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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired May 4, 2004 - 13:14   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... as they battle enemies that show little compassion or respect for innocent human life.

That's one of the many reasons why it's so troubling to find instances in which the trust we are establishing has been damaged.

The images that we've seen that include U.S. forces are deeply disturbing, both because of the fundamental unacceptability of what they depicted and because the actions by U.S. military personnel in those photos do not in any way represent the values of our country or of the armed forces.

As President Bush has stated, their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people.

Have no doubt that we will take these charges and allegations most seriously. We're taking and we'll continue to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who may have violated the code of military conduct and betrayed the trust placed in them by the American people.

Let me outline some of the actions taken thus far to address the reports of abuse, well before they became public. To my knowledge, it was on January 13th, 2004, that the allegations first came to light, when reported up the chain of command in Iraq, as they should have been.

Since then a number of investigations have been launched.

First, on January 14th, the next day, a criminal investigation was initiated to examine the charges. On January 16th, two days later, CENTCOM issued a press release to the world, and General Kimmitt briefed that an investigation had been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse.

Second, on January 31st, Major General Taguba, at General Sanchez's request, was appointed to conduct an administrative investigation of procedures at that prison.

RUMSFELD: Third, in March, the Army's chief of Reserve affairs initiated an assessment of the Army Reserve training with an emphasis on military police and military intelligence activities related to prisoners.

Fourth, in February, the secretary of the Army directed the Army inspector general to conduct an assessment of doctrine and training associated with detention operations throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Fifth, on April 23rd, at the request of General Sanchez, the head of Army intelligence provided an investigating officer to investigate military intelligence practices in Iraq.

Sixth, earlier this month, the U.S. Navy inspector general was asked to assess detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay and at Charleston Naval Station Brig.

From these investigations thus far six individuals have been identified for Article 32 criminal hearings. At least six other individuals have been given letters of reprimand. Of these six, two individuals were relieved of their responsibilities.

General George Casey, the vice chief of staff of the Army, is not here but he will be here shortly after the conclusion of our briefing, to provide detailed information about these actions. I should add that earlier this morning he briefed on Capitol Hill.

Let there be no doubt that this matter will be pursued properly under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The actions of the soldiers in those photographs are totally unacceptable and un- American. Any who engaged in such action let down their comrades who serve honorably each day and they let down their country.

Let me be clear: Whatever others may say with respect to responsibility for this activity, as the senior official responsible for this department, I intend to take any and all actions as may be needed to find out what happened and to see that appropriate steps are taken.

RUMSFELD: Finally, on a different subject, General Abizaid has now indicated his desire to retain the current level of forces in Iraq, roughly 135,000 to 138,000 forces, for longer than the 90 days than we recently extended about 20,000 forces to get up to that higher figure.

We will not extend the same individuals beyond the 90 days. Instead, we are identifying and preparing to deploy forces to replace those individuals. Recently I approved deployment of approximately 10,000 replacement personnel. Other units are now being identified and will be approved in the coming days.

We will be providing some additional detail in this in the -- I guess this afternoon. General Schwartz and General Cody will be available here to discuss the details with respect to prospective general deployments.

General Pace?

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

The secretary has already delineated those ongoing investigations with regard to the prisoner abuse.

It's important to know that as investigations are completed, they come up the chain of command in a very systemic way, so that the individual who reports in writing, goes up to the next level commander. But he or she takes time -- a week or two weeks, three weeks, whatever it takes -- to read all the documentation, get legal advice from his or her attorneys, make the decisions that are appropriate at his or her level, and then forward that investigation, then, to the next level.

The reason it is done sequentially like that is so that each commander, without any undue influence from above, has the opportunity at their level to review the entire document, decide what he or she should do at their level, make their decisions, and then forward it up the chain of command. That way, everyone's rights are protected and we have the opportunity, systemically, to take a look at the entire process and for different set of eyeballs at every level to determine what the next step should be.

