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Major Snowstorm Hits Midwest; New Information on Miami Airport Shooting

Aired December 8, 2005 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you the day's top stories, happening now.

Knee-deep snow, bitter cold, and traffic nightmares, 7 p.m. in Indianapolis one of the cities in the nation's midsection, now being socked by an early winter storm.

Also, this hour, sorrow and second-guessing after that deadly shooting of an airline passenger in Miami. Did air marshals have to open up fire? Or was there another way? New information tonight on the investigation and the victim.

Plus, Mel Gibson's new passion. The actor/director took on the life of Christ in his hit movie. Now he's tackling another controversial subject that hits close to his family.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, Mother Nature catching many in the nation's mid section off guard. A cold snap dropping snow and temperatures from Illinois to Texas and causing huge delays at several of the nation's major airports.

In Indiana, the snow is slowing traffic and causing many accidents. Officials say travel conditions are so poor right now, drivers hurt in accidents may have to wait over an hour for any help to arrive. And some 30 flights at the Indianapolis Airport alone have been delayed or canceled. Here to pinpoint the worst are areas and the worst to come, our Severe Weather Expert Chad Myers, joining us from the CNN Weather Center -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good evening, Wolf. The worst cities right now, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Louisville -- here's a live shot here from our affiliate in Chicago.

This is the problem, and this is why we tell you to fill up your car before the storm gets here. I have been watching those cars for 15 minutes, and not one car -- not one headlight has moved. Let's say you're on empty. Then what do you do? You're trying to stay warm, for one thing, and then your car runs out of gas if you're stuck in this kind of traffic. If you're in Pittsburgh, State College, New York City, anywhere up into Vermont, New Hampshire, New England, get some gas in that car because tomorrow will probably be a snow day for you. Hopefully it's a snow day for the kids around your area.

We'll zoom into a couple of spots here. Snowing now all the way to Cleveland, Columbus, The brightest white, right through here, just north of the ice line. There may be some ice in Philadelphia, there maybe some ice in New York City, even into D.C.

These are snow amounts. Everywhere that you see purple, at least four inches. The darker purple, six to eight inches, and the darkest stuff right there in the middle, over 10 inches of snow.

This is right through State College, Somerset County in Pennsylvania. Right through the Alleghenies, the Pocono's and then up into -- looks like Boston, New Hampshire, Vermont, really going to get hammered. Some of the spots up in here, with our computer model, that we run in house here, could be 20 inches of snow before it stops. It's going to stop quickly. But if it snows that hard, you don't want to be caught outside in that, especially if you're not prepared.

BLITZER: And huge delays at airports, right now. Right, Chad?

MYERS: O'Hare, four hours; Midway, three hours, Atlanta, not even in the snow, two hours. Newark, an hour and a half, now, Indianapolis, going down hill, over an hour there.

BLITZER: Chad Myers, with the latest. We'll check back with you, Chad. Thank you very much. We have more on that story later this hour.

We'll move on now to the investigation of that deadly airport shooting in Miami. The air marshal who open fire are on leave tonight, and the family of the man they killed is speaking out about who he was and why they loved him so much. CNN's John Zarrella is joining us in Miami. Our Brian Todd is watching the investigation here in Washington.

John, let's start with you.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rigoberto Alpizar's body remains here in Miami. The medical examiner continuing the autopsy in Orlando, where he lived. His family and friends remain in disbelief.


ZARRELLA (voice over): A day after Rigoberto Alpizar was shot and killed by federal air marshals, family members spoke briefly of their loss, of the man everyone knew as Rigor.

JAEANNE JENTSCH, SISTER-IN-LAW: Rigo Alpizar was a loving, gentle, and caring husband, uncle, brother, son and friend. He was born in Costa Rica and became a proud American citizen several years ago. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. ZARRELLA: Friends in this Orlando neighborhood say the way Alpizar reportedly behaved on board an American Airlines plane was totally out of character; was not the man they knew. Here, he was the man who always smiled, jogged, stayed in shape. He and his wife were never anything but friendly.

SANDY BENTON, NEIGHBOR: He was very kind. He would let my son go over to his house and he would cook with Ann and Rigo and he actually watched their house when they go on vacation.

ZARRELLA: For the past three years, Alpizar worked in the paint department at this Home Depot, where coworkers described him as, quote, "the nicest guy."

