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Senate Investigates Torture; Detainee Photo Release Blocked
Aired May 13, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Bush administration's controversial legacy in the war on terror under the microscope here in Washington right now, the Senate launching an investigation into water-boarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, measures critics describe as torture, and President Obama reversing course and stopping the release of hundreds of photos showing the alleged abuse of detainees.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now and our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She covered a rather contentious hearing today -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
President Obama has said on more than one occasion he doesn't want congressional hearings into these kinds of tactics from the Bush era to turn into partisan affairs. But, Wolf, that's exactly what happened today in this hearing. And it's in part because there was gripping testimony from somebody who used to be on the front lines of terrorism, who now says he agrees with Democrats.
BASH (voice-over): Behind this wall, identity hidden, a former FBI agent who personally interrogated top al Qaeda operatives and says harsh tactics like water-boarding do not work.
ALI SOUFAN, FORMER FBI INTERROGATOR: These techniques, from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable.
BASH: In dramatic testimony, Ali Soufan said he got a treasure trove of usable intelligence from Abu Zubaydah. Found out about 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed without using extreme tactics. But when his team was replaced with CIA contractors using harsh techniques, Abu Zubaydah shut down.
SOUFAN: Water-boarding itself had to be used 83 times. An indication that Abu Zubaydah had already called his interrogators' bluff. Within the first hour, we gained important actionable intelligence.
BASH: Also testifying, Philip Zelikow, former counselor to Condoleezza Rice, who criticized the tactics in an internal memo which he says Bush officials tried to destroy.
PHILIP ZELIKOW, FORMER COUNSELOR TO CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The U.S. government over the past seven years adopted an unprecedented program in American history of coolly calculated, dehumanizing abuse, and physical torment to extract information.
BASH: This was the first hearing on extreme tactics since the president released classified Bush-era interrogation memos. And it was partisan from the start.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: The lies are legion. President Bush told us America does not torture.
BASH: Only one GOP senator asked questions, Lindsey Graham. He's a Republican who's long been opposed to harsh interrogation techniques, but still hammered Democrats for holding a one-sided hearing.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know whether this is actually pursuing the nobility of the law or a political stunt.
BASH: Now, Senator Graham says that he does believe extreme tactics like water-boarding are immoral, but still said the decision to use them in the aftermath of 9/11 is not criminal.
Still, when it comes to Democrats, Wolf, they say they are not done with this. The senator who chaired this hearing, Sheldon Whitehouse, says that he hopes this is the first in a series of hearings to look into what he called an avalanche of falsehoods from the Bush administration -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect there's going to be a lot of these hearings coming up.
Dana, thanks very much for that. Here's the background, by the way, on the three people who were allegedly water-boarded.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, Abu Zubaydah was considered the main link between Osama bin Laden and a number of al Qaeda cells. After his capture in Pakistan in March 2002, he allegedly gave up key information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number-three al Qaeda leader. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted to be being the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was the leader of al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf and is believed to have plotted the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors.
Now to the president's decision not to release photos that allegedly show the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a bombshell announcement today from an administration that has been promising openness.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He watched this unfold step by step by step -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just got off the phone with a senior White House official who insisted that this was not a flip-flop by the president. But the fact remains that this is much different now than what they were saying just a month ago. It shows they're very sensitive on this topic right now.
HENRY (voice-over): A dramatic reversal by the president on whether to make prison abuse photos public.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.
HENRY: But the president's own spokesman said the opposite just last month, insisting the release of Abu Ghraib-style photos and memos detailing alleged torture would not harm U.S. troops.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was a lot of back and forth in his mind over the course of several weeks about ensuring that this protected those that keep us safe, that it protected our national security.
HENRY: The president refused to take questions, while Robert Gibbs struggled to explain what sparked the change.
(on camera): Was there a failure here at the White House in the first go-round in April to fully weigh the national security implications?
GIBBS: The argument that the president seeks to make is one that hasn't been made before. The -- I'm not going to get -- get into blame for this or that.
HENRY: Senior military officials confirmed to CNN that in the last several days, Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno urged the president to reconsider because of concerns about the effect on U.S. troops. But that argument had been made previously, so liberals immediately ripped the president's flip-flop.
