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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Tornadoes Continue to Pound Midwest, South; Iraq's Central Bank Robbery May be Biggest Heist in History

Aired May 6, 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): A deadly cycle with no letup. Tornadoes keep pounding the Midwest and south. Many in the same places where twisters hit before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is worse than we thought.

BLITZER: But the worst may still be ahead. Rain, devastating floods. Bridges, buildings, whole towns are threatened. When will it end?

One of the biggest bank heists in history. Almost a billion dollars stolen in Baghdad. Is this son of Saddam behind it?

Caught on camera caught in the crossfire. A journalist shot dead in Gaza. Mysterious circumstances, questions of responsibility unanswered.

A network news star stepping up to fight for women and children in war. I'll talk with Cokie Roberts.

ANNOUNCER: CNN live this hour, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS live for the nation's capital With correspondents from around the world.

WOLF BLITZER REPORTS starts now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's Tuesday, May 6, 2003. Hello from Washington. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

The onslaught of the storm system which spawned those deadly tornadoes is showing absolutely no mercy, taking aim today directly at Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. No twisters actually touched down in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, but funnels were spotted and tornado warnings were issued for the area. The city was engulfed by black clouds, heavy wind and rain.

In Hall County, that's just northeast of Atlanta, officials said torrential rain and wind knocked down trees and power lines. The fierce weather is creating flight delays at Atlanta's Hartsfield International airport one of the world's busiest.

Today's dangerous weather follows the killer storms that devastated parts of the Midwest and southeast Sunday. Victims now face the hard, painful job of cleaning up and starting over. We have live reports from several hard-hitting areas. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Pierce City, Missouri. CNN's Jennifer Coggiola is live in Tennessee. Let's go first to Daryn Kagan. She's in Atlanta.

Daryn, how bad is it there?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, things are actually starting to clear up just a little bit. Let's take a little walk along this creek here and so show you what the problem all across the south today, this type of flooding. This is Peach Tree Creek, or "crik" as we say in these parts, it was historic civil war battlefield. It's also today a popular park. It's supposed to be just a trickle going through these parts. You can see that's hardly the case.

Now just a few hours ago as you were mentioning, the big problem was the tornado warning. A tornado watch was spread clear across metro Atlanta. Taking a look at some of the ominous skies as they rolled through this part of the country. There were nine tornado warnings against different counties clear across Atlanta. There were two unconfirmed reports of tornadoes touching down, but no reports any of damage.

Time of day this was happening about 2 or 3:00 was significant because this is as schools were letting out across metro Atlanta but two counties made the decision to hold the kids until the weather did pass.

Now as you are seeing the flooding a big problem here. This has actually gone down quite a bit since we arrived here about an hour ago. Keep in mind, not only has there been heavy rain here this afternoon, but overnight, last night some parts of Atlanta got more than three inches of rain. The concern here, if there's more rain now and more rain tonight, that is flooding across the south.

And as you were mentioning, Wolf, as well, Hartsfield International Airport just about 20 minutes south of here. As it starts to pour again there was about an hour delay. Not significant (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lot of airports. But as you know, so many flights go through Hartsfield, Wolf, that that can cause a significant traffic jam as people try to make they're way home across the southeastern part of the U.S. Back to you.

BLITZER: Other parts of Georgia still in trouble although Atlanta may be in the clear. Is that right, Daryn?

KAGAN: Yes. It seemed like whereas Atlanta was getting ready for this possible tornadoes and tornado warning to come toward this direction, it tended to move south toward Alabama. But this part of the country is not in the clear quite yet, Wolf, as it starts to pour yet again.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be watching. Daryn Kagan in Atlanta.

Some areas hit hard by tornadoes face a new danger as well, and that is flooding. The National Weather Service issued a flood watch through tomorrow for 47 Tennessee counties. Six to eight inches of rain fell over the southern two-thirds of the state only last night. Major flooding in north Alabama has forced some areas to activate state emergency operation centers. One especially hard hit area, Huntsville. Flooding is also causing big headaches in parts of Kentucky. Some 200 people had to evacuate their homes in the Olive Hill (ph) area.

