CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Date: March 2, 2003

HEADLINE: Showdown: Iraq

GUESTS: Jay Rockefeller, Trent Lott, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, Joseph Wilson, Bill Tierney, David Albright, Hamid Karzai, George Harrison, Dan Rather, Robert Johnson, Peter Beinart, Donna Brazile, Stephen Hayes, Jonah Goldberg

BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, David Grange, Howard Kurtz, Bruce Morton

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is now reported to be in U.S. custody after being apprehended in Pakistan in a joint raid by U.S. agents and Pakistani security officials.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks for joining us for this special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq.

We'll talk with two key members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee in just a moment. But first, a CNN news alert.


BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about what's being called a key capture in the war on terror. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is now reported to be in U.S. custody after being apprehended in Pakistan in a joint raid by U.S. agents and Pakistani security officials.

He's suspected of plotting the September 11th attacks, as well as other al Qaeda operations, and is being held at an undisclosed location.

The White House commended Pakistani and U.S. authorities on the joint capture and said it's hard to overstate the significance of the arrest. A senior White House official, indeed, put it this way: "There's no question that because of how high up he is, how charismatic, it's likely he has information on the whereabouts of other al Qaeda, possibly Osama bin Laden."

U.S. government officials say there are no plans at this point to bring Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to the United States.

Joining us now to talk about this key arrest and where the U.S. should go from here in the war on terror, as well as in the showdown with Iraq, are two key members of the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee: Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi and the vice chairman, Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Senators, welcome to LATE EDITION. Thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Lott, let me begin with you on the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. How big of a deal, in the estimate of the U.S. intelligence community, is this?

SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI: Well, I believe it's very large. He's been described as one of the biggest fish, maybe the big fish, other than Osama bin Laden. He's number three, as I understand it, in their hierarchy. He was their operations man.

It's very significant. And it shows there's a continuing effort going on, that others were arrested with him. And they're still pursuing some of the other top 10 leaders of al Qaeda. So, I think it's very important.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, how many others were arrested with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?

LOTT: Well, I have the impression, at least two, maybe one more. But, you know, I can't say beyond that.

BLITZER: And the other—those were significant arrests, as well, based on what you know?

LOTT: Not as big as, obviously, Khalid Mohammed, but very important.

BLITZER: You've been critical in the past few weeks, Senator Rockefeller, suggesting the administration is overly, perhaps, focusing in on Iraq and not spending enough time in the war on terror. But does this seem to undermine that criticism, the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: It doesn't undermine it, but it is huge. Other than Zawahiri, who would be number two, I would think that this arrest is as big or bigger than bin Laden, because this was the brain. This is the guy who's been behind everything. And, you know, we took him down.

The Pakistanis deserve tremendous credit on that. They've taken down 483 al Qaeda before that. We don't give them credit for that. You know, Musharraf is doing that in a highly Islamic country, walking a dangerous line. He really scored big on this one.

LOTT: I want to say, I agree, we should give credit to the Pakistanis, what they've done here. This is very significant, and, you know, that is a large number that they've already taken down.

BLITZER: So, you believe that President Musharraf is fully on board, even though he was arrested, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in Rawalpindi, right near the military headquarters of the Pakistani military.

And there's continuing suspicion, as you well know, Senator Lott, that certain elements in Pakistan, perhaps even within the military, in the intelligence service, are giving sanctuary to some of these al Qaeda operatives?

LOTT: I have no doubt that's some of that's going on, but I do think that President Musharraf has been very cooperative. And boy, this is very clear evidence is of it, with this arrest.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, what happens now to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the others who were arrested?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, happily, we don't know where he is.

BLITZER: When you say "happily," what does that...

ROCKEFELLER: That's good. That means that he's in safekeeping, under American protection. He'll be grilled by us. I'm sure we'll be proper with him, but I'm sure we'll be very, very tough with him.