AMRIT SINGH, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: This decision makes a mockery of President Obama's promise of transparency and accountability. It is essential that those photographs be released, so that the public can examine for itself the full scope and scale of prisoner abuse.
GRAHAM: The commander in chief has a unique job in our society. And he basically stood up to his political base and made his decision, I thought, that was reasoned.
HENRY: Very interesting reversal, with a conservative like Lindsey Graham now supporting the White House on this move. Legal experts the president would be on firm legal ground, drag this out in the courts for months, maybe even years. But you can see that he could be on shaky political ground with his own base, people at the ACLU feeling that this is just a repeat of the Bush years -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Got to make those tough decisions when you're the commander in chief.
HENRY: No doubt.
BLITZER: All right, Ed, thanks very much.
In another story we're following right now, the Obama administration wants to extend its police powers over the financial system. In a letter, the treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, asked Congress permission to track the purchase and sale what he called those controversial derivatives.
Also, the administration wants companies selling those transactions to have enough capital and to be bound by strict conduct and reporting requirements. Derivative selling is what helped bring down insurance giant AIG, among other huge, huge financial companies.
Regarding AIG, by the way, its CEO tells Congress the company is making substantial progress toward restructuring and is working hard to eventually pay back the multibillion-dollar bailout it got from the federal government. But Edward Liddy faced a grilling from some lawmakers who are looking for AIG to actually show them a restructuring and repayment plan. Not yet ready for that.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: He just says that they're making progress and they're restructuring.
BLITZER: They're making good progress, good progress.
CAFFERTY: But -- good progress, but, like, where's the paper? Where's the...
BLITZER: It's coming. It's coming.
CAFFERTY: Yes, tomorrow. Check's in the mail, among other -- when it comes to nominating the next Supreme Court justice, President Obama likely to be under a lot of pressure from all kinds of people, interest groups, lawmakers, you name it.
But it turns out, most Americans are not very concerned at all about the gender, race or ethnicity of the person who will fill Justice David Souter's seat on the high court. A new Gallup poll shows 64 percent of those polled say it doesn't matter to them if the next Supreme Court justice is a woman. Sixty-eight percent don't care if the person's Hispanic. Seventy-four percent say it doesn't matter if the next justice is black.
It's widely expected that President Obama will nominate a woman. Currently, the court only has one woman. That would be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has been battling cancer. But only 6 percent, 6 point of Americans say that it's essential that the president appoint a woman.
The poll shows women are more likely than men to feel that gender matters, but not by as large a margin as you might expect. And even a majority of women say it doesn't matter to them either. There are also partisan differences. More Democrats than Republicans or independents say that it's essential or a good idea that the next justice be a woman, but again a majority of all three of those groups say it just doesn't matter.
So, here's the question. How much does it matter to you if the next Supreme Court justice is a woman or a minority?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.
Not knowing a whole lot about this stuff, my guess is that these poll results, Wolf, indicate that we have made some strides when it comes to equality and viewing each other as a little more equal than maybe we used to.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a long struggle, but it's -- we're not there yet, Jack.
CAFFERTY: No, but we're -- we're moving.
BLITZER: Like AIG, we're making good progress.
CAFFERTY: I will have those plans to you tomorrow.
BLITZER: Yes, that's right. All right, Jack, thank you.
It's a frightening thought, your plane's pilot flying around with barely any sleep. Did that contribute to that New York plane crash in Buffalo that killed 50 people?
And will Sarah Palin tell all? She's set to write a brand-new book. Palin says her agenda is to set the record straight. Will she extract political revenge?
And standing by their man. Democratic lawmakers say they will walk side by side with President Obama to push a unified message on health care reform. What does that mean for you?
BLITZER: It's a frightening thought, your plane's pilot flying you around without not enough sleep. An investigative hearing into the airplane crash near Buffalo this year that killed 50 people revealing now fatigue may have contributed to the crew's failure to save the plane.
Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is covering this tragedy for us -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it appears to have happened on Flight 3407. And the National Transportation Safety Board investigation indicates it may be happening on other flights, crews living far away from their base of operations arriving to work on little sleep.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is shocking.
