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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Civilians Working for U.S. Military Gunned Down in Kuwait; Skiers Killed in Avalanche in British Columbia

Aired January 21, 2003 - 17:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President Bush calls it a rerun of a bad movie starring Saddam Hussein.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's delaying. He's deceiving. He's asking for time.

BLITZER: Here at home worries about a sequel.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: That this is the wrong war at the wrong time.

BLITZER: Does Senator Kennedy have company? I'll speak with two veterans of the Gulf War.

Americans ambushed. Civilians working for the U.S. military gunned down in Kuwait.

Avalanche, skiers swept away, could more have been saved?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People have to know that there is an inherent risk going into the back country.

BLITZER: And she made a leap from Mexican soap operas to Hollywood and another from sex symbol to a force behind the camera. I'll speak with Salma Hayek.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's Tuesday, January 21, 2003. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The president says it's clear to him that Iraq is giving U.N. inspectors the run around and he makes it clear that he's fed up as the administration prepares to resolve the showdown one way or another.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): For President Bush, the 12 year showdown with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has now entered the end game no more ifs, ands, or buts.

BUSH: He's not disarming. He's delaying. He's deceiving. He's asking for time. He's playing hide and seek with inspectors. This looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it.

BLITZER: His aides have launched a final full scale public relations campaign to convince critics at home and abroad. It began with a detailed speech by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who says the Iraqis may have acknowledged in recent days that they still had 16 empty chemical warheads, but...

RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Where are the other 29,984 because that's how many empty chemical warheads the U.N. special commission estimated he has and he's never accounted for?

BLITZER: Armitage says the Iraqis also have never accounted for 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas, 400 biological weapons, and 26,000 liters of anthrax, botulinum, and VX and sarin gas that the U.N. estimated the Iraqis still had at the end of 1998.

ARMITAGE: Some people may say there is no smoking gun but there's nothing but smoke.

BLITZER: But critics aren't buying that argument.

KENNEDY: I continue to be convinced that this is the wrong war at the wrong time. The threat from Iraq is not imminent and it will distract America from the two more immediate threats to our security, the clear and present danger of terrorism and the crisis with North Korea.

BLITZER: Kennedy, who voted against the Senate resolution in October authorizing the president to take military action against Iraq, said the inspectors needs more time.

KENNEDY: If our goal is disarmament, we are likely to accomplish more by inspections than by war.

BLITZER: That's also the line the Bush administration is hearing from close allies, including France which is threatening to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war. To that, Secretary of State Colin Powell offered this.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: That the international community is aligned and I think it can be accomplished, hopefully peacefully, if not peacefully then by force. One way or another Saddam Hussein must be disarmed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Here's your chance to weigh in on this story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this: whose views are most like yours when it comes to the Iraqi crisis, President Bush or Senator Kennedy? We'll have the results later in this broadcast. Vote at cnn.com/wolf.

And while you're there, I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments. I'll try to read some of them on the air each day at the end of this program. That's also, of course, where you can read my daily online column, cnn.com/wolf. In Iraq today, U.N. weapons inspectors fanned out after getting a pledge of cooperation from Iraqi authorities but the Iraqis meantime suggest a U.S. attack is a foregone conclusion. Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson has the story from Baghdad.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, about nine different inspection teams headed out today. One of them went to Al Qaqa (ph) a large military industrial complex south of Baghdad. That was a chemical team.

We've seen them go there many times recently. It's a site where Iraq produces propellants for its missile system.

Also, a U.N. team going to Basra, about 300 miles south of Baghdad, according to the agreement with Iraqi officials the U.N. will open an office there. That will help speed their work in the south.

Now, Iraqi newspapers have been playing quite positively Hans Blix U.N. weapons chief's visit here. They've said it was friendly, the meetings were friendly and constructive. Indeed, the Iraqi officials apparently have agreed to ratchet down the rhetoric in the media here to stop calling the inspectors spies that is if the U.N. teams stop asking provocative questions.

