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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Interview With General David Petraeus; Selling the Afghanistan War Strategy

Aired December 2, 2009 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: selling the plan and the pushback to it. As Hillary Clinton and others try to sell Congress on President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan, we have some hard questions for the general in charge, David Petraeus. We talk to him tonight on war plans now drawing fire from Democrats and Republicans about everything from setting deadlines to sending more troops at all.

We have the prime-time exclusive with the general. Our panel joins us as well with years of experience on the ground in Afghanistan.

Also tonight, how did a violent, habitual offender who believed he was Jesus get bail on rape charges, only to gun down four police officers just days later? And why did a parole board and a governor let him out of prison in the first place years before? We will count the ways -- and there were plenty and plenty of people to hold accountable -- over two states and two decades. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

First up tonight: selling the strategy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top commanders rolling out and selling President Obama's so-called troop surge for Afghanistan and the date he set, about 20 months from now, for starting -- starting -- to bring them home.

Today on Capitol Hill, tough questions for Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen and Secretary of State Clinton, pushback from Republicans over the conditional deadline, and from Democrats for not pulling out now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: My president sold me a clunker, and I paid for it with my children's and my constituent's children and grandchildren's cash.

I guess the question I would ask is this. As of 8:00 last night, do we have a new war, or do we have an old war under new ownership?

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think we have -- we have inherited the same war, but is it a dynamic war. And -- and, frankly, the situation is getting worse. The fire is getting hotter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Over on the Senate side, John McCain, who favors sending more troops, took issue with the 2011 deadline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When conditions on the ground have decisively begun to change for the better, that is when our troops should start to return home with honor, not one minute longer, not one minute sooner, and certainly not on some arbitrary date in July 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, joins us now.

General, your take on what Senator McCain said? I mean, is this just an arbitrary date?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: That date is when you start the transition of tasks to Afghan security forces.

And the pace of that transition, the pace of the drawdown is conditions-based. Those were words in the speech last night, and, frankly, I think very realistic and quite reassuring.

COOPER: Why that date? I mean, Defense Secretary Gates indicated today the date was at least in part a response to U.S. domestic politics.

PETRAEUS: Well, I think there are a number of audiences, actually, for that kind of date. One probably is U.S. public, after eight years of war, also the Afghan people. They also want their forces to take over, perhaps even some of us. You know, get on with it.

We have to get going with this effort. And having that mark on the wall out there, I think, is -- has that purpose, if you will.

COOPER: But, you know, I mean, every village I went to with the Marines in Helmand in September, the local elder would say to -- to the Marine in charge, when are -- how long are you guys going to be here? Because the Taliban is going to be here an awfully long time. They're going to wait you out. What assurances can you give me that you're going to be here for a long time?

And the Marines could basically say, well, look, we know when we're being redeployed. We know who is replacing us. Beyond that, we can't tell you.

Now are we going to say, well, July 2011?

PETRAEUS: Oh, I don't think so at all, Anderson, actually.

I think, again, if you go back to the words of the speech, what that said is, that's when you start to transition. And I think that's a realistic goal to have out there. With 18 months more of quite substantial forces on the ground, I think it is reasonable. I think it is doable to be able to begin to transition to Afghan security forces.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, let's dig deeper now with our panel.

Joining us, Michael Ware, Chris Lawrence, both who have spent considerable time in Afghanistan. So has national security analyst Peter Bergen. Also with us, senior political analyst David Gergen, and Robin Wright, a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and author of "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East."

David Gergen, you just heard Petraeus trying to couch what the president said last night. The bottom line, though, I mean, the president did in fact announce a date. Was that the right thing to do?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I -- it was -- I think Fareed Zakaria said last night he had been at the White House for that luncheon yesterday with columnists. And he concluded that the day had a lot to do with politics and a political calender.

But I think it's important to understand, what the White House is trying to say is, the public won't sustain, won't support an open- ended war. And they had to -- and this worked out to be a logical time to begin the drawdown.

The danger, of course, is -- and people have immediately said, no, this has a lot more to do with President Obama's reelection and trying to save Democratic seats than it does with the situation in Afghanistan. So, it is -- I think it's going to be a subject of deep debate in this country, and it's going to cause the conservatives in particular to question the president's strategy from here on out.

COOPER: Michael Ware, what kind of a message does it send to the Taliban, who watch this kind of stuff very closely?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, as everybody openly concedes, that assists the Taliban, to know that America is setting a deadline, no matter how firm or fixed or not.

They will play the waiting game. There's absolutely no question about that. However, I dare say that this date is not set in stone. I mean, even the president last night said it will be a responsible withdrawal, and it will be based upon the conditions on the ground.

COOPER: And just the start is -- is 2011. And that doesn't -- the start means the actual withdrawal could take years.

WARE: Exactly. Exactly. And it could be a long drawn-out process. I think, you know, it's right. Let's not joke about this. This withdrawal date, however real or not it is, is simply about American domestic politics. It's about keeping the left in the Democratic Party vaguely happy. And it's about leading up to a presidential election in 2012. Militarily, it doesn't serve a great purpose.