CHERNOFF: Kathy Johnson (ph) is furious her husband, Kevin, died in a plane whose crew may have been functioning on little sleep.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wonder how many other pilots, first officers do the same thing that we're not aware of. So, it is very shocking to all of us.
CHERNOFF: Colgan Air Captain Marvin Renslow had nearly a full day off before assuming command of Flight 3407. Yet, the NTSB investigation found, he slept in the Newark Airport crew lounge, against Colgan Air regulations. The airline, though, appears to have been lax in enforcing the rule.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Colgan policy is they're not to sleep in the crew room, but it turns out that they are sleeping in the crew room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People can come in between their flights when they're on duty and take a nap.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is napping sleeping?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a definition I'm not -- probably not prepared to answer.
CHERNOFF: First officer Rebecca Shaw had three days off before the flight, yet she commuted through the night from Seattle, catching rides on connecting FedEx flights to get to Newark.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hire professionals. And those professionals, we expect, should show up fresh, ready to fly that aircraft.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they're supposed to have their own accommodations, but we can't follow up on that. And that's totally ridiculous. CHERNOFF: Captain Renslow hid his background from Colgan by not revealing two pilot exam failures in his job application. And the crew violated another rule that requires cockpit conversation to be focused on the flight.
MARK ROSENKER, ACTING CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: I am concerned about the winking and nodding that I have seen in some of the policies of the company, your company, and crew members. And I don't believe it is only -- only within your company.
CHERNOFF (on camera): The NTSB acting chairman says that airlines may have to toughen enforcement of their rules to improve air safety -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a sad story.
All right, Allan, thanks very much.
Whether or not you're a fan of Sarah Palin, most would agree she certainly has a fascinating story to tell, and she's getting ready to tell it. The Alaska governor and former vice presidential nominee had signed a book deal with the publisher HarperCollins.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's working the details for us.
Very often, if you sign a book deal and you're a politician, it suggests, you know, the book comes first, and then the race for the White House comes next.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. These days, writing a book is part of the ritual of running for president. But this could be a different kind of campaign book.
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: You guys are wanting to dissect the past, and you're already worrying about and kind of playing that pundit's role on what's going to happen in 2010.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): We do know one thing that's going to happen in 2010. Sarah Palin's book is set to come out in the spring. Good timing. Palin may run for a second term as Alaska governor next year. There's a wide-open race for the Republican nomination in 2012.
These days, writing a book has become part of the campaign ritual. You have got your autobiographies, like John McCain's "Faith of My Fathers." You have got your thoughtful reflections, like Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope." You have got your political manifestos, like Ross Perot's "United We Stand."
Sarah Palin's book may be different. She told "The Anchorage Daily News," "There have been so many things written and said through mainstream media that have not been accurate, and it would be nice, through an unfiltered forum, to get to speak truthfully about who we are."
Governor Palin intends to set the record straight, the controversy over her wardrobe.
PALIN: You know, I have tried to just ignore it, because it's so ridiculous.
SCHNEIDER: Anonymous criticism by McCain aides.
PALIN: That's cruel. It's mean-spirited. It's immature.
SCHNEIDER: The gossip about her family, and the merciless satire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
TINA FEY, ACTRESS: And I can see Russia from my house.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Opinions of Palin or divided. She needs to create a more sympathetic figure. How? As a Washington outsider victimized by the establishment and the national media.
PALIN: I am, obviously, an outsider of the Washington elite.
CHERNOFF: Governor Palin has declined to disclose how much she's being paid for the book, but several publishers have estimated that it could be upwards of $7 million, not a bad start for a campaign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, remember, that $7 million would be the advance. If the book really sells...
SCHNEIDER: That's right.
BLITZER: ... there could be a lot more money in that book for her as well.
All right, Bill, thanks very much.
BLITZER: In the Middle East right now, a very, very careful balancing act. The pope visits the West Bank, but did he tell the Palestinians what they wanted to hear?
And after a U.S. soldier guns down fellow troops, there's a new push right now to try to make sure the new budget provides for military mental health programs. Plus, the stimulus bill was rushed through Congress, so why has only 6 percent of the money actually been spent so far?
BLITZER: It's a very, very careful balancing act for the pope. He continues his Middle East visit with a call for reconciliation.
