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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Last U.S. Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq; Interview With Dr. Laura Schlessinger

Aired August 18, 2010 - 22:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight, even shocking news to many who thought this moment would never come, but it has. The last combat brigade is out of Iraq. That's it. But that's not all. Why did we fight? What did we achieve? Was it worth the cost in money and lives? And what happens now? Some answers ahead, and, of course, the very latest on the troops.

Also, the Islamic center near Ground Zero, you have probably heard plenty by now, questions about where the money to build it is going to come, implications that it's coming from sponsors of terrorism. Tonight, you will hear something very different, the simple facts -- "Keeping Them Honest."

Later, Dr. Laura Schlessinger ending her radio career after that racially charged rant. She told Larry King she's leaving the air to protect her freedom of speech. She said a lot, in fact, that raised a lot of questions, so we invited her on the program tonight. And, boy, did the sparks fly -- the "Big 360 Interview" just ahead.

We begin, though, with the breaking news.

What began from the sky with Shock and Awe ends with a dusty rumble down a dark desert road in Iraq and plenty of questions here at home. More than seven years after President Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq, more than 4,400 U.S. deaths, more than $700 billion later, the last American combat brigade crossed the border into Kuwait, the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division.

And we have just gotten some new video in. It shows some earlier members of the brigade arriving home in Washington State. President Obama, you recall, set September 1 as the date for the end of the combat mission, the president today saying he was keeping his promise to wind down the war.

That said, some 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq after that date, training and advising the Iraqi military.

Well, this is not, safe to say, how most Americans expected the war to end, nor has it been the war that some expected to fight. It began in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, to take out the dictator who was hiding them and covertly making more.

But remember Colin Powell at the United Nations saying -- quote -- "Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort to disarm," that he and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.

But once the troops rolled in and the statues toppled and Saddam was captured, troops found no weapons of mass destruction. What they did find was a counterinsurgency that burned hot and deadly for years, ethnic strife and a divided government that even now has yet to bring the country together.

With us now is Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. Arwa Damon is on the ground in Northern Iraq. Senior political analyst David Gergen is with us, and, on the telephone, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is on the phone.

Thanks, all, for being with us tonight.

Chris, let's start with you.

The fact that the last brigade has indeed left Iraq does not necessarily mean that all U.S. troops are going to be out any time soon. Where do we actually stand with U.S. forces in Iraq?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we will try to make some sense of this, John.

That was the last combat convoy that left. There are still a couple hundred members of that Stryker brigade who stayed behind to work on some logistical missions that they still had to wrap up. They are probably not going to fly out of Iraq until late Thursday.

There's also another 6,000 U.S. troops who are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of the month. Now, they're not necessarily designated as combat units, but a Pentagon spokesman says they could still conduct combat operations if they needed to, and that the combat mission itself does not end until that handover at the end of the month.

And then, of course, you have the 50,000 troops who will remain after September through the end of next year.

ROBERTS: Right. So, they will be there through 2011.

Ambassador Crocker, have we accomplished everything we set out to do in Iraq? We thought that Iraq would be a productive member of the global community far before now.

RYAN CROCKER, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I think that kind of expectation is quite unrealistic.

Iraq has made substantial progress. When I arrived in early 2007, it was nothing short of a nightmare. Where they are today is -- is far beyond that. They have got a long way to go. It's going to take a lot of time and will take sustained U.S. presence and commitment, as I think the Obama administration has made clear they're ready to provide.

ROBERTS: Yes, well, what really, Ambassador Crocker, is there left to do in Iraq? How far are we from -- from seeing Iraq being a successful country?

CROCKER: Well, Iraq is still at the beginning of the story of its evolution since 2003. As -- as tired of it as many Americans may be, this process is still just at its beginning.

You need only look at our own history as a republic to get some sense of how hard these things are. It took us 13 years to get a Constitution after the Declaration of Independence. That papered over some pretty substantial divides that nearly ripped the country apart eight decades later.

So, the process of state and society building is going to be a long process. The Iraqis are facing many of the issues we faced. In some respects, I think they're tracking pretty well. But this is going to be a process that takes years and years.

ROBERTS: Mr. Ambassador, stay with us on the telephone, if you would.

David Gergen, let's go to you. A question that many people are asking now as this war begins to wind down is, was it all worth it?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Most Americans think it is not. But I think we are better off than we were, say, three or four years ago, before Chet (ph) Crocker went there and we got a new strategy, we got the surge.

I think this is a milestone tonight and that, John, a lot of military families and their parents are extremely pleased that we're not sending more troops there to fight. And I think the president deserves, you know, a salute for saying we're going to get out of there, and he has now done that.

But there's no doubt that we have not accomplished and nobody knows whether we will accomplish what we set out to do. We're not -- certainly not leaving behind a democratic country. In fact, we're leaving behind a country that doesn't have a government. We're leaving behind a country where there's a lack -- a lack of electricity is still very troublesome, burdensome, a lack of other public services.

And the -- the big question now, John, is the amount of violence is increasing. We have seen some pretty violent acts here in recent days.