Piercer City, Missouri was one of the targets of the killer twisters. Police there are trying to pick up the pieces and get their lives back on track. CNN's Ed Lavandera is standing by. He's joining us now live -- Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the latest from here is that city officials here in Pierce City have learned that they have received the designation that's needed to start to get federal money in here to help clean up here. This has declared federal disaster area. I'm told by one city official here that that means that federal money will begin flowing in here within the next few hours to help the process. And as you can imagine, there is a lot to clean up.

This is the main street business district here. And all of these buildings, it's not clear at this point whether or not they'll be able to salvage any of these buildings. So what has been going to in this downtown area is business owners have been allowed to go in with special emergency crews to try to salvage and rescue as much of their belongings as possible. There are rather strict orders as to what they can and can't do once they get inside. They're not allowed to move things, they can only pick up things that they actually find and are readily accessible.

So as business owners do that we also have residents here doing the same thing. About a hundred homes that have been destroyed here in the Pierce City area and a lot of work to be done going in here as well as residents try to clean up the pieces and salvage what they can, as well.

If you look just a few houses down, families pulled up a U-Haul truck here, and we've been watching them for the last couple of hours moving belongings out of the house. In this particular area, this county there were five people who died on Sunday because of the storms. That number has been moved up one. We found out a 20-month- old baby died in a town nearby here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Devastated. Those pictures are amazing. Heart wrenching, Ed Lavandera, in Pierce City for us. Thanks, Ed, very much.

The mayor of Jackson, Tennessee says the destruction from the weekend twisters is worse than he initially thought. CNN's Jennifer Coggiola who's join us now live with the latest in Jackson. Jennifer, how bad is it there?

JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. It is bad. You know downtown right now is really just working on getting things in working order again. We just talked to the mayor about an hour ago. You can see efforts everywhere. They're trying to get street signs back up.

Half of the people that lost electricity should have it, he said, by the end of tonight, and the remainder of the residents in Jackson by the end of the week. Water is the important thing. The water facility plant which serves about 30,000 residents here was badly hit and they're trying to regain power there so they can get clean water out to everyone. But the governor is still urging people to boil water.

Now you mentioned flooding earlier. Although we've had no rains since earlier this morning, it's still a big concern. We do have flash flood warnings because we are expected to get rain over the last seven days. so additional water damage to this town where the buildings, like you can see behind me, have been utterly destroyed. It's a huge problem we face -- Wolf.

BLITZER: First tornadoes, now floods. It's heart wrenching just to watch it. Jennifer, thanks very much.

For the latest on all the severe weather, let's check in with CNN's Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. I take it, Jacqui, more bad news on the way?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I wish I had something good to tell you, Wolf, but unfortunately we've got some more tornado warnings. And we just saw Ed Lavandera over there in Pierce City which is in southwestern Missouri.

Well to the north of there we have several tornado warnings for Cooper County, for northern St. Clair County, northern Camden County and northern Miller County. These are until -- between 4:15 and 4:45 p.m. And I'm going to highlight a couple of these cells of concern that look very ominous right now, very strong indication on Doppler Radar here that these are rotating. This cell right here, this one right here and that one right there.

And if you take a close look at that last one, you can see kind of a little bit of purple reflectivity. And when we start to see that, we start thinking that there's probably some very major hail inside of these thunderstorms as well.

We also have in Kansas, the one tornado warning for Allen County until 5:00 local time. And you can see that tornado watches are in effect there as well. And this will continue until about 7:00 local time.

We saw the ominous clouds across the Atlanta area. Heavy thunderstorms continue to push through the area right now. No severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings in the Atlanta area, but a flash flood warning is in effect. The rainfall amounts of one to three inches over the next couple of hours is going be a good possibility as these line continue to push on off to the east. And we have a lot of lightning associated with those thunderstorms.

And the rainfall amounts have just been incredible. We saw those flooding pictures. The highest rainfall amount I could find was over nine inches in southeastern Tennessee and that was just in the last 24 hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: First the tornadoes, now the floods. Severe weather. What's next? Locus? It seems like it's going from bad to worse. How much longer is this going to go on?

