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THE SITUATION ROOM

From GITMO to the Heartland; Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired November 16, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


BLITZER: Happening now, a hard-hit town in the American heartland with a nearly empty maximum security prison -- federal officials taking a tour of what might become the new home for dozens of Guantanamo terror suspects.

After a series of sensational Taliban attacks on sensitive targets, how safe is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and how far would the American military go to keep it safe?

I'll speak this hour with the award-winning journalist, Seymour Hersh. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Sarah Palin's brand new book already a huge best-seller, but the American public is not sold on her presidential potential -- at least not yet.

What's behind Palin's weak showing in our brand new poll?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the U.S. heartland, a modern prison sits virtually empty. It might become a new home for terror suspects from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Today, federal officials got a firsthand look.

CNN's Elaine Quijano is on the scene for us in Thomson, Illinois, where there's a controversial idea getting some momentum -- Elaine, what's the latest?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is a controversial idea. In fact, one Illinois Republican Congressman says he doesn't want this state prison behind me here in Thomson turning into some kind of GITMO North -- some kind of rallying cry for terrorists around the world.

But residents that I've spoken with here in Thomson say their town has been through a lot and they desperately need some economic help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: (voice-over): At the maximum security Thomson Correctional Center in Northwest Illinois, federal officials from a host of agencies poured in, representing the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and Justice, and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The officials got a close-up look at the 1,600 cell jail that could one day house dozens of Guantanamo terrorism suspects.

Tara Kleckner can see the prison from her backyard. She understands the security concerns from the increased threat that would come with having terror suspects in her hometown. But she insists the community's 600 residents deserve a chance at the prison jobs that would also come if the detainees are moved here.

TARA KLECKNER, THOMSON RESIDENT: If it can boost our economy and give our people the opportunity to prosper and make more money and make a better living for their families, I think the risk is worth it.

QUIJANO: Both the Democratic senator and governor of Illinois agree.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We have a chance to bring more than 2,000 good paying jobs with benefits to this region.

QUIJANO: Yet, Illinois House Republicans, like Congressman Donald Manzullo, whose district includes Thomson, warn that bringing terror suspects to U.S. soil would invite a terrorist attack.

REP. DONALD MANZULLO (R), ILLINOIS: That's all we need in Northern Illinois is to be known as -- as the GITMO North, the place that re -- that replaced GITMO.

QUIJANO: While Thomson resident Randi Stricker likes the idea of jobs, he wonders, at what cost?

RANDY STRICKER, THOMSON RESIDENT: I'm kind of leery a little bit, I guess. Makes me nervous, yes. Yes, a little bit.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

QUIJANO: Right now, there are only a reported 144 minimum security inmates that are being housed right now in the prison behind me. As for the federal government's next move, Wolf, an administration official will only say that no decision has been made -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch it with you.

Elaine is on the scene for us.

So is this a future home for the Guantanamo detainees?

Federal officials today got a closer look at what the Illinois governor calls this virtually vacant prison. Now it's your turn for a closer look.

Tom Foreman is here at the Magic Wall -- show our viewers, Tom, a little bit more about this prison.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's get a point of reference here, Wolf. It is about 1,700 miles from where this prison is to -- down in Cuba, where currently these inmates are being held right now. This is the Guantanamo facility down here, about 90 miles from Florida down to Cuba.

But if you go to actually where the Guantanamo Bay military facility is, is it's much further down the island here. And you can you see it. It's not an entirely massive place, but, boy, has it been in the news a great deal.

Let's take a look at some of the pictures. This is the place that we've seen so many times as we've talked about these terror suspects who have been held there. At one time, there were close to 800 or so down in the area. But this is where we had discussions about how they've been treated and everything else.

This is what would happen in this area. We're talking about -- right now, there are six camps for prisoners here -- Camp Delta, this area right here. The cells are about eight feet long, seven feet wide, eight feet high. The cells include a metal bed, a sink and toilet. And we know this, that right now, there are about 240 detainees here. The cost of building this, $54 million. The annual costs of operating it, about $60 million.

So that's the current situation.

Now, let's fly back up here past Florida, over the middle of the part of the country, as we head up toward Illinois and we move into this prison area that we're talking about here. It's about 150 hundred fifty miles to the west of Chicago. This is the town of Thomson. You saw that Elaine was there a moment ago; about 600 people there.

