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Could Iran Crisis Lead to War?

Aired September 19, 2006 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Paula, you are taking over right now. I got the sense that his remarks were addressed for two purposes, to try to score points here in the United States, and to try to divide the international community, especially the Bush administration, from Europe, the Russians, the Chinese, and others.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: I guess his assault on the U.N. Security Council was expected.

I think you are right about the various audiences he was trying to touch tonight. I guess I was surprised that, at times in the speech, he didn't refer to the United States directly or the United Kingdom, until there was one sentence in particular, where he blasted both, basically, saying, the U.N. Security Council needed to be reformed, because it dominated by the U.S. and -- and the United Kingdom, and went on to say that they serve as prosecutors, judges, and executioners, all in one.

Also interesting to note -- and I -- I guess we should have expected this as well -- he denied that his nuclear program had anything to do with weapons, but, in fact, was for peaceful purposes, which, I think -- I don't know if you agree with me, Wolf -- is probably the -- the -- I don't know if you would call it the highlight, but -- but the -- the point of the speech that everybody was waiting for.

BLITZER: Yes, he said he was committed -- Iran was committed to honoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, also committed to allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to continue with its inspections. He said they had a transparent program.

His words will be carefully studying, reviewed, especially, Paula, in line -- in -- in coming only a few hours after what President Bush said at the General Assembly -- at the U.N. General Assembly earlier today.

I am going to have chance, by the way, to speak with the president tomorrow morning here in New York, President Bush, and get his reaction to what we heard from the Iranian leader.

ZAHN: Well, I tried to look for reaction from any U.S. officials tonight. But, if you look carefully at the screen, we had a tight close-up of the area where the U.S. delegation would sit, and we could only spot, through our -- our producers in the General Assembly, a -- a low-level member of the U.S. delegation sitting there. We couldn't see anybody at the Israeli delegation. And I think it was one or two people at the U.K. delegation -- no surprise there at all.

Well, Wolf, we look forward to seeing that interview tomorrow.

We are going to move on here now, and just remind those of you who are just joining us now that the war on terrorism will be our "Top Story" tonight.

Iranian president, as Wolf and I have just said, Mr. Ahmadinejad, has just told the U.N. that his country's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. Without ever mentioning the United States by name, he accused the U.S. of seeking to rule the world by weapons and threats, of letting terrorists loose in Iraq, and of the unbridled stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

Now, just hours before the Iranian leader addressed the General Assembly, President Bush used his U.N. speech to accuse Iran of funding terrorism, fueling extremism, and pursuing nuclear weapons.

After that speech, during a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Mr. Bush went even further. He warned Iran it doesn't have much time left to avoid what he calls the consequences for stalling.

But, in his own address to the U.N., President Chirac called for more negotiations, more dialogue. He says he is not in favor of setting deadlines to impose economic sanctions on Iran.

So, let's get right to the United Nations right now, where Aneesh Raman is standing by live with his thoughts on what we have just heard over the last 30 minutes or so -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, as you mentioned, one thing that struck out to me was the fact that he didn't mention the U.S. or U.K. by name, until that one sentence near the end, where he chastised them for their role in the world.

It was also interesting that he didn't address the plight of the Iranian people until he had already mentioned Iraqis, Palestinians, and the Lebanese. At the beginning of his speech, he spoke in broad terms, as a voice of the oppressed, of the Muslim world, and specifically -- specifically of the Third World, similar statements to what we saw in that letter, you will recall, he sent to President Bush.

This is man who is playing to those in this General Assembly, who feel that the United States and Britain, but the U.S. specifically, is really running the world as they choose. And he's signaling to them: Look, I am the voice that will challenge them for you.

