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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Libyan Ambassador to United States; United States Imposes Sanctions on Libya

Aired February 25, 2011 - 17:58   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: We're hearing truly terrifying accounts of brutality and carnage in Libya right now, as Moammar Gadhafi attempts to crack down on anti-government protesters.

With his power threatened, will Gadhafi resort to using some of his deadliest weapons? We've asked Brian Todd to take a closer look into this part of the story.

What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, despite his efforts to rehab his global image by getting rid of his weapons of mass destruction, Moammar Gadhafi is still possessive of at least one deadly, nasty type of weapon, and it's sitting less than an hour away from Tripoli.

We have to warn viewers, at least one image in this story may be disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): So far, Moammar Gadhafi has used security forces and mercenaries with guns to battle protesters. But he's got something else in his arsenal -- a wicked material he acquired when he was gathering his weapons of mass destruction.

PETER CRAIL, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: What Gadhafi has left is about 109 tons of mustard gas, which is supposed to be destroyed by this May. But it looks like that's not going to happen any time soon.

TODD: Mustard gas, it killed and injured thousands of people in World War I and has been banned since then. It's one of the cruelest and most indiscriminate weapons ever unleashed.

Experts say if just a few liters are set off near you, first your skin starts burning and bubbling. Then, if you inhale it, it's a slow killer.

Gadhafi agreed to destroy his chemical weapons years ago. Experts say he still has got weapons-grade mustard gas left.

But I posed this question to Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association --

(on camera): Can he actually deliver this as a weapon and fire it in a missile or in a bomb to kill people?

CRAIL: No. The munitions used to deliver these types of weapons were destroyed in 2004.

TODD (voice-over): But a U.S. official tells CNN in this chaos there's still concern about Libya possessing mustard gas.

(on camera): All of Gadhafi's mustard gas is stored at the Rabta chemical weapons facility about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli.

I'm joined by Jonathan Tucker. He's a chemical weapons expert who has written extensively about Libya's program.

Jonathan, how secure is this facility?

JONATHAN TUCKER, CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPERT: Well, this was the former production facility. And as you can see, it is surrounded by a fence, as well as a sand berm. And presumably, there are Libyan government forces that are guarding this facility. But if they were to be redeployed, the facility is potentially vulnerable because there is an access road that leads directly to it.

TODD (voice-over): That means terrorists or other militants could take advantage of Libya's instability and grab some mustard gas canisters right out of Rabta.

(on camera): If Gadhafi has destroyed these casings and no longer has mustard gas in a bomb form to hit people, how can a terrorist do damage?

TUCKER: Well, a terrorist would not need an aerial bomb to deliver a chemical agent. Instead, it could develop an improvised chemical device that would simply release a small amount of agent and have a terrorizing effect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tucker says it could kill or injure people just being by set off with a small amount of explosive and released into the air.

Experts say, under a deal Gadhafi cut with the U.S. to destroy his WMD, the U.S. was supposed to help Libya destroy that stockpile. But Libya pulled out of the deal. The process has been delayed, and now we have got 10 tons of mustard gas sitting in Libya less than an hour from Tripoli, and we don't know how well it's protected, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Scary stuff.

Brian, thanks very much.

And happening now, breaking news: Here are the latest developments in the Libyan crisis. The United States cracks its strongest whip yet against the Libyan government, imposing harsh sanctions, suspending diplomatic operations in the country, this as the violence escalates at what's being called an alarming pace. Plus, the long-awaited journey to safety finally comes for more than 100 Americans trapped in the war-torn country since the bloodshed began. The first U.S.-chartered ferry has just arrived in Malta. More Americans have been flown out to Turkey. You're going to hear from some of them this hour.

Meanwhile, the defiant Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, shows no signs of loosening his tenacious grip on power, warning in another somewhat bizarre address to a crowd that he's prepared to fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): We are prepared to break any aggression by the people, the armed people, and the time will come when all the ammunition warehouses will be open for the people to defend the country.

I came here in order to greet you, greet your courage, and I tell you to repel them. Moammar Gadhafi is not a president, neither a king, nor a head of state, neither any high position, but the people love him because we are the glory with dignity.

Look, America. Look. Look to the Libyan people. This is Moammar Gadhafi, among the Libyan people, among the masses of the Libyan people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're covering this story from every angle, on the ground, as only the global resources of CNN can. We have reporters in Malta, Cairo, Tunisia, and Libya itself.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's start this hour with Benghazi, where there are dramatic new pictures of the violence.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman. He's joining us live from the second largest city in Libya, now under the control of the opposition to Gadhafi.