And if we move right into the prison itself, you can take a look at -- this is the -- the way it lays out. You saw the picture that Elaine had to remind you. That's exactly what it looks like. It's very similar in design, in some ways, to the Supermax Prison in Colorado, where we already have some already terror suspects. Obviously, not far away, at the prison in Marion, Illinois, they also have terror suspects. So it's not unknown here.

Here's what we know about it. It's a level one adult male maximum security facility, which is a way of saying it's very secure -- 146 acres, eight housing units and 1,600 cells here.

And what we're talking about in terms of people coming here is that they'd come to these ell houses, which are pre-cast reinforced cement walls. There's a 12 foot exterior fence, a 15 foot interior fence and a dual-sided electric stun fence in the middle of all of that.

So, as prisons go, Wolf, this is a pretty secure facility. And you're talking about bringing only about 100 or so here. That's the plan, at least what they're talking about.

BLITZER: And who would run this prison, at least the section reserved for the Guantanamo Bay detainees, if, in fact, they're moved here?

FOREMAN: It would not be just run of the mill prison people doing it. The Department of Defense would actually manage the wing that housed these folks. That's the plan that they're talking about now. Obviously, they have to make sure that it will all be secure.

But look at this. When you look at the area here, there aren't a whole lot of people around here. If you go down and look at the town, it's not terribly big. We saw Elaine and, as I said, the sign said about 600 people, something like that. That's one of the reasons why in places like cafes around there, plenty of people are saying bring on the jobs.

BLITZER: They could use the jobs.

FOREMAN: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sitting empty -- or practically. It may put some people to work. That's what they need here. With the modern technology in this prison, I can't picture anybody escaping.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: So we'll see, Wolf, how much that modern technology convinces the federal authorities who are con -- who are considering it.

I know when they opened the supermax in Colorado, the technology really was pretty dazzling. And these guys are very much sealed in there. And nobody has escape from the supermax. It had protection against attacks from missiles, from any kind of terrorists that might try to hit it. It had protections against helicopters landing in the yard. It had all sorts of things.

The question is, will that meet those standards, will it satisfy the community, the politicians and the White House, as it tries to meet this deadline on moving the GITMO detainees?

BLITZER: I've been down to Guantanamo Bay. And let me tell you, the biggest difference between the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and this one up in Illinois -- you know what the biggest difference is?

FOREMAN: A lot of ocean.

BLITZER: Snow. The weather in...

FOREMAN: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: ...in Cuba...

FOREMAN: Is nice.

BLITZER: ...except for hurricane season, the weather is beautiful -- sunshine. They go outside. They get a lot of fresh air. Here in the -- some of these guys have never seen snow or the cold temperatures they get in the winter in Illinois. FOREMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: And it's not going to be as pleasant.

FOREMAN: That will make a difference. But I'm -- I'm joking but I'm not joking when I also say water, because the simple truth is, you know, for many people, that 90 miles between Cuba and Florida and the turf of Cuba in between, gives a lot of people a lot of comfort in that. This raises a different question for people.

BLITZER: That's a good point, too.

All right. Thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack, who's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: There's a heated debate following the Obama administration's decision to bring some of those 9/11 suspects to trial here in New York City.

Democrats praise the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four others in a civilian court here in the United States. They say it shows what a strong justice system we have.

Republicans call it a bad idea and ask why alleged terrorists should get full judicial rights of U.S. citizens?

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- and failed presidential contender -- says these terror suspects should face military tribunals. Giuliani says the trials will put New York City residents at unnecessary risk.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 64 percent of those polled say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried by a military court. Only 34 percent say he should be tried in a civilian court. But the poll shows 60 percent of those surveyed think that he ought to be tried here in the United States.

Nevertheless, a lot of people here in New York don't think this is such a great idea. Mike Lupica writes in "The New York Daily News" this morning that a fair trial for Mohammed in New York City won't change the worst day the city has ever had. "This is a trial that will dominate the city and hold it hostage and bring back the day and none of the dead. This bum will get the stage he wants and tell the city it's a target all over again."

So here's the question -- how do you feel about trying five of the 9/11 suspects in New York City in a civilian court?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

You know, I work in this city every day and I've got to tell you, I'm not too thrilled with the idea of bringing those dirt bags in here. This is where the terrorists struck the first time. All we've got to do is let them know that these clowns are going to be somewhere in this city and it would seem to me it might entice them to want to get frisky again and attack this city again. I think it's a terrible idea.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people agree with you, Jack, there's no doubt. But I'm anxious to hear what our viewers think.

