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Ahmed Abu Khattala on a U.S. Navy Ship Headed to the U.S.; Exclusive Interview with Representative Peter King; Tension In Iraq Growing; California Facing Historic Drought Conditions

Aired June 18, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ahmed Abu Khattala is now on a U.S. Navy ship on his way to the United States. He's accused being involved in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans including the U.S. Ambassador in Libya, Chris Stevens.

President Obama says Abu Khattala will face the American justice system. But there are critics out there, including some Republicans, who are loudly calling for a detour, don't bring him to Washington, take him to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Let's discuss what s going on. Joining us from Capitol Hill, the New York Republican congressman Peter King. he is a key member of the House homeland security committee, also on the intelligence committee.

What do you think, is it right to bring him to face trial, face justice in a federal court in Washington, or do you believe he should go to Guantanamo?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, I strongly believe he should go to Guantanamo. I don't believe it's going to happen. So at the very least, we should do, is before he's turned over to civilian authorities, the FBI and all of our intelligence agencies, CIA and others, should interrogate him as long as they have to.

Because I'm not that concerned about a criminal conviction. We're going to get that ultimately. But it's important we get as much intelligence out of him as possible. Both what happened to Benghazi, who planned it, how it happened.

Secondly, who else in that area could be involved with Al Qaeda or Ansar al-Sharia. And also any plans they may have as far as future attacks are concerns.

So I strongly believe that the FBI, the high intensity interrogators they have, should be allowed to interrogate him as long as they have to and any of the other members of the intelligence agencies. And not be worrying about Miranda rights because this information doesn't have to be used against him at trial. It's to get intelligence to save American lives.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard earlier, Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst. He pointed out accurately that the U.S. criminal justice system has a very good record dealing with these alleged terrorists. They convict them. They send them to prisons. It's a lot easier in effect to do that than send him to a military tribunal at Gitmo which becomes all of the sudden a lot more complicates.

KING: You know, Wolf, we're really talking about two different things.

My concern right now is the conviction. One way or the other, this should be a relatively easy conviction to get. I'm talking about to get intelligence that can be used to stop terrorist attacks, to find out what the makeup of Ansar al-Sharia is and also to find out how these Benghazi attacks came out. So my focus is not so much on the conviction, but on getting the intelligence out of him, and that can take long, sustained, intensive integration. And that's what I'm calling for. I also -- I'm sorry.

BLITZER: But, finish your thought.

KING: I think the administration may have announced this capture too quickly. You know, why tip off his comrades that he's been captured? I would just assume leave them in doubt to make it easier for our armed forces, you know, to capture his other cohorts in this.

BLITZER: All right, that's a fair point. We will continue, obviously, to report on that.

But let me talk about Iraq with you for a moment. The president's meeting with the top congressional leadership over at the White House, 3:00 p.m. eastern. They're going to review presumably U.S. options. Very quickly, do you believe the U.S. should launch air strike against these ISIS insurgent targets in Iraq?

KING: I think we should launch whatever air strikes are necessary to stop the offensive by ISIS. And that may include putting special operators on the ground so we can target, so we can get proper targeting. But yes, I would support --

BLITZER: That means boots on the ground, Congressman, you're ready to send U.S. troops back into Iraq?

KING: As a practical matter, if we have to put special operators on the ground to make sure that these bombing attacks work, then yes, we should do that. If we don't have to do it then don't.

I'm not talking about combat troops. I'm not talking about, you know, combat infantry here. I'm talking about special operators who can target the enemy. It's one of the problems when President Obama pulled everybody out of Iraq is, we have very little intelligence to what's actually happening on the ground. So, if these attacks are going to be effective and not just result in civilian casualties or missing the target, I think we may have to have, again, spotters on the ground. If we can do without it, fine. But what we are going o do, we have to make sure it works. Not just do something for the sake of a show. BLITZER: I want you to stand by, if you can, Congressman. I will

take a quick break. I've got a few more questions about what's going on with Iraq with you. We'll continue our conversation after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're talking with Congressman Peter King, Republican of New York, key member of the House homeland security committee, also the intelligence committee.

I didn't realize there was a little feud going on, Congressman, between you and senator Ted Cruz. You've been critical of him when he wanted to shut down the government. A lot of us remember that. He was on Erin Burnett's show last night here on CNN. And he went after you, after you criticized him. Listen to what he said.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I don't know Mr. King. I've never met him. To be honest, I don't think I'd ever heard of him until he started getting on television, attacking me. He's welcome to express his opinion.


BLITZER: So basically, he's dismissing you as somebody presumably not very relevant. But I don't know if you want to continue this conversation with senator Cruz, but go ahead.

KING: Sure, why not. I mean, this proved what happens when Ted Cruz decided to be the center of his own universe, to live in his own world. To not know who the other members of Congress are, the other members of the Senate. I mean, that is really his problem.

