Appearance by Gordon Mitchell on Night Talk (PCNC/WPXI-TV)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

October 27, 2004, 9:00 p.m.

Topic: Preventive war and missing weapons in Iraq

Approximate transcript from audio recording


ANN DEVLIN: Good evening. Honored to be with you, as always. A lot to talk about tonight and so let me give you a quick rundown. Later in the broadcast we are going to get an update on the good works the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Cancer Institute is performing, and indeed pioneering, not just in the Pittsburgh region, but of course for the world. We will also hear about a special charity event they have going. And you can participate tonight, right in the comfort of your own home, using your computer keyboard later this evening. Before that we are going to go heavily into the campaigns and into one of the red-hot issues that is motivating a lot of the dialogue in these final days of the campaign. That has to do with the question of what and when did the President know about these weapons that are missing in Iraq. So I asked one of our experts locally to come aboard this evening to talk about the array of factual information that is out there. Tonight we are going to deal in factual information. What is out there? What questions remain? What questions are outstanding about this issue? So Gordon Mitchell is going to be joining us to talk about the information that will motivate the candidates to make the charges and counter-charges in the next few days. First, though, let's get started tonight with a piece from NBC News on this very subject. The latest in charges and counter-charges today from the campaigns.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: This is what all the commotion is about. Iraqi high explosives at the al-Qaqaa facility. Iraqi video obtained by NBC News shows this HMX contained in flimsy cardboard boxes, some marked "explosives," others labeled as "bottled water." It's only a small portion of nearly 380 tons of explosives that was stored in bunkers at al-Qaqaa before the war and is now missing. The Pentagon is scrambling to find out what happened. NBC News has learned that the Pentagon is analyzing satellite photos of al-Qaqaa taken shortly before the war, which reportedly show large trucks positioned around some bunkers and buildings in the vast complex. Pentagon officials say the photos raise the possibility that the Iraqis were using the trucks to move something, but acknowledge there is no hard proof that they were moving explosives. About two weeks after the war started, soldiers with the 3rd Infantry Division were the first to arrive at al-Qaqaa on April third, 2003. Today, Brigade Commander Dave Perkins told reporters from that time on, it would have been almost impossible for anyone to remove hundreds of tons of explosives from the compound, because the two main roads leading away were packed for weeks with U.S. military convoys. Pentagon officials also revealed today that military weapon inspectors visited the site three times in May, earlier and more often than first reported. But each visit lasted only six hours, making it difficult to inspect the entire vast complex, about the size of Manhattan. NBC cameraman Craig White was embedded with the third ID.


CRAIG WHITE: The place was huge. There were dozens and dozens and dozens of large, dome-shaped bunkers.


JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: The fact remains that nearly 400 tons of high explosives disappeared sometime between early March and early April, and Pentagon officials admit they have no idea where it is, or who may have it. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News.


ANN DEVLIN: So that is an outstanding question, certainly one that is mobilizing a lot of conversation in this campaign. Let's stay on the facts tonight, because you are going to hear a lot of charges and counter-charges in the next few days. Denials, admissions. Maybe fewer admissions and more denials. Now to continue on talking about the facts on this, because I think this is a big story, here is Dr. Gordon Mitchell, who is from the University of Pittsburgh; Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Debate who also hold a position with the Ridgway Center as well. Welcome back.


GORDON MITCHELL: Good to be here.


ANN DEVLIN: We talked about the international scope of issues in the campaign just a couple of weeks ago. This is of course a new development. When I called you yesterday and we talked about this, I asked whether we might sort through what both sides are saying here. Because so quickly, a matter of intelligence and great military intrigue has degenerated in the public discourse to being just a campaign issue, and I don't think it is just that.


GORDON MITCHELL: The single issue of when did the 350 tons of explosives disappear from this al-Qaqaa facility has been the major focus so far. On Monday we had NBC News, CNN and the Bush administration saying there is a good chance it was actually gone by the time U.S. troops and the 101st Airborne rolled in. They had an NBC News crew with them to apparently testify that they went through and found that there were no weapons. Tuesday and now today we are finding out that in fact that crew stopped very briefly. The 101st Airborne's mission was to go straight to Baghdad. They didn't conduct an actual search of the facility.


ANN DEVLIN: So it wasn't just that the crew stopped briefly, the embedded reporters with the military unit. The 101st Airborne was actually there for a brief amount of time.