And they're about to tell you, right?

CAFFERTY: And we will.

BLITZER: Good.

Jack Cafferty standing by.

As Jack just noted, it had appears that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will, in fact, face justice only blocks from ground zero.

But what if the ruling is not guilty?

We're going to ask our legal expert, Jeff Toobin, what that could mean.

And we've been assured that despite all the turmoil, the Pakistani military will keep their nuclear weapons safe.

But who will protect those weapons from the Pakistani military, if necessary?

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh -- he's here. He's done a lot of reporting on this explosive -- potentially -- situation.

And President Obama at a town meeting in China, with the audience vetted and prepped by Chinese security.

So what questions went unasked?

Abbi Tatton has the answer, all coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A swarm of federal officials today visited a nearly empty prison in Illinois. We've been reporting that.

But could they soon be followed by terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay?

For the implications of that and more, let's turn to our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

What does it mean, Jeff, if 100 or 200 detainees who are now on U.S. soil in Cuba come to U.S. soil in Illinois, as far as the rights of these individuals are concerned?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It really doesn't mean much, Wolf. There have been several Supreme Court cases about the detainees while they were in Guantanamo. And what the court has said in various different ways is they are within the reach of the American legal system in Cuba, where they are now. So they would still be within reach of the legal system if they move to Illinois.

They have the right to some kind of hearing. Now, the government hasn't provided a hearing to all these people yet. It now appears that some of them will be tried in a civilian court here in New York. Some of them will get a military tribunal. Some of them it's undecided. But all of them have the right to challenge their incarceration, whether they're in Cuba or if they're in Illinois.

BLITZER: If they're in a military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, as opposed to a federal maximum security prison in Illinois -- and we've been showing our viewers some pictures of that maximum security prison -- would they have different rights in terms of visitors allowed to come in and spend some time with them?

TOOBIN: Well, they are under the most restrictive conditions. You know, it's funny -- I know you've been there, I've been there. All this discussion about, you know, what kind of prison it is, the two prisons that have been built in Guantanamo since this -- since 9/11 are identical replicas of maximum security prisons -- one in Indiana, one in Michigan.

They don't have the right to visitors. They're not going to have the right to visitors if they're in Illinois. The conditions of confinement will be substantively the same. So I -- I don't think there's going to be really any change in -- in their day to day lives, except it's going to be a lot colder in the wintertime.

BLITZER: It will be much colder, especially in the winter, as you point out.

Let's get to New York City, where you are right now. Some are suggesting once these five detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Company, are moved to New York and this trial starts, it's going to quickly become a circus.

How do you avoid that?

You're a former assistant U.S. attorney.

TOOBIN: One very important factor and it's something we don't know yet -- who is the judge?

The judge in the Southern District of New York will be picked out of a wheel. It's random chance. But the judge will have to execute -- will have to exercise tremendous caution and care and vigilance. Because there are some judges, frankly, who aren't very good at their job and they let people get out of control. I think a lot of people remember the O.J. Simpson trial and how Lance Ito let that thing drag on for months and months.

But other judges have successfully conducted very difficult trials, like the blind Sheikh here in Manhattan -- Judge Mukasey, Judge Sam. These are judges in the Southern -- who were in the Southern District of New York. They have done a great job in these cases. But a lot of it's going to depend on the luck of the draw and which judge is picked to supervise this case.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that judge will immediately become a target of Al Qaeda, that potential jurors will immediately become targets of Al Qaeda for revenge and they will, effectively, need security for the rest of their lives.

Is that something that people should be concerned about?

TOOBIN: Well, it's certainly happened with judges. Judge Kevin Duffy here in the -- in -- in Manhattan. He was one of the judges in the terrorism trial. He had security -- and still does, as far as I know. It's a very -- it's a very serious thing to be the judge.

It's a very difficult job to be a juror in one of these cases. I think voir dire, jury selection in Lower Manhattan in a 9/11 trial, is going to be incredibly difficult, not just, are you suggest, because of jurors who may be risk -- worried about the danger, but jurors who have some connection to 9/11. So many of us here who live in the city lost someone we knew or cared about or a friend or a friend of friend. It's just going to be incredibly difficult to get a jury. Maybe it will be impossible. Maybe there'll have to be a change of venue. But I doubt any judge is going to want to do that, at least initially.

BLITZER: And very quickly, what if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or these other four other are acquitted, which is technically possible?