With that we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, this administration has said repeatedly that in removing Saddam Hussein, the United States has gotten rid of a man who has murdered and raped and pillaged and tortured people in his country. And now these photographs and stories show that, in fact, the U.S. military has done that to prisoners in Iraq. And you say that this has -- I believe you said it's damaged U.S. attempts to establish trust in the country.

I guess I'd ask you more broadly, is this a major setback for U.S. efforts in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm not one for instant history.

The fact is, this is an exception. The pattern and practice of the Saddam Hussein regime was to do exactly what you said, to murder and torture, and the killing fields are filled with mass graves. And equating the two, I think, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what took place.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Myers said on Sunday that he had not seen the report. I don't believe you had seen the report, even if -- I don't know if you have now. Isn't this something you would have liked to have been flagged about? This seems so different. It's had such a profound effect around the world, particularly the Arab world.

Shouldn't you have known about that? And General Myers certainly knew about it because he asked "60 Minutes" to withhold the pictures and still didn't read the report.

RUMSFELD: It's -- I guess the way to put it is that the department has been aware of it since it was first noticed, and up the chain of command, we're told that there were investigations into alleged abuses as long ago as last January 16th. It takes time for reports to be finished -- correction -- to be gathered. This is a very comprehensive report. There are a number of -- I listed six investigations that are in various stages. And they move up in a process, as General Pace described. And it seems to me that the people who should be seeing it at each stage were seeing it at each stage.

QUESTION: But to plan for a response -- I mean, it's been one week now since it was on "60 Minutes II." It's the first time we've heard you talk about it. In effect, the damage has already been done. There didn't seem to be a plan to even deal with this.

RUMSFELD: Are you critiquing the Department of Defense's P.R. handling of it? Is that what the question is?

QUESTION: I'll leave that to you.

RUMSFELD: I mean, the fact of the matter is that this is a serious problem and it's something that the department is addressing. The system works. The system works.

There were some allegations of abuse in a detention facility in Iraq. It was reported in the chain of command. Immediately, it was announced to the public. Immediately, an investigation was initiated.

Six separate investigations have been undertaken over a period of months since January: January 16th, February, March, April, three months. These things are under way.

I recognize the appetite of people for instant information and instant conclusions. These things are complicated. They take some time. It required interviewing people back in the States who had already left Iraq. It required discussions with people.

And they're proceeding -- everything I can see -- in a very systematic, appropriate way. And to the extent I conclude at anytime that there is some slice of it that hasn't been investigated, has not been looked at properly, you can be sure that I'll undertake such an investigation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on Capitol Hill today there was quite a bit of anger expressed at the fact that they're just finding out about this now.

Senator McCain said, quote, "It's a neglect of the responsibilities that Secretary Rumsfeld, with civilian leaders at the Pentagon, to keep the Congress informed." Senator Levin said, quote, "It's been a month since that report has been available; it should have been sent to this committee immediately."

Congress says they were kept in the dark on this. I know you described the routine, ordinary way these things are handled.

QUESTION: But given the extraordinary ramifications of what was going on here and its potential to undercut U.S. credibility and the whole policy of Iraq, shouldn't you have done a better job keeping Congress informed? At least they feel they should have been kept informed of it.

RUMSFELD: Well, we informed the world on January 16th that these investigations were under way. It seems to me that that is a perfectly proper thing to do. The investigations were announced. The world knew it. It was briefed to the press and the world.

QUESTION: But you had no idea of the scale...

RUMSFELD: We didn't know the scale.

QUESTION: Well, you did when this report came back -- General Taguba's report came back. That was in -- that's been available for quite some time. Members of Congress are outraged that they're just hearing about it today.

PACE: Again if I can just interject, the term "routine" is not a good term to use in this regard. Because this is anything but routine. It has been handled anything but routine.

Immediately, the commanders called all of the chain of command, to include to myself, General Myers -- I'm not in the chain of command, excuse me, but I knew about it almost immediately -- General Myers, the secretary.