JERAS: Well, this is going to go on, at least, it looks like, there is a very active pattern. I'm going to move through a couple of these rainfall maps here for you so that I can show you the long-range pattern and the upper level pattern and why this has been so active here. You can see it covers a very broad area. It all has to do with our jet stream right now, upper level wind. We've got a trough across the west and we've got a ridge across the east, and so in this little kink here, this is where we get our areas of low pressure. We call it cyclogenesis, this is where they develop, and they move within that jet stream. And until this long-range pattern changes, we are going to continue to get these low pressure cyclones developing here probably every three to five days. So we can expect this to continue for a number of days to come, Wolf.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Jacqui Jeras with the bad news there. Thanks, Jacqui, very much. We'll be checking with you in later to see where these tornado warnings may be moving in the coming minutes and hours. For the latest on all of that, stay, of course, with CNN.

Much more news coming up, including an alleged sniper confession, and an accused killer on the offense. Court TV's Lisa Bloom joins us live to sound off on our "Justice Files," including the latest on Laci Peterson and Scott Peterson.

Also, Saddam and his son on the run with billions. Find out how the fallen dictator cashed out before the war.

And Baghdad pop star? Iraq's famed information minister, Baghdad Bob, turns disco celebrity. Find out what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to the weather shortly, but topping our "Justice Files" this afternoon, a ruling on an alleged confession by one of the D.C. area sniper suspects. A Virginia judge says the most damaging part of Lee Boyd Malvo's statements can indeed be used in trial. According to court records, they include details of some of the shootings. But statements he made before he was read his rights will not be allowed.

A preliminary hearing is under way for Terry Nichols, who is already serving a life sentence on federal charges for the Oklahoma City bombing. He is facing state charges that could carry the death penalty. Today, a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) worker testified about blasting caps stolen from a site near Nichols' home. Prosecutors alleged they were used to destroy the Murrah federal building. Of course, that killed 168 people.

And search and arrest warrants in the Scott Peterson case will stay sealed. Two local newspapers in Modesto, California had asked for access to the documents. Both prosecutors and Peterson's lawyer opposed it. Peterson's family members say they believe he'll be exonerated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE PETERSON, SCOTT PETERSON'S MOTHER: Our son is innocent and we, once again, feel that the truth will come out. We have faith in the legal system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining me now to discuss all of the late-breaking developments in the Peterson case is Court TV's Lisa Bloom. Lisa, thanks for joining us here in Washington.

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV: Thank you.

BLITZER: This is a pivotal moment right now for Mark Geragos, the criminal defense attorney. What must he do right away?

BLOOM: Well, he set the bar high for himself already, Wolf, by right of the box saying that his client is innocent and they're going to find the real killer. Some of us wonder if that's what Scott Peterson was looking for on the golf courses of San Diego when he was arrested.

It's not surprising his parents come out and support his innocence. That's their role. They're his parents. That's why they would not be allowed to be on the jury, or be a judge or an attorney in the case, but I think Geragos has his work cut out for him. There is a lot of incriminating evidence against Scott Peterson, including his own admission that puts him at the crime scene where the bodies ultimately were found.

BLITZER: But now, they can go through police records and look for every criminal out there, every pervert who might have been in the area and began to try to create some reasonable doubt that maybe some homeless guy was out there and could have killed her.

BLOOM: Well, that's possible, Wolf. It is interesting that you mentioned arrest records, because that's what the Court of Appeals has just are going to remain sealed. We in the press want to see them. The defense doesn't want them to come out, but at the same time, the defense is making statements about what's in those arrest records. Mr. Geragos said it was a voodoo investigation using psychics and other kinds of questionable tactics by the police. Seems like they want to have both sides. They don't want the actual information made public, but they want to comment on it to help their client.

BLITZER: As far as motive is concerned, if, in fact, the police are right and he did kill his wife and 8-month-old unborn son. The motive -- isn't Amber Frey, the girlfriend that he apparently had, that he's acknowledged having this affair?

BLOOM: Well, you know, it's shocking, but I think that is a motive that's alleged by law enforcement, and we've seen dozens of cases on Court TV where a man having an affair, the wife is killed, and in almost every case they end up being convicted of murder. It's the oldest motive in the book, love or money. In this case, he is having an affair with a woman who didn't even know he was married, and there's a quarter of a million dollar life insurance policy. Don't forget about that.

BLITZER: But a lot of husbands take life insurance policies out on their wives, especially when they're pregnant. A lot of people have affairs. They does not mean, necessarily, he killed her.