Before the Home Depot, Alpizar spent 12 years at this MAB paint store, where he was said to be always good with customers. The picture painted by those who knew him best is so different from the man Mike Basheara saw.

Basheara a passenger on the flight to Orlando saw a panic stricken man, pushing his way through the plane holding his backpack.

MIKE BASHEARA, PASSENGER: As he ran by, he had it clutched to his chest, and I could see it over his left shoulder. As he ran past me, I was looking to his back, I could see the bag on his left shoulder, like he had it clutched under his left chin.

ZARRELLA: Alpizar's behavior that led to his death may have been the result of a mental health disorder. According to passengers, his wife said her husband was off his medication, that he was bi-polar.

Another neighbor says that's hard for her to believe.

EDITH SEQUEIRA, FAMILY FRIEND: I've only seen this in 14 years I've lived here, I've only seen him one other time that he had been in depression. Other than that, I knew he was medicated.

ZARRELLA: The disorder can cause extreme mood changes. And in this case, may have cost this man his life.


ZARRELLA: Now, Miami-Dade police are continuing their investigation into the shooting and late this afternoon issued a statement, updating what happened, and they said in that statement that when the air marshals confronted Alpizar, in the jet way, at that point, he yelled, according to the statement, yelled at them, saying he had a bomb and he would use it.

They asked him to surrender. He did not, and according to the statement, that is when the two air marshals shot him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a tragedy. John Zarrella reporting for us. John, thank you very much.

And many questions are being raised about Rigoberto Alpizar's actions and how the air marshals responded. One key point is this, should authorities have been tipped off about Alpizar's reportedly disruptive behavior on his earlier flight? Our Brian Todd is joining us now with more on this part of the story -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a spokesman for American Airlines tells CNN there was no indication that Alpizar had been unruly on that second American Airlines flight before he stood up and ran down the aisle claiming he had a bomb.

Customs and Border Protection say the agent that processed Alpizar in Miami, after that first flight, did not notice anything unusual. On another critical front, we asked airline security experts about other non-lethal options that could have been used in this case.


TODD (voice over): Airline security experts are reluctant to second guess the air marshals behavior in the Miami incident. So, we asked them about other non-lethal options that could have neutralized Rigoberto Alpizar.

One popular idea, the use of TASERs, stun guns that can shoot two probes, anywhere from point blank to 25 feet, sending 50,000 volts into the body, overwhelming the muscles. But security experts say the TASER's reliability is variable.

RAFI RON, NEW YORK SECURITY SOLUTIONS: TASER is less useful than a gun. It's effect is different. And the possibility of a person not being completely stunned by the TASER is possibility.

TODD: Security experts say in some cases, especially when a person is threatening to detonate a bomb, a TASER not only won't incapacitate them, it might make them more agitated. Also, some say, it's harder to shoot accurately with a TASER than a gun. The manufacturer of TASERs disagrees, saying the devices have had great success among the 8,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies that use them.

TOM SMITH, PRESIDENT, TASER INTERNATIONAL: It's the most effective non-lethal tool out there today. It does stop these attackers immediately, and they can take them in custody during the time that it is running.

TODD: CNN asked a spokesman for the federal air marshals why they don't use TASERs.

DAVE ADAMS, FEDERAL AIR MARSHAL SERVICE: They are no TASERs allowed aboard the aircrafts in the United States.

TODD: When asked why not, the spokesman said deadly force is deemed most effective.


TODD: A TSA official tells me TASERs have been approved for use aboard planes operating in U.S. air space, but each carrier has to apply for permission. Now so far the only carrier that has followed through and been granted permission to use TASERs in U.S. air space, Korean Airlines -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you, Brian. And to our viewers, please stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news for your security.

One week before Iraq's pivotal parliamentary elections another deadly suicide bus bombing today in the Iraqi capital. CNN's Aneesh Raman joining us, has the story from Baghdad -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least 30 people were killed, 25 others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated on a passenger bus in Baghdad.

The suicide bomber jumped on the bus just as it was leaving a main terminal in the capital for the Shia city of Nasiriyah southeast of Baghdad. The bus was incredibly crowded. Iraqis heading home for the weekend, which begins tomorrow. The aftermath, a scene, one of carnage, the bus itself simply charred debris.

The attack comes amid a bloody week here. Just two days ago, dual suicide bombings at a Baghdad police academy that left at least 40 killed. Iraqi and U.S. officials had always warned that we could see a rise in attacks ahead of next week's elections. And in preparation for that, huge security measures are being put in place.