On the nuclear issue, nothing surprising -- Iran's president maintaining it is pursuing a peaceful civilian nuclear program, maintaining it has no intention of stopping it, but giving words of peace, using love at one moment, out to show that Iran is eager for dialogue, eager to find resolution that will appease everyone. The other interesting thing, he did, as I have seen often with Iranian officials -- and I was just there interviewing the chief nuclear negotiator -- he did the same thing -- everything Iran is criticized for, they turn back on the U.S. He didn't do so by name tonight. But, on Iraq, the U.S. has said that Iran is using its influence there to destabilize the country.

Iran's president said, others are using covert operations, essentially, to keep Iraq in a violent, chaotic mess. The other issue was when he talked about nuclear weapons. Iran, the U.S. says, is pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran's president tonight chastised all countries that have nuclear weapons, and said nuclear weapons do no good in the world.

So, this is a man who, today, was reserved in his tone, eager to come across as a man of peace and eager to be seen as a voice of the oppressed -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Aneesh, what is the most surprising thing you heard tonight?

RAMAN: I think it was the fact that we didn't hear much about the U.S., that we didn't hear much about the U.K. specifically. We didn't hear Israel by name, except when he said the Zionist regime.

Instead, he spoke in very broad terms about the oppressed in the world. What was most surprising to me was the fact that he did use this as a platform to rail -- basically rail against the U.S., without doing so. It was smart politics by him. It plays not only to his base, who are the oppressed in the world, but also to those who are looking for compromise, looking for a reason not to confront Iran on this nuclear issue.

They got that tonight in a speech that was void of anything that was hugely controversial, instead, that spoke, essentially, of peace.

ZAHN: Aneesh, we want to you stay right there, because we have re-racked a small part of that 30-minute speech to share with our audience, for -- for those of us -- those of you out there that weren't able to make it at the beginning.

Let's -- let's review that.


AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Some seek to rule the world relying on weapons and threats, while others live in perpetual insecurity and danger.

Some occupy the homeland of others, thousands of kilometers away from their borders, interfere in their affairs, and control their oil and other resources and strategic roots, while others are bombarded daily in their own homes, their children murdered in the streets and alleys of their own country, and their homes reduced to rubble.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: Once again, a small portion of the speech that the Iranian president just delivered before the General Assembly of the U.N.

You might have noticed the pictures, once again, of the -- the place where the U.S. delegation usually sits. We could only spot one what is considered a lower-level member of that delegation. That comes as no surprise.

No one happened to be sitting, as we could tell, at the Israeli delegation, as well.

Let's quickly go to Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, happens to be the author of "Tehran Rising: Iran's Challenge to the United States."

I guess we all expected him to continue his diatribe on the Security Council. We have heard Aneesh's analysis that and -- and mine that -- that he didn't refer to the United States and the United Kingdom specifically, until one place where he accused both countries of aggression, occupation, violation of international law and said, which part of the U.N. will take that into account?

What's your reaction to that?

ILAN BERMAN, VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY COUNCIL: Well, I think it was an extraordinary speech, in the sense that it gave us a glimpse into the mind of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This was the world, essentially, according to Mahmoud. He laid out -- I think there were three very important themes that he laid out. The first was on the nuclear issue. It was quite clear that he wanted to reframe the terms of the nuclear debate.

Iran is under extreme pressure with regard to its nuclear program, its nuclear ambitions. And what he was trying to do was recast the debate as an oppressor and a lower-level power that seeks -- simply seeking peaceful nuclear energy. And I -- I think he was successful, to some extent, in doing that.

The second issue was with Iraq. And what was substantial here, I think, was the fact that there was a veiled threat implicit in what he was talking about. He was talking about the U.S. essentially fomenting instability. But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Iran is actually the one that is fomenting instability.

And I think the coded message that he was sending here to the Iraqis was that: The Americans may come; they may go; but we're here to stay for the long haul. And it matters to you that we have a good relationship with you.

It's, I think, very much a -- a coded message here.

And the third issue -- and I think it's a macro-issue -- was, it's useful to remember the historical context that we are looking at here. The historical context is that Ahmadinejad just came off of a tour. He was -- he made his first ever visit to Venezuela. He had -- he attended a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. And, here, he was looking at, essentially, to wrangle a coalition, a coalition against the United States, a coalition against the coalition of the willing against the war on terror. And this is, essentially, a message to them.

