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Will Defense Secretary Rumsfeld take the fall?

Aired May 10, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn.
With many saying the worst is yet to come in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal, there has been another face-to-face meeting between the President and Donald Rumsfeld.

Poised for new incriminating pictures and potentially damaging video of Iraqi prisoner abuse. Will Defense Secretary Rumsfeld take the fall?


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: You're a strong Secretary of Defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.


ZAHN: Tonight, new information from journalist Seymour Hersh, who helped break the prison story. How will the army specialists facing the first military court martial in the prison scandal defend himself? And how do you feel about the scandal, Rumsfeld and the presidential race? Some fascinating new poll results out tonight.

Plus, the story behind the newest name on the Vietnam wall.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other than death, there isn't any more sacrifice anyone can make to his country and he deserves all the help that we could give him.


ZAHN: All that ahead tonight, but first, here's what you need to know right now.

In Iraq, U.S. forces are still battling the militia of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. They have bombarded insurgents in the city of Kufa near a mosque where Sadr delivers weekly sermons.

Elsewhere, in the Northern city of Mosul a U.S. soldier was killed today by a suspected sniper. And a surprise appearance today in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault hearing. Bryant's accuser was back in court, this time, only to observe. Sources tell CNN that lawyers and the judges have also agreed to begin the trial sometime in August. We will have a live report from Eagle, Colorado a little bit later on in the show.

Back to our main focus tonight, President Bush's very public vote of confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It comes after the secretary showed the President some of the still-secret pictures of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

For more on today's meeting, let's go straight to Washington, that's where we find senior White House correspondent John King standing by tonight.

Hi, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Paula. Two key goals for the President at the Pentagon today. One, to get a sense of how bad this will get in the days and weeks ahead, and we are told the President came away with a pretty grim assessment of that. Number two, to offer public support for his embattled Defense Secretary. As you know, many Democrats saying as the prisoner abuse scandal unfolds that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign or that the President should fire him. Mr. Bush walking out of Rumsfeld's office today to make clear he wants Secretary Rumsfeld to stay right where he is.


BUSH: You're doing a superb job. You are a strong Secretary of Defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.


KING: Now, in a private meeting in Secretary Rumsfeld's office we are told the President saw more than a dozen, they say here at the White House, more than two dozen they say at the Pentagon, photographs like this. More graphic images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners. We are told the President in fact saw pictures of U.S. troops using objects to sodomize some of those Iraqi prisoners. About 1000 images in all, 200-300 of them are said to be new and damaging in the sense of abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The Pentagon debating whether to release those photographs tonight and the White House says that is a decision it will leave up to the Pentagon for now.

Paula, here at the White House, a grim assessment of where this will go in the days ahead. The President, we are told, again, saw about two dozen of those photographs and we also are told by Defense officials that they are investigating allegations that three U.S. soldiers groped a female Iraqi prisoner, two of them doing that while one stood guard. So at the White House, they believe, Paula, this will get worse before it gets better.

ZAHN: So, John, have you been given any information on how it was that two dozen or so images were chosen to show to the President? Why those particular photos?

KING: We are told that the President has been briefed on all of the photographs. A detailed briefing on the catalog that the Pentagon has now put together on these photographs and we are told the images he was shown were believed to be quote "representative" of the entire catalog. A question of taste, officials say here at the White House. They say the President understands the full scope of this. He didn't feel it necessary to see it all.

ZAHN: Is anyone suggesting out there tonight that's a bit of a cop-out?

KING: Well, certainly the President's critics will say that he should see every single bit of the evidence as he decides how to go forward, especially with all these calls for the secretary's resignation and for this to move up the chain of command, if you will. White House officials say they will do so if he feels necessary. Again, they insist that what he saw today was representative and he has been briefed on the entirety of the catalog.

ZAHN: John King, thanks so much for the update from the White House tonight.

Just how much did today's presidential show of support mean to Secretary Rumsfeld? Well the pictures say a lot as they walked downstairs to the presidential motorcade. The two exchanged smiles, a firm handshake and Rumsfeld actually patted Mr. Bush on the back, as you can see there.

For a look at what the secretary may be thinking, let's go back to Washington for our regular contributor, Victoria Clarke. She got to know Donald Rumsfeld and the inner-workings of the Pentagon when she was a Defense Department spokeswoman and she speaks with Mr. Rumsfeld frequently. Good to see you, Tori, welcome.


ZAHN: So, how serious is Mr. Rumsfeld taking the calls for his resignation?

CLARKE: Well, you saw his testimony on Friday. He says it's something he'd have to consider. And he also said that if at any minute he thought he was not effective as the Secretary of Defense, he would step down. I got to tell you, I think it's a little presumptuous of him to make that kind of decision. I honestly believe it's up to the Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States to decide who he wants as a secretary. And the President made it very, very clear today that he thinks Rumsfeld is doing a very good job under difficult circumstances. So I happen to think that it's up to the President.

