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Wed, 16 Jan 2002

Are Conditions Humane for Detainees?

Wolf Blitzer, Bob Franken, Jamie McIntyre, Christiane Amanpour
CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports 19:00


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: Tonight on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: THE WAR ROOM, more al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners arrive at the U.S. base in Cuba.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are looking at all of those people and asking them a great many questions.


BLITZER: Where are their leaders? What do they know about Taliban American John Walker? And what do they know about alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid?

We’ll go to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon and to another potential battleground: Somalia. And I’ll speak live with former CIA director James Woolsey, former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, and CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, as we go into the WAR ROOM.

Good evening. I’m Wolf Blitzer reporting tonight from Washington. The U.S. has now moved 80 al Qaeda and Taliban detainees to the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hundreds more are expected there in the days and weeks ahead. Security on the base is extraordinary. But today, reports of chilling threats from some of the detainees already there.

They’re caged and closely guarded, but those al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners would seem to have plenty of fight left in them. CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is on the base at Guantanamo Bay, and joins us now by phone.

What is the latest, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the comments about the threats came in the context of a defense by the head of the security here, General Michael Leonard, Marine Brigadier General, who is running the show, defense about the treatment and charges that it has not been humane.

Here is he what he said: “These are not nice people. Several have told us their intentions to kill an American before they leave Guantanamo Bay. We will not give them that opportunity.” What he was saying is, is that as much as possible they are being treated along the guidelines of the Geneva Convention, which effects prisoners of war. It’s a convention—a treaty that goes back several decades, but they are not, in fact, rigidly adhering to it because they don’t consider these detainees, as they call them, P.O.W.s. That would bring certain legal obligations.

Whatever they are, 30 more arrived today from the other side of the world, got the same very heavy security treatment as they left their planes wearing the same bright orange jump suits, that brings to 80 the number who are being kept there. The capacity now is about 200 by the end of the month and before three months is up, and there is a reason to mention that, before three months is up, this out door prison with its cages, its outdoor cells, will be able to handle 600 detainees.

It is camp X-ray. It is the temporary place that is being used as a detention center while a modular building is going up at another site here, a modular building which will ultimately be able to handle as many as 2,000 of the detainees. So, these figures are constantly changing, but they are planning for the long haul here and they are saying it is going to be a long haul that is extremely dangerous.

As for the treatment of the prisoners, tomorrow the International Red Cross representatives are supposed to visit. General Leonard says it’s his intention that the representatives will be able to visit with each and every detainee. These have way of changing, these different approaches to things. But in any case the International Red Cross, which is supposed to monitor such things will begin its monitoring tomorrow—Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob Franken from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thanks for that report.

The United States of course, wants to gather as much intelligence as it can from the detainees, especially on the whereabouts of their leaders. Let’s go live to the Pentagon now. Our CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre is standing by there—Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon has literally dozens and dozens of intelligence reports indicating where Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar might be. Some of them are very specific. Some of them are clearly wrong. But from all of these, the Pentagon has put together a little bit of a picture and right now it still points to both men being in Afghanistan. At the least that’s what the top man at Pentagon here thinks.


(voice-over): Despite conflicting intelligence reports about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, including some assessments that he has slipped into another country, the best U.S. guess is that he, and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, are both still in Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: We don’t know precisely where he is. We have a good sense in the country. We still believe they are in the country. We are still working on that basis, although we are looking in some other places as well from time to time.

MCINTYRE: What intelligence experts do agree on is that both bin Laden and Omar are likely still alive. One Congressman, Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe, who is traveling in the region, says he’s been briefed that U.S. intelligence reports put Omar “west and northwest of Kandahar with some of his loyal followers of the Taliban.”

Meanwhile the Pentagon continues to collect evidence that bin Laden’s al Qaeda network were desperate to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

RUMSFELD: We have found a number of things that show an appetite for weapons of mass destruction: Diagrams, materials, reports that things were asked for, things were discussed at meetings, that type of thing.

MCINTYRE: So far 45 of 54 suspected weapons of mass destruction sites have been searched by U.S. troops and weapons or materials have been found. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld today did refer to a pair of canisters that had been unearthed by a British de-mining team, but despite the Russian writing and the scull and crossbones on the outside of those containers, U.S. officials believe they are probably fakes, part of a scam to sell fake material to the al Qaeda. But tests on those canisters will determine that for certain—Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, what about that suspected al Qaeda financier who surrendered today at the U.S. base at Kandahar? What is that all about?

