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Kerry Delivers Policy Speech in New York; War Crimes Trials; Standoff in Najaf

Aired August 24, 2004 - 11:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Up first this hour, we're standing by live to hear from Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee. He's expected to speak directly to the issue of those ads that question his service record by accusing opponents of -- his opponents of fear-and-smear tactics. He's getting ready to speak in New York City right now, having just been introduced.
Let's go to John Kerry, hear what he has to say, and specifically whether he addresses the entire issue of these Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that caused -- that has caused some serious consternation in recent days.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very, very much.

After waiting so long, you got to release that energy somehow, I know.


I apologize profusely. Thank you very, very much. It appears as if this truly is a bipartisan audience.


It's an honor for me to be here for all the reasons that the distinguished President Campbell has just described. The history to stand at this very podium and even touch it is a thrill for me.

I'm honored to be here in the presence of a number of members of Congress who are friends of mine. Jerry Nadler, I think, was speaking a little bit before we came in, and Gregory Meeks and Major Owens are all here sitting somewhere. I can't quite see through the lights.

But I appreciate their presence. And more importantly, we all appreciate their service to our country.


I also want you all to thank with me, if you would, Nicole Goodwin, who served in Iraq and who led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. And we're grateful for her service.


I thank President Campbell for his generous introduction. It's an honor to be here at an institution where America's learning has been so consistently advanced and America's history so often made, as Dr. Campbell said. And for nearly a century and a half, Cooper Union has produced some of our nation's leading architects, engineers and artists.

You've also helped to lay the foundation and the design for the blueprint of our democracy. That's no surprise.

I did a little research before I came here and I learned that as a young man, Peter Cooper learned carpentry and the art of beer making, which pretty much can get you through any weekend hanging around the house.


All kidding aside, great American values have always been spoken here, lived here and taught here.

And seeing Cooper Union as a sanctuary and as a force for equality, the NAACP was organized here.

Seeing it as a symbol and as a center for the concern of other people, the Red Cross was organized here.

It's no accident that Thomas Edison, the man who invented the light bulb and much of the rest of modern life, was a student here.

And I can't help but noting that at least five presidents -- Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, and of course, Lincoln himself, spoke here as candidates.

So I've been kind of looking forward to this speech.


As a matter of fact, if you count them up, four of the candidates were future Republican presidents and one was a Democrat.

KERRY: I intend to make the score 4-2.


But on a serious note, to me, and I think to you, the contest this year is not just about winning a campaign, it's about making America stronger at home and respected in the world.


It's about reclaiming the character of our country and the integrity of our politics.


I'm here today to call for a truthful and robust debate about our values as Americans and the fundamental choices that we will make at a critical time in America's and indeed in the world's history. That is what this election should be about. But from the other side, we have seen a calculated effort to evade that debate.

The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can't talk about jobs, health care, energy independence and rebuilding our alliances.


They can't or they refuse to talk about the real issues that matter to the American people. They have no plans, no positive vision and no understanding of an urgent and undeniable truth: A stronger America begins right here at home.


Next week, the Republicans will hold their convention here in New York.


KERRY: You should -- no, no, no, no. We welcome the parties, obviously, in every place. And you've all worked hard here. You've worked hard and you've done everything that you can to prepare for and to protect this event.

And in the post-9/11 world, New Yorkers, more than most Americans, understand the importance of doing everything that we can to make our country safer and more secure. Your city and your first responders have led in that effort and I applaud you for it.



KERRY: The world will listen to what the Republicans say when they come here. But words, slogans and personal attacks cannot disguise what they have done and left undone. They are going to say that we've turned the corner; that the job is getting done. They are even going to claim, as they already have, that this is the best economy of our lifetimes.


They have obviously decided that some people will believe anything, no matter how fictional or how far-fetched, if they just repeat it often enough.


That's how they have run their administration, that's how they're running their campaign and that's how they are going to run their convention.

I believe that the American people are smarter than that. You can't cover up reality with a few empty slogans. You can't lead America by misleading the American people.



KERRY: I don't believe that four years of lost jobs, lower wages, higher health care costs and tax cuts for the few are the best that America can do.

America can do better, and we will do better.


While our opponents are focused on false reassurances and false attacks, John Edwards and I have traveled across this country listening and responding to the hopes and the concerns of the American people. On front porches, in open fields and town squares, in great cities like this, families have gathered to tell us what matters most.

They tell us to make sure that their sons and daughters in uniform who risk their lives halfway around the world are actually going to come home to a country where they have a chance to live out their dreams and to find a good job and the chance to start their own business, a home that they can pay for, affordable health care, the chance to be able to send their kids to college.

These are the things that we need to be fighting for here at home.

And the American people have also told us that they want a country that lives up to its ideals of responsibility and community, opportunity for all people.

In the end, their concerns, like this election, are really about values.

For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values are not just words, they're what we live by. They are the causes that we champion. They're the choices that we make.

Values are how we define the difference between right and wrong.

And ultimately, this election is not just a choice between Democrats and Republicans, but it is a choice between what is right for America and policies that are wrong for the American people.