CNN's Paula Hancocks has the story from Jerusalem -- Paula.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Pope Benedict XVI focused his attentions on the Palestinians today, visiting Bethlehem and also a West Bank refugee camp to show his support for their plight.
(voice-over): Thousands of Pilgrims descend on the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Packed into Bethlehem's Manger Square for Pope Benedict's mass, Palestinians listened for a stronger call for a Palestinian state. They are not disappointed.
POPE BENEDICT XVI, LEADER OF CATHOLIC CHURCH: Your homeland needs not only new economic and community structures, but, most importantly, we might say, a new spiritual infrastructure.
HANCOCKS: This is the picture Palestinians really wanted to see, the pope up close to the most visible sign of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, what the Israelis call the security barrier, what the Palestinians call the apartheid separation wall.
During a visit to the Aida refugee camp just outside Bethlehem, Pope Benedict watched an assortment of political entertainment, the release of 61 black balloons, representing 61 years since the families in this camp lost their homes, when the state of Israel was created, and a dance with large cutouts of black keys symbolizing Palestinians' call for the right to return to those homes.
POPE BENEDICT: Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached, the wall.
HANCOCKS: The pope calls it tragic to see walls still being erected, but did not go far enough for many Palestinians, no condemnation of Israel's occupation, but a plea for both sides to build trust and cultivate peace.
HANCOCKS: Pope Benedict continues his balancing act along the high wire of the Middle East.
(on camera): He came as a pilgrim of peace, not a politician, but this is the Middle East. Even a holy man gets caught up in unholy politics -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Paula, thank you very much.
What will it take to move forward in the Middle East? The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he's now an international envoy for the region. He will be joining us tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The House speaker is making the president a health care promise. Can she deliver reform ASAP? Just ahead, the inside story on White House talks.
And scientists are sounding a new alarm about the dangers of global warming. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by for the latest on the planet in peril and the threat to our health.
And new information coming out about President Obama's Supreme Court short list. We're about to name names.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: a risky space rendezvous. The shuttle Atlantis crew rescues the damaged Hubble telescope and gets ready to do some delicate repairs.
The two countries were once archenemies. Now, for the first time in 30 years, the U.S. flag is flying over the American Embassy in Libya.
And Craigslist agrees to shut down its erotic services' advertisements. Law enforcement officials say they were a major promoter of prostitution -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama lit a fire under House Democratic leaders today, in hopes of getting sweeping health care reform, and getting it fast.
CNN's Jill Dougherty has more on today's talks over at the White House -- Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is promising to have comprehensive health care reform legislation on the floor of the House by the end of July, before the August recess. She made that promise here at the White House after a meeting with President Obama and with Democrats who will be shepherding that legislation.
The president said, reform is urgent.
OBAMA: Businesses are using money to pay their rising health care costs that could be going to innovation and growth and new hiring. Far too many small businesses are dropping health care altogether. In fact, you have got small-business owners who can't afford health care for themselves, much less for their employees.
And, as we learned yesterday, pressures on Medicare are growing, which only underscores the need for reform. That's why we have got to get this done. We have got to get it done this year. We have got to get it done this year, both in the House and in the Senate. And we don't have any excuses. The stars are aligned.
DOUGHERTY: President Obama said that he was encouraged by what he called a shift in the situation. He pointed out a pledge this week by trade organizations in the health care field to save a total of $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
He said, traditional opponents of reform are now embracing it. But it's important to note that there are very few details coming out from the Democrats about what this legislation will look like -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jill, thanks very much.
Following that deadly incident in Iraq in which a U.S. soldier gunned down his comrades, there's a stepped-up effort in Congress right now to try to boost funding for troops battling stress.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.
Chris, what's the latest?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, dozens of congressmen are urging their leaders to back a big increase in the budget specifically to help troops deal with stress.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The country's top defense officials answering Congress' questions about soldiers and stress.
Weeks before Monday's soldier-on-soldier killing in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had asked for another $300 million to improve mental health programs in the military.
Now members of Congress are pushing to get that part of the budget passed.
REP. THOMAS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: As we saw in Iraq earlier this week, that money that we are requesting can also help the soldiers that are still deployed.