What's the latest there, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we saw today, Wolf, was a massive demonstration, thousands and thousands of people braving some very rainy, windy, and cold weather to demonstrate yet again against Moammar Gadhafi's rule.

Today, also, we saw thousands of those people conducting Friday prayers for the first time in a free Libya, or at least a free part of Libya, people very much concerned about the situation in Tripoli itself. They are watching very closely the attempts of their brothers and sisters in the Libyan capital to hold protests against the regime.

But we saw that they -- there was a violent crackdown yet again on any attempt to voice opposition to Moammar Gadhafi's rule. I spoke to one woman who said she saw the people that tried to go out and protest against the regime, but came under what she described as intense gunfire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about brutality, even mass murder, from your vantage point? You're in Libya right now, Ben.

WEDEMAN: Well, we're hearing -- I mean, it's very hard to get real reliable figures, certainly when it comes to the situation in Tripoli.

We're hearing, for instance, that bodies are being -- bodies of people who were killed in those protests in Tripoli are being taken out of the morgues and being buried on the beaches to conceal the actual death toll.

So, we probably won't know until perhaps Tripoli falls. What we're hearing here, for instance, is that from about the 10 days of clashes between government forces and the anti-government protesters, that 250 people were killed in this area. Thirty are simply unaccounted for, or, rather, their bodies that cannot be identified. As many as 2,000 people were wounded here.

But the actual figures for Tripoli, we will not know until we can finally get there. And it's not clear when that's going to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben, stand by, because we're going to be coming back to you.

But here in Washington we have an exclusive interview right now with the Libyan ambassador to the United States, Ali Suleiman Aujali.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

ALI SULEIMAN AUJALI, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for inviting me.

BLITZER: Are you with Gadhafi right now or against Gadhafi?

AUJALI: I'm against Gadhafi.

BLITZER: So are you still the Libyan ambassador to if United States?

AUJALI: I'm still the Libyan ambassador to the United States.

BLITZER: Are you flying the Gadhafi Libyan flag outside your embassy in Washington?

AUJALI: In the embassy, it will be changed, but in the residency it is already changed.

BLITZER: The residence, you're flying the old flag of Libya --

AUJALI: Yes, the independence flag, the independence flag.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- which the opposition -- all right, so tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world why you broke with Gadhafi, a man you served for many years?

AUJALI: Yes. Well, I served this regime about 40 years.

BLITZER: Forty years, and that's as long as Gadhafi has been in power.

AUJALI: Which is a long time. That's right.

BLITZER: So he was your boss all of these years?

AUJALI: Yes, that's right. I joined the full service in January '69. And then we tried, since we joined the full service, to do our best to serve our people, to try to bring Libya as mother and state. And there are so many instances which nobody is accepted.

BLITZER: But you now realize he was brutal all those 40 years to his own people?

AUJALI: Yes, it is true. But we try very hard that if we have some good people holding position, then at least we can function and we can --

BLITZER: So that was your rational -- rationalization because you were trying to help, even when you saw the brutality of the Gadhafi regime.

AUJALI: But there's no way to stop this brutality.

BLITZER: But there is a way now.

AUJALI: There is way now.

BLITZER: Why is it -- what has changed?

AUJALI: Yes, what change, I see the mass killing of our the people in Benghazi when to start the march for the freedom. Then when I saw -- see the mercenaries killing our people --

BLITZER: The mercenaries.

AUJALI: The mercenaries killing our peoples, and we see our womens are screaming in the street, and I see that there's no distinguish between who they are target, I can't take this one.

BLITZER: All -- all of the diplomats at the Libyan embassy now here in Washington are with you, or are some of them with Gadhafi?

AUJALI: There will no -- there is no one with Gadhafi at the moment.

BLITZER: None of them?

AUJALI: None of them. And -- and the resignation among the Libyan diplomat is all over the world.

BLITZER: So tell us what you're hearing right now. How brutal is the situation in Tripoli and elsewhere? We know that -- that the other -- the Eastern part of the country has been liberated.

AUJALI: Yes. Well, the problem now it is western part. The problem now is Tripoli. People there march to Tripoli, but unfortunately they have been confront with mercenaries. Can you imagine that when the people marched through Tripoli --

BLITZER: When you say mercenaries, these are foreigners who are hired by Gadhafi --

AUJALI: Yes.

BLITZER: -- to kill people basically.