A state of emergency declared today, by Iraq's prime minister, in two of the most volatile provinces. All non-Iraqi Arabs barred from entering the country; a curfew soon to be in place in Baghdad. And on election day, huge security around the polls; election day just one week away -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting from Baghdad. Thank you, Aneesh, very much.

Meanwhile the Pentagon has announced the deaths of three more U.S. military personnel in Iraq, bringing the death toll there to 2,134. Pentagon sources telling CNN the U.S. military is considering plans to withdraw even more U.S. troops from Iraq after next week's elections. Officials had been looking at the possibility of bringing home some 20,000 troops. The source now says they are considering making that number 30,000 troops. There are currently about 160,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.

CNN's Zain Verjee is off today. Fredricka Whitfield is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta, with a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Fred.


House and Senate negotiators have reached a compromise that keeps two controversial elements of the Patriot Act on the books for another four years. Those provisions authorize roving wire taps and allow secret warrants for books and records from places such as hospitals and libraries. The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

Deliberations will resume tomorrow in the first trial involving a federal lawsuit against the makers of the popular arthritis drug Vioxx. The nine-member jury is to decide if Merck and Company is liable in the heart attack death of a Florida man. An editorial accuses Merck of concealing three heart attack deaths that occurred during Vioxx's clinical trial. The editorial appears today in the "New England Journal of Medicine".

And 25 years ago to the day, fans of late musician John Lennon returned to Central Park's Strawberry Fields to mark his death. You are looking at live pictures right now of the thousands of people there in Central Park. They are laying flowers and lighting candles to honor the former Beatle.

Lennon was shot to death by a demented fan outside the Dakota Building, where his New York apartment was located. The music icon was also honored in a ceremony in the center of his hometown of Liverpool, England.

Wolf, it's hard to believe, 25 years ago.

BLITZER: Very hard to believe. Seems like only yesterday. Thanks, Fred. We'll check back with you.

Jack Cafferty is off this week, he'll be back on Monday. Coming up, could it be Mel Gibson's next passion? The man behind the movie, "Passion of the Christ" is now said to be taking on the Holocaust. Why is that a problem for some people? We're going to explain.

And a convicted killer hoping for mercy. Death row inmate Stanley "Tookie" Williams, today his supporters met with the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to plead that his life be spared.

And we're still watching your weather. Some places already seeing snow, falling temperatures and huge travel delays in other places. The worst is yet to come. Stay with us.


BLITZER: More now on our stop story. That huge cold spell chilling many parts of the nation's mid section. Actually, now bad weather, how bad it is depends on where exactly you are. Meteorologist John Gumm is joining us from our CNN's affiliate WKRC in Cincinnati.

How bad is it there, John?

John, hold on a second, John. I don't know if you can hear me, but we are having trouble hearing you. We are going to fix your microphone and get your report. Stand by. We'll take a quick break.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM is Osama bin Laden still alive? A top U.S. general speaking out about where the al Qaeda leader may be hiding out. A live report coming up from the Pentagon.

And, also a powerful volcano erupting, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield standing by once again, at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, once again, was peppered with questions about U.S. policies on torture. The issue was raised today in meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels. European foreign ministers say Rice cleared the air, by assuring them that the U.S. respects the principles of the Geneva Conventions regarding prisoners of war.

A papal blessing today sent the Olympic torch is off on its journey to the Winter Games, which begins February 10 in Toreno in Italy. In Rome, runners relayed the torch past the Spanish steps and the Pantheon to the Vatican, where the Pope Benedict blessed it in St. Peter's Square. The pope said the flame represents the values of peace and brotherhood.

And this was the last full day to cue up for regular service by London's red double-decker buses. The famous, even iconic, route master busses are being replaced by new models that accommodate the disabled. They won't be entirely gone, however, 16 double-deckers will still run in central London on special heritage routes.

And in the South Pacific, a volcano in the Vanuatu Archipelago has been making islanders anxious. It has been belching a huge plume of gas, steam and ash from a crater surrounded by dead trees. But scientists say Mount Manaro is unlikely to explode in a massive eruption. About half of the Ambae Island's 10,000 inhabitants have fled their huts on the mountain slopes. Four ships are anchoring offshore ready to evacuate if necessary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good work. Thanks, Fred, very much.

Let's get back to our top story right now. That cold spell chilling many parts of the nation's midsection. Meteorologist John Gumm of our CNN affiliate WKRC in Cincinnati is standing by.

