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THE SITUATION ROOM
FBI Foils Alleged NY Terror Attack; President Obama Defends National Security Policies in a Speech; Search for Mom, Cancer- Stricken Boy Continues
Aired May 21, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- And terror suspects in court, accused of plotting to quote, "Bring death to Jews." New information on their alleged plan of attack on targets in New York City. And terrible and even deadly accidents linked to texting while driving. Public transportation workers are put on notice by the feds. This has got to stop. I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The future of America's security and the path to direct conflict today, President Obama strongly defending his policies and warning critics to stop fear-mongering. Former Vice President Dick Cheney strongly defending Bush era tactics and warning his critics to stop moralizing. Let's begin our coverage with our White House correspondent Dan Lothian. Dan, it was a day of back to back speeches.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It really was Wolf. But you know much of what we heard from the president in his speech today we have heard from this administration, nothing really new there. But what the president was trying to do is emphasize his national security policy and to tell Americans that he will keep them safe. Even as the former Vice President was defending his administration.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Standing in front of a copy of the constitution, President Obama delivered a defense for his national security policies. From banning so-called enhanced interrogations like waterboarding to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
OBAMA: Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.
LOTHIAN: While the president admitted some detainees could wind up in U.S. prisons, he tried to calm fears that it would put Americans at risk.
OBAMA: We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security.
LOTHIAN: But both democrats and republicans on Capitol Hill want proof. They rejected funding to close Gitmo until more details about what will be done with all detainees are provided. In his speech, the president did not fill in all the blanks. But he did blame the Bush administration for creating the quote, "Mess."
OBAMA: Our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight. All too often, our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.
LOTHIAN: In what felt like a republican response, former Vice President Dick Cheney struck back in his own speech, defending harsh interrogation techniques.
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do.
LOTHIAN: And criticizing the Obama administration for trying to close Gitmo without a plan.
CHENEY: The administration has found that it's easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo. But it's tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America's national security.
LOTHIAN: Cheney also said that to bring the worst terrorists to this country would be, quote, "Cause for great danger and regret." That's something that aides here at the White House and Mr. Obama himself don't agree with. The president today says that already there are dangerous terrorists in prisons here in the United States. But the bottom line here Wolf is that on all these issues, the president says there are no neat or easy answers.
BLITZER: All right Dan, thanks very much. The president and the former vice president are squarely at odds over whether there can be any middle ground in this war on terror. Let's listen to a little bit more of their dueling speeches.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We see that above all in the recent debates, how the recent debate has obscured the truth and sent people into opposite and absolute defense. On the one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorists and would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words, anything goes. Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means and that the president should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants, provided it is a president with whom they agree. Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutists. They don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values. Nor sacrifice our values for our security so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense.
CHENEY: In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground and half measures keep you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States. You must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy. When just a single clue that goes unlearned or one lead that goes unpursued can bring on catastrophe, it's no time for splitting differences. There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people hang in the balance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry for a little analysis. They both agree there is a fight against al Qaeda Gloria, but they have very different tactics and they're both very passionate about those tactics.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They are. I mean, you couldn't have two more different world views, Wolf, if you tried. You know, the president's trying to find that middle course between protecting our values and our national security. And the former vice president of the United States is adopting the policy, you're either with us or you're against us. There is no compromise.
BLITZER: Dana, what was the immediate reaction on the hill? I suppose the republicans came down hard on the president but I'm more intrigued by the democrats. Because in recent days, many of them have split with the president on some of these tactics.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The democrats' response frankly has been quite muted and that is because they knew going into the speech, because they got it from the White House this morning, they weren't going to get a lot of the details of the plan from closing Guantanamo or at least what to do with the detainees. That of course is what they have been demanding before they vote for any money at all for the president. So they knew they weren't going to get it. So the bottom line that we're hearing from the democrats is it was a nice speech we appreciate it we still need the details.