The fundamental choice we face comes down to this: Because a strong America begins at home, as president, I will be a champion for the middle class and those struggling to join it. But this administration has weakened our middle class, weakened our economy, neglected the crisis of health care and turned away from the American dream of growth and opportunity for all.

Every step of the way, George W. Bush has put the narrow interests of the few ahead of the interests of most Americans. The middle class has always been the moral and economic backbone of this nation. That's why Franklin Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill to help people go to college, buy a house, and build their wealth. Under Bill Clinton, we created 23 million new jobs, lifted 7 million Americans out of poverty, and sent millions more Americans to college. The middle class built this nation. They work hard, pay their bills, and do right by their families. Our country ought to do right by them.

Today, there is no more powerful example of the fundamental choice we face in this election than the issue of the economy.

The Bush administration blamed a weak economy on events out of their control.

Then they made a big promise of 6 million new jobs by the middle of 2004. They, in fact, have lost 1.8 million jobs. So now they offer another strategy: denial and attack. And as we will hear at their convention - the pretense that they finally have a plan for jobs.

But this is the reality: No jobs. No record they're willing to run on. And no real plans for the future.

And you can't make up for four years in a few days of a convention and a few weeks of campaigning.

They say our economy has turned a corner. That's not what John Edwards and I are hearing from people from one end of this country to the other.

America can do better. And the fundamental choice voters face is this: do we accept an economy that benefits the special interests or do we want an economy that works for the middle class?

It is a choice between an administration that says it's right to reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas - and a new leadership that will close those tax loopholes and provide incentives to create the good paying jobs of the future here in the United States of America.

It is a choice between the first Administration since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss of jobs - or new leadership with a plan to create jobs that pay people more, not $9,000 less than they earned before. Jobs where after a week's work, people can actually pay their bills, provide for their children, and lift up the quality of their lives.

The choice in this election is between an administration that has turned the largest surpluses in American history into the largest deficits and new leadership with a real plan to cut the deficit in half in the next four years. We will do it by passing the reforms John McCain and I have fought for to end corporate welfare - and by making government live by the same rules our families have to follow: pay as you go.

And both fairness and fiscal responsibility depend on another fundamental choice -- between tax cuts for the few and tax cuts for the middle class. Should we continue a failed fiscal policy that says to middle class families: Tax cuts for Halliburton and Enron and those who make more than $200,000 a year are more important than tax cuts for you?

As president, I will put the middle class first. John Edwards and I have a plan to cut taxes for the middle class and working families - to help them pay for health care, child care, and sending a son or daughter to college.

When we talk about the economy, we talk about jobs. But there is another side to the economy where there is a fundamental choice - and that is health care. When health care is more expensive, when co-pays and deductibles go through the roof, businesses, especially small businesses, are burdened by staggering health care costs. And that makes it harder to hire workers, harder to grow and harder to expand.

In the last four years, 4 million people have lost their health insurance. 44 million Americans are now without any health coverage at all. And middle class families are struggling to afford health costs that are going through the roof. Today, we have an administration that puts the interests of HMOs and big drug companies over the interests of patients and seniors and health care providers.

In a Kerry-Edwards administration, we will see to it that America is no longer the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy, the connected and the elected - it is a right for every single American.

We have a plan to get the greed and waste out of the system - and save the average family up to $1,000 a year in their premiums. At the same time, we will make health care affordable and accessible for all. Under our plan, you will get to pick your own doctors - and doctors and patients, not insurance company bureaucrats, will make medical decisions. You will be able to buy less expensive medicines from countries like Canada. And instead of this administration's multi- billion dollar windfall for the big drug companies, we will pass a real prescription drug benefit for all seniors.

This election is also a choice between a country where men and women who work and save all their lives suddenly find their pensions disappearing into thin air and the executives who looted them bailing out on golden parachutes. Or leadership that says everybody in America - from the White House to the boardroom to Main Street - has a responsibility to play by the rules, obey the law and treat people with dignity.

On almost every issue before us, we face the same fundamental choice - between the narrow interests of the few and the future of the vast majority of Americans. It is a choice between an anti-science policy that gives in to right-wing pressures - or new leadership that believes in science and the stem cell research that can treat and cure disease and save millions of lives. It is a choice between holding secret meetings with polluters in the White House to rewrite our environmental laws - or protecting the air our children breathe and the water they drink. It is a choice between siding with big oil and making America independent of Mideast oil. When we only have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves and we depend on foreign nations for 61 percent of what we consume, we can't drill our way out of an energy crisis. We have to invent our way out of it.

John Edwards and I have a plan to invest in new technologies, alternative fuels, and the vehicles of the future so we can achieve energy independence of Middle East oil in 10 years. This is our choice: We want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi Royal family.

I have spoken often in this campaign about national security - about rebuilding and leading strong alliances to find and get the terrorists before they get us. I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. But I also know that we can't be strong abroad unless we're strong at home.

And that depends not only on new policies - as important as they are - but on the most basic choice we will make this year about what kind of country we are. We have to decide between a leadership that seeks to divide us and a leadership that brings people together. It is a choice between a White House that only talks with those it agrees with, that sees us only as red states and blue states and a leadership that honors the rich diversity of all of our people and sees us as one America - red, white and blue.