COOPER: Robin Wright, I read one blogger saying today, well, so what if the Taliban just try to wait us out. Then it will basically be the responsibility of the Afghan forces, who presumably, by then, will be more able to take on the Taliban directly.

ROBIN WRIGHT, FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: Well, that's assuming that the United States is unable to accomplish anything in the 18 months.

And I think that, unlike the previous eight years, that this is going to be a time of really intense confrontation and trying to carve out new space. And if the Taliban steps back and goes underground during that period, that just leaves more room for the United States and its allies in NATO to take greater control on the ground, create a different reality economically with the new project on agriculture for the Afghan people, that -- that that strategy could backfire for the Taliban.

COOPER: Peter, your take on -- on having some sort of a date?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, I agree with everything that's been said, but there's another audience, which is the Afghans themselves, which is to signal to them that it is a not an open-ended, you know, just long-term commitment with no -- no deadlines.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You're talking about the Afghan government as kind of a wakeup call?

BERGEN: Yes. Yes.

And I think -- but, clearly, it's -- it's conditions-based. So, there's very few places right now where the Afghan army or the Afghan police can really take over in any meaningful way. That's not going to change very dramatically in 18 months, but it could -- obviously, it could be better. The Afghan army is pretty ineffective right now.

That was true of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, now both of them much more effective.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: How come they're...

(CROSSTALK)

WARE: That's the exact point I was thinking of. We heard this before from the Bush administration, setting a date to force the Maliki government in Iraq to step up and hurry up and get ready to take responsibility. That really didn't happen. Their troops and their police didn't really get that much better in an accelerated way. We just learned to accept them doing it in the Iraqi way.

COOPER: I want to talk to Chris Lawrence, who just got back from Afghanistan, on the other side of this break about morale of the U.S. forces that he found on the ground.

We're going to have more with our panel in a moment.

You can join the conversation online at the live chat at AC360.com.

When we come back: The White House says we cannot be nation- building in Afghanistan, but is that in fact what we're doing? General Petraeus' answer to that question doesn't quite jibe with the White House line. We will show you what he says. You can judge for yourself.

Later, four cops are dead, and so is the guy who killed them. But why was he even on the streets? The trail of errors in this one almost as long as the trail of tears -- a governor and presidential candidate, a parole board, two states, several judges, nearly 20 years. We're finding the folks involved, getting answers, "Keeping Them Honest," tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Thirty thousand more troops to Afghanistan, now, the first may arrive in the next several weeks. They're going to be heading into Taliban hot spots, trying to protect civilians, clearing the area, building physical structures, governance capabilities, and trust.

The White House, though, saying the mission is not nation- building.

I asked General Petraeus about the apparent difference between what's being said in the White House Briefing Room and what the mission looks like on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The Marines I was with would talk about their strategy, clear, hold, and build. I assume that is still the overall strategy for commanders on the ground.

And they talk about build, they talk about building governance capabilities in villages. Isn't that, effect, nation-building?

PETRAEUS: Well, what they are really doing there is trying to help reestablish the traditional social organizing structures in Afghan society that, in many cases, have been damaged or literally torn asunder by the Taliban, by this 30-plus years of war that Afghanistan has experienced.

COOPER: Well, that sounds like nation-building.

PETRAEUS: So, it is trying to provide security -- it is trying to provide security for local communities, so that the traditional structures can once again be the organizing feature, if you will, in those villages, in the valleys, and that they then tie into the district and provincial and ultimately national structures.

COOPER: But how is what we're doing not nation-building?

PETRAEUS: I'm not saying that it's not nation-building. I'm not sure what you're getting at here.

But, I mean, what we're doing is a comprehensive...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: OK.

PETRAEUS: ... counterinsurgency campaign plan.

It is -- it has focused objectives. One of the products of this deliberation that has taken place over the last several months, which has tested and retested all the different concepts and ideas and assumptions, is indeed quite focused objectives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Back now with our panel.

Chris Lawrence, you were just in Afghanistan. No one in Washington wants to say it's nation-building. But it's nation- building.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

But the thing is, Anderson, I think, when you talk to these troops on the ground, they're not throwing around terms like that, you know. And I think we have talked so much about when we're getting out and this date to getting out. Talk about getting in. When -- when President Obama announced those 30,000 troops going in, there were a lot of happy Marines.

WARE: Oh, yes. Heck yes.

LAWRENCE: There were Marines saying: We want to fight.

You know, we get so caught up in the exit strategy and like that, you....

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But in Helmand Province right now, Peter, as we just saw on the ground, I mean, there's not a lot of kinetic activity, as they say. There's not a lot of confrontation with the Taliban. There's IEDs going off. People are getting killed, but it's a lot of going to villages, having tea with people.

BERGEN: And, interestingly, you know, there are 11,000 Marines and there just seem to be a handful of U.S. government officials. I mean, if the idea is that this is supposed to be largely a sort of political, nonmilitary, everything is being done by the military, which is just the way the American government is organized right now.

