On CNN's 'Late Edition' With Wolf Blitzer

June 27, 2004

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BLITZER: Welcome back.

Howard Dean may have lost the Democratic presidential nomination, but the former Vermont governor is still speaking out on all of the major issues of today, from this week's handover of power of in Iraq, to his party's efforts to deny President Bush a second term.

Howard Dean joins us now live from our Chicago bureau.

Governor, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: Thanks for having me, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers some live pictures we're getting in from Istanbul, Turkey, right now, the NATO summit under way right now. It looks, governor, like they're on the verge of a deal. The NATO allies expected to announce tomorrow or Tuesday that they will go ahead and start training Iraqi security forces. The president, Tony Blair right there in Istanbul right now.

This looks like progress is being made. What do you say?

DEAN: I think it's mostly nonsense. I'm glad that we're making a deal, but I think it's mostly the president desperately needed some positive news to come out. And we're already getting those police officers trained. NATO countries already are training the police officers. So I don't see much coming out of this.

I think it's the right thing to do to transfer sovereignty on June 30, and that's a good thing. Unfortunately, I think it's likely to have a happy ending. There was is a big story this morning in one of the major papers about women who are losing all their rights now because fundamentalists are starting to take over in Iraq. That's exactly the kind of thing I was afraid of, exactly the kind of thing the Bush administration never thought of.

So I think an on-paper smile and shake the hands of all these guys in suits in Istanbul is not going to improve the situation for ordinary Iraqis on the ground.

BLITZER: Well, there was a new U.N. Security Council resolution that was unanimously passed. It looks like President Bush is clearly getting greater international support, albeit probably not what he would like.

DEAN: Actually, I think that's a good thing, the U.N. resolution. And I was very pleased to see that the president had to adopt a Democratic position in order to get the resolution, which is essentially to turn over real sovereignty to the Iraqis. He had a very different position going into that.

So perhaps after this year-long experience and 850 brave Americans killed, the president's finally learned that you ought to listen to other countries once in a while, and you ought to listen to our own military once in a while before you go sending Americans to fight.

BLITZER: I asked you in April of last year, a little more than a year ago, whether you thought the Iraqi people were better or worse off now that Saddam Hussein has been captured. I want you to listen to what you said in April of last year, Governor.


DEAN: We don't know that yet, Wolf. We still have a country whose city is mostly without electricity. We have tumultuous occasions in the south with where there's no clear governance. And we have a major city with no clear governance. We don't know yet.


BLITZER: You were clearly one of the first political leaders in the country to speak out against the war in Iraq. Right now, where do you stand on that question? Are the Iraqi people better or worse off without Saddam Hussein in power?

DEAN: Well, one of the things I think is interesting is now, that after being castigated by both Democrats and Republicans for a while, now the majority of Americans agree with me. This was a mistake.

I think that we still don't know whether the Iraqi people are better off or not. I do think that having Saddam in custody is a good thing, and I do not think that we ought to turn Saddam over to the custody of Iraqis after the June 30th deadline. Should something go wrong, and should he escape, then the war would have been entirely in vain. So we need to keep control of Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, it's very clear that we don't know if the Iraqi people are better off or not. Women are certainly worse off in terms of their rights. We don't know if a successful democracy will emerge or not. It's too early to say.

The president took an enormous risk. I believe that that risk was unwarranted. We still have yet to find out. We're certainly no safer than we were. In fact, the majority of American people also agree with me that we're no safer than we were because of the Iraq war.

BLITZER: When you say women are worse off in terms of having limited or no rights right now in Iraq, isn't it fair to say...

DEAN: Fewer rights, I didn't say no rights, fewer rights.

BLITZER: Fewer rights. But isn't it fair to say that under the Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party regime, no one had any rights, effectively, in Iraq?

DEAN: Well, women were allowed to dress in western clothes if they chose. They were also allowed to go out. And there are areas now in Iraq where fundamentalist thugs are going through the street making sure that women aren't allowed out in western clothes. They must cover their heads and wear more restrictive clothing. I don't think our people fought a war over there to make sure women would become second class citizens.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's move on and talk about torture, or the lack thereof. The allegations that the U.S. may have engaged in torturing Iraqi prisoners or detainees or al Qaeda detainees. The president has flatly denied it this past week. Listen to what he said.