ZAHN: And we appreciate, Ilan Berman, your insights tonight.

And, right now, we're going to go back to Aneesh Raman and pose the question, what do we really know about the Iranian president we heard from tonight?

Aneesh, you have been digging into this. What did you find out about his rise to power?

RAMAN: Well, Paula, given how much scrutiny we have seen on his comments tonight on his trip to New York, it might be hard to imagine that, just a year ago, the world really had no idea who Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was.


RAMAN (voice-over): August 2005: A man virtually unknown to the outside world, the mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, catapults to the second most powerful office in the land, becoming president of the Islamic Republic of Iran -- his election promise, serious economic reforms in a country weighed down by unemployment and rising inflation.

At the time, average Iranians feel he is one of them, the son of a blacksmith, a politician who today rides in a limo, but used to drive his own beat-up car, who wears inexpensive suits, who speaks out against corruption among Iran's elite.

But, at his swearing-in, Ahmadinejad wastes no time introducing himself to the world, warning his time in office would see no stop in Iran's nuclear program.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will never surrender to decisions beyond international rules which are aimed at violating our nation's rights. It is an inviolable principle of our policies.

RAMAN: Within weeks, Iran resumes Iranian enrichment, about a year after a voluntary suspension. And Ahmadinejad sets the stage for a confrontation with the West.

RAY TAKEYH, AUTHOR, "HIDDEN IRAN: PARADOX AND POWER IN THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC": He essentially shares the original principles of the revolution, which were anti-American, anti-Israeli, and called for sort of a pan-Islamic vision of the Middle East.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: ... the president of the United States.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) RAMAN: Ahmadinejad's victory came in the aftermath of President Bush calling Iran part of the axis of evil, in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, at a time of growing anger towards America on the Muslim streets of the world.

Millions of disenfranchises people, from Malaysia, to Indonesia, to Pakistan, to Iran, were eager for a Muslim leader to speak out on their behalf. And, in Ahmadinejad, they got their man.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He gets popularity by going after Bush. And he's becoming some sort of an international figure.

The anti-American elements around the world, which, unfortunately, because of our policies, are becoming more numerous, are beginning to recognize him as one of the top leaders.

RAMAN: And, as president, Ahmadinejad has never missed a chance to blast the United States, whether it be about Iraq, about the war between Israel and Hezbollah, about the plight of Palestinians.

And he has raised the rhetoric against Israel, calling for it to be wiped off the map. Over the past year, traveling the Muslim world, Ahmadinejad has been spreading his message and influence, an unbridled passion fueled by an undying religious faith, coupled with a sense, worrisome to those in the West of, divine inspiration.

Back home, after his speech last year to the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad told followers that an aura of light had surrounded him during the entire speech, and that not a person in the room blinked for the entire 30 minutes he spoke, entranced by his words.

Also back home, in the past year, Iranians have grown increasingly weary of their president's international ambitions. These are sensitive times in Iran. In my trips there, it has been tough to get people on camera to talk about their president, many afraid to criticize.

But, off camera, all say they are preparing for sanctions to be imposed, for the economic situation they desperately wanted improved to simply get worse.


ZAHN: So, Aneesh, you are one of the few reporters that has actually had the access you have had in Iran, these folks telling you they fully expect sanctions.

What are they telling you about any impact they think they can have on this president at all?

RAMAN: Well, right now, they feel, essentially, they have little impact, if any, on his decisions.

What's important to keep in mind is that he will face reelection in the coming years. And, if he does not, at all, improve the economic situation in Iran, it is tough to imagine he will win reelection.

It might be seen as a repressive regime outside of Iran, but it is a competitive political process within. And, so, he will have to face the Iranian people at some point. And, by then, he will have had to make the economy better, and not just have fought this international war of rhetoric -- Paula.