And it's very, very clear in Helmand. The civilian surge which is supposed to be part of this..

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It's not happening?

BERGEN: It's happening very, very slowly.

COOPER: Right.

WARE: Yes. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WARE: It's almost nonexistent.

And the building block of power in Helmand Province haven't changed. It's still...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And Helmand Province here and Kandahar, I mean, this is the main area where -- of Taliban activity.

WARE: Absolutely. This is what we're talking about, southern Afghanistan here.

I mean, yes, you have got Kabul, but you have not got a history of a strong central government in this country. There are -- so many questions that have local answers to them. And we haven't been addressing them on that level.

COOPER: If -- if -- I mean, the Afghans did pretty well fighting the Soviets.

WARE: Right.

COOPER: How come we're having so much trouble training the Afghan army?

WARE: But they didn't do that -- they didn't do that as a national army.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

COOPER: It was local forces.

(CROSSTALK) WARE: They did that as...

(CROSSTALK)

LAWRENCE: ... modeled as an American police or an American army.

WARE: Right. They did it as bands of guerrillas.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But you hear from people saying, well, look, the Afghan forces are illiterate.

But they were illiterate when they were fighting the Soviets, Peter.

BERGEN: Right. I mean, actually, in Pashto, the word for cousin and enemy is the same word.

(LAUGHTER)

BERGEN: So, I mean, low-level endemic warfare is a way of life in Afghanistan. These people love to fight.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Are we trying to train them in a way that's not appropriate?

BERGEN: I think that's right.

WARE: And we're enforcing our expectations, our models, our values.

COOPER: David Gergen, I mean, it is nation-building when you look at it on the ground.

GERGEN: Anderson, I think it's nation-building-lite.

Yes, of course it is a form of trying to get some -- some fundamental organizations together, to get security forces into villages, to get some order, and try to leave that behind. But what the president explicitly rejected in his councils was that there were some in the Pentagon who called for a -- a very significant buildup. And they wanted to have a five- to 10-year commitment.

That was the true nation-building proposal. And it was to leave a lot of Americans in there for five to 10 years, put in a lot of money, with contractors contracting out, build up the civilian side. And -- and what the president said was, no, I'm not going to do that. It's too open-ended. The country won't pay a -- spend a trillion dollars in Afghanistan. We're going to have to start pulling the plug.

And he's come up with this compromise plan. It's not pleasing anybody. It has got a very small number of people in the middle. But I do think -- I don't think it's appropriate to call it the true nation-building.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: It's nation-building-lite.

COOPER: Robin, can the Taliban be co-opted?

WRIGHT: Oh, I think that's a very good question.

I think this is not like Iraq, in that the dynamics are very different. There may be some that they -- they can be peeled away, but I'm not sure we're going to see an awakening, like we did in Iraq.

COOPER: I mean, the -- the military is saying 60 percent to 70 percent are not hard-core ideologues and may be folks that can be dealt with in one way or another.

WRIGHT: Well, it depends on what the alternatives are. And this is why what -- this whole idea of nation-building is really so important. And what the administration is talking about is not nation-building in the classical sense of propping up a strong central government.

It is, as you've been discussing, dealing with the local environments, with the provinces, and trying to help them take over. And that's where we're looking for a similar kind of awakening, by making the local agents, the local leaders, the traditional powers strong enough that they can take on the Taliban, and that some of the Taliban may be lured away from the Taliban to side with their traditional leaders.

COOPER: All right, we are going to have more from our panel after this break.

We want to tackle the question of corruption, how important that is, whether it puts the entire mission in jeopardy, or whether it's a red herring, whether it's not as important as a lot of people say it's been.

Later, how it looks, feels, even tastes on the ground in Afghanistan, a Marine base that is so far from anything most Americans have experienced, it might as well be the lunar surface of the moon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The first thing you notice when you get into Camp Jaker is this dust. The Marines call it moon dust. It's a fine powder that coats everything and gets everywhere, into weapons, in clothing, even food. There's nothing you can do about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: During a discussion earlier about nation-building, General Petraeus said we're not trying to turn Afghanistan into another Sweden, which would be a miracle. In a recent study, Sweden ranks as one of the least corruption nations on Earth, Afghanistan second worst on the planet.

But if building another Sweden is impossible, is building any kind of legitimate government any easier? I asked the general about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: How important is limiting corruption in Afghanistan? The White House says it was looking for promises from President Karzai before making a decision on troop levels. He gave reform lip service, certainly, in his inaugural speech.

Whether or not they're able to deliver on that, can -- can we win in Afghanistan without limiting corruption? Does it matter?

PETRAEUS: Well, clearly, it matters enormously, Anderson. As you know, clearly, a government has to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the people for them to support it. And popular support for, again, the government at whatever level is a necessary component to achieving progress in this kind of endeavor.

