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Are Accused U.S. Soldiers Scapegoats?; Reliving 9/11

Aired May 18, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Reliving the horror of 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are evacuating this part of Manhattan.

ZAHN: What went wrong? What went right? Tonight, lessons learned.

JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: I think that the command and control and communication of this city's public service is a scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're no different than any other city. And if you think we are, then you're really being foolish.

ZAHN: And these are the faces of what the world sees as the worst of America, but are they also the scapegoats?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The defense will be that he was following what he believed be lawful orders.

ZAHN: On the eve of the first prison abuse court-martial, a case for the defense.


ZAHN: Good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

We begin with strong words and heated debate in New York, where the 9/11 Commission opened a two-day hearing into the city's response to the World Trade Center attack. Former leaders of New York's finest and bravest answered some very tough questions as the panel took a look into communications problems that may have cost some lives. We'll get to that in a moment.

But, first, what the panel has learned so far. It was only weeks ago when stunning testimony about pre-9/11 intelligence made headlines.


RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: To them who are here in the room, to those watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you.

ZAHN (voice-over): That statement by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was the only direct apology to families of 9/11 victims. Former Bush and Clinton Cabinet members seemed more defensive when they testified in March.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A plan for the al Qaeda was not handed from one administration to the other.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm satisfied that we did what we could, given the intelligence that we had, and pre-9/11.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: That terrorism had to be among our highest priorities, and it was.

ZAHN: And it took extraordinary pressure for the White House to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

ZAHN: The hearings in March and April focused on intelligence failures before the attacks. To date, the 9/11 Commission has interviewed more than 1,000 people in 10 countries, including Presidents Bush and Clinton, Vice Presidents Cheney and Gore and directors of the FBI and CIA.

But, today, the commission convened near the scene of the World Trade Center attack to examine the problems that plagued emergency crews and may have cost lives on 9/11.


ZAHN: And the panel has been listening to all this testimony so it can make recommendations on how to make sure this does not happen again. In its final report in July, the commission will almost certainly call for better communication systems for emergency teams.

Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve reports on today's hearing.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: (voice- over): Though there was much to admire in New York's response to the 9/11 attacks, there were obvious failures. Was the emergency system overwhelmed or was the system unprepared. Commissioner John Lehman's opinion was obvious and unambiguous.

LEHMAN: I think that the command and control and communication of this city's public service is a scandal. It's not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city. THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSIONER: I think it's outrageous that you make a statement like that.

MESERVE: Will a new city command plan splitting responsibilities between fire and police, depending on the incident, solve the problem? Some commissioners were skeptical.

LEE HAMILTON, VICE-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: That is a prescription for confusion.

MESERVE: There was certainly confusion on 9/11. Using video and sound that still shocks, the commission staff cataloged other gaps and malfunctions that came to light that morning, many of which remain unaddressed.

LEHMAN: Why were there no plans to deal with survivors above the level of a fire in a high-rise? And why were there no, particularly after the '93 incident, where more than a dozen people were rescued by helicopters from the roofs of the World Trade Center, was there no contingency planning for use using helicopters to rescue people?

ALAN REISS, FORMER DIRECTOR, WORLD TRADE DEPARTMENT: The roof of 1 World Trade Center was basically an antenna farm. Every three or four feet, there were another (UNINTELLIGIBLE) antenna sticking up besides the 364-foot TV mast and two 60-foot (UNINTELLIGIBLE) TV masts.

MESERVE: But evacuation drills at the Trade Center never instructed occupants not to go to the roof and at many New York buildings, they still don't.

REISS: There's no instructions not to go up. There's no instruction that rooftop evacuation is not a feasible alternative if you can't get down. So that has to change.

MESERVE: Officials said fire and building codes have yet to be updated to incorporate the lessons of 9/11. And communications which failed so starkly that September are improved but still flawed.

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Show me one radio, show me one radio that they will guarantee you, this radio will go through that metal, it will go through the debris, it will go through the dust. You will have 100 percent communications 100 percent of the time. There is none. There is none.

MESERVE: The panelists said emergency responders need more radio frequencies. They also asked for more money and more intelligence. Officials said they were not aware that New York was under threat in the summer of 2001, and even now, information can be sketchy.

