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Bush Backs Rumsfeld; Will Prisoner Abuse Scandal Affect November Election?

Aired May 10, 2004 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Show of support.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

BLITZER: President Bush gives Donald Rumsfeld his backing. But with more evidence of abuse out there, will Congress pull the rug from under Rumsfeld?

Iraq impact. Will the prison scandal affect the election? I'll the Republican and Democratic Party chairmen.

No let up. As insurgents take a growing toll, U.S. troops slug it out with the Shi'ite militia.

Capsized. He swam to save his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hearing my mom scream for help and me having to go. There was no choice of me wanting to, it was me having to.

A nightmare in frigid waters.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Monday, May 10, 2004.


BLITZER: After getting a look at even more chilling pictures of abuse, President Bush and his closest aides today closed ranks standing shoulder to shoulder over at the Pentagon with the man who is taking the heat in the Iraq prison scandal.


BUSH: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your hospitality.

BLITZER (voice-over): It was a dramatic show of support for embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Following a closed-door briefing at the Pentagon, the president emerged with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the top military brass, and addressed Rumsfeld directly.

BUSH: You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You're doing a superb job. You're a strong secretary of defense. And our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

BLITZER: The president also promised a complete investigation of the allegations.

BUSH: Because America's committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees.

BLITZER: During the closed-door briefing the president was shown some of the hundreds of additional photos that have not yet been made available to the public, photos apparently more graphic than those already released. He spoke after "The Wall Street Journal" published an until now secret report on conditions at the Abu Ghraib Prison from the International Committee for the Red Cross.

The report had been presented to the Bush administration in February. Among other things, it said U.S. military police guards supervised by intelligence officers at the prison subjected detainees to ill treatment ranging from insults and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion that in some cases might amount to torture.

The new commander of the Abu Ghraib Prison noted that seven soldiers were currently facing prosecution.

MAJ. GEN. GEOFFREY MILLER, U.S. ARMY: We are moving as rapidly as we possibly can to find the truth and also to provide appropriate safeguards for the rights of those who are being investigated.

BLITZER: The first court-martial is scheduled for May 19 in Baghdad. Specialist Jeremy Sivits is accused of mistreating prisoners.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: In an open hearing we allow family, we allow observers, we allow print reporters. It has not been our practice in the past to allow cameras inside. I think there is a concern that this is not a show trial.


BLITZER: By almost all accounts the pictures we have all seen by now from the Abu Ghraib Prison are just the tip of an iceberg. There are photos and videos that may go far beyond humiliation and the impact of their release may be impossible to measure right now.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is standing by. But we begin with our senior White House correspondent John King. John, what are officials of the White House saying to you about releasing at least some of these photos and these videotapes that the president has now apparently seen himself?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they describe them in grotesque terms. One senior official calling them sickening, another one saying that things are going to get worse when these pictures become public.

Now the question is when will that be? Here at the White House they believe they will become public at some point. So the political strategy would be to put them out under a situation that you control, and then deal with the inevitable fall-out.

But for now, the White House is deferring to the Pentagon where officials say they need to keep the pictures private for now out of respect for the investigations, out of respect for the rights of those accused. Most do not believe that that argument ultimately will carry the day and those photos will be released, some here even think within a matter of days.

Today the Pentagon is sharing them with members of Congress, showing members of Congress those photos in a controlled setting. No plans to release them publicly today. But this debate will continue.

And again, the administration believes at some point they will leak if it tries to keep them under wraps. It would prefer to release them on its own because it knows once they are released it will have a more dramatic fall-out.

BLITZER: John, as you know by now, some of viewers know by now, there's a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll which shows the president's job approval rating now only 46 percent. That's the lowest point in his presidency.

What is his strategy for the rest of this week and beyond in order to deal with this political problem?

KING: It is a much worse -- much of a beyond strategy, Wolf. They believe in the short term this week, maybe even next week, that as more photos are released, as this continues, as more violence in Iraq as well, the things on that front, the political front could get worse before better, too.

What they are hoping here at the White House is get the rest of these photos out as quickly as possible. Try to prove to the American people that you are you dealing aggressively and assertively with the investigations and the prosecutions.

And the White House believes the key date actually on the calendar, looking ahead, is June 30. They believe you must transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi government, the new Iraqi government on that date.