ZAHN: Aneesh Raman, reporting from the U.N. tonight, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, we have more on the Iran crisis. Could this end up leading to war?


ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage is focused on tonight's hard words at the U.N. and the looming crisis between the U.S. and Iran.

The Iranian president has just made it very clear, in a 30-minute speech, that he will not abandon his country's nuclear program. He says it is for peaceful purposes only.

And, earlier today, President Bush was equally clear in threatening sanctions, if Iran doesn't back down. Just today, the Navy confirmed to CNN that a top naval official has asked his staff for an updated assessment on how to supply warships and troops, in the event of military action against Iran.

Let's go to our "Top Story" panel right now.

Bill Gertz is a national security reporter for "The Washington Times" and the author of "Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets -- and How We Let It Happen." Susan Hackley directs the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, dedicated to avoiding conflict through negotiation. She also serves on the board of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. And military analyst General David Grange is former commanding general of the Army's 1st Infantry Division.

Good to have all three of you with us.

So, Bill, we know that the government has already spent time and money drawing up a potential military plan, if there is an attack against Iran. After hearing the Iranian president tonight, is that more likely that process moves along faster?

BILL GERTZ, AUTHOR, "ENEMIES: HOW AMERICA'S FOES STEAL OUR VITAL SECRETS -- AND HOW WE LET IT HAPPEN": Well, I think we're at least two or three years away from any kind of military option.

Basically, we have our hands full in Iraq. But, on the other hand, the pressure of having military forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan is a -- a powerful tool for the so-called diplomatic option. That's what is going to be the main element. However, I don't think President Bush is going to leave office with the threat of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. So, I think that's the time frame that I would see some kind of military option.

ZAHN: And let's talk about that option, if the diplomacy doesn't work, Susan. How does this play out?

SUSAN HACKLEY, PROGRAM ON NEGOTIATION DIRECTOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, diplomacy should work. I hate to see this issue being portrayed as a showdown between two powerful countries.

ZAHN: Well, what is it, then?

HACKLEY: There have been many signals -- what is it?


HACKLEY: I think it is a -- really an opportunity to engage with some important issues, for example, how do we deal with the risk of terrorism and spreading terrorism to other countries? How to we deal with the proliferation of -- of nuclear weapons?

It should be, really, a global discussion that the U.S. is involved in, but that we don't take it on alone.

ZAHN: General Grange, we know, as there has been much analysis of, that the U.S. is mired in what most Americans think is a pretty unpopular war. What would war with Iran look like, as we have troops engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, if President Bush decides to go that way?

RETIRED BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I don't think it will be -- go to a full-scale war, initially.

I think that, in a negotiation of some sort, if it does happen, the oil and the -- and -- and our commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan is -- it appears to be, to Iran, a weakness. And they will take advantage of that.

But two things have to happen. It's phased. In other words, we cannot tolerate the Iranian influence in Iraq right now, with the leadership, in some cases, of Shia militia, and -- and as well as the IED sophistication of the triggering devices. I mean, that has to end almost immediately. We shouldn't tolerate that.

To strike Iran itself, that could be done at any time by air and sea. Ground forces would be a -- a little tougher, obviously. But we can't appear, in this nation, that we don't have that option, if it has to go to that.

ZAHN: Bill, let's talk about a recent "TIME" magazine that -- article that amplifies what the general was just saying, pointing out that there are some 1,500 different aim points that the U.S. military has identified in Iraq (sic). What are we talking about?

GERTZ: Well, definitely, we have the weapons systems, and we're -- they are getting more accurate, and they're getting more numerous.

We're talking about putting conventional warheads on ICBMs and submarine-launched missiles. We have a new JDAM that is even more accurate than the satellite-guided bombs that they have now.

We know where a lot of these places are. But the military is doing what they call effects-based warfare. Now, what is the effect that they want to create, if they go to war? Is it to change the regime, or is it to knock out the nuclear program?