GORDON MITCHELL: That's right. Now today, Mohammed al-Sharaa, who heads the Iraqi science ministry's site monitoring department, and who worked with UN weapons inspectors, said "it is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall." So there is new evidence from Baghdad today that seems to suggest that the explosives were there at the time that Saddam Hussein fell on April 9, 2003, and that therefore, the transfer of the munitions away from the al-Qaqaa facility occurred sometime after that point. But Ann, I think it is important to take a step back and look at why we are focusing on what happened to these specific 350 tons of explosives. They asked Charles Duelfer, the head of the Iraq Survey Group about this yesterday, and he said he's not getting that worked up about it, because this is really a small portion of the explosive materiel that is all over Iraq. In fact, I think the reason why this is a big issue in the election is because the New York Times reported it. When you look at the bigger picture, on October 1, 2004, the IAEA sent a report to the United Nations saying that there has been widespread transferring of weapons materiel out of the weapons facilities in Iraq starting after the occupation began and continuing even into 2004. They are talking about satellite photos of twelve or thirteen facilities verifying that there has been a major transfer of materiel. One IAEA official says that from the satellite photos, there are many more transfers than previously thought.


ANN DEVLIN: The suggestion has been that the reason this is an incredible concern is that so little of this explosive material could be used for such terribly damaging terrorist attacks. There are questions tonight about the relative silence from the intelligence community. There are questions about why if there were movements of munitions, why weren't they detected? What's out there on that front?


GORDON MITCHELL: What we are learning is that they were detected. They were detected by the IAEA and Iraqi officials. It has only hit the front pages of the headlines because the New York Times chose to focus on this al-Qaqaa facility. There have been twelve or thirteen other facilities. In fact, when you go back to April 16, 2003, the Iraqi equivalent of our Center for Disease control was looted of live HIV virus and black fever. There have been many other instances of looting and transfers of weapons materiel from unguarded facilities. The larger point is that Iraq was in chaos after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the occupation ushered in a period of considerable risk in terms of failure to secure these facilities.


ANN DEVLIN: Back in just a moment. And when we come back, you will here from two representatives from the campaigns in house this evening. They are going to respond, and we'll hear more from Gordon Mitchell and more of the specifics on this story. Thanks for joining us. This is Night Talk.


[commercial break]


ANN DEVLIN: In studio here is Dr. Gordon Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh and the Ridgway Center. He's an Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Debate. Next to him, let me make these introductions now Craig Smith is a senior advisor to the Kerry campaign and was a senior advisor in the Clinton administration, as well as chief of staff when President Clinton was Governor Clinton in Arkansas. And Leslie Gromis Baker is next to him, a familiar face to us from the Bush-Cheney campaign. She heads it up for how many states?




ANN DEVLIN: Five states. With those introductions made, we are going to pause here for just one moment to take a shot outdoors. This is a little unorthodox, but forgive us because it is history in the making. The lunar eclipse has begun. So we'll give you some shots of that throughout the evening as it unfolds. If you haven't had a chance, it is a great night. The moon is clear outside, remarkable enough for Pittsburgh. You might want to check it out, because it is supposed to be, by all promise, particularly breathtaking. So we come back to ground level where the campaign is being waged. I'm going to let both Leslie and Craig respond to the array of facts we are setting out on this particular story, the missing weapons in Iraq. Gordon, let's cut to the chase here. What is the outstanding question for the President, if you had to frame one tonight? What is the outstanding question about these materials missing, and all of the others that no one is really talking about?


GORDON MITCHELL: One issue is that the Iraqi government appears to be breaking ranks with the Bush administration. Why was this report given to the IAEA on October 10? And why is Iyad Allawi now criticizing the United States for "incompetence," blaming the ambush of 49 Iraqi military recruits on the U.S.? That's one major story. The other major story is that this al-Qaqaa example, coupled with the other facilities that have lost dangerous nuclear materials, shows that the military tool of preventive warfare, which is exactly what President Bush refers to when he says we are going to "go on offense" against terrorists, is a blunt tool of disarmament when you use it to change regimes. Apparently what we are seeing now is confirmation of the fact that the Bush administration did not plan for the ensuing chaos that transpired after the Iraqi regime change. In addition to this one facility, according to the IAEA, there were from ten to thirteen facilities where satellite imagery showed significant transfer of dual-use weapons materiel that could be used by terrorists and other nations.