That information flow of suspected events and what individuals are doing about investigating it and what types of investigations were needed, that information was shared completely.

What is being done correctly -- and we want to take care of an event that is -- as bad as it is, we do not want to turn our justice system on its head in response to it.

We want at each level for each commander to do his or her duty, which is to take the documentation that they have, read it thoroughly -- and these things can be that thick -- take the time, read it thoroughly, make the judgments they must make, see whether or not there's some other facet of this that should be looked into at their level, make the decisions they're able to do, and pass it on up the chain.

So the fact that the report was done in mid-March, and that six individuals had charges proffered against them, that information was reported up. But the report itself, correctly so, as quickly as possible, but with proper deliberation, is moving through the chain of command so that commanders who are entrusted with that authority and responsibility can do what they must do.

QUESTION: General, can I follow up on that, please? Could you explain why the Taguba report was classified "secret, no foreign distribution"? Those of us who have read the report, there's clearly nothing in there that's inherently secret, such as intelligence sources and methods of troop movements.

QUESTION: Was this kept secret because it would be embarrassing to the world, particularly the Arab world? PACE: First of all, I do not know specifically why it was labeled "secret." Potentially there are parts of the hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation that are classified. I do not know that to be a fact. But normally we will classify a document at the highest level of anything that's in that document.

But as the secretary pointed out, immediately we told the world that we thought we had a problem. So there had been no attempt to hide this. What we've been trying to do is find out the truth of the matter so we can get on about correcting, finding out who did what, and then taking a proper action.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you say why it was classified secret? Do you know?

RUMSFELD: No, you'd have to ask the classifier.

You can ask General Casey who is going to be down here discussing that later.

QUESTION: Taking into account the measures that you say have already been taken against individuals who have been identified as being responsible, do you think there is any action that you can take, or anyone else in the chain of command can take, that can possibly undo the damage to world public opinion this has caused?

RUMSFELD: The first task for people in positions of responsibility, it seems to me, is to do what we've done, and that is to acknowledge the problem publicly, and we did.

The second task is to try to do everything possible to ascertain whether or not any similar instances of abuse could be going on, continuing in some other location, or that location.

The third task is to address it from a systemic standpoint and see are there systemic issues that need to be addressed in ways that could avoid this type of thing in the future?

The United States of America is a wonderful country and the overwhelming majority of the people in this country are wonderful people.

RUMSFELD: And certainly the men and women who serve in uniform are doing a superb job for our country.

Does it mean that our country's perfect? No. Does it mean that everyone in uniform is perfect? No.

And the world has seen problems of this type before. And I regret to say, I'm afraid that people do things that they ought not to do and that are harmful and that are disappointing and are, in many instances, disgraceful.

But over time the world opinion and the opinion in this country has a pretty good sense of center of gravity and they'll make proper judgments. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a number of times from the podium you said U.S. troops do not torture individuals. There was a joking colloquy one time here about the iron maiden.

Does this report undercut your notion that the U.S. doesn't torture? Is this one of those rare exceptions here that torture took place?

RUMSFELD: I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture.

I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the "torture" word.

There's no question but that it has been my conviction that all of our rules, all of our procedures, all of our training is against abuse of people that are detained. You know that. I know that. I've been over it in detail. And the fact that it happens, notwithstanding the fact that it's against everything that they're taught, against everything that we believe, it's also against anything that any individual on their own ought to believe is right.

And so there's -- all I can say is what I've said.

QUESTION: What shocked you the most about the behavior, though? I mean, General Pace, also is in the military. What shocked you most here? This wasn't your garden variety beating people, but there was premeditated sexual degradation, which the Islamic religion -- it's abhorrent to them.

RUMSFELD: I was stunned by all of it.

QUESTION: Let me start this question by saying I know that you all in no way condone this sort of behavior, but when the global war on terrorism started, the Pentagon and the Bush administration created a new class of prisoner, a second class if you will, that explicitly is not protected by the Geneva Conventions. Security detainees are among them in Iraq. There are security detainees in Afghanistan as well, and the prisoners down in Guantanamo Bay.