LAWRENCE: During Wednesday's hearing, Admiral Mike Mullen described a recent town hall meeting where some troops complained they didn't know how to deal with combat stress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM APRIL 16, COURTESY DEFENSE DEPARTMENT) SGT. NICOLE HUFFMAN, U.S. ARMY: I've seen a lot of soldiers that are affected by the fighting in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
HUFFMAN: They have been shooting and killing people and then seeing the bodies and -- of women and children. And we're not getting enough training, sir.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: My expectation is -- are that leaders be in touch with their people enough to know when it's going well and when it's not going well.
HUFFMAN: They're hiding it, though, sir.
LAWRENCE: No, I understand that. I -- I actually know that happens. And part of leadership responsibility is to figure out how to break the code so that individuals will raise their hands and say, I need help.
LAWRENCE: One problem -- this sergeant, charged with killing fellow service members, was in a leadership position -- a combat vet on his third deployment.
LAWRENCE: And some soldiers say that some troops -- some individual troops may be very effective on combat, but when they're transferred or redeployed, their leaders often have a hard time keeping track of what happened to them.
BLITZER: So how does the military get past the stigma of, you know, soldiers -- troops simply asking for help?
LAWRENCE: Well, some say don't just spend this money on hiring more counselors, but make ongoing mental health screening mandatory across the board. That way, no one feels singled out for treatment.
BLITZER: Good point.
All right, Chris.
Thanks very much for that.
A replacement for retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter could come very soon. We're hearing top White House officials are focusing in right now on six finalists. On that list, sources close to the selection process say they include the federal appeals court Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, the solicitor general over at the Justice Department, Elena Kagan. The sources say women make all but one of the top candidates. The other name, we're told, is California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has more -- Jessica? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with word that the list of possible Supreme Court picks is narrowing, President Obama consulted with Senators on both sides of the aisle about that Supreme Court vacancy at the White House today.
YELLIN (voice-over): It was happy talk all around after the president's meeting with Senate leaders about the Supreme Court vacancy.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: And the most important thing is that we -- we come together over the nominee.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: We may disagree on how to vote on a nominee, but we can agree on the process.
YELLIN: The White House is hopeful the confirmation hearings are equally civil.
GIBBS: There was agreement that the process would be civil and allow the nominee to get a fair hearing, in which their views could be thoughtfully discussed.
YELLIN: The president is looking for a justice who does not view laws in the abstract, but thinks hard about the way they affect people's lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 1, 2009)
OBAMA: I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: With political stakes high, Republicans warn the president, don't appoint a judicial activist.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: And I thought empathy implied that you were on somebody's side before you heard the case. We did have a discussion about the -- the importance of -- of following the law and not acting like a legislator on the bench.
YELLIN: The president has made it clear he'd like his nominee confirmed before Congress goes on recess in August.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We look forward to the name coming forward as quickly as possible.
YELLIN: Expect Senate Republicans to flex their muscle through the confirmation process. They say they will not be rushed into shortened or early hearings just to meet the president's schedule.
(END VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN: CNN has learned the president is likely to announce his pick by month's end. That means we can expect confirmation hearings at the same time Congress considers health care reform. So it will be a very busy summer on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A hot one, indeed.
All right. Thanks, Jessica, very much.
President Obama drops a bombshell, reversing course on releasing pictures allegedly showing detainee abuse.
Do Americans have the right to see these photos?
And what about the transparency the president promised?
Plus, after the rush to pass the president's stimulus package, the money just seems to be trickling out right now. Gloria Borger, David Brody and Roland Martin -- they're standing by to talk about all that and more.
BLITZER: Let's get some more now on our top story -- President Obama ordering government lawyers to stop the release of hundreds of photos showing the alleged abuse of detainees.
Here's the president's reasoning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Christian Broadcasting Network White House correspondent, David Brody; and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin.
It wouldn't be all that surprising, the president's decision today, Gloria, if the Obama Justice Department had not released a statement on April 23rd saying this: "The government has now determined that it will not seek certiorari of -- of the Second Court's decision. The Department of Defense is preparing to release the 21 photos at issue in the appeal and 23 other photos previously identified as responsive."
In other words, they said only a few weeks ago they were going to release the photos. Today, the president changes his mind.
What's going on? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And people expected they would, too, given the fact that faced with a court suit, they decided to release the torture memos -- not pictures, but the torture memos -- awhile ago.