TOOBIN: It is technically possible. But I don't think anyone has to worry about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed walking down the steps in Foley Square and saying he's going to Disney World.

In the unlikely event that they are acquitted, they will be deported, they will be under the cond -- control of the immigration service. An acquittal will not mean an acquit -- an immediate release under any circumstances.

BLITZER: But let's say Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is acquitted for 9/11.

Could he then be tried for murdering Daniel Pearl, the journalist?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. The -- as far as we know, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been involved in lots of different crimes. He has claimed responsibility for Daniel Pearl's murder. I think it's unclear whether he really was involved. But certainly, 9/11 is not the beginning and end of his exposure.

So that's just another reason why he's unlikely to be -- not unlikely, it will be impossible for him to be released in the unlikely event that he's acquitted.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.

TOOBIN: OK, Wolf.

BLITZER: There is a first time for everything. For the wife of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, today was the first time, as far as we know, that she ever spoke at a public event. We're going to tell you what was so important that she needed to speak about.

And a search of the Antarctic for a buried treasure -- buried more than 100 years. This is liquid gold that improves with age. We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Well, Wolf, listen to this. We have a troubling report today from the Department of Agriculture. It shows a dramatic spike in hunger in the US. The annual report says the number of Americans who were hungry last year rose to a record 17 million households, or 14.6 percent. It has never been higher than 11.9 percent.

President Obama called the report "unsettling." He says the administration hopes to reverse the trend by restoring job growth and, in the meantime, extending or boosting meal programs.

The doctor being investigated in the death of Michael Jackson has avoided jail time in a separate child support case. Dr. Conrad Murray appeared in court, where he cut a deal to pay a portion of back support owed to a woman and her son. His attorney says Murray has been unable to pay because he had to close his practice and move due to death threats stemming from Jackson's death.

Well, more upward mobility today on Wall Street, thanks to interest rates holding steady. And retail sales rebounding more than expected in October. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a 136 point gain,, to close at 10,406. The Nasdaq was up almost 30 points, to close at 2197. And the S&P 500 Index gained 15, to close at 1109 -- its first close above 1100 in more than a year.

And listen to this. A rare public appearance by the wife of Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She was in Rome, Italy yesterday. Even more rare was the speech she delivered to a forum in advance of a U.N. summit to fight hunger, which began today. The Iranian first lady almost never appears in public with her husband and she's believed to never have previously addressed a public gathering.

All right. If you like Scotch, you're going to like this. Aged and chilled -- that's what we could call it. A New Zealand company hopes to get some of that aged and chilled scotch if the team successfully recover a lost cache of vintage Scotch embedded in ice under a hut in Antarctica, of all places. The scotch was shipped to the South Pole by British explorer Ernest Shackleton for his famously abandoned 1909 expedition. If it is recovered, White and Mackay Company hopes to test the 100-year-old Scotch and possibly relaunch it.

And if they do, Wolf, boy, that's going to cost quite a bit for a drink of Scotch and water.

BLITZER: Yes. But people will line up to get a little glass of that...

NGUYEN: Yes.

BLITZER: There's no doubt about that.

Thank you very much, Betty.

NGUYEN: All right.

BLITZER: Growing concerns about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal -- if, if Taliban attacks are stepped up, would the United States try to secure that deadly arsenal?

I'll ask the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Seymour Hersh. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the alleged Fort Hood alleged killer frequented a Texas strip club.

How did that behavior foot in -- fit in with the trappings of a conservative Muslim lifestyle?

Brian Todd investigating.

And the space shuttle blasting off to one of the program's final missions to the International Space Station.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, zero and liftoff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, who's more qualified to be president of the United States, the current vice president or the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton?

We're studying some new information. New poll numbers coming in also.

Sarah Palin on the road to promote her new book, "Going Rogue".

CNN's Candy Crowley gives us a peek of what to expect from this tell-all.

And the Space Shuttle Atlantis rockets toward the International Space Station -- a look at the liftoff and the mission that should keep the orbiting lab aloft for years to come.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. A suicide truck bomber attacked a police station in Northwestern Pakistan today, killing at least six people and wounding two dozen more.

After a growing number of Taliban attacks, including some on very sensitive targets, how safe is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

And how far would the American military go to make sure it remains safe?

The veteran investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, is here. He's got a new article in the current issue of "New Yorker," "The New Yorker" magazine.

Sy Hersh is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for coming in.

SEYMOUR HERSH, THE NEW YORKER: Sure.