And the White House is hoping that as we get into late June and early July, the situation on the ground in Iraq improves, that this prisoner abuse story at that point is in the prosecution phase, not the disclosure phase. At that point, they believe, those poll numbers will turn round.

BLITZER: John King at the White House. Thanks, John, very much.

When the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, testified last Friday before a Senate committee, there were warnings that the worst is yet to come. Now the worst may be at hand as the Pentagon weighs the release of these shocking new images. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre picking up this part of the story. Jamie, I know you have spoken with officials there who've actually seen the new pictures and the videotapes. What are they saying about releasing them to Congress and the public?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There's real consideration here about whether to release those videos. And there's a lot of pressure, I have to tell you, from inside the Pentagon, a strong belief among many senior military officers, that it would be best to get the pictures out and deal with the aftermath rather than waiting for them to dribble out.

We're told there are about a thousand pictures all together on three separate CDs, but that roughly half of them or so are fairly innocuous. There are snapshots and that sort of thing.

Two or 300 are said to show similar abuse to what we have seen in still pictures that have been released. And according to one official who saw some of the videotape -- it's not actually tape, they're actually computer files, MPEG files created by digital video cameras. He says that they show, again, sexual humiliation and abuse consistent with what has been seen in the still pictures released.

We're also told some of the videos show two U.S. soldiers having sex with each other. That's part of this video collection. In addition, there are still pictures of that as well as, we're told, some of the worst pictures show Iraqi prisoners being sodomized with chemical lights.

And then, of course, there's also an investigation into the sexual assault. And I'm told today sources say that one of those investigations involves three U.S. soldiers who took a female Iraqi prisoner into an isolated area. One of them stood guard while the other two attempted to kiss and fondle her. But they were caught by another U.S. soldier -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, as you know, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina suggested last week there was evidence that not only there was rape documented, but also murder was documented, perhaps, even in some of these videotapes. What do you know about this?

MCINTYRE: Well at this point we have no indication from any of the people I've talked to who've seen the pictures or tapes that they show rapes or murders.

There are -- in the Taguba report there are documentations of prisoners being beaten, and there's also a reference to a female Iraqi prisoner having had sex with a U.S. military police officer. That would probably by definition be a possible rape.

And we do know that there are several deaths under investigation at Abu Ghraib as homicides. They could be the possible murders. So that may be what he's referring to.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre with that at the Pentagon. Thanks, Jamie, very much. As the nation struggles with this scandal let's turn to someone who offers unique perspective. He was the defense secretary during the Clinton administration. And as a Republican senator from Maine, he served on both the Armed Services and the Intelligence Committees. Our world affairs analyst William Cohen joins us now.

If you were in Donald Rumsfeld's situation right now, and you were his immediate predecessor, what would you do?

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I would do what he's doing right now, and that is No. 1 make sure I have the support of the president of the United States. The secretary serves at the pleasure of the president. And apparently from today's statement the president's still very pleased with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Secondly, I would certainly want to make an examination and judge whether I can still be effective in that job. That means not only in dealing with my civilian counterparts in the military, but also with the uniformed military.

Equally important, would be having the support of Capitol Hill, members of Congress, making sure that I can continue to work effectively with them. That means consulting them, cooperating with them, as much as possible. And do so as quickly as possible.

And I think that the secretary has been making that effort. Secretary Rumsfeld is doing that at this point.

BLITZER: So you think at this point it would be premature for him to resign?

COHEN: Absolutely. I think he has got to take the measure of how effective he can be in the forthcoming weeks and months. Time will tell in terms of what else comes out. What sort of questions that have to be asked yet and addressed. Namely how did the policy get formulated. Who was responsible for overseeing that policy. All of the questions raised by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator McCain and others during the course of the hearing.

BLITZER: You have been in Washington going back to the 70s to Watergate when you were a young member of the House of Representatives. You know how Washington works. Should the administration, the Pentagon, simply bite the bullet right now and release all of these images to the public?

COHEN: It would be my recommendation they do precisely that to allow this to go to on for days or weeks and have it come out in some uncontrolled or uncoordinated fashion seems to me only fuel the flames in a further fashion, intensify it. I think while the iron is still hot, the flames are very high now, put it out there and accept what is going to follow from it and then try to move as quickly to see that due process is done. The facts are out on the table. And judgments can be made in terms of who is responsible.