BLOOM: Well, that is true, and the presumption of innocence still attaches, and we have to wait for trial for all of the evidence to come out, but a lot of the husbands don't go fishing by themselves on Christmas Eve and find that their wives' body washes up three miles away from that site a couple of months later.

BLITZER: But don't they need something more than the circumstantial case that seems to be out there right now? We haven't seen, of course, what the prosecution's evidence really is.

BLOOM: Well, you are absolutely right. They do need more, and that's what I think is in those arrest records, those search warrant records that the defense so strongly wants to keep sealed, which the Fifth Circuit in California ruled are going to be sealed. What's in those records are usually very detailed particulars of what evidence the police has that leads them to get their search warrant. That's what remains under seal. That's what's we're going to have to wait for trial to reveal.

BLITZER: I interviewed Robert Shapiro, O.J. Simpson's former attorney, on Sunday, and he suggested that Scott Peterson might have been better off with a public defender who might have more resources, financial resources to launch a criminal defense than Mark Geragos.

BLOOM: Well, I don't know why a public defender would have more resources than a prominent, high profile attorney like Mr. Geragos. I think Mr. Geragos is going to give it his best, but like me, he's a TV attorney. He is an attorney with a lot of experience on television. Look for a strong public relations campaign that's already begun, as well as a strong defense in trial.

BLITZER: Lisa Bloom, good to have you in Washington.

BLOOM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in. We're going to have much more coming up, of course, in the days and weeks to come on this Scott Peterson case.

In the meantime, Saddam Hussein takes the money and runs; $1 billion looted before the war. Where did he stash the cash?

Plus, she's one of the most recognized women in television news, and now she's on a new mission. Cokie Roberts of ABC News will join me live here.

Also, journalists gunned down. Are reporters getting too close to the story? We'll take you to the scene of the latest shooting. But first, our news quiz. Where has been the deadliest place for journalists to work in the past 10 year?. Iraq, Gaza/West Bank, Colombia, Algeria. The answer, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to a story happening right now.

You're looking at live pictures. A strange water ballet this afternoon off Key Largo, Florida. Three Cuban men among four who had to abandon their wooden boat are trying to keep from being rescued by the Coast Guard. A fourth man surrendered and his handcuffs -- has been handcuffed in a Coast Guard boat. The three are trying to reach shore. Obviously, they're trying to take advantage of the policy of the U.S. government allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay in the country and not to be forced to go back to Cuba.

We're going to continue to watch this drama unfold off Key Largo in Florida. But let's much on to another important story.

It's happened, of course, several times during the war in Iraq: journalists caught in the line of fire and killed. Israeli troops are facing a similar situation with two journalists killed in just the past two weeks.

Here's CNN's Kelly Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Friday night in the Gaza Strip and a journalist is about to lose his life.

Shortly after several shots are heard an Israeli bulldozer can be seen uncovering, the Israelis say, a tunnel used to smuggle weapons. Moments later, three journalists who were covering that Israeli action appear, one with TV labeled on the back of a bullet-proof vest, another carrying a white flag. Judging from the videotape, they appear difficult to see in the darkness.

And difficult to hear. After the journalists shout, another gunshot.

(GUN SHOTS)

WALLACE: Moments later, another shot and the sound of someone in pain. Thirty-four-year-old British journalist James Miller dies on the scene after Israeli soldiers come to his aid, the Israeli defense sources says. He is best known for his work on two award-winning documentaries, which appeared on CNN, exposing the world to the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Now the Foreign Press Association in Israel is calling for an independent investigation.

CHARLES ENDERLIN, FOREIGN PRESS ASSOCIATION: James was not shooting and he was not with somebody shooting. So, again, to know exactly what happened we need a full-fledged inquiry.

WALLACE: The Israeli government says its forces were returning fire and that miller was shot in the back, suggesting he could have been hit by Palestinian gunmen. Those close to Miller believe he was shot by an armored Israeli personnel carrier.

DANIEL SEAMAN, ISRAELI GOVT. PRESS OFFICE: We know that Israelis fired. Whether or not he was shot by Israelis, there is a good chance that it was by Israeli gunfire. We are not certain at this time.

Miller becomes the second journalist in just two weeks to be killed covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With Palestinian cameramen Nazi Darwazi (ph) shot and killed by an Israeli soldier on the West Bank in mid-April.

These back-to-back deaths making a total of at least seven journalists killed covering this conflict in the past two and a half years.

