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Did Bush Administration Approve Prisoner Abuse?; More U.S. Troops Headed to Iraq

Aired May 17, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): On a day when a bomb kills the leader of Iraq's Governing Council, on a day when thousands more U.S. troops get marching orders to Iraq, on a day when authorities say nerve gas may have turned up in a roadside bomb.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. DEPUTY CHIEF OF OPERATIONS: That a .155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found.

ZAHN: The Bush administration fights yet another political bombshell. Did Donald Rumsfeld approve a policy that led to the sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners?


ZAHN: Good evening. Welcome to a brand new week here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

Tonight, two reports, one from "The New Yorker" magazine, the other from "Newsweek" that say just that, that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld signed off on secret orders that left the door wide open to the kind of abuse inflicted at Abu Ghraib? In response, the Pentagon has struck back, calling one of the reports outlandish and filled with error.


ZAHN (voice-over): They are the photos that shocked the nation and the world, drawing condemnation from the secretary of defense.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The photographic depictions of the U.S. military personnel that the public has seen have offended and outraged everyone in the Department of Defense.

ZAHN: And from the president himself.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to tell the people of the Middle East that the practices that took place in that prison are abhorrent and they don't represent America.

ZAHN: But were the secretary and the president somewhat complicit? Did they have a high level hand in what happened? That's what groundbreaking articles in two magazines claim today. Sy Hersh's article in "The New Yorker" tells of a black program, a program so classified that officially it doesn't even exist that brought the rough treatment and sexual interrogation methods to Abu Ghraib at the order of Donald Rumsfeld.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita calls Hersh's article "the most hysterical piece of journalistic malpractice I have ever observed." But "Newsweek" reports today that the secretary and even the president signed off on a system of detention and interrogation that allowed the abuses to take place.


ZAHN: And joining us from Washington, two of the "Newsweek" reporters who wrote that article, Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff.

Good to see both of you.

Michael Hirsh, I want to start with you this evening.

First of all, according to your reporting, to what extent can you say the defense secretary and the president had anything to do with what ultimately happened at Abu Ghraib?

MICHAEL HIRSH, "NEWSWEEK": Well, the story begins right after 9/11 when it is decided this is a different kind of war that justifies much more aggressive tactics, particularly interrogation.

And the president and the defense secretary and the justice -- and the attorney general sign off on a series of legal opinions which basically justify circumventing the Geneva Convention, in large part to allow U.S. interrogators to give a rougher time to detainees. Now, mainly this is targeted at al Qaeda.

And I think what happens here and I think one of the tragedies of this incident is what begins as an effort to get high-level Al Qaeda detainees to talk turns into something that is much more indiscriminate, gets exported to Iraq, and gets aimed at everyone that they sweep up off the street, which includes a lot of innocent Iraqis who have nothing do with al Qaeda or with terror, and ends up ultimately in the hands of a lot of untrained and ill-supervised military police, who simply were never really prepared for this.

ZAHN: So, Michael Isikoff, what is the best explanation for that? Why did it morph into that?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK": Well, there's lot of explanations.

First, you have to go back to the mind-set when these memos were being written. It's the month after September 11. There is a genuine fear that there could be another terrorist attack, that we were embarked upon this very new kind of war. And you have to mesh that emotion of the moment with the philosophical or ideological, if you will, mind-set of the lawyers at the senior level of the Bush administration who are authoring this policy.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: All right, to illustrate that, Michael -- I don't want to cut you off, but it is important, because you have a copy of a memo written in January 2002 that happens to be on "Newsweek"'s Web page tonight,, that sheds some light on that.


That is the memo written by Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel. And he is trying to buck President Bush up in a decision he's already made to exempt both al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from the provisions of the Geneva Conventions on prisoner of war. And he outlines the reasons for doing this, that this is a new kind of war, that we need maximum flexibility.

And he also mentions a rather striking line of argument, which is that there is a federal criminal statute, the War Crimes Act, that makes U.S. officials subject -- could make them subject to criminal prosecution if they engage in grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. And what Gonzales warns the president in this memo is that we don't know how future Justice Departments or future independent counsels might view some of what we're doing in the war on terror.

And the best protection we can have for ourselves and for our soldiers who we have given orders to is to issue a blanket presidential exemption from the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

ZAHN: All right, I hear what you're saying. But square that, Michael Isikoff, with a piece that Mr. Gonzales wrote in "The New York Times" where he says this -- and about how the Geneva Convention pertains to Iraq

Quote: "Both the United States and Iraq are parties to the Geneva Conventions. The United States recognizes that these treaties are binding in the war for the liberation of Iraq. There has never been any suggestion by our government that the conventions do not apply in that conflict."