BLITZER: There seems to be a strategy that might work or might not work from the administration perspective. Show a few members of the Senate and the House, the armed services committee, let them see the worst of it. Let them then go out and talk about it to sort of cushion, prepare the American public and the world for what they will eventually see in a few days that might follow.

COHEN: I think that's a very good strategy on the part of the White House, to bring members of Congress in as a sounding board and as an insulator. So that they can say, in fact, that we ran this by Congress, some members thought we should not release it. And then when it does get released, without support of the White House, but leaked out they can say this really is over the judgment of key members of Congress. If members of Congress say that they feel it should be released they can say we're doing it with cooperation with other members of Congress. I think it's a good strategy on the part of the White House to do this and at the same time serve their own ends by being as forthcoming as possible.

BLITZER: Do you think this investigation, all the various investigations, the courts-martial, do you think all of this will result in answering this bottomline question, were these isolated incidents? Or was there a systematic policy in place that was orchestrated at much higher levels to try to get information out of detainees?

COHEN: That's precisely the question that Senator McCain was trying to get at. Namely, what was the policy? Why the change? Who was in charge of seeing to it that there were guidelines in terms of more aggressive interrogation technique. What guidelines were there? Who was to oversee and enforce them? All of these questions have been raised I think appropriately and will have to be answered.

BLITZER: William Cohen, he runs the Cohen Group here in Washington right now. Thanks very much.

Here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our web question of the day is this, should all the pictures and videos of Iraqi prisoner abuse be released to the public. You can vote right now. Go to We'll have the results for you later in this broadcast.

A story from the side of prisoners. An Iraqi comes forward and he says he was in one of those notorious photos. We'll hear his account. That's coming up.

Also the soldiers behind the scandal. A look at the seven men and women facing military court-martial for their alleged involvement in the prison abuse scandal.

Plus this...


UNIDENTIFIED BOY: There was no choice of me wanting to. It was me having to.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Boat capsized. A family trip ends in tragedy but one heroic survival story emerges. Hear more from the teenager who literally swam for his life.


BLITZER: The prisoner abuse scandal is certainly grabbing the headlines but all of us must remember there's a war going on and coalition forces remain deeply engaged throughout Iraq with mixed results.


BLITZER (voice-over): Baghdad, violence scattered throughout the Iraqi capital. This American military vehicle symbolizing the violence in Sadr City over the weekend. Overnight, coalition forces destroyed the Baghdad office of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric whose militia is waging a bloody insurgency against the occupation.

Coalition officials say its forces raided the office and arrested an alleged financier and lieutenant for Sadr's militia. Also in Baghdad an explosion at the Four Seasons Hotel. Coalition officials say four people were wounded in the Sunday night blast.

Karbala, street battles between militia members and American forces. Reuters reports a fierce firefight lasting three hours with multiple fatalities. A similar scene in Kufa, fighting there near the city's main mosque. U.S. military officials report dozens of militia members killed across the country in recent days, Sadr's forces dispute that.

Meanwhile progress in Fallujah. Just days ago an intense hotspot, now cooling down. A joint convoy of U.S. and Iraqi forces rolled into the center of town unopposed. It's the first time American marines have entered that far into the city since they negotiated an end of their almost month-long standoff with insurgents inside Fallujah.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, a deadly drive-by shooting. A spokesman for the town's mayor says three people were killed including a South African and a New Zealander. Both were employees of a construction company.

Meanwhile, major infrastructure problems. An attack crippled this pipeline in southern Iraq. The region's main oil artery pumping more than a million barrels a day. And in Baghdad, fire broke out at a power plant near the airport. Police say there were some injuries, no word on what caused the fire.


BLITZER: For more on the war in Iraq and how the fight for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people is going right now, I'm joined by Juan Cole, he's a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan. Professor, thanks very much for joining us. Are we exaggerating the impact of these prisoner abuse pictures within the heart and mind, let's say, of the Arab world?

PROF. JUAN COLE, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: I don't think there's any doubt this is an enormous event in the hearts and minds of the Arab world generally. So far, there's been a great deal of rage and disappointment in Iraq, but it hasn't manifested itself to any great extent in street politics. There's been one big demonstration, a joint Sunni/Shiite demonstration at Abu Ghraib. But the major party leaders haven't come out and spoken forcefully. In other Arab countries, yes, it has brought enormous damage to the U.S. image.