BLITZER: How worried should we all be about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

HERSH: When I began working on this four or five months ago, I would have said don't sweat it immediately. In the short run the military is very soiled and good control of the weapons but as you've seen in the last month but once the American pushed offensive that's going on right now in Waziristan, once that began, the terrorist, if you will, the Pakistani Taliban, god knows who is doing all the bombings, it's not clear.

BLITZER: It happens almost every day.

HERSH: Every day, but they hit some very sensitive spots. They hit the Pakistani equivalent of our pentagon. They got -- they attacked --

BLITZER: In Rawalpindi.

HERSH: Absolutely. They got a general on the street and clearly had advanced information about it and hit an intelligence facility. They obviously had perhaps somebody on the inside so what you've seen is a fifth column. It's clear that the opposition, the Taliban, if you will, or the various radical groups that support them have people inside the military, inside the system that are sympathetic to them.

BLITZER: Because this is what you write and this jumped out at me when I read your article in "New Yorker." "The principle fear is mutiny that extremists inside the Pakistani military might stage a coup and take control of some nuclear assets or even divert a warhead." That's the principal fear that you concluded.

HERSH: Well, that was the fear that I initially was thinking about, what I was told about. That began all of the talks this spring.

BLITZER: That there would be a coup. HERSH: That was more of that than the idea of a Pakistani Taliban coming and grabbing something. They probably -- they are not very educated, very sophisticated or the notion of al Qaeda. They might have to eat a bomb you know what I mean. They wouldn't necessarily know what to do with it so the thought is that somebody on the inside who is sympathetic, a Muslim first, a Pakistani second, is the way they put it in the military very often, and somebody of that -- of that belief might -- a group of officers might go and take control of a facility.

BLITZER: But you would think that there was like a series of security controls that even a small group of influential people couldn't do something like that.

HERSH: You wouldn't think they could get inside their version of our pentagon and start a fire fight and kill 22 people who were killed in that fight. They occupied it. They clearly got access, so somebody helped them get in, and so I would say in the last month the notion that this is a serious issue and that the United States is right to be worried about it I think is even made stronger.

BLITZER: How many bombs are there, do we believe in Pakistan?

HERSH: The guess is between 80 and 100. When we first looked at this issue, by the way, we've been telling with Pakistan in principal. The Pakistanis have denied any outside influence which they should and all knew they would but since 9/11, since President Musharraf after 9/11 if you remember, George Bush's notion you're either with us or against us, since 9/11 in the months after that or the year after that we did a lot of help.

BLITZER: You mean the United States government.

HERSH: We went in and helped them secure the command and control. We helped them get some idea of how to make sure that the arsenal is safe. I'm not saying we saw warheads or had any insight but now I think the most recent run I've been told there's been what amounts to a virtual look at some of their facilities, not by computer, not -- again, we're not running around and touching bombs.

BLITZER: They are very sensitive about their sovereignty, the Pakistanis, and very sensitive about your article. Let me read to you what the state department spokesman said. Actually I'll play a clip from the state department spokesman Ian Kelly reacting to your article. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: The U.S. has no intention of seizing Pakistani nuclear weapons or material. We see Pakistan as a key ally in our common effort to -- to fight violent extremists and to foster regional stability will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Clearly very sensitive to this knows the U.S. could go in and seize Pakistani nuclear material.

HERSH: The idea is that we -- the main thesis that we've done is sort of expand the little bit of insight we've had is we've had general admiral talks our people and their senior people about the idea that in case extremists grab something and there's worry about control. We're there to help and have a unit there and a special operations unit.

BLITZER: When you say there, in Pakistan?

HERSH: My assumption is in Pakistan or very close to it, that we can get there clearly and my assumption --

BLITZER: Sort of like a nuclear weapon S.W.A.T. team?

HERSH: We've been doing this for a dozen years. We have special teams and have a fest team and nest team, a lot of teams that have been practice begun going into a crisis and getting rid of bombs and most of the time they call it it's for negative reasons. We think a bomb might be loose and it's not true. So the idea is we're there. We'd like the Pakistanis to understand that we're there to help and the problems with all these agreements, one of the things that come across in this article is many people have figured out is that whatever the Pakistanis tell us the reality is they are not very interested in helping us. Yes, they smile and say yes.

BLITZER: Is it true based on your reporting there, and you were just there, that there's a growing anti-American attitude not along the rank and file but I'm talking among the elite, those who make these kinds of decisions?