I think the administration does have a question of consistency here on those things. And, also, the president changed his mind. And he's allowed to do that. I don't think, politically, anybody would hold this against him, because he made the decision not to hand over propaganda to our enemies, as we're about to send 20,000 troops into Afghanistan.
But the question I want to know, Wolf, is if there were questions from the generals, why didn't the secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates, talk to the president about that sooner so it didn't look like they were flip-flopping here?
BLITZER: And Russ Feingold, the Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, David, he issued a statement saying: "I am generally opposed to keeping the American people in the dark for no other reason than to shield misconduct, avoid embarrassment or other reasons not pertaining to national security. From what I've heard so far, I'm not convinced there is a compelling reason these photos shouldn't be released."
And the president himself said in his remarks at the White House earlier, David, that the pictures themselves are not all that revealing compared to the other photos we've seen of Abu Ghraib.
DAVID BRODY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Yes. They may not be as compelling, as the president said, but they're pictures, Wolf. And we know in this visual medium of television and other places that, you know, there's a difference between a newspaper story and a television story that has pictures associated with it.
So, I mean, look, there's a political, not just a downside, but there's a P.R. downside big time for the Obama administration here.
I mean, look, I think what we're seeing, to a degree here, with President Obama, he's always been a nuance guy. I mean he's always seen, you know, three, four, five different sides of an issue. He's taken his time. He's a serious thinker. You know, I'm sure the Obama administration would like us all to believe that, you know, he -- he just finally came to some sort of different conclusion.
But, look, there's going to be some sniping, obviously, on the political left. That's not necessarily a bad thing for this administration.
BLITZER: You know, Roland, there is some suspicion there's another issue at stake right now, because if the initial Justice Department decision had held, those photos would have been released by the end of this month. And, as you know, on June 4th, he's going to be in Cairo, Egypt giving this major speech to the Muslim and Arab world. And the last thing he needed were these pictures coming out only days before.
ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know what, look, you can say the last thing that he needed. But I think Gloria used the right word -- consistency. And you cannot, as an administration, keep talking about transparency, then you say, well, we'll release this, we won't release this here.
And so the rationale given -- the reason given, I don't think, is strong enough to convince somebody why you shouldn't do it.
Look, either you make the call to say you release nothing or you say get all of it out of the way. That way it's clear, it's transparent, this is how we're operating.
BORGER: Yes. But on the other hand, you know, it -- it does make it clear that this president was listening to the advice of the generals, who were making a very strong case to him that this would affect our troops abroad. And as commander-in-chief, you know, this is a very important decision to look at when you -- when we try and decide what kind of President Barack Obama is.
This is not just theoretical now. This is real. And he made the decision to release memos, but not those pictures that David was talking about because there's a big difference between words and pictures.
BLITZER: And we heard -- and we heard Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, strongly praise the president for this decision today.
Let me move gears -- switch gears to the economic stimulus package. David, I'll start with you.
As you remember, when it was passed, the president said you need to pass this quickly, $787 billion, every -- every second is critical. But since then, it's been about three months. Take a look -- only 6 percent of the stimulus money has -- has actually been spent, about $45.6 billion.
There's a second chunk of nearly $60 billion that's committed, yet not yet spent. $681 billion or so is not yet spent at all.
So the question the critics are saying, David, is what was the rush to get this thing passed if it's taking them so long to get the money out there?
BRODY: Well, and that's exactly what the GOP had been saying all along and why many voted against the bill. I mean, look, Wolf, this is about government. And for the Republicans, they'll say big government.
It works slow. It's like molasses. I don't think there's any expectation that it was going to all happen right away. Yes, they're behind schedule. I don't think anybody is disputing that. But this is the calculation -- really, a political calculation here, Wolf, to see how this will play out all the way in the next two to three years.
Remember, we've heard three million to four million jobs -- that this stimulus is going to create three to four million jobs.
They're at, what, 150,000 now?
You extrapolate that out and you're looking at maybe one million to 1.5 million jobs.
So, I mean who knows exactly what the final figure is going to be?
But if they don't start beefing up some of this money and some of the jobs that created or saved...
BLITZER: All right...
BRODY: ...they're going to have a political problem.