BLITZER: Even though much worse atrocities go on in other Arab countries on a day-to-day basis?

COLE: Oh, I think it's always the case that a public minds the atrocities done to its people by a foreigner more than it minds internal atrocities. After all there's a great deal of prison abuse in the United States but Americans don't get as exercised about that as they do when an American is attacked by a foreigner.

BLITZER: You know the mind of the Arab world. You studied it your whole life. What, if anything else, should the Bush administration be doing right now?

COLE: I think it's a mistake not to let cameras into this trial that's going on. The court-martial in Baghdad. I think it would do the United States enormous good to have that be on television, live, on al-Jazeera. To let the -- to let the procedures of U.S. military justice get some sunshine.

BLITZER: We've heard a lot in recent days about the humiliation these Arab men, these Iraqi prisoners, the males might have been going through in part because women, American military soldiers were humiliating them, abusing them, as we see in these pictures, explain to our viewers why this is so humiliating in the Arab world.

COLE: Well, I mean, nudity is a taboo in the Arab world. I don't think it's that much different than it is in the west. That is to say I think anyone who was put through what those prisoners were put through would be humiliated and the point of humiliating them was to soften them up. I think there is a cultural difference just in the sense the Arab world is a bit more puritanical in its social mores than the United States but I think there are a lot of places in the United States where people would be very humiliated by this kind of thing.

BLITZER: Juan Cole is a professor at the University of Michigan. Thanks, Juan, very much.

A job approval rating that may have the Bush campaign on edge right now. New poll numbers just being released. We'll talk about those numbers with both the Republican and the Democratic National Party Chairmen Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They burn them and they hung them from a bridge and why are we held higher standards than they were?


BLITZER: Scapegoats or soldiers rightfully accused. Reaction from family and friends of the seven soldiers now facing legal action over the prisoner abuse scandal.

And a new chance for justice. 50 years after the killing of an African-American teenager, a murder case that energized the civil rights movement is reopened.


BLITZER: One of the most frequently seen Iraq prison abuse photos shows a pile of naked prisoners. A London-based news agency International Television News has found a man who says he was one of the prisoners shown in the photo. ITN's Neil Connery has the report.


NEIL CONNERY, INTERNATIONAL TELEVISION NEWS: These powerful images lie at the heart of the prisoner abuse scandal. Naked and hooded Iraqis forced to create a human pyramid while U.S. soldiers look on grinning. Hasheem Lathim (ph) claims he was one of those prisoners in the pictures who suffered at the hands of the Americans. He told me of the horrors he says he endured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Four of us were told to go on all fours and then they forced me and another man to sit on them. Then they made the last man sit on the two of us. If we fell down they would beat us and force us to do it again.

CONNERY: But even worse was to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They grabbed my wrists and forced me to perform a sexual act. I resisted so they kicked me in the stomach. I struggled but it was no good. After ten minutes of doing what I was told, they pulled my hood off and I could see they had forced the others to do the same thing. There were two female guards taking pictures. One was that girl in the photo.

CONNERY: He told me when he saw the pictures he wished he was dead. He was so ashamed explaining them to his family. It's impossible to independently corroborate Hasheem's story but it sounds consistent and convincing. He was prisoner number 15227 held at Abu Ghraib between August and December last year. Which puts him there when the infamous photographs were taken. The details of the abuse he says he suffered is consistent with other accounts and the photographic evidence. In this particular picture he claims he is this man on the far right with a tattoo on his arm. The distinctive tattoo on his arm he showed me does seem to confirm this. Hasheem Lathim (ph) says his experience has changed his view of American forces. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Before this I thought God is good and next comes the Americans. They saved us from a tyrant. A savage man who made all these mass graves and at that time we couldn't defend ourselves. So when they got rid of Saddam we were so happy. I was friends with American soldiers but day after day this view changed especially after my experience in prison.


BLITZER: That report from ITN's Neil Connery. The Pentagon tells CNN in the meantime it is not responding to individuals who claim they were involved in any of the abuses until the investigation are complete.

New polls are just out gauging your pulse on the upcoming election. Is President Bush vulnerable and will John Kerry be able to capitalize on problems in Iraq? Up next we'll speak politics and polls with RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Soldiers warned. They're accused of unthinkable cruelty. But who is to blame really for the Iraq prisoner abuse.