BLITZER: The details, when are they going to be coming forward? Because the Senate and the House, they say before they authorize money to pay for the shutting down of that prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, they want the details, a timeline. Where are these 240 detainees going? When is the White House going to make those details available?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We keep asking top aides here at the White House that question and we cannot get an answer. Dana is absolutely right. It's not just republicans, its democrats now as well that want that answer as well. What top aides are now saying in the west wing here is basically they're tired of the ad-hockery that was going on. A case by case basis, there was no real reasonable way to deal with those detainees. So they want to try to catch their breath, figure out how to move forward, maybe over the next couple of months, then have a plan maybe the summer, maybe the fall. But the bottom line is, they have a deadline. The president signed the executive order, January 22nd, 2009, it's got to be closed within a year. January 22nd of next year, it's got to be closed and they say they're sticking to that date. The clock is ticking.
BASH: And Wolf just to give you a sense of how difficult this is, I'm told by two democratic leadership sources that the democrats here in congress they've asked the White House several weeks ago, look, before you send us the money, please send the plan for what you're going to do with these terror suspects and the White House simply said, we can't do that. We're not ready. That is why you saw this explosive debate and you saw this major pushback from democrats against the president.
BORGER: Wolf, this is really one example of this White House having way, way too much on its plate. They're trying to do a health care plan, they're trying to do an energy plan. They decided to send up this request without the details and they got push back from their own party.
WOLF: We're going to ask some of these questions of Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, he's standing by live guys, he's going to be coming over here to THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much. Abbie Tatton is here as well. Abbie, come on in here. You're going to show our viewers sort of a unique way of looking at these two very different speeches.
ABBIE TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: We're going to take down the pictures of the speeches that we heard earlier and we're going to put up the words that were used earlier on today side by side. If you see a word jump out at you, that's because it was emphasized during the speech. On the left in red, you've got the speech of the former Vice President Dick Cheney. Take a look at that, Wolf. Any words jumping out at you?
BLITZER: I see terrorist, that's jumping out at me.
TATTON: Terrorists, 9/11 emphasized again and again during the speech earlier today. Interrogation, interrogations also jumping out there. Moving across now to blue, this is the president's speech. President Obama talking today about Guantanamo. You see that word there. You're also seeing people, American people emphasized and the word security. Wolf, when you put that up there, you're going to see security in both these speeches today. Those are the words that were emphasized today.
BLITZER: Yes, interesting stuff and it's a nice way to take a closer look at the very different speeches. Thanks very much, Abbie for that. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now, he has "The Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY: Gun rights advocates are about to score a big victory with a democrat in the White House. The House and Senate had both approved bills containing amendments that will allow concealed loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges unless a state law prohibits them. The measure has been attached to the credit card bill which is a top priority for President Obama and could in fact become law this week. The bill passed with the help of moderate democrats, many of them from the south and the Midwest and the west.
One of the bill's supporters, republican Senator Tom Coburn, says the move is not a got-you amendment really, but a real step to protect the second amendment. Gun rights groups say the bill will give gun owners the same rights on national park land that they have everywhere else. But they say they don't want to declare victory until it actually becomes law. Meanwhile, groups like the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of National Park Rangers say this bill will increase the risk of poaching and vandalism of park treasures as well as threats to both visitors and staff. Some democrats are disappointed in what they see as the success of the gun lobby under a democratic president and congress. But aides admit a lot of democrats are feeling the heat to back gun legislation or face political heat from the National Rifle Association. Can you tell there's a mid-term election around the corner, these people are nauseating. Here's the question, "Should concealed loaded guns be allowed in our national parks?" Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Good question Jack, thank you.
Terror suspects are being held without bail right now. We're getting new details of their alleged bombing plot. A prosecutor says the men were disappointed the World Trade Center wasn't still around for them to attack. Also ahead, a new zero tolerance policy toward texting and driving. A warning from the Obama administration that could save your life. A new arrest warrant is issued in the search for a woman who fled with her cancer-stricken son. CNN has uncovered disturbing information about the alternative treatment they chose over chemotherapy.
BLITZER: We'll go to New York City in a moment to check in on the latest on that alleged terror bomb plot that has been uncovered. We'll get the latest from Mary Snow in just a moment but let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield right now, she's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Hi Fred.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you Wolf. The teenager who authorities say is the only surviving pirate in a high seas drama pleaded not guilty today. The young Somalian is accused of leading the pirate attack on the "Maersk Alabama" off Africa last month. Military sharp shooters captured him when they rescued the ship's captain, the American captain. The teen's family argues he is just 15 years old and he's terrified. The U.S. authorities say there is evidence that this young man is 18.