That is apparently the agreement but there does still seem to be in many ways a war of words going on here. Taja Yasin Ramadan (ph), the vice president, when speaking with some teachers said that the United States at this time was building a big force in the region while at the same time Iraq was being very cooperative with U.N. inspection teams and he questioned this. He said the international community should be asking the United States why they are doing this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much Nic Robertson in Baghdad. The word on the Arab street, anger at the mounting U.S. military presence in the Gulf and a sense of the inevitable, here are some of the headlines from Arab world newspapers today.

In the "Khaleej-Times" a daily newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, a headline says, "U.S. oblivious to chinks in armour" and one passage reads, "As the awesome American military machine is slotted in place around Iraq on land and in the waters and over the skies, thee is no doubt President George W. Bush is resolved to topple President Saddam Hussein."

A headline in the weekly "Yemen Times" says this. "Two thousand protest against ongoing U.S. threats to Iraq" with the subheading, "massive anger" and a passage reads, "The demonstrators estimated at 2,000 people carried banners condemning the U.S. potential military attack against Iraq."

And, this from "Al-Ahram," the weekly in Cairo, under the headline Impending Disaster "President Mubarak has warned that an American war against Iraq would serve no purpose but pour fuel over a fire."

(INTERRUPTED FOR BREAKING NEWS)

BLITZER: In other news it's being called a terror attack. Two Americans, civilian contractors for the U.S. military were shot in Kuwait today. One was killed.

CNN's Martin Savidge is joining me now live from Kuwait City with details -- Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Kuwaiti authorities continue to look for the suspect or suspects that were involved in today's attack. They may be getting some help from television traffic cameras that were reportedly mounted in the area of the intersection where this attack took place. They'll review the same time of morning when that attack occurred on videotape and see if they can see anyone and anyone they might be able to identify.

Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti government has expressed its condolences to the family of the American that was killed and to U.S. officials.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): As we arrived on scene, the first words from a Kuwaiti police official were "it was an ambush." The American civilians riding in an SUV were caught in a hail of automatic gunfire. The passenger was killed instantly, the driver wounded. Authorities say 24 bullets punctured the vehicle.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knows. It (UNINTELLIGIBLE) then they are standing. Then they are using their weapons behind these bushes and then they took their vehicle to escape from this area.

SAVIDGE: The American civilians appeared to have been driving away from Camp Doha, the largest U.S. military base in Kuwait. Police say the SUV approached an intersection and may have been stopped at a traffic light when the attack occurred. Authorities say the attacker must have fled in a waiting vehicle and a search is underway.

The wounded man was taken to a nearby hospital where he was rushed into surgery. Armed U.S. soldiers reportedly stood weapons ready, guarding the hospital wing. As the U.S. troop presence in Kuwait continues to grow, both the Kuwaiti and U.S. governments are increasingly concerned about acts of opportunity as this may have been.

Security around installations used by American forces is very high, something the attackers apparently understood. Instead, it appears, they chose to wait until opportunity came to them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: And the American who was killed has been identified as 46-year-old Michael Pouliot. He is from San Diego, California. They have not released the identity of the wounded American. He underwent five hours of surgery today. He's said to be in stable condition tonight in an intensive care unit. He was shot at least four times. His doctors says he's very lucky to be alive -- Wolf. BLITZER: Martin Savidge in Kuwait City, Marty thanks for that report.

We asked U.S. military officials how many civilian defense contractors are stationed in the Middle East in the Persian Gulf region, as well as other potentially dangerous areas. They declined to give us specific numbers citing obvious security concerns.

I can tell you when I was in the Persian Gulf recently, I saw many civilian contractors working at the U.S. bases both in Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia as well as elsewhere.

When we come back, a loaded handgun at LaGuardia Airport, why did a Northwest pilot allegedly try to get it by security? We'll go live to New York City.

