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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Syrian Ambassador to United States Imad Moustapha; Interview With Former 9/11 Commissioners John Lehman, Lee Hamilton
Aired June 12, 2005 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Damascus, Syria, and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
Wolf is off today. I'm John King.
We'll talk with U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee members, Chuck Hagel and Diane Feinstein in just a few moments. But first, let's get a check of what's in the news right now.
KING: Thanks, Fredericka.
And now to a report you'll see only here on CNN. A major offensive under way against insurgents in Iraq is over. CNN senior Baghdad correspondent, Jane Arraf, is embedded with U.S. troops. She joins us now via videophone from Camp Sykes (ph) military base in northwestern Iraq.
JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that particular operation may be over but the fight against insurgents, of course, continues, particularly here in northwestern Iraq.
Now, in Tal Afar, what we've seen is a city that has been under siege, essentially held hostage by insurgents, a city where people are afraid to go to the hospital, where mothers are afraid to send children to school. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been rounding up those suspected insurgents.
And operations continue, as well, in other parts of this huge territory, including the Syrian border.
We spoke just a little while ago John, to the Marine commander in that area who is visiting here. It's Colonel Steven Davis, who is head of regimental combat team II. He says that they have been chasing those insurgents all over the territory. But in case of recent air strike, where they believe they killed at least 40 of them, he says, that's not an offensive. They got lucky.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COL. STEVEN DAVIS, CO, REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM II: You have a fairly elusive enemy. And we spent a lot of time trying to find out where he is. And our efforts were successful yesterday. We're able to find a gathering of them and we're able to bring the combined arms effects available in the joint inventory out here. It's a pretty good effect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ARRAF: What that means is air strikes, helicopters and planes that launched hours of strikes on what they believe to be a safe house believe that there were foreign fighters in there but no detailed description yet of actually who they believe that they killed in there -- John.
KING: Jane Arraf, thank you for that report from Camp Sykes and your continued courage. Take care.
And now to Lebanon, where a third and critical phase of voting in that country's parliamentary elections has just ended. CNN's bureau chief is following developments, and Brent Sadler joins us now with the details.
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, John.
They're calling this on the ground, this third round of voting, the mother of all battles here. Why? Because it really is a crucial test of wills between a once-united Christian opposition to Syria's troop presence in this country and others who took part in that so- called cedar revolution when hopes for an independent democratic state were blossoming back in March.
What's happened since then is that the Christian opposition has split, a former army commander called General Michel Aoun has gone it alone, and surprisingly, he's teamed up with pro-Syrians, having spent 15 years in exile in France after being driven out of Lebanon by his then-Syrian foes.
He says he's happy to see the Syrians out, but now he's targeting what he calls old guard corruption and nepotism. That means he's gunning at least in the electoral balloting for the Druze leader Walid Jumblat.
Another torch-bearer of the Lebanese opposition movement, Jumblat one of many opposition leaders who claim their lives are in danger by what they say is attempts by Syrian intelligence still to undermine this election even though several weeks ago the Syrians pulled out their troops and pulled out, they said, their intelligence services from Lebanon.
The United States has made it quite clear they're unhappy with what's going on here. They want to see a team of U.N. experts back to verify that Syrian withdrawal. At the same time, Lebanese are concerned about possible more violence and very concerned about where this election is going to lead to, and whether or not it will succeed in wresting control from parliament by Syria's allies here -- John.
KING: Brent Sadler for us in Beirut on a dramatic day tracking the Lebanese elections. Thank you very much, Brent.
And President Bush is urging Congress to renew the U.S. Patriot Act. The anti-terrorism law was approved shortly after the September 11th attacks. The president's push comes as a newly released Justice Department report details significant intelligence failures by the FBI in the months leading up to 9/11.
Joining us now, two key members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
Welcome, both senators, to "LATE EDITION."
We will get to the Patriot Act debate in just a moment, but I want to begin with a debate that's been going on in this country for some time that seems to be reaching its boiling point. And that is whether to keep open or close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Let me just simply start with a rare event here in Washington, a yes-or-no question.
To you first, Senator Hagel, should it be kept open?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I don't know. I know that's not yes or no, but I don't think it's that simple, John. Just give me ten seconds.
HAGEL: First, we've got a lot of people running around the world who want to do great damage to this country and other nations. We do need some kind of a facility to hold these people.
But this can't be indefinite. This can't be a situation where we hold them forever and ever and ever until they die of old age. What are our plans here?
Second, we need to make sure that whatever we do is in some confluence with and association with the other nations of the world. Obviously, the accords that we are party to, in agreements and how we treat prisoners, obviously our laws, there's an image, there's a diplomatic dynamic to this, too. It may well be to close Guantanamo Bay if we have an alternative would be the best thing for all of us.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, I wish it were just as simple as that. I think if you ask the question, I would say I would lean toward closing it, but I don't know all the answers at this stage.
Guantanamo is not the only place we have people. The key is to find out exactly where we do have people and how many. I believe there are about 520 at Guantanamo. I know several scores have been released.
There is some evidence, I think, that the Geneva Conventions have not always been followed. I think what Guantanamo does to us abroad negatively is enormous, and that has to be taken into the equation.
So we will begin hearings on Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee on the subject.
My own view is that we need to take a very good look at it, and we need to come up with some recommendation to the administration, not that they listen, but for our consciences and I think for the purposes of justice, we need to do that.
KING: I want to move on to some of the specific questions in just a second. But you mentioned not that they listen when it comes to the administration. If you listened this past week to the administration it's not quite clear what they are thinking.
The president in one interview said that all options were on the table. He seemed to be saying they were considering closing it at least.
His press secretary backed that up. But I want you to listen quickly to the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who of course is in charge of Guantanamo Bay, and he was asked while on a trip overseas, is the administration thinking about shutting it down? Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I know of no one in the U.S. government, in the executive branch that's considering closing Guantanamo. Unfortunately, something that's necessary in the world we're living in, but it's something that the folks who are in charge of it are doing it in a very professional and humane way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: As you try to answer the question -- and I'll start with you, Senator Feinstein -- is it somewhat hard to answer the question when the defense secretary says he knows of no one in the United States government considering closing it down, and the president of the United States says he's looking at other options.
FEINSTEIN: Well, I can't speak to that, but I know people are looking at that. I know that's the reason for the judiciary hearing on Wednesday. I suspect there are rumbles in the House as well.
I think, as story after story appears and goes all over the world, it certainly has a life of its own in terms of determining the credibility of the United States.
You know, one of the things is, we cannot be hypocritical in our values. We have to practice our values universally. And the question always comes: How many of these people held are really terrorists, and how many of them are just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
There needs to be a defined process that sorts that out, and has some public part of it, so that people gain confidence that what the United States is doing with people they pick up in communities, on a battlefield, wherever, are treated with the values that we say we treat people with.
KING: Your Democratic colleague makes clear that Congress is looking at this issue, but are you aware, Senator, of any formal administration review, consideration of shutting it down, or do you just have what some would attribute to political calculations, what the president and others at the White House said this past week?