When students at a Toronto adult education center saw several armed men making their way into a building today, they did what a lot of us would do, they called police. Officers swarmed the area, blocked off streets and searched the building. It turned out the gunmen were participating in a school drill. A Toronto constable said the school failed to notify all the students or even the police. Those closing Chrysler dealerships across the country may get more time after all to take care of business if some senators have their way. A measure by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas would give Chrysler dealerships 60 days to sell their inventory instead of the three weeks the automaker allotted. Chrysler which filed for bankruptcy announced last week it would close about a quarter of its dealerships by June 9th.
Be prepared and ready to act, that's the word from federal forecasters today who announced their outlook for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. They're predicting a normal year with four to seven hurricanes. As many as three of those will likely be major storms. Hurricane season starts June 1st and the first-named storms will be Anna, Bill and Claudette. I understand Wolf there just might be a Fred in there.
BLITZER: Fred would be good. I don't think there's going to be a Wolf though.
WHITFIELD: One of these years.
BLITZER: A U.S. attorney says they were, quote, "Eager to bring death to Jews." That's a direct quote. Four men who allegedly wanted to unleash a scene of terror, the most dramatic in the United States since 9/11. They were nabbed. Their alleged plot stopped. Police say they intended to terrorize New York City synagogues and blow up U.S. military planes. Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow, she's watching the story in New York for us. All right Mary, what's the latest?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is absolute shock here in Newburgh, New York, about 60 miles north of New York City. The four suspects lived here. Three of the four suspects, all U.S. citizens of those three, were in court this afternoon they were held without bail. Now a fourth suspect is from Haiti. Authorities say he has received medical attention and he's due to appear in court later. The men are charged with plotting to put -- detonate explosives at two Jewish synagogues in the Bronx. They are also accused of trying to fire surface to air missiles at nearby Stewart Air Force base here in Newburgh. Prosecutors say these men were eager, in their words, "To cause harm and bring death to Jews."
Court documents say in June of 2008, one of the suspects told an informant, allegedly told an informant that he was angry about the war in Afghanistan, he said his parents had lived there before he was born and that he wanted to, quote, "Do something to America." That conversation allegedly happened here at this mosque. And the head imam here at the mosque says he does not know the alleged ringleader well, he does recognize him but he says he did not come here often and he is in shock.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) IMAM SALAHUDDIN MUHAMMAD, MASJID AL-IKHLAS: I was shocked again, shocked because I know the kinds of things that we do in our mosque in terms of being involved with interfaith cooperation, all kinds of dialogue with Christians and Jews. So it was something that really put me off because I said, you know now we get this publicity and it's negative publicity and it's not even what we do. We're not about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Among the charges are conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and to use anti-aircraft missiles. These charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, thanks Mary. They were supposedly going to use those anti-aircraft missiles, those finger shoulder fired missiles at a U.S. air National Guard facility in upstate New York. Mary will be back, also we're going to be speaking with Ray Kelly, the New York City police commissioner. He's going to be joining us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well. We'll get the latest from him.
New developments on the mother and cancer-stricken son who are on the run. Police think they now know where they're headed and there are questions about the family's religion that's supposedly the basis of the family's rejection of conventional medical treatment, including chemotherapy.
And a travel nightmare that's virtually unheard of comes to life. A plane filled with more than 300 passengers leaks thousands of pounds of fuel while flying at 30,000 feet. We'll tell you what happened.
BLITZER: A massive manhunt in what could be a race against time to save a boy's life. There are new developments regarding the mother and cancer-stricken son on the run from the law and from medical treatment. Police believe they're near Los Angeles and could be bound for Mexico to treat the son's lymphoma. A family attorney says forcing chemotherapy on the boy would constitute, I'm quoting now, "Assault and torture," direct quote. Now there are questions about the family's religion on which their anti-treatment beliefs are based. Our senior correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now with more on this part of the story.
What a story it is Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh it really is quite amazing, Wolf. Danny Hauser's family adheres to the teachings of a group that claims to embrace Native American spiritual healing. But CNN has learned that the leader of this group has had run-ins with the law.