Weather changing a few seconds ago, John. When we tried to talk to you it looked like it was snowing pretty bad. Is it easing somewhat?

JOHN GUMM, REPORTER, WKRC CINCINNATI: It is, Wolf. We're expecting a good four to six inches of snow here in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. So far, we've seen accumulations on the order of three to five inches. The snow is beginning to let up. That will be the case as we go over the next hour.

I want to do is measure some of the snow fall we've had. And about four inches out here now. I'm going to take the ruler here -- and you can see, there, again, just about four inches of snow has fallen out here now.

Now, in the Cincinnati area, we're used to getting snow. It's no big deal. But this is the first significant snowfall of the season. That's caused problems on the roadways. We've seen grid lock in rush hour traffic around town, as folks who may have a half hour commute home on a typical night are seeing their commute turning into two hours or more in many cases.

Behind us is State Route 32, which cuts from Cincinnati to south central Ohio. Traffic on it has been doing pretty good, moving westbound. But eastbound, tonight, as I look out that way, all I'm seeing are taillights tonight, as this snow has had an significant impact on this region.

By the time all is said and done, we expect the snow to wind down over the next few hours. We're expecting four to six inch totals on the snow out here. Of course, if you send a meteorologist out into the snowstorm, I can't believe I get paid for this. We get to have some fun. I made a little snowman for you, Wolf. Don't know what you think about it, Wolf. But that's the best job I could do. This is kind of a light fluffy snow. It's kind of hard to pack. So that's my best effort for you tonight.

BLITZER: A little pitiful tonight. Let's hope you don't have to make bigger ones over there, John. Thank you very much. John Gumm of our CNN affiliate, WKRC in Cincinnati.

Just ahead, he turned the Crucifixion of Jesus into a controversial blockbuster movie. Now, Mel Gibson is taking on another project sure to generate some strong emotions. We'll show you what's going on.

Plus, a last-ditch effort to spare the life of a convicted killer. We'll go live to California for details of today's clemency hearing for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Stay with us.


BLITZER: He's scheduled to die in just five days and only one man can prevent that. That would be the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, now deciding whether or not to stop the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams. CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now live from Sacramento with more on details about today's hearing. Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it all comes down to the governor now. It's a very simple choice. Either allow the execution of Mr. Williams to go ahead as planned or to reduce his sentence to life without parole.

But it's got a lot of very complex, difficult implications for it. I'll let you take a look behind me. The NAACP has started a rally here, right on the steps of the state capitol, in support of Tookie Williams. Trying to convince the governor to allow his sentence to be reduced.

He has heard pressure from all sides. Catholic groups, law enforcement, victim's rights advocates. All weighing in different areas. Some saying that Mr. Williams never quite cooperated with police to inform on the Crips gang, to give valuable information. That was convicted of four murders and deserves to be punished for that.

The other side saying that he has completely turned his life around on death row. That he has written books inspiring young people to stay out of gangs. And those are the two things Mr. Schwarzenegger will have to balance when making his decision.


PETER FLEMING, WILLIAMS LAWYER: Stanley Williams has been where these at-risk children are. And the whole thrust of his message is, don't do what I did. What I did was despicable.

JOHN MANAGHAN, PROSECUTOR: If Mr. Williams truly had turned a new leaf, he would sit down and he would debrief. He would lay out everything he knows about the Crips gang. How they were formed, how they conduct their business.


LAWRENCE: To give you an idea just how big this issue has become, both here in California, and all over the country. Take a look at actor Jamie Foxx, who's been very much in support of Tookie Williams, rallies earlier today, outside of Oakland, California, again, in support, trying to convince the governor at the last minute.

The governor could technically take as late as Monday night. Williams is scheduled to be executed just after midnight on Tuesday. The word we're getting from his office is that he will not go into some Hollywood ending. This decision will come well before the deadline. And he will make it by an e-mail announcement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting. Thank you, Chris, very much.

For more on the Williams plea for clemency, we're joined now by two guests. The human right's advocate Bianca Jagger, she's joining us from Sacramento. And, in San Francisco, "The Chronicle" columnist Debra Saunders.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Bianca, I will start with you. You heard what the prosecutor said if he were really anxious to cooperate, and deal with gang violence, he'd tell all he knows about the Crips. He had said as recently as November 16th, he said, it will never happen on this planet. I'd have to be a snitch. My spirit would have to be broken. He's not going to tell all. That doesn't that undermine his appeal for clemency?