BUSH: We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.


BLITZER: Do you accept the president's word?

DEAN: Well, yes, I do accept that the president didn't order anybody to be tortured, but I think some of the people who work for him did. I think the Justice Department, clearly, with that memo, is just outrageous, saying that torture could be used by the United States if we wished to because these people were not subject to the Geneva Convention.

That is a disgrace and embarrassment. And it's a typical kind of thing that comes out from overzealous people who are committed to peculiar right wing ideologies within the American mainstream of what judicial thought is.

I think a lot of the things that happened at Abu Ghraib are because of what the president did, not because he ordered torture -- I'd think that I'd be very surprised to find that -- but because we have a mercenary army of 20,000 people over there who are not under the control of the American military.

The chain of command was not clear at Abu Ghraib, and the civilian influence of privately hired people ought not to be running our interrogation.

This administration has an obsession with privatization. When you start privatizing military functions, you break down the chain of command, and this is the kind of thing that happens.

So I think the president has a great deal of responsibility for what went on, although I doubt very much that he ordered it directly. But because he is running an operation that is not being run well.

BLITZER: Despite all the setbacks for the U.S. in Iraq, despite the embarrassments, clearly, of what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison, when the question is asked, who do you trust more as commander in chief, in our latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, Bush got 51 percent, Kerry got 43 percent.

Are you surprised that Bush still wins in that category?

DEAN: No, I think John Kerry is closing that gap very, very rapidly.

When I was running, we believed that, if we could close that gap to less than 10 percent, that the president would lose because of the problems in the economy, the distrust of the president over his statements in Iraq, which have all largely turned out to be not true, that we would be the victors. And I think John Kerry is very likely to win the presidency, because this number is not strongly enough in favor of the president. In fact, there have been other polls, as you're aware, where people trust John Kerry more than they do President Bush. And that's a shocking development for the Republicans.

BLITZER: Among our likely voters, a question that was asked in the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, virtually a tie, 48 percent for Bush, 47 percent for Kerry, 3 percent for Ralph Nader.

How worried are you, Governor, about this whole Ralph Nader factor?

DEAN: I think Ralph Nader's candidacy is the single biggest danger to the Kerry candidacy. He only has to take 3 percent of the vote in two or three states to send George Bush back to the White House, which I think would be a tragedy for America, given the tumultuous four years that we've had, the loss of life that we've suffered, the disorganization that the president seems to be nurturing in the military and abroad. These smiley and papered-over differences abroad are not going to be enough to give us back the moral leadership of the world.

I was just in London. The majority of businesspeople over there, who normally are in favor of Republicans, are hoping very much that John Kerry will indeed be the next president of the United States.

BLITZER: What do you make of the -- obviously, the uproar that's developed in recent days over Vice President Cheney's using the F-word in attacking Senator Patrick Leahy, your fellow Vermonter, on the floor of the Senate?

DEAN: Well, I find it amusing that the Republicans, having condemned bad language and behavior on television and in the radio, are now backpedaling away, when the vice president used some of that language himself.

I think that the biggest problem that the right wing has is that they're so hypocritical all the time. They say one thing, but when it's one of their own, they don't condemn it.

You know, I was pretty open about condemning Democrats for doing things I didn't think they ought to be doing, and I'm still very willing to do that. I think the Republicans ought to just bite the bullet and say, you know, if they don't want to use that kind of bad language, then the vice president of the United States ought not to be using it on the Senate floor either.

BLITZER: Well, we did hear Senator Chuck Hagel -- he's a Republican. He did
speak out forcefully on this program just a few moments ago again, though Senator Frist avoided any criticism of the vice president.

DEAN: Yes. And, you know, Chuck is a stand-up person. We may disagree on political issues, but there are stand-up people in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives. But unfortunately there are not enough of them.

BLITZER: Howard Dean, always speaking bluntly and candidly to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Thanks, Governor, very much for joining us.

DEAN: My pleasure, Wolf.

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