Is that true?

ISIKOFF: That is true. That is true.

The problem here is that the way the war in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism morphed into the war in Iraq. What you had after this decision by the president exempting the Geneva Convention were other opinions that also gave a green light to U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to use extradoctrinal techniques in interrogating al Qaeda and Taliban suspects.

And that means using a whole range of methods, sleep deprivation, stress inducement, use of phobias, things that are not authorized in U.S. military manual, but it was ruled could be used in this instance. The general who oversaw that was General Miller, who was in charge of Guantanamo Bay. It's the same general who then moves -- is transferred to Iraq, was in charge of military interrogation in Iraq.

And, as we have also reported, the president and Secretary Rumsfeld authorized extradoctrinal interrogation techniques in Iraq as well. So while nobody specifically said that the Geneva Convention does not apply to Iraq, the mind-set was set early in the months after September 11. It becomes this policy of extra interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay that is then -- then migrates to Iraq.

ZAHN: OK, Michael Hirsh, shed some light on why Colin Powell is so outraged by this. We have a copy of one of his memos. I believe it also appears on your Web site. It says, it will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva Conventions and will undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.

Was he a lone voice out there, Michael Hirsh?

HIRSH: Well, he has been for much of the administration. And just as he was kind of late -- this decision was actually made before Powell heard about it. He pitched in with a rather angry and desperate memo. He did win a partial victory.

Look, Powell is the nation's chief diplomat. He's an ex-general. Very much on his side in this fight, for example, were military lawyers, the judge advocates general in the Defense Department, because they were concerned about what might happen to Americans abroad, American troops in particular. If we stop observing Geneva Conventions, what might happen to our POWs abroad and the treatment of American citizens?

They were concerned about that, just as Powell was very concerned also about the reputation of the United States in the international system. After all, we're supposed to be the moral standard bearer, as the president often says. And I think Powell mainly argued along those lines.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen, if you wouldn't mind staying right there, because, when we come back, I want to ask you about this image that you're about to see showing a torture method called "The Vietnam" and why you believe it shows that high level members of the administration laid the groundwork for this kind after abuse at Abu Ghraib.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And we're back with two "Newsweek" correspondents who say decisions at the highest levels of the Bush administration set the stage for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff are back with us from Washington.

Michael Hirsh, back to you.

You write that the now infamous image of a prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his extremities tells a far greater story, one that goes right up the chain of command. How so? HIRSH: Well, simply because that's not something that a bunch of untutored military police who are being blamed by the administration for most of this scandal could have come up with on their own. That's well known to initiates in the torture trade and the interrogation trade a technique called "The Vietnam." It has been used in interrogation.

It is simply not something that these M.P.s could have come up with on their own.

ZAHN: So it is not something like we've seen over and over again in a movie, where you see an actor attached to electrodes? It's not that simple to do, not that easy to do?

HIRSH: No, this is not actual torture, actual use of electrodes or electrical writes. It is an attempt to humiliate and scare the detainee. That's a lot of what we're seeing in Monday's photos, the humiliation types techniques. And this is what this is.

ZAHN: So when we go back, Michael Isikoff, to the very specific testimony Secretary Rumsfeld had about the kind of abuse that took place in Abu Ghraib, was he telling the truth?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK: Well, as far as we know, he was -- he was telling the truth. But he may not have been telling the whole truth here. The technique we were just talking about doesn't actually involve the use of electrodes on prisoners, as Michael pointed out. It was the fear of something that was the stress factor that was being used here, and that's precisely the sort of methods that were approved at high levels of the Defense Department, and with the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel. In fact, torture experts will tell you, as a method of extracting information, torture itself actually doesn't work. For one thing, if you actually apply it, the victim tends to tell you just what you want to hear, just to get you to stop the -- but the fear that somebody might be inflicted with pain is what people think is the sort of -- that's the trigger point, that's where you can get useful information, and in fact that's what this method shows.

ZAHN: All right, but Michael Isikoff, help me with one fact here. Because you said it may end up being that perhaps Secretary Rumsfeld wasn't as forthcoming as he should have been. You have an overt fact in this piece saying the Red Cross alerted the Pentagon to some of these abuses way back in November. Didn't the secretary testify it was the middle of January when he learned of these charges?