ROBERTS: Yes, at least 48 people killed in Baghdad yesterday.

GERGEN: Yes. Just yesterday in Baghdad, 48 people killed. Are we returning to the cycles of violence we saw before? I don't know that. Chet (ph) Crocker would be far better qualified to answer that.

But there's no question we're going to have to leave a large footprint behind. And this is not going to away for us as an issue. In fact, I think a lot of Americans are asking tonight, are both of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan not turning out as we had hoped?

ROBERTS: But let's go to Arwa Damon, who is in Mosul up in the northern part of Iraq.

What's the sense among troops there in Mosul? That was -- that was a lingering trouble spot there. There was some question as whether or not they would all be able to pull out by August the 31st. What's the situation on the ground there now, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's nowhere near stable, although it is better than it was in the past. Remember, Mosul used to be considered al Qaeda's urban stronghold. It no longer is.

But, just yesterday, for example, we went into the streets with the U.S., alongside the federal police commander, and we could only stay at a checkpoint for five or 10 minutes, because he was that worried about a grenade attack or a drive-by shooting.

So, the troops here are still very much in this combat role. They're still out there. They will, of course, be transitioning out of that. But there is the reality that, even though things are better, they're nowhere near being OK. And this is definitely not a safe or stable country.

ROBERTS: Ambassador Crocker, David Gergen made the point just a moment ago, said that you would probably be the better one to answer this. With what we saw in Baghdad yesterday, at least 48 people killed in that bombing yesterday outside a military recruiting center, is Iraq returning to that deadly cycle of violence, and with U.S. combat forces now withdrawing, might that embolden insurgent forces in the country to try to take control again?

CROCKER: The attack yesterday was almost certainly the work of al Qaeda in Iraq.

It is not a resurgence of the sectarian violence that did almost tear the country apart in 2006, 2007. We have seen, over the last couple of years, a series of these terrorist attacks designed to try to weaken the state, reignite sectarian tension. As brutal and bloody as they are, I think they actually have the opposite effect. They tend to push Iraqis closer together in a determination to fight this kind of threat.

And, again, as a terrorist operation, it really can't be countered by combat forces. What we have to understand in this whole process is -- is, today was not a dramatic change. We have not been in a combat role for months and months now in Iraq.

So, I think we're seeing some -- some -- some real continuity here, a glide path, if you will, but the need for U.S. commitment and involvement, as David Gergen suggests, is going to be very important going forward.

ROBERTS: David?

GERGEN: Well, I would be -- I would be interested, Mr. Ambassador, how we judge success in the months ahead. What are the yardsticks by which we should be measuring what's going on in Iraq, whether it's really working or not working? The formation of a government? Violence going down?

What is it? How doe we -- now that we don't have combat forces there and large brigades, what -- how do we think about this now in the future? How do we -- how do we evaluate it?

CROCKER: I think we think about it as the president has described, that this does not mean we are leaving Iraq. It means that we are transitioning in a gradual, measured way from a predominantly military engagement to a predominantly civilian one.

It is going to take that over time. The signs of progress clearly will start with the formation of a new government. That new government will then have to deal with all of those tough issues that are out there, resolving Arab-Kurdish tensions, for example, very much present in -- in Mosul, where -- where Arwa is.

They will have to deal with basic states' rights issues, the authority of a federal government vs. provincial governments. They will have to deal with economic development. They will have to deal with services. It's a -- it's a pretty broad agenda in front of them.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CROCKER: Violence is going to be part of this, a steady, dedicated campaign against al Qaeda, and we will have to be part of that, too.

So, what we're seeing right now, with the withdrawal of this last Stryker brigade, does not end our commitment, doesn't end our presence. It just moves it into a new phase.

ROBERTS: Mr. Ambassador, let me pick up on that point, that you said that violence is going to be part of the growing pains still ahead.

Chris Lawrence, the remaining U.S. forces, who, as you said, will be there until the end of next year, they will be there in a noncombat role. They will be training Iraqi forces. But what are the rules of engagement? Certainly, they will be able to defend themselves.

LAWRENCE: That's right, John. They're primarily going to in what is called an advise-and-assist role. So, think of it like an intel officer will be working with his Iraqi counterpart to say, look, this is how we do things. This is what maybe you should do in this situation.

They are still going to be providing assets that the Iraqi army doesn't have, such as unmanned drones. And while the Iraqi army is much stronger -- you know, for example, the Iraqi army helped secure that route south that the U.S. troops follow to get out of Iraq.

They still probably, from what I hear from defense officials, are not strong enough to defend, say, a foreign attack from outside its borders. So, the U.S. is still going to play a big role in that, if there was ever an attack from outside the -- the -- the borders. ROBERTS: And as is -- with what we saw yesterday, Chris, there certainly seems to still be enough threat from within, let alone from without.

LAWRENCE: Exactly.

ROBERTS: So, again, the breaking news tonight, the last combat convoy of American forces out of Iraq, still 6,000 combat forces remaining, in addition to 50,000.