BIANCA JAGGER, HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE: Let me tell you something about Mr. Robert Martin. I have been reading extensively about Tookie Williams' cases. I met him on the 21st. Mr. Robert Martin did not only engage in racial bias by confirming, by taking out three of the jurors who were black, but Mr. Robert Martin -- the Supreme Court has thrown out two of his cases because he often has engaged in indefensible ...

BLITZER: What about, Bianca -- excuse me for interrupting, but what about the issue that he's not cooperating with law enforcement. He's not telling all.

JAGGER: Well, I want to tell you that the president gave him a medal for his outstanding work with youth. And if you allow me another time to come back, I will show you a letter from the prison where they are commending the behavior and the rehabilitation of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

BLITZER: Debra, what do you say to what Bianca is pointing out?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST: Well, she was talking about prosecutor, Robert Martin, and she was calling him, I guess, a racist, But, you know, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most liberal federal court district in the country, has looked at this case a number of times and they have upheld this conviction.

Let me add, there was a black juror. It was not an all-white jury, as has been alleged and, you know, the plain fact is, Stanley "Tookie" Williams has not atoned for his crimes. He pretends to. He says he's apologized, but he won't apologize for these four murders. And while his lawyers say they just want life without parole, they also say he's not guilty.

BLITZER: But, Debra, he says -- excuse me for interrupting, Debra. He says he won't apologize for the murders because he insists he did not commit those murders.

SAUNDERS: That's my point. So for people to say we just want life without parole, what lawyer would only want life without parole for someone who didn't commit the crimes he's in prison for? You can't believe this whole line. If he says he's not guilty, then that means he want to get out.

And so this isn't about commuting the sentence so he serves life without parole. It's about commuting the sentence so he can keep appealing on very narrow procedural grounds to get out.

BLITZER: All right. Bianca, go ahead.

JAGGER: May I say something about that?


JAGGER: To be -- when I went to see Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the first I asked him is why had he not repent, and why has he not apologized, publicly. And what he said to me is, I cannot apologize for a murder I did not commit. I have apologized for all the other crimes I have done in my life, but I did not commit the murder for which I was condemned to death. What is important to know, is that there was no DNA, there was no blood, the imprint of the boots were not his and, in fact, the shell of the weapons have never been analyzed with a scientific method. And that's one of the things his lawyers would like to see done. He was ...

BLITZER: Debra -- hold on. Hold on, Bianca. I want Debra to just react to this. There's no doubt that he's written books, he's urging young people not to join gangs, get involved in violence.

He told the "New York Times," "I have a despicable background. I was a criminal. I was a co-founder of the Crips. I was nihilist. But people forget that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched. They want me executed, period. I exemplify something they don't want to see happen -- a redemptive transformation."

What happens -- if this guy were to save lives, to influence young people, wouldn't he do better alive, doing this kind of work, than someone who simply died? That's the argument to save him, because he can influence young people.

SAUNDERS: But what can he teach them? That if you pretend to apologize, but don't really, you can get away with a crime and get your sentence commuted? That's the lesson that I would get from a commutation here. I mean, there's just nothing real about this apology that he's allegedly made.

He hasn't apologized for these four crimes. His lawyer, again -- like, they keep saying they want life without parole. But it's pretty clear he wants to get out of prison. Now, what kind of a message does that send? If you write some books, even if you killed four people, been convicted of it, you can still get out of prison?

BLITZER: Bianca, what do you think the governor is going to do?

JAGGER: Well, I hope that Governor Schwarzenegger is going to show leadership. In addition to that, I want to say to you that in the Senate, there is a bipartisan commission that is, at the moment, examining the fairness of the application of the death penalty.

In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger will be going up against due process if he was to execute Stanley "Tookie" Williams. He should not only grant clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams, but he should halt all execution in the state of California, because it is apparent that they are engaging in wrongful conviction and unrightful discrimination ...

SAUNDERS: No, it isn't.

JAGGER: ... in the trial, in the courts.

SAUNDERS: Twenty-six years of appeals, that sounds like due process to me. Sounds like more than due process.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We, unfortunately, have to leave it over there. But it's going to be only a few days before we know what the governor is going to do. Literally a life and death decision for Governor Schwarzenegger right now. Bianca Jagger, thanks for much for joining us. Debra Saunders, thanks to you as well.

JAGGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's move onto some other news we're following, including some new details we're getting right now about the ongoing hunt for Osama bin Laden. For that we'll bring in our senior pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, lots of speculation about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, especially since the earthquake that rocked Pakistan just recently, also reports in some of the Pakistani media that Osama bin Laden might have died from a kidney infection.

But today the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, insisted that he believes Osama bin Laden is alive, and said he's still hunting for him.


LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, CMDR. AFGHANISTAN COMBINED FORCES: It's important for the American people, and it's important for the international community, and it's important for Afghanistan in terms of bringing that man to justice, and our forces will not rest until he is either found and captured or killed.

BARBARA STAFF, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Now, can I just ask you then, your working assumption, I take it, remains that he is alive today. Do you still believe, does the U.S. military still believe, he is somewhere inside of Pakistan or the border?

EIKENBERRY: Our working assumption is, Barbara, that he's alive today. I will now speculate on his location.


MCINTYRE: My colleague there, Barbara Starr, asking questions of General Eikenberry this morning, but even though the military doesn't say publicly that they believe bin Laden is in Pakistan, that's what sources tell us they believe. But what -- the other thing they admit is they don't really know where he is, and they don't know for sure if he's alive. They are working under that assumption -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Thanks very much. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

The defense secretary -- meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld said again today he has no plans to leave his job. Rumors though are persisting about a possible replacement. One name being me mentioned, the Senate Democrat Joe Lieberman. The Bush administration's favorite new friend when it comes to the situation in Iraq. But the senator says the rumors about him replacing Rumsfeld just aren't true.

Up next -- Mel Gibson's new pet project, a drama about the Holocaust. Many film-makers have tackled it, so why would a Gibson version be controversial?

Always wanted a piece of Camelot? Now here's your chance. Soon a major auction of John F. Kennedy's memorabilia. We'll tell you how to get your hands on some of the sought after items. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Looking at some live pictures of a winter storm that's plaguing a big part of the United States, especially the mid section. We're watching the weather for you. More details, stay with CNN for that.

Bidding will begin in Manhattan next week on the largest collection of John F. Kennedy memorabilia. But you don't need to be in New York, you don't even need to wait until next week to start the bidding. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is here to explain. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Look at this. This is the book for the JFK auction, it's the Robert L. White collection. But you don't need to have his book in order to participate. You can go online right now and start bidding on items from this collection.

For example, you can bid on his passport and certificate. This is expected to go for about $75,000. This is the auction site that's holding the action. But we can find all of these items on eBay, on their live auction site.

Here's some of the stuff that you're going to be able to find. For example, his doodles from the Cuban Missile Crisis. You can see the words "blockade Cuba" on there." This expected to go for about 12 grand.

Take a look at the eyeglasses, with case, about 30 grand, expected to go for there. The travel phone, here's one they're expected to yield about $10,000. Now you can go on now, but the auction itself starts next week. And when that happens, you're going to want to go onto eBay live and take a look at how the live action works. There's an auctioneer, there's bids on the floor, and then there's bids on the Internet. You are actually in the mix online through eBay, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Jacki, very interesting. Thank you very much.

And a final bit of trivia about JFK. In 1961, the then first year president was named "Time" magazine's man of the year. This yea, another Washington powerhouse is a top contender for person of the year, as its now called.

On December 18th, the magazine will name the person its editors believe had the greatest impact on the year's events, for better or for worse. In the run-up, we're looking at potential candidates. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is certainly one them. Here's why. in the running. Here's why. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMESH RATNESAR, WORLD EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, in my mind, has had a significant impact on the way in which American foreign policy has changed direction over the last year.

In lot of ways, I think, the last 12 months have been the most productive period for American diplomacy probably since this president took office, and a lot of that is due to Secretary of State Rice who has reinvigorated the State Department. I think she's taken much more control over the direction of American foreign policy. She's repaired some of our relationships with our allies.

And in important areas, both in Iran and North Korea, two of the major crises facing the world, she has really put the United States firmly in the camp in terms of working with our allies to try to resolve those situations.

And in that sense I think she would be someone who you could make the case is the Person of the Year.


BLITZER: Our sister publication "Time" magazine makes the announcement, person of the year, December 18th.

Coming up, from Israel to the United Nations, indeed around the world, outrage over comments by Iran's new president. What did he say now that has the word in an uproar?