AUJALI: Yes, that's what happening.

BLITZER: What about Libyan soldiers? Are -- Libyan police? Are they doing the same thing?

AUJALI: What I think -- not the Libyan police. No, many of them, they're turning against him. But the problem, you see, the brutality of that, when the demonstration marched through Tripoli, some of them they have been injured and they call the ambulance to -- to save them. And when they open the ambulance, then mercenaries, they came out and shoot the people just in the middle of the demonstration.

BLITZER: And this is going on right now?

AUJALI: It is going on. It is a mass -- it --

BLITZER: Are you talking to people in Tripoli right now?

AUJALI: I call -- somebody call me actually from Tripoli just about one hour and a half.

BLITZER: And what did he -- what did they say?

AUJALI: Yes. He -- well, of course, he told me that we are with you. They are supporting my decision. And ask him how thing is, he told me things is very bad, things very serious. And I told him, please be careful that you are speaking to me and maybe you will be in trouble. He told me, doesn't matter.

BLITZER: Because you were afraid he was being listened to on the phone.

AUJALI: Of course, of course.

I told him, be careful. Said, no, no, it doesn't matter now. Everybody is fight. Everybody is declaring his position. Now we are marching for the freedom.

BLITZER: I assume you have family members in Libya right now.

AUJALI: Yes, this is -- we have family. I have family in Libya, of course. And -- nut now everybody is ready to sacrifice for the country.

BLITZER: So you must be worried about your family?

AUJALI: Well, I mean, I'm ready to die here for my cause.

BLITZER: When you say you're ready to die, you think somebody is going to come in Washington and kill you?

AUJALI: Well, I -- to be honest with you, I'm not frighten of anything.

BLITZER: You're not what?

AUJALI: I'm not frighten of anything. I'm not frighten. My goal is my people to achieve their freedom. My second cause -- my first priority, this killing, mass killing have to stop immediately. The international community, they have to stop, they have to do something. The flying zone -- their un-flying zone is very important. This man, he has aircrafts. He killed without distinguish anybody. He will destroy the country. He said, I rule you or I kill you. That's the philosophy.

BLITZER: So what can the world do now to help the people of Libya?

AUJALI: Well, I think now I'm very happy that the world are moving seriously.

BLITZER: Sanctions are not going to do anything.

AUJALI: Sanctions doesn't work, and we don't want sanction.

BLITZER: What do you want?

AUJALI: We suffer with the sanction. The economic sanction doesn't -- doesn't...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So what should the international community, including the United States do?

AUJALI: The international -- yes. No flying zone, this is the first one.

BLITZER: But you realize that the Libyans have a strong anti- aircraft defense system, missile -- anti-aircraft missile defense system. You have to bomb all of that first in order to control the skies.

AUJALI: No, no, the international community, they know how to deal -- how to deal with -- with -- BLITZER: So you want the United States to take the lead?

AUJALI: I want the international community to take the lead, and I want the participation of countries who release --

BLITZER: Cause the only ones who can do this are the U.S. and NATO.

AUJALI: Yes. As far as --

BLITZER: You don't think the Arab world is going to do this?

AUJALI: No, no. There is no Arab world. They can do nothing...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So it's the U.S. and NATO --

AUJALI: Yes.

BLITZER: --- basically, that could impose a no-fly zone.

AUJALI: Yes, that's what we want. And the second thing --

BLITZER: Have you ask the White House, the State Department for this?

AUJALI: I haven't met with the White House yet, but I think the State Department there know it very well and I have discussed with them --

BLITZER: And what did they say to you?

AUJALI: Well, I'm -- I'm optimistic.

BLITZER: What else besides a no-fly zone?

AUJALI: What beside -- I think sanctions against the people. We have to freeze --

BLITZER: Which people?

AUJALI: The figure of the regime.

BLITZER: Gadhafi and his sons.

AUJALI: Gadhafi, his family and there are some figures, some officers who are leading now this -- the killing, the mass killing in Libya.

BLITZER: When Gadhafi says -- excuse me for interrupting.

AUJALI: Yes.

BLITZER: I'm dread to die, I'm going to be a martyr, I'm not leaving Libya. You've known him for 40 years. AUJALI: Yes.

BLITZER: You worked for him for 40 years.

AUJALI: Yes.

BLITZER: Is he -- does he mean it? Is he really determined to stay and die in Libya, or will he run away?

AUJALI: Well, I think he's a very stubborn person, you know. I believe that maybe he commits suicide or maybe he killed by one of his --

BLITZER: You think he would commit suicide?