Also, avalanche, buried alive, we'll go live to the Canadian mountains where three Americans lost their lives.

And, super speedy roller coasters, do they cause brain damage?

First, today's "News Quiz."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): What's the fastest roller coaster in the United States? Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California; Kumba at Bush Gardens, Tampa Bay; Son of Beast at Paramount's King's Island in Ohio; Titan at Six Flags Over Texas? The answer coming up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It wasn't your ordinary flight cancellation in New York today. Authorities acted after finding a loaded handgun in the carry- on bag of a Northwest Airlines pilot.

CNN's Jamie Colby is standing by at LaGuardia with details -- Jamie.

JAMIE COLBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening to you. The pilot has been identified now as 43-year-old Robert Donaldson. He was to have piloted the 6:00 a.m. Northwest flight from here at LaGuardia Airport to Detroit Metro.

While he was going through passenger security at about 5:45 a.m. this morning, on x-ray it was noted that there was a gun in his carry- on bags. That gun turned out to be a 9mm fully loaded semi-automatic handgun.

Port Authority officials took Donaldson into custody, we're told without incident. Right now he's awaiting an arraignment on criminal possession of possessing a handgun in a Queen's criminal court. That's expected to be held later this evening. He does possess, pilot Donaldson, a permit to carry that gun in Michigan but he is not licensed to carry it here in New York. Now, pilots have lobbied to carry firearms on aircraft but right now there remains a total ban on handguns in the plane and cockpit.

In order for Donaldson to have legally brought that gun on the plane, he would have had to clear it in advance, put it into checked baggage, and also in a locked container, the three prerequisites that he did not meet.

We are being told by travelers here, many have a problem with the fact that he tried to do it before a rule was put into place that would have allowed it. Others disagree. Here's what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They haven't OK'd guns as I understand it yet for pilots, so he should be following whatever the rules are. I mean they're telling the rest of us as passengers we've got all kinds of rules to follow. It seems to me the pilots should follow them also and if he wasn't following the rules, then throw the book at him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I wasn't terribly afraid. I thought he probably had if more for self protection than for any kind of a terrorist movement. He probably is frightened as anyone else. It doesn't bother me. When my time is up, it's up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The standard security measures are that we should not have any firearms at all and I know that, you know, pilots have been, you know, concerned that their security is at stake as well but I think that on balance the provision that nobody should carry firearms and that we should stick with the situation where there are no firearms. It's better that way for all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLBY: Northwest Airlines had no comment other than to say that their cooperating with federal and state officials. CNN has learned that Robert Donaldson is a decorated Air Force pilot. He also served in the Air Force Reserves and has been flying with Northwest since 1996. If he's convicted of the charges, he could face up to 15 years in prison -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie Colby at a windy LaGuardia Airport, Jamie thanks very much for that report.

Now to that deadly avalanche, bad weather is hampering an investigation into the remote mountainous area of British Columbia. Seven back country skiers were killed in yesterday's snow slide.

Our National Correspondent Frank Buckley is on the scene for us live and he joins us. Frank, give us the details.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, people here in Revelstoke, Wolf, still reeling from this terrible skiing accident. It happened yesterday at around 11:00 in the morning. Twenty-four skiers going up into the mountains in a helicopter for what should have been a fantastic day of the back country skiing. It ended tragically when this avalanche hit, and this evening, Wolf, several of the survivors of this avalanche are still up in the mountains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUCKLEY (voice-over): Bad weather kept some of the survivors of the avalanche stranded in a mountain chalet a full day and a night after the avalanche hit. Eleven skiers were buried or partially covered. Three got out of the snow on their own. One was pulled out by the others, but seven skiers died buried in snow from four to 15 feet deep, cause of death according to the coroner, asphyxiation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't take long to asphyxiate. You get caught in one of those things, you can't flex a muscle let alone hardly breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the location where the accident took place. This faint line here is the fracture line, roughly probably about 100 feet across and about 300 feet in length.