Chris Lawrence, David Gergen, Arwa Damon, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, thanks very much for joining us tonight.

Let us know what you think. Join the live chat going under way right now at AC360.com.

Coming up next: Who is going to finance the Islamic center near Ground Zero? Some claim it will be funded by sponsors of terrorism. We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight. We're going to have the facts for you.

And we asked Dr. Laura Schlessinger about her claim that she is ending her radio show to regain her freedom of speech. She says the backlash over her saying the N-word has something to do with it. It's the "Big 360 Interview." Sparks fly. And you don't want to miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: We began the war in Iraq fought, in part, as a war against terrorism.

Now the planned mosque in Lower Manhattan, terror fears and the facts, not easy finding them in all the fury, not simple either separating them from all the hints and allegations of impure motives on the part of the imam and sinister backing for his Islamic center.

But we will try, because, "Keeping Them Honest," we have found that a lot of what is being said in this debate, said loudly, said over and over again, simply is not so.

Before we do that, though, we should mention that no one can be 100 percent sure of what's in Feisal Abdul Rauf's heart, or anyone else's, for that matter. We should also point out that in a country founded on religious freedom, some are asking whether any cleric from any faith should be subject to such intense scrutiny.

But, as you will recall, this imam, his wife and backers of his center say they invited it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 20, 2010)

SHARIF EL-GAMAL, ISLAMIC CENTER DEVELOPER: We are going to be doing extreme due diligence. And we are going -- we are going to have -- hire the best security experts in the country to help us walk through the process.

And we plan on being very transparent throughout the whole process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Opponents, though, say they're not delivering. And that's not all they say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

PAMELA GELLER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, it's deeply disturbing, because we he has not been honest. He is an imam who advocates for tolerance, and yet, in his book, he advocates for the Sharia, which is radically intolerant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Blogger Pamela Geller who, in that interview, also linked Rauf to several organizations and companies that she says sponsor terror.

Well, she is at the extreme on this, but even mainstream politicians have been making statements putting the mosque on one side of the verbal equation and terror on the other, linking the mosque with the threat of terror.

GOP Congressman Peter King saying -- quote -- "It's a house of worship, but we are at war with al Qaeda."

So, you have got politicians putting a planned Islamic center in the same sentence as al Qaeda, some would say equating an imam who is leaving this week on a State Department mission of religious tolerance with the people who attacked us. And you've got people stoking fears of a terror money pipeline from violent radical groups to this community center just a couple of blocks away from the site of the nation's worst terror attack.

Well, you have heard all of that, but is it really as bad as all that?

Randi Kaye "Keeping Them Honest" tonight with the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you believe all the hysteria about how the mosque near Ground Zero is going to be financed, you would think Osama bin Laden was writing the check.

Republican New York Congressman Peter King is demanding the mosque's imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, be investigated to make sure there are no -- quote -- "unsavory connections."

King on FOX News July 13:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It's important, I think, that we know the genesis, the origins of this mosque, who is behind it, where the money comes from. You know, a lot of money seems to be coming in from overseas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE (on camera): Coming in from overseas? If you dial down the drama, as far as we can tell, not a single penny has come in from overseas, or anywhere else, for that matter. That's because no money, none, has actually been raised to build the estimated $100 billion Islamic center.

(voice-over): Listen to what the wife of the mosque's imam told one New York City radio station July 15.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)

DAISY KHAN, WIFE OF IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: We have not begun the capital campaign for this project as of yet. We are looking at particular bonds. We are looking at institutions. We are looking at private donors. It's going to be a mix of funding sources that will put this project together.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KAYE: Reverend Bob Chase has known Daisy Khan and Imam Rauf about for a decade. He just met with Daisy this week and tells me they still haven't started fund-raising.

When it does start, he plans to help raise money for the mosque from people of all faiths here in the U.S. and, yes, internationally, too. That has prompted headlines like this.

(on camera): Is there any reason to believe that any of the money financing this mosque and this Islamic community center is coming from terrorists?

REV. BOB CHASE, HELPING RAISE MONEY FOR MOSQUE: I don't think that there would be any possibility that there could be terrorist money. And, beyond that, what they stand for is to have a center that rejects terrorism.

KAYE (voice-over): Daisy Khan also has said she's willing to show where all the money comes from. And though she made that promise more than a month ago, there are still questions.

Just today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said -- quote -- "There is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center."

(on camera): Despite the misconception that fund-raising has already started for this mosque, there is some nervousness about this. According to their own audit, as of June 30 last year, the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the umbrella organization behind this project, did receive more than $575,000 from the Qatar government fund.

One expert who tracks this stuff told me most of the Muslim projects here in the U.S. are funded from outside the U.S., including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and, yes, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia.

(voice-over): Still, Reverend Chase says that should not be a red flag.

CHASE: Imam Feisal is a global citizen. And nowhere has anybody said that there wouldn't be international money that would ultimately support this effort, nor do I think there should be that kind of prohibition.