Maybe if he had listened to me over the years, he'd be a little smarter. But I mean, not to be talking about myself. But I was I think the third highest Republican on national television shows last year. I'm on your show all the time. That shows he's not watching you, Wolf, so I think you should go after Ted Cruz for not watching you.

BLITZER: Maybe he doesn't know that like him, and I think like him, at least you're thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination, right?

KING: Well, I'll be up in New Hampshire this Saturday. I'm just speaking at some Republican events. What happened happens. But I certainly hope Ted Cruz doesn't get the nomination.

BLITZER: Well, I'm certainly looking forward to hosting a debate they'd even dream, you and senator Ted Cruz. That could be lively, right?

KING: Well first, he should find out who is debating and find out what the issues are. Apparently he's living in his own world. And so, that's what happens. But any event, I look forward to that. As long as you're the moderator, Wolf, it has to go well.

BLITZER: It will be a responsible, fair debate, I can assure you.

But quickly, on Dick Cheney, just a quick shot, given the blunders he had going into Iraq back in 2003, he's now retired, do you really think it's appropriate that he should be giving this president advice?

KING: The bottom line is that when President Bush and advice president Cheney left office in 2008, Iraq had been secured. He handed over a very actually successful operation in Iraq to President Obama. So yes, there some rough moments along the way and some rough times along the way. The bottom line, in 2008, Iraq was secure. Al Qaeda in Iraq had been defeated. There was virtually no violence, no attacks on American troops. And Iraq was functioning.

And in fact the latest 2010, Joe Biden said Iraq was going to be a great success and then the president I believe made a terrible mistake in pulling all the troops out. Of course, he couldn't get the status of forces agreement which really was a failure of diplomacy, I would say, by the president and the secretary of state.

BLITZER: But you got to admit, going into Iraq back in March of 2003, under false pretenses, that was a huge blunder to begin with.

KING: It wasn't false pretenses. Every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq ha --

BLITZER: But all those intelligence report were false.

KING: But there were false because Saddam Hussein say wanted people to believe he had the weapons, and I still believe Iraq was a much better place in 2008 with Saddam Hussein gone than it was in 2003 with him still there. And with the capacity to produce chemical and biological weapons almost overnight if he had to.

BLITZER: Quickly, because we have to wrap it up. You voted to authorize the war back in the end of 2002, was that a mistake?

KING: No, absolutely not. I think Iraq and the Middle East and the world was a much safer place in 2008 after Saddam Hussein had been removed and a legitimate government was installed and it was President Obama who allowed that to collapse.

BLITZER: Peter King, member of the House homeland security committee. Let's get ready for a debate, maybe you and Ted Cruz. We'll see what happens.

KING: Get the gloves. There you go.

BLITZER: Good luck in New Hampshire this week. Thanks very much for joining us.

KING: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: Tension in Iraq growing. And Islamic militant group moving

closer to Baghdad. Jihadist group, ISIS, as it's called, get so powerful. We'll take a closer look the massive fundraising network and the threat they pose.



GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I suspect, first of all, we have a request from the Iraqi government for air power.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it's an international security interest to honor that request?

DEMPSEY: It's in our international security interest to counter ISIL wherever we find them.


BLITZER: General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, appearing today before the Senate appropriation committee, confirming the Iraqi government does indeed want the United States to use air support in the fight against the Islamic militant group ISIS.

Joining us now our Brian Todd and our national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Brian, let me start with you. You've been looking into this group, ISIS. He calls it ISIL, but it's ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He calls it the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant as it is. There's a little confusion there but it's the same organization. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, talking with U.S. intelligence officials, with analysts like Peter, you get the impression, you are getting a picture that this group is much better organized than previously thought.

Since the U.S. pullout in late 2011, they've been gradually building up their capability. Bombings and assassinations is the general MO. They target Iraqi forces, Iraqi cities, by doing that first, then they move in, they gather weapons, they get volunteers. But once they're in a city, they start this campaign of extortion. They intimidate local business owners to pay them protection money or they'll kill. They will kidnapping, they rob banks. That's how they get their money, their forces. They are able to recruit volunteers. They gradually built up their capability and have got a lot of money now to conduct these campaigns by doing things like that. And it's -- you see the result of it right now.

BLITZER: Peter, you studied al Qaeda for a long time. We call this ISIS group an offshoot of al Qaeda. Is that accurate?

PETER BERGEN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I mean, they used to be called al Qaeda in Iraq back in the day. And --

BLITZER: Then they changed their name.

BERGEN: And they changed their name as they expanded into Syria. I mean, they are ideologically -- it's a distinction without a difference. I mean, you know, for any Shi'a who is living in Iraq, either of the groups that come out of this al Qaeda umbrella group are going to have the same attitude towards you. They're going to try and kill you.