ZAHN: Well, clearly the President has to worry about what the diplomatic challenges are out there in the wake of this prison scandal, but also we know that the White House takes a look at polls. To what extent will that affect the decision that might ultimately be made on Mr. Rumsfeld's status? CLARKE: Well, my experience has been that there are people in the White House who take polls and look at them and there are certainly people on the campaign who do that regularly. The President, in my experience with him, which has largely been on the national security issues, he tends to try to look at the facts and he tries to weigh the circumstances as he sees them.

And I think his visit over to the Pentagon was a demonstration of two things. He wants to make sure the American people and the people around the world; he does worry about how this is perceived globally. He wants them to understand how seriously he takes this matter. And he wants to make sure everybody gets to the bottom of it. And secondly, I truly believe, and I've heard him say it privately and I've heard him say it publicly, he thinks Rumsfeld has done a very good job under incredible circumstances. Probably the most difficult challenges a Secretary of Defense has faced in our history. He wants to make sure people know he supports him.

ZAHN: But Victoria, on one hand you say the President has to be concerned about how all this is perceived globally, on the other hand he has to worry about his domestic audience as well. And when you have stinging editorials like we saw out there today, in particular one that ran in the "Arizona Daily Star." The quote was, "If Rumsfeld was sincere in serving the President, he would resign. He can't ignore that, can he?

CLARKE: You also can't ignore people like William Safire, a highly respected columnist at the "New York Times" who says Rumsfeld should stay. You also can't ignored the fact that I think it was seven out of ten people in the United States who were polled think he should stay. So you weigh all of those factors. But most importantly you don't weigh polls, you don't weigh editorials. You weigh the facts. I, for one, happen to think Rumsfeld is one of the few people who could actually ensure that these investigations and this process to get to the bottom of the prison scandal, he's one of the few people who could actually get the job done well.

ZAHN: Do you think the Pentagon needs to release these additional pictures to the public?

CLARKE: I sure wish they could and I know there are people at very high levels over there who wish they could as well. There are some real challenges to doing that, as you know. The whole issue of command influence, of doing something or saying something that could somehow taint the process and make it less likely that those who deserve to be prosecuted and convicted have that done to them. There are also concerns, still legitimate concerns about whether or not additional photos would further inflame opinion against our forces over in that part of the world. They've made one positive, very positive step forward in the commitment to share them with members of Congress and their staff. I wish they could make all of them public because I think just transparency and openness going forward is so important. I understand the very, very real legal issues that are making it hard to do so.

ZAHN: I guess the question I have as this debate rages on, we've heard people characterize some of these more graphic photos that we haven't seen yet. How much more damage can really be done? When you talk about the possibility of further inflaming international ire. Hasn't the damage-do you think the damage has been mostly done or do you think it's going to get a whole lot worse?

CLARKE: I think the damage has mostly been done. I think the world has seen this country and this administration really step up to the plate in trying to address it. I think it will have an incremental effect out there, but they are very, very serious depictions of things that went on, horrible things that went on. So it's hard to say with certainty until it's out there. The one thing we do know with great certainty is in this era, in this information era, one way or another, those images are going to come forward. Via the Internet, via who knows what. And I just think it's better if the Pentagon could, to bring them forward on their own terms.

ZAHN: Do you have any reason to believe anybody's listening to you at the Pentagon, even though you...

CLARKE: Oh no, no. I know quite a few people are trying hard to make that happen but there are many serious legal issues in play that they have to pay attention to.

ZAHN: Victoria Clarke, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us tonight with a new perspective.

CLARKE: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Now we're going to turn to the journalist who broke the story of the prison abuse photos in last week's "New Yorker" magazine. Seymour Hersh has a follow-up in the new issue of the "New Yorker." It includes another disturbing image. American soldiers with dogs in front of a naked Iraqi prisoner. And this is only one of many more than may soon come out, as Tori described in the debate that goes on in the Pentagon.

Seymour Hersh joins us now from Washington. Welcome, Seymour. Good to see you.


ZAHN: Before we talk about the graphic nature of these pictures that you've actually seen that were taken in a twelve-minute chunk of time. I wanted to ask you some broader questions about where you think the Pentagon stands tonight. In your piece you use words like, "secrecy" and "wishful thinking" being the defining characteristics of Rumsfeld's Pentagon. You go on to say that there was a concerted effort to keep this quiet in the first five months of this year. Are you suggesting a cover-up here?