HAGEL: I'm not aware of any administration review under way, but the president did say what he said, as you have just noted, and I think that's correct, to look at alternatives.
The fact is that we are losing the diplomatic war around the world. We're losing the image war around the world.
And I think it's important to look at the wider lens angle assessment of this. We've got a world now that is represented by a global generational shift from a post-World War II generation to a post-Cold War generation, and that has presented new challenges to America, to our purpose, to our image, who we are, what we believe. And I'm not sure we're factoring all those dynamics into our broader policy.
And certainly Guantanamo is one that's hurt us. It's identifiable with, for right or wrong, a part of America that people in the world believe is a power, an empire that pushes people around, we do it our way, we don't live up to our commitments to multilateral institutions. That's not I'm saying what I believe, but that's the other end of the optics.
KING: I want to spend a little time on this, because there's new evidence, if you will, for this debate, new fodder for this debate today, in "Time" magazine.
They have an exclusive report on -- they call "The Treatment," but interrogation logs of Detainee 063, who's a gentleman by the name of Mohammed Al-Qahtani, and he's not just any prisoner. They believe he could have been the 20th hijacker on 9/11. So obviously he is someone you want to get information from, if he has such information.
Among the material in these interrogation logs is this sound bite.
I want to read you this sound -- this little piece of this, and ask you if this is what the United States government should be doing. You mentioned the diplomatic fallout. You mentioned it as well.
This is part of the interrogation.
"The log notes, he is given 3 1/2 bags of IV fluid. He starts to moan, and asks again to be allowed to relieve himself. Yes, he is told, but first he must answer questions. When Al-Qahtani again requests his promised bathroom break, he is told to go in his pants. Humiliatingly, he does."
HAGEL: Well, no, it's not appropriate. It is not at all within the standards of who we are as a civilized people, what our laws are, who we represent. Senator Feinstein talked about hypocrisy. Now, if that in fact went on -- I don't have any details on this, John. I'm reacting to what you just said -- But if in fact we are treating prisoners this way, it's not only wrong, but dangerous, and very dumb, and very short-sighted.
At a time that we need to reach out to the world, we need to enlist the world, we need to form alliances to battle these insidious forces against us and other nations, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, this is not how you win the people of the world over to our side, especially the Muslim world.
So if this is going on, it needs to stop, and I'm very glad that we're going to be having hearings in the Judiciary Committee, we'll have more hearings in the Intelligence Committee, Foreign Relations Committee. Dick Lugar's got some of these hearings scheduled.
We need to get into this, because, if this in fact is going on, in the end it will do great damage in credibility to the United States.
KING: Let me give you another example before I bring you in, Senator, one more example from this specific detainee.
"Over the next month, the interrogators' experiment with other tactics: They strip-search him and briefly make him stand nude. They tell him to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. They hang pictures of scantily-clad women around his neck."
Now, some of this, senator, came at a period in which Secretary Rumsfeld had authorized additional tactics, tougher tactics, in the interrogation to try to get information. Are those tactics appropriate, and who should be held accountable if your answer's no?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I was reading the story. And it presents a kind of ludicrous view of the United States, I must say.
Here's a detainee that they think may have been the 20th hijacker. However, to the best of my knowledge, there is no information that suggests any of the 19 hijackers knew what they were going to do when they came to the United States. So there has to be a plausible view that this man didn't know what he was going to do if he was sent to the United States to do that.
Therefore, to carry out this kind of behavior, when he is being checked three times a day by medics, which indicates that they must fear for his condition. And obviously, he has a strength of will that is extraordinarily strong, enough to bite an IV tube in half when they tried to give him intravenous solutions, I just think it's a terrible mistake. I don't know what tree we're barking up or why we're doing this.
KING: ((OFF-MIKE) says -- the administration says -- it is operating in the spirit of the Geneva Convention, which says there should be no outrages on personal dignity. To ask a Muslim man to stand nude, bark like a dog, and have pictures of scantily-clad women around his neck, does that cross your threshold of outrage of personal dignity?
HAGEL: Well, of course it does. Any straight-thinking American, any straight-thinking citizen of the world, it does. And again, my point is...
KING: Who's responsible?
HAGEL: Well, I don't have all the facts, John. And we'll get the facts. But there is a culture that develops in any institution. And a lot of what I've heard the last couple of years, the top officials of the Pentagon saying, "Well, we didn't order any of this. We didn't know about this."
Come on guys. I was in Vietnam in 1968. I carried a rifle. I saw a culture develop that was a very bad culture that ended in disaster for this country.
And this is all adding up to a very dangerous drift in this country toward somebody not paying to all the pieces here -- the bigger pieces. Not only is it going to end in disaster for us and humility for this country, but we're going to present to the world a very dangerous world if we don't wake up and smell the coffee here.
And to say that the secretary of defense and anyone else, "Well, I don't know about it or that's not what we intended," there's a culture in anything that develops. It's a culture of leadership or there's not a culture of leadership. Then there's a vacuum of leadership.
If there's a vacuum, something will fill that vacuum. This kind of stuff fills a vacuum. It needs to be stopped. We have been reassured over the last two years it's not happening when in fact it is happening.
FEINSTEIN: I think, too, if you put people in very isolated circumstances, you certainly have mixed messages coming from the command structure both in the Pentagon as well as in the field. I think this has been pretty clearly established.
So you have people in isolated circumstances.
The Red Cross can't come in at will. Nobody goes in at will.
I've been to Guantanamo. I went in the early days with Secretary Rumsfeld. I know the physical surrounding and it is completely isolated. I think that's a healthy place for this kind of activity to go on.
And I think this kind of activity is, in the main, counterproductive. And so I don't understand why we don't learn from it.
So there'll be a lot of questions to asked particularly about this "Time" story on Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee. And I don't know why we don't learn. I don't know why we didn't learn from Begram (ph). I don't know why we didn't learn from Abu Ghraib. But here we are in Guantanamo now with many of the same things surfacing.
KING: A lot more ground to cover with our two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senators Feinstein and Hagel. "LATE EDITION" needs to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
KING: Our Web question of the week asks this: Has U.S. intelligence against terrorist threats improved since 9/11?
Cast your vote at cnn.com\lateedition. We'll have the results later in the program.
But straight ahead, more with Senators Chuck Hagel and Dianne Feinstein.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel and California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. Before we continue, before the break, we were discussing the controversy over Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
This response from the Department of Defense to the new "Time" magazine story detailing the tactics used to interrogate one key suspect at Guantanamo Bay.
The Defense Department says in part, "Qahtani's interrogation during this period was guided by a very detailed plan and conducted by trained professionals motivated by a desire to gain actionable intelligence to include information that might prevent additional attacks on America."
So the Defense Department defending its conduct at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That story will continue to ripple in the days ahead, including in the hearings Senator Feinstein just spoke about.
I want to move our conversation now onto a request of the president for Congress to renew, and in fact, expand the so-called Patriot Act, the powers given to the government after 9/11.