AUJALI: -- security or maybe he has some places where he can hide for some time.

But our priority that to stop killing. Second thing that he must step down. There is no way for Libya to gain their freedom, to gain their hope if he's still around. No way.

BLITZER: Gadhafi and his sons and his immediate family, Saif al Islam Gadhafi , we saw the pictures of him, his other -- how much money have they stolen from the Libyan people?

AUJALI: well, the first report that I heard yesterday that Gadhafi has assets and cash money about 30 billion euro.

BLITZER: Thirty billion?

AUJALI: Thirty billion euro.

BLITZER: Where is that money?

AUJALI: He -- I don't know. I think this is only United Kingdom.

BLITZER: In the U. K. ?

AUJALI: Yes, in U. K.

BLITZER: Thirty billion. But you think he has more than that?

AUJALI: Of course. He has about six children, every one of them has a fortune. Every one of them, they are running a very important business in the country. They monopoly the most important business in Libya and they make money.

BLITZER: You're free to speak now. You've said everybody bad about Gadhafi.

AUJALI: I breathe now. I breathe the freedom.

BLITZER: You can say whatever you want.

AUJALI: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: So tell the viewers why Gadhafi, assuming you believe this, ordered the bombing of Pan Am 103?

AUJALI: Oh, this I really don't know why he ordered it. Maybe revenge against the United States. I think this is the only reason maybe.

BLITZER: You have no doubt that he wanted to blow up that American plane.

AUJALI: Yes, yes. I think as a revenge.

BLITZER: As a revenge from what --

AUJALI: From the United States.

BLITZER: -- from was done to Libya, some of the attacks that --?

AUJALI: That's right. From the attack of '86, you know, against Libya.

BLITZER: So this is his way of getting back.

AUJALI: Yes, of course.

BLITZER: What's your biggest regret? Now that you're free and you can say whatever you want, over the past 40 years, what would you have done differently if you could have?

AUJALI: Well, I think resigning from the -- from the serving the government doesn't really make sense. But now I wait until the right moment. Now I have made a lot of changes. When I stand up in the right moment -- minute or right moment that I can really make a difference, and this is what happen. When the Libyan ambassador to United States comes out and spoke against his regime, this is a great achievement, I believe, in my career.

BLITZER: And we thank you for coming here to THE SITUATION ROOM.

AUJALI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to you, your family, to all the people of Libya.

AUJALI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Is there any final thought you want to make.

AUJALI: We need your support. We need the media to take the Libyan case every day until this regime steps down, until he gone up -- he gone.

BLITZER: Is it a matter of days, you think, for Gadhafi?

AUJALI: I hope it is very, very, very, very soon. And I think -- I'm sure it's very close.

BLITZER: Would you want him dead?

AUJALI: I want him to be out of my country. I want him to be out of the Libyan life. I want the Libyan to gain their dignity, to gain their inspiration, to be proud of the country that they are Libyans. That's what I want. Dead or alive doesn't matter, but we want him out of our life.

BLITZER: Ali Suleiman Aujali, Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming. Good luck.

AUJALI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Don't leave yet, because I want to talk to you in a moment.

The White House comes out swinging today as well in its toughest show of force yet against the Libyan government. But will sanctions be enough? Stand by.

And the long-awaited journey to safety. You're going to hear from one of the first Americans to be evacuated from the war-torn country.

And it was once considered a scary place. Now some Libyans say it's like a public museum. We're going inside one of Moammar Gadhafi's ransacked palaces. You will see it for the first time right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A tough new crackdown on the Libyan government coming from the Obama administration.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

They announced, Jay Carney, the press secretary, that they were going to have sanctions.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: They didn't go into specifics.

BORGER: They didn't.

BLITZER: But what are you learning?

BORGER: Well, I spoke with a national security source who said to me that the president is now finalizing an executive order, Wolf. And it's not surprising. It will be financial sanctions targeting the regime, penalty on people by targeting their assets.

What they're trying to do is encourage the kind of defections we just saw a moment ago at very high level by letting people know that they're not going to able to financially benefit anymore from being a part of the Gadhafi regime and they could be held accountable for war crimes.

And that way, they hope to get people who are supporting Gadhafi to change their mind by hitting them where it hurts.

BLITZER: Do they have a way of getting the Gadhafi money? You heard the ambassador say at least $30 billion in the U.K. alone...

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... probably billions of other dollars hidden all over the world.