BUCKLEY: Officials released a photo of the accident area and new details about what they know, that there were three Americans and four Canadians among the victims, that there were a group of 24 skiers who had helicoptered to the ski site at the 7,600 foot level near Durrand Glacier, and that the skiers and their guides were experienced and equipped with safety devices used in back country skiing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people had all the equipment and you know the people guiding the tour were highly knowledgeable and experienced in that area.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCKLEY: And this is some of the equipment that we heard about there. This is from Free Spirit Sports. They've shown us one of the shovels that these back country skiers all carry.

They also carry this probe here that's inside this bag that essentially allows the skiers, if there is an avalanche, to probe in the snow to find their trapped fellow skiers, and they all have to wear one of these beacons.

It essentially sends out an electronic signal if they become trapped in the snow and the other skiers who are wearing it will hear then the electronic signal and can quickly get to their trapped fellow skiers.

Sadly, in this case however, Wolf, this equipment did not help in the case of the seven skiers who lost their lives up on the mountain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Frank Buckley in British Columbia, Frank thanks very much for that sad story. Roller coasters that go over 100 miles an hour that may be bad for your nerves but will they damage your brain? The latest medical research when we come back.

Also, a tax break for buying an SUV, a new proposal that's driving environmentalists off the road.

And, Salma Hayek in the director's chair. She joins me from the Sundance Film Festival. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): Earlier we asked, what's the fastest roller coaster in the United States? The answer Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. It takes you from zero to 100 miles an hour in seven seconds. Soon it will be surpassed by the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Ohio which will top 120 miles an hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And if you enjoy riding roller coasters, I don't, there is reassuring news. Despite the ups and downs and twists and turns, a newly released study says there's no evidence linking roller coasters to neurological injuries.

The report was prepared by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and a private engineering firm but it was funded by the company that owns the Six Flags Amusement Parks. Skeptics will withhold judgment until another organization, the Brain Injury Institute, releases an independent study next month. Once it does we'll have that report right here.

Environmental groups are sounding off about an up to now unpublicized provision in President Bush's new economic plan. They say it would encourage small businesses to buy large gas guzzling SUVs instead of more fuel efficient vehicles.

CNN's Allan Chernoff has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's plan would give small business owners a huge incentive to buy the biggest sports utility vehicles, SUVS like hummers that carry a sticker price of $106,000. Small business owners today can get a $25,000 tax deduction for buying one. The president's plan would triple that to $75,000.

AILEEN RODER, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: It's being taken advantage of by wealthy businessmen. Certainly it's something that accountants are advising their clients to take advantage of.

CHERNOFF: The White House is trying to get small businesses to invest in equipment. It so happens that vehicles weighing more than 6,000 pounds fall into that category.

Back in 1958 when the IRS first introduced the rule, it was intended to help farmers and construction companies buy pickup trucks. Today, of course, doctors, lawyers, and all kinds of small business people cruise in their SUVs.

The proposed incentive to buy big vehicles comes as SUVs face heavy criticism for being dangerous gas guzzlers.

CLARENCE DITLOW, CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY: The sport utility vehicles, or SUVs, are a very unsafe farmer vehicle. They are three times more likely to roll over than a passenger car, and when they do roll over, the roof may very well crush in and kill the occupant.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Even the president's chief of highway safety is warning consumers away from SUVs at a time when the IRS is encouraging small business people to buy them. The White House says it is willing to consider modifications to the tax plan.

Allan Chernoff CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It isn't going after Saddam Hussein yet, but the U.S. is launching another kind of attack, coming up a war of public opinion at home and abroad.

Also, some U.S. veterans of the first Gulf War have a surprising opinion about a possible return to battle.

And big may be beautiful but is fit and fat possible? Health news if you're carrying a few extra pounds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Coming up, Persian Gulf War veterans against another potential war with Iraq. Find out why they're choosing to weigh in.

But first, let's look at other stories making news right now in our CNN "News Alert."