KAYE: Clearly, not everyone agrees. And considering there's no indication a single dollar has been raised for the mosque, this part of the debate has only just begun.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: The fact remains, though, that none of this has been easy for anyone. President Obama today said he has no regrets about saying people have the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero.

Attorney and noted conservative Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara, died in the 9/11 attacks, he weighed in, backing the president -- Democrat Howard Dean, on the other hand, calling the Islamic center a real affront.

With us now, "Digging Deeper," two sides of the debate, two people who lost loved ones on 9/11, Neda Bolourchi, whose mother died on one of the airliners, and Talat Hamdani, whose son Mohammad, a police cadet, died at Ground Zero.

Good to have you both with us tonight.

And even though it was so long ago, our condolences, certainly, on your loss. I just can't imagine what it would be like.

NEDA BOLOURCHI, LOST MOTHER IN SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS: Thank you.

TALAT HAMDANI, LOST SON IN SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS: Thank you the condolences, and thank you for having me.

ROBERTS: Neda, let's start with you. As we said, you lost your mother on that 9/11 flight. Your family is from Iran and Muslim. You say that you're a nonpracticing Muslim. Why are you against building this mosque near Ground Zero?

BOLOURCHI: My only concern is the fact that it will be a very difficult reminder of what has happened.

I do not try to illogically link this particular imam to any extremists or radicalists, or nor am I saying that, in particular, Islam is bad.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

BOLOURCHI: I am part of this community, even though I don't practice it myself. And I have absolutely no problem with this mosque being built somewhere else.

All I am saying, as a family member -- and this is my own personal opinion -- I -- I don't reflect anyone else's opinion. I don't belong to any political or religious organization. This is just me talking as a family member.

ROBERTS: Right.

BOLOURCHI: I'm just saying that it would be difficult for me, personally, to go to World Trade Center and to be reminded of that day. And it is -- there is no question that extremists killed every innocent person on that plane.

ROBERTS: Sure. Sure.

BOLOURCHI: And so it would just be a very difficult reminder. And that is all we are asking for is to be moved further away.

ROBERTS: So, it's the sensitivity, proximity.

Talat, are you sympathetic to her point of view?

HAMDANI: My condolences for the loss of her mother.

BOLOURCHI: Thank you.

HAMDANI: But I just don't agree with her opinion because it will be, she said, a reminder -- difficult reminder, reminder of what happened nine years ago and forever.

It's -- to me, it's an issue of collective guilt.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

HAMDANI: We were attacked by al Qaeda, not any nation or not any, you know, nation or any country, so to say.

And, since 9/11, the Muslims are being scapegoated. They have -- we have been scapegoated, which is not right. We have been carrying the cross since 9/11, and we are as much the citizens of this country as any other people.

ROBERTS: Yes.

HAMDANI: I support this -- the construction of this Islamic cultural center, for three reasons.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

HAMDANI: First of all, it is about the cultural, religious tolerance in this country, one of the basic and foundational, fundamental -- fundamental, you know...

ROBERTS: Sure.

HAMDANI: ... issue of our country. Secondly, it's of a constitutional right. And, third, what is most important, all those 3,000 people that were murdered that day by al Qaeda...

ROBERTS: Yes.

HAMDANI: ... they were not murdered for their race, faith or ethnicity. They were murdered because they were Americans, and they believed in the American values of freedom, liberty, democracy, and freedom of pursuing a faith of their own choice.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Christians, Jews, Muslims all died in the 9/11 attacks.

HAMDANI: All died. So, why are the Muslims being held accountable for this?

ROBERTS: Well, that's a question I would like to put to Neda.

Neda, by saying that you think that it's too sensitive an issue to put close to -- to Ground Zero, are you, in some way, agreeing with the argument that some people are making that Islam is a religion of terror, and, therefore, should not be anywhere near the hallowed ground of the old World Trade Center?

HAMDANI: Well, like I said...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: No, let me let -- let Neda answer that, if she could.

BOLOURCHI: I don't think that you can deny the fact that the perpetrators did have very extreme religious views.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

BOLOURCHI: That is an absolute fact. That is not something that we are guessing at. That was their point of view. And I...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Right, but -- but do you think an -- an extremist version of Islam will be taught and practiced at the mosque near Ground Zero?

BOLOURCHI: I don't know.

I hope not. And I don't have evidence that it will not, and I don't have any evidence that it will. All I am saying is that, to me, to create a more universal symbol of unification would have been a more appropriate funding of this money, rather than creating a symbol that has brought such pains to the family members.

And, by the way, I mean, right now, so many other Islamic center leaders and 80 percent of Americans are saying, please don't build this site...

ROBERTS: Yes.

BOLOURCHI: ... close to the World Trade Center.

And I think the imam should try to respect the point of view of 80 percent of Americans who are against it.

ROBERTS: Well, and this discussion is going to continue.

We thank you so much for being with us, Talat Hamdani and Neda Bolourchi.

BOLOURCHI: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Appreciate you coming in.