I think that, if they do use a military option, it could be something like special forces units designed to sabotage specific nuclear facilities.

ZAHN: And, of course, the -- the administration continues to state that they hope Iran will finally comply with some of these U.N. regulations, so it won't resort to that.

There is breaking news in tonight's top crime story. A newborn baby stolen from her mother shortly, very shortly after she was born has been found and found alive. We'll have that update coming up for you in just a moment.

And then tainted spinach is tonight's top consumer story. Not only are we getting new reports of people getting sick all over the country, but the crisis has uncovered a top spot in our country's defenses, that would be soft spot. Where are we vulnerable? We'll see more when we come back. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: Our top story coverage turns now to some breaking news just coming into us right now. A newborn baby in Missouri taken from her mother in a violent attack last Friday has been found tonight and we're happy to report that the 11-day-old child is in good condition and that a suspect is now in custody. That ends a terrible, terrible five-day search for the child.

Jonathan Freed has been following the story since it began in the town of Lonedell, Missouri. He joins me now with this incredible development. Of course, this is what everyone was hoping and praying for. How in the end big of a surprise was it that she was found alive?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, there is unbelievable relief here in Missouri tonight. People involved in this investigation, those of us who have covered these kinds of stories before, you get to a point where you start to wonder whether or not there is going to be a happy ending and people here were taken by surprise just a short while ago when it was announced that between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. tonight, a woman came forward and handed over the child.

Now, we spoke to the sheriff a little while ago. And there is going to be a full briefing within the hour. And part of the issue here, some of the details are sketchy Paula, because the FBI was involved in part of this operation there. They're in possession of some of the facts, the sheriff's department on the other.

But the child was found within five miles of the family's home. A woman who we're getting the sense from the sheriff, matches the description that has been in that composite sketch, came forward, gave herself up, handed over the child. We understand that there might have been an intermediary involved here. I heard the sheriff mention a lawyer.

We're going to get those details shortly. The sheriff showed up, emotional at the family's home, took the mother and father to the hospital where the child had been taken. The mother was reunited with the baby and then she called the family shortly after to say I've got her and I'm feeding her. Paula?

ZAHN: What an amazing turn of events. We've been following it for five days and we're just thrilled it turned out this way. Jonathan, thank you so much.

We move on now to our top consumer story and the continuing crisis over tainted spinach. It not only exposed how vulnerable our nation's food supply is to accidental contamination, but also the threat of terrorism. We'll explain when we come back.


ZAHN: We move on now to a really important story for all of you consumers, I guess that would mean all of us. And that is the growing number of e. Coli infections caused by contaminated fresh spinach. More than 20 states have had cases and today Colorado became the latest to confirm infections linking to eating fresh spinach.

Now the Food and Drug Administration says the contamination is not intentional, but it does raise a bunch of questions about just how well the nation's farms and fields are protected during this time of terrorism. Ted Rowlands has the very latest on tonight's top story for consumers.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Long before it ends up neatly packaged in a store, most fresh food is exposed to potential contamination, both accidental and even more frightening, intentional.

JEFF NELKEN, FOOD SAFETY EXPERT: Lots of opportunities for contamination to take place.

ROWLANDS: Jeff Nelken is a food safety analyst. He took us out to a central California field to show us just how vulnerable the nation's food supply is to so-called agroterrorism, starting with the relatively easy public access to crops.

NELKEN: You can pretty much look down the highway here and there really isn't any security.

ROWLANDS: One way exposed crops, according to Nelken, are vulnerable to contamination is through tainted irrigation systems. We found this irrigation pump alongside a public road with only a padlock and chain around one of the valves.

NELKEN: I would say you can't get any more accessible because you see water right here.

ROWLANDS: Each field has its own irrigation system, which makes mass tampering unlikely still. As we have seen with e. Coli contaminated spinach, a small number of food poisoning cases can have a huge effect.

NELKEN: I just would like it to be better secured. I don't know if I just trust the lock and chain.

