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THE SITUATION ROOM
9/11 Suspects Headed to Civilian Court; Palin Picking New Fights
Aired November 13, 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: Happening now: The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will return to the scene of the crime. The Obama administration's decision to try him in civilian court is sparking outrage.
Sarah Palin throws the book at her critics. Is the ex-governor- turned-author picking fights that could hurt her politically?
And why the next presidential election year could be apocalyptic. A new movie stokes fears about doomsday.
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 Obama administration says it's only fitting that the man who claims he masterminded the September 11 attacks face justice in New York City. But critics say that's the last place Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 suspects should be tried. The long-awaited announcement unleashing a lot of emotion, but one of the nation's -- about one of the nation's darkest days and the ongoing war on terror.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has more on what's going on, the travel plans of these five guys.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
And, boy, the firestorm of controversy began even before the official announcement that the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks would be brought to New York for trial, along with four other alleged conspirators.
MESERVE (voice-over): Just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, the men who allegedly plotted its destruction will face trial in a federal court. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has confessed his role, and four others will be moved from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay to New York City. Attorney Eric Holder says prosecutor will seek the death penalty, and he thinks they will get it.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm quite confident that we're going to be successful in the prosecution efforts.
MESERVE: Critics lunged. They say moving the terror prosecutions out of military commissions increases the likelihood of acquittals and even the release of terrorists into the United States, though current law prohibits that.
REP. LAMAR SMITH (R), TEXAS: They still should not be transferred to U.S. soil, where they might get additional rights, where they will have a public platform, where evidence might come out that will impede our ability to gather intelligence or conduct surveillance on individuals.
MESERVE: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded 183 times. And defense attorneys will likely use that to try to block the use of his confessions. And there may be other challenges.
DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think there's good reason to believe that KSM will seek to use this proceeding as a platform to spout jihadist rhetoric. And there will be a challenge for the court to control that.
MESERVE: The attorney general also announced Friday that man charged with plotting the attack on the USS Cole and four others will be tried in military commissions, not civilian courts. An attorney for one of them is critical of what he sees as a two-tiered justice system.
MAJOR JON JACKSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR OMAR KHADR: Omar Khadr is going to face a lesser form of justice simply because the evidence is not good enough to convict him in a real courtroom, a real federal courtroom.
MESERVE: No announcement yet on where those military commissions will be held, and no word on how the administration will deal with the other 200 or so detainees still at Guantanamo, which the U.S. LOTT: hopes to close in the new year, Wolf.
BLITZER: Really a bombshell of a decision that came out today. I understand you have got a statement from the former attorney general, the immediate predecessor of Eric Holder?
MESERVE: That's right. Michael Mukasey gave a speech this afternoon. He called this decision unwise. He said these people should be tried at Guantanamo Bay, not like conventional criminals in conventional courts.
BLITZER: And we're going to be speaking with Alberto Gonzales, yet another Bush attorney general, later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.
The plan to try these 9/11 suspects only blocks away from ground zero strikes many New Yorkers as truly too close for comfort.
Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's over at the magic map to show us the locations of these various events.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I want to look back at the this.
This is a computer rendering we have of what the towers looked like a little bit over eight years ago, when this attack took place. And we all know what a shock it was. And now the trials will actually not be far from here. In fact, the people who are being blamed for much of this are being brought back to the actual site. And there are lot of inherent problems with that.
But before we get on to that, I want to move from this image, just so you have a sense of this, because you know this is going to come up in the trial a good bit. Take a look what it looks like now, as time has changed. The towers, of course, have disappeared.
And, as you move in, if you get a chance to go to New York, as many tourists have, you go to ground zero and you see what is there right now.
The World Trade Centers have been targeted before, in 1993. As we know, back then, the attacks were carried out. They tried to blow up a bomb. They blow up a bomb in the basement, hoping to topple the buildings. They did not succeed in toppling the buildings, but, in fact, they killed six people, and people went to prison over that.
Those trials also happened in much the same way. But these trials, for the people convicted of making this -- or -- excuse me -- accused of making this happen and that they're hoping to convict for this will happen a very short distance away.
If we fly back up from where we are on the ground here, from ground zero, we can move over toward the courthouse. And you can see that it's really only about 10 blocks away, depending on how you get there. And this in fact was where Ramzi Yousef and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman were tried for the original 1993 bombing.