ISIKOFF: When he learned of it, was reported that's when the Red Cross alerted the Pentagon. It's not clear exactly when it moved up to the top, the top levels here. But we also report that because -- that under these extradictional (ph) techniques, a protocol was set up for the Pentagon, first at Guantanamo Bay, that extra -- these sort of extraordinary torture techniques needed to get approved at the office of the secretary of defense, by Secretary Rumsfeld himself. When this protocol is transferred to Iraq, it becomes General Abizaid who has to approve the extradictional (ph) techniques. So exactly how much and how frequently they were informed and gave approvals to specific techniques is certainly one of the things that I think the congressional committee is looking at and wants to know.

ZAHN: All right, Michael Hirsh, now onto a closing thought for you. It's a political two-fer here? Does Donald Rumsfeld keep his job and does the president keep his job in the wake of his scandal?

HIRSH: Look, it's very tough to say. I think Rumsfeld is in danger. I noticed among the top Republicans on the Hill last week a reluctance to back Rumsfeld, but look, this is an administration that, you know, hasn't really fired anyone senior. It may well be that they stay on their job or all be fired together in November by the electorate. But what's clear is that this is not going to end at the MPs, or Janis Karpinski, the 800th Military Brigade commander. It's going to go up the line, and I think the investigations are going to go on.

ZAHN: Michael Hirsh, Michael Isikoff, thank you for all of your insights tonight, and thanks for sharing your reporting with us. Appreciate it.

HIRSH: Thank you.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up, another brutal assassination by bomb. In Baghdad, the president of the Iraqi group that is set to take control of the country is killed. How does that affect the planned June 30 handover?

Plus, there is a warning to Summer Olympics athletes. Flaunting the stars and stripes could cause trouble. We're going to ask one Olympic champ what she thinks of that.

And how much have American attitudes changed 50 years after a landmark decision desegregating public schools?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe black children need white children in their schools to be able to learn, as white children don't need black children in their schools to be able to learn.



ZAHN: Before we return to our coverage of today's events in Iraq, we're going to look at some of today's other major news events.

Despite misgivings in many quarters, same sex-marriages now reality in Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By the power vested in me by the state of Massachusetts as a justice of the peace, but most important of all by the power of your own love, I now pronounce that you are married under the laws of Massachusetts. You may seal this marriage with a kiss.


ZAHN: Among the many couples marrying today were all seven whose lawsuit led to the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that any ban on gay marriage violates the state's constitution.

President Bush issued a written statement declaring -- quote -- "The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges." He urgently called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Well, a full century has come and gone since the Supreme Court decided that separate public schools for blacks and whites are un- American and unconstitutional. The case Brown vs. Board of Ed involved the school system in Topeka, Kansas. And ceremonies to mark that victory in the struggle for civil rights were held there today.

Senator John Kerry told a crowd that Brown made America a better place, but more money needs to be spent on education to finish the job. President Bush was also in Topeka. He called the ruling a critical turning point, but said progress has been painfully slow and education is still not equal.

Well, since the Brown ruling, other court decisions have tried to bring equality to schools across the nation. But in some communities, even though official segregation is gone, separation remains the reality.

Here is David Mattingly.


JERRY BELK, CHARLOTTE RESIDENT: We were excited, but scared at the same time.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jerry Belk vividly remembers the day court-ordered busing ended segregation in Charlotte, North Carolina. He left behind an all-black school in 1970 with no cafeteria, no heat, and hand-me-down books. But in spite of generations of progress under Brown vs. Board of Education, Belk is worried that the clock is now turning back.

(on camera): Where are all the white students?

BELK: They're not here.

MATTINGLY: Where did they go?

BELK: They're on the other side of town.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Thirty-four years after busing desegregated a separate and grossly unequal school system, black neighborhood schools in Charlotte are getting blacker. The white schools are getting whiter.

BILL CAPACCHIONE, FORMER CHARLOTTE RESIDENT: I don't believe black children need white children in their schools to be able to learn, as white children don't need black children in their schools to be able to learn.

MATTINGLY: Bill Capacchione sued the school system after his daughter was not allow to attend the school in their neighborhood. In 1999, a federal judge ruled that busing to achieve racial integration was no longer needed. And Charlotte's schools found themselves in a new world of change.

(on camera): After busing, the school board offered parents a choice of a number of schools around the district. Since then, the overwhelming choice has been the school closest to home.