In making his case several times this week, on one point, the president invoked the name of one of our guests, trying to make the case that what he wants to do is not so controversial. It couldn't be, he said, because this Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, supported him. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has worked with civil rights group to monitor my administration's use of the Patriot Act, here's what she said. "We've scrubbed the area. And I have no reported abuses." Remember that. The next time you hear someone make an unfair criticism of this important, good law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is the president fairly invoking your comments?
FEINSTEIN: Yes, that's true at the time, in a Judiciary hearing, we had received 21,000 complaints. And we took a good look at them; they're all computerized. And we found that the great bulk of them were related to something that was proposed, called Patriot 2, which never came to the Hill. And all the rest involved another immigration bill.
And then we called the ACLU and we asked, "Are there any specific abuses?" At that time, they said, "No."
KING: And what about this time?
FEINSTEIN: And then we had the hearing. Now, since then, the ACLU wrote me a letter with 11 specific points.
We did look at that letter very carefully. As the president said, we did scrub it. We were not able to come up with anything that really indicated an abuse of the Patriot Act, particularly in those 16 sections that are set to be sunset at the end of this year.
My own view, as one who sat in both Intelligence and Judiciary for many years now on this, is that we should reauthorize the Patriot Act.
But what happened in the Intelligence Committee this past week was that powers were added to the Patriot Act which the FBI has not asked for and which I do not believe serve the nation well by granting, nor do I believe they're necessary, specifically an administrative subpoena power with no check by anybody.
And I had an amendment which said that -- if an FBI field agent wanted to use an administrative subpoena, they'd check with the U.S. attorney, who would say yes or no, and then go ahead in an emergency circumstance.
KING: Does the FBI need that power, Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: Well, I think it does. I think it is important that they have some immediacy here to deal with these threats that come up quickly. The pace of terrorism and threats are so dramatically different than what we've ever seen.
At the same time, to Dianne's point, there needs to be a clear definition and line here drawn as to what this means. Now, one of the things that we did is we put a sunset provision in some of these new additional powers, which I think we do need. I was for that. Let's see how it works here. Let's see, in fact, if it is being or will be abused. And if it is, then we're going to review it.
Congress is not going to get very far away from this issue no matter what passes. I can guarantee you that Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Relations, Armed Services will all have very specific oversight responsibilities.
KING: Well, the Patriot Act is one response of the federal government to 9/11. One of the 9/11 Commission recommendations is that you all get your act better together, if you will.
And one of the Commissioners, Jamie Gorelick, was out this past week saying one of her greatest disappointments is that she does not believe that Congress is heeding the lesson in reforming and streamlining how you deal with intelligence, how you deal with threat information. Let's listen to Commissioner Gorelick.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE GORELICK, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: I would say it is the unanimous view of the former commissioners that the most glaring failure of our recommendations has been in the adoption of Congressional reforms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Fair criticism?
HAGEL: Well, I think it's fair criticism. But I think the Congress has moved to address a number of these very specific recommendations.
I think they were good recommendations. Do we need to do more, will we do more? Of course. But I think we need to find a center of gravity here in equilibrium, balancing always the rights of individuals with the protection of the security of this country.
FEINSTEIN: Well, if I were chairman of Intelligence, I'd do it differently. I'd carry out our oversight in a different way.
Having said that, obviously I'm not.
Let me go back for just a moment to the administrative subpoena. This is really important.
Under the administrative subpoena, this gives an FBI field agent real fishing power, to go out and to collect information on people, really with no relationship to anything else, and that's what concerns me.
That's why picking up the phone and saying just as they might to a judge, "Look, I have some information that so and so may be doing this, I need to go in, I need to get these hotel records right now." Bingo! He'd get the subpoena, no question.
But, without that, an individual agent can go in and say any time -- let's use the hotel again as an example -- I need a record of all your guests, and I need to see with specificity what they're charging in their phone records, and this kind of thing.
Now, this is what differentiates us from Soviet-style intelligence-gathering, is the check and the balance. And that's what really upset me, Chuck, when the committee voted -- well, I can't say, I can't talk about how the Intelligence Committee voted.
FEINSTEIN: And so we'll have another crack at it in Judiciary.
KING: We have short time, but I want to ask you both about something else the Intelligence Committee might be able to help us with.
We are of course watching this very troubling insurgency in Iraq. We had Jane Arraf on at the top of the program. After the elections, there was some optimism. Now there's, at a minimum, stagnation, if not more trouble.
One of your colleagues from the House, Curt Weldon, was on the "Meet the Press" program earlier today, and he's talking about how the United States needs to do more to deal with the insurgency. He says we talk a lot about where the threat is coming from, but perhaps not in the right way. I want you to listen to Congressman Weldon, quickly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Syria may have the largest number from outside of Iraq in country, but Iran overwhelmingly has the quality behind the insurgency. And we've got to come to grips with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You have access to the intelligence. Is Iran the bigger problem than Syria, when it comes to supporting and encouraging an insurgency that is not only killing Iraqis, but still killing Americans as well?
HAGEL: Well, I would answer it this way. And Dianne and I need to be careful, as she has noted, on answering some of these questions.
I have always believed that you will never resolve any issue in the Middle East unless it is a regional concept, a regional dynamic. You can't think, believe that you are going to democratize Iraq without having Iran in some way be part of this larger concept. The Palestinian-Israeli dynamic, all of these pieces are in the regional arc of interests.
Now, each must be dealt with individually, of course, but this is a good example of what Weldon's talking about, the Syrians, the Iranians, you've got all these different pieces floating around. We don't have good intelligence on who's driving the insurgency.
It's complicated. It's deep. Many of us warned this administration before we ever put a boot on the ground there that we were going to be dealing with this kind of thing. We didn't have plans for it. And we are now where we are.
KING: "We didn't have plans for it," he says, and "We don't have good intelligence" on the insurgency -- not terribly reassuring to the parent of -- who has a son or daughter sitting in Iraq still for God knows, a year, two, three more.
FEINSTEIN: Well, let me respond to it this way. There's no question but there are connections between Shias in Iraq and Iran. There's no question, the head of the winning Shia party spent 22 years in Iran. His father was an imam in Iran. So there are these connections.
Now, the Iraqis have said, "Well, the Shia are very independent here." Nonetheless, there are these connections.
The driving force in the insurgency is Sunni. Let there be no doubt about it. This is why it is so important that politically there be an accommodation to the Sunni minority.
There's an argument over how many votes they should have in the parliament. That argument has to get settled fast. And the Sunnis have to be brought into the decision-making power, if only for a very practical reason. This is the party that has run Iraq and has the background and the institutional knowledge on many of the things that has to be done.
So, you're never going to get a constitution passed unless you have significant Sunni input.
I think this is the biggest thing. I think the success of Iraq to a great extent is driven by the stability that this new government can bring about. If this new government can't, with our help, stabilize Iraq, provide sanitation and sewage for the people, stop the crime that's going on, provide basic safety, then we're in for a deep, dark time.
KING: I need to end it on that point.
We need to move on, but Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, thank you very much.
Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, thank you as well.
And up next, a check of the hour's top stories, including today's railroad bombing in Russia.
Then, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government under fire. We'll talk with Syria's ambassador to the United States about his country's role in Lebanon and Iraq. More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.
KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
The United States is keeping up its pressure on Lebanon's neighbor, Syria. In addition to reports that Syrian intelligence officials are still operating in neighboring Lebanon, the Bush administration says it has, quote, "credible information" that Syria is targeting Lebanese politicians and activists for assassination.
Here now to discuss these allegations is Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome to "LATE EDITION."
I want to begin with that very serious damning allegation from the United States government that, despite its promise to pull its troops and to pull its intelligence operatives out of Lebanon, that Syria is now actively targeting, not just for intimidation but assassination, members of the anti-Syrian opposition in Lebanon right now. I want you to listen to this comment from the White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are reports that we have been hearing about for some time about a Syrian hit list targeting key Lebanese public figures.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A hit list, Mr. Ambassador? Is there a list that the Syrian government has targeting politicians and activists in Lebanon that might not have a favorable view of your government, a hit list for assassination?
IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIA'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I would say it's a shame that the world's unique superpower, the United States of America, will degrade itself to this level.
What I want to say is the following. The same person who created or fabricated the story about the hit list used to create and fabricate wild stories about the United States of America itself two years ago to a degree that the United States revoked his U.S. visa.
Now this same person who is involved in the political process today in Lebanon has created the story about Syria compiling a hit list.
And the United States who used to say we will never give credit to his comments about us, about the United States and comment on them, now suddenly you have the president of the United States saying, I read in a newspaper, in the New York Times and The Washington Post that this hit list has been compiled. You go to the New York Times and The Washington Post and you read that one Lebanese opposition leader has said he has information. Do you instigate against a whole country based on unsubstantiated wild stories? I think this is really -- this is really has exceeded all limits of wisdom and of logic.
What we say in Syria is, we have made strategic decision. We have withdrawn from Lebanon completely and categorically every Syrian...
KING: Let me stop you just there for a minute. Excuse me. Let me stop you there. I don't mean to be rude, but you say withdrawn completely.
KING: In the past week there have been some reports that intelligence operatives have come back in.
MOUSTAPHA: I will tell you this. These reports are on one hand unbased, on the other hand as far as Syria is concerned this is so important for everybody to know. These continuous -- the day we completed our withdrawal from Lebanon, the very same day the United States repeatedly continued saying from the very early stages, no, Syria has not withdrawn from Lebanon. Syria has agents there. We have information and reports that Syria still has agents there.
This is untrue. This is just as credible as the story of Iraq's WMDs before the war.
KING: It is not just the United States, sir, that at least raising questions. I want to read you from the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
He says, quote, "We are now receiving reports that there may be elements that are still there. And we are considering the possible return of the verification team to ascertain what's going on."
If the United Nations sends teams into Lebanon, would they be welcome to come to Syria as well, and would your government cooperate fully with them?
MOUSTAPHA: Thank you for asking me this very important question. I want the American people to know the truth behind this story.
The day the United Nations released their report by Kofi Annan saying as far as the United Nations is concerned, Syria has absolutely and completely withdrawn its troops from Lebanon, and the security agents and everybody, everybody that has to do with the Syrian government from Lebanon, immediately, the same day, the United States immediately started exerting pressure on the United Nations.
They were very upset with this report, the United Nations report, and on a daily basis, they were telling the secretary general that he should not have issued such a report. And that they have information that Syria is still in Lebanon. Now, the secretary general has this pressure on him by the world's unique superpower. What can he do? He can only do the only reasonable thing.
He has just announced that because he continues to receive this reports, he will send another investigation team. Fine for Syria. Actually, his envoy is today in Damascus. We welcome him.
This is very similar to the stories we used to have when the United Nations would say Iraq does not have a WMD arsenal, and America would say, "No, we have credible reports. We exactly know Iraq has WMDs." The American people should be aware about this, because this is a sinister campaign against Syria that is unjustified, inaccurate, and unfair.
KING: Let's move forward, sir. They are counting the votes in Lebanon today, the third and critical round of the parliamentary elections. If a government comes to power that is, quote-unquote, "anti-Syria," that has opposed any Syrian influence or presence in Lebanon, will your country reach out and try to reach a friendly relationship with that government, even though there might be some tensions, or will there be an effort by Syria to isolate that government and perhaps intimidate and undermine that government?
MOUSTAPHA: Would you agree with me for the sake of the argument that it's in our strategic interest to have the best possible relations with Lebanon?
KING: One would assume your neighbors, one would assume that is the case, sir, but as you know, there has been a 30-year accusation of unfair influence.
MOUSTAPHA: No, forget about the American accusations. Let me tell you this.
In the past 20, 30 days, the Lebanese have had fair and free elections. And even the Lebanese opposition, who used to criticize Syria's presence in Lebanon, now are saying we only want the best possible relations with Syria. This is what Syria wants from Lebanon.
What worries us a lot is that there are third parties who will be very unhappy if an emerging government in Lebanon and emerging new parliamentary majority in Lebanon is saying we want the best possible relations with Syria.
Go and read all the statements by all the Lebanese leaders, opposition and those who are loyal to the president. All of them have one thing in common. Regardless of the tensions between us and Syria in the past, we only want the best possible relations with Syria.
And what we believe today is what we are hearing about these allegations that we're going to hit and kill those Lebanese leaders or such things, on one hand are preposterous. But on the other hand, they explain to you what's happening. There are forces that do not want to see a good, friendly, brotherly relation between Syria and Lebanon. And they are creating these myth and these stories about Syria going to kill Lebanese leaders.
KING: Mr. Ambassador, we appreciate your thoughts and your time today on "LATE EDITION." Unfortunately, we need to end the conversation there. But you're always welcome back, sir. Thank you very much.
MOUSTAPHA: Thank you.
KING: And coming up, North Korea on the nuclear brink. What can the United States do to turn things around? We'll get perspective from former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Stay with us. "LATE EDITION" will be right back.
KING: Still much more coming up in the next hour of "LATE EDITION." We'll ask this. Is the United States following through on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. We'll get a progress report from former panel members Lee Hamilton and John Layman. But first, a check of what's making news right now, including an update on a French journalist held hostage in Iraq. "LATE EDITION" continues at the top of the hour.
But first, Beijing's Tiananmen Square is infamous: the events of 1989, when a spark of democracy was brutally extinguished by a hard- line Communist government.
As part of CNN's anniversary series, then and now, we look back at one of the demonstrators and see where he is today.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tiananmen Square, April 1989. It began peacefully. Beijing University Students mourning the death of a former government leader who supported the student movement for democracy. But the students' memorial turned into a peoples' protest that lasted nearly six weeks. Wang Dan was one of the student leaders.
WANG DAN, FORMER PROTEST LEADER: I saw the power of the people in that moment, the really big power of the people. This is the first time in the history of the Republic of China that people go to the street without allowance from the government.