And, you know, again, I have to—I have to credit Musharraf. I was in Pakistan last week, and we talked with some of the people who were talking about precisely this kind of arrest, not just in Rawalpindi but also in the tribal areas. And it was always felt that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would not be in the tribal areas, would probably be more near Quetta or in that area. But they got him, and that's all that counts. He is huge.

BLITZER: When you say that he will be forcefully questioned, not in the United States where he might be subject to domestic U.S. laws, but someplace overseas, the whole issue of torture, coercive questioning comes into play.

He presumably has information that could prevent future terrorist actions against Americans. How far should U.S. interrogators go in trying to get that information out of him to save lives?

ROCKEFELLER: That's always a delicate question, and there are presidential memorandums that prescribe and allow certain measures to be taken, but we have to be careful.

On the other hand, he does have the information. Getting that information will save American lives. We have no business not getting that information.

BLITZER: Well, the question I'm asking, I guess—and I'll ask it directly to both of you—torture, should the U.S. torture this guy?

ROCKEFELLER: We do not sanction torture, but there are psychological and other means that can accomplish most of what we want.

LOTT: We should aggressively pursue the information that he has. I'm sure he'll be interrogated to the maximum that the law allows. But I don't think it'll go over the limits.

BLITZER: So, in other words, just short of formal torture, but psychological pressure and sleep-deprivation, other forms of that...

LOTT: I don't know the details of how they do that, but I suppose there'll be some of that, to try to get the information he has, because you're talking about information that could lead to the arrest of others, and you're talking about knowledge that could involve lives of thousands. And so, you know, we've got to do all we can to get the information he has.

BLITZER: There has been speculation, Senator Rockefeller, in the press that U.S. authorities, given the restrictions on torture, might hand over Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his colleagues to a third country, a friendly Arab state, Jordan, Egypt, some country like that, where the restrictions against torture are not in existence.

ROCKEFELLER: I don't know that. I can't comment on that. And if I did know it, I wouldn't comment on it.


But I wouldn't rule it out. I wouldn't take anything off the table where he is concerned, because this is the man who has killed hundreds and hundreds of Americans over the last 10 years.

BLITZER: Do you believe he does know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden?

LOTT: I wouldn't be surprised if he does know his whereabouts, but, you know, that may be a very complicated route that we may not be able to find out.

I don't expect that he'd be brought to the United States, though.


ROCKEFELLER: I don't see how he could not know where Osama bin Laden is. I don't see how he could not know where Zawahiri is. I don't see where he could not know where some of these top 10 that we're targeting now, to get, the Pakistanis and the CIA working together. I'm sure he knows where they are, and I'm sure that we're going to try and get it from him.

LOTT: But because of that, they're all probably on the move right now.

BLITZER: So these are critical hours, is that what you're saying?

LOTT: I think so. And because they're on the move, may give us another opportunity at some others.

BLITZER: And to look around.

LOTT: Yes.

BLITZER: Can the American public rest a little bit easier right now, Senator Rockefeller, with the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?

ROCKEFELLER: No, because he's only one of hundreds or tens of thousands of al Qaeda who've been trained over the years in Afghanistan and the madrassa schools. They're in six of the seven continents, in 60 to 70 countries, including our own. They don't rely on Osama bin Laden for instructions. They don't rely on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for instructions. They're trained to do their own damage, and their purpose in life is to kill Americans and destroy Americans' life.

LOTT: But as Senator Rockefeller said at the beginning, this was a key thing, because he is the operations guy, he is the one that was probably giving orders and directions. And while a lot of them operated cells and independently all over the world, this was a blow, I think, to their coordination.

BLITZER: And other al Qaeda operatives have provided extremely useful information to U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community over these past several months, so the hope obviously is, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will do precisely that.

We're going to take a quick break. A quick question, on this decision this past week to go back to the yellow or elevated status, as far as the terror alert, as opposed to the orange or high level of alert. It's confusing the American public, as you well know, Senator Lott. Is this good to sort of fluctuate back and forth?