Later, hear from those defending the accused.

Setting the stage for a trial. Kobe Bryant prepares to make a plea. You're watching WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

President Bush voices his strong support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld despite a widening prison abuse scandal. The chairman of the Republican and the Democratic National Committees, they will debate this issue and more. That's coming up.

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

Kobe Bryant is back in Eagle, Colorado, to attend a hearing in a sexual abuse case. The hearing may last as long as three days. And at some point, Bryant is expected to enter a plea of not guilty to a rape charge. Under Colorado law, once he enters a plea, his trial must begin within six months.

The Justice Department says it's reopening an investigation into the 49-year-old murder of an African-American teenager, Emmett Till. Till was kidnapped from his uncle's home in Mississippi in 1955. His mutilated body was found in a river three days later. Two men were charged with murder in his death, but were later acquitted in a trial. A recent documentary has brought new evidence to light that others may have been involved.

The Senate Armed Services Committee called on the Pentagon today to turn over the latest disturbing images of U.S. troops inside the Abu Ghraib prison.

CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns is on Capitol Hill.

Joe, why are committee members saying they want to see these shocking photos, the video, right now, and what do they plan on doing with it?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, it's part of their issue of oversight here on Capitol Hill.

As you know, Wolf, the Congress has started to take very seriously its oversight of the Department of Defense in light of these new photos. They think it's important to try to get a handle on just how bad the pictures are. There's also a question of whether those pictures need to be released publicly or can be closely held right inside the Senate. So these are things the Senate would like to know.

One of the things -- one of the ways they can start doing that is by taking a look at the evidence by themselves, Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe, you broke the news earlier today that there's going to be dramatic testimony once again before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow morning. Tell our viewers what you know.

JOHNS: Major General Antonio Taguba is the man the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to hear from first, Wolf. They are expecting him at 9:30 Eastern time tomorrow.

They want to sit down and talk to him about his 53-page report that he wrote detailing the abuses at Abu Ghraib. As a matter of fact, we're told just today all of the annexes, the long, long documents accompanying that supporting his conclusion that wrong things were done, have also been delivered to Capitol Hill. Senators want to take a look at all of that as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting from Capitol Hill -- thanks, Joe, very much.

The full political impact of the prisoner abuse scandal of course won't be known for some time. Even its immediate impact on the presidential contenders is certainly unclear, at least right now. In a weekend poll of likely voters, 47 percent supported President Bush; 45 percent said John Kerry is their choice for president; 5 percent picked Ralph Nader.

Here to talk about all of this, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie, his Democratic counterpart, Terry McAuliffe.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

Ed Gillespie, one of the other poll numbers, job approval rating, we reported this earlier, its at its lowest since the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup started doing these poll; 46 percent say they approve of the president's job. That's down from 60 percent in January.

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, Wolf, we have always said we're going to be in this period here -- and I said it -- once John Kerry wrapped up the nomination -- that we were going to be in a tight contest. We're going to be in a tight contest from now through November.

The president's approval rating is going to float between 45, 55. And the head to head is going to float you know, somewhere between three -- it went from -- he went from five down to seven up at one point. Now it's closing again. And it's going to stay close.

BLITZER: So you are not overly concerned


GILLESPIE: No, I'm not.

This is exactly what we've said was going to happen. And I suspect -- I said it -- I was on the show a couple weeks ago on CNN, said it's going to be tight. I suspect to be back in June, July, August saying the same thing.

BLITZER: Terry, despite all the problems the president has had in recent weeks, in that matchup, as we just saw, 47 percent for Bush, 45 percent for Kerry. Ralph Nader has got 5 percent. Shouldn't your candidate, John Kerry, be doing better right now?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Oh, Wolf, we're running against an incumbent president who just spent about $76 million attacking John Kerry. We have just gone up with our media advertising, $25 million last Monday.

So now we're out with our positive message, what John Kerry is going to do for the economy, how he's going to create 10 million new jobs his first term in office, how 98 percent of taxpayers will get a tax cut under John Kerry, 99 percent of businesses will get a tax cut under John Kerry. But for an incumbent president to be this low, under 50 percent, he's in real trouble.

BLITZER: You must be freaking out, though, over the Ralph Nader 5 percent?

MCAULIFFE: My goal and hope in my last conversations with Ralph Nader come the fall, I hope he's out of the race and he has endorsed and actively supporting John Kerry.