BORGER: You know, I think that's something that the United States has to do in concert with our allies to figure out where the money is, where the money is hidden, whether it's in banks in America, whether it's in banks in Europe. And so that's something they have to do in concert with the E.U.

And they also have to -- as you know, Wolf, the one question is, what can they do militarily to stop the killings?

BLITZER: Well, you just heard the ambassador, Ali Suleiman Aujali, who has now defected from Gadhafi, say they need a no-fly zone. They need U.S. military, NATO forces -- the Arab world, he says, can't do it -- to get in there and start bombing some of these targets, making sure that Libyan aircraft don't go up.

Fouad Ajami, by the way, said these sanctions are ridiculous; they're not going to do anything to Gadhafi; you need military action.

BORGER: But...

BLITZER: And so the question is, does the Obama administration right now have the guts to do in Libya what the Clinton administration did in Bosnia and in Kosovo and go ahead and put together some sort of international coalition to save the lives of thousands of people?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I think the point is, they're not going to get it out of the Security Council, because the question is, what would China do, for example?

But would they be able to do it with NATO? And, remember, Bill Clinton said the one thing, the one problem he had was that he waited too long, right?

BLITZER: Yes, he waited too long with Rwanda. He was -- that was his big regret -- 800,000 people were killed in that genocide between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I remember when I was in Africa and we went there back in 1998. And the question, is President Obama now going to be on the sidelines and allow thousands of Libyans to die, or will he take decisive, bold action, including military action, if necessary, to stop it?

BORGER: Well, I think the question is would they do unilateral action? And I kind of doubt that. I think they would want to do in concert -- everything I have been hearing...

BLITZER: Yes, it would be much more effective if it was multilateral.

BORGER: Of course. Everybody I'm hearing, the Arab League...

BLITZER: If there was a U.N. resolution, if they passed the resolution authorizing the use of force, if they got the Europeans, they would...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But they have to move quickly, because this story is unfolding very rapidly. And the dangers are enormous for these people in Libya right now.

BORGER: Well, they finally got Libya off the Human Rights Commission, right?

BLITZER: Right. That's right. Libya was a member of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which was ridiculous.

BORGER: That was a joke. Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, thank you.

A group of Americans finally escapes the violence in Libya. And they're bringing with them some hair-raising horror stories, firsthand accounts of what they witnessed just before they got out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel safer. At the same time, my heart is completely in Libya right now. I feel totally torn. I feel for the people who are still there and who didn't get a chance to get out, because it's chaos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: After sitting on a ferry dock for days in Tripoli, a group of Americans finally makes its way to safety. We're going to the scene as they arrive in Malta.

And should America be doing more to stop the bloodshed in Libya? I will ask "The New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof. He's slamming the international response as way too weak, at least so far.

And Ben Wedeman takes us inside what's left of Moammar Gadhafi's ransacked home in Libya's second largest city, Benghazi.

Much more coming up on the breaking news right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's the latest from Libya right now.

U.N. officials say the government crackdown there is escalating dramatically, that more than 1,000 people may now be dead. Witnesses are reporting fierce clashes in the capital of Tripoli between security forces and anti-Gadhafi protesters.

The embattled leader made a surprise public appearance today, saying he's with the people and vowing to defend the country against foreign influences.

CNN is focusing enormous resources to keep you up to date on all the angles of this quickly changing situation. And with anti- government movements gaining strength across much of the region, here's a rundown of some other hot spots going on right now.

Demonstrators clashed with security forces across Iraq today. Crowds attacked and burned government facilities, and troops opened fire in several Iraqi cities. At least five people are dead. Dozens more are wounded. The protests are focused on corruption and poor government services.

Calls for the ouster of Yemen's leader intensifying today. Following Friday prayers, thousands of students lined the streets of the capital, and more protests are being reported in the southern city of Aden. High unemployment and widespread poverty are fuelling the unrest.

In Egypt, several thousand people gathered in Tahrir Square earlier in the day to urge the interim government there to implement promised reforms. Among their demands, an end to emergency rule and the release of political prisoners.

Joining us from Cairo, Egypt, "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Nick, thanks very much. I was intrigued by this tweet that you put out saying, "The courage of pro-democracy protesters in Libya is matched only by the fecklessness of the international community." Fecklessness, weak, worthless. Explain what you mean by that.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, at the same time that you have these unbelievable protesters marching unarmed, for example, from Tatura (ph) into Tripoli, you know, into -- right into these people with machine guns, you have an international community that is essentially wringing its hands. And there are things that we can do. Nobody is proposing that we invade Libya, and that would be a mistake for a million reasons. But it's imperative right now that we send signals to try to peel off the Libyan military from Gadhafi himself. And there are ways we can signal that. And we're basically talking about talking. We're not going anything more.