LOTT: I don't know if it's good. You worry that people will begin to ignore it if you cry wolf too much. But if you're getting intercepts, if you're picking up threats, and if there's an increased level and there's some degree of specificity, somebody has to make a decision, do you put out some additional warning?

I do think it's causing people to think more about their own safety, what they would do, in terms—particularly here in the Washington area, what route would you take, how would you communicate with your family, what can you do. Even that is positive. But there are those who would say, you know, it does confuse people, and wonder whether it's really helping.

But I know, for instance, there are people that are planning just next week to have an emergency, you know, evacuation plan, to see how it actually works.

BLITZER: On the Hill?

LOTT: Yes.

BLITZER: In the Senate?

LOTT: Well...

BLITZER: And the House?

LOTT: Maybe I shouldn't speak for the House, but I mean, that kind of thing is happening. It's probably positive, in many regards.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Rockefeller, are you confused by this terror alert, up and down, the fluctuation?

ROCKEFELLER: No. I think it's important to do it, and I know it's an harassment to do it, and I know the American people don't like doing it. But this is—post-9/11 everything has changed, and this is part of the adjustment of making that change.

ROCKEFELLER: We have not gone up to orange before, much at all...

BLITZER: Except for the first anniversary of the first...

ROCKEFELLER: Yes, except for the first anniversary, and this is only the second time. We've gone back down to yellow, and it may be that we went back down to yellow because if we go to war we'll go back up to red...

BLITZER: If there's war with Iraq.

ROCKEFELLER: ... because if there's that, there's probably going to be retribution.

BLITZER: And red being the highest level, severe. And we're going to talk about the showdown with Iraq, but we're going to take a quick break.

We have a lot more to talk with two key senators, Senators Lott and Rockefeller, both key members of the Intelligence Committee. We're going to talk about the showdown with Iraq. They'll be taking your phone calls, as well.

Our special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq, will be right back.


ROCKEFELLER: (OFF-MIKE) U.N. inspectors watching. I mean, this process could—and he could have all kinds of reasons...

BLITZER: But what's wrong with letting it...

ROCKEFELLER: Why didn't he...

BLITZER: If it takes a month, what's wrong with that? Isn't that better, the critics will argue...

ROCKEFELLER: How do you know he does it in a month?


ROCKEFELLER: How do you know he does it in a month? He's done nothing else in a month.

Now look, if I had to be someplace, I'm more concerned about North Korea and al Qaeda than I am about Iraq, in terms of putting people in harm's way.

But on this thing, I think Hussein is really being cynical, he's manipulative. And it's made me very angry, and frankly, it's made me a little bit more supportive of what the president...

BLITZER: Because you've been critical...

ROCKEFELLER: ... has made up his mind to do anyway.

BLITZER: ... you've been critical of the president in the past.

But, Senator Lott, you know, the Iraqis will say why can't the U.S. simply take yes for an answer?

LOTT: Well, I had a briefing on all this on Monday, and I said then, I'll guarantee you by Friday, they'll say, "Oh, yes, we'll begin the destruction." Well, he beat it by one day. He started it on Thursday.

It is better than nothing at all. But it's part of the continued process that's been going on for 12 years—delay, deceit and then some, you know, grudging development will occur.

While these missiles are important, because it shows clearly they've been violating the U.N. resolutions, that's not what concerns me the most. It's all these other chemical and biological weapons that have not been identified, thousands of liters in several categories that are still out there. We don't know if they've been destroyed. They say, you know, they don't have them but, well, show us, give us some proof.

BLITZER: These Al Samoud II missiles, they have a range of more than 150 kilometers...

LOTT: That's right.

BLITZER: ... more than 93 miles. But if they're in the southern part of Iraq, they could endanger a lot of tens of thousands of troops in northern Kuwait.

Why not let U.N. inspectors, if it takes a month, finish the job, go ahead and destroy those missiles?