HERSH: You bet. The attitude is very hostile.

BLITZER: And is there a greater Islamic fundamentalism that you noticed because last time you were there it was five years ago. You're back there and meeting with the same kinds of people. What's the biggest difference you've spotted?

HERSH: Well you know it's hard to extrapolate from a two-week visit. But it was interesting, four or five years ago every place I went I would be offered Johnny Walker black label and no drinks and that seems to be a silly thing except I started asking Pakistanis.

BLITZER: Because alcohol in a Muslim country is a no-no.

HERSH: But it wasn't a no-no five years ago. It was in the hotel bars. It's not in the hotel bars anymore. Nobody offered it to me and from a small little looksy like that it means nothing, but I talked to five or six people who are now living in America or in Canada who go back and forth to Pakistan. They all say the same thing. It's moved appreciably. It's much more careful about any entertainment that they do that involves drinking is done more privately. There's CDs available, radical CDs available all over even in the most eminent areas of the well to do areas of Islamabad and there's a lot more radicalism available, just like we've seen in other parts of the Arab world. This doesn't mean the country is secular, you should understand. In an election they would go secular tomorrow. There's a great middle class in Pakistan and there's a great upper class that want more and want to be more accepted, but you do have the notion that we are driving them into policy, particularly these offenses against the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan and the one in S.W.A.T. valley, not that they like them, but they don't like the aid we're pushing on them.

BLITZER: Here's the question I want you as an expert who covered Vietnam and won a Pulitzer Prize and been watching the situation as closely as anyone. The president is about to make a decision whether to deploy another 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 troops to Afghanistan. What do you think?

HERSH: Well, I --

BLITZER: Good idea?

HERSH: I think he's in a bind. If he doesn't do it who lost Afghan and if he does the fact is it's going to take an awful lot more than 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 troops. The Russians after the disaster there in the 1980s their estimate was 400,000 troops. The commander before McChrystal, the army commander we now, have he told Gates so I understand 400,000 troops. It will take a lot of troops to get at best a long running stalemate and then the question you have to ask yourself is and this is the tough question for the president. Do the Taliban want to come and knock down buildings in New York, or do they want to get the hell out of their hair? I'm serious about that. How much of a direct threat are they? Are they interested in spreading jihadism around the world, coming to America and attacking us? That's a tough question. Some may be, but an awful lot of them may not be, so there may be an option short of that which is to begin to negotiate with the various Taliban groups that aren't that extreme. They are a very mercantile society. They like to make money. Maybe there's other ways besides having all-out warfare and this is a tough decision. Wolf, my job is to jump all over the bones of every decision he makes and not to tell him what to do. I criticize all of them.

BLITZER: Do the reporting. Remember how many troops it took back in 1991 to liberate Kuwait, a small tiny little country, half a million, 540,000 U.S. troops and Rumsfeld had this idea you could do it like Iraq with 150,000, 200,000, a much bigger country. Afghanistan is huge. I've always wondered how you do it on the cheap you either do it or don't do it.

HERSH: You can't do it with 50,000 troops more. If you want to pacify the country and stop it and get control it's going to take hundreds of thousand.

BLITZER: All right. Another good article by Sy Hersh. Thanks very much for coming in.

HERSH: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: From best-seller list to the Oprah Winfrey show, former governor Sarah Palin is back on the national scene, but is it about selling books or scouting a presidential return? Analyst Candy Crowley is standing by and will sort it out for us.

And we're learning more about the man who allegedly murdered 14 soldiers, prayed five times a day and spent hours in strip clubs. Brian Todd takes a closer look at the contradictions inside Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sarah Palin is making the rounds selling her new tell- all book but according to you are latest poll she may have a tough time selling the public on qualifications to be president if in fact she wants to be president of the United States. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is here with more.

This book, Candy, it's already causing quite a stir. It's not even officially in book stores yet, but we managed to get a copy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Still a best- seller without being on sale except for in some places it is as you can see. CNN has learned that John McCain as the details of this book have rolled out had a conference call with senior staffers. Friday he urged them not to get drawn into a tit for tat with Sarah Palin over what happened or did not happen during the campaign. Certainly Sarah Palin does not need the publicity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: With Oprah and then Barbara Walters on ABC, Sarah Palin is telling it her way.

BARBARA WALTERS, TALK SHOW HOST: Towards the end of the campaign the press reports quoted unnamed McCain aides calling you a diva, you know this, a whack job, a narcissist. Why do you think these people would trying to destroy your reputation?