COHEN (voice-over): Daniel Hauser's parents rejected chemotherapy for their son who has Hodgkin's Lymphoma, in favor of this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is for fever, colic, a viral recovery, Echinacea, we're a simple honest family. We're not out to harm anybody. We never -- this is just our way of life. And why people want to infringe on it, I don't know.
COHEN: The Hausers believe in spiritual healing, advocated by a group called the "Nemenhah Band." Daniel, who is 13, has been designated a medicine man by the group. The "Nemenhah Band's" leader Philip Landis, says he survived cancer by using natural treatments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The basic premise we adhere to is first do no harm.
COHEN: The group advocates eating what they call sacred foods such as mushrooms. CNN has learned that Landis was convicted of theft and deceptive practices in Montana in 2002 and received a suspected sentence. And he spent time in prison in Idaho, where he was convicted in 2002 of grand theft. Some question whether Landis is, as he claims, affiliated with a legitimate Native American group. An attorney for the Nez Purse Tribe says Landis has claimed to be a descendant of the great tribal leader Chief Joseph. In an email in 2006, tribal attorney Julie Kane wrote to Landis, "Your claims to be a descendant of Chief Joseph are simply false." She asked him to stop making the claim.
Landis did not return emails and phone calls from CNN. Native American health authorities say there is no reason Daniel can't have both spiritual healing and chemotherapy. In fact, they say it's done all the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never heard any tribal representative, medicine person, any, you know, authority on the subject ever say that chemotherapy is not a valid option for a person with cancer.
COHEN: He says the family has been misled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that in this case, this is spiritual abuse because it is a non-Native American person convincing this family that Native American beliefs prohibit chemotherapy, which they do not.
BLITZER: I know Elizabeth you've been speaking with a lot of experts. What are the chances if he doesn't get the chemotherapy that he could die and if he does get the chemotherapy, he will live?
COHEN: Wolf, the oncologists I've spoken to said that if he gets the chemotherapy that he's supposed to get, he has a 90 to 95 percent chance of living. If he doesn't get it, they believe that he would die within six months to a year.
BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen with that story, thank you.
A dual of ideas escalates into a war of words. President Obama versus Dick Cheney. The White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs he's here. We'll try to go behind the scenes to see if the president listened to the former vice president's speech and if he'd like to meet with him as well.
Text messaging while driving, many of you think it's harmless. But what if a bus or train driver doesn't? A top official says that's way too dangerous.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, targets had been scoped out, explosives had been planted or so the suspected attackers allegedly thought. What court papers reveal about a synagogue bomb plot and what else was on the hit list.
Also, Republicans call out Nancy Pelosi on the floor. The new tactic being used against the House Speaker over her comments about the CIA.
And what a passenger saw from his airplane window will give you chills. A problem at 30,000 feet. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama standing firm in his goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp that he describes, and I'm quoting now, "Simply a mess."
Today, he tried to reassure critics, including fellow Democrats, pledging not to release any detainees who pose a threat to America's security. But there are real concerns about freed prisoners who get back into the business of terror.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is taking a closer look at this part of the story -- Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he Pentagon has not released its report, but we have spoken to people who have knowledge of the preliminary information. And it shows one in seven detainees may have returned to the battlefield.
LAWRENCE: More and more detainees are suspected of returning to terrorism after being released from Guantanamo Bay. An administration official says, military intelligence officers are still verifying the evidence, but it's likely to show more than 14 percent of the prisoners who are let go take up terrorist activity again or are suspected of doing so.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan are still looking for one of the confirmed cases, a Taliban commander named Mullah Abdullah Zakir, who was released from Guantanamo two years ago. In April, we asked the top U.S. commander there if he was a serious threat.
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: Absolutely. And -- and we are seriously after him.
LAWRENCE: Put, in perspective, let's compare American prisons. The Justice Department reports 60 percent of violent offenders committed a new crime within three years of leaving a U.S. prison.
CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK, ASSOCIATE IN THE MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: I think it's important to keep in mind that 14 percent of, you know, 530 detainees is actually pretty good, compared to other recidivism figures we have.