BLITZER: Well, give us some examples, specific examples of what the international community should do.

KRISTOF: Well, I think there -- you know, one basic thing we can do is work on a no-fly zone. One can simply announce that any aircraft, any military aircraft that are used to attacked civilians will lead to a reprisal, that we're not going to have planes necessarily above Libya at all times, but that when those aircraft are used against civilians, then later Libya is going to lose aircraft on the ground. The same with ships. And that can be imposed immediately. It can be under conjunction with NATO, for example.

A second thing we can do, I was talking to somebody in Tripoli today. And he was saying that military units there, in one base in particular, that they want some kind of signal from the United States and other countries so that they can be reassured that, if they stay on their base and don't get involved, that they will be protected, that they won't be attacked. And we should send those kind of signals to the Libyan military and ask them not to get involved in this.

BLITZER: It looks, though, like the statements coming out of the European leadership are stronger than the statements coming out of the Obama administration. They're much more specific. They're much more pointed. And they're naming -- they're naming Gadhafi specifically. Is that your sense, as well?

KRISTOF: The Obama administration is worried that, if we led the way, then there might then be reprisal attacks on Americans in Tripoli.

But at this point that ferry carrying so many of those Americans has now left. And, you know, at the end of the day, when you have these Libyans leading the way, when you have Libya -- when you have the pro-Gadhafi forces with machine guns (UNINTELLIGIBLE), then I think it is incumbent upon us to do more. And I think it's sad that Europe is leading the way and that we're kind of hiding in the wings.

BLITZER: I'm really concerned, though, that Gadhafi in these, maybe in his final hours, maybe final days, he'll really unleash the mercenaries, the non-Libyan troops, some of his own thugs. And randomly just start killing not just hundreds, but thousands of people. He does have weapons over there that are fully capable of doing that. How concerned should the world be about that?

KRISTOF: It's really hard to know. But I mean, his interior minister, who presumably know him better than you or I, has warned about the possibility that he might use biological weapons. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just let loose on civilian populations. Now in this situation, I mean, there's not a lot we can do at the end of the day. But one of the things we really can do is make sure that he doesn't have use of his air assets and of his ships. Those are the ways that he would be able to attack Benghazi, for example.

And I spoke to somebody who is involved in three ships that were -- that were ordered to leave Tripoli and attack Benghazi. And those naval commanders did not openly disobey, but in fact is, they're stalling. They don't want to go do that.

We need to send signals to those people to encourage them, to give them safe passages to Malta, for example, so that they know how to get away and that those attacks won't take place. We can at least mitigate the degree of killing, even if we can't forestall it completely.

BLITZER: One final question, Nick, before I let you go. And it's a tough one. If the U.S. were to find out where Gadhafi is hiding out right now, would it be appropriate to kill him? To drop a Hellfire missile from a drone, let's say, and just kill him once and for all?

KRISTOF: That is a pretty tough question. Boy. You know, I'm really tempted to say yes. I am a little bit nervous that, if you had unilateral action by the U.S., that that would resonate in Libya among nationalists as, you know, a poor and imperialist power intervening, and so I'd have to think about that a lot. I'd be really worried about other casualties. I'd want to know how sure we are that we would actually be able to take out Gadhafi.

It would work an awful lot better if it were a joint American- Tunisian and Egyptian operation in some form.

BLITZER: Nicholas Kristof of "The New York Times" joining us.

The first Americans have just arrived in Malta after being trapped in Libya since the bloodshed began. CNN's Ivan Watson is standing by a live report.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The first U.S. chartered ferry carrying more than 150 American citizens out of Libya has just arrived in Malta after a nearly two-day delay. CNN's Ivan Watson is in Malta joining us now with more.

How was that arrival? What was going on, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, normally, this is a destination for cruise ships and hundreds of thousands of tourists. But now what we're seeing is this exodus from Libya. This is one of the main points through. And we saw this cruise ship come in, rather a ferryboat come in, with more than 300 passengers on board. About half of them were American citizens. It arrived moments after the White House announced that it was suspending operations at its embassy in Tripoli and that it would be imposing sanctions against Libya.