When Abraham Lincoln was here at Cooper Union in 1860 to decry the continued spread of slavery, he spoke in tones of strength and humility. He said then: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

My duty, as I understand it, is to be a president who stands with middle class families in their hopes and their struggles, a president who has a plan to strengthen our economy, a president who knows a stronger America begins at home.

My duty, as I understand it, is to be a president and commander- in-chief who finds the truth and tells the truth instead of misleading the American people, hiding behind front groups, saying anything and doing anything to avoid the real issues that matter like jobs, health care and the war in Iraq.

My duty, as I understand it, is to fight for opportunity for all, and special privileges for none - so that every child, every parent, and every worker in America has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential. A president who puts the middle class first puts their values first: hard work, respect for the truth and a commitment to what is right for Americans.

That is the kind of president I intend to be. And that is what I have fought for all my public life. As a prosecutor, I fought for victim's rights. As a Senator, I was a leader in the fight to put 100,000 new police on our streets. I broke with many in my own party to support a balanced budget. I stood with John McCain to find out the truth about what happened to our POWs and MIAs in Vietnam.

And I've always stood up for our veterans who stood on the front lines for us. I am proud that I wrote the legislation that finally provided help and health care to the victims of Agent Orange.

I am also proud of the role I played in the landmark law that provides health care to the children of working families.

So, if people want to know the real choice in this election, just look at the record. For more than 20 years, I've fought for the middle class and those struggling to join it. But time after time, President Bush has sided with the narrow interests of the few.

Next week at Madison Square Garden, the Republican convention will focus on slogans, excuses, and attack politics. And mark my words, they'll bend over backwards with last minute proposals and last minute promises to make up for all they haven't done and to pretend they're not who they are. In fact, pretending to be something they're not may be the single most consistent thing about them, because that's what they've been doing all along.

But the American people want truthful answers and real plans. They want leadership that will really put the middle class first. And that's why this is the most important election of our lifetime.

America must do better and we will.

My fellow citizens, we're the optimists. We're the can do people. For us, this is a country of the future. And we believe that for America to be truly America, it must be a country of opportunity for all Americans.

So, it's time for an honest debate about the choices we face. It's time to reach for the next dream and look to the next horizon. For America, the hope is there. The sun is rising. Our best days are still to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

BLITZER: The Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, speaking to a group, Cooper Union College in New York City, accusing the Republicans of evading what he calls the serious debate on the issues and engaging instead in what he describes as the tactics of fear and smear. All of this seen in the context in recent days of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's ad campaign against John Kerry's service during the Vietnam War, as well as what he did as an antiwar protester once he came home.

CNN's Joe Johns is up in New York. He's joining us on the phone.

These were tough words by John Kerry. It's the first time really he's addressed this issue, even indirectly, Joe, since last Thursday, when he forcefully hit the Republicans, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, accused the administration of being behind these -- this ad campaign. JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly true, Wolf. You can certainly call this a hard-nosed speech if anything. But behind the scene, aides say they're really trying to do three things with this speech.

They're trying to get out ahead of the Republican message in advance of the convention which is going to be held here. Also, calling attention to the choices the voters have to make, taking a page from the playbook of Bill Clinton. And they're re-engaging, as you said, the Bush campaign on the Swift Boat ads, which some aides say may be backfiring.

The Kerry camp ratcheting up the rhetoric with this speech in the war in the ads. Kerry accusing the Bush camp of fear-and-smear tactics, negative and misleading attacks, and calling for a truthful and robust debate about the values. The Kerry campaign engaging the president and his allies really for a second straight day.

As you remember, it was John Edwards blasting the president on yesterday for not denouncing those ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Also, the Kerry camp making good on their promise to fight accusations directly right up front. Kerry aides say Mr. Kerry is happy to debate Vietnam with the president, although privately they do relinquish the fact that this is a debate over the biography and the resume of John Kerry, and they cannot let attacks go unanswered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Joe Johns covering the Democratic candidate for us. Joe, thanks very much.

Among other things, we just heard John Kerry say that words, slogans and personal attacks cannot disguise what they have done and left undone. A strong-hitting attack against the Republican administration. Let's go over to the White House. CNN's Kathleen Koch is standing by.

What's the latest on the White House, the administration's front over this whole debate, over John Kerry's service during the Vietnam War?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're beginning to get the sense that both here and with the John Kerry campaign that both sides would like to see this issue off the front burner. Yes, though, granted, some polls show that the Bush-Cheney campaign has been deriving, at least perhaps with veterans, some benefit from this controversy, but I spoke a few minutes ago with the spokesman for the campaign who said, "We would prefer to talk about the issues, not something that happened 30 or 40 years ago." A focus moving forward and building on what the White House believes is President Bush's record of success.

And as Joe pointed out, the president himself yesterday did not specifically condemn this specific ad, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad, but instead more broadly condemned these -- these third- party unregulated ads altogether, and said that none of them should be running. Because, again, the White House pointing out that the president himself has been the target of the majority of those ads -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch at the White House. Thanks, Kathleen, very much.