HERSH: Oh no, what the piece says is not about cover-up, it's about the fact that you just can't get bad news into the people that run the government. They simply won't listen to it. I was relaying the complaints in that section of the article about many of the senior generals and officers, the guys who do planning and do war games and they have to worry about force deployments and every time the reality concludes the fantasy thinking about Iraq that we're doing better. The public statements. There's a-you just can't get it in. You can't get it in to the White House. So, look, I'll give you a classic example. The President praises his Secretary of Defense today for the great job he's done. In January, this investigation began when a kid came in with a CD with some of those awful pictures that we're all seeing.

Donald Rumsfeld did not look at those photographs, he says, until last week. Why not? I mean, it was important enough that he, within days, he knew he had to tell the President. He was told the command was turning, it was really bad stuff. There was a lot of reports even back in January of awful pictures. He's got a freight train coming down on him with these pictures. They're going to get out eventually and he spends the next four months re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What's so wonderful about the fact that neither he nor the President ever took a serious look at these photos until just this week, or last week?

ZAHN: But you go on to say in the article you're not just talking about Donald Rumsfeld, you're talking about the command structure even at this prison, where you specifically point out people being out of the loop and then the use of these photos, or at least the access to them being severely restricted. How are you so sure it's more than a case of not wanting to share bad news with folks above them? Why isn't it a cover-up?

HERSH: Because that's just-the investigation did begin. Nobody stopped the investigation. I mean, in that sense the White House is absolutely right. The investigation was proceeding, guys were being charged, at the same time, the terribly important-we're not talking about technical issues with this thing, this isn't some technical problem. This is a huge strategic problem for the United States. The Arab world, forget the people in Iraq, they're off the wall mad at us. But now we have the rest of the Islamic world, every Islamic-every moderate person who believes in Islam and also wants to do business with America, likes America, now really has a problem with us. These photos for the Islamic world are devastating. In their view, and I've talked to people over there, this is perversity. A woman in front of naked Arab men? Making fun of them? This is a sign of everything that's wrong with American. Everything they don't like. They've been nervous about our sexuality, our openness about such issues. So this is a real blow across the board. We're going to see consequences of this from all of our friends, too. This is big stuff.

ZAHN: Let's go on to the picture that we opened your introduction with, and it's the "New Yorker" chose to run this week, showing a cowering Iraqi prisoner surrounded by U.S. troops with dogs. This is part of a sequence taken over a 12-minute period. You've actually seen all of the pictures in that 12-minute loop. Describe the rest of the sequence to us? I know that you chose, or your magazine chose to only print one of these.

HERSH: We chose that one, but there were others that were very graphic in the sense that-there's no actual photographs of the dogs biting the prisoner, but we do have photographs of-a series of photographs of the dog being on the scene, and then the next thing you see, you see blood, a pool of blood. You see the prisoner lying down with blood coming from him with the soldier on top of him kneeing him in the back.

`And then you see a close-up of what looks to be like a very serious bite mark. God knows I'm not an expert, but that was the assessment we all made. Clearly, he had been bitten by this dog and it wasn't a scratch, it was a deep bite, and there was a pool-pools of blood and so you could only draw the conclusion that man, that prisoner, that terrified prisoner had actually been bitten by the dogs. The photograph we published showed everything you wanted to see in a sense. The dogs-the cliche, it's sort of the nightmare about a dog against a naked man.

ZAHN: Sure.

HERSH: And you don't have to do more and the thing that's very interesting about the photograph, to me, was we-the Pentagon and the White House certainly has adopted what I call a "bad seed" notion. The kids they are prosecuting, the grown-ups they are prosecuting who I have no grief with-they should-they behaved horribly and they shouldn't have allowed themselves to get in that position. But the idea that the only six or seven people involved are those six people from the same company, the 372 Military Police Company.

ZAHN: Right.

HERSH: But this photograph comes from another unit with a different headquarters, and it comes from the 320th Battalion, located in a different state. And so how many people are the troublemakers? Was it just six or seven? Was it more? Was it 60, 600? Who knows? It seems to be, the evidence is of a widespread pattern of abusing prisoners sexually and taking photographers of it for reasons that I think really have to be--we'll have to see. They obviously come from higher headquarters.

ZAHN: So, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), yes or no, does Donald Rumsfeld survive this?

HERSH: It's not for me to say or even guess about.

ZAHN: Alright. That's a fair answer. Thank you, Seymour Hersh, for joining us tonight. Appreciate the update.

HERSH: Thank you. Bye bye.

ZAHN: More on Iraq tonight. We'll look at the latest polls on the President, his policies and public support for the war. And friends say they cannot believe this soldier will be the first to face charges in the Iraq prison scandal. Exactly what does a court martial mean for Jeremy Sivits and for the military?