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, arrived back in New York today after two days of talk in Iraq. Our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth was on the same flight with Blix. He spoke with Blix, and he's joining us now live from Kennedy Airport in New York.

Richard, welcome home. Tell us the headline.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Hans Blix on the plane telling us that during this trip to Baghdad he was given three new documents by Iraqi authorities. But he's ready to brief the Security Council.

But he's not ready to commit to telling journalists here at the airport that he's going to need more time, though he is definitely not going to mince any words when he addresses the 15-nation council.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANS BLIX, U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I don't know at all. I'm not -- I'll read them the report. Tell them like it is, as you say in the U.S., precisely, and the answer to the question. All the latest things will be there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What will be your message to the Americans?

BLIX: My message will be directed to the Security Council and it will be a description of what we are achieving and what problems we are facing. That's about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: Hans Blix started thinking and writing on his reports on the aircraft in English and Swedish and he'll deliver it Monday in open session -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard Roth, back in the United States, thanks very much. We'll be watching and, of course, anxiously awaiting that report on Monday. I know you'll have all of the details and join us with those. Thanks very much, Richard.

Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, says he's happy with the path he's chosen, telling his generals that even when he's not smiling, he's smiling on the inside.

The Bush administration would argue that it knows what he's smiling about. It's launched a new campaign to expose what it says is the Iraqi president's long record of deception.

Let's go live to our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with less than a week to go before Hans Blix delivers that report on Iraqi compliance, the Bush Administration is jockeying for position.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARMITAGE: They have fed the people of the world on a steady diet of lies and of deception, some of which are laughable but others which are far more sinister.

KOPPEL (voice-over): In this 32-page report, entitled "Apparatus of Lies," the Bush Administration laid out what it claims are examples of Iraqi deception since the Gulf War.

As part of what it calls crafting tragedy, the U.S. accuses Iraq of using this mosque, seen in a satellite photograph from last October, to shield an ammunition depot.

It even cites the controversial 1991 Allied attack on what the Iraqis claimed was a baby milk factory in Baghdad. The U.S. still insists Iraq had been using it to develop biological weapons.

As proof Saddam Hussein is exploiting the suffering of his own people to protest U.N. sanctions, the report highlights a BBC News documentary and includes a photograph alleging the regime had stored the bodies of dozens of dead children for months in order to stage this mass funeral in 1998.

The U.S. also accuses the Iraqi leader of exploiting Islam, presenting himself as a devout Muslim while suppressing Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.

Finally the report charges Saddam with countless cases of corrupting the public record by, for example, orchestrating demonstrations of grief or anger by Iraqi citizens.

ARMITAGE: The point is, if you were hanging your hopes on Saddam Hussein's voluntary willingness to comply, and the veracity of his regime, you're engaging in some very dangerous wishful thinking.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: We should also point out to our viewers that it's difficult to independently verify many of the claims laid out in that report, most, if not all of which, Wolf, the Iraqis would likely deny -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Andrea Koppel at the State Department.

And as the Bush administration's drum beat for possibility of war against Saddam Hussein grows louder by the day, Gulf War veterans are speaking out. Some flat out oppose a new war with Iraq, while others say war should be a last resort. And of course, many veterans strongly support President Bush's hardline policy.

Joining me now to talk about all of this are two Gulf War veterans, Eric Gustafson and Charles Sheehan-Miles. Thanks very much to both of you for joining us.

Both of you strongly oppose the president when it comes to the possibility of war. Charles, tell us why.

CHARLES SHEEHAN-MILES, GULF WAR VETERAN: What it comes down to, we've talked a lot about policy and geopolitics and what's happening there, but it's going to be infantrymen and tankers on the ground who are going to have to fight this war. They're going be the ones who are going to be dying.

BLITZER: And you fought in the first Gulf War, in the army. Both of you served in the army, both of you were in Saudi Arabia in that flak (ph) into Iraq. But isn't the commander in chief in the best position to make those kinds of decisions? That's what a lot of your fellow veterans would argue.