ANN DEVLIN: Gordon, so what's a question to the President tonight? If you sit across from him and pose a question, what's the question?


GORDON MITCHELL: The question is why not enough troops to guard these facilities.


ANN DEVLIN: And where is this material, and why don't we know? Is that a valid question in your view?


GORDON MITCHELL: Certainly that is a valid question. In some ways it is hard to tell because the administration has not looked at the materials closely. That is one of their defenses. They are saying don't blame us for incompetence, we don't know where they are. That gets back to the question of whether you can implement a credible preventive war doctrine if you can't actually control the country afterward to prevent leakage of the materials that you are worried about.


ANN DEVLIN: Now, let's skip down to Leslie. Leslie, what is this? Is this evidence of what, according to your view, according to what the campaign is saying today?


LESLIE GROMIS BAKER: What we are looking at is that the whole country, Iraq, was a weapons stockpile. It was everywhere. So far, they have either destroyed or are at least maintaining 400,000 tons of weapons. What Gordon is saying here is that there are 300 tons right now that are in question in this specific example. Now I'm not trying to minimize that, I'm just trying to set the universe of what we are dealing with. They have already destroyed, or at least they have in their possession, over 400,000 tons. The fact is, Gordon doesn't know, Craig doesn't know, I don't know, when those materials disappeared. You had the reporters report. Even today, I think he was citing the Iraqi officials' estimates, the weapons inspectors took a count and said we don't even know if it's 300 tons. We think that in some of these, it was only three tons. So there are a lot of facts that aren't known. Obviously Senator Kerry is going to try and take advantage of this and make it a campaign issue. What we see now is that it was a good thing for Saddam Hussein not to be in power. If we are worrying about 300 tons, and we already have 400,000 tons destroyed, what was he going to do with all those weapons and all that artillery?


CRAIG SMITH: There are a couple of questions I think the Bush administration needs to answer. One, is this a big deal or not? Based on the feedback coming out of the Vice-President and out of the President, and other people in the administration, they are trying to play this down as not being a very big deal. Now if you are a mother whose son is driving down the roads of Iraq, I think this is a big deal and they are entitled to some answers about what happened. The second question they need to answer is, if this happened over a year ago, why was nobody told? Why was there not an investigation? The point you raised, we don't know what happened. Why hasn't anyone found out? It's been a year. There is a war going on and kids are dying from roadside bombs. Three quarters of a million pounds of explosives are missing and nobody says anything about it? This is just a symptom of the broader failure of the Bush strategy in Iraq. They had a noble goal. Saddam is a bad guy. We should get rid of him. We want freedom. We want democracy. But a goal is not enough. You need to have a plan, and it was obvious they had no plan. They had no plan to win the peace. They had no plan to secure things once they got there. As he pointed out, the Health Ministry was looted. The Bureau of Antiquities was looted. These weapons caches were looted. What did they protect? They protected the Oil Ministry. That's why they rushed in there. That's no plan. And that's why we are where we are today in Iraq. There's no plan. There's no plan that got us here, and as far as I can tell there's no plan to get us out.


ANN DEVLIN: I just want to make one observation as a person completely on the outside and watching all the coverage, it seems to me there was a lot more coverage about the looting of the Bureau of Antiquities than there was about the HIV getting out, the weapons going missing. We seem to be evidencing more concern about can we get the antiquities back, this is a crisis, who has them?, can we buy them back through the black market?, and can we put it all back together again. And now this? Back in just a moment. This is Night Talk.


[commercial break]


ANN DEVLIN: Continuing the conversation here. Joining us is Gordon Mitchell of the University of Pittsburgh, Craig Smith, senior advisor in the Kerry campaign and former senior advisor in the Clinton administration. Next to him is Leslie Gromis-Baker from the Bush-Cheney campaign. We'll talk more general politics later in the broadcast, but we are starting out talking specifically about the weapons that have gone missing in Iraq and how much meaning it should have to a voter. Let's cut to the chase here. Leslie, what meaning do you think this has to a voter tonight?


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: I think at this point people have made up their minds. For the undecideds, I think they are so tired of the negative back-and-forth that I'm not quite sure they are going to listen to this because they hear both sides of the story on many issues right now in the campaign. I don't think they know who to believe.