Let's move on to some other important news we're covering this hour. Detained by a government, not their own, accused of war crimes, they're on trial today. But it's not a court-martial for four so- called enemy combatants at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. CNN's Susan Candiotti picks up the story from there -- Susan.


It's a very windy day here at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The legal proceedings going on in that building you can see far away from me over my shoulder. This is the closest that security will allow us to be.

Now, what's striking to me so far is the demeanor of the accused, the defendant, Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen. He entered the courtroom smiling and then shook hands with his attorney. He is wearing traditional Arab garments, the kofia (ph), the scarf and a long robe or thobe (ph). He has had a relaxed demeanor throughout, smiling often, rising even when he doesn't have to, to answer the presiding officer's questions.

For example, "Do you speak English?" "No." "What language do you speak?" "Arabic." He is listening to an interpreter through headphones.

Everything is very procedural so far during a sort of pretrial hearing. Formally, the charges were read to him, conspiring to commit murder, to attack civilians and property, various acts of terrorism.

Hamdan was captured and brought to Guantanamo from Afghanistan back in 2001. The Pentagon identifies him as a former bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. And during this proceeding, his defense attorney, a lawyer who belongs to the military who was appointed by them -- he's paying nothing for his defense -- had an opportunity to question the presiding officer, who is a retired military judge brought back into active service to preside over this military commission.

He said, "Why did you volunteer?" The judge's response was, "I knew I was good at it.

However, the defense has now officially challenged the presiding officer's qualifications and his ability to be impartial. And this will now be referred to the military's presiding authority over this commission.

This entire process, very controversial, Wolf. The defense attorneys maintain and insist that the rules of evidence amount to everything being stacked against them. The Pentagon insists that everyone here will receive a full and fair hearing. It's certainly going to be a long journey over some uncharted territory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Susan Candiotti, covering these historic proceedings for us. Thanks, Susan, very much.

Yet another ultimatum, another pledge to negotiate. Fighters lawyer to the radical cleric, though, are still holed up in a mosque in Najaf, still surrounded by Iraqi and U.S. troops. CNN's Matthew Chance is on the front lines in this fight for Iraqis. He is joining us now live via videophone with the latest.

How many times have we heard they're on the verge of a breakthrough, Matthew? This time do they really mean it?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, that's a difficult question to answer. First off, we haven't been counting how many times that we've been on the verge of some kind of an agreement on this ongoing crisis, but we certainly know that the latest ultimatum is a sharp one.

There is a sense in which the Iraqi government seems to be running out of patience with the Mehdi Army holed up inside the Imam Ali Shrine. Of course, the Mehdi Army loyal to the radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. But there's also a sense in which there's a -- there's a great deal of brinkmanship being played here, a lot of political games as well.

And what the defense minister is saying is that, while, look, Iraqi forces will be deployed around the Imam Ali mosque, the people inside, many of whom are women and children, many of whom are unarmed, according to television pictures who have been seen coming out of there for the past few days, the people inside will be told to come out. If they refuse to do that, the defense minister said he'll give the order for Iraqi forces to storm that mosque and to take it back into the control of the interim Iraqi government.

Now, that's an immensely controversial move because this place is so holy that it runs the risk if the mosque is damaged of igniting short of Shiite fury amongst the majority Shia population of this country. But that's just a measure of how serious this crisis for the interim Iraqi government. Every day that passes, they see this as a more serious challenge to their authority, and they want it to end as soon as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Matthew Chance reporting for us live from the scene in Najaf. Matthew, thank you very much. Good luck to you. Stay careful over there.

How high does the blame go in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? Two new reports, one set for release today, may answer at least part of that question. We'll get the latest from the Pentagon and some insight into the investigations. Our military analyst, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange, he's standing by to join us live.

And a bit later in the hour, a healthy diet feeds a healthy mind. I'll be joined live by the U.S. Agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman. We'll talk about the need for a better diet in our nation's schools as kids get ready to go back to school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Yet more developments expected in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. The Pentagon is preparing to release two reports, one very, very soon, the other tomorrow. Both expected to claim that the chain of command should get some blame, some blame in what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

What are you hearing, first of all, Barbara, about the report, the so-called Schlesinger report that's going to be released today?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: In just about an hour and a half from now, Wolf, in this room, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who served some 30 years ago will deliver his report, his advisory panel that was formed by current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. That advisory panel report charged with looking into the prison abuse scandal, trying to figure out what went wrong, how it all happened.

Now, we have not seen the report, of course. But by all accounts, sources we've spoken to say it will be critical of the top- level leadership, top commanders in Baghdad and here, saying that they simply did not pay enough attention to the huge prison system that the United States military was running in Iraq, holding thousands of detainees.

Essentially, a poor command climate, that there was confusion, that the rules were not clear. But top officials, by all accounts, will not be held legally culpable for this. As you say, tomorrow we will see the report with the legal teeth in it. That's the so-called Fay report, an Army report into questionable intelligence and interrogation practices at the prison, how the intelligence brigade went about its business.