RAYMOND KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: One of the big frustrations, of course, as we all know, is the lack of specificity in terms of information coming down the pike. It just doesn't come neatly packaged. So we're putting out information that's pretty much public source information to the officers in the field. MESERVE: Kelly said New York is still in the crosshairs, a symbol to terrorists of all that is American. Why then, asked families, hasn't more been done since the attacks?

MINDY KLEINBERG, 9/11 WIDOW: I feel like we're playing Russian roulette. We keep getting told that there's going to be a future attack and yet we're not doing enough defensively to protect ourselves.

MESERVE: But one member of the commission said there needed to be a broader view.

JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: I think it would be foolish to assume that only New York a potential terrorist target. Any big city could be or coordinated attacks across America in four or five big cities at once could be. So we have to be very careful that we're not fighting yesterday's war.


MESERVE: With New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on the roster for tomorrow, expect some more heat as well as some light -- Paula.

ZAHN: You'll be our eyes and ears there tomorrow as well. Jeanne Meserve, thanks so much.

And a little bit earlier, I spoke with former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik about today's heated hearing.


ZAHN: Commissioner Kerik, always good to see you. Welcome.

KERIK: Thank you.

ZAHN: I don't think I will ever forget being on duty and watching you in the initial moments after the twin attacks on the World Trade Center, when were dodging rubble with Mayor Giuliani. Was it fair today when Commission Mayor Lehman basically said the command and control structure in plays that day -- quote -- "was not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city"?

KERIK: Well, I think the comment was inappropriate. I think it's unfortunate and it doesn't represent what the commission is supposed to be about. The commission is supposed to investigate and inquire. They themselves said they're not here to cast blame. They themselves said they're not here to attack. They're here to learn.

So when you hear someone make a statement like that, you have to wonder why.

ZAHN: So then my question to you then is, why? Did you view it as grandstanding?

KERIK: In a way, I did. In a way, I did. There was a lot of applause. It's unfortunate because it takes away what the hearings are really supposed to be about. The inference that there was a scandal and the inference that the police and fire departments should respond like the military, the inference or the statement that he made that the fire department and police department should report to a public safety commissioner, like other major departments around the country, when in reality, they don't.

So I'm not sure where he got his information. L.A. doesn't. Miami doesn't. Chicago doesn't. Dallas doesn't. And New York doesn't, and never have. And I think that may be something to look at. Why don't they? I think we did a phenomenal job on September 11. I think we did the best we could with the information we had, with the people we had.

And a number of people lost their lives in doing so, so I think it's unfortunate that somebody would use the scandal when you're talking about that day.

ZAHN: So then what was it like for you today to sit through this hearing when you heard yourself openly mocked by some family members of victims and you heard people cheering on John Lehman when he attacked you fiercely?

KERIK: Well, you know, honestly, I can't say anything against the family members.


ZAHN: Did it hurt you, though, at any level? You just talked about losing members of the police force as they tried to save lives that day.

KERIK: His statements bothered me. The families and the way they respond and the way they act, you know, listen, I can't say anything about the families. I understand their heartache. I understand their grief.

And I just -- I don't have any need to say anything about the families. They feel the way they feel and they have a right to voice their opinion. But the commission is there to inquire and investigate. And that doesn't appear what Mr. Lehman was doing today.

ZAHN: Although commission member Jamie Gorelick said the commission problems should be blamed on the sheer magnitude of the attacks. Could any system have handled the test that day?

KERIK: Well, Paula, the New York City Police Department has the largest 911 center in the country. We have 911 operators. We have 911 dispatch. We have patrol supervisors who are supervisors in the 911 center that oversee them.

On a daily basis, we get thousands of calls to the 911 center. On that day, we probably got hundreds of thousands of calls. I don't think the New York City operator systems or Verizon or AT&T or any other network could have handled -- in fact, I know they couldn't handle it, because when we were trying to call out, it constantly read that all the circuits were busy and all the circuits were down.

And then portions of time, we had no communications. The system just overloaded. The repeater switches were gone. You saw the devastation on that day. The system couldn't handle it. Is it anybody's fault? No, I don't think it's anybody's fault. I think it was just the circumstances. And you have to take it into perspective. And I think Mr. Lehman and some of the commission members do and some don't.

ZAHN: I want to close tonight with lessons learned from 9/11. And for the first time, members of the public have heard audiotapes of instructions that people in the north and south tower were given, and particular this one that I am going to share with you in the south tower.

