July 25, 2003 | Broadcast

News from the Headlines

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The release of the photographs and now the videotape has touched off a universal debate — outrage, as we just heard, in some corners, praise in many others.

Joining us here in Washington, two guests: Cliff May, he heads the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy; Peter Beinart, he’s editor of “The New Republic.”

I’ll start with you, Cliff. Do you understand why some in the Middle East, in the Arab world, in the Muslim world are angry at the U.S. and may seek revenge right now?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY: Well, I understand, but I sort of disagree. First of all, imagine the firestorm of controversy we’d be having right now if the U.S. had these pictures and refused to release them. No, we’re not going to allow anybody to see these pictures. People would be going crazy.

Secondly, the U.S. is releasing them, but you at CNN? You’re not forced to put them on the air. That’s your editorial decision. Similarly, in Iraq today, for the first time in more than 30 years, there is a free press, dozens of new newspapers. They are making the decision independently of do they want to run these pictures.

So, if they’re angry, they’re angry that the U.S. has toppled this despotic regime. That’s the real source of the anger. Let’s not kid ourselves.

BLITZER: All right, Peter, we’re going to get to you. But I want Josie to weigh in from California. Go ahead, Josie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My comment was, I do see why the Iraqis thought the bodies were fake, because if you look at the beard on Uday, it almost looks like it’s glued on. And also, my brother passed away, and they couldn’t shave him because they said dead skin, it would rip the skin. And his nose is not the same nose. If you look at the pictures, it’s not the same nose that he has. And if it were them, I don’t think they had to do that much reconstructive surgery.

BLITZER: Peter, do you think — some of our viewers obviously are skeptical, at least Josie was. Do you believe there is any possibility at all that this is fake?

PETER BEINART, EDITOR, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: No, I don’t think so. You know, you clearly have a culture in Iraq, and — well, not only in Iraq — of conspiracy theories, of people who are going to believe whatever they want to believe about the United States, because they see the world from a very different vantage point. But I do think this will suppress some of that, and it will force some Iraqis to start thinking about a permanent post-Saddam regime there.

BLITZER: I guess the question boils down to, at least some in the Middle East, and others probably around the world, in light of the intelligence flap that we’ve all been going through these past several weeks, is there a possibility the U.S., at least around the world, there’s a possibility that people might believe the U.S. is making it all up?

MAY: Well, there’s that possibility. There’s a new poll in Germany that shows something like a third believe that 9/11 may have been done by the U.S. itself. It can be that there are people that don’t we ever walked…

BLITZER: A lot of strange people out there.

MAY: But I think what this has mainly reminded people of is what a despicable regime this was, how awful these people were and how just it was for the U.S. to do this. And we’ve been reminded of something very important. The Iraqi people — and we know this — are still afraid that the U.S. at the end of the day will run out, will abandon them, will betray them, as we did frankly after the Gulf War. And seeing that Saddam’s progeny are not coming back because they are dead, this gives them some confidence that this is for real.

BLITZER: What they really want to see, I assume, is Saddam Hussein himself either captured or killed.

BEINART: Yes, that’s absolutely right. And just to go back to the point we were talking about earlier, there is always going to be these conspiracy theories and these suspicions. And one of the ways to respond to it is to make sure that there are non-Americans on the ground there, people from other countries who also come across this who can verify it, so people can’t say, well, this is just the U.S. making it up. And when we find weapons of mass destruction, we’re going to have the same thing. It will be very valuable if the some of the people who find them are not Americans, because it will diffuse these potential charges that we planted them there.

BLITZER: All right, let’s get to some e-mail referring to the commission report yesterday on 9/11. Was there anything that could have been done to prevent 9/11? This from Ken in Naples, Florida: “Sections of the intelligence report on 9/11 have been covered up to protect the Bush administration and the Saudi royal family. We will never know the truth about what the government knew prior to the attacks.”

Do you believe that?

MAY: No, I think we’ll know everything. I mean, I think it’s — look, what was redacted, what was deleted about the Saudis, I would love to see it out. There may be reasons having to do with sources and methods that it can’t be released. I think we will know eventually. Certainly, there is nothing in that information that Saudi’s PR representatives in the U.S. would like to see releases. We know the Saudis have been way too involved in funding and encouraging terrorism through the spread of Wahhabism around the world.

BLITZER: The impression that people are leaving, including Senator Graham and Senator Shelby, that this was done to protect Saudi Arabia, not releasing the specific details of any connections between the Saudi government and any of the 19 hijackers; more in terms of trying to protect U.S./Saudi relations than national security — secrets, classified information, sources or methods, if you will.

BEINART: Yes. And, in fact, I would think that people like Cliff would really be jumping all over the Bush administration about this, because many conservatives, rightly, have been very, very tough on Saudi Arabia. And now, you have the Bush administration basically going to bat to keep the American people from realizing there are real questions about how Saudi money got to the people who were supporting the hijackers in the United States. We need to know more about that. And I think it’s unfortunate that the Bush administration has tended to be less cooperative rather than more with these investigations

BLITZER: Do you want to respond to that?

MAY: I think the U.S. should put out everything it can, but I’m a little reluctant without knowing the specific intelligence involved to say absolutely that it should all get out right now, this minute. There may be negotiations going on that you and I don’t know about. I think we will know what’s in those 28 pages before long.

And I absolutely agree with your broader point that the Saudis right now are spending more to spread Wahhabism than the Soviets ever spent to spread communism. That is incredible. And Wahhabism is an ideology of hatred towards Christians, Jews, moderates Muslims and Hindus. This is the swamp, as Jim Woolsey says, from which the mosquitoes emerge.

BLITZER: All right, let’s get this e-mail from Steve in Toronto. I’m letting you handle this one, Peter. “The fact that the U.S. has to show pictures and bodies to get the public to believe them is truly sad. The Bush administration has lied too much, and now no one believes anything they say.”

BEINART: Well, even for the Bush administration, there was a strong tendency in the Middle East and the Muslim world not to believe the United States. That’s a bigger problem than the Bush administration. But I do think the Bush administration has exacerbated it, because this administration has now clearly said things in the run-up to the war in Iraq that have turned out not to be true, and their explanations keep shifting, and that has hurt America’s credibility abroad. That’s part of the reason, not the only reason, but part of the reason America has such a huge credibility gap in so many parts of the world, and not just amongst conspiracy theorists.

MAY: Well, again, the same people who didn’t believe, and still don’t believe that 9/11 was committed by jihadist terrorists are the same people who are making up these conspiracy theories. Now, it is going to be very hard to convince them. We need to do a better job of communicating to the Arab world, the Muslim world, more specifically to the Iraqi public. It is amazing to me that we have not at this point totally dominated the airwaves in Iraq. And you know what? We haven’t.

BLITZER: For a country that has a lot of great communicators, they don’t do necessarily a great job.

MAY: They need to send you over there, Wolf.

BEINART: That’s a failure of pre-war planning.

BLITZER: We’ll get into that. Peter Beinart, thanks very much. Cliff May, thanks to you as well.