LAWRENCE: More than 100 Guantanamo detainees have been released to Saudi Arabia. And Chris Boucek has studied the Saudis' rehabilitation program. Detainees are given money and support and have extensive classes to talk about why their beliefs are not based on Islamic principles.
BOUCEK: And, when you get released, your family and your tribe are told that they are responsible for you.
LAWRENCE: You know, as for those suspected of going back to terrorist activities, that number has gone from 7 percent to 11 percent and now possibly 14 percent.
Now, again, this is preliminary information. But a source tells CNN the number is clearly not going down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Let's get to the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
He's joining us now from the North Lawn of the White House.
Robert, thanks very much for coming in.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Wolf, how are you?
BLITZER: Good. Thank you.
Let's -- let's get right to the issue of the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Has the president actually read the vice president's speech, or did he hear the vice president's speech?
GIBBS: Well, as you know, Wolf, he spoke right after the president spoke. The president made his way back to the White House, had his daily intelligence briefing, and met with his economic advisers.
He asked somebody to print the speech off for him. But I don't know if he's had a chance to read it yet or not.
BLITZER: Is it in the cards that these two men might someday just sit down and talk about this? Because they do basically have the same goal, to defeat al Qaeda. But they have a very different strategy in mind. GIBBS: Well, look, obviously, the goal of the president of the United States, his first job is to keep our nation safe and secure. That's what he does every day. And that's what he thinks about when he goes to bed at night and when he comes to work.
So, obviously, that's our goal. And I assume -- and, obviously, that was the goal of the last administration. Whether or not these two men meet, I -- I don't know, Wolf. I was asked that today earlier in the briefing. Obviously, there are some philosophical disagreements about how we keep our country safe.
But I know the president is working every day to make sure that that is the case.
BLITZER: Yes, because he did recently sit down with Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House. He invited him into the White House. So, I -- I could see the day he might invite the former vice president into the White House, couldn't you?
GIBBS: Well, I can imagine you guys would want to be there to see that, right?
BLITZER: I'm sure we would.
BLITZER: Is that -- so, are you saying it's -- that's unrealistic?
GIBBS: Well, I -- look, I don't know what their plans are. Obviously, the vice president -- former vice president is a busy individual, as is the president of the United States.
But, look, the -- the president of the United States has talked about how he will -- he will meet with anybody and talk with people even that he disagrees with.
BLITZER: All right. You got slapped this week by fellow Democrats -- a lot of Republicans, too, all the Republicans -- when they voted against the funding for shutting down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The Democrats and the Republicans say they want to see a plan, a specific plan. Now, that specific plan, a timeline, where the 240 detainees are going, that wasn't included in the president's speech.
When is that plan going to be ready?
GIBBS: Well, Wolf, that plan is being created right now by several task forces that were created by the president when he signed the executive order close -- to close Guantanamo Bay within a year.
Wolf, we didn't get here overnight. This is a seven-year plan. Guantanamo has been in existence for seven years. And we're working right now to make the decisions necessary to close it. The president last week made a decision to reform military commissions that have a long history in the United States, with how to deal with some people involved that are detained at Guantanamo.
The Justice Department today notified the American people that they're going to transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo that was involved in blowing up our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
So, we're going through each of these cases case by case, because Wolf, I think your previous story about recidivism is tremendously important. This president wants to keep this country safe.
We're going to go case by case to do the best we can to ensure that swift and certain justice is brought to these people that have committed terrorist acts. And we're going to make sure that we do all that we can to ensure that nobody else gets out.
BLITZER: Were you -- were you caught by surprise by what the -- how the Democrats reacted in the House and Senate?
GIBBS: No, I don't think so. The president agrees that we have to give them a more detailed plan. That's what these task forces are working on. That's what the decisions the president has made in the past few days, that's what they illuminate, that we're making decisions about how to -- how to evaluate each of the cases at Guantanamo, how to seek justice for their families, and how to ensure the safety and security of the United States.
BLITZER: Listen to this clip from the former vice president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the president will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst-of-the-worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: His point is that they might be able to get legal rights in the United States that they might not necessarily be able to get if they remained on Cuban soil, if you will, in Guantanamo.
How do you respond to that?