ENDERLIN: This is very worrying and I believe the Israeli army should take special measures to prevent this.

WALLACE: The message from the Israeli government is that its soldiers are not targeting journalists, but that journalists who travel to places where there could be live fire exchange between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen have a responsibility to take greater precautions.

SEAMAN: They have to realize that this is not a game going on there. It's a life and death situation. Soldiers are basically thinking about their own lives at that moment. They don't have time to hesitate.

WALLACE: The Israeli spokesman says the soldier his no choice but to be there. Journalists say they have no choice but to be there as well.

(on camera): An autopsy on James Miller was completed Tuesday, his colleagues say. The results are expected in the next few days and could reveal the source of the single bullet which is really, sources say, killed him and who bears ultimate responsibility for his death.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Big loot in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein and his sons make off with at least $1 billion in cash.

Also, Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf's greatest hits. You probably remember the Iraqi information minister. Look at this. He's going disco right now.

Plus another presidential challenger steps into the ring. But can President Bush really be beaten in 2004?

And that's our "Question of the Day." Log on to cnn.com/wolf. That's where you can vote.

First, the answer to today's "News Quiz."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: (voice-over): Earlier we asked: "Where's been the deadliest place for journalists to work in the past 10 years?" The answer: Algeria. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 60 journalists have been killed there during a bloody civil conflict.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Coming up this hour, the hits keep coming from Iraq's information minister, the Baghdad. A pop star. Look at this. He's got a new disco beat.

Plus, Saddam Hussein makes off with big loot in the hours before the war.

And Cokie Roberts of ABC News. She's on a new mission. She'll tell us all about. First, for the latest headlines let's go to CNN's Arthel Neville. She's standing by at the CNN newsroom in Atlanta.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Arthel.

That brings us to the web question of the day. Can President Bush be beat in 2004?

We'll have the results later in the broadcast. Please vote at cnn.com/wolf. While you're there, 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 where you can read my daily online column. Cnn.com/wolf.

Let's go back to CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras, she has more news on severe weather that's unfolding right now -- Jacqui.

JERAS: Yes, Wolf this, is my handful of warnings, I've got nine different warnings right now, but it includes a few more counties than that, all in Missouri and also into Kansas. There you can see the storm cells of concern, northern Camden County, eastern St. Claire County, northern Miller County in Missouri, Allen County in southeastern Kansas, Morgan County in Missouri, Bourbon County in Kansas, Cole, and Monitea County in Missouri, Hickory County in Missouri, and Southern Benton County in Missouri.

All of those will be expired as of the top of the hour if they're not reissued. Very strong rotation on especially this storm cell right here. This one right here. And take a look at that one, that's an isolated cell so we're very concerned about this. They're all pushing toward the east at this hour. Tornado watches will remain in effect throughout at least 7:00 local time. We have tornado watches across parts of the southeast. This one here will go on into 8:00 tonight. This one also 8:00 tonight. So the high risk will continue through much of the evening hours. We've had five confirmed tornado reports now for today and we may see more very likely before the evening is over and done with.

BLITZER: Jacqui, we'll be checking with you for the late- breaking developments. Jacqui Jeras, thanks very much.

Let's get back to the scene unfolding off the coast of Florida near Key Largo in Florida. Four Cubans apparently have been trying to get ashore, get to the United States so they won't be sent back to Cuba. These are live pictures, you're looking at, joining us on the phone, Ryan Doss of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mr. Doss tell us what you can about what we're seeing.

RYAN DOSS, MIAMI COAST GUARD: We got a report today, approximately, 2:00 this afternoon, by one of our Falcon jets from Maimi, spotted this migrant vessel. At the time we launched a small boat from station (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Florida, as well as a small boat from the Coast Guard Cutter (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Florida Wildlife Commission responded, U.S. Customs responded with a Black Hawk helicopter, and we also sent out an AG-25, excuse me AG-65, Dolphin helicopter.

Once we arrived on scene, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) arrived on scene first, the migrants jumped into the water. At that time we gave them life jackets and life rings, initially they refused them. They did not want to come aboard the Coast Guard vessel. Since that time, that's where we stand. One migrant has been rescued from the water, and is on board a boat safely and three more still remain in the water. We're monitoring the situation, trying to use the minimal amount of force necessary to get them safely out of the water.