BLITZER: He told me a few weeks ago he's staying until the bitter end.

MCAULIFFE: Well, a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush. I don't think that Ralph Nader want his legacy to be eight years of George Bush. He has fought for so many issues his entire life that John Kerry has fought for. I believe we will be together at the end. Clearly, we want him out of the race, because those votes are John Kerry's votes. He needs to get out and support John Kerry.

BLITZER: Here's a number, a couple numbers, that may be freaking you out, Ed. How are things going in the United States at this time? Satisfied, 37 percent, dissatisfied, 62 percent. Only a third of the American people say they are satisfied with the way things are going. Political activists, they look at that number.


Look, Wolf, we have obviously seen some bad news coming out of Iraq. Nobody can not be affected by the images we have seen. But the fact is, is that those isolated incidents of a few soldiers shouldn't cloud out all of the good actions, the 99.99 percent of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, who every day do something good for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think the American people are going to see these job numbers that we are seeing now, over a million jobs in the past five months, 288,000 jobs just last month, 388,000 jobs the month before that. And the fact is that as much as Democrats want to run down the economy, they can't deny the fact that we are seeing economic growth and projections for growth. And as the American people see those, I think you will see those numbers change.

BLITZER: Here are some more numbers, Terry. Then we're going to move on. Who would do a better job, Bush or Kerry, on specific issues? When it comes to terrorism, 55 percent say Bush, 38 percent Kerry; Iraq, 48 percent for Bush, 45 percent for Kerry. Kerry does do better when it comes to the economy, 40 percent, as opposed to 54 percent for John Kerry.

But you would think, with all the troubles the president was having in Iraq right now, more Americans would be moving towards Kerry on the issue of doing better in Iraq.

MCAULIFFE: Wolf, they are moving toward John Kerry. If you look at the change in the polls that have occurred over the last 90 days and you have seen the movement, I remind you that John Kerry only won the nomination seven weeks ago.

We're in the best position that we have been since John Kerry secured the nomination. If you look in battleground states, today, John Kerry is up five to six points in those battleground states. What most Americans will tell you, they are going to vote on the economy. They're going to vote on education and health care. And John Kerry has a lead on every one of those issues.

BLITZER: A sensitive issue, the current prisoner abuse scandal right now, I have heard several Republicans say to me today, John Kerry and the Democrats are seeking to politically exploit this sensitive issue, beginning to run campaign ads, spend money to take advantage of this particular problem. Is that true?

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely not true. No one has taken advantage of any situation. We have our men and women over on the ground, 135,000 troops, today in Iraq. It is a horrible, despicable situation. But it's only a handful of the soldiers who are involved in it. We have 135,000 troops who are every single day doing what they need to do to protect our country. We stand 100 percent behind them. There are obviously a lot of issues about people, what they knew and when they knew it. And that's what these investigations will come out with. But this is nonpartisan. It is not a political issue.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ed.

GILLESPIE: Well, look, this is part of the problem that you see time and time again with Senator Kerry, Wolf. The fact is that he said in Pittsburgh on Saturday, this is a time to set aside partisan politics. His campaign spokeswoman said on Sunday that we're not going to jump on this politically until people have had a chance to tell their story.

Well, the fact is Senator Rumsfeld had not even finished testifying...

BLITZER: Secretary Rumsfeld.

GILLESPIE: Secretary Rumsfeld. Thank you.

Had not even finished testifying on Friday before the Kerry campaign had sent out an e-mail to thousands and hundreds of thousands of their supporters saying, sign this petition. We have got to get rid of Rumsfeld. And then, at the bottom of it, it said donate now as well. So they are soliciting funds off of this instance, as well as saying that -- at the same time, they're saying, we shouldn't be playing politics with it and we should wait until we know more about it, they are doing the exact same thing they said they shouldn't be doing.

BLITZER: Is that true??

MCAULIFFE: Let's be crystal clear. John Kerry has called for Secretary Rumsfeld for at least six months.

BLITZER: Is he trying to raise money on this issue?

MCAULIFFE: Of course not. This is not different -- and, actually, I brought it. I just find it absolutely absurd, this argument. Here is the Republican National Committee's Web sites. Here are their two latest appeals that talk about national security and homeland security.