We did hear, as you noted, some encouraging words from President Karzai, clear recognition of the importance of combating the corruption that has characterized some of the governmental institutions in Afghanistan, some in quite a severe matter.

And, in fact, in recent weeks, actually, there have been some arrests, charges brought against some -- some fairly senior governmental officials, a border police commander, some ministers, and so forth. And we will have to see if this now follows through, if indeed this is a -- a commitment that is really turned into action and is operationalized, if you will, because it is a very important element in the overall way ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's talk again with our panel, many of whom -- all of us at this table -- have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over the years.

Peter, do you agree with that? Does corruption really matter?

BERGEN: Well, it matters, but I think order is more important than corruption. I mean, bringing security is -- that's what Afghans want.

There's been quite a lot of polling on this issue. The last government really that brought a lot of security to the country was the Taliban, which is hardly a very legitimate government, but they did bring security. And, so...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So, it doesn't matter changing the essential nature of the Afghan government; it doesn't matter, necessarily, to eliminate the opium trade?

WARE: Oh, no, that's not going to change at all. I mean, that's the oxygen that -- that the economy is breathing.

And, I mean, no matter what government is in place -- for example, Spin Boldak, which is just south of Kandahar, is a border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you're made the police chief or the border patrol chief of a border checkpoint, you are now a rich man. And that's how it works.

COOPER: Because you're -- you're taking taxes. You've got a cut of everything that goes through.

WARE: That's how it works. Why on earth would you want to be a district chief of your village, when you have got all this responsibility, you have got to protect people, unless you are getting something for it?

COOPER: But -- but...

WARE: That's what -- that's what runs this place.

COOPER: Robin, do you agree with that? I mean, doesn't that undercut the legitimacy of -- of what the U.S. is trying to do there, if they're trying to instill a sense of trust in a local -- in a local government, governor, and in the national government in Afghanistan?

WRIGHT: U.S. strategy is today almost as vulnerable politically as it is militarily, because of the central government, because of the widespread belief that President Karzai and many in his government are engaged in, not only corrupt practices, but the drug trade as well.

I disagree with Michael a little bit on the -- the -- the impact of the drug trade, in that -- on the average farmer in Afghanistan. They don't make that much. And many of them -- I have walked through those poppy fields many times and heard from many that they would rather grow something else, but that this was more profitable.

Now they have found studies that pomegranates and there are other commodities that could create alternatives. The key here is creating security, so that you can begin getting some of those farmers to look at alternative crops, and not get -- not have their whole lives wrapped up in this corrupt practice.

COOPER: One of the problems, of course, the things that promotes opium is that it's something that can just be stored for long periods of time, doesn't go bad. So, if there's a bad season one year, if the market is bad one year, it can be still sold the following year.

WARE: And you can warehouse it for that bad season.

COOPER: Right.

WARE: And the price is going to go up.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Right.

WARE: I mean, we saw the Taliban actually did that. When they stopped people growing, they had massive stockpiles, and they profited enormously.

COOPER: Let's take a look at the map in terms of strength of the Taliban and where they are. I mean, where is the -- where are the biggest hot spots?

WARE: Well, obviously, the -- the Taliban, you know, has always come from and always shall have its power bases in the south. Principally, this is the heartland of the Taliban.

COOPER: Kandahar.

WARE: That's where it was born. That's where it was born bred. And, from there, that's where it spreads.

COOPER: And it's a major city, Kandahar, in this region, which is not really under control of U.S. forces.

(CROSSTALK)

WARE: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, there's a token Canadian presence there, but I was just in Kandahar, what, about eight weeks ago. And Kandahar itself is divided into, you know, 14, 17 neighborhoods.

There's a couple of neighborhoods the police can't go into.

COOPER: And we're seeing...

(CROSSTALK)

WARE: And every -- every district around it is controlled by the Taliban. The capital, Kandahar, is siege.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And if you look at the American flags, this is where American forces are. And it's in the heart of the battle zone.

LAWRENCE: Yes. We went to one police checkpoint in the Arghandab River Valley where...

WARE: The Arghandab, perfect example.

LAWRENCE: Yes, where the Taliban control, where the police literally are afraid to leave their police station, because they get shot at when they leave.

WARE: And Arghandab used to be denied to the Taliban. But the ancient -- or the elderly tribal leader who controlled the area died. Now, during the three days of mourning for his funeral, the Taliban literally flooded back in. But, while he was alive, he kept them out. COOPER: David Gergen, I want to -- I know I cut you off -- David.

GERGEN: No, I just wanted to add one thing, Anderson, where we are domestically 24 hours after the president's speech, because I think a couple of important things have happened.

You talked last night a lot about this started the president's selling last night with the speech. Anderson, the last -- the last 24 hours are -- have been his best shot, with his speech and then the testimony today.

Starting tomorrow, the -- you know, the picture starts becoming more cluttered. He has a jobs summit Thursday. Then he has jobs numbers Friday. He goes to Copenhagen for climate change on -- next week. Then he goes to Oslo.