BLITZER: What's the connection now between ISIS and the core Al Qaeda group Ayman al-Zawari, the successor to bin Laden?

BERGEN: Al Qaeda essentially as basically said we don't want you part of our group, which is the first time they ever actually said to an affiliate that, you know, we are not part of the group officially.

But, you know, as a practical matter, these are -- these groups basically have the same ideology, which is they want t installed Taliban style rule. As Brian mentioned, they are going to have brutal tactics in the place that they take over. And to some degree that's really a problem for that at the end of the day because of encoded in their DNA is their own defeat, because often -- most people don't want to live under the Taliban style rules that they're offering.

BLITZER: You have a question for Peter as well.

TODD: But Peter, you know, we have seen that they have taken Mosul, they have taken other big cities. The question is can they hold them? Once they move into these places, are they going to be able to hold them under pressure from the Iraqi military and possibly other militaries?

BERGEN: Well, you know, they held Anbar (ph) province for two years, (INAUDIBLE) in 2005-2006. I think it's a very good question. It's not a certainty. I mean, you know, if you have these very repressive tactics and make people very frightened, scared. But on the other hand, you know, it can backfire.

BLITZER: Here's what worries me. I'll get your analysis. They've gone into Mosul, the second largest city, they have taken it over. Nearly two million people. They have looted the banks, stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and gold. They have gone through. There's a lot of Iraqi military equipment that they have just taken, mostly U.S.-supplied humvees, tanks, armor personnel carriers, shoulder-fire missiles, a lot of weaponry. They've got a lot of stuff and a lot of cash. Al Qaeda central doesn't have hundreds of millions of dollars to go ahead and do what they want to do.

BERGEN: Right. They have very little cash right now. So yes, this is a big problem, because they have turned themselves into what was essentially a terrorist group a few years back into an effective insurgent army that is taking large amounts of territory and is arming themselves in such a way that they can hold potentially hold territory for at least a period of time.

BLITZER: It is a very worrisome situation.

Brian, you're working on this. You are working on the whole history of ISIS coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM" later today.

Peter, you're writing books. I know you are working on this stuff all of the time.

Guys, thanks very much.

TODD: You are welcome.

BLITZER: Clean drinking water is a lit critical resource, the prospect of declining water supply has very serious implications here in the United States. Up next, a closer look at how it technology could help prevent that nightmare scenario.


BLITZER: California is facing historic drought conditions. And to meet the growing demand for fresh water, scientists are now tapping the Pacific Ocean.

Here's our Rachel Crane.


RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With California experiencing one of the worst droughts in the state's history, access to fresh water has never been more important or more difficult.

Here in southern California, the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere is being constructed. It will soon take water from the ocean and create 50 million gallons of fresh water a day.

BOB YAMADA, SAN DIEGO COUNTY WATER AUTHORITY: California is in a serious drought right now. And any new water supplies are important to the region.

PETER MACLAGGAN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF PROJECT DEVELOPMENT, POSEIDON RESOURCES CORPORATION: We have $190 billion economy in this region that's dependent on water. The question you need to consider is, what's the cost of not having enough water?

YAMADA: Unlike, let's say, a water that comes from rainfall or water that comes from snow pack, we're utilizing what essentially is the world's largest reservoir, the pacific ocean.

CRANE: The Carlsbad desalination plant will cost approximately $1 billion. The fresh water will be pumped ten miles underground to a regional delivery system, providing water to an additional 300,000 San Diego County residents. Customers, they won't know whether they're drinking desalinated water or not. YAMADA: That's right. It will just become part of the overall


CRANE: Through a process called reverse osmosis, the plant will convert every two gallons of sea water into one gallon of fresh water, filtering out 99.9 percent of the salt. The salt, or brine that's removed, is discharged back into the ocean. The desalination process traditionally takes a lot of energy.

A plant this size would normally use as much energy in a single day as 70 homes in a year. Officials at the Carlsbad plant say theirs will use 46 percent less energy.

The project is not without criticism. Environmentalists point out that desalination requires a lot of energy, and that brine discharge can negatively impact marine life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're creating more marine wetlands south of San Diego bay to create new habitat so fish can reproduce there. With respect to the brine discharge, we dilute the brine with sea water before it leaves the site.

CRANE: The plant is expected to be completed in 2016.

YAMADA: And everybody is ex extremely excited to see this project coming online and providing us with new water supply.


BLITZER: That was Rachel Crane reporting.

On this day in history, June 18th, 1966, U.S. senior military commander, general William Wesmoreland requested increase of more than 100,000 troops in Vietnam. His request was granted over a three-year period and by 1969, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam.

Vietnam is also the topic of this week's episode in "the Sixties." Watch CNN or set the DVR for tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. eastern and pacific.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. I will be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts now.