On both of these, I have circled where it says, donate now. On the Bush-Cheney, where it talks about homeland security and 9/11, there's a click button for, donate now. It is such hypocritical that the Republicans, who, as you know, their first ad, they had pictures of a flag-draped coffin coming out of the World Trade Center. They had to pull that ad down.

This is the same group of people, as you know, Wolf, who picked New York City, were quoted saying we did the convention in New York City to take advantage of 9/11.


MCAULIFFE: It is outrageous. But their own Web sites say, contribute now. So it's hypocritical.


BLITZER: Go ahead.

GILLESPIE: National security is a major issue in this election. And Senator Kerry's policy positions and the votes he has cast deserve debate and are worthy of debate. And that's worth talking about.

There's a big difference between talking about someone's policy position relative to Iraq and having a donate now button on your Web site and e-mailing hundreds of thousands of people, talking about the prison abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib and saying, donate now sign up for this petition. Now, they have got 275,000 people they say who have clicked through to the petition. They have publicly bragged about that.

They should tell us how many people donated relative to that petition as well if they are going to make the case.

MCAULIFFE: First of all, it is up to 330,000 people who have signed this petition.

GILLESPIE: Well, how much money have they raised off it?

MCAULIFFE: But let's be crystal clear on this petition. There should be no illusions. John Kerry could send out this petition every single day. We want Secretary Rumsfeld to resign.

BLITZER: All right.

MCAULIFFE: If we had our way, George Bush would resign. He has been a failure. Secretary Rumsfeld has been a failure.


MCAULIFFE: They should all resign, petition or not.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have got to leave it right there.

I will report for you and to our viewers in our CNN/"USA Today" poll, should Rumsfeld resign? Thirty-one percent said yes; 64 percent said no. You see it up on the screen right now.

Ed Gillespie, Terry McAuliffe, let's continue this debate.

GILLESPIE: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: Thanks to both of you for joining us.

All seven now face court-martial and public scorn, but their families give a very different side of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JONATHAN DAVIS, FATHER OF SGT. JAVAL DAVIS: I have a good son. I have a good son. He's a good father. He's a good provider. And he's a good soldier.


BLITZER: Up next, defending the soldiers accused of torturing Iraqi prisoners. Who is to blame for the outrage?

A fatal family outing. At least three die when their boat capsizes in frigid water. Hear how a 14-year-old swam to safety and likely saved his father's life.

And going public, why former first lady Nancy Reagan is speaking out on a hot-button issue.

We'll get to all of that. First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.


BLITZER (voice-over): Thousands were on hand for today's funeral for Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. Kadyrov and five others were killed by a bomb blast yesterday in the VIP section of a stadium in Grozny. The blast came during celebrations of the anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II. One of the wounded was Russia's top general in Chechnya.

Italian news reports say five suspected Islamic extremists are heard on wiretaps talking about launching attacks. The five were nabbed in predawn raids yesterday in several Italian cities. Police say the suspects belong to a terrorist cell with links to al Qaeda.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is expected to win today's election in the Philippines. More than a dozen people were killed yesterday and today before polls opened. More than 100 have died since December. Early exit polls show Arroyo defeating movie star Fernando Poe Jr.

Violence also mars the final stage of voting in India. Deadly shooting and explosions have been reported as voting goes on. The current government is expected to win a majority but not enough to maintain control without a bigger coalition.

And that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: The prisoner abuse scandal has made the actions of some everyday soldiers the subject of intense interest by the public. It has also made them the focus of criminal investigations and prosecutions by the military justice system. We're talking, of course, about the men and women who appeared in those infamous pictures. CNN's Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven names, faces, stories, whether guilty or innocent, certainly notorious, moving through the public consciousness and the military court system with mind-numbing speed.

First on the docket, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, charged with four counts, including cruelty and maltreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Half a world away, in southwestern Pennsylvania, the father of the girl Sivits took to his high school prom, speaks of a double standard.

MIKE FLEEGLE, FRIEND OF ACCUSED SOLDIER: Bring him home. Let's pin a medal on him and have a parade. They drug our kids through the streets behind jeeps. They burn them. They hung them from a bridge. And why are we held higher standards than they are?

TODD: Three women are among those facing courts-martial, the best known, Private Lynndie England, a 21-year-old West Virginia native. Among the charges against her, assaulting a prisoner and indecent exposure. Her families and attorney say, even in these picture, she is being set up.