He -- he's -- they have now had their best shot. And I think two things have emerged. First, I think it's relatively clear he has not achieved the unity in the country that he is seeking that he spoke of last night. People are still -- you know, there's a lot of skepticism about it.

But, very importantly, for him, it has now emerged on Capitol Hill that it looks like the Congress will support him, a majority will support him financially, so it will give him permission to go ahead. And that was a big achievement for them today, that they could hold the Congress.

COOPER: I have got to leave it there.

David Gergen, Robin Wright, Peter Bergen, Michael Ware, Chris Lawrence, appreciate all of you being with us. Thanks very much.

Still ahead, we are going to take you inside a remote patrol base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, show you what it's really like for the Marines who are heading there. The mission is tough. The living conditions aren't much better. Let's just say it has none of the comforts of home.

And, later, troubling questions about cop killer Maurice Clemmons -- "Keeping Them Honest," why was this dangerous, unstable ex-con on the streets, free on bail, after allegedly raping a child? And does former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee still think he was right to grant him clemency years ago?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Now, if you think that a 108-year sentence is an appropriate sentence for a 16-year-old for the crimes he committed, then you should run for governor of Arkansas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Tonight, new questions about why a violent and unstable ex-con was given break after break after break. A string of second chances that gave him the opportunity, ultimately, to kill four police officers. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

But first Erica Hill has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, the Fort Hood shooting -- Fort Hood shooting suspect now facing 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. Now, that is on top of the 13 premeditated. That was attempted charges were added premeditated murder charges, those 13 filed against Major Nidal Hasan, of course, one for each person killed in the attack. The 32 new charges are for the people who were wounded in that shooting spree last month.

The New York State Senate today killing a Bill that would have made New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage. The vote, just 24 to 38 no. Supporters pledged to bring the measure, though, back for, quote, "as many do-overs as it takes" to pass it.

An end in sight for TARP. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner telling a Senate agricultural panel the government could soon begin winding down the $700 billion financial bailout program. And he faced mostly friendly questioning today, in sharp contrast to a recent joint economic committee hearing, where one lawmaker called on Geithner to resign.

Of course, even the most contentious hearings on the Hill really don't top this. A full-fledged brawl, chairs flying, as you see there, plenty of pushing, some shouting.

COOPER: Yikes!

HILL: There you go, chair for protection. This happened in Argentina during a session to choose the president of a northern province's lower house. At least ten legislators were slightly injured. Can't imagine why.

COOPER: Well, luckily, those are plastic chairs, it looks like. At least most of them.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: Ouch.

HILL: I think they can still do a little damage.

COOPER: They can have a reality show.

Coming up next, deadly serious stuff. Warning signs and big breaks for a cop killer. If so many people in power what kind of danger this guy posed, why was he freed from custody so many times? We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also, life on the front lines. We spent a week with Marines at a base in Afghanistan. Extreme conditions, extreme danger. We'll show you what it's like for our heroes half a world away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: He was unstable, dangerous, and sentenced to life in prison. So why was the felon who murdered four police officers free in the place? Tonight, we've uncovered new information that reveals the many breakdowns and cracks in the criminal justice system that let this man, Maurice Clemmons, out on the streets where he killed those cops before he himself was gunned down.

Now as you'll see, there were warning signs about Clemmons. There were also second chances, for someone who was violent beyond the cell walls and within them. We're "Keeping Them Honest." We begin with what happened in Arkansas.

Here's special investigations unit correspondent Drew Griffin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): County prosecutors in Little Rock say they were never notified Governor Mike Huckabee was even considering commuting the sentence of Maurice Clemmons. And if they were, they most certainly would have been on record opposing it.

Former chief deputy prosecutor, Warren McCormick, says no way, after just 11 years behind bars, should Maurice Clemmons had his sentence commuted, had his sentenced reduced, or have ever been released on parole. And he told that in writing, on the record, to the parole board every time they asked.

(on camera) Here's what you wrote: "Objection, Clemmons is a violent, habitual offender. This is apparent from his new 2001 conviction."

This is in November of '01.

WARREN MCCORMICK, FORMER CHIEF DEPUTY PROSECUTOR: Yes, sir.

GRIFFIN: They let him out.

MCCORMICK: That's correct.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): By 1990, Maurice Clemmons, at just 18 years old, already had three felonies to his name, a violent teenager. Records show just before his fourth trial, Clemmons threatened the judge, injured his own mother by throwing a lock that hit her. He tried to grab a guard's pistol and even took a metal hinge off a door, hid it inside a sock, intending to use it as a weapon.

He was considered so dangerous, the trial judge had him shackled to his chair.

(on camera) Mean. He needed to be shackled.

MCCORMICK: That's the one word that came to my mind or remembered about him, is that he was mean, is that he was shackled in court. And deputies placed behind him while he was tried, because he was such a security risk.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The jury found him guilty of burglary and theft. And, along with sentences for his three previous felonies, Maurice Clemmons was sent to prison to serve more than 100 years. He was just 18 years old. But young as he was, he was plenty tough.