It began with -- quote -- "First, may I have your attention please, repeating this message, the situation occurred in building one." And then just one minute before the next tower was hit, a message came over the P.A. system, blasting, if the conditions warrant on your floor, you may wish to start an orderly evacuation.

What are we to learn? A lot of people lost their lives because they stayed in place, thinking they were going to be rescued.

KERIK: You know what, Paula? It's hard to sit back and listen to that today. It was extremely difficult to sort of relive the day and relive the minutes.

But I think people have to keep this in mind. No one ever imagined that somebody would fly a 767 into those towers. Needless to say, they never imagined two. And I think that people were doing the best they could under the circumstances. And whoever gave that order, whoever told them to remain, they were doing so for their safety. And on that day, it didn't work. You know, did we learn something from that? Yes, we did.

ZAHN: And what's the lesson? Get out.

KERIK: I think the lesson is, when you can, when it's safe, get out.

But you have to keep in mind that a lot of the people that left from building two were getting hit by debris, they were getting hit by bodies. You know, you have to take it into perspective.

ZAHN: How many nights do you lie awake still horrified by what you witnessed in the aftermath?

KERIK: I don't think I lie awake nights thinking about it because I think about it everyday. I wear a memorial band on my wrist that represents the 23 people I lost. I think about it every day. You know, it's there. It never goes away.

ZAHN: That must mean a lot to the families, the members who legacy you honor here tonight.

KERIK: I think.

ZAHN: Well, we salute you for all the hard work that you did during that period.

KERIK: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you for sharing your story with us tonight.


ZAHN: And when we come back, another very important part of the story, a daughter who lost her mother and father who lost his son on 9/11 thinks about today's hearing.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And we're back; 3,000 people died on 9/11. And their families have been watching the work of the 9/11 Commission closely.

Joining us now, Carie Lemack, whose mother died on 9/11, and Ernest Strada, who lost his son that day as well.

Thank you both for joining us today. We know this has been a challenging day for all of you families out there.

Carie, you have been critical of the government in about being proactive enough in making changes that you think will protect perhaps the next generation of Americans who might get hit in a terrorist attack. Was there anything you heard today that gave you confidence that we are indeed safer?

CARIE LEMACK, LOST MOTHER ON SEPTEMBER 11: I think the commission asked fantastic questions today, really getting to the heart of the issues.

Obviously, it was very tough to have to listen and watch some of the videos of the planes crashing, building falling. I had to close my eyes a lot, didn't want to see my mother get murdered on television again. But the fact that commission is asking the right questions, are we better off? Are communications between the fire department and the police department and the Office of Emergency Management, is that communication better so if anything, God forbid, does happen again, can they work better next time?

We know on September 11 that, while the politics department knew that the buildings might fall, they couldn't get that information to the firefighters. And some of them died because of that. And we want to make sure that that doesn't happen next time.

ZAHN: So are you satisfied then?

LEMACK: I think the right questions are being asked.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: But what about the answers?

LEMACK: Well, the answers were a little bit troubling.

It sounded to me, from what I heard today -- and I'm no expert. But from what I could understand, if there's ever a high-rise fire, the people above the fire, there's no evacuation plan. And I can't understand why 2 1/2 years after hundreds of thousands of people died because they were above a fire, there's still no way to get them out. And so there is a lot of work to be done.

We heard that, in Los Angeles, there's helicopter pads on top of buildings, but not in New York. So there would be no way to have a helicopter evacuation.

ZAHN: Ernest, I know that throughout this horrible process, you have by and large been pretty supportive of the government and you think that particularly these rescue workers did the best job they could do under horrendous circumstances. But would you acknowledge, based on what you've heard over the last couple of months of these hearings, that some of the communications systems did in fact fail and that ultimately cost some Americans their lives?

ERNEST STRADA, LOST SON ON SEPTEMBER 11: I wouldn't debate that. I would have to agree that there's a possibility that, with the situation such as it was and in the areas that some of those radios were located, they probably didn't communicate, they probably didn't have signal, or they probably had overloaded lines.


STRADA: That might very well be possible and that it's very possible that as a result of that, there may have been loss of life, both those who responded, as well as occupants.