Now, that was also moments after a plane took off, Wolf, from Tripoli carrying more Americans, including, we have learned, the charge d'affaires, who landed and spoke to CNN when that plane arrived in Istanbul. So very clear that the U.S. government clearing diplomats out of the country right before imposing -- announcing sanctions would be imposed.

The people that were coming off of the ferryboat here, very relieved, of course. Many of them have been on the boat for 48 hours, waiting for weather to clear up so that they could make the journey to Malta.

Take a listen to what one young American woman of Libyan descent had to say. She arrived with eight of her family members.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YUSRA TEKBALI, EVACUEE: I feel relieved to be off that boat. I was there for three days. I feel -- I feel safer. But at the same time, my heart is completely in Libya right now. I feel totally torn. I feel for the people who are still there and who didn't get a chance to get out, because it's -- it's chaos.

We were in our house for four days without leaving our house. We heard gun shouts outside. Machine guns, I'm pretty sure. Protesters clashing with police. Stories we were hearing from friends about complete massacres of their neighborhoods. Things like that. But I think what really, really just kind of drove us to leave was the night Gadhafi gave his speech and threatened...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saif al-Islam, the son?

TEKBALI: No, no, Colonel Gadhafi. When he gave a speech and he threatened. I mean, his speech, and to hear him say he's going to come house to house and door to door if we don't stop, or if Libyan people don't stop rising up against him, I mean, those aren't empty threats. And when you have African mercenaries in the country and you have people hired to kill to do that. You can't take that lightly.

And I think that the world -- Libyans know what this regime is capable of. But I think for the first time the world is actually seeing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Really amazing to hear that, amid all that fear about having to flee your house and reports of massacres, that she could actually sense, perhaps, a kernel of hope at the heart of all of that, Wolf. That perhaps this bloodshed could lead to a better Libya -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At least these 300 people got out of there on that ferry. Thanks very much, Ivan. Thanks for your good work.

More Americans, by the way, on a U.S.-chartered flight out of Libya just landed safely in Istanbul, Turkey. Just ahead, my interview with the top U.S. diplomat in Libya. She was on that plane. She tells us some Americans weren't able to make it out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Despite the massive chaos in the streets of Benghazi, residents there are reveling in one symbol of hope: the fallen palace of their former defiant leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

CNN international correspondent Ben Wedeman takes us inside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A few uninvited guests have popped by the Gadhafi's home in Benghazi. The place, however, is a mess.

Like almost every building associated with the Gadhafi regime, it was ransacked and torched by angry protesters.

(on camera) This is all that's left of a conference room in one of the palaces that Moammar Gadhafi and his sons stayed in when they visited Benghazi. And if it were up to the people of this city, they'll never visit again.

(voice-over) The sightseers don't seem to have much regard for their absent host, this man parodying one of Gadhafi's recent appearances on state television. The atmosphere may be cocky, but memories of the recent past are still vivid in a place most Benghazi residents fear to tread, says Abdul Loma (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is like one of the places in Benghazi where -- like, the most scariest places in Benghazi. And now it's a public -- it's just a museum for everybody. Everybody like -- everybody left their houses just to come see what's going on. What is in here?

WEDEMAN: Beyond the blackened walls and shattered windows, there isn't much left to look at. Smoke and flames still belch from some of the buildings in the compound, which also housed the military command for eastern Libya.

The fire department isn't exactly rushing here to put out the flames in buildings that were symbols of a hated regime.

Heavy equipment has been brought in to search for hidden tunnels and other underground bunkers and prisons. It seems a given here that most secrets lie just below the surface. Though, after all the effort and intention, they find nothing here.

This was the heart of the Gadhafi regime in the east. Its gates were blasted open during the final battle. The weapons used to defend it now a platform for chants against the former leader and more posing for the camera. But the joy is genuine, says Hiba Allev (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For this feeling, I'm like, like flying. Like -- no one, no Libyan or Libyan citizen can even come close to that door. So you can imagine that feeling. You have it here, inside.

WEDEMAN: Also genuine: hatred for the man who sometimes called this place home.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Benghazi, Libya.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And we'll have a live report from Ben coming up right at the top of the hour from Libya's second largest city, Benghazi. He'll be joining John King.

And dramatic historic events unfolding right now at the United Nations Human Rights Council. We'll explain what's going on when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Late this afternoon a U.S. chartered flight touched down in Istanbul, Turkey, carrying American evacuees from Libya. Joan Polaschik was the top U.S. diplomat stationed in Tripoli, Libya. I spoke to her just after she got off the ground in Istanbul, and I asked about the rest of the embassy staff.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOAN POLASCHIK, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN TRIPOLI: All U.S. direct hired staff and their families have departed Tripoli safely. We're very glad about that.