BLITZER: Go ahead (INAUDIBLE).
MARTIN: Wolf -- Wolf, I'm confused here.
Didn't I recall the GOP complaining, saying that it would take 18 months to get the bulk of this money out?
You said three months have gone by, $45 billion. That's $15 billion her month. OK, it sounds to me like they're still within their actual time frame. You were never going to spend $300 billion, $400 billion, $500 billion in three months.
And so, again, even the GOP criticized the initial time line, which seems to be right.
BLITZER: Because you remember...
BORGER: You know, it's just...
BLITZER: ...Gloria, at the time, the Republicans were complaining they didn't have five days to read that lengthy document...
BLITZER: ...because it had to go out right away.
BORGER: Yes. And well, but look, Wolf, you know, count me as somebody who believes the fact that the money is not just rushing out the door is probably a good thing, because when that happens, as you know from covering Washington, that, you know, there's waste, there's fraud, there's abuse.
The vice president is apparently on top of this. And they're trying to sort it out, make sure it goes to the right projects.
And, by the way, those jobs are going to come online now, because the spring and the summer, of course, going into the fall, is when all the roadwork is being done.
BLITZER: Let's hope that it -- that it happens.
Guys, thanks very much.
Roland is going to have a lot more coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on this and other subjects.
Guys, thank you.
Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.
Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, we'll have complete coverage of another reversal by the Obama administration -- this time the issue of whether to release hundreds of photos of alleged prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may get what she asked for -- a truth commission on the CIA's harsh interrogation methods -- but not the kind of commission that she wanted. We'll have a special report on what some say is the speaker's refusal to fully disclose what she knew and when.
And the National Institutes of Health are spending almost $3 million of your taxpayer money investigating alcohol use by prostitutes -- not in this country, but in Communist China.
And we'll examine a rising controversy over free speech, political correctness and discrimination, after a student was thrown out of medical school for describing himself in a diversity class as white, African, American.
Join us for all of that, all the day's news and more, at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right.
Thanks very much, Lou.
We'll see you in a few moments.
A red flag about climate change -- some researchers are calling it the number one health threat worldwide.
Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is standing by with some important information everyone needs to know.
BLITZER: The single biggest global health threat, according to a prominent new report, is climate change.
Let's go right to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Gupta spoke about the findings with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency -- all right, Sanjay, what did you hear?
What's going on?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this report comes out of the medical journal "Lancet," looking specifically at climate change and its relationship to -- to global health overall.
They say climate change is going to lead to warmer weather. We know that. But, also, less certain food and water supplies and changing patterns of disease -- all of that adding up to a major threat to global health.
I did sit down and speak to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson before this report was released.
GUPTA: Greenhouse gases and climate change, are they a threat to human health?
LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The EPA has said yes. The EPA has a proposed finding. It's out for public comment, so you have to -- we have to allow that process to run its course.
But about a month ago, in April, EPA said definitively that six gases, including CO2, are a threat to human health and welfare. It means they're a serious problem for this generation; more importantly, for future generations.
GUPTA: I'll tell you, as well, you know, people have been talking about global warming, climate change, for some time. She went on to sort of put a price tag on this, as well, Wolf. About $150 a year per family is what they predict this will cost to get to a green economy, where you can start to counter some of the things that she's talking about.
BLITZER: Yes. And the president has got some specific plans in mind.
GUPTA: Yes. I mean, he's been very hands on. And she talks to the president pretty regularly. But specifically on the alternative energy side of things, solar and wind power; but, also, really talking about what it means to cap carbon emissions is something else that he's talking about.
So it's early, but they've had a lot of conversations, it sounds like, already about this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sanjay.
Thanks very much.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How much does it matter to you if the next Supreme Court justice is a woman or a minority?
Gallup did a poll. Nobody cares.
Joan in Orange County, California: "The next Supreme Court justice could be on the bench for 30 to 40 years. The criteria for selecting the nominee should be intellect, judgment, independence and open-mindedness. Our country best served by Supremes who do not have a political agenda."
Lee in Dallas writes: "The fact is, it matters a great deal. Having a bench with the overwhelming majority being comprised of old white men is not even close to a true representation of the diversity of America."