But it's very, very hard to challenge now, after the fact, that the preparations and the equipment that we had and everything that we were taught to do would have been inadequate or adequate given the situation. No one could have conceived of the incident, the magnitude of what we experienced. So, I think what we've done here is, we've taken that incident and we're trying to use that so that in the future, as has been suggested, we would be prepared in the event that something as dramatic and as large as this would ever happen again.

ZAHN: There is one commonality you all share, and that is the joint grieving you've all been through. But the one thing that was pretty evident today is the clear division between those families of victims who believe the government has basically done all it could do and those families who are troubled that they don't think their questions are being answered.

Were you at all embarrassed by the booing and hissing that went on directed at the former commissioner of the police department and the head of the fire department? Was that an appropriate way for families to vent today? LEMACK: I think that each family has to grieve on their own and they have to choose how they're going to do that. Sometimes they're in control of it. Sometimes they're not.

But I do think what I find most appropriate is to ask the tough questions. And I agree that we cannot question if someone did a good or bad job on September 11 and place blame. What we can do is say, if you did do a good or bad job, what led up to that and are we going to fix those problems so we make sure it doesn't happen again? And I think that is the most honor you can give the people who were killed that day, because we want to make sure it doesn't happen again.

We have a problem. We heard today that there's just not enough resources, specifically financial, to support what needs to be done. It's interesting to think that we're spending $60 billion in Iraq and we don't have enough money back in the homeland to defend ourselves. So I think that there are some tough questions to be asked and I'm glad that we're getting to some more of the facts so we can answer those questions.

ZAHN: But I want to come back to the point Carie was making, that every family member has a right to react the way they want to react. But was there a part of you that either was insulted by how some of the families reacted today or did you understand the booing the cheering on of John Lehman when he was highly critical of the police department and fire department?

STRADA: It's funny you should raise that question with me because when I went to the Condoleezza Rice hearing, the only individual who impressed me was John Lehman. And today, he sadly disappointed me. He asked great questions. He made great statements at the Condoleezza Rice hearing.

If you take a tapes, you'll see what I mean. And today, I think he was absolutely lost in the forest. To come down on the authorities and representatives of the services the way he came down on them I think was disrespectful, really disrespectful.

ZAHN: And in the end, just brief answers about how political you think this has all become.

LEMACK: I have said it before and I'll say it again. Safety is not a partisan issue. I think the commissioners did a great job today. They have a tough job ahead of them. And I think we owe them our support and we look forward to helping them get their recommendations implemented. It's the most important thing we can do.

ZAHN: Ernest?

STRADA: Except for John today, who I don't think was making a political statement, I'm disappointed by the politicizing that the commission has been engaged, with the frenzy of the presidential campaign and with the party lines that you see so, so easily represented on the commission.

I'm just hoping -- and I talked earlier about it -- that they do their job, that they focus on what their responsibility is, that, when ultimately they develop the reports and the recommendations, that they serve this nation and all the people that they're obligated to serve. That's what I pray for.

ZAHN: Well, our hearts go out to all of you whose loss is still so fresh.

LEMACK: Thank you, Paula.

STRADA: Thank you so much.

ZAHN: Good luck to all your families.

LEMACK: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you for your time.

Carie Lemack, Ernest Strada.

Coming up next, we're going to move on to some other important stories tonight. Is this the real Lynndie England? Her attorney says these pictures lie. Well, we'll look at who she is and what says happened at Abu Ghraib.

And the president may need their votes to win a second term, or could they make John Kerry president? "The American Pulse" looks at the increasingly influential Hispanic vote.


ZAHN: In Baghdad tomorrow, in a makeshift courtroom, an Army specialist is expected to plead guilty to three counts of misconduct. It will be the first court-martial in the scandal over American abuse of prisoners in Iraq.


ZAHN (voice-over): Military courts-martial are sometimes open to the public, but rarely with the whole world watching. The special court-martial of Specialist Jeremy Sivits begins tomorrow, the first soldier to be tried in the Iraq prison scandal.

CAPT. ROSE BLEAM, U.S. ARMY: We're not looking at the most expeditious manner of conducting these court-martials. The challenge for all parties involved is to make sure that these court-martials are conducted as if there was no media attention, as if no one else was looking and scrutinizing what we're doing.