Unfortunately, there are American citizens who were not able to make it out, who had a number of problems today with our flight. Basically, the security circumstances in Tripoli radically deteriorated after Friday prayers, and it was impossible, I think, for we think up to 90 citizens who were trying to reach our U.S. government charter at Matige Air Base to join us. So we still think that there are any -- well, at least 90, possibly more American citizens who are hoping to get out of Tripoli.

BLITZER: Because I had heard numbers as many as 6,000 U.S. citizens were living in Libya, many of them dual nationals, but they're U.S. citizens. Do they want to stay, or are they trying to get out?

POLASCHIK: Right. I really don't know the answer to that question. We don't have a complete registration system of all the American citizens in any country, because of course, it's a voluntary registration system. So we have been tracking just the numbers of people who are looking for help on the way out.

So we do know, for instance, as we are organizing this flight, that we had about 110 people in Tripoli who were looking for a way out. As I mentioned earlier, about 90 were not able to make it out on our flight. So I really don't know. The need could be much greater if the security situation continues to deteriorate. Our working assumption in the embassy had been that many of our dual citizens, meaning the Libyan Americans, probably were just hunkered in place with their families.

But as we've been doing our crisis planning at the embassy, we thought that there could be a lot of similarities to Lebanon, not necessarily politically, but in the fact that also in Lebanon there's a large population of dual citizens. And then they just start really kind of coming out of the woodwork, as it were, and looking for help as the situation gets worse.

So from our perspective it's really important that the U.S. and other countries continue to work together to put together the transportation means. It took us a lot of effort to organize this flight, and we're really grateful for our partner nations who helped us, including Turkey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joan Polaschik. She was the charge d'affaires, the top U.S. diplomat in Tripoli. Just before she got out, they shut down the U.S. embassy in Libya.

We'll have the very latest from Libya, by the way, coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA." Stand by for that.

But first, the United Nations Human Rights Council takes a rare action against one of its own sitting members. We're talking about Libya. Lisa Sylvester's standing by with details on what it means when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A rare rebuke today of a sitting member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The council voted to investigate Libya, one of its own members. Our Lisa Sylvester's following the story for us.

Lisa, this is quite unusual, but there wasn't much opposition to it, was there?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, it was African nations, Arab nations, western countries. They were all really in agreement here, passing the resolution condemning Libya.

Now, this came as the Libyan envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva broke with the Gadhafi government today.

ABDEL SHALUT, LIBYAN MISSION TO THE U.N. IN GENEVA: The young people in my country today...

SYLVESTER: In a historic move, the Libyan envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Council announced he and his entire delegation had broken with his country's government and now stand with the Libyan people, no longer the official representatives of the Gadhafi regime. The chamber erupting in cheers.

The Libyan envoy then asked the council to pause to recognize those killed.

SHALUT: I would like to ask you to call for a minute's silence in honor of those martyrs who fell in Libya. May I ask all delegations to stand for a minute's silence?

SYLVESTER: It came as the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution demanding the Libyan authorities end human rights violations and calling for an outside criminal investigation.

NAVI PILLAY, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: The crackdown in Libya of peaceful demonstrations is escalating alarmingly with the reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture of protesters. Tanks, helicopters, and military aircraft have reportedly been used indiscriminately to attack the protesters.

SYLVESTER: Gadhafi has promised to fight to the bitter end. These images of abuse and violence. People too scared to show their faces in Libya's Tripoli, where Gadhafi still rules.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very much -- very much stress. Very much sadness and hopelessness. Because you know, we can't go outside. I wish I can go outside and protest.

SYLVESTER: But astonishingly, Gadhafi's government remains at this moment still a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that is supposed to protect and uphold the human rights of citizens. The General Assembly is expected to vote next week to suspend Libya's membership.

FRED ABRAHAMS, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: There has been broad condemnation from African governments, Arab states, and that's very important here. It's not seen as some sort of western attack on Libya. This is the world community speaking up together and saying, "It's too much. You cannot open fire on peaceful protesters."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now, it takes a 2/3 majority vote of the U.N. General Assembly to suspend Libya from the U.N. Human Rights Council. And that, Wolf, could happen as early as Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if Gadhafi's still in business by then. Thanks very much, Lisa.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.