I wonder if you think the Pentagon policy exempting these people specifically from Geneva Convention legalities, even if not the spirit of the Geneva Convention, created an atmosphere where people thought, "Well, I can go a little bit farther than I would normally be allowed to because these weren't actual prisoners of war"?

RUMSFELD: I don't think so.

I think that the statement, while you're certainly correct that the lawyers made a legal distinction with respect to the Geneva Convention, in every time that was uttered it was also added that they are being treated consistent with the Geneva Convention and that has been our desire, our intent and our conviction up until this point.

QUESTION: Have you yet read the Taguba report?

RUMSFELD: It's -- which...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) pages?

RUMSFELD: I think you're talking about the executive summary. I've seen the executive summary.

QUESTION: Have you read through it, sir?

RUMSFELD: I have been through it. Whether I have read every page, no. There is a lot of references and documentation to laws and conventions and procedures and requirements, but I have certainly read the conclusions and other aspects of it.

QUESTION: Given the ramifications of not only what is in this report, the findings specifically, but the pictures, the photographs that you knew, as of a couple weeks ago, were going to be broadcast, why did you not feel incumbent upon you at that time to ask for the findings or to take a look at the pictures beforehand so you could perhaps be prepared to deal with some of the world reaction?

RUMSFELD: I think I did inquire about the pictures and was told that we didn't have copies. Is that not correct?

STAFF: We didn't have them here, that's for sure.

RUMSFELD: Yes, I didn't have them.

QUESTION: And what about the findings? Didn't you want to know the details before so that you could -- you've talked about how this is a war of ideas as much as anything else and here -- here is something that's going to undercut the United States' ability to deal with that.

RUMSFELD: That's true. It clearly is, you know, unhelpful in a fundamental way. It's harmful.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the Navy looking into detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay and Charleston. Was that triggered by some allegations of abuse, or what are they looking at?

RUMSFELD: I'm not in a position to say whether -- there are other allegations of abuse. That is a pattern and a practice of terrorists, to allege abuse. We've seen that in their training, that they do that. So I can't say whether or not there have been any other allegations or charges of abuse with respect to those two facilities.

But no, it had only to do with my interest and desire in trying to be inclusive, to see that we had looked at every possible area that conceivably could lend itself to this type of problem.

QUESTION: When did you order that?

RUMSFELD: Earlier this month, as I indicated. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, this incident has kind of highlighted the issue of the prison and the prisoners and their treatment. And I wondered if you or General Pace could tell us who are these prisoners; what are they doing there and ultimately who is in charge? There seems to be some public finger pointing about whether the Army or the CIA or even private contractors may be responsible.

PACE: No finger pointing.

There have been investigations into the guards. There is an ongoing investigation into those who were in the interrogation process. Those investigations, one complete, the other ongoing, will lead wherever they lead.

We are taking the lessons learned that we've gathered up so far and are putting that back into our training pipeline, so that as we bring units on line for these kinds of events in the future, we educate them on what happened here, if we can find out why it happened, why it happened, and make the adjustments to the way we train up our people.

PACE: This is not the way that the U.S. armed forces do our job, and we are going to do everything we can to find out why it happened and hold those who are responsible responsible. And ensure that we correct, as best we can, for the future.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, any indications thus far that this problem may be more widespread, that it may have taken place at other facilities in Iraq or Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: As I say, at any given time there are always allegations and charges of abuse in detention facilities, whether it's jails or prisons or -- military or civilian, that they're -- that is a pattern.

It is the studies and the investigations that we've initiated that will answer your question, and it would be premature for me to try to do that. But as I indicated there certainly are allegations of abuse in various other locations.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to come at this from a different perspective. As you've often said, we're fighting remnants of a regime that tortured children, that had rape rooms and mass graves, and used chemical weapon.