BLITZER: So, Ryan, the issue here is one Cuban apparently who has been rescued, he's is on one of the Coast Guard vessels. He presumably, could be sent back to Cuba. If you want, the other three are trying desperately to swim to shore, so once that once they touch U.S. soil, they at least can stay in the United States.

Is that what the explanation for what we're seeing right now?

DOSS: I'm not sure what's being seen at the moment. I know we're monitoring the situation right now. We are out there remaining on scene, close by, throwing lines to the migrants, throwing flotation devices, trying to stress the importance that they need out of the water. They're putting themselves in danger. They've been in the water for a few hours now.

BLITZER: How far from shore are they.

DOSS: They're about a mile, a mile and a half on shore.

BLITZER: They are desperate to reach shore and you're desperate to save them and get them out of there before something worse could happen to them in the water. We'll continue to monitor the situation. Ryan Doss of the U.S. Coast Guard. You've guys got your got your hands full, thanks you very much for joining us.

Now to Iraq. Iraqi officials are investigating what could be one of the largest bank robberies ever. They say someone took about $1 billion from Iraq's Central Bank just before the war start started. Some report say only the German Central Book was looted with about $3 billion toward the end of World War II. That might have been the biggest bank robbery in history. This robbery though in Baghdad, there are reports it was one of Saddam Hussein's who was responsible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): U.S. officials say it happened hours before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, in the middle of the night of March 18.

GEORGE MULLINAY, U.S. TREASURY DEPT.: In discussing this issue with certain officials at the Central Bank of Iraq, they informed me that the day prior to the war beginning, that people arrived at the Central Bank and removed in excess of $900 million U.S. dollars

BLITZER: And as much of $100 million worth of Euros may have been taken as well. Sources who live close to the bank say they saw three or four trucks backed up into the building and people appeared to be loading money on to them. The "New York Times," quotes an unnamed banking official as saying Saddam Hussein's younger son Qusay was involved in the seizure. And that he had a signed letter from Saddam authorizing the removal of the funds. U.S. officials also, were told of a link to Saddam.

MULLINAY: As I remember the exact words of the Central Bank official was officials or persons representing Saddam Hussein arrived at the bank early one morning and began removing currency.

BLITZER: The blunder far exceeds the discovery of 650 million U.S. found by U.S. troops in Baghdad. And it also may be more cash than was looted by the public in the days after the fall of the Iraqi capital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And a State Department spokesman says that while the U.S. Government doesn't know yet where the plundered cash may be, it's working to recover assets stole know by the regime and will follow all leads.

Private Jessica Lynch, the American prisoner rescued last month in Iraq is believed to have a form of amnesia. Lynch is recuperating from multiple injuries at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A spokesman at the Pentagon is telling us that Lynch cannot remember the Iraqi ambush resulting in her capture. But doctors say Lynch is nevertheless, making good progress and her brother agrees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPC. GREGORY LYNCH JR., JESSICA'S BROTHER: My sister is doing well, every day is a better day for her and the family themselves, they are supporting her 100 percent. Knowing that she's better and she's on the road to recovery is great for her and us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A team of elite U.S. troops rescued Private Lynch on April 2 in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

Without fanfare, coalition forces have been releasing prisoners of war from a camp in southern Iraq. More than 200 were released today and given a pack lunch and a few cigarettes before they boarded buses for home. The camp once held 7,000 prisoners, but fewer than 2,000 remain. The Red Cross says it has not been given access to civilians internees, people arrested for looting or other offenses and it still wants to visit them.

I want to show our viewers some live pictures. We're taking a look at Atlanta. Serious weather unfolding in Georgia, especially in the Atlanta area. You are looking at some live pictures, flooding at a golf course in Atlanta. We're continuing to monitor the weather, not only the tornadoes, the flooding, but other severe problems unfolding in many parts of the country including in Atlanta and Georgia. We'll get back to that shortly.

But among other things we're covering, protecting women and children from the ravages of war. We'll talk with journalist Cokie Roberts of ABC News about a new effort she's backing right now.

Plus, why Iraq's former information minister may soon be climbing the dance charts.