ZAHN: But, in reality, everyone will be. Former Abu Ghraib prison guard Sivits is expected to plead guilty to charges to dereliction of duty and mistreatment of prisons. He will appear in an improvised courtroom at the Baghdad Convention Center. There will be room for about 50 spectators and members of the press. There will also be live simultaneous translation in Arabic.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. DEPUTY CHIEF OF OPERATIONS: We would hope that by making it open to the public, by making it open to the press, that the press would take advantage of this situation, not only to see American justice in action, but to record it and tell their readers about their observations.

ZAHN: Yet, despite this very public court-martial, some people in Baghdad question whether justice can and will be served.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): While the Americans knew about the torture of the Iraqi detainees before this date, it is a game to help Bush win the elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It should be an Iraqi court, not an American, to try the officers in charge, not the soldiers who executed the orders.

ZAHN: Given this sentiment, U.S. officials also are concerned about the court of public opinion. They must convince Iraqis and the rest of the world that they are serious about bringing those responsible for the Abu Ghraib abuses to justice.


ZAHN: Private Lynndie England will not be court-martialed tomorrow, but she probably won't be forgotten in the proceedings. In some ways, England has become the face of the abuse scandal. But her family says it is not an accurate portrayal of the 21-year-old who came from humble beginnings.

Though she was born in Kentucky, Lynndie England's roots are in Mineral County, West Virginia, her home since she was 2. England was a junior in high school when she joined the Army Reserve to earn some money for college. She was hoping to become a storm chaser. England's family and friends describe her as kind, generous and dependable. They say she is not the Lynndie England of this picture, smiling and pointing at naked Iraqi prisoners.

England faces several charges, including assault and conspiracy to maltreat Iraqi prisons. But she says she's not responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib prison. She says, she was just following orders.

One of Lynndie England's attorneys, Rose Mary Zapor, joins us from Denver.

Good of you to join us. Thank you very much.


ZAHN: I wanted to read to our audience tonight some statements who are attributed to your client.

For starters, her quote which is attributed to "The New York Times," is, "We thought it looked funny, so pictures were taken." And, "Was there anything these detainees -- done to these detainees that you felt was going too far?" she was asked. "No," she replied. Asked if she ever physically abused a detainee, Private England said, "Yes, I stepped on some of them, pushed them but nothing extreme."

Rose, what are we to make of these comments?

ZAPOR: Well, the first thing that we're making of these comments is that they were illegally obtained by the military. Private England had invoked her right to counsel about a week before these statements were taken. And in that time, she was isolated. She's been removed from the rest of her unit in Iraq, and she's been back in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, for -- since about the middle of March. She's been isolated. She was placed in a situation where psy ops has their headquarters, and she has been, basically, interrogated without benefit of counsel, which she had asked -- requested many months before.

ZAHN: OK, Rose, you're making the case that these at least comments were illegally obtained. You're not denying, then, that she made them.

ZAPOR: I have not seen the statements, so I don't even know if she made them. They have not been released to us. This has been something that's happened over and over, that things are being released to the press before they're being released to her defense counsel, in violation of her constitutional rights. So you know, I don't know if she made them or the circumstances under which she made these statements.

ZAHN: Let's take a look again at some of the photos that are also associated with your client. How do you defend these pictures?

ZAPOR: Well, General Taguba, in his report in March of this year, stated very specifically these photographs were posed, and that they were posed by persons other than persons in her military chain of command.

ZAPOR: Who specifically gave her the orders?

ZAPOR: I wish I knew. We've been trying to find that out, and we have not received the discovery we've requested regarding who was available in that part of the prison at that time.

ZAHN: So have you attempted to at least elicit some answers from any of her superiors, at this point?

ZAPOR: We have not been given access to her superiors.

ZAHN: Are you hopeful you will be?

ZAPOR: We are going to be requesting depositions of everybody in her chain of command, as well as several members of the Department of Defense.

ZAHN: And do you plan to call any of those potential witnesses to trial?

ZAPOR: Right now, we are just listing them as deposition witnesses for her Article 32 hearing. ZAHN: And what would change that?

ZAPOR: What do you -- I'm sorry? I don't...

ZAHN: The next step in the process, then? Once you do it under that article, then what happens?

ZAPOR: Well, after the Article 32 hearing is when the court- martial would probably be scheduled.

ZAHN: Let's go on to the issue of what several of the other soldiers who are facing court-martials are saying, that although they had a legal right not to follow through with what they thought was an unlawful order, they felt intimidated and that's why they did it. Was your client aware that she had the ability under the law to refuse what you said she was forced to do or asked to do?