(on camera) Even behind these prison fences, Maurice Clemmons continued to lash out violently. His prison record is filled with violations: aggravated battery, assault, theft, drug procession. Even at one time concealing a weapon.

LARRY JEGLEY, PULASKI COUNTY PROSECUTOR: Over and over again: failure to obey, engaging in sexual activity, failure to obey, possession or introduction of drugs. Firearm, somehow or other. I'm not sure.

GRIFFIN: Firearm?

JEGLEY: Yes.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The record don't show what that firearm was. Larry Jegley is Little Rock's prosecutor. He says the man his office put away for life should have never, ever gotten out, and anyone who bothered to read Maurice Clemmons' record -- his criminal record in court, his violent record in prison -- would have never allowed this man to set foot outside a prison.

So who does he blame? After all, it is a parole board that recommended Maurice Clemmons be released, but Jegley says he doesn't blame the board. He blames one man.

JEGLEY: Those are Mike Huckabee clemencies from 1996 through the middle of 2004.

GRIFFIN: Jegley says mistakes were made with Clemmons: warrants missed, even in Washington state, bail granted. But none of it would have happened without the governor's signature.

JEGLEY: He needs to bear responsibility for that.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Nobody else?

JEGLEY: No. No. We did everything that we could do with him and got him sentenced to 108 years. Mike Huckabee, with a stroke of a pen, undid that, and left us to our devices to try to deal with him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Drew, have you been able to talk to Mike Huckabee?

GRIFFIN: Yes, we've been chasing him literally across the country. Tonight, we did get a few minutes with him here in Jacksonville, Florida. It was a "Keeping Them Honest" moment, Anderson. We wanted to ask him if he had read this record, if he knew back in 2000 just how dangerous this man was that he was cutting a break to. Surprisingly, the answer is yes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Governor. Did you go any further than was...

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS: I read the entire file.

GRIFFIN: Was it just this?

HUCKABEE: It was a file this thick.

GRIFFIN: Did it tell you the violations he had in prison, the assault? Firearm possession? The fact that he tried to slip a piece of metal into court?

HUCKABEE: I looked at the file, every bit of it, and here was a case where a guy had been given 108 years. Now, if you think that a 108-year sentence is an appropriate sentence for a 16-year-old for the crimes he committed, then you should run for governor of Arkansas.

GRIFFIN: Apparently, judges in Arkansas did think that, though, right?

HUCKABEE: No, Judge Humphrey did not, and Judge Lofton did not -- did not oppose the -- you know, the clemency. That's what I think you have to understand. You're looking at this nine years later and trying to make something as if that -- you know, I could look into the future. I wish I could have. Good lord, I wish I had the power. I wish I could have done that. But I don't know how anyone can do it.

GRIFFIN: If you realize now that you had flimsy information at the time...

HUCKABEE: I appreciate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Anderson, the governor wasn't really sticking around to answer more questions after that, but on other interviews, particularly on his own network that he works for, FOX, he has said that he got a thousand of these clemency requests a year, and he only approved about 8 percent. But again, he wasn't sticking around to answer too many questions from us.

COOPER: Well, it's a huge number of clemencies that he approved compared to other governors and compared to all the states in the region. Drew, great job on the piece. Appreciate it.

As bad as that sounds, the story only continued once Maurice Clemmons got to Washington state. Joe Johns has the court documents.

Joe, what have you discovered?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it started when Arkansas corrections officials warned their counterparts in Washington that Maurice Clemmons was on parole, on his way there, and he was, quote, "a high risk" for repeat offending. Truth is, Clemmons stayed off the legal radar for four years or so, until just this past May.

COOPER: Now, from what we're hearing, at one point earlier this year, this guy actually turned himself in, which made a judge think he might kind of be a standup guy.

JOHNS: Yes, here's what happened. Maurice Clemmons was arrested in May for throwing rocks at windows and assaulting police officers, who tried to stop him. Posted something like $40,000 bail. Released from jail. Just three days later he fails to appear for his next court hearing. A warrant is issued.

A couple months later, Clemmons actually does arrive for that court appearance you're talking about, and while he's waiting in court, he's arrested again. This time he's charged with being a fugitive from justice in Arkansas. Plus, police have now further investigated that rock-throwing incident, concluded there was evidence to charge Clemmons with also raping a child. So the judge decides no bail at this point. It sounded like there was no way Clemmons was getting back out on the street, but...

COOPER: I mean, we all know the rest of the story. He did get out, in spite of all that. And how did that happen?

JOHNS: Well, this is where it all sort of gets really controversial. The documents we've obtained show the court in Washington dismissed the Arkansas fugitive case because the prosecutors said, quote, "Arkansas didn't have him listed as wanted any longer." So the no-bail hold goes away.

At that time, the judge says about Clemmons, quote, "The warning signs are all over the police." But on July 24, Clemmons posts bail, $190,000, once again, back out on the streets. Less than a month later, rearrested for violating conditions of bail, and once again, the jail -- judge sets a $190,000 bail.