MCINTYRE: Well, it could be more or less than meets eye. A man literally showed up at the gate, claimed that he was one of the Taliban tribal elders, that he had contributed money to various al Qaeda causes and they think he might be a major financier. They are questioning him. Right now he is not a detainee, but that status could change.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the pentagon once again. Thank you very much.

Let’s turn now to Somalia, which has been torn by civil war. There is also a shaky transitional government there that vies for power with a number of warlords. But could Somalia be the next stop in the U.S.-led war on terror? Our Christiane Amanpour joins us now line tonight from Mogadishu, in Somalia—Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, no matter which leader of which faction one talks to, they are all insisting that there is no way that either Osama bin Laden or any of his henchmen could hide here or are hiding here.

They say they have no connection with al Qaeda, and they are obviously very worried that this country will be next on the U.S. bombing list. What many of the war leaders and faction leaders are saying is that they would welcome U.S. intervention here. They would welcome U.S. officials and investigators coming to search for any evidence on al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, or any kind of terrorism, but that if the U.S. does not find any evidence then they wish the U.S. would stay and help this country rebuild.

Despite that debacle in 1993 when a helicopter crash and an ensuing battle led to 18 American soldiers dead, Somalis are eager to move on and to see whether or not they can get the U.S. back here again and open a new chapter in their relations.

But certainly the situation is that they are very concerned and there is a certain jockeying for power between many of the rival warlords here, jockeying to curry favor with the United States to try to stave off bombing and also perhaps to see whether they can become the U.S. proxies here in Somalia. They are looking very closely at the Afghan model and they see how the U.S. chose the Northern Alliance, of course that was the only cohesive opposition there, but they see that and all of them here, most of them anyway, are trying to see whether or not they can fill that position for the United States here in Somalia—Wolf.

BLITZER: So Christiane, is there a sense on the streets in Mogadishu that Somalia may in fact be the next U.S. target?

AMANPOUR: Well, people are very concerned that that may be the case. Their news sheets, their radios and televisions are full of essentially gossip, innuendo and rumor. There aren’t any hard facts. And in fact, it seems somewhat unlikely, or that it will not be imminent any kind of military act here. Nonetheless, that has done nothing to calm the fears of the people here, especially when they see U.S. journalists and others disembarking in Mogadishu, they get concerned.

They are very worried. People say they are very afraid. They don’t want bombing, obviously. They want friendship with the United States and they are just hoping that the worst doesn’t happen here. Wolf, on the other hand, having said that, they do want the U.S. attention and the western attention. So, while they don’t want bombing, they do want a focus. a new international focus on their country.

BLITZER: Thank you, Christiane for that clarification.

And Christiane, by the way, will have much more at the top of the hour in her SPECIAL REPORT, LIVE FROM SOMALIA.

As it seeks to head-off the next terror attack, how tightly can the United States squeeze the detainees in Cuba? Will the Taliban fighter John Walker get a fair trial in the United States? Joining me now here in the CNN WAR ROOM, Eric Holder, he was deputy attorney general during the Clinton Administration. He’s also a former judge and a former U.S. attorney; CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd; and the former CIA director James Woolsey.

Remember, you can e-mail your WAR ROOM questions to That’s also where you can read my daily column.

Mr. Director, let me begin with you on this strange case of Richard Reid, the alleged shoe bomber. He received nine counts, charges today for attempting to blow up a plane. I want you to listen to what the Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing today’s indictment.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Reid’s indictment alerts us to a clear, unmistakable threat that al Qaeda could attack the United States again. The lessons for Americans are undeniable. We must be prepared, we must be alert. We must be vigilant.


BLITZER: U.S. officials have confirm an incredible story in today’s “Wall Street Journal” to our David Ensor, our national security correspondent, effectively, that they got—they suspect that Richard Reid was on a scouting trip to the Middle East last year, looking for potential terror targets of opportunity.

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: A lot of information that is suggesting that al Qaeda really wants to use people with European passports. It is a lot easier for them to get into even to Israel, as well as a lot of other places to scout things out.

BLITZER: Is this a case, a slam dunk kind of case for the U.S. attorney in Boston presumably, where this case will be tried?

ERIC HOLDER, FMR. DEP. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It’s a pretty strong case. A substantial number of witnesses will come from the airplane and talk about what he was trying to do. You will have forensic people come up and describe the power of the explosive that he had in his shoe. With the intelligence information that we are now getting, you can connect him to al Qaeda.