ANN DEVLIN: Do you agree with that, Craig?


CRAIG SMITH: No, I don't necessarily agree with that. I think people out there are uneasy about George Bush in this race. I think he has done a good job of trying to convince people that John Kerry is not an acceptable alternative, but that has not erased the unease they have about George Bush. I think it's things like this, the fact we knew these weapons were gone, the fact that obviously we weren't told about it. I think it raises those questions about this guy and the job he has done as President. I think that every day, another nick goes in his armor. I think people are willing to move in this race. Recent polls show three or four percent undecided. In a lot of tight states, three or four percent is going to make the difference.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: But you know what, by like 57 percent, they believe George Bush is best leader on terrorism, and on the war. Senator Kerry acts like he's so concerned about the troops, but he voted against the $87 billion to buy armor and things that were going to keep our military people safe in Iraq. It's the famous "I did vote for it before I voted against it." So they are very uneasy with Senator Kerry on this. At least Craig says tonight that it's a good thing that Saddam is gone. He has said it, but his candidate has not even said it.


CRAIG SMITH: I don't know that I agree with that. But you know, George Bush has not been profiles in courage in the war on terror. This is a guy who got on TV with Matt Lauer and said, "I don't think we can win the war on terror."


ANN DEVLIN: That may be the most candid moment of his presidency.


CRAIG SMITH: Exactly. Of course you know his handlers got out there and made him flip-flop on that. He came out against formation of the 9/11 Commission, and then came out for it. He came out against the Department of Homeland Security, and then when he realized he was going to lose, he came out for it. After the 9/11 Commission made its recommendations, he came out against those recommendations, then for those recommendations, then against them. This is a guy who says you can't be sending mixed signals on terrorism when he's commander-in-chief. I agree.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: John Kerry, who had eleven positions on the war in Iraq, we still don't know where he is on that, and we dont know where he is on terrorism. But it goes back to the conversation we had the other night. It is easy for John Kerry to sit there and criticize. Have you ever looked at one of his speeches? Criticize, criticize, criticize. What's he going to do? We don't know. That's why people are uneasy.


CRAIG SMITH: But what's George Bush going to do? We dont know.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: George Bush told us what he's going to do.


[unintelligible crosstalk]


ANN DEVLIN: If you follow that logic, no candidate could ever raise a criticism against another candidate because they would be guilty of raising a criticism. And I'm saying on this point of missing weapons materials, just a few pounds of which could bring down a jetliner, and we are talking about tons of it being in play and missing, and then we are trying to make it relative and say oh, but, we did get hundreds and hundreds of tons, and so there are still some hundreds of tons that we are investigating and we don't know where they went.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: You are accepting the facts that we don't even know are true at this point. Do we know that they were moved after?


GORDON MITCHELL: Let me jump in there, because I think this is becoming politicized as a campaign-versus-campaign issue. Really, George Bush's major concern right now is not the Kerry campaign; it's the IAEA and the Iraqi government. Mohammed al-Sharaa, who heads the Iraqi science ministry, says, "It is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall." Iraqi Interior Ministry advisor Sabah Kadhim alleges that lower-level U.S. military officers actually facilitated the sale of equipment. And in the October 1, 2004 report of the IAEA to the United Nations, there are satellite data, hard facts, showing that in twelve to thirteen facilities inside Iraq, there was a transfer of very dangerous material outside these facilities, possibly taking place even deep into 2004 when the CPA was still in charge. Those are facts not coming from the Kerry campaign, not coming from NBC News, not from the blogosphere. These are facts from the IAEA and the Iraqi government.


ANN DEVLIN: Back in just a moment. This is Night Talk, and we'll go to the phones next. Thanks so much for joining us.


[commercial break]


ANN DEVLIN: There you go. Another glimpse at it, the lunar eclipse this evening. Spectacular. Duck outside and check it out yourself for a moment. It is a clear night in Pittsburgh and oftentimes when this happens we only get to see them from somewhere else because they are obscured here. It is a gorgeous night and a spectacular sight. Back to this conversation. Reintroducing Dr. Gordon Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh, Craig Smith, a senior advisor in the Kerry campaign, and Leslie Gromis-Baker, who heads up the Bush-Cheney campaign in our area and in a number of other states. I want to get right back into this, and we are going to go right to the phones. Thank you for your patience holding on the lines. In fact, let's go right away. Bob, go ahead, please.