And there will be tremendous security around this, of course. It's right in the heart of Manhattan here, as these five men are brought forward. Obviously, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the one everybody knows about. They were all captured in Pakistan. And three of them were people who at least -- at least three of them are people who are believed to have volunteered to be people flying planes that day leading these attacks, but they couldn't get into the country to make that happen.
That's what the prosecutors will have to say. But all that's going happen right here in Lower Manhattan, Wolf, not very far from where the attack on the World Trade Center occurred. And no doubt there will be a lot of security and an awful lot of security in the not-distant future -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We just got a statement from the U.S. Marshals office saying they're sure they can provide the security that will be necessary.
Tom, thank you.
Dozens of detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, as the president struggles to keep his promise to close the prison camp by January 20 of next year.
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is here with more on this part of the story.
So, what's going to happen to these remaining detainees, Jill?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, it's a very slow and complicated process trying to get other countries to take detainees.
There are major security and legal issues, but the State Department has been able to resettle some of them. And here's the latest information CNN is getting from the State Department.
So, out of a total of 215 detainees, 25 have been transferred. Nine went to their home countries. And another 16 went to third countries. That's France, Belgium, Bermuda, Portugal, Ireland, and Palau.
And then there will be more transferees. Ninety detainees have been approved. Forty of them will go to third countries. And 50 of them will go to their home countries. But, you know, there's one complication here that most of those 50 are from Yemen. And they can't go home, because there's a conflict under way with insurgents.
So, here's the bottom like, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: I think it's going to be difficult to close the facility by January the 22nd. And one of the things that I think is most problematic in that regard is trying to relocate the people who are going to be approved for transfer; finding places where they can be safely placed, both for the nation that will host them and for the Americans -- for American citizens.
I'm not sure we're going to be able to complete that process by January the 22nd. We are constantly in the process of trying to do exactly that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGHERTY: And that still leaves 100 who are in limbo. They could be tried in civil or military courts, or released -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a huge headache, problem for this administration.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jill Dougherty.
And stand by. We're going to continue our coverage of the breaking news, including a debate over these plans to try these 9/11 suspects in civilian court in New York City. The former New York Governor George Pataki, he will face off against the Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak. They have very different views on the Obama administration's decision today.
Plus, the president can't shake off one of his biggest wartime headaches during his trip to Asia.
And he was found guilty of corruption. Now former Congressman William Jefferson is being sentenced. We will have a live report.
BLITZER: President Obama's being warmly welcomed as he travels to Asia. It's an eight-day trip. And the president will certainly stress that the U.S. wants to deepen its ties with that part of the world.
Yet, other issues, domestic issues, are trailing him.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this tour is taking the president from Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. But it's clear the challenges back home are still front and center right here in Asia.
(voice-over): The president's biggest problems followed him to Asia, especially news that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees will be sent to New York to trial, raising questions about whether the Obama administration can get guilty verdicts in civilian court.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people will insist on it and my administration will insist it on.
HENRY: At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the president was also being pressed on whether he's taking too long to decide on new troop levels in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama promised an announcement soon, but made no apologies for the delay.
OBAMA: I am very pleased with how the process has proceeded. And those who participated I think would acknowledge that it has been not a academic exercise, but a necessary process in order to make sure that we're making the best possible decisions.
HENRY: Katayama is placing several billion dollars in reconstruction funds for Afghanistan, but has abruptly stopped refueling ships headed to war. The new prime minister ran on a platform of asserting Japanese independence, which is why he's also pushing hard for U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa, a source of major protests here, to be relocated to more remote areas of the country.
YUKIO HATOYAMA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): It will be a very difficult issue for sure, but as time goes by, I think it will become even more difficult to resolve the issue.
OBAMA: Both Yukio and I were elected on the promise of change, but there should be no doubt, as we move our nations in a new direction, our alliance will endure.
HENRY (on camera): Meanwhile, the alliance with his White House counsel is ending, after Greg Craig resigned Friday. He's being replaced by Democratic attorney Bob Bauer, in a move that White House aide say is amicable, but other Democrats familiar with the move say that Craig was forced out because of mistakes dealing with the closure of Guantanamo, yet another sign of how difficult dealing with terror suspects has become for this White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry traveling with the president.
Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," John King.
This -- Greg Craig, most people never heard Greg Craig, but you and I knew him from the Clinton administration. He has been a powerful lawyer here in Washington. He was an early supporter of then candidate Barack Obama.
What's going on here?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been a lot of dissatisfaction, some inside the White House, and especially on Capitol Hill, with Greg Craig for some months -- not all his fault.