SHEEHAN-MILES: Sure. We do live in a democracy and we need to make the argument -- as citizens we need to make the argument that war should be the last resort.

The big concern here is whether or not those troops are going to be dying unnecessarily.

BLITZER: Eric, why did you get so actively involved in this opposition to the war?

ERIC GUSTAFSON, GULF WAR VETERAN: Well, I think that there's safeguards within the Constitution that prevents us from getting into unnecessary wars. And in this case those requirements have not been met.

There's no clear and present danger that's been established. It hasn't been -- the evidence hasn't been provided to the American public, much alone even Congress. And so the feeling is that there's just no sense of justice this time like there was in 1991.

BLITZER: But you don't believe Saddam Hussein still has weapons of mass destruction, that potentially could endanger U.S. national security interests?

GUSTAFSON: I think that there's a distinct possibility that Iraq has retained some of its past weapons. I don't think that poses a direct threat to the shores of the United States.

But I do agree; I think the pressure has to remain. And that's why 2-to-1 Americans want the inspection process to work, wants the president to work through the U.N.

BLITZER: Now, you're expressing, obviously -- Both of you are expressing strong opposition. What else are you doing, Charles in order to try to generate opposition to a potential war?

SHEEHAN-MILES: The biggest piece right now is we're gathering up as many veterans as we can, veterans of all wars, to basically speak out, to attend rallies, to sign letters.

BLITZER: How much support are you generating?

SHEEHAN-MILES: Well, we're in touch with thousands of veterans. There's a couple of different organizations out there that are working on this. Of course, there's Veterans for Peace, but there's also Veterans for Common Sense, which we formed, and then another group.

Between us we've got many, many thousands of veterans who are raising concerns here. Not necessarily all saying no war ever, but they are saying no war unless it's the absolute last resort.

BLITZER: So it's not as if you're a pacifist, Eric, and you oppose all war? I mean, in this particular case, it might come down to the moment where you would support the president if he decides to go to war against Saddam Hussein. Is that your position?

GUSTAFSON: Yes. If the case can be made, then I would support the president. But just feeling that the case has not been made, and also fearing what the consequences might be.

BLITZER: Talk about that, because I know neither one of you suffer from what's commonly called Gulf War Syndrome, but tens of thousands of other U.S. troops who served in the Persian Gulf did come home sick.

GUSTAFSON: There's a prevailing perception that it was a clean war, casualty free, and we've learned in over a decade since that it wasn't, that over 159,000 Gulf War veterans received payments from the Veterans Administration for injuries, illnesses and disabilities that are directly connected to their Gulf War service.

I, myself, was exposed to the fallout of chemical weapons when the Comacia (ph) ammunition dump was blown up in Southern Iraq. And to this day, I don't know how that might impact my health in the future.

BLITZER: But do you have any symptoms, any complications, as of right now?

GUSTAFSON: So far I've been lucky.

BLITZER: Were you exposed to any kind of dangerous material along those lines?

SHEEHAN-MILES: You know, it's hard to say. Our chemical alarm certainly went off, and if you listen...

BLITZER: When you say that, you were with the 24th Mechanized Infantry under General Barry McCaffrey that went in, that so-called left hook into southern Iraq.

SHEEHAN-MILES: Right.

BLITZER: And when you say your chemical alarms went off, what does that mean?

SHEEHAN-MILES: Well, actually, as soon as the air war started, within a day or so, the alarms we had positioned around our camp to detect nerve gas started alarming.

And of course, what you do is you suit up and then you test and you check to make sure, and a lot of those times those tests came back negative.

And the Pentagon as maintained for many years that all of those were false alarms. What's interesting about it is that a recent audit that was done internally to the army shows that many of those alarms are still malfunctioning, many of the suits are broken, many of the masks don't work. And so the troops are going to be facing many of the same exposures we did then.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope they can fix that if, in fact, it comes down to another war.