Also ahead, a Florida town tries to name a street after Martin Luther King Jr. And finds itself at a crossroads over allegation of racism.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: The images of abuse by American guards and the increased violence in Iraq appear to be taking their political toll on President Bush. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows the President's approval rating stands at 46 percent, his lowest ever. And the percentage of Americans saying it was worth going to war in Iraq has also hit a new low, 44 percent, down from 56 percent in just March.

Let's dig into the numbers with "USA Today" Washington bureau chief, Susan Page.

Hi Susan. Welcome.


ZAHN: So Susan, right off the top, let's look at a broader polling number, talking about how this all is hurting the President, particularly when it comes to the prisoner abuse scandal. When asked who they blame, a great deal of the majority said it was the soldiers and their direct superiors. Only 26 percent blame Secretary Rumsfeld a great deal. 22 percent blame President Bush a great deal, and then there was a related question that's also interesting, where 56 percent believe the soldiers involved were not following orders from above. So how should the White House view the numbers?

PAGE: I think they view the numbers with some concern. The best predictor of whether a President wins re-election is that job approval number. And this has now been driven down largely because of Iraq to the level of Presidents who tend to lose elections in November. This is about the level in that President Ford had when he was running for re-election, it's close to the levels of President Carter and the first President Bush. The level of Presidents who win re-election is usually up in 52-55 percent at this point.

ZAHN: Alright. Let's move on to John Kerry, and how it seems that he hasn't benefited from the President's loss of support. Up on the screen now, in March, when asked who would do a better job in Iraq, Bush led Kerry by 15 percentage points but now Kerry has pulled nearly even with the President. While this seems to be a shift in Kerry's favor, it's not a huge shift, is it?

PAGE: And if you look at the head-to-head, the Bush versus Kerry numbers, Kerry still trails President Bush by two percentage points. So even though President Bush has been having a tough time, Senator Kerry has not reaped the benefits. He has yet to articulate kind of a clear alternative, what he would do in Iraq that would be different to convince voters to make that switch to him.

ZAHN: And once again, in a dead heat or in a match-up head-to- head, you have both of these candidates in a dead heat.

PAGE: Yes, very, very close.

ZAHN: OK. Back to the issue of Donald Rumsfeld, some interesting numbers on how the American public feels about a possible resignation. Only 29 percent said the President should fire him. 62 percent said Rumsfeld should not be fired. The President giving Mr. Rumsfeld a vote of confidence again today. Can you envision a scenario that would change that picture?

PAGE: Yes, I think so. We haven't seen these new pictures. We don't know the where the story is going to go, who knew what when. And so I think it's premature to say that Secretary Rumsfeld is out of the woods. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill like Pat Roberts, the Kansas senator who chairs the Intelligence Committee is using words like premature. There's less than a total full throated endorsement of Donald Rumsfeld at this point. People are waiting to see what comes next.

ZAHN: Susan Page, thanks for making sense of the numbers for us tonight. Appreciate it.

PAGE: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Coming up, we're going to preview tomorrow's Senate hearings on the Iraq prisoner scandal but also ahead, new information tonight on Kobe Bryant's sexual assault trial. We're going to have the latest for you from Eagle, Colorado.

And the city that wants to be every American service member's hometown. We're going to show you how they're saying "thank you" to U.S. Troops on duty.


ZAHN: In legal news tonight, sources are telling CNN that Kobe Bryant's sexual assault trial will start in August. They say lawyers and the judge have agreed on the date which will be announced during Bryant's arraignment hearing this week. National correspondent Gary Tuchman joins us from Eagle, Colorado, with the details.

First off, Gary, how unusual was it to have the accuser in the courtroom today?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We were very surprised, Paula. About two and a half hours ago the alleged victim walked into the courtroom, we are told, to observe the proceedings that just ended about 15 minutes ago. Kobe Bryant, we weren't surprised when he arrived today. He's shown up for virtually every hearing he's had except for one. The judge is still considering two major topics, whether the alleged victim's sexual past can be used in a trial and whether Kobe Bryant's statement he made to police that was secretly recorded also should be used in a trial. We expect to hear from the judge tomorrow or Wednesday officially when the trial will be.

But CNN has learned, as you said, Paula, there was a teleconference last week between the judge and attorneys to decide when it would be the best time to start a trial. They came up with August. And if the trial does indeed start in August, Kobe Bryant would not be able to play on the U.S. Olympic team.

We do want to tell you that the judge and the alleged victim's attorney are allowing us to take pictures of this woman when she goes into the courtroom and she leaves. This is the second time she's been here. She testified before. We have promised we will not show her face or identify her in any way. We can tell you she was inside for about one hour, 50 minutes, walked out of a fire exit. We're not sure where she went, we're not sure if she'll come back tomorrow or Wednesday for Bryant's arraignment when he pleads "not guilty" and finds out his trial date.