Melissa says: "No. Look what happened to the Republican Party. They chose that weakling Steele as their leader, even though he's obviously not qualified and not able to control himself. I'd rather, when it comes to the high court, they choose the best person for the job, no matter what their sex or the color of their skin."
Peter writes: "Yes, Jack, it does. The Supreme Court has been so out of touch, stale and conservative, it's like a foreign entity to Americans. A woman, especially if she's a member of one of minority groups, would be great. Such a nominee would bring the institution back in line with real America. There is no use for another conservative old white man."
Gerry in Toronto writes: "The president should appoint a gay female minority judge just so the conservatives can have another meltdown."
Shelba writes: "It doesn't matter to me what sex, color or creed the new justice is, as long as the person knows and is dedicated to the constitution of this country and doesn't try to rewrite it to political/social influences of the moment. We've had enough of that already."
And Matt writes: "It doesn't matter much to me, but I'll bet in order to satisfy everybody, Obama is going to have to find a homosexual black Chinese woman with the surname of Sanchez."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours among hundreds of others.
And I'll look for you tomorrow, Mr. Blitzer.
BLITZER: All right...
CAFFERTY: I'm out of here. BLITZER: Have a great dinner, tonight, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Thank you.
BLITZER: See you tomorrow.
His hairstyle has been the butt of a lot of jokes. Now, the former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, is the inspiration behind a new hair product.
BLITZER: Here's a look at tonight's "Hot Shots."
In Pakistan, people pack up and flee as fighting intensifies in the Swat Valley.
In Brazil, police hang uniforms at a beach to protest violence and the killing of officers.
In the West Bank, Pope Benedict XVI waves to onlookers during his five day trip to the region.
And in Maryland, a horse named Big Drama prepares to run in the Preakness horse race.
Some of this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures worth a thousand words.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's hair has provided a wealth of material for comedians. But now a shampoo company wants to cash in on governor's "Moost Unusual" style.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now, you, too, can have hair like this man. Introducing Blago Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioner for really big hair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It smells clean. It smells like peaches.
MOOS: You may quibble about the style of former Governor Rod Blagojevich's hair...
MOOS: ...but you can't boo the quality, celebrated even in song.
MOOS: Seeing that luscious hair in the news took root in the mind of this shampoo manufacturer. DENNIS FATH, CREATOR OF BLAGO SHAMPOO: I literally woke up in the middle of the night and thought we should do a shampoo for big hair.
MOOS: Blago Shampoo's slogan...
FATH: It's (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden.
MOOS: ...is taken from the former governor's own tape recorded words. And the shampoo is golden. Sure, it sounds like a joke. And on Chicago's wls, "The Don & Roma Show" treated it as one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WLS RADIO)
DON WADE: I laughed at first, but then I decided I'm going to give this stuff a try.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Don's before and after picture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WLS RADIO)
WADE: I felt like Elvis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: But we decided to give Blago a real workout on a volunteer guinea pig.
MATT HARVEY, RANDOM GUINEA PIG: Oh, I loved his hair. I've always wanted to have his identical hairstyle.
MOOS: The president of Delta Laboratories says Blago has vitamins, botanical extracts and proteins to make the hair look and feel thicker.
(on camera): Have you tried the product yourself?
You look like you could use a little volumizing.
FATH: Well, I -- (LAUGHTER).
Thanks. I did use it, this morning, actually. So I guess that's not a good testimony. It's not going to work miracles.
MOOS (voice-over): Don't tell Matt Harvey that. After Bertha shampooed, conditioned and blow dried his hair.
HARVEY: My hair feels more full. It really does.
MOOS (on camera): For now, Blago Shampoo is available only on the Web at Blagohair.com. It sells for eight bucks a bottle.
HARVEY: I think I would run for governor now. MOOS (voice-over): Though the blow dried styling may have helped, behold the before Blago and after Blago photos. And no one even had to bribe our guinea pig to get him to say Blago worked.
Jeanne Moos, CNN...
Oh, yes. You are ready to be governor.
MOOS: ...New York.
BLITZER: Tomorrow, President Obama will participate in a town hall meeting about credit card reform.
Do you think credit card companies will change their policies?
Submit your video comments to ireport.com/situationroom. We're going to try to get some of them on the air tomorrow.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.