The president makes the decisions, of course. He's the boss, but the dissatisfaction was that they put the cart before the horse, that they said they were going to close Guantanamo Bay within one year before they had a plan, what to do with the detainees. And so many members of Congress,, then, Wolf, as you remember, had to go home.
And they got asked in their district, what are you going to do with them? Are they going to come to a prison in my neighborhood?
And it caused a big political storm, created a lot of resentment on Capitol Hill. There have been some other complaints, the vetting process during the transition initially was going quickly. Then you had the Tim Geithner and the Tom Daschle problems. Then it slowed down. They put the claim on that on the counsel's office.
So, he is leaving. He said a couple of months ago he wouldn't be forced out. They let the clock run a little bit. Now he's leaving. What's interesting in town today, Wolf, is they're replacing him with another highly partisan Democratic, Bob Bauer.
A lot of people are saying that that's a signal of the kind of lawyer that the president wants in the White House, someone who is sharply, fiercely loyal, and sharply partisan.
BLITZER: He's a well-known lawyer here in Washington. He's the husband of Anita Dunn, the outgoing communications director at the White House.
Let's talk a little bit about the -- the president has got to make a decision fairly soon on sending more troops to Afghanistan. You have been traveling all around the country. In recent weeks, as you go outside the beltway, what are you hearing from the folks out there about another 30,000 or 40,000 troops heading off to Afghanistan?
KING: The most interesting part is in the middle of the electorate.
If you talk to people on the left, the president has a problem. As we all have known, in his own party, they're saying, come home. We don't like war. We don't know what the policy is. We don't think it's working. Come home.
On the right, you hear a lot of people echoing Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, saying, Mr. President, stop dithering. Make your decision.
But, in the middle, Wolf, which is the biggest sector of the electorate -- I was just in Montana this week, sat down for breakfast with several people. They all say, you know, why is it taking so long? But is it take so long because it's not about the troop numbers; it's because the president himself doesn't know what is this fight is about?
Increasingly, the president is going to have to explain not only why he decided to send X-number of more troops, whether he settles on 30,000, somewhere in that ballpark, people think. But it's not just the number.
People are increasingly saying why eight years later. Who is the enemy? What's the mission? The president has a big -- that is the biggest sales problem. And the longer the decision goes on, I think the translation the American people are getting is, even he can't figure out why. So, he's -- that I think is the bigger problem than the number, explaining the policy and the mission, because people are tired.
BLITZER: As Ricky used to say to Lucy, you have got some explaining -- explaining to do, Mr. President.
BLITZER: Who is going to be on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday?
KING: David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the president, is on...
BLITZER: Maybe he can do some explaining.
KING: He can do some explaining. He can explain the terror trials that you were just talking about. He can explain the delays. And he can obviously talk about the troop decision and other any issues.
We will have on Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who, of course, loves his city. That's where the 9/11 attacks occurred. And that's what he was defined by. And he just issued a statement harshly critical of this decision, saying, bringing them into courts is going back to the pre-9/11 mentality.
And we have got a very colorful character, the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer. He's a very funny man, also is the head of the Democratic Governors Association. And, of course, they just lost two big elections. So, we will talk to him about that.
BLITZER: A beautiful state, Montana. I'm sure you...
BLITZER: I'm sure you enjoyed it and said to yourself, maybe I could spend a few extra days here.
You getting ready for your new 7:00 p.m. Eastern show? Tell us about that.
KING: You don't think I have enough to worry about?
BLITZER: Yes, you got -- but, now, you have got a few months to think about it.
KING: I have a job that I'm dedicated to, "STATE OF THE UNION." We are going to deal with that in the short-term. But we're going to make plans for the new show. And I was just saying -- as we were saying off-camera, I actually miss those long Asia trips.
KING: Maybe I will swap out with Ed Henry, take one of them big long trips.
BLITZER: You will have trips.
Remember those days?
BLITZER: You will have trips to the studio, back and forth to the studio.
BLITZER: That's what you will have. You will have some good trips.
BLITZER: Good luck with the new show.
KING: Thank you. BLITZER: Good luck with "STATE OF THE UNION" in the interim. Thanks very much.
KING: In the interim.
You bet. Thank you.
Might you one day say, how about a trip to the moon? That may be a long way off, but NASA says it has found something that could help sustain human life on the moon. Stand by.
And, speaking of vacations, an offer for the vacation of a lifetime, a resort with thousands of rooms, a golf course, an outdoor theater, even a mini-Central Park. And get this. It all floats on water.