ZAHN: Alright. I hope we get a better sense of the exact strategy why the accuser was in the courtroom in the first place. Gary Tuchman, thanks so much.

We turn to a story breaking tonight out of Zephyrhills, Florida, where the simple matter of a street name has torn the community apart. Zephyrhills one of hundreds of towns in the U.S. who have named a street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Well, tonight, lawmakers in Zephyrhills answered critics who wanted to change the name back. CNN affiliates tell us a compromise deciding to use both names, Martin Luther King Avenue and the former name, Sixth Avenue.

Bruce Burkhardt reports.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We shall overcome.

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seemed like a done deal back in October, when the city council of Zephyrhills, Florida, acting on a petition from a group of black citizens, voted to change the name of Sixth Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, but almost immediately, there was opposition.

JEANA KING, CITY COUNCIL MEMBER, ZEPHYRHILLS, FL: Nobody asked me as a resident of Sixth Avenue whether I was willing to change the name of the street.

BURKHARDT: Jeana King was recently elected to city council. Her campaign pledge was to change the street back to Sixth Avenue. The street, populated mostly by whites, runs through a town that also is majority white. Some didn't want the hassle of changing their addresses. Others worried about property values, an issue rife with racial overtones. The city council reversed itself in April, voting 3- 2 to rescind the name change.

GLORIA BROWN, PROTESTER: It's a lot deeper now. It started out to be just a name change but now it's much more than that.

JONATHON TILOVE, AUTHOR: People take street names very personally in a way you might not realize until you think about you have to tell people where you live and get mail there.

BURKHARDT: Jonathon Tilove recently wrote a book, "Along Martin Luther King, Travels on Black America's Main Street." Of the roughly 650 streets in America named for MLK, most run through black neighborhoods. When they don't, there's usually a fight.

TILOVE: Even this many years later, it's not something that's done by acclamation. BURKHARDT: At the heart of it all, an issue that just won't go away in this country, race. 36 years after his death, the name, Martin Luther King, remains, in some ways as controversial now as it was then.

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: And there's much more on the military and Iraqi prison scandal. So many people in this small town say they can't imagine how a young soldier they knew could be accused of abusing prisoners. I'm going to be speaking with one of the soldier's family friend.

And the name of a Vietnam vet joins thousands of others on the National Memorial, but not everyone wanted it there. We'll have a story to fight to add his name to the wall.

And tomorrow, did the U.S. military ignore the early warnings from the International Red Cross about abuse in Iraq's prisons?


ZAHN: The U.S. Senate today unanimously approved a resolution condemning the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The resolution also urges a full and complete investigation to ensure justice is served and expresses support for all Americans serving nobly in Iraq.

Tomorrow, a Senate committee holds another round of hearings on the prisoner abuse scandal. For what we can expect, let's go to congressional correspondent Joe Johns, who has a preview for us. Hi, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. This day started out with a number of members of the Senate trying to figure out how to get themselves and their colleagues a look at the pictures and video from Abu Ghraib that has not been seen publicly. And it slowed down just a little bit late in the day as they figured they better give all this information to their lawyers and let them sort through that. A number of legal issues, also some privacy issues, some criminal cases already in the system. They say they don't want to jeopardize that.

One thing that is clear, they say they want to make sure that if any of this information, any of the pictures are released publicly, that the administration does that. They don't want to touch that. Still, a number of senators say they would like to see the pictures and videotape released, among them Senator Susan Collins.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think we have no choice but to release them. Eventually, most of them are likely to come out anyway, and far better for the Pentagon to be the ones who expose these pictures to the world.


JOHNS: Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing for the testimony tomorrow around 9:30 Eastern time of Major General Antonio Taguba. You see him there. He is the general who wrote that scathing report on prisoner abuse in Iraq. He is expected to testify before the Armed Services Committee. Among the questions, senators say, they really want to ask him is whether the people on the tape and in the pictures were ordered to do what they did, or whether they did it on their own initiative. It's a question of whether this was something systemic, or whether it was something that was basically aberrant behavior by a few. Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Joe Johns, thanks so much for the update and the preview. CNN will have complete coverage of tomorrow's hearings beginning at 9:30 AM Eastern time, when Major General Antonio Taguba testifies about his investigation of prisoner abuse. And then two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida will be my guests tomorrow night.

Now, the first court-martial due to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners will take place a week from Wednesday. The Pentagon today said that the trial of Specialist Jeremy Sivits will not be televised.

Joining us now is a family friend who has known Sivits all his life, Thomas Cunningham, who is the former mayor of Hyndeman (ph), Pennsylvania. Mr. Cunningham, thanks so much for joining us tonight.