ROWLANDS: While security is visible at most processing plants, it is almost non-existent in the fields. Nelken, who believes preventing agroterrorism should be a high priority, even thinks that security cameras should watch over unattended crops.

NELKEN: We're honor the honesty system. The question is how long do we go on the honesty system?

ROWLANDS: Joe Pezzini is vice president of Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, California. He says farmers only real defense now is from workers.

JOE PEZZINI, OCEAN MIST FARMS: Our employees our eyes and ears out there in the field. And it's a matter of knowing who your employees are and where they're supposed to be and having them be able to tell you if something is unusual or somebody is out of place.

ROWLANDS: Agroterrorism has been identified as a real threat by the U.S. government. Last year at an agroterrorism conference in Kansas City, FBI director Robert Mueller said, quote, "We know that members of al Qaeda have studied our agriculture industry."

The FDA and USDA are working with crop producing states to find and fix vulnerable areas. But by all accounts, there is still a long way to go.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, San Juan Bautista, California.


ZAHN: And now that we have seen just how vulnerable we are in the fields, what's the federal government doing to make sure our food is tested and protected? The answer is next, and it is a real eye- opener.


ZAHN: We go back to our top consumer story tonight, deadly bacteria in the nation's spinach supply. Now dozens of people in more than 20 different states have become very sick after eating spinach. One person has died, and food contamination is likely to get a whole lot worse. Agriculture experts say E. coli outbreaks will become much more common in the future, and then there is this shocking fact. The government right now only bets on voluntary safety steps by farmer and packagers to prevent food contamination. So is anyone really watching over the safety of our food supply right now?

Well, let's turn to consumer correspondent Greg Hunter. He's been looking into that all day long, and he just filed this report.


GREG HUNTER, CNN CONSUMER CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gwen Welborn (ph) is one of more than 100 people who recently got sick after eating E. coli contaminated spinach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just said try everything you can. I don't care what it is, just try to save me.

HUNTER: Her lungs are now are badly damaged and kidneys shutting down. Welborn is just one example of why food safety is so critical. The recent spinach outbreak is another in a long line of severe problems involving produce. In 2003, 650 people got sick and four died from contaminated raw onions served in Chi Chi's, a national restaurant chain. Three years later, you may ask, is our produce any safer?

CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL, CTR. FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Produce outbreaks are growing in terms of the absolute number of outbreaks occurring each year. Also they are larger than other types of outbreaks, for example, from meat, poultry or seafood.

HUNTER: There are no mandatory safeguards in place to protect people from things like E. coli, just voluntary guidelines from the FDA. Things like farm water must not contain runoff from cattle pastures. Farm workers must use bathrooms and wash their hands. Farm equipment should be kept clean. It sounds like common sense but should these voluntary guidelines be mandatory? The FDA says commercial buyers already insist on it.

DR. ROBERT BRACKETT, FDA: Many of the buyers of these products already have specifications that they require good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices, and have that written right into their guidelines. So whether or not the government has required this in real life, they are expected to have this by the purchasers.

HUNTER: But are voluntary guidelines really enough to protect the public from getting sick?

DEWAAL: The FDA is relying on the produce industry to police itself. They've implemented no mandatory standards. They're relying on voluntary guidance and letters to the industry to control what is a growing public health problem.

HUNTER: Is produce being inspected by the government anywhere in the food chain, from farm fields to store shelves? According to consumer advocacy group CSPI, not regularly.

DEWAAL: USDA regulates meat and poultry products and they have federal inspectors in those plants every single day. But FDA almost never visits a farm or even the processing plants that produce the fresh lettuce and the vegetables and spinach that we're consuming every day.

HUNTER: Resources for inspections are a problem, and the FDA agrees there is need for improvement.

BRACKETT: We are doing more. Now, could more be done? Absolutely. And we're insisting that more be done in the future but what we're trying to get is get a good science-based way or exact points where these improvements can be made.