(voice-over): As a result, magnate schools with special programs and schools in the growing predominantly white suburbs are bursting at the seams. West Charlotte High School, 75 percent black under busing, is now 90 percent black. Only 2 percent of the students are white.

BELK: Resegregation, court-sanctioned resegregation.

MATTINGLY: When he was bused, Jerry Belk entered the eighth grade with a fourth grade reading ability. Though the academic gap is narrowing, last year, 26 percent of African-American eighth graders in Charlotte still tested reading below grade level, compared to 5 percent of white students.

Mildred Wright, who once taught in the segregated system, is now principal of the academically struggling, but improving Thomasville Elementary.


MATTINGLY: She reads from a list of substandard all-black schools that closed when busing began. Her well-stocked library and up-to-date technology are signs of how much has changed for the better.

MILDRED WRIGHT, PRINCIPAL: My school was books.


ZAHN: And that was David Mattingly reporting for us tonight.

And "NEWSNIGHT"'s Aaron Brown will take an in-depth look at the historic Supreme Court case in a one-hour special tonight beginning at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. That's right up right after "LARRY KING LIVE."

The administration's plans in Iraq take another hit. The U.S. was depending on this man to help with the June 30 handover of Iraq. We're going look at who might have been behind his assassination and what it means for the future. Also, the 9/11 Commission takes a hard look at the emergency response to the attacks. We'll have a preview.

And, as court-martials in the Iraq prison abuse scandal get under way, how will this soldier defend herself? I will ask Private Lynndie England's lawyers tomorrow.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

We're going to take a closer look at today's assassination in Iraq, what it means for U.S. plans to let Iraqis start running their own country as of June 30. Izzadine Saleem was president of the Iraqi Governing Council and was considered a key moderate. He was killed when a suicide bomber set off an explosion next to his convoy at a Baghdad checkpoint. Saleem is the second member of the Iraqi Governing Council to be assassinated.

Ben Wedeman joins us from Baghdad.

So, Ben, for starters, how are Iraqis reacting to Saleem's murder?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Paula, it was a shock for everybody here. It is just one more of these attacks that has really shaken Iraq since the beginning of the year.

You'll remember, there was those massive suicide bombings in Baghdad in Karbala, Najaf last year. We have had fighting in Fallujah and Najaf and just all over the place. And this really drove home to many Iraqis this feeling that the country is not coming together a year -- more than a year after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. And, at the same time, we have to point out that many Iraqis didn't -- don't have a lot of faith in the Governing Council itself. After all, its members were appointed by the U.S.-led coalition.

Many of them saw them as puppets. But even those who saw them as puppets see this attack as yet another blow to any attempt to get this country back on its feet -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Ben, up until now, U.S. forces have been looking in earnest for weapons of mass destruction. Might their fortunes have changed today?

WEDEMAN: Well, it's very difficult because this incident of a roadside bomb being found outside of Baghdad with what looks like sarin nerve agent isn't all together clear. It was in an artillery shell that isn't -- it's called a binary weapon, which basically means that there are two inert chemicals inside that shell that don't become effective until they're fired as an artillery shell. As a roadside bomb, it's not much use, except maybe in a very local sense.

So -- and in fact, the shell was not even marked, so it's not clear those who laid this roadside bomb even realized that it contained a deadly nerve agent. But certainly, this is the first incident where we've seen chemical weapons in a roadside bomb. Really, the question is, did the people who planted it know that they were actually doing -- Paula.

ZAHN: And finally, to the issue of the prison abuse scandal. You actually visited Abu Ghraib today. What do you want to tell us about that briefly?

WEDEMAN: Well, we were taken on a tour by General Jeffrey Miller, who was brought here, of course, to run Abu Ghraib after the last administration at the prison, which was fairly disastrous, by all accounts. And what we're seeing is that they are trying very hard to change the regime out there, to improve conditions for prisoners.

For instance, he told me that as of this Friday, all prisoners will be moved out of the old facilities, Saddam Hussein's prison, into a camp within the enclosure of Abu Ghraib, that they're continuing to reduce numbers -- they expect within the next week to release another 500 prisoners, and some will be transferred to Camp Bucca, which is in the southern part of the country. They have discontinued, according to General Miller, all sorts of coercive or difficult or painful interrogation methods. So they are doing their best to try to change the situation out there and really repair the severe damage caused by the prisoner abuse scandal -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Ben Wedeman, we got to leave it there tonight. Thank you so much for that late-breaking news.