ZAPOR: You know, another member of our team, Carl McGuire, is a Navy reserve JAG officer, and in talking to him about this case, I asked him that same question. And he said that people in the military are trained that they can refuse an unlawful order, but they're also taught that if they don't obey that order instantaneously, without thinking, that other members of their unit could die.

We also have the problem of this portion of the prison being set aside, pursuant to General Karpinski's testimony several weeks ago that she was not allowed access to this prison. So in essence, by undermining the military chain of command and breaking that chain of command, these civilian advisers and other governmental authorities, OGAs -- other governmental authorities -- denied the people in that part of the prison any right to object. Because who's giving this order? How do we know it's an unlawful order?

ZAHN: All right...

ZAPOR: If this part of the prison is being treated like Gitmo, for instance, where the people involved are enemy combatants and not POWs subject to the Geneva convention, we have a situation where a private has no ability to interpret that command.

ZAHN: All right. I just need a yes or no here. Do you have reason to believe there was any kind of cover-up involved here? And we really only have time for the yes or no.

ZAPOR: Well, I can't give you a yes or no to that. We're looking for discovery, and I have no idea if there's a cover-up.

ZAHN: All right, Rose Mary Zapor, thank you very much for your time tonight, and we look forward to having you back. Appreciate it.

Tomorrow we're going to have complete coverage of the first court-martial in the Iraqi prison scandal, and we'll have the latest from a Senate committee hearing where Army generals are expected to face some tough questions about the abuse.

But next: The men who carried out Hitler's war crimes said they were just following orders. But since the horrors of World War II, others have used the same defense. Has it ever worked? And we're going to go to Arizona, where Hispanic voters could be a decisive factor in the campaign for president. Carlos Watson takes "The American Pulse."


ZAHN: By now, you've noticed that we are hearing a similar line of defense from the soldiers accused in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, "I was just following orders." It has been tried before, not very successfully. Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has looked up some of the cases.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (voice-over): The most notorious the invocation of the "I was just following orders" defense came after World War II. And while the charges are in no way comparable to the charges at Abu Ghraib, the line of defense is. Many German generals and war leaders said the concentration camps and the extermination of the Jews were not their idea. They said they had to follow Hitler's orders or they themselves would have been executed.

COMMANDER MARY HALL, RETIRED JAG: The defense was rejected in Nuremberg primarily because the acts were so horrific that the Nazis who were in the tribunal were charged with that no person of ordinary sense and understanding could have possibly thought that those orders to commit those acts were anything other than illegal and just totally immoral.

TOOBIN: The Vietnam war once again put the "following orders" defense to the test. The My Lai massacre. On March 16, 1968, Lieutenant William Calley of Charlie Company led a platoon into a village called My Lai and wiped out everyone there -- as many as 500 men, women and children. He testified that he did fire at civilians who were cowering in a ditch, but he said, "I felt then, and I still do, that I acted as directed. I carried out my orders." The military jury rejected the defense, found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.

HALL: Lieutenant Calley's conviction was upheld by the military appeals court. And it was President Nixon who mitigated the punishment from life sentence down to three-and-a-half years of house arrest, in essence, changing not just the duration but the nature of the punishment, as well.

TOOBIN: But the story didn't end there. The man Calley alleged gave the order, Captain Ernest Medina, also faced murder charges. He said he never ordered the murder of any unarmed civilians, and the jury found him not guilty.

In the Iran-contra case, Oliver North said he was ordered to cover up the arms-for-hostages deal, and the jury convicted him of some charges, but the case was overturned on appeal. Since My Lai, the military has tried to clarify the rules. The current military field manual says it is no defense for a soldier to say he was just following orders unless -- and it's a big unless -- unless he did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful.

What do those words mean in the real world? We'll start to find out at tomorrow's trial in Baghdad.


This -- what we really don't know is a lot here. What orders were given to these prison guards? What specifically were they told? That's what we're going to start to find out tomorrow.

ZAHN: So the bottom line here is, generally, over history, these kinds of defenses have not been terribly successful. But this could be different?

TOOBIN: It could be different, depending how sympathetic these defendants are and what precisely they were told and who told them what to do.

ZAHN: Interesting perspective.


ZAHN: Jeffrey Toobin. Thanks.