Greg Hunter, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: So what is it that needs to be done to make our food supply safe to prevent more outbreaks? Let's put that to our top story panel tonight.

Joining me now, Harvey Kushner, a terrorism expert and author of "The Holy War on the Homefront"; also Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, currently dean of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs. I'm sure there are a lot more parts to that title, but I'm stopping right there, and Sam Fromartz is also with me. He happens to be the author of "Organic, Inc." Glad to have all three of you with us.

So Dr. Kessler, you used to run the FDA. Do you think it is a joke that there are no mandatory guidelines out there for produce?

DR. DAVID KESSLER, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: First, Paula, I think we need to commend the FDA certainly in this most recent outbreak, because they put the public health first. And they went out relatively quickly even before they knew the exact source of the outbreak. So they put public health ...


ZAHN: That may be true but do you think that is acceptable that there are only voluntary guidelines? Because a lot of people are arguing had there been mandatory guidelines, we wouldn't be talking about people getting sick here tonight.

KESSLER: I think your point is an excellent one. There needs to be preventive controls and they need to be enforceable. They are not. I think we have seen that in this episode and in previous episodes.

ZAHN: And why aren't they in place?

KESSLER: Well, the FDA needs to do that, the White House has to support that, and the Congress also has to allow the FDA to do that. I think it is time to have that, system preventive controls. The problem is FDA has always acted, for the last 75 years, as if it is running after the horse after it is out of the barn. And that's just not an acceptable way to do business. The American public deserve more.

ZAHN: Sam, you've studies the organic and the non-organic food industries. What's your assessment on how well regulated the industry is?

SAM FROMARTZ, AUTHOR, "ORGANIC, INC.": Well, the organic industry, the regulations aren't voluntary. They're actually a federal law. There is a body of regulations in the USDA that organic growers have to follow.

Now, I've covered business for about 20 years, and the organic food industry is the only industry I've ever come across that is constantly pushing for tougher regulations to be inflicted on themselves, and the reason is, is because they're marketing what they say is a cleaner product, and they want the regulations and the seals -- the certification seals to prove it.

ZAHN: Harvey, let's talk about what Tommy Thompson has to say as he left the Department of Health and Human Services, where he made a lot of people very angry when he said he couldn't understand why the terrorists hadn't yet attacked the American food industry.

HARVEY KUSHNER, TERRORISM EXPERT: That's correct. He was saying the food chain was not safe. And Paula...

ZAHN: Is it safer since he left his job?

KUSHNER: No, it's not. It's probably less so, because we've been (inaudible) on other areas where we've been vulnerable, we don't think out of the box, Paula.

Take a look at al Qaeda, for example. Look at what they did in the past. We expect it to happen again, but a variation.

Now, the food chain is extremely vulnerable for a variety of reasons. One, it's so vast and it's so easy to get in and contaminate.

ZAHN: Well, certainly. We saw that piece. You get a chain-link fence you can climb.

KUSHNER: Right. If you want to contaminate a livestock, it is rather easy, because the type of pathogen that you would use wouldn't harm humans, so one could experiment, and spread it rather easily.

We don't have security which protects vast amounts of farmland across the country and cattle. This is something that has happened in this country before, Paula. In 1985, salmonella was entered into the food chain, particularly at restaurants and salad bars. Seven hundred and fifty people became violently ill, because they wanted to influence an election. Paula, this is something that the government has to regulate, and regulate it fast. The reason they are not doing this is pressure and lobby groups, from agricultural growers and cattle ranchers across the United States.

ZAHN: And you're taking them on next week when you testify in Congress on this very subject. Harvey Kushner, thanks for your time. Dr. David Kessler, yours as well. And Sam Fromartz, appreciate it.

Now we can move on to a quick biz break. Just a few hours ago, stocks finished on the down side, as you can see from the numbers up here. The Dow losing 14 points, the Nasdaq closing over 13 points lower, while the S&P declined slightly, by 3 points.