Clemmons remains in jail until he's able to post that. That's about November 23, last Monday. When he's out again, you know what happened after that.

When you add it all up, "Keeping Them Honest," Maurice Clemmons posted a total of about $420,000 in bail.

COOPER: So where did he get all that money?

JOHNS: Went through bail bond companies. He only needed a fraction, as you know, in cash. And one of those bond companies, interestingly enough, was called Jail Sucks Bail Bonds. They had a statement up on their Web site expressing sadness about the shootings. They said they had no knowledge of his criminal convictions in Arkansas. They say he had two co-signers for his bail, and Clemmons even put up a piece of property as collateral.

COOPER: But I mean, it sounds like by then it was clear to just about everybody this guy was trouble. Why didn't they just keep him locked up instead of letting him go? JOHNS: It's the law. Washington state court rules say all defendants are entitled to what they call a presumption of release unless they're accused of capital offenses or are likely to commit a violent crime.

His lawyer argued in court in the transcripts that he was not a flight risk, that he wasn't a threat to the community. We now all know in hindsight that it was clearly dead wrong.

COOPER: Not a threat to the community? The guy was throwing rocks at his neighbors, assaulting police officers, ultimately then, of course, killing police officers.

Joe, appreciate the reporting from Washington state.

There's another twist to this story. The governor of Washington state said today that her state is no longer going to get -- going to accept convicted criminals on parole from Arkansas until the system has been reviewed and she is determined that Arkansas is living up to its responsibilities.

Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins us now.

What do you make of this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the -- parts of the story are very complicated, but one part is very simple. Those four police officers would be alive today if Mike Huckabee did not pardon this guy. I mean, that is very simple.

Now, you can argue, as Huckabee has, that a 100-year sentence is simply excessive for a 16-year-old kid.

COOPER: That's what the judge, Humphrey, interviewed the other night, said as well.

TOOBIN: Said -- that's right. But, given the facts and circumstances of his -- his nature, his violent nature in prison, it's very hard for me to understand why he was given a break when many other people didn't.

COOPER: The amount of clemencies that Mike Huckabee gave as governor is huge. I think more than a thousand, far more than just about any other governor in the region. I think more than all the other states, like six states combined in that entire region.

TOOBIN: His predecessors, "Jim" Guy Tucker, Bill Clinton...

COOPER: Why do governors even get to give clemency?

TOOBIN: Well, clemency is one of those powers that has been part of a chief executive's power in Anglo American law since before the American Revolution. This is something that every governor has. The president has pardon power. It's considered a check on abuses by the court system. It's an opportunity to grant mercy. Frankly, I think governors often don't exercise it enough. But to use it with someone who is violent -- I mean, there are so many non-violent drug offenders in prison, so many people who really do deserve a break. The idea that a -- someone like this got it is shocking.

COOPER: And -- and we've seen the results of also what happened. Jeff Toobin, appreciate it.

Drama in the courtroom today in the murder trial of an American woman, Amanda Knox, in Italy. That story ahead.

And next more American forces in Afghanistan. We'll bring you insight one base, show you how far the Marines are from the comforts of home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The bathroom facilities here are primitive to say the least. There are pipes in the ground, which are -- well, it's obviously what they're for. And the toilets, there's four of them. They're communal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Back to the war in Afghanistan. The bulk of the new combat forces that are going to head there after the first of the year will be sent to Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south of the country. That's the spiritual, the financial base of the Taliban. It's the deadliest part of the country for American forces.

There's certainly nothing easy about the job that our forces are doing there or the living conditions. We saw that for ourselves in September when I spent time at Patrol Base Jaker in Helmand province. You think Marines are living on big, comfy bases in Afghanistan? Well, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Patrol Base Jaker may not be much to look at, but for the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, it's become a home.

(on camera) You may have heard stories of U.S. forces living overseas on huge bases that have all the comforts of home: movie theaters, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants. Patrol Base Jaker is nothing like that.

There are about 50 Marines here at any given time, and the conditions they face are extremely difficult.

(voice-over) Temperatures here can reach 120 degrees, but there's no air conditioning in tents, no respite from the heat and dust. (on camera) First thing you notice when you get into Camp Jaker is this dust. The Marines call it moon dust. It's a fine powder that coats everything and gets everywhere: into weapons, in clothing, even food. There's nothing you can do about it.

How do you deal with the dust?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is what it is, I think. You can't beat it, so you just go with it.

COOPER: You JUST give into it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you surrender.

COOPER (voice-over): Nothing seems to bother Sergeant Riley Saborski (ph). He's had to deal with a lot more than just dust.

(on camera) You've been hit by two IEDs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two IEDs. Yes.

COOPER: Does that make you very lucky or very unlucky?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd go with lucky.

COOPER (voice-over): Lance Corporal James Stevens wasn't feeling quite so lucky. When we met him, he was burning excrement, a dreaded assignment, especially in the heat.