ZAHN: You have known Mr. Sivits all of his life. When you heard about these allegations, what was your reaction?

CUNNINGHAM: Very upsetting. This is not that type of a person. He was a very "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" type person.

ZAHN: You saw his family as recently as a couple days ago. What are they saying about all of this?

CUNNINGHAM: The family is awestruck. They're in shock at the terrible bind on them.

ZAHN: And I know Jeremy's parents called you before this all became public, saying that he needed your help...


ZAHN: ... about a month ago. What did they ask you to do, and how did you help them?

CUNNINGHAM: They asked me to put forth a letter of commendation about Jeremy's past, and I did so, kept it very brief. Being a former military myself, I know they like brief things. And I used the word "integrity" as a key word. I think that showed very heavily with Jeremy's demeanor. ZAHN: Did you get any reaction from the letter, either from his family or from the government?

CUNNINGHAM: No. No, I did not.

ZAHN: And did you expect to?

CUNNINGHAM: Knowing the government? No.

ZAHN: You just think they stuck it in a file. Do you think they read it?

CUNNINGHAM: I have no idea. I don't even know who it went to. They didn't know who to address it to. I wrote it "to whom it may concern" so that anybody could claim it.

ZAHN: And Thomas, you mentioned your military service. You served in the Army. You know what it means to follow orders and...

CUNNINGHAM: Correct. That's...

ZAHN: ... there are a number of family members suggesting that that's what Jeremy did. But you also know...

CUNNINGHAM: That's correct.

ZAHN: ... you have an obligation to not follow an order if you think it's inappropriate or violates something like...

CUNNINGHAM: No, the...

ZAHN: ... the Geneva conventions. No?

CUNNINGHAM: It doesn't say that in the code of justice. It says you follow orders.

ZAHN: So it doesn't surprise you that you think Jeremy Sivits has ended up in the situation in which he has.

CUNNINGHAM: Jeremy came from a military-type family. He was -- his father was very strict with him, and I would -- I'm assuming that that's what happened. He was told by a superior to do whatever he did. That's another thing. We don't know exactly what he did -- but to do it, and being a military person all the way, he did it.

ZAHN: Well, I know this has hurt you very deeply, as well as your community.

CUNNINGHAM: Oh, deeply, because we have a very caring community. And we've had some bad times here with flooding and so forth, but we've come back both physically and mentally. And now to have this happen, this is terrible.

ZAHN: Well, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

CUNNINGHAM: It seems like a laxity on the part of everybody concerned.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate your sharing your thoughts with us tonight. Thomas Cunningham, again, good of to you drop by.

CUNNINGHAM: Thank you.

Among the charges Specialist Sivits faces, failing to protect detainees from abuse, and cruelty and maltreatment of detainees. Joining us now to take a look at charges and Sivits's legal strategy, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Good to see you.


ZAHN: So does it fly if his defense ends up being, "I was just following orders"?

TOOBIN: No, it doesn't. And that has changed in the last several decades. It actually changed...

ZAHN: How so?

TOOBIN: ... as a result of the My Lai massacres during the Vietnam war. Lieutenant Calley and the other officials in their court-martial said, We were only following orders. And the code and of military justice, in the instructions to court-martial and in the instructions to soldiers have changed, so that it is the responsibility of soldiers to refuse to follow an order that a reasonable person would know to be illegal. Now...

ZAHN: So they are under an obligation to say to a superior...

TOOBIN: "I won't do that."

ZAHN: ... under threat of being thrown out, "I will not do that."

TOOBIN: Exactly. Now, obviously...

ZAHN: So in application, that is a tough thing, isn't it, to follow through with.

TOOBIN: Exactly. And you know, what is a reasonable person's standard in this case? That's where, of course, these issues are fought over. But remember, there were some soldiers here who did not beat up prisoners, who did not allow this to take place, who, in fact, blew the whistle on it. That's going to be the area, the subject matter of the fight in this lawsuit.

ZAHN: And how did Jeremy Sivits break military law, as far as we understand it today?

TOOBIN: Well, there is -- there are provisions in the code of military justice, which is enforced by court-martials, which say you can't mistreat prisoners, you can't conspire to mistreat prisoners. That's what the accusation is. We'll see whether he's found guilty or not.

ZAHN: Where do you see this all going?

TOOBIN: Keep in mind two words. There are two words that are used in court-martials that are not in other, you know, ordinary criminal law. There's a doctrine called "command influence." The defense will argue that, because of command influence, he can't get a fair trial, that the president, that the hierarchy has decided he's guilty. He will be -- he was going to argue -- if this case goes to trial and there's no plea bargain, he will argue that command influence makes a fair trial impossible. He may also argue for a change of venue, which applies in court-martials as it does in criminal law. So he's got some legal arguments that could make some progress here.