ZAHN: The Chinese government imposed martial law at the end of May, but the protests continued until troops moved in on June 4th. It's still isn't known how many people were jailed, injured or killed.
WANG: Those people who died, I really feel deep sorrow for them because I was the leader. I led them to the square.
ZAHN: Wang Dan was imprisoned twice for his actions, and eventually released into exile to the U.S. He's published 17 books, and is studying for his Phd at Harvard.
WANG: If I have a chance to go back to China, of course I still will be involved in political activities or other activities, and try to promote human right and democracy. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: Welcome back. We'll talk with two former members of the 9/11 Commission in just a moment, but first, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.
KING: Thank you, Fredricka.
The 9/11 Commission disbanded in August, following the release of its official 567-page report, but the book isn't closed on whether the United States government is doing enough to make the country safer.
Joining us here in Washington to continue this discussion is former 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton, and, from his farm in Pennsylvania, former 9/11 Commission member John Lehman.
Gentlemen, welcome to "LATE EDITION."
I want to get to the continuing work of your commission in just a minute, but I want to draw on your insight to a question in the news today that's about the detainee center, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and whether it should be left open, in light of additional revelations about how detainees are treated there.
Let me start with a threshold question, and first to you, Secretary Lehman, should it be closed?
JOHN LEHMAN, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: No, I don't believe it should be closed. I think it needs to have the proper oversight and discipline, but we need a center to deal with these terrorists, to see that they are properly interrogated, and the information that we've already received from them has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives already, and we need to continue to do that, but it must be done under due process, and meeting all of the ethical and international standards.
KING: Congressman Hamilton?
LEE HAMILTON, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: I think the first step -- before you can make up your mind whether it should be closed or not, you have to know what's happening and what the facts are.
And this is an amazing situation. We've had very little transparency, no accountability. I have 50 questions on my mind about what's happening at Guantanamo and with other detainees.
So we need more accountability here, and, as John suggested a moment ago, we need another structure so that you have reasonable fairness and due process in dealing with these detainees. You can't just lock them up and keep them there forever.
So I think that we need to learn a lot more before we can make a judgment about whether it should be closed or opened.
KING: Both of you say we need to learn a lot more. Both of you say we need more transparency.
But this is not new. We have had, over the years, allegations of abuses, the recent report on whether or not people are treated with respect, the allegations about how the Koran is treated, and now, in "Time" magazine this morning, an exclusive look at an interrogation log of one detainee -- a very significant detainee, a man they believed could have been the 20th hijacker. But in the course of his interrogation, this is a man who was told to urinate in his pants, this is a man who was made to stand nude, with pictures of scantily clad women strapped around his neck.
I want to ask you about that in the context of this quote from your report to the nation, the 9/11 Commission report, in which you said: "The United States should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors."
Now, understanding this is a man they very much believed they could get significant information from, does that still justify -- and to you first, Congressman Hamilton -- treating him in that way?
HAMILTON: No, it does not.
I stand by what the report said: We treat people humanely. We treat people with respect for the rule of law. The United States has taken a terrible blow because of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo because of what's leaked out over a period of time.
Fundamentally, the president and the Congress must create a system, a fair system, that deals with these detainees. You don't have enough evidence to convict them in a court of law. On the other hand, they can kill you. How do you treat those people?
We just kept putting off the question of how you deal with them. And it's time now that the policy-makers address it and address it seriously.
KING: Secretary Lehman, I assume you agree with that. But if we're having this conversation on this Sunday morning in June 2005 about the need for assist and the need for transparency, they need to decide how to handle these people, the need for a better way to get out the one whose don't deserve to be there, perhaps a new facility that could handle them, who's responsible for the fact that we're still having this conversation now, that all this has not been dealt with previously?
LEHMAN: Well, I agree with Lee that there's no excuse for breaking our own moral standards and code. And you can adhere to those standards and still do proper interrogation and get the necessary intelligence we need.
I think that the Defense Department should have the primary responsibility for conducting these because they are quasi-prisoners of war and the Defense Department should have the principle responsibility.
But there should be oversight and there should be satisfaction by the administration that the proper standards are being met and that there is due process.
I'm not talking about access to the full panoply of the U.S. courts and the rights of citizens. They are not citizens, and so they need to be dealt with in a military tribunal, but one that is fair and that has due process.
So whether it's done in Guantanamo or somewhere else, it needs to be done and it should be under the purview of the Pentagon with oversight from outside.
KING: Mr. Secretary, let me follow up. If it is under the purview and it should be under the purview of the Pentagon, then is the Pentagon and Secretary Rumsfeld personally to blame for the fact that some of these things apparently have not been dealt with as yet?
LEHMAN: Well, I think that certainly the secretary of defense has to see that this is dealt with. Whether or not people can judge that his responsibility is there for what has happened so far, the real question is: Will he deal with it? Will he straighten it out and see that the proper oversight and safeguards and due process are put in place now?
We shouldn't be worrying about the blame game. We should be worrying about fixing it because, as Lee said, it's doing us terrible damage all over the world and is really hurting the war effort.
KING: Congressman Hamilton, let me play devil's advocate. If I am an American -- a family member of someone who died on 9/11, someone who knows somebody who died on 9/11, or maybe somebody who was lucky and didn't know anyone, didn't have any relatives, but is simply reading this account.
Here's a man who tried to get into the United States of America. He was turned away by a very smart immigration officer. They believe he would have been the 20th hijacker. They ultimately get him into custody. And they use some very unusual, some would say, extreme tactics in interrogating him. I assume many Americans will read this story and say, "Good. This man tried to kill people. He tried to get into this country to kill people. And yes, 9/11 is past but he might know others who can do harm." Do whatever it takes, some might say.
HAMILTON: I agree. I think most Americans would probably react that way.
They know this is a kind of a murky world. They know probably some tactics are being used that would not pass muster in an ordinary American community. It's inherently a very, very difficult problem.
At the end of the day, however, the United States has to be true to its own values. It has to be true to its constitutional processes. I suggested a moment ago we're not sure what the constitutional processes are here for these people because they are in a very special category.
I'd have a hard time spelling out the procedures I think ought to be followed. And you're not dealing with Sunday school teachers here. Many of these people, not all of them, want to kill us.
But keep in mind that 40 percent or 50 percent of the people in Guantanamo were released. We couldn't find they had anything to do with terrorism, and likewise, a large number in other places. So you have to have some system of sorting through this that has a reasonable degree of fairness to it and due process.
KING: I want to bring both of you closer to home, if you will. The fact that both of you are still here and still trying to lead this public discourse is evidence that this debate continues about whether the United States is doing enough, and what it is doing, is it doing it just right in terms of trying to deal with the terrorist threat.
This past week we saw from the FBI an inspector general report that detailed, essentially, that they blew it, that they could have had opportunities, ample opportunities to take at least two of the hijackers off the streets. And had they done so, perhaps they would have learned more.
Anything in that report that is additionally illuminating, if you will, from the work you did on the commission?