For more now on what the assassination of the Iraqi Governing Council president means to U.S. hopes for a free and democratic Iraq, I'm joined now by Fouad Ajami. He is a professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University and the author of "The Dream Palace of the Arabs."

Always good to see you.


ZAHN: Welcome.

AJAMI: Thank you.

ZAHN: So what does this mean to the June 30 date? Not a whole lot of people had faith with the Iraqi Governing Council, to begin with.

AJAMI: Well, the Iraqi Governing Council is our creation. And as you said, Paula, at the top of this story, this is the second assassination. Now, what's interesting about both these victims of -- these members of the governing council -- Alkila Hashmi (ph) was murdered back in September, and now Mr. Salim -- both are Shia. And in fact, if you take a look at our nemesis, our main enemy in the streets of Iraq, it's actually Abu Zarqawi. And Zarqawi has made no secret of his animus and hatred for the Shia. He hates them more than he hates the Americans...

ZAHN: So you're saying this is no coincidence. AJAMI: Absolutely. Absolutely.

ZAHN: So what does it lead to?

AJAMI: Well, I think our fortunes were not particularly brilliant before this assassination, and they're not brilliant after this assassination. Our work remains to be done. We have set this June 30 as a transfer of authority. It's freedom at midnight, ready or not. So we are rushing toward June 30, and we have to empower the Iraqis. We have not yet done so. This is what really stalks this effort in Iraq. And this is our problem. We have not trusted the Iraqis thus far, and this remains to be done.

ZAHN: You got members of Congress openly saying that this was an arbitrary date, to begin with.


ZAHN: But do you agree with the president it's a date that must be met to maintain any credibility that the U.S. might want to hang onto?

AJAMI: It's too late for this, to have second thoughts about June 30. Any...

ZAHN: So you got to do it.

AJAMI: We have to do it. We shouldn't really exaggerate what's going to happen on June 30. There will be a transfer of sovereignty, there will not be a transfer of power. Let's make no mistake about it. Who will be the most important and most powerful person in Iraq on July 1? It's going to be Ambassador John Negroponte. He is going to really inherit the position of Paul Bremer. So it's not so much that we are going to hand full power over to the Iraqis. There will be a sovereign government, and even that -- that sovereign government, the devil is in the details, and we have not worked that one out yet.

ZAHN: So will Mr. Negroponte, or anybody from the U.N., like Mr. Brahimi, have any more success than Mr. Bremer has had?

AJAMI: Well, Mr. Brahimi -- we put faith in Mr. Brahimi. And it's interesting. The Bush administration, after saying all kinds of things about the U.N. and having no faith in the U.N., suddenly turn to the U.N. and suddenly ask Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. Brahimi will not help us that much.

And Brahimi's understanding of Iraq is not that profound. You know, the idea that he's an Arab and he understands Iraq -- well, he doesn't really understand Iraq. And his recipe that there has to be a technocratic government in Iraq has been rejected by the Kurds and the Shia and has been seen by them, by these two critical communities, as an attack on them.

ZAHN: So you're pretty pessimistic about this all the way around. AJAMI: Well, it's pessimistic. It's a very big undertaking. I mean, if we're going to be optimistic, we should have never gone to Iraq. It's a very difficult country. It's our most important engagement in the foreign world since Vietnam. But at stake is both the reform of Iraq, and actually an effort to reform the Arab world. Those things are still to be fulfilled. We shouldn't give up on this effort.

ZAHN: But we're there.

AJAMI: We're there.

ZAHN: So if you were to advise President Bush tonight...

AJAMI: Right.

ZAHN: ... about how to either extract himself in the mess, which is not what you are necessarily proposing, but how you maybe take some of the pain away, what would you do?

AJAMI: Well, President Bush has many, many able advisers. I know that it's the fashionable thing for pundits to know that -- what they would do, had they been in power. He has all kinds of advisers. What we really need to do now, we have to think about the goals we could achieve in Iraq, and we have to think our exit out of Iraq is really empowering the Iraqi people themselves. We've sent one -- we've sent back to Iraq one of our best generals, Major General David Petraeus, to train an Iraqi army, an Iraqi civil defense corps, and to hand...

ZAHN: Oh, but come on! Look at the numbers. Just a fraction of the police forces have been trained.

AJAMI: Absolutely.

ZAHN: A fraction of soldiers have been trained.