Just ahead, more on the war in Iraq and a startling admission from a top Pentagon official. As the U.S. prepares to hand power back to the Iraqis, an architect of the war says the administration made a major miscalculation. And Carlos Watson takes "The American Pulse" of Hispanic voters. They could tip the scales in several major states this coming November.


ZAHN: Before we leave the Iraq story, we need to tell you about a remarkable development on Capitol Hill. In testimony before a Senate committee today, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted the U.S. underestimated the enemy.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: I would say, of all the things that were underestimated, the one that almost no one that I know of predicted, with the exception of a retired Marine colonel named Gary Anderson (ph), who wrote this in an op-ed piece in "The Post," I believe it was April 2 of last year, was to properly estimate the resilience of the regime that had abused this country for 35 years.


ZAHN: Time now to go to Washington and congressional correspondent Joe Johns. Joe, good evening. Fist of all, how shocking was its for folks to hear Paul Wolfowitz make this very public admission? JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, given the situation, obviously, on Capitol Hill, a lot of people have said that all along, people in Congress think a number of things were underestimated in Iraq, and this is just one of those. One of the most important questions that got asked here on Capitol Hill today was when will U.S. security forces leave Iraq? Wolfowitz really did not have a good answer for that. A number of members of Congress are very concerned about stability there. They fear that the stability is affecting the popularity of the war in the United States. And that, for them, of course, is a problem, Paula.

ZAHN: So can you leap to the conclusion, then, in general, there's a consensus that the U.S. is not prepared for this turnover?

JOHNS: Well, they don't know. They've been asking a lot of questions of the administration and they continue to ask questions of the administration. A lot of members of the committee today went away not happy with their answers. In fact, the administration had to promise them that they would get back to the members of Congress on whatever question it was they asked. Interestingly, perhaps one of the most interesting questions came from Senator Chuck Hagel, who essentially asked, What is going to happen to the prisoners in Iraq who are in custody of United States forces when the transition of power occurs? That, of course, is another question the administration didn't have a great answer for, other than to say that those prisoners would apparently go over to the custody of the transition government, Paula.

ZAHN: Joe Johns, thanks so much for the update tonight. Appreciate it.

The war in Iraq, of course, is a major issue in the presidential election. Coming up next, Carlos Watson asks Hispanic voters about the war, the economy and other issues that could affect their decision at the polls.


ZAHN: Welcome back. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the United States. Their votes were crucial in the 2000 presidential race, and in states such as New Mexico, Florida and Arizona, they could decide this one. That's why both the Bush and Kerry campaigns are working very hard to woo the Hispanic vote. And that is why we sent political analyst Carlos Watson to take "The American Pulse" in Arizona, his fourth stop in a series that's taken him to Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Florida.

Check out those bonus miles, my friend!

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's why (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Arizona was good. I didn't get any golf in, but I had a good time.

ZAHN: Oh, we're not feeling sorry for you. Let's go back to 2000. And that's with when Al Gore won the Hispanic vote nationally by a nearly two-to-one margin, Gore taking 62 percent of the Hispanic vote, Bush 35 percent of that vote. Now, you went to Tucson specifically to see how Hispanic voters in Arizona are feeling this year about this election. What did they tell you?

WATSON: Very interesting group. We had two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent. They ranged in age anywhere from 31 to 55, a machine operator, an office manager, two people in accounting. And the views were very diverse. I mean, I expected on questions like immigration, even on questions like how they'd feel about a vice-presidential candidate who came from a Hispanic background, I thought they'd have kind of the same view. Not at all. In fact, as we tune in, I think we'll be surprised to hear what they had to say.

ZAHN: You covered a lot of territory with these voters. Let's check out what they told you.

WATSON: Good stuff.


What's the most important issue for you, as you make your decision in 2004?

ARMANDO VALENZUELA (D), VOTED FOR GORE IN 2000: It's two. Getting out of Iraq, getting out of Iraq and bringing our soldiers back, and No. 2, education. I think that if we educate our kids, the more kids we'll get off the social welfare systems.

WATSON: OK. Priscilla, what about you?

PRISCILLA ARRTOLA (R), VOTED FOR BUSH IN 2000: Mine is education, as well. I have three very young sons, and they're very intelligent. But with the school system that we have right now, I just don't feel they're getting what they deserve. And I want to see them become a president some day. They have potential. They can.