HAMILTON: No. We had access to that report. It's a classified report. There's nothing new there so far as we're concerned.
What it does, in effect, is reinforce our findings. The fact of the matter, the agents in Milwaukee or, I guess it was Minneapolis, knew about Moussaui, they knew he was in a flight training school. We knew about the two people out in San Diego, but the information was not shared sufficiently, either vertically within the FBI or horizontally from one agency to another.
So the problem is highlighted by this inspector general's report. It doesn't fundamentally change our own findings.
KING: And Secretary Lehman, are you confident that they are now sharing that information on this day, as opposed to what we see in that report and your report?
LEHMAN: I'm pretty confident they're not sharing it. And that's one of the reasons we have stayed in business as private citizens to continue to track the progress and, in some cases, lack of progress in bringing about these reforms.
And in the case of the FBI and CIA and other elements of the community, there, the stovepipes, the obstacles to sharing are so ingrained, so bureaucratically established that even though there are many, many people of goodwill within those agencies trying to do good and trying to share, it is not yet happening.
And so that is why this DNI that now has been established that we had recommended is so critical, because only he will have the clout to smash those stovepipes and to force people to adhere to the higher good rather than the bureaucratic process.
KING: The DNI, director of national intelligence. Among the topics we will continue in our conversation with Lee Hamilton and John Lehman when we come back from a break.
"LATE EDITION" continues in just a moment. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My message to the folks here is, "Thanks for being on the front line in protecting America during the war on terror."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: President Bush speaking to staff members at the new National Counter-Terrorism Center, just outside the nation's capital, on Friday. Welcome back. We're talking with former 9/11 Commission members Lee Hamilton and John Lehman.
Gentlemen, let's continue our discussion.
And Secretary Lehman, you were making the point before the break that the work of the commission continues.
Now, that's extraordinary. Usually a commission does its work, it publishes its book or report and it goes out of business. The commissioners decided unanimously to continue your work, in part because you don't see enough being done.
I wanted to ask you, as you continue to hold public hearings, continue to encourage public discourse and action by the administration and the Congress on your recommendations, during the original process, there were complaints the Bush administration was not cooperating, not giving you witnesses, not giving you information from time to time. Are they doing that now, Secretary Lehman? Are you getting full cooperation or do they wish would you go away?
LEHMAN: Well, I think the problem we had in the period of our investigation was not so much that the White House was stone-walling but that the bureaucracy was frequently using the White House to delay and impede our access to what turned out to be very embarrassing information. And ultimately, the White House gave us full access to everything we needed.
Right now, of course, we're not in an official status. We are just private citizens and we're trying to keep the spotlight on the reforms that are so critical if we're going to protect our vulnerabilities in the future.
And so we don't have powers of subpoena. We have requested -- Lee, in fact, along with our chairman, Tom Kean, sent a letter requesting full cooperation. And I think probably Lee would better respond to what kind of help we're getting.
KING: I yield the floor.
HAMILTON: I think we're pleased with the cooperation thus far. We've had no stone-walling at this point. And we had a very forthcoming statement from the White House the other day. So we're pleased.
KING: One of the issues has been the continuing role -- and you've mentioned stovepipe, Secretary Lehman: the need for reform at the FBI. On front page of the New York Times today, an account saying that John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, will have a role in selecting for the FBI its new intelligence chief and that is a cultural change, if you will. A welcome change, Secretary Lehman?
LEHMAN: A crucial change. In fact, it's one of the most encouraging things that we've seen so far since the legislation was passed.
Because in Washington, there are only two sources of power: the power over money and the power over personnel, assignments, and hiring and firing. And we recommended, along with the Silverman-Robb Commission that the DNI must have an equal say in picking and indeed firing the heads of the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community.
And the most difficult of all to achieve has been the FBI. The FBI has not traditionally played in the community the way the other agencies have. And so to ensure that the power the DNI reaches into the FBI is critical, that whomever directs that new intelligence division and national security division of the FBI owe his job, at least in large measure, to the DNI.
So it's a very big development.
KING: And one of the focus of your discourse going forward is the DNI, the role of the new director of national intelligence.
Mr. Negroponte not on the job very long, Congressman Hamilton, but what is your sense so far of how he has moved and his willingness, if you will, to shake the trees and to ruffle feathers, step on toes, and the White House support for him?
HAMILTON: So far, so good, I think in a word.
We think he has, first of all, sufficient legal authority. Not always completely clear, but by and large, he has sufficient legal authority.
Secondly, the president's statements when he was nominated, when he was sworn in, were very positive about the political backing of the White House for Negroponte. That's good.
There have been moves in the Congress and other places to weaken his authority. And those moves have been turned back. That's encouraging. So it seems to be moving in the right direction. You want a director of national intelligence with full power over budget and over personnel with a power to, as John said, to force sharing of information, to develop the analytical systems you need, to develop the information systems you need, and that's going to take aggressive, strong, robust action by the DNI.
KING: In closing, I want to give each of you an opportunity. In serving on this commission you each earned the respect, if not the admiration, of the American people for your willingness to look at this problem.
As you sit here now as private citizens, as you noted, Secretary Lehman, but continuing this discourse, each of you pick, if you will, the one thing that you recommended that has not been done, that is most important to you.
And I'll begin with you, Secretary Lehman.
LEHMAN: Well, I think Lee and I would probably have the same thing at the top of the list. And that is the failure of Congress to do the fundamental reforms that will enable the DNI and the community to carry out the reforms that we've recommended.
There's been progress. They have done -- not done nothing at all. The House did establish a homeland security committee and now has a homeland security authorization bill. There has been a de facto strengthening of the intelligence communities -- intelligence committees in both houses, but there is still sequential referral.
The budget gets grabbed by 80-some committees, each one wants a piece of the pork barrel. And until we get that straightened out, until Congress sorts out its own mess, it will be very hard for the DNI to successfully implement what he needs.
KING: You'll get the last word, Congressman.
And as you step in on that point, help the person at home watching who would say, reforming Congress, that's Washington gobbledygook. What does that have to do with life and death matters like terrorism?
HAMILTON: What it means is, when you establish a powerful position like the director of national intelligence, and this position is powerful, you'd better check power. That's the history of America. You've got to check power, and make it accountable.
John's right, you've got to have robust oversight by the Congress. You've got to allocate the radial spectrum so the first responders can communicate with one another at the scene of the disaster. You have to allocate homeland security funds on the basis of risk and vulnerability. And you have to take steps, maximum efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world so that you prevent the greatest horror of all, which is the terrorists getting hold of the nuclear weapon.
KING: Ominous list for the continuing challenges.
Congressman Lee Hamilton, Secretary John Lehman, two members of the 9/11 Commission, thank you both, gentlemen, for joining us today on "LATE EDITION."
And up next, we'll get a check of what's in the news right now, including the appointment of Kuwait's first female cabinet member. Then, democracy in the Middle East: We'll talk about the push for change in a troubled region with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: South Korea and the United States should have the same goal, and that is a Korean Peninsula without a nuclear weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: President Bush there addressing concerns about a nuclear North Korea, just before talks Friday with South Korea's president, Roh Moo-Hyun.