BOLOURCHI: Thank you. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Coming up next: Dr. Laura and the N-word and freedom of speech. The talk show host says she's leaving radio to reclaim her First Amendment rights. But wait a minute. What is all this about anyone taking them from her in the first place? We will ask -- the explosive "Big 360 Interview" just ahead.

Plus, "Raw Politics" -- President Obama's statement today on the Islamic center. Did weighing in yet again make anything more clear or just muddy the waters even further? Our political panel -- coming up.

It's 27 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Conservative radio host Laura Schlessinger, AKA Dr. Laura, says she's giving up her radio show at the end of the year because she wants to -- quote -- "regain her First Amendment rights."

She made the announcement last night on "LARRY KING LIVE" and set off a new round of controversy.

If you somehow missed the backstory, here is what started all of this. This is what Dr. Laura told a recent caller, an African- American woman, who said her husband's friends, who are white, made racist comments in front of her.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the N-word? Now, the N-word's been thrown around.

DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLESSINGER: I didn't spew out the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

SCHLESSINGER: Right. I said that's what you hear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody heard it.

SCHLESSINGER: Yes, they did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope everybody heard it.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLESSINGER: They did. And I will say it again.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLESSINGER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is what you hear on HB...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what makes it...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLESSINGER: Why don't you let me finish a sentence?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

SCHLESSINGER: Don't take things out of context. Don't double "N" -- NAACP me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Dr. Laura used the "N" word 11 times in all during that call. She later apologized and now seems to be claiming she is a victim because of the backlash over her remarks.

She joins me now for the "Big 360 Interview."

Dr. Schlessinger, good to see you tonight. Thanks so much for being with us. You said that you're leaving your radio show to regain your First Amendment rights. How did you lose them?

SCHLESSINGER: Well, I think everybody in the media risks that. I'm not the only one. I don't see myself as a victim in particular. It's the atmosphere in America today, where there is very little debate and just the attempt to silence voices that somebody disagrees with.

ROBERTS: But does this go beyond being disagreed with? You said something that was very offensive.

SCHLESSINGER: Well, yes. And I was trying to make a point about the hypersensitivity of racial issues. And I made it the wrong way. I instantly realized I had blown it. ROBERTS: But you seem to be -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Dr. Schlessinger -- saying that you've taken yourself off of your radio show because other people are not allowing you your First Amendment rights, even though you were wrong to have said what you said.

SCHLESSINGER: I said something wrong and I apologized. I didn't intend to hurt anybody. My decision was not based on this incident. My decision has been percolating for about a year when I realized more and more that, like Nancy Pelosi saying we should investigate people who have a problem with the mosque being built at Ground Zero. Investigating these people?

ROBERTS: That's not what she said. What she said was...

SCHLESSINGER: I'm just pointing out --

ROBERTS: ... it would be good to have the same -- she said it would be good to have the same transparency.

SCHLESSINGER: It would be good if I could finish a sentence.

ROBERTS: I'm sorry. But you're being inaccurate in what you're saying.

SCHLESSINGER: All right.

ROBERTS: I'm just trying to correct the record here.

SCHLESSINGER: Well, I apologize for being inaccurate.

ROBERTS: She said that in the same way that there should be transparency among the mosque funding, there should also be similar transparency behind the people who are opposed to the mosque.

SCHLESSINGER: My point is that, when I began in radio, there was discussion and debate. And now there are organizations, like Media Matters, who exist for the sole purpose of silencing voices, not debating. That is my whole point.

ROBERTS: Much of this controversy is over the "N" word. But there were some other things that you said during that broadcast that other people found even more troubling than the "N" word, such as when you said, quote, "I really thought that, once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don't get it."

Some people thought that was really a racist point of view.

SCHLESSINGER: I don't. I think that was an observation.

ROBERTS: Another statement that you made you say, quote, "Without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply because he was half black. It was a black thing."

Lincoln Mitchell of Columbia University took particular exception with that, suggesting that there was maybe five more points of the black vote that went to President Obama than went to candidate Gore back in 2000. So, how could you make a statement like that?

SCHLESSINGER: The point that this woman made, which you do not play, interestingly, is her racist statement that whites are afraid of the black man taking over America. I think that was a pretty racist statement. My response to that was that blacks make up about 12 percent of the population. So, he was voted in by whites. Somebody has left that out of your tape.

ROBERTS: Well, we certainly can go back and we can find that and we can play it, if that would help to satisfy you tonight. Just looking back...

SCHLESSINGER: No. It might...

ROBERTS: Go ahead.

SCHLESSINGER: No, I'm fine.

ROBERTS: One other point, Dr. Schlessinger. The woman called you, asking a personal question, saying her husband, who's white, his friends were saying things that she felt uncomfortable with. Looking to you for advice. You really kind of came down on her. And I'm wondering why you responded to her like that.

SCHLESSINGER: Well, have you listened to the entire call?

ROBERTS: Yes. Yes, I have.

SCHLESSINGER: Oh, now I think, if her husband's friends were calling her a horrendous word, she would have led with that. But she didn't. She led with "They asked me a black point of view." So I'm even wondering, if you heard the call, why you would think I wasn't trying to help her?