SARAH PALIN, FMR. ALASKAN GOVERNOR: For some people this is a business, and if failure in this business was going to reflect poorly on them, they had to kind of pack their own parachutes and protect themselves and their reputations so they wouldn't be blamed.

CROWLEY: The problem with Republicans is nobody speaks for the party so everybody speaks for themselves. There is no consensus on Sarah Palin.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think she is a smarter more competent person than the image you got in the McCain campaign. I think that that will be become apparent.

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: The idea that this potential talk show host is considered seriously for the Republican nomination, believe me, it will never happen.

CROWLEY: Should she even want to run for president Palin faces head winds of five politicians? She was the lost ranked in the latest CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll on the question of qualifications to be president. Only about three in ten Americans think Palin is qualified. A party breakdown is a total reality check. Predictably very few Democrats think Palin is qualified and most but not an overwhelming percentage of Republicans say she is, but in a country where independents rule at the ballot box just 29 percent say Sarah Palin has the credentials to be president.

Republican consultant Mike Murphy, a frequent critic of Palin, calls her the Jesse Jackson of the Republican Party. "She has a constituency but not enough to get her nominated. Outside the party," he continued, "She's plutonium." But notice that few elected officials are out there criticizing Palin because even if she proves not to be presidential material she already has proven she is a political catalyst. She tweets, Washington reads.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, AUTHOR: She's relevant. It is unavoidable. She is influencing the debate not only in health care. She's influencing on candidates. You saw the conservative party New York election, 23, she shed light on that.

CROWLEY: There is no question Sarah Palin is a tour de force, a celebrity politician and right now the emphasis is on celebrity. The question is whether she's a force to be reckoned with is when the emphasis is on politician.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: If Palin's splashy book rollout is the prelude to a campaign many of the Republicans I've spoken with over the past week say the things they have read hit all the wrong notes. If she's a serious contender, they argue, she needs serious ideas and one said I haven't read any of them.

BLITZER: We'll read this book and get some of them.

CROWLEY: Get back to you in an hour.

BLITZER: Stand by. Much more on this coming up in the next hour. Candy Crowley reporting.

At President Obama's town meeting today Bruce Springsteen was playing on the sound system, that's normal but the audience was pre- selected and their questions had to be approved by the Chinese government. More than 3,000 questions were submitted online. Mr. Obama only got to answer eight of those questions. Let's go to Abbi Tatton. She has some of the questions that were not asked at this town hall meeting.

What were some of those questions, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: We heard the president answer questions about Taiwan, about Afghanistan. One we didn't hear him answer was this one submitted online. Mr. President, when you get back home, can you please send a message to the NBA and tell them to give Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets the next championship. This is one of the questions we found going through hundreds and hundreds of the 3,000 messages, questions that were submitted online by a special site set up by the state-run Xinhua News Agency over the last few days.

Going through some of them, you can see there are definite themes that keep emerging. One is the relationship between China and the U.S. Yao Ming is another one and the NBA and basketball in general and many people want to know about the president's personal life, his family life, like this person who asked who is in charge in your family? Do you ever do any of the cooking? The president also asked about whether he liked Chinese food, whether he could -- whether he could use chopsticks all amongst questions here. A number of questions about UFOs. We kept seeing the English word UFO popping up on this database as well and people wanted to know does the president know something he wasn't letting on, like this one, does the FBI have an "X" file? Access to the internet is regularly blocked, controlled by the government, but it looks from the questions that people really do want to connect. Somebody wants to know of the president do you have a Facebook account? Add me as a friend. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lots of good question to the president of the United States, thanks, Abbi, for that.

Stunning revelations of the stunning behavior of the alleged Ft. Hood killer. How did strip club visits fit in with his apparent conservative Muslim lifestyle? Brian Todd investigates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He seemed to lead a conservative Muslim lifestyle. But there are stunning revelations about the way the alleged Ft. Hood killer behaved in the period immediately before the shootings. Let's go to Brian Todd. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brian, you've been digging into it. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we found another clue left by Nidal Hasan, it's consistent with his efforts to find a partner but not with some of his other behavior.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Yahya Hendi is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University but he also conducts services at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington. He says he encountered Nidal Hasan there and that Hasan asked him for help in finding a wife. The third imam we've found who Hasan approached for that.

IMAM YAHYA HENDI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: He said he wanted someone to help him serve, deploy and be understandable and understanding of his own military career. He saw himself as someone continuing his service with the U.S. military until the end of his career.