For special insight on North Korea and other hot spots around the globe, we're joined now by two distinguished guests: in Connecticut, the former secretary of state Henry Kissinger; and here in Washington former Defense Secretary William Cohen, who is now CEO of the Cohen Group.
Gentlemen, we'll get to North Korea later in the discussions. I want to begin with an issue that's being debated around Washington today, as it has been in the past for months, but it seems to be reaching a critical boiling point, and that is the fate of the U.S. prison, detainee center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Secretary Kissinger, let me start with you. As we see more insight into the treatment of people there, I want your thoughts on whether you believe this facility should be kept open or closed, and your assessment of the damage it does to the U.S. image around the world, especially in the critical area of the Middle East.
HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, some of the stories that are being printed and obviously are causing damage to the United States, the question is: Are prisoners being kept there that should be in prison?
And then there's the secondary question: What is the best place in which to locate such a prison? And we have to give some attention to the dilemma that is faced by policy-makers.
If you have prisoners that are believed to have information that is extremely dangerous to American lives, how far can you go in trying to extract that information? When you describe the methods, they're of course repellent, and none of us would want to do it, but that's not the choice that the policy-makers are facing.
And if people want to relocate the prison, they ought to indicate where they want to relocate it, unless they want to say that most of the prisoners ought not to be in prison at all. That requires a different judgment than I'm able to make.
KING: And, Secretary Cohen, you once had the job that Secretary Rumsfeld has now. And he's being hammered over this, by critics in Congress -- we had some senators on the program earlier today -- criticized at times in the public at large.
Your assessment first of the threshold question of should it stay open, and how Secretary Rumsfeld has handled his job as the person in charge, if you will?
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, you indicated earlier in your show that it was Secretary Rumsfeld who is running Guantanamo Bay, and that he was in charge.
Now, basically it's still the president of the United States who's in charge. he is the commander in chief, and there seems to be some split, at least verbally, in terms of whether or not there's an option on the table of closing it down, or whether Secretary Rumsfeld, who also issued a statement saying he was not aware of any consideration being given.
So both may be in fact speaking the truth in this particular matter.
And also the president leaving the door open for its potential closure, there are two issues involved, it seems to me. Number one, as to place, namely, Guantanamo Bay, why was it selected? Well, not subject to the jurisdiction -- at least it was thought -- of the U.S. courts. Courts have indicated that's not correct.
Second, it's isolated, and not subject to review.
So place is important, but also the procedures and the policies.
As Secretary Kissinger just indicated, at what point in time do we decide that the emergency of the moment requires that they be given something more than a Miranda warning?
A tough policy issue, but it seems to me that this has to be clearly identified, in terms of what we will allow to take place, and what kind of oversight is being exercised.
So you had two very prominent members of the Senate appearing before, Senator Hagel, Senator Feinstein. It's clear that they're now going to be holding hearings with Senator Lugar to try to exercise oversight, to find out what kind of procedures have been taking place, and do they violate our fundamental notions of human rights?
KING: Let's have a little role-playing, if you will. If Mr. Kissinger, Dr. Kissinger, you were secretary of state today, and, Mr. Cohen, you were secretary of defense, and the secretary of state comes in to the president and says, this is killing us, in terms of our image around the world, and the defense secretary says, "But, sir, we are getting incredibly valuable information, not always, but from some of these people," and the president is left with the decision, do I keep it open, how do I explain this to the public, help me through how those situations happen.
COHEN: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld indicated about a year or so ago he issued a memo which got leaked to the press in which he raised the question, are we creating more terrorists than we are either capturing or killing? Still a valuable question to ask even today: Does the operation of Guantanamo Bay create symbolically more terrorists than we're actually persuading not to be attacking the United States?
The president ultimately has to make a decision: Is this information so crucial to the prevention of destruction on a massive scale that I'm willing to keep this facility open under these circumstances? He, after all, has to make that call, and he would weigh that judgment.
KING: And your assessment of that judgment that he faces, Secretary Kissinger?
KISSINGER: Well, there are really two separate issues here. Should these people be in prison at all, and second, where should the prison be located? If the argument is that people are being imprisoned there unnecessarily, that's one problem.
The second is their treatment. In the treatment, one has to distinguish between the treatment of the normal confinement and the special cases to which so much attention is now being paid, where somebody is believed to have special information.
I, frankly, don't think this can be discussed in any detail on talk shows. Some sort of commission should be created to look at these questions in detail, and to recognize the anguish that top policy-makers have to go through in answering the questions that you put to us.
COHEN: Senator Biden, as a matter of fact, has called for the creation of such a commission similar one with the 9/11 Commission, in which you had Lee Hamilton, John Lehman, and others who were conducting. I think that's a valuable recommendation.
KING: As that debate continues, let's move our discussion on to the political situation in Iraq.
The insurgency continues. There are Iraqis, and Americans, and other coalition troops still dying there. And after the elections, there was this optimistic period.
Now there are still some tensions between the Shia and the Sunni about the representation in the government. And as the Bush administration makes its case for more minority representation, it's asking for help from others around the world.
Mr. Secretary, Secretary Kissinger, how important is this challenge. And some might say, well, if you created a democracy in Iraq, it's up to them to figure out the representation.
KISSINGER: Well, the struggle between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds has been a characteristic of Iraq since the state was created at the end of World War I. Of course, they have to figure out the balance, but the balance that is established in these numbers for many of them is a question of life and death.
We cannot avoid some responsibility for participating in this discussion, and the most hopeful outcome would be a democratic system with a strong federal structure in which the minority cannot be oppressed by the majority.
Considering how deep the hatreds are, one can't expect that this problem will be settled very quickly. We can't avoid participation in that dialogue. And nor can other nations that are interested in democracy.
Because if the radicals win in Iraq, if radical Islam wins in Iraq, the impact on the rest of the world will be dramatic and profound.
And so, whatever the debate may have been a few years ago on the origin of the war, in the carrying out of the working for a democratic Iraq, one has to have some patience, and we cannot escape our responsibilities, and nor should especially the democratic nations of Europe.
KING: Secretary Kissinger lays out the enormous historic and cultural challenge. Has the president, in your view, laid that out to the American people in a realistic scenario? I think many Americans thought after the elections and the optimistic talk from the White House that by the end of the year the troops might start coming home.
COHEN: I think that was irrational exuberance, to coin an Alan Greenspan phrase in a different context.
I think the president has to do more communication with the American public to tell them this is still a long-term goal that we're looking at.
But let me suggest that the Sunnis have a very limited window of opportunity to join in the participation of this democratic experiment as such, that it may very well be that as we are training the Iraqi military, the Iraqi police force, and they are going to adopt a new constitution with a new governing body by next, early next year, the Sunnis may very well find out that once that takes place, the Shia majority will tell us to leave.
It will be the Sunnis who will be asking us to stay for fear that this new robust Shia-dominated country, which is supported at least indirectly by Iran, would devastate the Sunni population. They may be the ones calling for us to stay at that point, rather than supporting the insurgency today.