And sources say that report tomorrow will name up to 24 additional personnel, military people and contractors, for possible further legal action, holding them directly accountable for the abuse. Also saying that there was a poor command climate right at the top, but, by all accounts, no top officials will be held legally response for the abuse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, on the Fay report that's coming out tomorrow, you're hearing that colonels or generals or who, who is going to be legally culpable? How high will this go in the chain of command?

STARR: By all accounts, the most senior person that possibly could face additional legal jeopardy will be a man named Colonel Thomas Pappas. He is the commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade that served at Abu Ghraib when this abuse occurred.

Colonel Pappas is the highest-ranking person, as we understand it, that will be essentially named for possible, possible additional action. It will be the soldiers beneath him and the contractors, the private contractors that were directly involved in the abuse.

There's no indication at this point Colonel Pappas himself ordered any of the abuse or even knew about it. No indication of that, but as the commander he would be directly responsible for the command climate. He would be responsible for the troops under his command.

Higher than Colonel Pappas, you get your -- you get to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, of course. Everyone remembers he was the top commander in Iraq, the head of all U.S. forces in the country. He ran things out of Baghdad.

He will be criticized, we understand, as the top commander, for having some confusing regulations, for not paying enough attention to the system, for not really putting the right number of personnel and resources into that prison abuse system. No indication whatsoever that General Sanchez himself knew about the abuse. And, in fact, it is worth noting it was General Sanchez in January who ordered an immediate Army criminal investigation when the matter was first brought to his direct attention.

So the way it stands right now, a colonel will be held more directly responsible. Officials above him, including officials at the Pentagon, will be criticized. But we believe that's where it's going to stop.

BLITZER: And in 10 seconds, Barbara, will Rumsfeld and General Myers be specifically criticized for the way they conducted themselves in leading up to the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib in the Schlesinger report?

STARR: Having not seen the report yet, Wolf, we do not know how to answer, how much they will be named. What I can tell you is we spoke with officials familiar with the report, and what they said is none of the four commission members will, in their words, be shy about the criticisms that they have.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara Starr, a good report for us.

We'll stand by to get the formal report, the James Schlesinger report. That's coming up in about an hour and a half. CNN will have extensive coverage on that.

Barbara, thank you very much.

Will the two reports on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal help close a painful chapter or simply raise more troubling questions? Here to talk about that, our military analyst, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange.

You heard Barbara's report. What goes through your mind, General Grange, as someone who's retired military, but spent a whole career inside the Army?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, there's a couple of things that will come out of this, Wolf. I think that the Department of Defense will be criticized in the Schlesinger report in regards to how command relationships are relayed down the chain of command. In other words, what's the relationship between different components doing an operation. That's always a very confusing thing to deal with as a commander in a field, but I think that will be highlighted somewhat.

And the other is, how do you prepare different soldiers or different branches of the armed forces, whether they be active or reserve, to go overseas to conduct missions that are in their specialty or not within their specialty? When you get to the commanders on the ground, it's going to be a situation where, who inspected, who had the -- who had the responsibility to check on their troops? And did they fulfill those responsibilities?

And then back to the individual soldier level, regardless of whether you are checked or not, did you in fact obey your general orders of good order and discipline on your self-discipline and how you handled your job? So I think it's going to touch all three of those areas.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, a lot of these military police soldiers who are -- who have been arrested and have been charged with abusing these prisoners, they're reservists in the new Army, the Army of recent years, military police, military -- a lot of intelligence units come from the reserve, so-called part-time soldiers activated for duty, full time to serve in Iraq. Were they, in your opinion, adequately prepared for the assignment they were given?

GRANGE: I believe you'll find that there were some shortcomings in the training preparation of certain specialties of these soldiers. However, what cannot be challenged, what a defense lawyer cannot take on and succeed, I don't believe, is that self-discipline still cannot be pushed up or down.

In other words, soldiers, regardless of reserve or active, have certain responsibilities of conduct that they must adhere to. And those were obviously abused, regardless of their technical training. And so that won't -- that won't save them in that part.

BLITZER: Well, in your opinion -- there's going to be a lot of disgruntlement in the lower ranks, because what they're going to say, what a lot of people are going to see, is a bunch of young soldiers are going to go spend some time in jail or be kicked out of the military, but the higher-ups, who basically set the climate, who made the arrangements for the interrogation process, they might get a little slap on the wrist, but they're not going to be punished seriously in any way. There's a potential there for a morale issue resulting from what -- what we're going to see at these trials unfolding.

GRANGE: Well, there is potential there, and that could, in fact, happen. We don't know that. But, again, the soldiers -- a soldier looking at another soldier being punished for lack of self-discipline, that will be swallowed OK. A soldier, a fellow soldier can handle that.

I think you'll see some action, though, in the chain of command above on failure to inspect and take charge of your unit in a proper manner. So I think some higher ups will be charged to some level of failure.

BLITZER: General Grange, thanks very much for your insight.

GRANGE: My pleasure.