Charles and Eric, thanks so much for joining us.

GUSTAFSON: Thank you.

SHEEHAN-MILES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Important news if you have a little extra around the waistline. Fit and fat, is it possible to be both? Find out when we return.

Plus, Salma Hayek hits the screen as a director. She'll be my special guest.

But first, let's take a look at some other news making headlines "Around the World."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Nervous neighbor. After India's third surface-to-air missiles test this month, Pakistan says India has an obsession with war. India calls the test routine.

Can we talk? Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today to mediate that country's political turmoil. At least one person died and dozens more were hurt in a confrontation yesterday between Chavez supporters and opponents.

Up in flames. Australia is suffering one of its worst droughts in a century, and firefighters have been battling flames since July. Wildfires destroyed more than 400 homes and killed four people outside Australia's capital, Canberra, over the weekend.

An Ethiopian drought is causing food shortages. The United States and other countries are pledging more food aid but the U.S. also is urging Ethiopia to turn state-owned farms over to private owners to boost production.

None of your business. German chancellor Gerhard Schroder has a right to keep his private life private. That's the ruling of a German court, which barred a reporter from writing about Schroder's marriage. Schroder has denied rumors he and his fourth wife are having marital problems.

And that's our look "Around the World."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: OK, all you couch potatoes who like to chew the fat, this one's for you.

At least one medical researcher not only claims you can be fit and fat but expands on it by saying it's better than the opposite, thin and sedentary.

CNN's Kimberly Osias weighs in on the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESONDENT (voice-over): In books, on television and in popular culture we're constantly flooded with ominous warnings about weight.

DR. JAMES HILL, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: Being overweight isn't healthy. You can be lighter. Everybody can lose some weight, come on.

OSIAS (on camera): But some researchers say there's another side of the story, one that doesn't get out because of the economic structure of the multi-billion dollar diet industry.

PAUL CAMPOS, HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE MOVEMENT: It funds probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 98 percent of all obesity research in this country. Less than 1 percent of the federal health budget, for instance, goes to obesity related issues.

OSIAS: So some say there's a self-serving interest in getting us to pump, push and pay to shed the fat.

CAMPOS: I think Americans are being told that they need to lose weight to improve their health, when in fact there's really no good medical evidence for that claim.

OSIAS: Depending on who you believe.

HILL: It leads to diabetes, it leads to heart disease, it leads to arthritis, it leads to cancer. So this excess body fat is the sort of challenge to your body that causes all these metabolic problems.

OSIAS: But some say it's not the weight that actually causes the health problems. It all boils down to activity level.

In fact, they say better to be fit and fat than thin and sedentary.

And not everyone can shed the L-B's.

CAMPOS: At lot of people, when they become physically active, don't lose weight but that doesn't affect their health.

OSIAS: Diet cycling, or the pattern of gaining and losing. is damaging. So the one thing experts agree on: be active, regardless of your size.

In Denver, Kimberly Osias reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: From Latin bombshell to serious actress turned producer/director. Salma Hayek makes a big splash on the big screen, and she joins us from the Sundance Film Festival when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): She dominated the small screen in Mexico as a soap opera star but took a risk to cross over to the big screen in the United States.

Cast as a racy Latina bombshell, Salma Hayek's first movie roles left critics unimpressed.

SALMA HAYEK, ACTRESS: Nice try, bastard.

BLITZER: She described her scantily clad appearance in "The Wild, Wild West" as both mortifying and embarrassing.

But this risk taker took another one that put critics on notice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is very good work. You have real talent.

HAYEK: Oh, come on. I'm not looking for your compliments. I want a serious critique.

BLITZER: "Frida," the biography of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, took Salma seven years to bring to the big screen. She starred and produced it.

The sex symbol turned serious actress and serious Hollywood player arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it real blood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the color of blood, Mrs. Johnson.