So there's a great deal of irony involved in this. They have a very limited time to participate in the politics of it all. Hopefully, the Shia can be persuaded through the United States, through the Europeans, and others to open up that system and include them in more positive way. KING: Much more to discuss with our two distinguished guests, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, including the nuclear standoff with North Korea. Stay with us. "LATE EDITION" will be right back.
KING: And we're continuing our conversation now with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Gentlemen, I want to turn your attention to the Middle East peace effort.
The Bush administration this week, later this week will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- I don't think the trip has been announced but she has said she will go. The schedule calls for her to leave sometime later this week. This, obviously in advance of Ariel Sharon's planned pullout from Gaza.
Many in the region, Secretary Kissinger, let me begin with you, are worried, including the Palestinians, that Prime Minister Sharon will pull out of Gaza and then stop -- that he will not then enter into a more comprehensive peace dialogue. Your assessment of where we are at this moment?
KISSINGER: I believe that Prime Minister Sharon recognizes that the precedent he has started and the principles which are involved in the Gaza withdrawal will have to be carried forward in a West Bank negotiation. And when the withdrawal from Gaza is completed, I believe the time has arrived for a major peace initiative in between the Palestinians and Israel.
KING: A major peace...
KISSINGER: I believe it will happen.
KING: You believe it will happen. Do you share that optimism, Secretary Cohen? And if there is a major peace initiative and a major moment, if you will, after the Gaza withdrawal, how hands on must Secretary Rice and ultimately the president be?
COHEN: Well, I yield to Secretary Kissinger on how hands on that would be, after all of his years of shuttle diplomacy. But let me say that I have been associated with a group called the Israel Policy Forum, and we have been active in trying to lend support for the president's two-state solution.
So assuming the Gaza pullout goes reasonably well, and there's going to be some anticipated violence that we can anticipate that will be associated with that, assuming that the Egyptians and others will help stabilize the Gaza in terms of its security, then I think Secretary Kissinger is right. The next step is to then deal with the settlement issue as far as freezing the settlements in the West Bank and then negotiating an agreement on phase two. If the Palestinians come to believe that this is step one and it's the final step as far as the pullout of the Gaza, then we will see no Middle East peace initiative beyond where we are today. And that's simply not acceptable.
KING: In the Oval Office this past week, the President Roh of South Korea meeting with President Bush acknowledging quite candidly that there are some differences between the two governments over how to deal with the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
Secretary Kissinger, North Korea said or told U.S. diplomats it was committed to coming back to the six-party talks but it won't say when. And of course, many don't trust the word of the North Korean government.
From your view, who is right? Is President Bush right? Hold firm until they come back, or should, as China and South Korea suggest, Mr. Bush perhaps sweeten the U.S. deal on the table to entice them to come back?
KISSINGER: Well, we cannot keep bribing the North Koreans to come back to talks.
I believe that the six-party forum is the right forum in which to discuss this. China, Japan, the United States and essentially South Korea agree on the outcome of the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula. And President Bush, in his last comments, stressed the fact that we're talking about the denuclearization of all of Korea, not just of North Korea.
I believe that this creates as framework within which the six- power talks can have a more promising outcome. It's not a question of bribing North Korea. It's a question of having enough incentives and penalties to give them no other choice. And I'm optimistic that it will be achieved.
KING: Secretary Kissinger makes the point that assembling perhaps sanctions and penalties. If we could find a tape of this program from a year ago, people were saying, "Well, if we can get them back to the talks." They have not come back to the talks.
At what point does the president need to say, "This might cause trouble but we need to go to the Security Council. We need to seek those penalties and sanctions"?
COHEN: Well, going to the Security Council will be interesting because, in all probability, China would veto such an effort, which would then shift the political responsibility to China if something were to go wrong or they were test a nuclear weapon. Then politically, China would bear responsibility.
So there may be some game-playing in terms of tactically how do we pressure China into doing more than it currently has to bring pressure upon the North.
It was interesting to me to watch the press conference between President Roh, the South Korean president and President Bush. You may recall that President Roh got elected on a campaign to distance himself and his country from the United States. Since that time, he's tried to get closer to the United States for a different reason.
We want to get closer to the South Koreans in order to persuade them they should toughen up their position and be with us. I believe the South Koreans want to get close to the United States to make sure that we don't get too provocative and proceed a much more aggressive policy to the North.
But ultimately, it's going to be China that's in the best position to exercise influence over the North Koreans. They have done some to date, but not enough, and they hold the key on this.
KING: Secretary Kissinger, in closing, we're running short on time, but I'd like your assessment of the significance of this new agreement by the, now the G-8 countries, the negotiations led by Great Britain to relieve some $40 billion in debt by 18 of the poorest nations around the world.
They have sought this for some time, obviously. What is the significance, in your view? The right thing to do?
KISSINGER: I think it was an important decision to make. And it demonstrates that the G-8 nations are not only concerned with their own problems, with the problems of globalization for industrial nations, but that they're trying to bring the developing nations, and the poorest of them, into the international system. And I'm happy that a unanimous agreement could be achieved.
KING: Gentlemen, I thank you for your time, and I wish we had more of it. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Connecticut, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen here in Washington. Thank you both.
And up next, the results of our web question of the week: Has U.S. intelligence against terrorist threats improved since 9/11?
Plus, "LATE EDITION's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. Stay with us.
KING: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Congressman Curt Weldon assessed the timetable for when the United States might be able to start withdrawing troops from Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WELDON: I would say a minimum of eight to ten months, maximum, probably two years, and that's assuming everything goes well.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: There's overwhelming consensus, nothing less than a year, some say as long as three years. And this is talking to the guy standing on the ground that can shoot straight and are getting shot at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: On CBS's "Face the Nation," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy weighed in on why public support is slipping for the U.S. effort in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The idea that the war has gone on this long with this many casualties surprises people. When the statue in Baghdad fell, we thought the war was over, and we have really underestimated the insurgency. We haven't had enough troops in play. So we need to adjust.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: At some point, we've got to tell the Iraqis that we have no intention of keeping our troops there permanently, we're not out there to take their oil, we're not looking for permanent bases, it's their country, and they're going to have to fight for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And on "Fox News Sunday," the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee disputed claims that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being mistreated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Now, how do we treat these people? I sent down yesterday for the menu from Guantanamo, so that the average American could understand how we're brutalizing people in Guantanamo, and I've got it right here. For Sunday they're going to be having -- let me see -- orange-glazed chicken, fresh fruit groupe, steamed peas and mushrooms, rice pilaf, another form of torture for the hijackers. We treat them very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Highlights there from the Sunday morning talk shows, here on the last word in Sunday talk.
Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked: Has U.S. intelligence against terrorist threats improved since 9/11? Here's how you voted: 15 percent said yes; 85 percent said no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.
And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, June 12th.
Wolf returns next Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
Until then, thanks so much for watching.
Enjoy your Sunday. I'm John King in Washington.
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