ROBERTS: Dr. Schlessinger, it's good to talk to you tonight. Thanks so much for joining us.

SCHLESSINGER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Well, as you just heard, Dr. Laura said that we left something important out when we quoted a portion out of the phone call that set off all that outrage. So for the record, here's what she's talking about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHLESSINGER: The point I am trying to make...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Racism has come to another level that's unacceptable.

SCHLESSINGER: You know, we've got a black man as president, and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that's hilarious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I think honestly, because there's more white people afraid of a black man taking over the nation.

SCHLESSINGER: They're afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you want to be honest about it...

SCHLESSINGER: Dear, they voted him in. Only 12 percent of the population's black. Whites voted him in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the younger generation that did it. It wasn't the older white people who did it.

SCHLESSINGER: Oh, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the younger generation.

SCHLESSINGER: All right, all right. Chip on your shoulder. I can't do much about that. Yes. I think you have too much sensitivity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Well, as you heard, Dr. Laura says that exchange reveals a racist statement made by the caller. Well, that's not really for us to say. You can decide on that.

But we did check the numbers on who actually voted for Barack Obama, and here's what we found. The caller was, in fact, right. Younger white voters supported him at much higher rates than older white voters: 54 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 voted for Mr. Obama. That's compared to 41 percent of white voters aged 30 to 44; 42 percent of white voters aged 45 to 64; and just 40 percent of white voters aged 65 and older.

Well, coming up, more on the "N" word. Dr. Laura apologized for her use of it, but is it right for anyone to say it, or should it simply be put to rest? We'll have that discussion, coming up next.

Also did President Obama mishandle the Ground Zero mosque issue? And is this the latest in a string of White House missteps? "Raw Politics" tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Tonight in a nation divided, who, if anyone, gets to use the "N" word? It's possibly the most incendiary word in the English language. Should it be used at all, or should it be put to rest for good?

We're talking about this, of course, because Dr. Laura Schlessinger recently used the "N" word 11 times during her radio talk show, setting off a huge backlash.

Joining me now is actor/comedian D.L. Hughley and Reverend Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and president of the National Action Network. Gentlemen, great to see both of you tonight.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: D.L., I want to start with you...

D.L. HUGHLEY, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: D.L., I want to start with you and I want to play a little piece of sound of you on the Jay Leno show, where you were using the "N" word, then ask you about it. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Can't say it no more. They buried the word (EXPLETIVE DELETED); 45 minutes of my show, so good night.

I don't even know, man. I don't understand it, man. It is a horrible word, but it describes some people I know so perfectly. Everybody got that one dude every time you see him coming, "Oh, this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) here, goddamn."

Look at all the white people: "I wish I could say that." You can. Just don't do it here. Do it in your car like you always do. (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Just to clarify, that was from D.L.'s show.

You used the "N" word several times in that bit. Why did you choose to use that word?

HUGHLEY: But not 11.

ROBERTS: Yes, not 11. No.

HUGHLEY: Well, I was struck by two things that Dr. Schlessinger said. One was that you turn to, you know, HBO, and you see young comics using that. And I was struck by the fact that I was one.

And the other fact is that people alluded to the fact she used it 11 times, that that was probably a lot of the crux for the argument for a lot of people, like as if there's an "N" word quota, like if you said it one time that would be enough. But to me...

ROBERTS: But the question is, why do you use it? Because I've been to -- I've been to comedy clubs where it's used at least 100 times.

HUGHLEY: It has -- it has absolutely no power over me. I refuse to -- I -- I don't -- that word has -- has been around certainly longer than Def Comedy Jam or me, or any black comedy itself.

And to me, with respect to anybody who feels differently, that word literally has no power over me. I refuse to give somebody, somebody that I'll never meet or understand a qualifier.

ROBERTS: What do you say to that, Reverend Sharpton? SHARPTON: I mean, D.L. and I have had this conversation before.

HUGHLEY: Right.

SHARPTON: And we respectfully talk about it. I think the word shouldn't be used by anyone. I used to use it. A lot of us used to use it. And I think that, at some point, when we started talking about burying it, National Action Network and others, it was because, to me -- it's not a question of having power over me. We can't be the only ones in America that there's no derogatory term for. There's a derogatory term for every ethnic group and every sexual group.

But if the "N" word is permitted for us, even by us, then what word then denigrates us? And I think if you're going to have a society where, in the music world and other worlds you can't say certain words, but you can say the "N" word, it means that you can say anything you want about us. If the "N" word is not the bad word for blacks, then what is it?

ROBERTS: Well, as you said, there are derogatory words for every ethnic group and sexual orientation, even. And some of those groups are embracing those words, derogatory -- derogatory word for women is being embraced by some groups. Derogatory word for homosexual is being embraced by some groups. They're making it hip to take the power out of the word, as D.L. was talking about.

SHARPTON: And a lot of people in those groups disagree with that. Why is it my job to take the power out of a bigoted word? Why do I have to do that for someone? To say, "I tell you what."