LOTT: Well, they should proceed aggressively to destroy them. I would think that they could probably do more than two or four or six a day. They've got, as Senator Rockefeller said, 100 to 120. They could be more aggressive in that.

But there are a lot of other things that we're concerned about. This is another deception. This is, you know, another rabbit to chase while they continue to hide other very critical things.

I don't want to diminish the fact that, yes, they've got those missiles, they need to be destroyed. I wonder if they've only got 100 to 120? I had heard at one point many more than that.

BLITZER: Really?

ROCKEFELLER: My theory on that is if he's making these missiles available to destroy, that means he's got a whole cache, as Trent Lott has said, he's got a whole cache of a lot of other things that he can use in the event that we go to war. So, I don't put the stock in their destruction that some others are doing.

BLITZER: But you think no matter what he does, Saddam Hussein, President Bush is determined to go to war, sooner rather than later?

ROCKEFELLER: I've always felt that the president made up his mind long ago that he was going to do that, and the group around him has supported him on that, and I don't think anything's going to change that.

BLITZER: And nothing is going to change the president's opinion, no matter what Saddam Hussein does?

LOTT: I don't believe, although he obviously has gone the extra mile, both with the Congress and with the United Nations. We continue to hope that something will happen to allow us to avoid having to go to war. But you can't wait until that moment and then try to get prepared. We're preparing. We've got 225,000 U.S. and British and other troops in the area.

And we still have so many things that are unanswered that are very dangerous, not only to the people in Iraq, but the region, and as a matter of fact, the world. Saddam Hussein's been quoted as saying, you know, he needs something as small as a can the size of your hand with a substance in it to threaten all kinds of destruction.

BLITZER: How big of a setback for the U.S. military is this Turkish government decision, the parliamentary decision, not to authorize the deployment of some 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey for a move into northern Iraq?

ROCKEFELLER: It's a huge setback for our purposes. It stunned me. It was only three votes. But the defection from the government was enormous. They're talking about bringing up again on Tuesday. I doubt they will. If they do, my guess is it will lose again.

BLITZER: It's not only a huge setback for the U.S. military, but a huge setback in U.S.-Turkey relations.

ROCKEFELLER: Well, and it should be. We spent the last 50 years defending them in NATO. And along comes this opportunity, and by three votes they decline the opportunity to allow us to come in through the north.

You cannot do Iraq simply from the south. If you do it from the south and things go well, the whole war could be over in a month or less. If you don't have the north it might take two months or more. That's a lot of American people in harm's way.

LOTT: Well, obviously, it's a disappointing decision by their parliament, one we shouldn't, you know, underestimate.

We have a lot of other options. And sometimes, what you see in that part of the world is not what you actually get. I suspect that there are some other alternatives that would help us be aggressive in the north of Iraq.

Also, this is a new government, it's only about four months old. And we do have a long history of a good relationship with Turkey. While this is disappointing, and I didn't like some of the bidding, if you will, that was going on, I think we need to continue to work with this important ally.

And while I, too, have some doubts that they're going to have another doubt, you know, there's some indication they might come back to it.

It might be like the Senate. Sometimes you have to vote two or three times to get it right. But no, we shouldn't diminish the fact that this was a disappointment, setback, but we can take other actions to deal with it.

BLITZER: It looks like you're adjusting pretty well to life after being the majority leader?

LOTT: Well, it's preferable to be majority leader, but life goes on and you try to find a niche where you can make a contribution to the people who elected you and to your country.

I'm enjoying the Intelligence Committee. Finally, I feel like I'm getting even more answers than I did when I was majority leader. I got occasional briefings, but usually it was to tell me, "We're doing this." At least the Intelligence Committee you get a little input as you prepare to take an action.

BLITZER: Senator Lott, good luck to you.

LOTT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, good luck to you. Good luck to everybody.


BLITZER: Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Just ahead, is a sharply divided U.N. Security Council buying Saddam Hussein more time to disarm? We'll get some special insight from former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.