First a look at other news making headlines around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Pakistan restores full diplomatic ties with bitter nuclear rival India. Pakistan also re-established transportation links and called for the resumption of athletic events between the two neighbors. The move follows overtures by India last week to improve relations. Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the end of British rule in 1947.

Israel at 55. It's independence day in the Jewish nation. Tweaking tradition, private security guards, who are viewed as the last line of defense against suicide bombers, were among those honored as national heroes. The two-day e volcanoes began with air raid sirens that brought the country to a standstill for two minutes in memories of Israelis killed in war.

The fear of SARS in Hong Kong is causing some people to abandon their pets. Shelters report being inundated with all sorts of pets. While doctors say the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, likely came from animals, they haven't determined the species.

The American aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk is back in its home port in Japan after taking part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Kitty Hawk spent more than 100 days at sea.

Jumping the gun on Harry Potter. The publisher of J.K. Rowling's harry potter books suspects copies of the newest and yet unpublished novel have been stolen. London's "Sun" newspaper reports two unbound copies of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" were discovered in eastern England. The novel hits the bookstores June 21.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing to watch the extreme severe weather unfolding in many parts of the country. We're also watching that drama off the coast of Florida. We'll update our viewers as we get more information.

But let's move on to some other very important subjects.

Among the victims of war, of course, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and all wars are women and children. Here in Washington today, Senators Joe Biden, Kay Bailey Huchison And Diane Feinstein introduced the so-called Women and Children in Armed Conflict Protection Act.

Here to talk about that is Cokie Roberts, a political commentator for ABC News, a senior news analyst for NPR, someone who needs no introduction to our audience of news junkies out there.

Cokie, thanks for joining us. This is a new mission for you. Tell us what this is all about.

COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: It is. I -- one of the things I've felt very strongly in my time in the labor force is that women like me, who used to be doing volunteer work in the community, needed to give some time back. And so I looked around and I said, What do I really care about? And the answer is children.

Children in this country, I think that people, it shocks people to learn one out of five children go to bed hungry in this country and children around the world. And my old friend Tom Murphy, who used to be head of Cap Cities ABC is chairman of the board of Save the Children and so I got to know through him what wonderful work that organization does and really what's so good about it, Wolf, is that it's not just goo goo. It is on the ground, making things work. And what they've learned is that in most conflicts now, 90 percent of the victims, the casualties are women and children. A century ago it was 5 percent.

BLITZER: Why has that changed like that?

ROBERTS: Because of urban warfare, because of the kinds of ways that violence against women is used in warfare. Rape is a tool of war now, a weapon of war. So that a woman and a child is more likely to get harmed in war than somebody in a uniform is. BLITZER: So what is this legislation going to do about that?

ROBERTS: Well, members of Congress, as you say, from both parties, are trying to do little things because, you know, if you look at the whole big picture you get paralyzed and you say, What can we do? But it's a small $45 million bill that they've introduced to say do some simple things that help women, for instance, in refugee camps.

If they leave a refugee camp to get firewood to cook, they get raped. Make it possible for them to buy firewood in a refugee camp. Make it possible for them to get work permits so that they can -- so that they can protect their children through work. We know that if women go and are able to sustain themselves that their children will get healthcare, their children will stay in school, the whole community is improved, particularly girl children will stay in school.

And so bettering the lives of women, mothers, betters the lives of children and you can't necessarily prevent horrible things from happening to you during war but you can make the aftermath considerably better.

We had -- we had a presentation today from Kim Fude (ph) -- the child, do you remember the picture of the child in Vietnam naked, running away from...

BLITZER: The napalm.

ROBERTS: Napalm. And she talked about what her life was like as a victim of conflict. She now dedicates her life to helping children in conflict.

But that's what we're seeing much too much of.

BLITZER: And you not only speak as a mother, but you speak as a grandmother.

ROBERTS: Grandmother.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers are going to be shocked to hear you have four grandchildren.

ROBERTS: Four gorgeous grandchildren.

BLITZER: So this is an issue that hits directly home for you.

ROBERTS: No, I feel terribly usually strongly about this. But I think all Americans feel strongly about our children and about the world's children.

BLITZER: Now a lot of our viewers are wondering, because they've read about your cancer. They see your new hairdo, which looks lovely, by the way.

ROBERTS: I have hair.