HENRY SOTO (D), VOTED FOR GORE IN 2000: For me, I think I'm very concerned about our economy. I think we're leading into a recession and more into inflation right now, with the price of everything going up. Nobody's got an answer as to why we're paying so much for everything.

ZAHN: Michelle.

MICHELLE ANAYA (R), VOTED FOR BUSH IN 2000: I would have to say the situation in Iraq. I wish it was over. I wish it could be done quickly.

I think the economy has, you know, just gone really bad, you know, as a young mother, and trying to raise my son and be out in there the workforce and still feel like you're struggling and not being able to survive on your own. I also agree with Armando and Priscilla about education because I do believe that our future depends on the kids that we educate.

WATSON: Is there a minority interest when you see an African- American or an Asian-American candidate?

VERONICA SOTO (I), VOTED FOR GORE IN 2000: You tend to feel like maybe they've have come from, you know, somewhere and had the experiences you had, or just had experiences different than those people that have been in office. It does make it more appealing to see somebody of minority, a female, you know, in there saying, you know, This is my opinion, this is what I believe.

HENRY SOTO: When you have somebody of your background in a position of power, it's like decisions that they make, it's -- you kind of understand why they're making those decisions and not wondering why. That's an advantage to having somebody, you know, that represents the Hispanic population.

WATSON: The national political circles are always saying, Hey, If Bill Richardson were on the ticket, he would help the Hispanic vote.

VERONICA SOTO: We don't know enough about him. We can't really speak for New Mexico because we're not paying as much attention to that state as we would to our own.

VALENZUELA: Maybe it's because you look at Richardson, the name Richardson, and how many people knew that he was Hispanic? It made a lot of difference when Reggie Martinez Jackson...



VALENZUELA: ... you know, was hitting home runs. We want someone that looks like us.


VALENZUELA: We want someone that thinks like us, that represents the people of color. But I don't think it's going to sway us to voting one way or the other unless everything is very, very, very close.

WATSON: So who plans to vote in this November's election?


WATSON: Everyone?


WATSON: Who's made up their mind already?

VALENZUELA: I'm swinging towards Kerry.


VALENZUELA: I'm a disabled Vietnam veteran. I don't like the fact that we're in Vietnam -- I mean, in Iraq. WATSON: Priscilla, what about you?

ARRTOLA: I'm going for Bush, just for the reason, he started something, he needs to finish it.

WATSON: Veronica, where are you?

VERONICA SOTO: I'm still pretty much undecided, at this point. I think I sway a little bit more towards Kerry because I have very strong feelings that we've lingered too long in Iraq.

WATSON: Michelle, where are you?

ANAYA: Yes. I will vote for Bush. I do agree that the loss of American life is devastating. What happens if we just don't do anything? What happens if we just leave Iraq alone, pull our troops out? Another 9/11 -- it could happen every year. Terrorism's not going to go anywhere. These people, they're breeding little baby terrorists over there.


ZAHN: And where are you, Carlos, in the Bush or Kerry camp?


ZAHN: Just kidding!


ZAHN: All right, some clear decisions in that group. Let's take a look at yet another national poll, the most recent poll showing Hispanic voters going to John Kerry for the -- not for the most part, but leading Bush 48 percent to 38 percent. So the bottom line here is the Democrats can't take for granted the Hispanic vote here.

WATSON: And if they do, you could lose critical states like New Mexico, which Al Gore only won by 366 votes. States like Arizona that you hope are in play could fall out of play. And states like Colorado, states like Florida, states like Nevada, all states the Democrats hope to do well in. So don't expect just to see ads, but expect to see more substantive policy conversations not only on immigration, but on questions like education. And you heard a lot about the economy, including inflation.

ZAHN: Sure.

WATSON: You know, we talked earlier in the show about where gas prices are going. Clearly here, Hispanic voters, just like all voters, worried about some of these economic questions.

ZAHN: That was really interesting. Good luck on your next trip.

WATSON: Thank you.

ZAHN: We'll see you some -- same time, same place next week. Carlos Watson...

WATSON: Heading to New Orleans.

ZAHN: Have a terrific time. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Tomorrow, the first soldier faces court-martial in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Join us for complete coverage on that story and on the latest testimony from the 9/11 commission hearings. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Thanks again for joining us tonight. Good night.


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