BLITZER: America's eyes have been on its stomach of late. The effort is up first on people to slim down a little bit better and eat better as well. That includes better eating habits for the nation's school kids who are about to go back to school. Some already have. In just a moment, I'll speak live to the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. We'll talk about what's being done to make sure the school cafeterias around the country are a healthier place for young kids. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We have a little medical news first. The percentage of Americans with high blood pressure is on the rise. A steady in the "Journal of the American Heart Association" finds nearly one in three adults suffers from hypertension. A decade ago, that figure was one in four. Experts say the graying of America and the obesity epidemic are most likely to blame.

As kids head back to school across the country, health officials say it's very important to pay attention to what they're eating as well as what they're learning. There's a connection.

Joining us now to talk about school food, the agriculture secretary Ann Veneman.

Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

The federal government, what exactly is the Department of Agriculture's role in making sure that kids in public schools, and private schools for that matter, around the country, eat healthy.

ANN VENEMAN, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECY.: Well, we have the school -- lunch and school breakfast programs under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those school meals have to meet the dietary guidelines for Americans, and we try to make sure that that exactly what happens so that the kids get nutritious school meals which helps them learn.

BLITZER: And a lot of our viewers remember the uproar with ketchup when the Department of Agriculture -- before you were around -- came up and suggested ketchup was a vegetable. That is clearly gone away, right?

VENEMAN: Yes. I mean, what we're trying to do is to make sure that schools are serving healthy meals, that they're serving more fruits and vegetables, that kids are getting healthy choices in their school meals that they're served.

BLITZER: I would suspect that even Teresa Heinz Kerry would not want ketchup to be included as a vegetable on these kinds of matters.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some practical advice for our parents out there, school kids that may be watching right now, what they need to know about making sure that the schools are providing healthy food for the kids. Some of the advice you have, first of all, get involved. Yes, we think that the parents should get involved with their schools. They should, just as they're concerned about what the teachers, what the kids are learning. They also ought to be asking questions about what the kids are eating in their school lunch programs.

BLITZER: So should parents go and talk to cafeteria workers and find out what's on the menu?

VENEMAN: Well, I think that it's important for parent-teacher associations, the PTA organizations and so forth to have a role in reviewing what's being served in school meals. Yes, I think that's very important.

BLITZER: And they should weigh in directly.

Speaking about a role, there should also be a role model. That's what you're suggesting. What do you mean by that?

VENEMAN: Well, kids follow what adult do, and as a parent you need to be a good role model for your child. You need to set a healthy eating example for your child. Incorporate fruits and vegetables in the diet and, you know, make sure that your children are doing the same.

BLITZER: Because most parents, a lot of parents, at least when I was a kid growing up, your mother would make you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and you buy a little carton of milk at school and that was it. Has it changed much in the years since then?

VENEMAN: Well, for those kids getting the school meals, and about half of the school meals that we serve are free meals to people who qualify for them, and we want to make sure that those school meals that are being served do incorporate, you know, foods that are consistent with the dietary guidelines.

BLITZER: Another recommendation you make is make family time active time. What does that mean?

VENEMAN: Well, it means that one of the big problems with the obesity epidemic today is that people just aren't getting enough exercise, and particularly children. Children are spending much more, what we call screen time, time in front of a computer or television, and they're not as active as they once were. The P.E. isn't in schools very much anymore, and so kids aren't getting exercises. So we're suggesting that families work together, they play together, they bicycle, they walk, they incorporate physical activity into their family time together.

BLITZER: A piece of advice is plan ahead. What do you mean by that?

VENEMAN: Well, that as the people who are doing the shopping for the household should plan ahead to have fruits and vegetables as part of the healthy snacks that are around the house. They're putting them in school -- in their school lunches, if they take them to school, that these are healthy snack choices, and healthy choices on the dinner plate that are offered by the parents.

BLITZER: There's a controversy in a lot of public schools around the country about these soda machines, the vending machines that are there. The soda manufacturers put them there. They want the kids to go buy a can of soda. Should the schools, from the Department of Agriculture's perspective, allow these kinds of vending machines for soda pop to be sold at public schools?

VENEMAN: Well, this is another issue that is really a local decision, and that's where parents are getting more involved as well. And some states are taking action. For example, California passed a law last year that completely removes vending machines, soda machines from all primary schools, elementary schools. Texas has taken very aggressive steps in the same direction through administrative action.

But we have many examples of schools that are limiting the kinds of foods that can be sold in vending machines. We're certainly encouraging if the schools are going to have vending machines, and you know, they make income from these vending machines for, you know, whether it's school uniforms, or band uniforms or something like that, so they use them as an income source. But we're encouraging schools to have healthy choices in the vending machines.

BLITZER: And as important as a school lunch is and it is very important, and it's very important, what may be even more important is having a good breakfast before you go to school, or having breakfast at school, and that's one of the things that the Department of Agriculture is promoting.

VENEMAN: We also have a school breakfast program, in addition to school lunch, and that gives children the opportunity to have some nutrition because it is shown that kids learn better. They pay better attention if they are not hungry at school, and so school breakfast is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

BLITZER: Do you have a percentage in the number of school kids in America who go to school hungry?