So, it seems to me that the case that is drawn up by the United States government is pretty strong.

BLITZER: If you read the story in the “Wall Street Journal” and I recommend it to our viewers who haven’t, it shows al Qaeda meticulously planned terrorist operations and we know that they were sometimes months, if not years in the works.

And presumably they still have some capabilities out there.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), USAF: Absolutely. There is no question in our mind that these cells exist, sleeper cells all over the world, many of them with plans in the can. And we have to be very vigilant. They are desperate. This is an example of how desperate they are, a man willing to blow himself up from his own shoes and the people that go with him. They are everywhere and we have watch.

BLITZER: Were you surprised at the homework they did in casing various locations for future terrorist attacks?

WOOLSEY: Not after 9/11. This is a worldwide organization. I happen to think it has had some help from time to time from at least one foreign intelligence service, possibly Iraq, possibly Iran. I think Iraq is more likely.

I think they are very careful. They are very thorough. They are in a lot of countries. They know their business and they understand that working in western countries such as Germany and the United States, where civil liberties are strong and there is no domestic spying by a domestic spy agency or anything like that, is the sort of place where they can work the best. And they are taking advantage of that.

BLITZER: Eric Holder, let’s talk about the strange case of John Walker, the Taliban American indicted only yesterday on various counts. Let’s review those counts: Two counts providing material support or resources to terrorists, one count, conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad; one count, engaging in transactions with the Taliban. This is how John Ashcroft, the attorney general, summed up the case against John Walker.


ASHCROFT: Mr. Walker, who is an adult, and who made very serious decisions, very serious decisions against the United States, made some—a decision about his attorney, and no other individual has a right to impose—to impose an attorney on him or to choose an attorney for him. He provided his statements based on his desire to do so in a context that was not coercive.


BLITZER: Is that kind of evidence going to be admissible in a federal court?

HOLDER: Well, that’s going to be a real question. He was detained for an extended period of time without the ability to talk to a lawyer and I am sure he will have good defense attorneys, will raise that a federal judge ultimately have to determine that.

But what I think is really important here is the information that your network got from him. It is not information that was gotten by a federal government agent and I think will be admissible. And he makes some pretty damning confessions or admissions in that regard. And I think that’s the information they really have to worry about.

BLITZER: But a good defense lawyer could argue, you know, that he was just being detained. He saw guns, the military, he didn’t know what the hell he was doing?

HOLDER: You know, you can certainly make that argument. I’m not at all certain that’s very convincing if you look at way in which the statements that he makes on camera to CNN, and you put that also in the context of the kinds of things that he did, the admission that he makes about where he was, what he did, the options that he had, and the decisions that he made. As the attorney general indicated, he had a number of options along the way, and it seems that he always took the one that led him to criminality.

BLITZER: The whole military action and holding him the way they did, I guess reading him his Miranda rights if the attorney general is correct and I assume he is correct in saying they did read him the Miranda rights, it sets the stage for this question: Why not use the military court instead of bringing him to a federal court, a civilian court?

SHEPPERD: Well, that is both a political and a legal judgment by the administration if you will. I am sure that was debated many times, what is the best thing to do, but no matter what court he submitted to and now of course, that’s been decided, this kid is in deep, deep trouble and going to face the justice system. he’s got rough road to hoe.

BLITZER: A statement from the Walker family says this, you are an attorney in addition to being a former CIA director, James Woolsey, it says, “We are disappointed, however, that the government has held and interrogated John for 45 days without allowing him any messages from his family or access to his attorney.”

WOOLSEY: Well, as Mr. Holder, said he was detained for a substantial period of time. On the other hand he was in Afghanistan. I mean he was detained overseas by U.S. forces. He was not arrested on the street in New York City or San Francisco where one has access to civilians and counsel and all the rest. And everything I have heard so far would suggest that he has been dealt with humanely and fairly.

Certainly one assumes by this time that U.S. government officials both in defense and Justice Department know how to read people Miranda rights effectively and to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that. My hunch is that although there will be a challenge to the confession and as Eric says, what was given to CNN may be one of the most interesting parts of the trial, nonetheless, as the general says, this man is in a very deep hole.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, we are going to continue this conversation. We have a lot more to talk about. How would the American public for example, feel if al Qaeda held U.S. prisoners in cages? Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We are talking with our WAR ROOM panel. I want to ask you, Eric Holder, the whole notion of these detainees, 80 of them now, at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, some human rights organizations, not only in the United States, but in Europe and England, other places, saying that the treatment is being unfair, especially being held in changes.