BLITZER: Alina Cho is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM room now.
Alina, what's going on?
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, a daring capture at sea off Somalia to tell you about. The French navy says it stormed three boats and seized 12 suspected pirates. They found assault rifles, rocket launchers and other weapons. It's all part of the European Union's anti-piracy mission. Somalian pirates right now are holding more than 190 hostages, including a British couple abducted from their yacht late last month.
The FAA says it's reinforcing the rules in the event that air traffic controller lose contact with a plane. Now, the news come after a Northwest Airline flight overflew its destination last month. You remember that story. The military wasn't notified for more than an hour. Officials say staff should inform the military if they lose contact with a flight within five to 10 minutes.
The Colorado couple at the center of the balloon boy hoax pleaded guilty today. That was expected. Richard and Mayumi Heene will face probation and possibly jail time when they're sentenced next month. And don't bet on this being the last we hear from them. Heene's lawyer revealed he is taking trips to New York and California very soon to look for a job.
What kind of work? We don't yet know. Just can't wait to hear.
And remember those expensive spacecraft that were purposely crashed into the moon's surface last month? Well, NASA scientists say the mission worked. Guess what? They found just what they had hoped for, water, and a significant amount of it. NASA says the discovery will not only help scientists plan human visits to the moon one day.
Wolf, it could also help unlock some of the mysteries of the solar system.
So, you, me, Lynn Blitzer, maybe a little Lady Gaga, four tickets to moon, what do you think?
BLITZER: Yes. We could go to the room and drink water. Wouldn't that be exciting?
CHO: It would be great.
BLITZER: Long trip to go for just some water.
BLITZER: The height of a 21-story building, five times bigger than the Titanic, Royal Caribbean's newest ship, the Oasis of the Seas, arrives at its port today in Florida.
Our Abbi Tatton is here. She's got some details.
This is a huge boat.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It's 40 percent bigger than its nearest rival. That's how big it is. This is Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas arriving today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There it is.
It's been on this voyage across the Atlantic for about 14 days, arrived a couple of days late, but it's now here. And this has been long anticipated. It cost $1.4 billion to build. If you take a vacation on it, you might be there with about 8,000 other people, because you can have more than 6,000 passengers at full capacity, plus 2,000 crew.
And, inside, it's so massive, that it's actually divided into seven different neighborhoods. One of them has its own Central Park at about 300 feet.
Now, as it has been traveling here from Finland, people have literally been stopping and staring and filming this thing as it goes past, posting their videos on YouTube. I want to show you one of the things that really fascinated people.
This is when it went under the Belt Bridge in Denmark. You take a look at this. It was such a narrow clearance of just under two feet that a crowd had gathered and were actually cheering when it actually just made it under. They had to go a little bit faster to get low enough to get under this bridge. But now it is safely here, Wolf, and now in the United States.
And the inaugural voyage with passengers will be December 5.
BLITZER: You know, they took a big chance going underneath that bridge.
TATTON: They said they never worried, but less than two feet.
BLITZER: If the water was a little higher... TATTON: Right.
BLITZER: ... they -- they would have had some serious problems.
Here's the question. In the current economy, can they sustain it? Can they fill this kind of huge ship?
TATTON: Well, the inaugural voyage, even though there's been so much hype, there are still spaces. This is at a time for the cruise industry where cruise lines have been slashing prices in order to fill their ships, Royal Caribbean included.
A spokesperson said that, when they commissioned this in 2006, we had no idea of knowing what would happen to the economy, obviously, 2006 a very different time. Even though it's not full, though, they say they're not going to slash prices. And get this. They are so confident, they commissioned another one as well.
BLITZER: Another one?
TATTON: So, another one the same size, the Allure of the Seas, will be coming in -- in -- next year, next November.
BLITZER: Wow. Amazing. All right, Abbi, thanks very much.
Returning to the scene of the crime -- the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11 is to be tried now in New York City. We're going to talk more about a decision that's sparking outrage out there. The former New York Governor George Pataki and the Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, they have very different views. They're here.
Plus, Sarah Palin's bestseller -- what John McCain thinks about her new book, "Going Rogue."
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: The accused Fort Hood gunman may never walk again -- his lawyer's revelation. We are going to have details. Stand by.
The government's plan to seize assets, including a Manhattan high-rise and mosques, we're taking a closer look at the allegations that those who control the properties funnel money to Iran's nuclear program.