AJAMI: Yes. And they melted away when we needed them. So in fact, I mean, we are still at the beginning of this -- of this -- of the story. It's not -- it's not a happy story. And there is, I think -- everywhere in this country, there is buyer's remorse about this war and there are people having second thoughts about this war. And I don't know even if President Bush could rethink and go back to March, 2003, whether he would launch this war.

ZAHN: But if in 15 seconds or less, you would have to acknowledge some improvements have been made in Iraq.

AJAMI: Absolutely.

ZAHN: The kids are going to school for the first time in many, many months.

AJAMI: Absolutely. I...

ZAHN: The electric power grid is up and operating in a way it wasn't operating before.

AJAMI: Absolutely. We've liberated 26 million people. I've gone to Iraq twice since the liberation, and there are enormous achievements. And these achievements (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they are side by side with this heartbreak. Hence the duality of Iraq.

ZAHN: Fouad Ajami, thank you very much for spending some time with us tonight.

Coming up: investigating the emergency response on September 11. Could more lives have been saved? We're going to tell you what theories the 9/11 commission is pursuing. And we're going to tell you why American Olympic athletes are being warned about waving the flag too much at the summer games in Athens.


ZAHN: Did communication problems cost lives on 9/11? Emergency crews are trying to make sure that is not a problem, in case there is another terrorist strike. In New York City this weekend, hundreds of emergency workers spent four hours dealing with a simulated explosion at a subway station. Other terror exercises took place in New York and Washington last week, as crews prepare for all kinds of disasters. And tomorrow, they may learn more about what went wrong on September 11 as the 9/11 commission meets here in New York.

Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins us now, on a rare treat to have you here in New York City. Welcome.


ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about some of the specific questions the 9/11 commission wants answered.

MESERVE: The overarching question is, how did emergency services respond? What could they do better? What improvements have been made? What improvements still need to be made? They'll be looking at several key areas. One is command structure. Who was in charge? Who should have been in charge? They'll look at issues like preparedness. Was it a good idea, for instance, to have an emergency command center located down in the World Trade Center, which had been hit by terrorists once before?

And they'll be looking at those questions of interoperability and communications, which we both know cost lives on 9/11. There was malfunctioning equipment. There were instances where departments might not have been communicating with one another the way they should have been. And now we've just recently learned about a recording on an answering machine which indicates that, initially, residents in the south tower were told to stay put, and then at the last minute, they were told to evacuate that building. Now, why wasn't there consistency there? Why did that change? Those are the kind of questions they want to have answered.

ZAHN: And we know later this week, Tom Ridge will be questioned after running an anti-terrorism drill that we just referred to. What is he going to point to? Has -- you mentioned there has been some progress and there needs to be more done. What will he say?

MESERVE: Well, he will say that. He'll point, for instance, to the drill they did in Washington last week, which was a test of the continuity of operations -- that is, how would the government operate if it had to leave Washington, D.C.? Believe it or not, that had never been tested before, even at the height of the cold war, when the nation was threatened with nuclear weapons. This was a first. He'll say those kinds of things are important steps.

But really, what he'll be concentrating on in his testimony this week is the sharing of information, vertical information-sharing, as he calls it, which means is information flowing from the federal government down to the states and the localities and back up again. He will argue that improvements have been made. Local first responders will acknowledge there are improvements, but there's still a long way to go there.

ZAHN: And that's an area, of course, that I know you've spoken with family members, as well as I have, who are particularly interested in that issue. Now on to the issue of what commissioner members have told you -- or commission members themselves -- about these drills. Do they think they're at all helpful?

MESERVE: I talked to Senator Bob Kerrey, former senator Bob Kerrey, who's a member of the commission, today. He says, yes, he thinks they are. He points specifically to something that happened on 9/11. He said there had been emergency drills, but they'd never taken people down the staircases at the World Trade Center. So people weren't aware that they aren't continuous, that somewhere in there, there was sort of a jog in the staircase that they had to make. People weren't aware of that. People had never been given instructions not go up to the roof in case of an emergency. He says if those things had been drilled, perhaps lives would have been saved on 9/11.

But I can also tell you that I've talked to people who are a little bit skeptical about some of the exercises that are run. They say people know ahead of time what the scenario is going to be. They often know the means of attack. That gives them a chance to prepare, and it doesn't bear any resemblance to reality of a real crisis.

ZAHN: Quickly, in closing, commission members, though, are going to take particular aim at the lack of communication between the police department and fire department. What do we learn?