VENEMAN: I don't know that number offhand, but I think that there's a fair number who do go to school hungry in the morning, and the school breakfast can be an important program in bridging that gap.

BLITZER: This is shocking, in this day and age in the United States of America that there are kids who go to school hungry.

VENEMAN: Well, there are and that's unfortunate, either because their parents don't have the money to feed them, or they simply don't give them any breakfast before they go to school.

BLITZER: I hope this -- that we can work this out. We've been talking about it for a long time.

Thanks very much, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Some practical advice for parents and kids. Turning our political attention from advertisements to the economy. Senator John Kerry puts his fiscal plan up against the president's. We'll talk about that and the rest of the issues in this campaign with representatives from both campaigns, the deputy communications director for the Bush/Cheney campaign, Jennifer Millerwise, and from the Kerry-Edwards campaign, senior adviser Chad Clanton. They'll join me, next.


BLITZER: It could be another nail-biter in Florida. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll confirms the presidential race in that state, at least right now, it's a snapshot, is a dead heat. Forty- five percent of registered voters surveyed over the weekend are backing President Bush; 46 percent are backing Senator Kerry. Ralph Nader, he has 3 percent support in Florida, at least right now. A poll of so-called likely Florida voters finds 48 percent supporting the president, 46 supporting the Democratic candidate, 2 percent for Ralph Nader. The poll's margin of error, plus or minus four percentage points.

Fighting for voters in the battleground states and verbal sparring over John Kerry's war record is now drowning out a serious discussion of the issues.

Here to talk about that, two guests: Jennifer Millerwise is deputy communications director for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Chad Clanton is a senior adviser in the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

We heard from Kathleen Koch over the White House today that she's getting the sense both sides really want to move on and get away from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads.

Do the Republicans want to do that?

JENNIFER MILLERWISE, BUSH/CHENEY CAMPAIGN: I couldn't agree with her more. The fact is, though, there's only one campaign that's taking us back to the Vietnam era, and it's John Kerry's campaign. There's only one campaign that's advertising about Vietnam, and that' John Kerry. There's only campaign, and there's only one candidate who's attacked the other's military service, and that's John Kerry and his surrogates, and I think that the American people would be much more interested to hear about our latest ad that talks about John Kerry's plan to raise taxes, or our other ad that talks about his lack of attendance at the Intelligence Committee meetings.

CHAD CLANTON, KERRY/EDWARDS CAMPAIGN: You have to let me in on that.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CLANTON: Well, we would be glad to move on, if President Bush could allow us to move on, if he would stand up and specifically condemn this ad that is smearing John Kerry's military service. . MILLERWISE: That's what he did yesterday.

CLANTON: He did not. In fact, his aides went out yesterday and tried to make it clear he did not do this.

What we're waiting on President Bush to do is heed Senator McCain's call to condemn this ad. He knows it's wrong, and unfortunately, the longer the president waits to specifically condemn this ad, the more it looks like he's complicit in this. It looks like he's trying to gain political mileage from this terrible smear.

BLITZER: We did hear Senator Kerry condemn that ad that raised questions about the president's service in the Texas Air National Guard.


CLANTON: That's not true.


CLANTON: Let's separate this out. There an ad that put out, questioning George Bush's National Guard Service. John Kerry within hours condemned that ad. The other ad, the Hitler ad, he did condemn as well.

MILLERWISE: John Kerry's own adviser, Tad Devine, was out on Sunday criticizing the president and attacking his military service. John Kerry has consistently criticized the president's military service.

CLANTON: That's not true.

MILLERWISE: And I think what's most interesting is -- he did in 2000. I can pull you the quotes, Chad, if you'd like.

If you look back in 1992, John Kerry said, look, let's not make this election about who served and who didn't serve in our country. We couldn't agree more. John Kerry sadly continues to do that.

And you also need to look at the facts. Let's look at the fact there's been $63 million spent by these shadowy groups attacking President Bush.

BLITZER: Let me get to that point, because, Chad, does the Kerry campaign -- you speak for the Kerry campaign.


BLITZER: Does the Kerry campaign, like the president yesterday, want all of these 527 ads to simply be pulled.

CLANTON: We're happy to have a complete and full discussion of campaign finance reform, and that's what you're referring to, but why can't we first see the president stand up, be a man, look the American people in the eye and condemn this? Why is this such a hard call? BLITZER: Why is it such a hard call?

CLANTON: Why is it difficult?

MILLERWISE: He condemned not only yesterday, but he's condemned all 527 activity. Let's be honest, Chad. Let's be honest, Chad.


MILLERWISE: We do condemn this ad, but you know what, Chad will refuse to say that what we need to do is to remove all 527 activity from the campaign. And there's a couple of reasons why. The first reason why is because Chad's campaign had no intentions of advertising in the month of August. They don't need to, because they know that...


MILLERWISE: Chad, Chad, Chad, you've had more than enough time, Chad.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. I want to play for our viewers what Kerry said at the top of this hour in New York in the speech, and he made a specific accusation against the Republicans. Let's listen to this.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've seen a calculated effort to evade that debate. The bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear because they can't talk about jobs, health care, energy independence and rebuilding our alliances.