CALLER: Good evening. I guess this is three against one?


ANN DEVLIN: I don't know. Are you joining in and counting yourself?


CALLER: No, I'm counting the host. If you have your Kerry button on I guess it's on your back and we just don't see it.


ANN DEVLIN: Don't get snippy.


CALLER: We are talking about weapons. No one knows when they left. I just saw a young soldier interviewed who said they were not there. I think this a moot point, unless Kerry's people are saying we should have gone in earlier.


ANN DEVLIN: Now Bob, Bob . . .


[unintelligible crosstalk]


CALLER: I do have one question. What was Kerry's plan for Vietnam in 1974, and how many people died after we left?


ANN DEVLIN: Bob, you saw one soldier interviewed and you drew your conclusion? Correct?


CALLER: I didn't hear you.


ANN DEVLIN: I noticed. You saw one soldier interviewed and on that information you draw your conclusion?




ANN DEVLIN: Wow. Thanks so much. Did Kerry have a plan back in 1974?


CRAIG SMITH: He may have. I would advise him to go to the website. I am not familiar with his 1974 plan. I was 14 years old at the time.


ANN DEVLIN: Well in addition, he wasn't running for President in 1974. On to the next Bob on the phones. Bob? Okay, call back. Let's move on here. Paul, go ahead please.


CALLER: I was wondering how the President could go on television and with a straight face say he is taking care of the veterans. I'm a local disabled veteran who currently waits eight weeks or longer to get an appointment. And you have World War II veterans who are worse off than me and wait longer. So how can he, with a straight face, say he is taking care of our vets? That's my question.


ANN DEVLIN: Okay, to Leslie.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: He's increased spending on veterans' health benefits by 50% since the beginning of his administration, higher than I think President Clinton did when he was in office.


ANN DEVLIN: So let me just ask you, is there anything on the radar about problems in administering services in Veterans Administration hospitals?


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: Not that I know of.


ANN DEVLIN: Not that you know of. But you will check back with us and let us know if there is anything that can be added to this conversation. Thank you so much for your call. We'll go on with the phone lines, Cliff, please.


CALLER: I just tuned into the show, and I caught a little bit of the last caller. This story about the supposedly missing weapons in Iraq, how can there be weapons missing that were never supposed to be there? And if they are missing, either way this is a catch-22 for Kerry, because he is claiming there were never weapons there, and now there are weapons there. So he can't have it both ways. This is only one-tenth of one percent of all the weapons that were supposedly in that country.


GORDON MITCHELL: Before 1991, Saddam Hussein had a fearsome arsenal and he was trying to build nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. After the war, the United Nations went in and disarmed him. Part of that disarmament process involved breaking down the weapons and storing them, putting seals on things. So these HMX and RDX explosives, part of this al-Qaqaa facility, were under seal, partly because they have dual-use capability. They weren't nuclear weapons, but they could be used for civilian mining applications. That's why they were neutralized, put in a safe place, and monitored by the IAEA. The problem came when that seal was broken, they were transferred out, and they may have fallen into the wrong hands.


CRAIG SMITH: I would just like to point out to the caller that there is a difference between weapons and weapons of mass destruction. I don't think that John Kerry has ever claimed that Iraq didn't have weapons. It was clear they did have weapons. George Bush claimed they had weapons of mass destruction. Subsequently, the United Nations, and our own intelligence investigators, determined that they could find no weapons of mass destruction. John Kerry has cited those sources as saying that George Bush led us to believe that he had intelligence that there were weapons of mass destruction, none of which have been found. I don't think anyone has ever claimed they didn't have weapons. They had a powerful army. We knew those explosives were there.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: If John Kerry would have ever gone to any of the Intelligence Committee hearings, maybe he would have seen the same intelligence that everybody else did that the President saw, the Senate leadership saw, the past leadership saw. It was all the same intelligence. Everybody believed there were weapons of mass destruction.


GORDON MITCHELL: No. There were significant dissents to the National Intelligence Estimate by the State Department's INR that disputed the central claims that the Bush administration made regarding aluminum tubes and the transfer of uranium from Niger.


CRAIG SMITH: Also senior officials within the CIA said this is very speculative information as it relates to weapons of mass destruction.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: That is the same information that everybody had, everybody saw.