GIBBS: Well, I would certainly disagree with that.
Obviously, if you look at -- we have some very bad terrorists already in our prisons. We have the 20th hijacker. Zacarias Moussaoui is in a federal prison because he was convicted on terrorism charges -- the individuals that tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993.
Wolf, I'm sure your network has done stories today on the four individuals that the FBI picked up last night, because they thought they were buying bombs to blow up synagogues in New York and purchase Stinger missiles to shoot down military aircraft. I don't think those people are any less dangerous than the people that are being held at Guantanamo Bay. They are going to be held -- those individuals, those four individuals, are likely to be held in the same pretrial facility in the Southern District of New York...
BLITZER: But what...
GIBBS: ... as the individual that will be transferred from Guantanamo to face charges of blowing up our embassies...
BLITZER: But would they have...
GIBBS: ... in Kenya and Tanzania.
GIBBS: Nobody is suggesting we send those four back to Guantanamo that were picked up in New York.
We have some very, very bad people in our prisons right now. And we can bring very bad people that seek to do people in this country harm to justice.
BLITZER: But would they have greater legal rights in the United States, as opposed to Guantanamo?
GIBBS: Well, understand that the Supreme Court -- Court already held in 2006 -- in invalidating the way that the Bush administration sought to deal with detainees, they already guaranteed them the right to challenge their detention.
But I think that's part of the problem, Wolf. We have an ad hoc patchwork of legal theories that were constructed in a prison camp that was centered in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that in some ways are coming home to roost for the United States of America.
Whether or not the president had ever decided to close Guantanamo Bay, courts are deciding each and every day whether or not our government has the evidence to hold these people at Guantanamo.
BLITZER: All right.
GIBBS: And let me give you one instance.
A George W. Bush-appointed federal judge ruled that a detainee that was transferred to France last Friday, that the United States didn't possess the evidence that it needed to hold him at Guantanamo Bay.
BLITZER: All right.
All right, one quick question, because the...
BLITZER: ... the vice president made a serious statement today. And I want to see if you believe it's factually accurate. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: This might explain why President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation, should he deem it appropriate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that correct, that the president has reserved the right...
BLITZER: ... to still use enhanced interrogation, if he deems it appropriate?
GIBBS: No, absolutely not.
The president of the United States signed an executive order doing away with enhanced interrogation techniques. The policy of this government, of the United States of America, is to no longer use those techniques. And they won't be used.
BLITZER: Robert Gibbs is the White House press secretary.
Thanks for coming in.
GIBBS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: A new red flag from the man in charge of the nation's transportation system -- he says it's time to take dramatic action to stop transit workers from texting, phoning, and e-mailing on the job.
Also ahead, Democrats may have new reason to move to the center, instead of drifting left. Paul Begala and Alex Castellanos, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."
And could an alleged plot to bomb Jewish targets in New York have gone beyond the planning stage? I will speak about that and more with the city's police commissioner, Ray Kelly. He will be here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You aren't supposed to do it, but many of you have done it, fire off a text message while you're driving.
Imagine train or bus drivers doing it as they drive passengers around. Might that put you in danger?
Let's go to CNN's Kate Bolduan. She's been taking a closer look.
And I think I know the answer.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you do, Wolf.
Many states already have some law on the books prohibiting texting when you're behind the wheel. But when it comes to the professionals driving you around, the man in charge of the country's transportation system says it's a potentially deadly distraction that needs to stop.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): The bus accident in San Antonio, the trolley collision in Boston, and the tragic commuter train crash in Los Angeles, where 25 people died, authorities say all are linked to texting while driving. And it's these images driving the debate.
Should Washington step in? The secretary of transportation says, when it comes to public transit, yes.
(on camera): Is it time for a federal ban on texting while driving?
RAY LAHOOD, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Look it, I -- I think it's time for the Department of Transportation to work with Congress on a law that bans cell phones and BlackBerrys for people who are operating buses, light rail. We are going to require zero tolerance when it comes to safety. We -- we just have to.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Twelve states and Washington, D.C., prohibit all drivers from texting. Most mass transit agencies also ban texting or e-mailing on the job. But Secretary LaHood wants to eliminate the temptation altogether.
