television today to expression his revulsion and reiterate the administration's position that the acts against Iraqi prisoners were unacceptable and un- American.

In the CROSSFIRE today, P.J. Crowley, former Clinton aide and now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and former Congressman Bill McCollum, Republican of Florida.


BEGALA: Thanks, both.


BEGALA: Good to see you again.


BEGALA: As Bob pointed out, our president went on Arab-language television today. Good for him. I think it's important for our president to do that. But I'm more interested in what he did not do. He did not say he's sorry. Our national security adviser did. He sent out his press secretary to do it. But somehow he lacked the character or the cojones to stand up and say he was sorry.

And this elicited a stinging rebuke from a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, our hand-picked puppet there. One of the members the , a man named Adnan Pachachi, said this.


ADNAN PACHACHI, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL: An apologize would not have hurt at all. It would have -- although, of course, he can't take the responsibility, but an apology for the actions of some troops who, of course, are not representative of the majority of the armed forces here, I think that would have been useful and it would have helped to some extent.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BEGALA: This is what a pro-American Iraqi says.

Why was our president so gutless as to send underlings to apologize when he wouldn't do it himself.

MCCOLLUM: I think the president did take responsibility today.

I served four years in the Navy JAG Corps in active duty, 20 more years in the reserves. What happened was atrocious, unacceptable, abusive, everything else. And I'm sure that those who are responsible are going to be prosecuted fully. It looks to me like it's been under way. What I heard the president say was very strongly that he was repulsed by this. This was wrong. It's not American. And, of course, 99-point whatever percent of G.I.s in the military would never condone anything like this.

So he did it about as strongly as you can, Paul. The reality is, you're going to have people who are going to be sensitive to this. It's going to have a difficult sell no matter what. It is a setback to our cause. But I'll tell you, we've got to proceed. We've got to stay the course. We have to establish governments over there



BEGALA: Wouldn't it help us stay the course if the president would say, I am sorry, as this Iraqi leader has said and as he sends out his underlings to do? I want to come back to that question.


BEGALA: He didn't answer it. So let me try again, Congressman McCollum.


BEGALA: Let me just ask it again.


BEGALA: Why didn't he say he's sorry?

MCCOLLUM: Well, look, I don't know why he didn't use that particular word. But let me tell you, I'm sure if you ask him that question, he would say, sure, we're sorry about that. We didn't mean for that to happen.

But the reality is, it did. So you can say and twist words any way you want to. The bottom line and the most important thing about this is...

NOVAK: Go ahead, P.J.

P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: And the reality is that the administration knew about this crisis that was emerging in January, February of this year and somehow got to last week when CBS broadcast the pictures and was absolutely flat-footed.

You know, six days ago, we should have had the president and others out starting to try to repair the damage in the region. And it's baffling to understand they didn't recognize the severity of what we were going to confront when those pictures emerged.

NOVAK: You know, by the way, were you an underling when you were in the Clinton administration? Paul talks about underlings. I thought you were a distinguished aide. But, anyway...


BEGALA: We all serve under the president, Bob.


NOVAK: I think that's a demeaning...


NOVAK: That's a demeaning term.

I'd like to give you a little composite of some of the things that officials in this administration have said in the last few hours. Let's listen to it.



DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Totally unacceptable and un-American.


BUSH: I view those practices as abhorrent.


NOVAK: For goodness sake, isn't that enough? What do you want them, to put themselves on the floor and beats their breasts?


CROWLEY: I agree with everything that was said here. But remember, ostensibly, we went into Iraq for the war on terrorism. And, ostensibly, the administration understands that, to win the war on terrorism, it's about hearts and minds.

And how you get to the point where, you know, where last week and this week, the secretary of defense admits he has not seen the photos until they appeared on TV, he has not read the Taguba report -- the chairman of the joint chiefs said the same thing. The president admitted today he never saw the photos before they went on television. This is symptomatic of the one-dimensional focus that the administration has on the war on terrorism. If it can't be done militarily, they're not interested. And this is a devastating setback to us.