BLITZER: And now making her directorial debut with the Showtime original movie, "The Maldonado Miracle," which will debut at the Sundance Film Festival later this week before moving to cable later this year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just a little while ago I spoke with Salma Hayek at the Sundance Film Festival.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Salma Hayek, thanks so much for joining us.

HAYEK: Thank you. BLITZER: Great movie, "Frida." You spent seven years of your life working on this project. Why was it so important to you?

HAYEK: Well, I have been in love with Frida since I was 14 years old, and I discovered her art and was intrigued by her life. And I admire her courage to be different and her courage to be unique and her ability to take adversity and turn it into something really interesting.

BLITZER: As you know, you've received some criticism from your friends in Mexico. Tell our viewers why and how you feel about that.

Basically, can you please both sides of the border, viewers in Mexico, as well as viewers in the United States?

HAYEK: I think you're misinformed. I have not received criticism from my friends in Mexico. I have received criticism from a couple of journalists, but the movie did amazingly well in Mexico.

Actually, the audience loved the film, and it was a two-hour red carpet because the people of Mexico showed up at the premiere and on both sides of the carpet were completely packed with people that came to support the film.

There were some journalists that were critical of my soul, for example or gave different points-of-view on the movie, but there were many other journalists, many, many, that were very, very happy with the film.

BLITZER: I know you're now going to be making your directorial debut in this new movie. Is this the beginning of a new stage in your career, where you're going to be moving behind the camera instead of in front of the camera?

HAYEK: Yes. No, I will be doing both.

Yesterday we premiered the movie for the first time. It was really, really exciting. The response of the audience was amazing. It was incredible.

And I shot it in Utah, so most of my crew and cast was there, so it was a very pleasant experience. I hope to repeat it many times.

BLITZER: As a Latina actress, do you sense that some other Latinos, in general, have to make personal compromises in order to succeed as actors and actresses in the United States?

HAYEK: Can you please define to me what you mean as personal compromise?

BLITZER: I think basically -- because at least at the beginning, you came across as very sexy. Obviously someone who may have projected a kind of image you might not necessarily have felt all that comfortable with.

HAYEK: Well, it was who they perceived me to be when I first came to the United States or what they thought would make the best, you know.

But you say do you think as a Latina? Honestly, I think as a woman, because there are very, very few parts for women, whether you are Latina or American, that are complex, intelligent characters for females.

So of course, if there's only very few and there are so many actresses, most of us have to do compromises at the beginning, you know, until you get to a part where you get to pick from the very few places that there's actually an interesting part, although this year was a lot better than most years.

In my case I didn't even get to that part, I created it for myself.

BLITZER: Salma Hayek, we loved "Frida." We'll look forward to seeing "The Maldonado Miracle." It sounds like it's going to be...

HAYEK: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... a great film. Congratulations to you. Great work.

HAYEK: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: I look forward to seeing you in person one of these days. Thanks very much.

HAYEK: Me, too. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Time is running out for your turn to weigh in on our "Web Question of the Day." Whose views are most like yours when it comes to the Iraqi crisis? President Bush or Senator Edward Kennedy?"

Log on to cnn.com/wolf; that's where you can vote. And we'll have the results immediately when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." Remember we've been asking this question: whose views are most like yours when it comes to the Iraqi crisis? President Bush or Senator Edward Kennedy?

Look at this. So far 28 percent of you say President Bush; 72 percent of you say Senator Edward Kennedy.

You can find the exact vote tally and you can continue to vote, by the way. Simply go to my Web page, cnn.com/wolf. Remember, this is not, repeat not, a scientific poll.

That's all the time we have today. Please join me again tomorrow, 5 p.m. Eastern. Senator John McCain will join me live as we head into a crucial few days between the United States and Iraq.

And don't forget, "SHOWDOWN: IRAQ" weekdays at noon Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE" is up next. Jan Hopkins filling in tonight for Lou.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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