LAHOOD: I really think that we should ban the -- the ability of employees that are driving vehicles to have on their person a BlackBerry, a cell phone, so that there is no temptation to use them. They -- they can't bring them to work.
BOLDUAN: The trade association that represents the wireless communications industry says it also is against texting while operating a vehicle. But they also point out 300,000 calls a day are made to 911 from cell phones. And one spokesperson, Wolf, put it, he said he wouldn't want one of his bus drivers to not have one of these life-saving tools.
BLITZER: Well, in an emergency, to have it, but not...
BLITZER: ... bring home a pizza or something like that. BOLDUAN: I don't think they're arguing on that point.
BLITZER: Yes. OK.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Kate.
Just ahead: Too hard to read all of those hundreds of pages of legislation? Meet Capitol Hill's speed-reader.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
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BLITZER: Plus, it's a sight no plane passenger wants to see. You look out your window, you see the plane is leaking thousands of pounds of fuel while flying at 30,000 feet.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us now are two political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she is going to have a news conference tomorrow. What does she need to do to get this issue that's clouding over her over with?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, you can't unring a bell, right? But you can ring a different bell.
Now, she has a news conference every Friday. This is not being called just to deal...
BLITZER: But you know what she's going to be asked about.
BEGALA: Well, absolutely. And I suspect her advisers know that as well.
But I think what she's going to want to do is send her members out in this recess. They're not going to be asked about Nancy Pelosi. They are going to be asked about the credit card bill that they just passed. They are going to be asked about the health care proposal that -- that is moving through, the energy plan that apparently is going to be passed by the House committee today.
So, she wants to talk to her members.
BLITZER: She wants to change the subject. We're talking about what she's...
BEGALA: Talk about her accomplishments.
BLITZER: The accusation she made that the CIA routinely misled her and other members about the enhanced interrogation techniques of the Bush era.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think the speaker is a little upset that, today, the president said he couldn't close Guantanamo because he was going to send her there, and that was a problem.
No. Is this turning into Whac-A-Mole? She just keeps -- the more she says, the more something new pops up. This is Memorial Day weekend. I'm sure one more press conference to bury it, but I think both our advice would be move on to something else.
But she has taken a political problem and made it a governing problem. She said that the eyes and ears of our security apparatus, our intelligence community, routinely deceives our leaders. That's a problem now, not for her, but for Obama.
BEGALA: Boy, this is -- this is almost the exact same word-for- word comment that has been made in the past by many Republicans, including Mr. Boehner, the House Republican leader, including Peter Hoekstra, the most senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
There's always going to be tension between the intelligence community and the Congress. And at least -- at least Ms. Pelosi is not outing an undercover agent, like the Bush administration did at the CIA. That did enormous damage to the CIA.
BLITZER: Here -- here's a new poll that just came out from the Pew Research Center. And it asked people to identify themselves.
Thirty-five percent said they were Democrats. Twenty-three percent said they were Republicans. Thirty-six percent said they were independent, which is now even bigger than Democrat or Republican, if you take a look at that poll.
If you're looking at those numbers and you're -- and the Republicans are in deep trouble right now, based on the two most recent elections, what -- what conclusion do you draw?
CASTELLANOS: There's good news in that poll for both sides.
Democrats see that partisan affiliation has moved their way. And it's a bigger gap than we have seen in a while. The good news for Republicans is that America is no less conservative than it was. It's -- it's no more anti-business than it was. And, interestingly enough, people want less big government. They want less of the policies that the Obama administration is advancing. So, why are Republicans losing? They agree with us in theory, but we have no solutions, no problem -- no problem-solving ideas on the table.
BLITZER: How do you interpret these polls?
BEGALA: You know, not very differently. In truth, this president is hard-wired to those independents. You know, they tried in the campaign to position him in an ideological way, his opponents did. They said he was the most liberal member of Congress.
Even today, the, I think, less intelligent Republicans are trying to label him as a socialist, some even saying a fascist. These ideological brands don't work with independents. The practical, pragmatic Obama style, where sometimes he's got the left mad at him, sometimes the right, but he's saying, here's practical solutions on health care, on energy, on education, on the economy, that's what's winning for him. That's why he's so popular.