It's almost like saying to take the power, John, out of you hitting me, I'm going to take your fist and hit me with your fist. My obligation is to stop you from hitting me, not to take the power out of the punch.

ROBERTS: It wouldn't hurt that much if I did hit you.

HUGHLEY: Here's my -- here's my problem with the -- with that word. Whether it's Dr. Laura or whether it's Mel Gibson, there's a celebrity du jour, the celebrity du jour every week, every -- certainly regularly. There's a celebrity or somebody used this incendiary word. And then you have me or Al Sharpton on discussing it.

Obviously, this word -- this word has been buried or resurrected more than Jesus Christ, obviously. So obviously, people have different approaches to it.

Now, I won't pretend like my vantage point is the pervasive one. I can say this: that what I do with my own personal perspective and what Al does with his, you know, with all respect to him -- you know, he knows I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I think that to -- I never understand what the end goal is. I never understand -- so that it is erased from the American lexicon, so -- so what is the end game? Because America pretends to be one thing and does another. All you have to do to see how America really feels is to go on any chat room and watch it devolve into racial conversation, and I think it's because we pretend to have feelings that we don't. We pretend that things are in politics and we feel those ways. And we never really have honest conversation, because everybody is so afraid, to put it flatly.

The one thing I can say about Dr. Schlessinger, she said how she feels. And the one thing I disliked about her is that she retreated from the animus that came with it. Say how you feel, hear the argument and then you move on. And I think that the problem is we never get to have the discussion where people get to honestly, openly say how they feel and take the slings and arrows that come with it. I'm willing to do that. I'm willing to have people disagree with me, and I'm willing to...

ROBERTS: Let's let -- let's let Reverend Sharpton get a final word in here.

SHARPTON: The end goal must be to get that one standard. If we're going to have some words that refer to some groups banned or not used, even in music, then we should have a standard for everyone.

If we're not going to have a standard for blacks, we shouldn't have a standard for anyone. And I think that's what I'm saying. Let's have one standard.

I agree with D.L. on one thing. I think we need an honest discussion. I think we need to be straight up about it. And that's why when I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about the word, I asked you, would you put out records that would say this about certain groups and name them? They said no. Well, how do you have a standard for some, and there's no standard for me?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: We've got to go, D.L., but thank you so much for joining us. Great discussion. We can continue this another time. Thank you so much for being with us tonight.

Coming up next, "Raw Politics." Is the White House making some major missteps in failing to connect with Americans? President Obama's remarks about the Ground Zero debate are one example that many are using. Do they have a point? Three strong voices weigh in, just ahead.

And later on, new details about those two fugitives still at large two weeks after that Arizona prison break. Some very personal information the law enforcement officials want you to know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: "Raw Politics" now, how President Obama is or isn't connecting with the American public on the Islamic center and plenty of other issues. My guests and I were talking about this last night. The thing is, a very interesting conversation took place when the cameras were off. So we thought that we'd let you in on the action by having the conversation on camera tonight. Senior political analyst David Gergen joins us again, GOP strategist Ed Rollins. Also with us, John Ridley, a commentator for NPR and founding editor of ThatMinorityThing.com.

Just before we went on the air last night, Ed, you turned to David and said something to the effect that maybe you might consider going back to the White House to work for yet another administration.

ED ROLLINS, GOP STRATEGIST: He's done four. One more. This one desperately needs him.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Your turn.

ROLLINS: They clearly have lost their way. I think there are a lot of missteps. August is always a bad month for presidents going back to your history. I think, in this particular case, they just don't know what they're doing. And for a campaign season it's so important. They're really not functioning well.

COOPER: And David, you agreed with that statement.

GERGEN: I do. And I think that -- I don't know what's gone wrong. You know, usually, a team gets much better along the way. But this team is, I think, having more problems now than it had a year and a half ago.

And I think it's partly because they're so tired. I've never -- I can't remember a White House that has had this heavy a workload, day in, day out. Rahm Emanuel told Todd Purdum in that piece in "Vanity Fair," "Thank God it's Friday. Only two more workdays this week."

ROBERTS: What do you think, John? Are they in trouble?

JOHN RIDLEY, COMMENTATOR FOR NPR: Well, I don't know about trouble. There are going to be losses in the mid-term election. I do agree with David, there's a lot going on. Beyond the actual workload of the economy, Afghanistan, Iraq, things like that, we've got death panels. We've got beer summits. We have things that have so little to do with actual politics that I'm not sure that any president maybe since Nixon has really had to deal with these other kinds of issues that are out there. There are always these other issues and distractions but they're so hot. This mosque issue, that is so hot and so unusual.

ROLLINS: My concern is always they always have him out there. He's always -- and maybe it's because he's making the decisions. It's always been a concern about Obama, because Axelrod told me at the start of the campaign, he thinks he can write better, he thinks he's smarter, he thinks he's a better strategist. He's making all the decisions and not bringing good people around to help them. They're all going to be tired.

GERGEN: Well, that may be -- I want to go back to Ed's point. He has -- somehow he seems to be -- August seems to be a terrible month for him personally.