And you may be at high risk for swine flu and not even know about it. Is the H1N1 affecting some disproportionately? We're investigating.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The e-mails have been flying all day long, responding to the decision to try the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind in New York City. Many Republicans say he's a war criminal, should not be tried like a common criminal in civilian court. Some, but not all, Democrats disagree.
Let's talk about this with two men who know the subject well, the former Governor of New York State Republican George Pataki -- he was in office, as all of us remember, on 9/11 -- and Congressman Joe Sestak, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a retired officer in the U.S. Navy.
BLITZER: He was in office, as all of us remember, on 911. And Congressman Joe Sestak, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a retired officer in the U.S. Navy.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for many coming in.
REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And Governor, let me start with you.
Why do you believe the president and the attorney general made a mistake?
GEORGE PATAKI (R), FMR. NEW YORK GOVERNOR: I think this is an outrageous decision, Wolf. What it does is it treats horrible terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the guy who held up the corner grocery store. It poses an enormous threat to our security.
In a civil trial, in the city of New York, we are going to have to reveal every source of information we had and how we obtained that information in order to indict these now criminal defendants. We tried it before.
We did it after the 1993 bombings. We got convictions. But what happened was we had to give up information, who we knew was in al Qaeda, what are sources were. And I have no doubt that the fact that we didn't treat it as a war crime and use military tribunals is one of the reasons we were unable to prevent the attacks of September 11th.
BLITZER: All right.
PATAKI: Now, I have to tell you, eight years after the fact, reopening these wounds by bringing these criminals, these murderers to lower Manhattan is completely the wrong thing.
BLITZER: All right.
Well, Congressman, his partner, Governor Pataki's partner on 9/11, the former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, agrees completely. He says this is going back to the pre-9/11 mentality.
What say you? SESTAK: Well, I was stationed at the Pentagon when 9/11 happened. Right after that, I took over the Navy's anti-terrorism unit, where we shaped the policies to pursue al Qaeda. I went on the ground earlier in that war, then did the retaliatory strikes with the aircraft carrier battle group (ph), all to bring these perpetrators of this outrage to justice.
How can we even think about letting terrorists force us to abandon our principles? Keeping them in a black hole away from the rule of law? I defended this nation because I honestly believed it was not a rule of men, it was rule of law.
What better way to show the resolve of this nation than to bring them to New York City to see how their effort to try to destroy something has risen again. And then to bring them into that court system, to show them the strength of America, that the rule of law will show them they were wrong and throw away the keys once they've been brought to justice, it's the right way to do it.
BLITZER: All right.
PATAKI: Congressman, thank you for your service, but, respectfully, I think your comments are really over the top and completely wrong. We don't hold people in black holes. Congress authorized military tribunals by legislation. We cannot arbitrarily execute or try or convict people.
They have rights. But they have right under military tribunals as terrorists, as war criminals. And this is something that has been a long tradition in the United States.
FDR created military tribunals against German soldiers who turned up on these shores, and that was upheld by the Supreme Court. No one is saying don't obey the rule of law, but the longstanding history of this country says we use military tribunals as part of that legal system.
BLITZER: All right.
SESTAK: Yes, Governor. But as you know, the Supreme Court said that those tribunals were wrong.
What the Supreme Court said the rule of law was that you needed to bring these men before a court which recognized the same types of procedures that civilized people do. So they threw out what Congress did time and again.
Now there's a choice. Bring them to a court system in the civilian life, or try again before a military commission. They have the evidence, they said, to throw away the keys by bringing them to a...
SESTAK: And they're trying to do with what the rule of law of the Supreme Court said.
BLITZER: But Congressman, some of the detainees at Guantanamo are going to be tried before military tribunals. So the question is, why should some have a military tribunal and others not?
SESTAK: Well, as they well said today, those that will come before the military tribunals were ones that their acts were done overseas. Their acts were ones that were done on the battlefield over there.
These men, much like when the trials were attempted over 15 years ago to be done was done here in our homeland. Bringing them there underneath the proper procedures is absolutely the right thing to do.
BLITZER: All right.
SESTAK: Why risk losing a third time before the military commission? Because we've already lost twice before the Supreme Court.
PATAKI: Congressman, this is absolute nonsense. You set off a bomb in Afghanistan, we can use military tribunals. You blow up the towers and kill 3,000 innocent civilians in New York City, and you're entitled to due process of the law and defense attorneys and publicity, and a list of every single witness and every single piece of information we use to try you? That is absurd. If we have informants in Afghanistan telling us who these murderers are, we're going to have to disclose their names.