ZAHN: And we're going to need your help throughout the process. As always, Jeffrey Toobin...


ZAHN: ... thank you for helping us understand some pretty dense and complicated subjects here.

Now on to a question of honor that involves another time, another war, and an American as an abused prisoner of war. One of the latest names added to the Vietnam veterans' national memorial is that of an Air Force captain who fought in Vietnam and was held prisoner there. But the honor didn't come without some controversy. The story now from national correspondent Bruce Morton.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Air Force captain Alan Brudno came home this day, home to the wall which honors the Americans who died in Vietnam. He'd been a pilot, was shot down in 1965, and spent seven-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war. He and former POW Orson Swindle tapped messages to one another through their prison walls.

ORSON SWINDLE, FORMER POW: He aspired to be an astronaut, wanted to get in the aero -- you know, the space program, coped with the Vietnamese quite beautifully, in a way, through his intellect and guile, outwitting them.

MORTON: He was tortured, of course -- they all were -- was released in 1973, and four months later killed himself, leaving a note in French, "My life is no longer worth living." His brother, Bob, led the fight to add his name to the wall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund led by Jan Scruggs (ph) objected there were no suicides on the wall. But the Air Force and the Defense Department ruled he died of his wounds, physical and mental, and belonged here.

SWINDLE: He died of mortal wounds that he received in prison, and I know darned well he did.

BOB BRUDNO, CPT. ALAN BRUDNO'S BROTHER: He just -- he sacrificed so much, being a POW for seven-and-a-half years, not allowed to write, being tortured. Other than death, there isn't any more sacrifice anybody can make for his country, and he deserved all the help that we could give him. This country owed him and his fellow POWs and everybody who served in Vietnam a lot.

MORTON: He's home now, here on this wall with his friends, with the other comrades he never knew, who lost their lives in America's longest war. Some of its wounds have taken years to heal.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: And some of those wounds will never heal.

More now on America's struggle with Iraq coming up, my interview with war critic and former ambassador Joe Wilson. I'm going to ask about taking on the White House and why he thinks his family is in danger.

Plus, we're going to show you how a small gesture of thanks in Bangor, Maine, brings big emotions for battle-hardened veterans of Iraq.


ZAHN: Former ambassador Joe Wilson says his wife was exposed as a CIA agent after he disputed the Bush administration's claim that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Africa. A grand jury is now investigating that leak. You'll find Wilson's story and why he's now supporting John Kerry for president in his new book, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity." Joe Wilson joins me from Washington.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

JOSEPH WILSON, AUTHOR, "THE POLITICS OF TRUTH": Paula, nice to be with you.

ZAHN: So Mr. Ambassador, who leaked your wife's name?

WILSON: Well, what I try and do in the book, Paula, is put together everything the people have told me, a lot of which has been published, and use those names that have been published in a way that kind of makes sense, based upon what everybody has told me.

ZAHN: So name some names tonight.

WILSON: Well, I think what most people have told me who have followed this very closely is there was a meeting in the offices of the vice president, chaired probably by Mr. Scooter Libby, his chief of staff, at which a decision was made to do a "work-up" on me -- that's the term that they use, I've heard that from several different sources -- which is essentially an intelligence operation designed to learn everything they can about me and my family. And out of that came the information related to my wife's employment, which meant that they were poised to use it as soon as my "New York Times" article appeared in July.

ZAHN: But Joe, as you know, the White House says that accusations that Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Elliott Abrams were the leakers are, quote, "rumors, innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations." So how do you counter those denials?

WILSON: Well, he's not really denying it. What he really denied in October, when this first came out, was he denied that they leaked classified information, but he was very careful not to say anything about whether they're the ones who called the reporters.

ZAHN: Do you take any responsibility for your wife's name ultimately being leaked? I know you talked on shows with me before, particularly after you wrote a stinging editorial where you basically asked the question, What else are they, the administration, lying about?

WILSON: Yes. And then, of course -- then the administration decided the way to get at me would be to leak my wife's name. She's an innocent in all of this. In fact, my little role in all of this is really doing my civic duty, calling the government to account for things the government itself had said, for a statement that somebody had put in the president's State of the Union address. That is known as civic duty. That's what we do in a democracy. The idea of dragging my wife into the public square is, frankly, un-American.

ZAHN: But if you hadn't acknowledged publicly that your primary goal was to defeat George Bush, do you think any of this would have happened to you?

WILSON: Well, I -- certainly, that was not a decision that I had come to at the time that I wrote the opinion piece, or the decision I had come to at the time that I began speaking to the press in March was that it was important that this government account for things that this government had said. I had possession of facts that indicated that statements that the president had made in the State of the Union address and that the State Department spokesman had subsequently made were untrue.