Also ahead, more sobering predictions about the costs of a potentially deadly bird flu pandemic, and another warning to get ready for it now. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by.


BLITZER: Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Heidi Collins sitting in for Paula Zahn tonight. Heidi, what are you working on?

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Wolf. At the top of the hour, we're going to show you some pretty amazing video tapes that are sparking some outrage, even though the people who made them said they were meant to be a joke. Some San Francisco police officers made the tapes as a spoof of a typical day on the job. They include racial and sexual stereotypes, and now, from the mayor on down, a lot of people are pretty furious.

Also tonight, some amazing undercover video of pickpockets at work. How you can avoid being a victim. We have advice you need to see at the top of the hour. And apparently, Wolf, I'm carrying the wrong purse.

BLITZER: All right, well then change your purse. Thanks, Heidi, we'll be watching. Good advice from Heidi Collins. A grim picture of what could happen in this country in the event of a bird flu pandemic. The Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist took part today in a talk over at the National Press Club entitled "Pandemic, the economy's silent killer." Frist, who's a physician, warned that normal life for Americans would literally come to a halt.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-MD), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Think of a fast- moving, highly contagious disease that wipes out 50 million people, a half a million here in the United States. The killer pandemic claims more victims in 24 weeks than HIV/AIDS can claim in 24 years. And in the United States, the most developed nation in the world, bodies pile up in the streets. There aren't enough morticians to bury the dead nor are there enough doctors or nurses to tend to the sick.


BLITZER: Senator Frist also predicted hysteria and panic, saying police protection would fail and order in this country would simply decay. Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, is Senator Frist being overly alarmist?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of people would say no, Wolf. There's a lot of models that he's sort of basing this on. You know, the numbers that he's talking about in terms of the cost of the economy, Congressional Budget Office said $675 billion -- it could cost potentially the country, if pandemic flu were to strike the United States.

More important importantly, the numbers, you know, the CDC predicts the rioting, possibly of pharmacies, and just the numbers, the millions of people who could be effected, possibly killed by this. There are lots of people looking into how this may play out.

I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Ira Longini, now he's a consultant to the World Health Organization. Really wanted to look at some modeling to figure out -- now take a look at the models here. The blue dots are people who have had bird flu and either recovered or died. And the yellow dots are new cases. And you can see quickly, how quickly that screen fills up.

Now I want you to look at this. On the left is actually what takes place if there's some simple interventions. Quarantines and medications like Tamiflu are given out. You can see on the left, just hundreds of new cases, as opposed to the right, where that screen is filling up, certainly effecting many countries around the world.

So, Wolf, I think what Senator Frist said is based on a lot of data that exists out there. What we're also starting to hear is that simple interventions could change that equation dramatically, and that's the most optimistic thing we have heard so far.

BLITZER: Sanjay, what lessons have we learned from some of the other disasters that have occurred, like 9/11, Katrina, what lessons are authorities picking up? GUPTA: Yeah, you know, I think in so many ways, they look at this as a natural disaster type scenario as well. Now, a natural disaster, in the wake of Katrina, obviously, a lot of people remember those images, people standing in lines for hours, you know, people -- grocery stores becoming empty, shortages of gasoline and things like that. They think those same sorts of things could happen with pandemic flu, although be greatly magnified. So instead of lasting a few weeks or a few months, it could be, you know, a year, a year and a half, where you have this sort of problem, where a lot of shortages are taking place. So it's the same sort of thing in terms of preparedness, but right now, again, Wolf, you know, I've been to Southeast Asia, I've talked to a lot of doctors about this. I'm more optimistic that, with proper preparation, this thing can be brought under control, even if it were to strike in the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let's just hope it doesn't strike anyplace. Thanks very much, Sanjay, for that.

And to our viewers, important information: Please be sure to watch Sanjay Gupta's special on this very subject this Sunday night. Travels to the frontlines of the battle against bird flu, investigating outbreaks in Thailand and Indonesia. "Killer Flu: A Breath Away" premieres Sunday night, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. This is must-watch TV for all of us, indeed people all over the world.

There is at least a little good news on the bird flu front. If it does hit, there may be a treatment more widely available. Our Ali Velshi is working on this story. He's joining us from New York with a bottom line -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right in saying that that kind of thing is must-watch, because we all need to sort of know what the deal is on what happens.