[unintelligible crosstalk}


CRAIG SMITH: And he had that briefing. So to say that he never attended those meetings or had that briefing is just wrong.


[unintelligible crosstalk]


GORDON MITCHELL: Those INR dissents on aluminum tubes and Niger were stripped from the declassified White Paper made public by the Bush administration. So no, not everybody saw the same intelligence.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: The House and Senate leadership did.


ANN DEVLIN: I just want to address this one point and clarify it, because you were talking over one another. The assertion has been made that Kerry was essentially a slacker and did not go to these committee hearings. I am going to use street language to try and put forward the public impression that the Bush administration is trying to put forward, that he just didn't go to these hearings and he just blew them off. What's the truth, from your point of view in the campaign?


CRAIG SMITH: On that, I don't have particular information, but I could go and find it. It was my understanding, based on what I know, and I can't swear that I know the facts, that he, like others, received briefings on intelligence. You know, sometimes in Congress you get more information when you do a briefing than you do in a committee hearing, because you get your questions answered specifically. Do I know how many briefings he attended, specifically? Do I know how many briefings he attended versus how many committee hearings he attended? I don't know the answer to that question.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: It's public record. He missed probably 80% of the public intelligence hearings. And there have been members of the committee who, in their private meetings, he missed a majority of those. When President Allawi came over and addressed a joint session of Congress, the senators had the chance to ask questions about Iraq and he did not bother to attend.


CRAIG SMITH: But in fairness to him, now that he is the Democratic nominee, now he gets a daily intelligence briefing from the CIA every day. So probably he has better information than he would get in a public meeting with a bunch of other people.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: He had the chance to talk to President Allawi face-to-face. Instead, he decided to criticize him from afar on the same day.


GORDON MITCHELL: Leslie, I think you do make a good point that the Democrats were not saints in this process. They should have questioned this intelligence much more vigorously. They didn't. Both parties let us down before this war.


ANN DEVLIN: Back in just a moment. This is Night Talk.


[commercial break]


ANN DEVLIN: I'm saluting Leslie because she is suffering a cough and we placed her as the wingperson just in case she falls off the set. Leslie Gromis-Baker is here from the Bush-Cheney campaign. Next to her is Craig Smith, senior advisor in the Kerry campaign and formerly in the Clinton White House. And right here next to me is Dr. Gordon Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh. We're talking about the weapons missing in Iraq. Is it a legitimate political issue and what is the truth of it? We are talking about the perceptions of the voters in the two different campaigns seeing things very differently. Hold on just a minute. Run some numbers.


GORDON MITCHELL: It would be great to get your reaction on these numbers in a very interesting poll by Steven Kull from the University of Maryland. He did a nationwide sample of 968 respondents from October 12-18. Here are the results. After the Iraq Survey Group, the Duelfer Report, came out, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD or a major program for developing them, while only 28% of Kerry supporters said so. 57% of Bush supporters assume that Duelfer concluded that Iraq had at least a major WMD program, while only 23% of Kerry supporters said so. 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaida, while Kerry supporters have largely opposite perceptions. What explains this reality gap?


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: I think it is the general environment of the election. Both sides are very polarized and very firm in their commitments and their beliefs of, whether it's Iraq, terrorism or some of the domestic issues. But especially on terrorism and Iraq, people are so solidly wed to whatever position they have. I think you see it there. I think those people who are undecided are having a really tough time because they question what is the truth, when both sides are firmly committed to what they believe in.


CRAIG SMITH: I think this poll shows two things. One, this election is a kind of referendum on the credibility of George Bush. If you believe him, you believe anything he says. If you don't believe him, you don't believe anything he says. So I think that is what symptomatic of that. If you look at those positions, that Bush supporters believe there was a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam, which has been proven not to be the case, the Bush supporters believe that there was WMD in Iraq, which has turned out not to be the case. These people are for George Bush no matter what he says, and Democrats don't believe anything he says. It is a very polarized electorate out there. It's one of the most polarized I've ever seen, and this is my sixth presidential campaign.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: I think it is interesting, really quick, because I saw the 9/11 Report. Something that President Clinton and President Bush agree the most on is something that President Clinton said. He was convinced there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida and that Iraq was providing weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida.


CRAIG SMITH: I don't agree with that. I believe that he said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but I don't think he ever alleged a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.