Now on the other hand, allegations that a few prisoners were humiliated. And some of the loudest outcry and outrage is coming from parts of the world that said very little about the near-genocidal practices of the past few decades.

Is there a little bit of an overreaction and even -- while these are clearly unacceptable and even counterproductive from our standpoint, is there a little bit of overreaction and even hypocrisy as to what's going on now?

RUMSFELD: My task is to see that what we do is properly done, and done consistent with the values of our country and the standards of this department. I'll leave it to others to make those judgments.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you think, given what we do know so far, at least about the six individuals, their alleged actions -- do you think it's legitimate to -- or it's called for, to apologize, not only to the people that were specifically abused, but also to the Iraqi people?

In all this debate in recent days, there hasn't been any apology for these actions or alleged actions of American troops. Wouldn't that help in this, sort of, war of ideas?

RUMSFELD: I think you're -- I haven't been focused on the war of ideas, to be honest with you, since this issue -- with respect to this issue. It is important in that context, to be sure.

We have to deal with this issue from a standpoint of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We have to deal with it from the standpoint of how we're organized and trained and led. And that has been my focus.

There may be things that we can do that would be helpful in helping the world understand that this is an exceptional situation. It is not a pattern or a practice, and any suggestion that it is, I think, would be incorrect.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in the executive summary of the Taguba report, it also mentions that inadequate training and inadequate numbers of troops to guard these prisoners contributed to the breakdown in command, control, discipline at the prison. Do you think there were inadequate number of troops involved in that process now?

And while you reject any comparison between what these soldiers allegedly did and what the Saddam regime did to the Iraqis, how do you think it has set back or damaged the efforts of the U.S. there in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: You want to comment?

PACE: On the inadequate number of troops, the general who did that investigation wrote that as his finding. General McKiernan reviewed that and approved that finding. General Sanchez reviewed that and approved that finding. So there is agreement with assertion that there were improper training and not enough troop. And therefore that is one of the things that we are about correcting.

QUESTION: Was it a too heavy of reliance on reservists who are plucked from their civilian jobs and thrown into these situations in a matter of months?

PACE: No, I think our reservists are doing a magnificent job, just like our active duty folks are. And this is a very small minority who have done this event.

So we need to look at ourselves and find out, what was it about the training that needs to be changed? What was it about the manning that needs to be changed, as recommended by the general? RUMSFELD: We'll make this the last question.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I did ask how you felt this episode has, in fact, damaged...

RUMSFELD: I've answered that.

QUESTION: ... the U.S. efforts?

RUMSFELD: I answered that earlier. I'm not in a position to make a judgment. Time will tell. Clearly, we would wish it would not, because it is an exceptional, isolated -- we hope an isolated case. And our country is a country, and it is a wonderful country, and the American people are wonderful people, and our armed forces are wonderful people. And when one drops a plumb line through the totality of that -- is it perfect? No. Are there things like this that happen? Yes. But over time, people tend to find their way to fair, reasonable conclusions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if I could ask a broad question about Iraq, we are less than 60 days to the handover of sovereignty. Talking privately to commanders on the ground, they say militarily they can handle the situation, but the biggest -- the critical vulnerability is this uncertainty about the political situation; that they don't know how they're going to connect all these provinces to a central Iraqi government, and if it's so unclear right now, how they'll be able not to be occupiers on July 1st.

Can you address that question?

RUMSFELD: I can understand you receiving those impulses from people.

A transition period is a period of uncertainty. A period of uncertainty is something that causes people concern and worry and apprehension.

We are, today, whatever it is, May 5th -- 4th -- heading toward June 30th, or thereabouts, to pass sovereignty and responsibility, political responsibility for that country to the Iraqis.

RUMSFELD: It very likely will be in something approximating what the U.N. special representative, Mr. Brahimi, recommended.

Who those people are is not known at the present time. And therefore people wonder, "Are we in? Are we out? How do we feel about the people that might get that responsibility?" And so expect that kind of uncertainty during this period. It's inevitable.