TODD: So that didn't work out either? He couldn't find someone with that balance? HENDI: It's not easy to find in general someone who will be willing to travel with you and deploy with you every four years. But he did want a wife who will stand by him, is a loyal American who will help him do his work and his service for the U.S. military.

TODD: While he was a devout Muslim, CNN has also learned Hasan frequented this strip club near Ft. Hood in the weeks leading up to the shootings. Hendi says that runs counter to Islam too.

HENDI: For me, everything that he did is against the teachings of Islam, killing fellow soldiers, fellow citizen men and women, the shooting, the bloodshed speaks of someone who did not understand his faith very well. Islam is against going to strip clubs. But it's also against killing fellow citizens.

TODD: Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder at Ft. Hood. He's not pled to the charges. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen says with this defensive suicide bombings, the giving away of his possessions and the way he dressed, Nidal Hasan seemed to be preparing for his own death.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think what he was doing was sort of a jihadist death like cop. Here's a guy who obviously had personal problems, avoids women, has few friends and grafted on to that he finds sort of jihadist ideology as a way to make sense of everything and he decides to martyr himself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Bergen and other experts say Hasan could be someone who engaged in what's called self-radicalization, the idea that militant religion might provide an answer to psychological problems that someone already has. So Wolf some of those answers may be coming in the coming days.

BLITZER: Did Imam Hendi actually try to help him find a wife?

TODD: He says after Hasan approached him, he started of thinking of women he could introduce Hasan to, women serving in the military and elsewhere but then he says he never heard from Hasan after that.

BLITZER: But he asked other imams in the area --

TODD: At least two other imams.

BLITZER: OK. Brian, thank you very much.

In a matter of hours, President Obama will be waking up on the other side of the world and sitting down to some tough meetings with Chinese leaders. We'll have a preview.

Plus, the shuttle "Atlantis" took off on time. We'll give you the real facts on its mission.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 and liftoff of space shuttle "Atlantis."

BLITZER: Beautiful picture every time we see it. NASA's space shuttle "Atlantis" is on its way to the international space station right now. The shuttle blasted off only a few hours ago, carrying thousands of pounds of equipment need to keep the space station going. It's the only vehicle large enough to carry many of these parts. And the fleet is scheduled to retire next year. The six-member crew will conduct three spacewalks during the 11-day mission. This is NASA's last shuttle flight of the year and 1 of only 6 remaining flights in the entire shuttle program.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "the Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't matter how many times you watch those liftoffs -- I always get chills when I see these big rockets go off at the cape.

BLITZER: I always get a little nervous, too.

CAFFERTY: Well, that, too. You remember back to "Challenger." But there's something very awe-inspiring about that.

The question this hour is, how do you feel about trying five of the 9/11 suspects here in New York City where presumably they did their dirty work?

Karl, "Try them in Peoria, Des Moines, Fresno even Winnemucca, I don't care and it doesn't matter, just get the long overdue trials over with. They are a far greater threat to us in Gitmo as poster boys for terrorist recruitment than they will ever be here in the U.S. being processed through our legal system that has worked just fine for over 230 years."

Zack in Washington, "Unfortunately, giving them a highly publicized civilian trial gives them more of a chance to spew their propaganda and anti-American rhetoric. It also gives politicians as platform to attack Bush/Cheney policies. Instead of the focus being on the thousands of murderers these people allegedly committed against civilians, it will become a political circus. It's a bad idea. They need to be treated like the war criminals they are and then taken out back and shot."

Ken in North Carolina, "I think it's the right thing to do. If a man commits a rape in New York and is captured in New Mexico, he is not tried there. He is brought back to New York to face his accusers and that is what is being done with this case."

Marie in Hillburn, New York, "The victims (the people of New York) should have an opportunity to see those thugs tried and convicted. To try them in a military tribunal elevates them to soldiers. They don't deserve this distinction."

Bruce writes, "Republicans are second guessing the commander in chief of the U.S. military during a time of war. Tell me it isn't so but of course the Republicans don't want the torture details which they have so vigorously defended to come out. And of course, sadly to say, the Obama administration is probably playing politics and using this as a way to get the torture details out to the public."

Bob in Arkansas has a solution. "I think it's great. After they are found guilty you can hang them from the Empire State Building."

If you didn't see your email here, go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Wolf?

BLITZER: Will do Jack, thank you.