MESERVE: They are going to take a look at that very seriously. I don't know all the specifics of what they're going to say in that staff report that they'll issue tomorrow, but one thing they're going to do is have a very powerful opening statement, in which they're going use videotape, audiotape from 9/11. Commission member Bob Kerrey said it will be like reliving the day. He says that is a very important thing to do. He feels that we've all lost sight of what happened there and the promises we made about changing things in how emergency services operates. He believes that by playing that stuff tomorrow, by hearing those words, by hearing that testimony, it'll take us all back and perhaps it will renew our commitment to improve things so 9/11 doesn't happen -- doesn't play out the way it did.

ZAHN: Jeanne Meserve, nice to see you in person.

MESERVE: Thanks.

ZAHN: So weird. We got navy and white memo.


ZAHN: Maybe the next time the two of us are united on set, we'll think about not paying attention to the working girls memo.


ZAHN: Thank you.

Coming up next, I'm going to ask an Olympic gold medalist what she thinks about warnings that waving the Stars and Stripes at the summer Olympics could be a dangerous game. And which diet is more effective, low carbs or low fat? We're going to tell you what two new studies say about the best way to shed pounds. Yes, the food police are out again. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: American athletes who win gold at the summer Olympics might keep the Red, White and Blue tucked away. U.S. Olympic officials have asked the team to show some restraint during their moments of triumph, and they've even brought in a consultant to teach athletes how to behave. The Olympics fear Olympic crowds could be hostile to excessive flag waving, considering the growing anti- American sentiment overseas. It is a change for American athletes, who have never been afraid to use the Olympics as a platform.


(voice-over): The Olympics are about moments, unforgettable moments of extraordinary triumph, profound patriotism, even political protest. Mexico City, 1968, heavyweight boxer George Foreman waves two American flags after his gold medal win, a moment in contrast to African-American track stars who protested against racial inequality with their black power salute.

In 1980, the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. hockey team draped itself in the Stars and Stripes, capturing the joy of an entire nation. In the year 2000, members of a victorious American relay team waved the flag but was condemned for its arrogance, called a "flag-draped disgrace."

But few faulted American athletes in 2002, just months after the September 11 attacks, when the American flag was everywhere in Salt Lake City, the ultimate symbol of patriotism.

So the question today in the face of ongoing worldwide anti- American sentiment, will fear bury the American flag in Athens? Will the symbol of democracy and freedom now provoke hostility and anger?


Well, here now to discuss this issue is someone who knows an awful lot about American pride at the Olympics and an awful lot about winning. Swimmer Jenny Thompson earned eight gold medals from the past three summer games. If she earns two more this summer, she will break an Olympic record. She already has more medals than any other female athlete from the U.S. Jenny Thompson joins us now.

What an honor to meet you.

JENNY THOMPSON, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: Thank you for having me, Paula.

ZAHN: Our pleasure. Let's talk a little bit more about the consultants that will be involved in this Olympics. They're warning American athletes not to show any kind of boastful behavior. They're telling athletes not to do things like run around and grab a flag and take it around the track with them. What are your thoughts?

THOMPSON: Well, it's interesting. I hadn't even heard anything about that. I think they're reserving (ph) that for once people actually make the team, they'll probably discuss it. And since our trials are in July, probably, we'll hear about it later. But you know, I think it's -- I think it's reasonable, given the political climate. And you know, I've been known -- it's hard to say. As an athlete, I can that say when you win a gold medal, it's hard to know how you're going to react. It's hard to control that visceral response that you have, the overwhelming joy.

ZAHN: Particularly after a lifetime of hard work to get there.

THOMPSON: Exactly.

ZAHN: Is there a part of your heart that's breaking when you're hearing that this might be necessary, that in some ways, you might have to tone down your boosterism of this country?

THOMPSON: Well, I think there are ways to display your joy and still be, you know, somewhat modest at the same time. Everyone is different in how they want to display their pride and their excitement, and so...

ZAHN: Let's take our audience back to the 2000 American relay team. And these two shots that you're about to see are what engendered a lot of negative reaction around the world. These athletes were called on the carpet. They were called arrogant. Is this kind of display we see in the picture ever appropriate?

THOMPSON: I -- I was -- I'm not familiar with the -- what was going on at the time when that happened. I can see that they're very excited that they won. And you know, personally, you know, I would have a little bit more reserved excitement. I've been known to display a flag with American patriotism, but you know, I think that, you know, there are certain precautions you want to take or certain modesty you want to take.