Their lives are going to be at risk, and no one else is going to give us that information. Your position, respectfully, is...
SESTAK: That's misleading, Governor.
PATAKI: ... absurd. We are following the rule of law. We are following military tribunals that are guided by the rule of law. And to not do that horribly jeopardizes the security of the people of this country.
BLITZER: All right.
SESTAK: Governor, two points. First, you do know well that we can go in camera if we need to so that we don't divulge that.
BLITZER: In camera means a closed-door session.
SESTAK: And what do we need? And why do we fear our court systems being able to do their job? They have done it for over 200 terrorists they have thrown into jails. Why can't we do it again?
PATAKI: Let me give you one example...
SESTAK: This was an outrage that's been done, and we must throw them into jail because of it.
PATAKI: Let me give you one example. First of all, I don't think we should throw them into jail. I think we should execute them. And I think we have the legal right to do that. I disagree with you on that as well. But let me give you one example.
When we tried in civilian courts the terrorists who blew up our embassies in East Africa, we had to reveal the list of every single al Qaeda person we had identified. Within weeks, Osama bin Laden had that last.
He knew who we knew about. He knew who we didn't know about. And he could infer from that what our sources of information was.
That was a few years before the attacks on the towers. To do this again is absurdity.
Einstein said to repeat the same act and expect a different consequence is the definition of insanity. We tried it before. We got attacked. We lost thousands of civilians. This is the wrong decision.
SESTAK: No, Governor. You're wrong. And you're making -- Governor, you're making reaches there that absolutely have no connection between the dots. And you know that.
PATAKI: OK. Well, tell me. Tell me what they are. Congressman, tell me what those reaches are.
SESTAK: Absolutely, Governor.
PATAKI: Tell me. Tell me.
SESTAK: Just a moment, please.
What we have done is thrown men into that black hole in Gitmo outside the reach of law. That's not America.
PATAKI: That's not true. Congressman...
SESTAK: Now to bring them into a court system and be able to have the proper safeguards where you don't have to reveal that is absolutely the proper way to go about this.
PATAKI: Congressman, how can you say that?
SESTAK: I have great confidence in our judicial system.
PATAKI: How can you say that when the detainees in Guantanamo time and again have been able to do everything from file habeas corpus petitions to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court? Every action at Guantanamo is overseen by our legal and criminal justice system. And you know that.
You know that they have the right to bring actions and they have brought them time and again. You also know. You also know. SESTAK: But Governor, how do you say when I was on the ground in Afghanistan, saw a detainee be brought in, banging his head against the wall, and I said to the soldier, "What gives here?" He says, "Oh, $2,000 bounty. You know, they just gave it to him. Some guy with a mental challenge."
Ends up in Gitmo? And all of a sudden, we're going to keep him here under rule of law because some tribal chief turned him in and then years later we let him go back? The rule of law, sir, is what America is founded out.
PATAKI: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
SESTAK: We should basically let it stand and determine it's not a person's opinion or assertions.
BLITZER: You know, let me just read to you, Congressman -- hold on, Governor, for a second -- because not only governors are being critical of the president's decision today. Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia released a statement that said this in part -- and Congressman, I want you to react to it -- "Those who have committed acts of international terrorism are enemy combatants, just as certainly as the Japanese pilots who killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor. It will be disrupted, costly, and potentially counterproductive to try them as criminals in our civilian courts."
That statement from Jim Webb.
Go ahead and respond to Senator Webb.
SESTAK: Absolutely. I have great respect for Jim Webb, but we disagree.
There is a vacuum in international law of how to define terrorists. We came up with our own, "combatant alien." And so because of that, they were outside the rule of international law and U.S. law.
No one should be outside the rule of law, particularly in the jurisdiction and the hold of America. I believe that. I believe that very strongly, because justice is what we founded this nation upon.
BLITZER: All right. Let me -- Governor, to you, I want to read a statement that the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, a man I'm sure you know and admire, issued today in response to this decision by the Justice Department.
"It's highly appropriate that those accused in the deaths of nearly 3,000 human beings in New York City be tried here, and the NYPD is prepared for the security required."
You want to respond to Commissioner Kelly?
PATAKI: I have absolutely no doubt that they NYPD is capable and ready to handle the security issues that will arise. That's not the point. The point is that we will be revealing information. We will be revealing sources and witnesses that will be used unequivocally by al Qaeda to be able to figure out what our methods are, who are sources are, and to continue to plot attacks against us.