These happened to be facts that were -- information that were paraded as facts at a time that we were debating the most solemn of government decisions, that of sending 130,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to kill and to die for our country. We, as a nation, have the right to have that debate based upon a set of commonly accepted facts, not information that's thrown in there because it happens to support a political decision that had already been made, irrespective of the veracity of that information.

ZAHN: You're pretty much saying you don't think your support of John Kerry later on in this process subtracts from the legitimacy of what's in your book.

WILSON: Well, absolutely not. But you know, certainly, the White House will say that, but the White House says a lot of things. But people will judge for themselves. It is a book about a long career. The one political appointment I had in my career was as ambassador under the presidency of George H.W. Bush. It talks a lot about the debate in the run-up to the war, positions that I tried to stake out. And then subsequently, a small part, the last several chapters, deal with what it means when you challenge your government to be honest with the American people and your government decides that it will ruthlessly attack you and your family in revenge.

ZAHN: How's your wife doing?

WILSON: She's doing quite well, thank you.

ZAHN: And how much has her career been compromised by this being made public?

WILSON: Well, it's been totally compromised. There are things that she cannot do now that she could do before. We worry about her security. I would remind you that when President George H.W. Bush called leakers of names the most insidious of traitors, it was after two CIA officers had been assassinated when their names had been leaked.

ZAHN: Joe Wilson, we're going to have to leave it there this evening. Thanks so much for joining us.

WILSON: My pleasure, Paula. Good to be with you.

Coming up: a warm embrace for U.S. troops. You're going to meet the people who figured out how to make every American in uniform feel like a homecoming hero.


ZAHN: Welcome back. As President Bush has reminded the country again today, the vast majority of men and women in uniform are sacrificing and doing their best. In Bangor, Maine, that has not been forgotten. The city is a refueling stop for planes going to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. And as national correspondent Frank Buckley shows us, Bangor citizens try their best to make every service member who passes through feel like a hero.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The planes pull up in Bangor, Maine, to refuel. For the soldiers, it's the first time their boots are on the ground in America, on their way home from war.



BUCKLEY: Every time, it's a celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to the States.


BUCKLEY: The Mainers are strangers to these Marines, but troop greeters like Elaine Greene and Joanne Miller (ph) say it's their duty to say thanks.

ELAINE GREENE, MAINE TROOP GREETER: He's why we're here. They deserve to have this country telling them how much they care.

BUCKLEY: It's enough to make a tough-as-nails Marine major with 19 years in the Corps choke up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just never really had a welcome home.

BUCKLEY: A local cell phone company donates phones and minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, Mama! I miss you!

BUCKLEY: The greeters, many of them veterans themselves, trade stories with the troops or just listen. For Donna Sorkin, it's a chance to be Mom. She's got a son, that little boy in the picture, Chris, greeting a soldier. That was in 1991. Today Chris is a soldier himself in Iraq. Being a surrogate mother for the other soldiers helps Sorkin get through it.

DONNA SORKIN, MAINE TROOP GREETER: If their mother can't be here when they first step foot on U.S. soil, it's nice to be here and be a mother for a while.

BUCKLEY (on camera): The troop greetings began here in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. A year ago, they resumed. Since then, more than 460 planes and 82,000 U.S. service members have been greeted in Bangor, Maine.

(voice-over): And at the head of the line for each flight that passes through, 82-year-old Bill Knight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

KNIGHT: Welcome home.


KNIGHT: Welcome home.

BUCKLEY: Knight was Army Air Corps during World War II. Later he was Navy. Hours before each plane comes in...

KNIGHT: That plane will be in at 2:15 today.

BUCKLEY: ... Mr. Knight works the phones to get the greeters to the airport. He's determined to prevent what happened to some soldiers of an unpopular war called Vietnam.

KNIGHT: The only thing I would rather be doing is I'd rather be back in the service, doing my time with these boys.

BUCKLEY: And occasionally, one of those boys sees not a stranger's face but the mom who lived across the street when he was a kid. Sergeant 1st Class John Leclair was welcomed home by Dee Winthrop Denning (ph). Dee still lives in Maine. In some ways, so does John.

SGT. JON LECLAIR, 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION: I'm proud to be from here. Everywhere I go, I'm from Maine, even though I've lived around the world.

BUCKLEY: For most of these soldiers, though, Maine is just a refueling stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a few more hours. Just a few more hours.

BUCKLEY: They're headed home. Maine, a memory of war.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Bangor, Maine.


ZAHN: God bless America. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Tomorrow, a very important news day. Live coverage of the Senate's Iraq prison abuse hearings get under way at 9:30 AM Eastern. CNN will be there. Again, thank you for joining us tonight. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night.


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