(on camera) Of all the jobs, this is probably the worst one here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I mean, the smell is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COOPER: The smell is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It stinks.

COOPER: Did you -- did you anger somebody and they assigned you this? Or...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I was just coming over...

COOPER: You were in the wrong place at the wrong time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, wrong place, the wrong time.

COOPER (voice-over): Around the clock, patrols come in and out. Marines move supplies. There's constant movement at Jaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's do your work and that's it. Do your job, that's it. Go to bed, wake up, do your job.

COOPER (on camera): That's what it's like, 24 hours a day, seven days a week? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, no Burger King.

COOPER (voice-over): There is food, of course. But it's all prepackaged, meals ready to eat.

As for leisure activities, a few old weights and a sledge hammer is the gym. For golfers, the whole place is a sand trap.

There is no privacy here, no place to simply take a break.

(on camera) The bathroom facilities here are primitive to say the least. There are pipes in the ground which are -- well, it's obvious what the pipes are for. And then the toilets, there's four of them. They're communal.

(voice-over) Up in the guard tower, Tim Myers (ph) admits he often gets frustrated. But being here, being a Marine, is a dream come true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to do it since I was a little kid.

COOPER (on camera): Do you feel like you're doing something good here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

COOPER (voice-over): Despite all the hardships of life on a small combat outpost, there is a feeling of accomplishment, and the bonds of brotherhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As weird as it sounds, this place is actually a nice home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Coming up next, the White House crashers, leaked e-mails may prove the reality TV wannabes were never invited. Some new details on that ahead.

Plus, singing sensation Susan Boyle making headlines again. Her ties to Lady Gaga, Eminem and others when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Let's check some of tonight's other stories with Erica Hill in the "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, closing arguments under way in the murder trial of an American student in Italy. A defense attorney for Amanda Knox, who broke down in tears when urging the jury to acquit his client. The 22-year-old is accused of killing her British roommate in 2007 and could face a life sentence if convicted.

The Associated Press says copies of e-mails it has obtained between the so-called White House party crash and a Pentagon official actually undermine the couple's claims they were invited to last week's state dinner. In one of those e-mails, Tareq and Michaele Salahi admit they showed up the White House without an invitation.

Why? Well, the A.P. says the message reads, quote, "to just check in, in case it got approved, since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list." Not exactly. According to the Secret Service, which has said it erred by letting the Salahis in, that they were not on the list.

The couple has been asked to testify tomorrow before the House Homeland Security Committee. The chairman said tonight if they do not show up, the committee is prepared to subpoena them.

And Susan Boyle dreamed a dream, and now she's breaking records. The star of "Britain's Got Talent" became an Internet sensation earlier this year. She's now sold more than 700,000 copies of her new album, making it the best-selling debut week of 2009.

COOPER: Wow.

HILL: Yes, that's not all. You wondered about the Lady Gaga connection.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: Here it is. She beat out Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Eminem and a few others.

COOPER: No kidding? Good for her. Excellent.

HILL: And you know what you're getting for Christmas now.

COOPER: I hope she's enjoying it all.

Erica, for tonight's "Shot," a marriage ceremony interrupted.

HILL: Oh, yes.

COOPER: Yes. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What God has joined together, let no one -- oh, Dana (ph) is updating his relationship status. As I was saying, I now pronounce you husband and wife. It's official on Facebook; it's official in my book. You may kiss your bride.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Posted on YouTube. The groom, whose name is Dana Hannah (ph), also twittered during the -- twittered during the nuptials. He tweeted...

HILL: Right.

COOPER: ... writing, quote, "Time to go, got to kiss the bride." HILL: Oh, yes, sorry, I can't tweet any more. I have to finish getting married.

COOPER: This hit a nerve in the news room. Some thought this guy was just annoying and rude. A couple of grumpy writers say it's proof the world will be ending soon. Other staffers, like Ella and Julia, actually found it funny and cute. What's your take, Erica?

HILL: Well, they did want to clarify, though. They didn't think during the ceremony, they thought the -- Ella wanted to clarify she thought updating the status update was cute.

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: I think, though...

COOPER: Are that many people checking his status, though, that he had to do it right then?

HILL: Wouldn't you think those important people are there at the wedding? Just a thought.

COOPER: Just a thought.

HILL: All of a sudden, like, "Ooh, ooh. Let's see what the status is."

COOPER: Yes.

HILL: "Ooh, you are married."

COOPER: Oh, darn.

HILL: It says so on Facebook. It's official.

COOPER: Yes, yes. Well...

HILL: Best of luck to the two of you...

COOPER: Yes, I know.

HILL: ... especially you, honey. If he's tweeting that much, good luck.

COOPER: It's going to be a long honeymoon.

HILL: We'll hear all about it.

COOPER: That's right. He'll probably be tweeting the wedding night.

HILL: Ooh, I think I have an update now.

COOPER: All right. Let's just leave it there. We'll be right back. More news at the top of the hour.