MCCOLLUM: P.J., in my experience as Navy JAG, in all probability in the military, that would not have come to the attention of the defense secretary or the commander in chief because of fear of undue command influence for quite some time. And so you may argue some of the finer points, but the reality is, that's not unusual. They wouldn't have presented it to


CROWLEY: Bill, on the investigative side, I understand and completely agree with you. The military has responded with this in terms of credible investigations.

These troops are facing court-martials. But it's on the other side where the administration has been blinded by the aspect that this is a devastating setback on the war on terrorism. We have -- and everyone that says we have lost ground for years in terms of the larger hearts and minds that turns young people in our direction...


MCCOLLUM: I think it remains to be seen how devastating it is. I agree with you it's not good. It's bad. But I think it remains to be seen.

The key to this, is, look, we want to inspire -- and you and I are going to agree on this.


CROWLEY: The key to this -- the key to this is responsibility. You were in the Navy. Don Rumsfeld was in the Navy. He is the captain of a ship right now that is sinking, but he and the president refuse to take responsibility.


CROWLEY: Somebody has to go because of what's happened.


MCCOLLUM: We have to stay the course over there, and in the process, yes, somebody will go. It won't be Don Rumsfeld. Whoever is in charge is going to go. But let me tell you one thing.


CROWLEY: But wait a second. He's the captain of the ship. A Navy captain takes responsibility for what happens on board his ship.


MCCOLLUM: I thought Bill Clinton should have gone back in the other administration for his responsibility.


MCCOLLUM: But let me tell you, the bottom line remains


CROWLEY: The American people disagree with you, by the way.

MCCOLLUM: The key to all of this is freedom.

The key to this is what we want to see. Individual choice is what America represents. The terrorists and the group over there don't believe in that. At the end of the day, we have to establish government structures in Iraq and Iran that will provide hope and opportunity for the people of that region in order to win this war. Simple as that.

CROWLEY: I couldn't agree more. Absolutely right.

BEGALA: Part of the policy matter is that a lot of this conduct has been outsourced. Allegedly, some of the conduct was done by nonmilitary personnel. And I greatly admire our soldiers -- but, apparently, by contractors.

So I went on the Web site of one of these big contractors and actually got their recruitment form online. And here's how they describe it. It's a job posting for an interrogator, an intel analyst, team leader assistant in Baghdad, Iraq. And they say -- and this is quoting from the contractor -- "understand minimal supervision will assist the team and lead in managing a multifaceted interrogation support cell."

We are handing this off to nonmilitary personnel with, as they say, minimal supervision. Isn't that an outrage?


MCCOLLUM: That's where the Intelligence Committees in both the House and the Senate are looking into right now, because the whole idea of the individual private contractor in this is a very questionable thing.

BEGALA: And who's driving that policy?

MCCOLLUM: But the reality of this, though, is that we have a more important question at the moment. And that is whether the law that was passed giving extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute a couple of these guys who were involved who are civilians is applicable or not. And that's very important.

NOVAK: All right, let me get -- let me get in one question.

This morning, on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin, the deputy Democratic leader, got up and spoke for almost five minutes denouncing that, Chuck Schumer of New York, Harry Reid of Nevada. Let's put up a little chart there. And these people, when we had the American civilians who were being murdered in Fallujah, none of them had a word to say on the Senate floor.

Can you explain to me why this rage is justified, but these people didn't have anything to say at all when American civilians were being murdered by these terrorists?

CROWLEY: This is a devastating setback to us. This is really not political.

We have lost ground for years in terms of the war on terrorism. This is hard. This is going to be almost impossible to reverse. What's critical is


NOVAK: You can't explain -- answer my question.

CROWLEY: What's critical is that, right now...

NOVAK: You can't.