BLITZER: Tell us what's going on in your life right now. ROBERTS: Well, I -- I was planning to spend more of my time doing this kind of work, particularly for Save the Children and then I did get a speed bump of being diagnosed with breast cancer last year and I have now had chemotherapy and radiation. I've tried to keep going through it all and I think I have pretty well. But now I'm feeling great. My hair's coming back.

BLITZER: It looks good. It looks great. I think it looks better now than it did -- I saw you with a wig before...

ROBERTS: Right.

BLITZER: ... and this looks natural. It looks radiant. And you look beautiful as usual.

ROBERTS: You're a sweetheart, Wolf. Thank you. I'm feeling good and I'm working hard.

BLITZER: But is -- this hasn't slowed you down now that you've gone through the chemo and radiation.

ROBERTS: I'm back full speed.

BLITZER: And we're going to see you speaking out on other causes down the road as well?

ROBERTS: This and, of course, breast cancer, which I had spoken out for years before I was ever diagnosed with it.

But I'll still be bringing you some political news as I do every Monday morning on NPR and I will be on ABC and I'm writing a fascinating book called "Founding Mothers" about the women who raised the nation, the women who influenced the men who wrote the Declaration and the Constitution.

BLITZER: It won't be out for this Mother's Day though.

ROBERTS: Next Mother's Day.

BLITZER: Next Mother's Day I sense a huge blockbuster best- seller. Next time you come back, let's talk politics. Still a lot of good stuff.

ROBERTS: OK.

BLITZER: Cokie Roberts, thanks for joining us.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to you.

ROBERTS: Thanks.

BLITZER: And good work.

ROBERTS: Thanks for having me. BLITZER: We used to hear him spouting off about propaganda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED SAEED SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: They have no control even on themselves. Don't believe them.

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now something very different indeed from Iraq's former information minister, Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf's would-be dance hit. You'll hear it here when we come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAHAF: Don't believe them. My feeling -- my feeling -- as -- as usual. The Republican Guard...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He was called Comical Ali or just Baghdad Bob during the war in Iraq when he kept insisting that things were going badly for the U.S. and Britain and great for Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein's minister of information or disinformation, Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf, vanished when Baghdad fell and has not been seen since. But his legacy remains in a dance tune producers hope will be a huge hit.

More on this now from CNN's Jim Bolden in London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAHAF: They have no control even on themselves. Don't believe them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did he say?

SAHAF: Don't believe them.

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was unbelievable.

SAHAF: My feelings -- my feelings are as usual.

BOULDEN: And he usually didn't tell the truth. And now he's a star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought he was the funniest Mohammed was the funniest guy we'd seen on television since Benny Hill. .

(MUSIC)

BOULDEN: A group of London-based dance musicians have produce a Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf song, "I Can't Believe What I'm Hearing."

Some of the things he came out with when the American tanks were sort of converging with him. It was almost like pantomine.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they are not here and they're behind him all of the time.

BOULDEN: The song features Sahaf's own words in his own voice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His voice is brilliant.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His voice -- actually, he could be a rapper. You know, if he was a rapper he could get a job doing this kind of thing. Yeah.

BOULDEN: Iraq's former information minister might need a job right now. Al-Sahaf of is nowhere to be found.

But his face is virtually everywhere: on Web sites, coffee cups, T-shirts and dolls. And if he ever does show his face again in the flesh...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to have a royalty (ph).

BOULDEN: Malloy (ph) and Bryan (ph) say if Al-Sahaf doesn't claim his royalties, they'll donate them to an Iraqi children's charity.

Jim Boulden, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: If you'd like to hear more of the musical debut of Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf, we've a added a link to our Web site, cnn.com/wolf.

When we come back, we'll update you on a drama unfolding off the coast of Florida. Look at this. Live pictures, three Cubans. Will they be rescued? Are they trying to swim to shore. We'll show you immediately when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at these live pictures. Three Cubans still off the coast. They don't want to go in those boats because they're afraid they might be sent back to Cuba. We're watching this. We'll update you throughout the night.

Here's the results of our "Web Question of the Day": 67 percent of you say, "Yes, the president can be beaten in 2004"; 33 percent say no.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs is standing by to pick up our coverage -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST, "MONEYLINE": Wolf, aren't you going to say that's a non-scientific poll?

BLITZER: It is a non-scientific poll.

DOBBS: Wolf, thank you very much.

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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