BLITZER: If I'm looking at these numbers, though, with only 23 percent saying they're Republicans, that's not very encouraging, if you're a Republican.
CASTELLANOS: The party affiliation numbers certainly aren't, Wolf, exactly right.
But what is underneath them, who do you agree, in terms of how big government should be, how much we should spend, are these deficits -- do you want more deficits, even to help people, people are saying, no, that's the wrong way to do it.
So, we have something to build on, but Paul's challenge is exactly right. Republicans have to come to the table and say, look, it's not enough to say their ideas are wrong. Offer something better. Offer us a way to solve problems.
BLITZER: All right.
BLITZER: Have you heard a professional congressional speed- reader before? Because, if you haven't, listen to this.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I ask -- I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.
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BLITZER: All right, let me tell you -- let me tell you what's going on.
All right, let me tell you what is going on over here.
The top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Texas Republican Joe Barton, he said, you know what? You have this legislation, you have got to give us time to read it all before they vote.
And Henry Waxman, the chairman, he says, we want to vote on this before everybody leaves for Memorial Day. So, he said -- he tried to bluff him. He said, all right I will bring a speed-reader in. He will all 900 pages. It didn't last very long. Barton said, you know what? Enough is enough. We don't have to hear...
CASTELLANOS: They found someone to read as fast as the Democrats are spending.
BLITZER: He's a pretty fast reader.
BEGALA: Well, I think -- and what's underlying this is a move by Mr. Barton to try to gum up the works.
And, if Republicans look like they're obstructionists, that's a huge problem for them. Again, that's not an ideological thing.
CASTELLANOS: It's not a problem. It's a plus.
BEGALA: People -- people want a solution to our problems, in this case, on energy. And they -- if Mr. Barton had a competing proposal, it would be much better.
BLITZER: All right. If you keep on talking -- if you keep on talking like that, I'm going to have to start speed-reading.
BLITZER: Bye, guys.
BEGALA: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Coming up, the New York City police commissioner on the alleged bomb threat that could have left his city terrorized. Ray Kelly, the police chief, he's standing by. We will talk to him. And we will also tell you why you may want to check out the Facebook page of the French president.
BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, should concealed loaded guns be allowed in the national parks?
An amendment to allow just that was attached to the credit card bill by our leaders in Washington.
Kathy writes: "What the hell is the matter with people's heads that this is even at issue? Why would a concealed weapon be needed anywhere, much less in a park, where my kids might be hiking? Common sense -- not so common anymore, is it?"
Tom in Iowa: "Why? Is al Qaeda recruiting grizzly bears? Just what the park rangers need, people with concealed loaded guns running around the national parks."
Tori writes: "I don't believe allowing concealed weapons on federal property would increase the risk of criminal activity. People predisposed to do those acts don't care if it's legal to carry a concealed weapon. The people who carry concealed weapons legally are less likely to act illegally."
Clay writes: "Absolutely not. If these people who carry guns are so afraid to go into our national parks without firearms, then they ought to stay home. Our parks are supposed to be places of refuge for both humans and animals. What will be the NRA's excuse when the first person is killed in a national park by a stray bullet fired by some drunk idiot with a gun? That's the cost of maintaining our freedom? Give me a break."
Melissa writes: "Hell, yes. People who are legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon should be able to have their gun with them at all times, except where they are prohibited. The lawmakers in Washington need to punish the people that break the law, not those of us who play by the rules."
Tina says: "No. Our animals are on the endangered species list now. Just wait till some Johnny shoot-first, ask-questions-later arrives in the woods armed to the hilt and comes across a bear. The bear will be dead. Only the park ranger should be armed."
And Will writes, "Concealed and loaded amendments shouldn't be allowed in completely unrelated bills."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you. And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: An alleged domestic terror plot targeting Jews and U.S. military planes, we're learning new details about the suspects, as they appear in court. And we will get the latest on the investigation from the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly. He's standing by live.
Also, President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney, their dueling speeches, laying out dueling views on national security. We're going to hear what both of them had to say.
And imagine being a passenger on a plane, looking out your window, and seeing this, jet fuel spewing out of the wing. We are going to talk to the man who made this video.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.