CROWLEY: ... the combination -- the combination of these reports combined with what the president did two weeks ago in siding with Sharon without consulting with the Palestinians


NOVAK: We have got to take a break. We have got to take a break.


NOVAK: We have got to take a break, gentlemen.

CROWLEY: We nothing in the bank right now in the Middle East.


NOVAK: When we come back, it will be time for "Rapid Fire," where we'll ask whether the abuse of Iraqi prisoners really will make the al Qaeda even meaner than they were before.

And just how secure is electronic voting? Wolf Blitzer has the latest on what's being done to answer that question right after the break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush goes on Arab television to discuss the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. He calls it abhorrent, but stops short of a direct apology. We'll find out why. Can the U.S. repair the damage done by the prison abuse scandal? We'll ask Senate intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts and Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman.

And critics warn Congress about electronic voting. We'll tell you what they're worried about and what they're suggesting as a solution.

Those stories, much more only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions even faster than the Bush administration can make up excuses for the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. Our guests, former Republican Congressman Bill McCollum and retired Colonel P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress.

NOVAK: Colonel Crowley, can you really, honestly say with a straight face that these vicious al Qaeda will be much meaner and tougher because of the treatment of the prisoners?

CROWLEY: Bob, I can't imagine a worse poster for al Qaeda recruitment than the pictures that we're horribly seeing on TV. Unfortunately, right now, as President Bush said when he was elected, he wanted to be the great uniter. What he's doing is uniting the world against us.

BEGALA: Congressman, when a commission tried to blame military commanders for the Beirut barracks bombing in 1983 that killed 241 Marines, Ronald Reagan said: "If there's to be blame, it properly rests here in this office with this president. And I accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good."

George W. Bush is not the man Reagan was, is he?

MCCOLLUM: No, George W. Bush is every bit the man that Ronald Reagan was. He's met this head on. He's done it right. He's done it the right way. And the reality is, he has accepted responsibility, which he did today. But the fact of the matter is...

BEGALA: He did?

MCCOLLUM: Yes, he did.

But the reality is that what we see out there right now is that you do have some bad apples, just like you have some bad congressmen, some bad schoolteachers.

BEGALA: No bad congressmen.


MCCOLLUM: But they're going to get some kind of retri -- accountability here.

NOVAK: Colonel Crowley, do you think Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the My Lai massacre?

CROWLEY: Lyndon Johnson was responsible for the direction of the Vietnam War.


CROWLEY: And that's the truth.

NOVAK: And for the My Lai massacre?

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word.


Presidential campaigns are full of controversy. Next, find out why CNN may be more patriotic than both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Can you believe that? The answer when we come back.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Call this one bus gate. President Bush just completed a campaign tour aboard a bus carrying the slogan, "Yes, America can." Well, apparently, one thing the president doesn't believe America can do is build a bus worthy of parking the presidential keister on.

You see, the bus our president rode this week on his swing through Ohio and Michigan was actually made in Canada by Prevost, as you can see very clearly in this picture. Now, in fairness, we've got to point out that the bus that John Kerry used earlier this year was also made by the same Canadian company. But the most important point in all of this is this. The CNN Election Express all made in America, 100 percent American-made. Novak and I only ride in American motor coaches.


NOVAK: One thing we have to say, a Canadian bus may be bad, but it wasn't a French bus.



BEGALA: I noticed that the Bush bus just kept veering to the right, off course. It was just in the ditch, in the mud.



NOVAK: And you know what else? And they had a governor on. You could not make a left turn on that bus, no left turns whatsoever.


BEGALA: That's the problem, no way to correct course whatsoever. That's right. He's like your Uncle Max in the car saying, I don't need directions. We'll just keep turning right.


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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

This programming note. On Friday, none other than G. Gordon Liddy will be sitting in for me and Tucker Carlson on the right as guest host of CROSSFIRE. What a show. He's going to chew up Paul Begala.


BEGALA: Bring it on.

NOVAK: Join us again next time on CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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