There's no question in my mind about that. It's not about not applying the rule of law. We have the opportunity under the rule of law. The Supreme Court has said to use military tribunals.
They're not arbitrary proceedings. They have to be guided by the rule of law as well.
And we have used them through the history of the country. We used them in World War II. We should be using them now against these. If ever there were barbaric terrorists, it's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his colleagues, and they deserve to die after the rule of law has been applied in military tribunals.
SESTAK: But you know what's interesting, Governor? The military tribunals, as you well know, therefore, aren't private. The same types of rules of evidence can be put forward.
There are a little differences here and there, but they'll bring out the same types of -- you know, we did put in a defense authorization bill -- I worked on it out of my committee -- to make sure that hearsay couldn't be and torture couldn't be used. Because as you know, as I do, people that are tortured often say whatever you want them to say. And so we said torture could not be permitted to...
PATAKI: The rules of evidence are very different in military tribunals.
SESTAK: Not at all, sir.
PATAKI: The rules of evidence are very different in military tribunals.
SESTAK: Not at all. They're very, very similar.
PATAKI: The procedures are different, the discovery is different.
SESTAK: What the Bush administration set up in the tribunals is very different. Now they're very, very similar...
BLITZER: But one difference, I believe, is in the federal court system it's open. There's no cameras inside, but journalists and others can go inside and watch and listen. Military tribunals can be closed, Congressman, I believe.
SESTAK: As courts can be.
PATAKI: That's correct.
SESTAK: As courts can be. In camera in courts or military tribunals because of classified information close them. But I have been to many open ones where classified information wasn't there. So the concern of the governor can be taken care of very readily by...
PATAKI: Congressman, let me ask you -- we have a witness against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who happens to be, hypothetically, an Afghani, who we paid for his testimony as to his involvement, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's involvement, on September 11th. We now have to put out in a way where al Qaeda unquestionably will find out the name of that witness.
BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let you answer.
BLITZER: Congressman, go ahead and answer, because then I've got to wrap it up.
SESTAK: Absolutely. Very much enjoyed the discussion, Wolf and George.
Here's the issue. What we want to know is -- we paid him. We also paid $2,000 to bring in someone who had a mental case and they said he was the Taliban. How good is that information he told us? And by the way, do it in camera, in quiet, because we want to know if we're persecuting someone wrongly because we paid him just like we did that mentally deranged individual who they told us was the Taliban.
PATAKI: Of course we knew. Military tribunals determine that. Fairly and under the rule of law.
BLITZER: All right.
PATAKI: And Wolf, forgive my emotion, but this opens up very raw wounds and, to me, it raises the risks of further attacks that we could have prevented.
SESTAK: And it's why I served in this military, was to defend this nation and bring these perpetrators to justice. Justice.
BLITZER: On that note, we'll leave it.
Excellent debate between two men who were personally involved in 9/11. We remember your involvement well.
Congressman Joe Sestak, Governor George Pataki, thanks very much for coming in.
SESTAK: Thanks for having us, Wolf.
PATAKI: Thank you, Wolf.
SESTAK: Thanks, George. PATAKI: Congressman, thank you.
BLITZER: Sarah Palin is dishing dirt in her brand new book "Going Rogue," and she may be burning a number of bridges along the way.
Plus, a rising star in the Republican Party. He doesn't have Palin's star power, at least not yet, or her baggage. Why you may want to pay attention to Senator John Thune.
And Michelle Obama suggests that in the battle over health care, age matters.
BLITZER: It appears Sarah Palin is naming names and settling scores. In her new book, "Going Rogue," which has not yet been released, she is doing what a lot of people suspected she would do. Some of it, though, is pretty surprising.
Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
A lot of folks write these sort of tell-all memoirs at the end of a career, not necessarily in the middle of a career.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's true. And actually, we don't know where she is, at least in her public career.
But this is a book that very much will be sold to those who are huge fans of Sarah Palin. And that is, she has a very hard-core group of Republicans who will buy this book.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of people, including some in the McCain campaign, felt that this would be a settling scores sort of book. The problem is that, when one settles scores, one doesn't always look presidential. So, Wolf, if there is some presidential ambition inside Palin, there's a lot of people who think this may not be the way to go about it.
BLITZER: And some of the excerpts that we're seeing already have focused in on McCain campaign aided Nicolle Wallace, who's been a guest here on THE SITUATION ROOM on many occasions. She worked an the Bush White House, the communications director.
Has she responded to some of what Sarah Palin is now saying about her?