This is Tamiflu. We've talked about this a lot. It's not a cure. It treats some of the symptoms. We've heard about this. It's made by Roche Pharmaceuticals, and there isn't enough of it around. Governments have been hording it. People have been going to get it, and we have heard news today that a lot of companies have agreed to make this stuff. Roche says we can't make it quickly enough, we can't make enough of it. They've said that in the past. Now, we have word that at least a couple of companies, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Mylan Labs being two of them. We know that they're in discussions with about 12 companies, but they will try and get as much of this out to people as possible. But it's not a cure, that's one thing to remember, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ali. Thank you very much.

Still ahead here on THE SITUATION ROOM, two tales of the Holocaust. This man says he doubts it ever happened. How will the world respond to the inflammatory rhetoric of Iran's president?

Mel Gibson takes on the Holocaust as his new project. Will the controversy be equal to his "Passion of the Christ?" We're watching this story. Stay with us.


BLITZER: He's previously called for Israel to be, quote, "wiped off the map." Now, more fiery rhetoric from Iran's hard-line president. Today, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel should be moved to Europe. And the Holocaust, the Iranian president said -- let me quote here specifically -- "Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added that most who doubt the Holocaust are, quote, "taken to prison or get condemned." Israel's calling his remarks simply outrageous and racist. The United States government condemned the comments as well, calling them "appalling" and "reprehensible."

The Holocaust is also the subject of an upcoming TV project that some are viewing with some skepticism, all because director Mel Gibson's name is attached to it. CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She's joining us now live to explain -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, the storyline is based on the Holocaust, and because of statements made in the past by both Mel Gibson and his father, one group is calling on the actor to publicly clarify his view of the Holocaust.


SNOW (voice-over): It was Mel Gibson's depiction of Jews in "The Passion of the Christ" that prompted critics to denounce the film as anti-Semitic. Now, Gibson is planning a TV project on the Holocaust survivors sheltered by Christian families, and already it's raising eyebrows.

ABC says the deal is still in development with Gibson's production company. But some are raising concerns, since Gibson's father has been quoted in the past denying the Holocaust happened.

RAFAEL MEDOFF, WYMAN INSTITUTE FOR HOLOCAUST STUDIES: He really needs to publicly repudiate the Holocaust denial statements that his father made, and he needs to acknowledge explicitly that there was a Holocaust.

SNOW: Rafael Medoff is a leading authority on the Holocaust, and says Gibson has dodged the issue in the past. In a 2004 "Reader's Digest" interview, for example, Mel Gibson was specifically asked whether the Holocaust happened. His response, quote -- "Yes, of course. Atrocities happen. War is horrible. The second world war killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps." Critics say Gibson's statements don't go far enough.

RABBI MARVIN HIER, FOUNDER, SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER: You can't portray Jews as yeah, some of them suffered, too. And, you know, so, those were the reasons where many -- why many people have -- had great concerns about Gibson's views on the Holocaust. SNOW: A representative for the actor/director says he's out of the country and can't be reached. Media observers say even if Gibson doesn't have anything to say, his name alone draws an audience.

LYNETTE RICE, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The controversy won't hurt. It won't hurt at all. And if anything, ABC will feed off of it.

SNOW: It's that publicity that worries critics who say there's a fringe element in the U.S. of people who deny that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

MEDOFF: There's a danger that he'll be lending legitimacy or credibility to people who should basically be regarded as lunatics.


SNOW: ABC had no comment on the project. It says it's ordered a script from Gibson's production company, but has not yet given it the green light -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting. Than you, Mary.

First he was an actor, then a director. Could Mel Gibson's next role be politician? Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner may have the answer -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: The Republican California Assembly set up this Web site, MelGibsonforGovernor. They think if Schwarzenegger doesn't run, they'd like Gibson to do so. They say he's got the high-profile name, and he makes movies with good themes. Now, I spoke to them today, Wolf, and they said to me that the actor is in fact out of town, like Mary mentioned. He's in Mexico. So they're waiting for word back. They're going to keep the site as is until they hear back from Mel himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much. We leave you tonight with two live pictures. First, Chicago. Check it out. Snowing in Chicago. Not a huge surprise, but it is serious, not only in Chicago, but elsewhere in the midsection of the United States, and it's moving toward the east.

Also in New York City, check this out: Strawberry fields in Central Park. Twenty-five years ago today, John Lennon was shot.

We have to leave you right there. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Heidi Collins getting ready to pick up our coverage. She's filling in for Paula Zahn -- Heidi.


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