ROSE MARY ZAPOR, ATTORNEY FOR PFC. ENGLAND: That leash being handed to our client and saying, stand there while we take this picture. That is staged. That is not a picture of our client abusing a prisoner in any way.

TODD: England's family said she is pregnant by another soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib case. Specialist Charles Graner Jr., formerly a prison guard in Pennsylvania, whose attorney says the pictures do not tell the story.

GUY WOMACK, ATTORNEY FOR SPECIALIST CHARLES GRANER: I have only seen seven photos. And those were ones that he was ordered to have taken or be involved in.

TODD: Two other women facing military trial, Specialist Megan Ambuhl, described by her attorney in media reports as a clean and wholesome girl who studied biology in college; and 26-year-old Specialist Sabrina Harman of Alexandria, Virginia, shown here smiling over a pile of naked detainees.

In an e-mail to "The Washington Post," Harman said this was part of her job, to -- quote -- "keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk."

(on camera): That defense, just following orders, is consistent among the families of the accused. The fathers of the Sergeant Javal Davis and Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick speak of their sons as unfailingly loyal.

JONATHAN DAVIS, FATHER OF SGT. JAVAL DAVIS: I have a good son. I have a good son. He's a good father. He's a good provider. And he's a good soldier. And good soldiers do what good soldiers do, what they are told.

IVAN FREDERICK, FATHER OF STAFF SGT. IVAN FREDERICK: That is one thing they teach you in basic training is the senior officer gives you a command, you will do it or you are subject to court-martial or you may wish you had of.

TODD: As for some senior officers Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, commander of Abu Ghraib at the time of the alleged abuse, is no longer in charge of the prison and could face disciplinary action. Nine others including at least three officers also face possible discipline.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: A young teen's heroic swim to safety after a family trip goes terribly wrong. Brave action in cold waters to save his life and help his family. We'll get to that.

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


BLITZER (voice-over): Mother's Day marked the second Million Mom March in the nation's capital yesterday. About 2,000 people showed up at the event held to push for gun control. Speakers urged President Bush and Congress to renew a federal ban on assault weapons set to expire in September. Several hundred gun rights supporters held their own rally near the White House.

Powerful thunderstorms swept through west central Minnesota in the Twin Cities yesterday. Several funnel clouds were reported as winds hit 70 miles an hour, while hail an inch in diameter pounded the area. Thousands of people lost power. Cleanup is going on today.

Nancy Reagan told an audience Saturday that Alzheimer's disease has taken former President Ronald Reagan to a distant place where she can no longer reach him. The former first lady called for more stem cell research, saying the controversial science should be...



BLITZER: Authorities are trying to determine whether high winds, an overloaded boat or other factors are to blame for a weekend accident along the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border that killed at least three people. A 14-year-old boy survived and his actions may have saved his father's life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER (voice-over): Fourteen-year-old Christopher Duarte and his family had been visiting relatives at their waterfront home in Swansea, Massachusetts. It was dark when the family started back home to Fall River, Massachusetts, in a speedboat and the wind had picked up.

The boat made it as far as Mount Hope Bay, a lobe of Narragansett Bay that straddles the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, when the 17- foot craft capsized.

CHRISTOPHER DUARTE, 14 YEARS OLD: I could hear my mom scream for help and me having to go. There was no choice of me wanting to. It was me having to. I just kept on kicking. The water was really cold. I just keep going and going. It felt like hours.

BLITZER: Christopher finally reached shore in Tiverton, Rhode Island. He cut his feet stumbling along the beach. But he found a house and told a couple there what had happened. Search crews found the bodies of his Christopher's cousin and her boyfriend. They were unable to find any trace of Christopher's aunt.

Christopher's mother and father were found alive, but his mother died on the way to the hospital. Christopher's father remains in the hospital. If he survives, he will have his son to thank. Christopher's grandmother, who did not want her face photographed, calls her grandson a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am just so proud of him, because he might have saved his dad's life. And he saved his own life. That's the main thing, too, saved his own life. He's quite a little hero.


BLITZER: Christopher says he drew strength during his ordeal by remembering his grandfather, a fisherman who survived four days after a 1965 shipwreck off North Carolina.

The results of our "Web Question of the Day" just ahead.


BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in our "Web Question of the Day." Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

That's all the time we have on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. I'll be back tomorrow.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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