The weak housing market pulled the markets down today. The Commerce Department says housing starts fell in August for the fifth time in six months, hitting their lowest point in more than three years.

And now we take a look at our nightly gas prices across the country, our "Crude Awakenings." The states with today's highest prices are in red, the lowest gas prices in green. The average today -- check this out -- for unleaded regular, $2.48.

Tonight's top story in medicine: Premature babies get adult doses of medicine with deadly results. Next, we're going to go in depth to see how often mistakes like this happen in the hospital, and what you need to know to protect you and your children. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Our top story in medicine tonight: Deadly hospital foulups. Right now, a Methodist hospital in Indianapolis is doing more than ever to verify the doses of drugs given to their patients. But the change in hospital procedure comes way too late for two baby girls. The premature babies died after they got adult doses of medicine.

And incredibly, fatal drug doses are administered in hospitals across the country every day. In fact, a recent report says thousands of people die because of it, perhaps as many as 400,000 patients a year affected by it. Here's our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, with tonight's "Vital Signs."


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are some of the most vulnerable patients in any hospital, so small and fragile. Premies need around-the-clock care.

But over the weekend in the neonatal unit at Indianapolis's Methodist Hospital, a tragic medicine mixup. A half a dozen newborn infants were accidentally given adult doses of an anti-blood clotting drug.

SAM ODLE, METHODIST HOSPITAL CEO: Viles with an inappropriately high level of Heparin, a blood-thinning agent, were mistakenly administered to six infants in place of those with the lower correct dose.

GUPTA: Two of the babies died. One remains in critical condition. The three other babies recovered from the overdoses.

An investigation is under way.

Hospital officials say a pharmacy technician with 25 years experience accidentally delivered vials with the wrong dosage. The vials apparently looked identical to the ones used for premies.

ODLE: When something like this occurs, we're all affected from the nurses at the bedside to the CEO.

GUPTA: Tragically, what happened in Indiana is not uncommon, according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine, the IOM. Here's what it found. On average, a hospital patient is subject to at least one medication error a day, and at least 400,000 hospital patients are injured or killed by medication mixups each year. Dr. Albert Wu served on the IOM committee and is an expert on patient safety.

DR. ALBERT WU, JOHNS HOPKINS RESEARCHER: I would have to say that I was actually shocked.

GUPTA: Every year, hospitals spend more than $3.5 billion treating medical mistakes that happen on their watch.

ILENE CORINA, PULSE OF AMERICA: The government knows about this. The hospitals and health care professionals know about this. We need to be working together to make sure it ends now.

GUPTA: Ilene Corina is a patient safety advocate who read the report.

CORINA: I think that the consumers should be demanding to know why these errors happen.

GUPTA: The reasons aren't simple, but a combination of computer glitch, fatigue, poor communication and illegible handwriting are to blame.

While some medicine mishaps are inevitable, the good news, says the IOM report, there are ways to prevent the majority of mistakes. It suggests hospitals invest more in technology.

WU: A simple thing that could be done is to adopt electronic prescription writing. This would virtually eliminate the problem of doctor's handwriting.

GUPTA: E-prescriptions also keeps track of all the drugs a patient is taking and looks for possible interactions, allergies and potential overdoses.

The report also puts some of the responsibility on the patients. First, know your medical history, and don't just assume your doctor does.

Next, ask for a written list of all medications, what they do, and when to take them.

Also, bring an advocate. Someone to speak for you if you are too sick.

Finally, if you think you are getting the wrong medicine, speak up. You have the right to refuse treatment.

WU: You don't have to be obnoxious about it. Any medical person would be given pause if you say, I'm worried there may be a mistake.

GUPTA: A passive patient is not always what's best for the doctor, or for the patient.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


ZAHN: Some really important lessons from our in-house doctor, Sanjay Gupta.

That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Hope you'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. We'll be right here again. Good of you to drop by. Let's move on on to LARRY KING LIVE, which starts right now. Good night.


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