ANN DEVLIN: Do you know that for sure?


CRAIG SMITH: No, I will double-check that. It shouldn't be hard. I can make a call.


ANN DEVLIN: We're going to go right back to the phones here. Joe, go ahead please.


CALLER: I feel that the Bush administration has misled the country continually, and I don't understand how people in this country can be misled so easily when the last conflict had Iraq with its antiquated Scud missiles and the President saying we could be attacked within 45 minutes from Iraq. They could not have even hit across the border from 200 miles. How illiterate is this public in the United States of America today?


ANN DEVLIN: Rhetorical question. Thanks so much for your call Joe, we'll move on. Cindy, go ahead please.


CALLER: Leslie, I just wanted to ask you a question about whether you had happened to see the movie Fahrenheit 9/11?


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: No I didn't. I don't think that Michael Moore needs any more money, and I have better things to do with my time.


CALLER: Well that's just it. People that are for Bush don't want to see this movie. I want to know the truth. I just want to ask one question. Was he friends with the bin Laden family? Is that true or is it not true?


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: I highly doubt it.


CALLER: Well, why did he ship the bin Laden family out of the United States on a commercial airline?


CRAIG SMITH: On that point, the bin Laden family is a huge family. Some people are connected to Osama bin Laden, some people are not. There are businessmen. Some have actually lived in the United States. The question does not actually set up the situation right.


GORDON MITCHELL: However I did read recently that George Bush and John Kerry are related as twelfth cousins.


ANN DEVLIN: There you go. Leslie, you were saying?


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: It was almost two weeks after 9/11 and they were somewhat concerned with their safety, because as Craig was saying, members of the bin Laden family are not all that close with Osama bin Laden.


ANN DEVLIN: Back to the phones here. Thank you so much for your call, Cindy. Bill, go ahead, please.


CALLER: Hi how are you doing today? Please tell me that that person who just called in is not voting in this election, whether they are Democrat or Republican, because they are not very intelligent. Oh my goodness. It's kind of sad to see that when the 101st Airborne went into Iraq, and I assume the NBC reporter was there with them. Well, I'll just make my statement then I'll listen to you on the TV. They go in there, they don't see anything, there was something there before they got there. They are the first ones there, there is nothing there at all, then suddenly there was something there that they were not protecting. So I just feel that John Kerry is beating up the military guys for supposedly not watching something that wasn't there in the first place. So best of luck to both parties. Bye.


ANN DEVLIN: Bill, thank you so much.


GORDON MITCHELL: General Merrill McPeak, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, issued a response today, just a couple of hours ago, responding to the Bush-Cheney claim that Kerry's criticisms are denigrating the troops. He says: "The President seems to think Senator Kerry could not possibly be criticizing him since the President thinks he has never made a mistake. Lets be perfectly clear: it is the President who dropped the ball. Senator Kerry is being critical of George Bush, not the troops. By embarking on the line of attack, George Bush is deflecting blame from him over to the military. This is beneath contempt."


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: And General McPeak is a General who has endorsed John Kerry.


GORDON MITCHELL: He brings a military perspective.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: We can call in what General Tommy Franks has said about assertions that Senator Kerry has made, too. He's obviously a partisan. He's supporting Kerry, and we can compare endorsements and who said what.


ANN DEVLIN: But it does raise the issue of whatever question is raised about Iraq, it can be deflected by the Bush campaign, successfully or unsuccessfully, by saying, you're criticizing the troops! How can you criticize the troops? I'm just saying as a point of logic.


LESLIE GROMIS-BAKER: It's past history. He's cut funding. He cut intelligence. He didn't vote for the $87 billion. The President has a record out there. Everyone knows it and sees it.


CRIAG SMITH: Of course George Bush responds and attacks anytime, because this is the man, as we saw in the debates, who makes no mistakes, or believes he makes no mistakes. Anytime anyone criticizes him, he responds back with an attack. But you know what, I guess George Bush is not human, because most humans make mistakes.


ANN DEVLIN: Well I guess we are going to have to leave it there. I welcome all of you to come back to us in the final days left in this conversation. Dr. Gordon Mitchell from the University of Pittsburgh; Craig Smith from the Kerry campaign; Leslie Gromis-Baker from the Bush campaign, our gratitude to you this evening.