ZAHN: Sure. Let's move on to security issues for a moment, which I know you think the media is far more concerned about than the athletes themselves. But your fellow swimmer, Mark Spitz, a guy who had -- also has a lot of gold medals...


ZAHN: ... in his past, raised some concerns in an interview with the BBC, and he said he could see circumstances that would force the U.S. to pull out of the games. He said, quote, "Each day, it becomes more probable than not that ongoing conversations will take place as to how important it is to put athletes in harm's way." Now, Mr. Spitz shocked a lot of people with these words. What was your reaction?

THOMPSON: I'm not...

ZAHN: To his caution.

THOMPSON: I mean, I -- I didn't hear it exactly when he -- when he said it. I know that there are no plans from the USOC to pull out of the games. I know that they're doing everything they can to make sure the athletes are going to be safe.

ZAHN: Do you feel like you'll be safe?

THOMPSON: You know, right now, I'm concentrating on trying to make the team and just getting to Athens and focusing on performing well there. And I'm really relying on the people who are in charge of security to take care of us. And you know, I live in New York City. I kind of live with the daily, you know, "what if" of terrorism or things like that. I think that it's just one of those things you have to believe that it's going to be OK.

ZAHN: You graciously answered that question, but I don't think the rest of us are taking much of a leap when we put you at the Olympics this summer. Let's talk about your life now, as you prepare for the Olympics. You are in the middle of your third year of medical school. You have said this will be your last Olympic games. With all that you have accomplished in your career, 10 Olympic medals, seeking yet a new Olympic record, why go back?

THOMPSON: You know, I really just fell into it. When I started medical school, I wasn't swimming at the time. And after my first year, I had a few months off and just -- I really missed it. I missed the competition and just the sport itself. I really have a passion for it. And you know, I just -- one thing led to another. I made the 2003 world championships. And what the heck, I might as well go for 2004.

ZAHN: Are you feeling strong?

THOMPSON: I'm feeling very strong.

ZAHN: Well, we wish you best of luck. Having covered a number of Olympics, it is hard sometimes to hide your enthusiasm for American athletes. We'll be rooting for you.

THOMPSON: Thank you. ZAHN: Jenny Thompson, thank you. Best of luck to you.

Finally, is a low-fat diet the best way to slim down, or does the secret lie in counting your carbs? We're going to sort out two new reports about the latest diet craze. Or of course, you could do what Jenny does, which swim many miles a day, and you wouldn't have to worry about any of this! We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Well, it might not be what you want to hear tonight. More confusion in the world of diets. There are two new reports on low- carb diets. The bad news is they say completely different things. Well, since Bruce Burkhardt checked up on the diet police for us last week, we asked him to try digesting today's news.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took the ancient Egyptians decades to build the pyramids. It may take longer for us to build a food pyramid that everyone can agree on.

(on camera): According to the current USDA food pyramid, the foods down here at the bottom -- in other words, the ones we should eat the most of -- are breads and cereals, rice and pasta. In other words, carbs.

(voice-over): But according to the hot diets now -- South Beach and Atkins -- those foods should be at the top, the ones we should eat the least -- if we want to lose weight, that is. Now, to make things worse, a couple of new studies released today. One concludes that after a six-month trial, a low-carb diet is more effective than regular low-fat diets. And yet another study, this one following subjects for 12 months, finds little difference between low-carb and other diets. So how are we going to fill in the pyramid this week?

(on camera): What foods would you put at the bottom?

KIMBERLY GLENN, NUTRITIONIST: At the bottom of the pyramid is the base of the diet. I would have a lot of whole grains, 100 percent whole wheat bread.

BURKHARDT: Nutritionist Kimberly Glenn (ph) doesn't have a major problem with the pyramid. What's ignored is the idea that not all carbs are created equal.

GLENN: The white refined carbs are the ones you want to try to limit.

BURKHARDT: But eliminating carbs is not only nutritionally a bad idea, it's a tough diet to follow.

GLENN: When you eliminate them completely, we start having cravings for them. So we overeat them.

BURKHARDT: So no matter how you might fiddle with the food pyramid, no matter how many studies come out, the one thing that matters most seldom comes up in a study: common sense.

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: Yes, like twin (ph) donuts 24/7.

Thank you for joining us tonight. Tomorrow, I'll be talking with Private Lynndie England's attorneys about her upcoming court-martial and how they will defend her. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night.


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