HOLDER: Well I mean they are being held in cells that are outside. They are in Cuba in a tropical climate. It think people have to keep in mind that we are talking about temperatures that I guess are in the 80s during the day. I’m not sure how cold it gets at night. They could be held inside, but it seems to me the difference is not really substantial as long as they are being fed, as long as they are being housed, as long as they have a chance to exercise. The fact that they are inside or outside doesn’t make an awful lot of difference.

BLITZER: Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch in New York, said the American public wouldn’t stand for this if American prisoners were being held by al Qaeda or Taliban in cages.

WOOLSEY: I think this is a strain. “Cage” suggests something that is really not the case.

BLITZER: Suggesting they are animals.

WOOLSEY: As Eric says, they seem to be being treated decently. They are in cells. It’s a tropical climate. They are outside but I’m sure, you know, rain storms and circumstances are going to be sheltered. This is really a tempest in a tea pot.

BLITZER: One of the commanders at the base at the Guantanamo Bay said today, their suggesting that some of these detainees are still threatening to kill Americans if they have their way. How good is that security on the base?

SHEPPERD: Well, security is very good. Any time they are out they are going to be surrounded by guards. But they are able to kill Americans. You don’t have to have a weapon to kill somebody. You just have to know how to do it, and you have to be able to attack them physically and we see it in the movies. And it happens in prisons throughout the U.S.

The only thing I would say is that it is not real smart to threaten the Marines.

BLITZER: So what do you do to beef up security to make that kind of contingency impossible?

SHEPPERD: Basically, you put big guys around small guys when they are out and you make sure that you don’t every let your guard down. You can never relax around prisoners in a war situation. As soon as you relax something is going to go wrong. My point is, there is maximum security any time they are out and near our people.

BLITZER: As opposed to John Walker, these are not U.S. citizens. There may be a few British citizens there, but what happens to these guys? Are they just going to stay at Guantanamo Bay forever?

HOLDER: Interesting question. It seems to me you can think of these people as combatants and we are in the middle of a war, and it seems to me that you could probably say, looking at precedent, that you are going to detain these people until war is over, if that is ultimately what we wanted to do.

I think you have a basis for saying that. We had the Vietnam War, we had World War II, people were captured during the course of that war were not repatriated until the conclusion of the conflict. So, it’s possible they could be there for an extended period of time.

BLITZER: I assume the intelligence community would love to interrogate these guys. How do you convince them to come clean and cooperate, if you will.

WOOLSEY: It’s fair game to give people you know. cigarettes or candy, or whatever. You know, there are minor incentives that can be given to people in prison to talk. And these people are not prisoners of war. They are not being regarded that way by the American government.

They are detainees. They were not in uniform. They are not part of a hierarchical structure. They are more analogous to the Germans who were infiltrated into this country as saboteurs in 1942, or a spy or a guerrilla that is captured in combat somewhere abroad.

So, they are covered by some aspects of that Geneva Convention, but not as P.O.W.s, so they don’t really have the rights that a P.O.W. has.

BLITZER: OK, Jim Woolsey, Eric Holder, Donald Shepperd, thanks to all three of you.

We will be back in just a moment with a quick check of this hour’s late developments including a shooting at a Virginia law school that left several dead and wounded. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Now look at the hour’s late developments beginning with an arrest just announced in a fatal 1975 bank robbery. At a news conference just a short time ago, law enforcement officials said they have charged five former members of Simbianese (ph) Liberation Army with murder in connection with the hold-up of a Sacramento bank and the killing of a customer.

Among the five, Sara Jane Olson, Bill Harris and his former wife Emily Harris. Kidnapped newspaper heiress, Patty Hearst, was involved in the robbery and had give officials information on the crime in 1975.

Three people are dead and three others wounded after a man opened fire at a law school in Grundy, Virginia earlier today. One of those killed was Anthony Suitton (ph), dean of the Appalachian School of Law. The county corner says Suitton and others were shot at point blank range. He said the suspected gunman was a troubled student.

That’s all the time we have tonight. Please join me again tomorrow, twice, at both 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I’m Wolf Blitzer in Washington. “CROSSFIRE” begins right now. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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