BLITZER: The tactics of fear and smear -- go ahead.

MILLERWISE: Well, we certainly are seeing a lot of smear from the Kerry campaign. The fact is, they don't want to talk about the issues. It's been reported. "The New York times" just yesterday said, you know, the Kerry campaign, this is part of the strategy. They want to talk about not only these 527 groups. They want to talk about dirty politics versus the issues, especially as we're heading into our convention. They said precisely, this is part of their plan. We want to talk about our ad. Let's change the subject. Let's talk about our tax ad.

BLITZER: The pro -- anti-Bush, let's say, 527s, spent more than $60 million, a lot more than the anti-Kerry 527s have spent. Is that why the Kerry campaign won't go as far as the president, in specifically asking that all of these 527s simply go away. Not necessarily they would go away and not make them go away, because they are independent organizations? CLANTON: Well, let me say what we've said, and I think this is an important point to repeat. We're happy to have the discussion about campaign finance reform. In fact, John Kerry has a very strong record on campaign finance reform in the Senate. But that's not what this is about and unfortunately Jennifer knows it. She's a professional, and I respect her immensely, and I feel sorry that they're putting people out to defend this.

Why can't George bush stand up, look the American people in the eye? He could do it this afternoon in Crawford, Texas. Why are these words hard to find? I think the smear against John Kerry's military record is wrong, and I'm standing before you today to say so.

BLITZER: Yesterday he did praise John Kerry's military service, was that not enough?

CLANTON: I thought he sounded like a politician.

MILLERWISE: Oh, Chad, Chad, Chad.

CLANTON: He also (INAUDIBLE) John McCain's record in 2000 and allowed that smear to go on. This is part of the Bush playbook. It's sick, people are tired of it, and I'd love to move on. We need to stop spreading lies about the past and start telling the truth about the future.

MILLERWISE: There's one campaign that continues to talk about this. There's one campaign that continues to smear. And there's one campaign that right now has an ad out attacking the president, saying that we're behind this ad. They have absolutely no evidence...

CLANTON: Passing out fliers, Karl Rove, Texas ties.

MILLERWISE: Chad, Chad, let's look at the revolving door between the Kerry campaign and these 527s. Let's look at their former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, who's got his fingers in three or four of these groups. Let's look at how on earth they put on a convention when the head of their convention has his own 527...

CLANTON: No one...

BLITZER: Well, here is -- Chad, hold up. We don't have a lot of time.

MILLERWISE: ... when you look at his...

BLITZER: The major point that the Republicans, Jennifer, and others have made is that John Kerry brought this on himself by making his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his convention in Boston and not focusing in on his 20 years -- nearly 20 years in the U.S. Senate.

CLANTON: Right. I think that's a pretty flimsy argument. This is part of his biography. It's part of his experience. He also spent 20 years in the United States Senate. Nothing justifies the smear of someone's military service. I think the American people who are listening to this today wonder why are we talking about 527s? Why can't George Bush stand up and condemn a smear? It's dead wrong, and I think everyone sees through this.

MILLERWISE: Twenty-five to one.

BLITZER: Jennifer did it today. Jennifer...

MILLERWISE: I did it -- the president made it very clear yesterday. I've made it very clear. We continue to make it clear. The fact is they are hiding behind $63 million of attack ads launched against this president.

I never heard a peep out of Chad or the rest of this campaign when they accused the president of poisoning pregnant woman. Never heard a sound from Senator Kerry...

CLANTON: That's not true. We condemned these.

MILLERWISE: No you haven't!

In that -- when they said that the president was putting a hood over the Statue of Liberty or when they suggested that the president condones torture.

These 527 shadowy groups are wrong. They are run by the Democrats. They are supplementing a Democratic campaign and a Kerry campaign -- not only are they advertising, but they're grassroots.

CLANTON: Right. Let me pick up on that. If Jennifer did make some news today -- and I applaud her if she did. And she is a professional. It wouldn't be beyond her to do it. I have immense respect for her and -- you know, and all of the people who are trying to mop up after a failed four years of the Bush administration.


CLANTON: But what I'd say is that maybe she could tell President Bush to do the same. Why can't he call a press conference and simply look the American people in the eye and say it's wrong.

BLITZER: OK. We unfortunately, guys, have to leave it right there, but we'll continue this conversation, as both of you know we will. Thanks to both you for joining us -- Chad Clanton, Jennifer Millerwise.

MILLERWISE: Thank you.

CLANTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up at the top of the hour, there will be more news, including news on the Iraqi Olympic soccer team -- one win away from actually capturing a medal. This is one of the amazing stories unfolding in Athens right now. We'll take a closer look at the team that has turned its nightmare past into a dream come true.

That's coming up on "LIVE FROM" in the next hour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: I'll be back later today, every weekday 5:00 p.m. Eastern for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Among other things, we'll take a closer look at railroad security in New York City ahead of next week's Republican National Convention. The Republicans will be gathering, as you know, at Madison Square Garden -- that's just above Penn Station.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien is up next.



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