I remember talking to somebody in the White House, one of the senior people a year ago in the fall, and this person told me -- he came in and said, you know, "We're just not good in August. We go -- we separate out. We're on vacation. People are all split out. We had a bad August in 2007 in the campaign." They had a bad August last year. They lost control of the health-care debate. They had a bad -- they've had a bad August.

Now, some people think -- the opponents think they've had a bad rest of the 11 months, too, but they've had a particularly bad August. And so you have to say they're going to be better, I think, in the fall. They'll be on their comeback trail.

ROBERTS: They need to be better in the fall.

GERGEN: They need to be better in the fall.

ROBERTS: Does the president not help things, John, by saying things off the cuff that get him in trouble?

RIDLEY: You know what? Actually, I would almost disagree with that. One of my problems, I would say, with Obama, is at the debates he would seem very tight, almost too thoughtful, too scripted. And when he gets out on that campaign trail and starts talking to people, he is a seller. He's like Reagan. He's like Bill Clinton.

ROBERTS: When he answers a freelance question about a mosque and backs off of what he said the night before...

RIDLEY: My problem is backing off of that statement. Stand up and say, "Look, I believe in religious freedom." And by the way, very quickly, you see a real inverse relationship in terms of how people feel about this in terms of whether it should be built there, but understanding religious freedom. It's almost a 60/40 split the same way. They don't want it there. But they understand the constitutional freedom.

GERGEN: There's an important story out tonight saying they don't have any money together for this mosque. This may be a non-issue. He may have wandered into something that's a non-reality. You don't think it will be built.

ROLLINS: I think it will be built. I don't think the unions will build it. I think at the end of the day, they're building a Twin Towers, what have you. These are the same workmen that took bodies out of that place. That's a sacred ground to them, too. And I think you don't have unions on your side in this town, you build nothing.

ROBERTS: But David, we come to the point in almost every administration, typically a couple of years in, where the people who have been there throughout the campaign, the true believers start to leave the White House and then the professional administration operatives come in. When was it that you were brought in during the Reagan administration?

GERGEN: I came in six months after.

ROBERTS: It was a pretty quick turnover.

GERGEN: It was pretty quick.

ROBERTS: Are we at the point now where this administration where somebody, quote, professional administration workers are going to come in, and will the problems become less because you have people who are old hands at this who are running the show?

ROLLINS: I don't think -- I don't think someone like that could come in and manage this president? I don't think a Jim Baker or someone like that could come in. I think this president is about his friends and people he felt close to on the campaign.

GERGEN: That's a very good point. He will have to learn how to trust some people he hasn't been with all the way since Chicago. I do think that's very important.

And he's done that, say, with Bob Gates and personally with Hillary Clinton. But there's no guarantee when you get the, quote, professionals coming in. We went from Jim Baker in the Reagan White House -- Ed will remember this -- first-class team. But the next team was Don Regan and John Poindexter. And everything was -- didn't know how to run the country. Had to bring the third team back.

ROBERTS: It all depends who you hire.

GERGEN: That's right.

ROBERTS: If asked will you serve?

GERGEN: I'm going to say Mr. Rollins has far more experience.

ROLLINS: If they even call me they're in big trouble.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, thanks for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, a real-life Bonnie and Clyde on the run from the law. New information to help you identify the Arizona fugitives who have eluded authorities for more than two weeks now.

And a terrifying moment at an air show as a wing snaps off an aircraft in mid air. Amazingly, there's a happy ending to this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: A lot happening tonight. Joe Johns is following some other important stories for us. He joins us now with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

Hi, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Arizona officials hope new details will help them catch two fugitives on the lam after a prison break in July. Here's what they want the public to know. Escaped inmate John McCluskey is missing his left incisor next to his left front tooth. His alleged accomplice, Casslyn Mae Welch, is missing most of her right index finger.

American Airlines is adding new fees for the privilege of sitting in the first few rows of coach. It will cost from $19 to $39, depending on the length of the flight. Disabled passengers will continue to get priority seating at no extra charge.

And a terrifying moment at an air show in Argentina. Take a look at this. The wing of a plane snaps off mid air, the plane spins dangerously out of control. The pilot, just 22 years old, manages to activate the plane's ballistic parachute, it's called.

Amazingly, no one suffered injuries. He suffered only minor injuries, I should say.

And I guess a little advice for that guy. Next time, take the train.

ROBERTS: Yes. But, you know, you've got to give him credit. When they said, "Do you want the option of the parachute?" He said yes.

JOHNS: That's amazing. I mean, ballistic parachute. What, it takes down part of the plane? I mean, did you see it? Looked like part of the plane actually came down with him.

ROBERTS: Yes, yes. It just slows it down. There's another aircraft that's got the parachute right in the center of it. It's saved a couple of lives, as well. Amazing stuff.

Joe, thanks so much.

JOHNS: You bet.

ROBERTS: A lot more ahead at the top of the hour. We'll update you on tonight's breaking news: the last U.S. combat brigade leaving Iraq. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)