CROWLEY: I talked to Nicolle for a good bit this afternoon, and she said, "Not a single thing quoted under my name is anything I ever said." She said, in fact, some of the things are directly opposite" to what she even believes.
She said she expected and believes that Sarah Palin should have her say. She said, "So I suspected she would say there was some bad strategy here." Nicolle said she would agree with that.
And she said there were a lot of things that went wrong in the campaign that she felt that Palin could talk about, so she didn't really have to, as Nicolle put it, make this stuff up. The problem is, and we have seen this with John McCain, is that it's hard to know when to engage and when not to engage when somebody's out there with a book. But she's got the buzz she needs to publish.
BLITZER: John McCain just said something about it. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: One of the things about campaigns and losers, always mistakes made. And the campaign that wins is always the perfect campaign.
I'm proud of the campaign we ran. I'm proud of Sarah Palin. And we continue to have a great and wonderful relationship. So I'm very proud of the campaign we ran, and I have moved forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's staying above the fray, as he likes to do.
Thanks very much, Candy, for that.
You might say it's a golfer's paradise in the middle of a hell zone. The only golf course in all of Afghanistan, wait until you see it and hear how the man who runs it risks his life to keep it open.
BLITZER: If you don't already know him, this is one Republican you definitely need to know about. He's quickly rising up in the party and also taking on President Obama.
Here's CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He walks through the airport unnoticed, but this anonymity may not last forever. John Thune is a Republican on the rise, a freshman senator already in the GOP leadership. He runs the Republican's weekly strategy session where they plot their Obama opposition.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: You know, it's a pretty critical time.
BASH: We tagged along as he made his way there.
THUNE: It's probably the most candid assessment that we have in a given week.
BASH: To look at this image is to understand part of his appeal for the GOP. A young guy from South Dakota, in a leadership of veteran southerners.
THUNE: How you like my buffalo?
BASH (on camera): Did you do that?
THUNE: No. I did not. Actually, it was a guy from Rapid City who wanted us to have it.
BASH (voice-over): He presses his prairie sensibilities.
THUNE: It's very easy here in this bubble to get bogged down in the, you know, the Washington speak. There are just basic sort of common sense principles that I think make sense and that people understand. One is you can't spend money you don't have. Two is when you borrow money, you have to pay it back.
BASH: Thune argues Republicans can only rebuild by uniting around the promise to control spending and mean it.
THUNE: We have to walk the walk. We have to get serious about this massive amount of spending that's coming through Washington.
BASH: His big push now, returning unused bailout money.
THUNE: The TARP program right now has over $300 billion of unspent funds. Why not end that program and apply it to the federal debt?
BASH: Thune is popular with Republicans, but for Democrats his presence still stings. In 2004, he defeated Democratic leader Tom Daschle in a brutal campaign.
BASH (on camera): You know what your nickname was?
THUNE: What? Tell me.
BASH: Giant killer.
THUNE: Giant killer, OK. Yes, sorry.
THUNE (voice-over): He started in the Senate with Barack Obama, and the two share a love of basketball. At 6'4", Thune is considered one of the Senate's best players.
BASH (on camera): Did you ever play?
THUNE: People think we have. I'm still waiting for my invitation to play.
BASH: You haven't gotten invited?
THUNE: No. Go figure.
BASH (voice-over): There is already buzz in some corners about Thune running for president himself in 2012. He won't go there.
THUNE: Right now I'm very focused on reelection.
BASH (on camera): No trips to Iowa in the near future?
(LAUGHTER) THUNE: No. I may go across Iowa, but it will be to get somewhere.
BASH (voice-over): For now, you'll see Thune running here, near the Capitol. For now.
BASH: Now, first, Thune does have to win Senate reelection next year. South Dakota Democrats are already trying to paint him as a hypocrite, saying Thune beat then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle by blasting him as a Washington insider, and now Thune is the one climbing the national GOP ranks.
But, Wolf, the problem for Democrats is they don't have a candidate to run against Thune yet, and he already has $5.5 million in the bank -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, I take it Tom Daschle isn't going to go back home?
BASH: It doesn't look that way.
BLITZER: OK, Dana.
BASH: At least not to run for a Senate seat again.
BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much. Good report.
An announcement from a the Republican National Committee about an embarrassing provision in its health insurance policies concerning abortion coverage.
Also, a troubling trend involving minorities and swine flu.
And a stunning update on the accused Fort Hood shooter's condition from his lawyer.