The next period of uncertainty -- this is a tough road from a vicious dictatorship killing tens of thousands of people, using chemicals on its neighbors and its own people, filling killing fields with mass graves of human beings: men, women and children that many of you have seen. To get from that to self-government in some form is not easy. It's hard. So the next period of uncertainty will be after June 30th. And what will happen then? People will look at that and say, "I don't like it. I do like it. And if I don't like it, I should oppose it or I should say to myself, 'It's temporary. It's interim. It's only going to last till the end of the year when there are elections for a constitution.'"

So my hope is people will look at it and say, "It's imperfect." I mean many elections have been over and I've looked at it and said, "It's imperfect."

Now, what do you do then? You've got a choice. You either sit there and rail at the moon and say, "It's imperfect and I don't like it," and try to oppose it or you get out there and try to substitute something better.

And that's what the Iraqi people have got to do. And that's not an easy thing for them to do. They're not used to doing that.

So you're going to have a period of uncertainty from now and you're also going to have a period of increased attacks. I mean, we just have to expect that.

There are people who don't want this to happen in that country. And they are going to conduct attacks in that country against coalition, against Iraqis, against the United States. They're going to conduct attacks outside that country in other nations as they've been doing.

They inevitably will be doing that in Iraq between them and the Iraqi elections in December. And they have indicated that they have an appetite to do that in other countries including this country between now and our election to try to affect it, like they feel they did in Spain.

So this is going to be a difficult period. But our forces are there. They're going to stay there. They're doing a good job for this country. They're doing a good job for the Iraqi people. The commanders are confident in what they're doing. There's no question but that they believe that they are doing it the right way. And they intend to keep doing it and to stay the course.

QUESTION: Can you just quickly clarify the situation in Fallujah? We have Marine commanders signing off on this. First General Salih, and he was out. Now there's another general on the Iraqi force. He's in.

What is the situation?

RUMSFELD: I'm told that this individual named Salih was recommended by someone on the Iraqi Governing Council, and was asked, at a lower level in the U.S. CENTCOM command, to begin assisting in organizing Iraqis to help out in Fallujah.

He had some success. At that point there was a vetting process that took place in the public. And that -- I should caution you this has happened a lot in Iraq.

You try to vet against a list, a database. But the real vetting comes when someone's head pops up. People look at him and say, "No, no." And a public vetting is going on for mayors, for police chiefs, for Iraqi governors, for lots of times people have been put in and eventually taken out.

In this case, this man, the vetting was imperfect. There are not conclusions that he has blood on his hands at this moment; I've not seen anything that's definitive or conclusive. But there was enough question that the people, again, on the ground made a judgment that a different individual, General Latif, would be preferable, and less risky, if you will.

It's always a risk when you make a choice. And these folks are -- our guys did a good job. They made a choice. It was vetted. They've now suggested that General Latif is a person who might be able to do this job. And he is now at it. There's something in the neighborhood of a thousand people that are -- Iraqis that are now organized under that process. And we'll see how it works.

They indicate that they agree with the red lines that have been established by the United States, the red lines being that we intend to get turned over to us as many as those terrorists as still are there, that we intend to get either the people or the names of the people who killed the Blackwater Security people, we intend to take back that city and conduct joint patrols in the immediate future. And my guess is that's what will happen.

And if it happens by force by the U.S. Marines, then it happens by force. If it happens by virtue of these 50, 60, 70, 80 Sunni sheiks and civic leaders and people in three or four different groups that have been encouraging this process and it's done in a more peaceful way, then it will be done in a more peaceful way.

But one way or another, it will be done.

Thanks, folks.

PHILLIPS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addressing reporters, talking about those pictures out of the Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib. Very disturbing, deeply disturbing that is. And that those found guilty of breaking the code of military conduct will be held accountable to the highest extreme.

We're going to talk more about what the defense secretary had to say, good more in depth on the investigation taking place now with Ken Robinson, our military intelligence analyst. And that will be at the top of the hour.

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