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THE SITUATION ROOM
Saddam Hussein Cries Abuse; Kofi Annan's Anger; No Senate Patriot Act Agreement Has Been Reached; FISA Court Operates In Shadows; Pondering Osama bin Laden's Whereabouts; New Details In New Orleans Euthanasia Case; Stress Cracks In Airplane That Crashed
Aired December 21, 2005 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive at one place at the same time.
Happening now, it's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein back in court, dropping a bombshell even as witnesses tell of tortures under his regime. The former dictator says he was tortured by Americans.
On Capitol Hill, it's a case of dare you, double-dare you, as senators square off with President Bush over the USA Patriot Act. Will either side back down?
And it's 5:00 p.m. in New York City, where striking transit workers are refusing to get back behind the wheels of their buses and their trains. Will a judge put their leaders behind bars?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
After boycotting a session of his trial, Saddam Hussein was back in court today and let loose with an extraordinary outburst, saying he and his co-defendants were badly abused while in U.S. custody.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SADDAM HUSSEIN, FMR. IRAQI DICTATOR (through translator): I would like to say, yes, we were beaten by the Americans. And we were tortured, every one of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to Baghdad. Aneesh Raman is standing by there.
Aneesh, you were there, you watched all of this unfold. Give us a little sense of what happened.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it really came out of nowhere. It came at the end of today's session.
All through the morning, Saddam was essentially sedate, very quiet. He only spoke once officially to the court in the morning, and in soft-spoken terms said that he didn't think the prosecution was legitimate. At one point, as well, he was actually praying in the courtroom silently as a witness testified. Then near the end of the day, this anger, this outburst took place. He said that he had been beaten, he said that he has bruises to prove it. He said that all the other defendants had been beaten as well.
Saddam Hussein is officially under the control and custody of the Iraqi government. But at their behest he is being held by U.S. officials. So he blamed the Americans. The prosecution says they will look into this allegation.
But really, Wolf, it's about Saddam and his lawyers trying to take the focus of this trial away form the case at hand and keep it about their detainment and the current situation in Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What happens next? Does this trial go on tomorrow or is there a delay for sometime?
RAMAN: No, it's set to convene tomorrow. We have two more complaint witnesses, as they're called. These are witnesses called by the judge to give essentially victim statements of what took place in July 1982. A short day planned for tomorrow, then court likely to adjourn again, this time for a month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Aneesh Raman watching it all for us from Baghdad.
Thank you, Aneesh, very much.
At the United Nations today, an extraordinary show of anger by the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.
Let's go to our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth.
Richard, what happened?
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was billed as an end-of-the-year news conference by the Secretary-General, but the holiday cheer soon disappeared. Kofi Annan was asked what advice he would give his eventual successor.
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: They need thick skin. Thick skin. They need a sense of humor.
ROTH (voice over): Up until now, the Nobel Peace Prize winner had in public kept his cool, but he lost it when asked by a British reporter about a Mercedes bought by his son and then shipped with a diplomatic discount to Africa, a slice of the overall oil-for-food scandal.
JAMES BONE, REPORTER: The Volcker report says the Mercedes was bought in your name. So as the owner of the car, can you tell us what happened to it and where it is now?
Now, my question is, it's true that we missed a lot of stories in the oil-for-food scandal, and the U.N. hasn't made it easy. And even your answer today on the Mercedes so far hasn't made it easy. Some of your own stories, your own version of events don't really make sense.
I would like to ask you particularly...
ANNAN: I think you're being very cheeky here.
BONE: Well, let me...
ANNAN: And I have to tell you -- no, hold on, hold on.
BONE: May I ask my question?
ANNAN: Listen, James Bone, you've been behaving like an overgrown school boy in this room for many, many months and years. You're an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving and please let's move on to a more serious...
BONE: My question...
ANNAN: No, move on to a serious -- move on to a serious journalist.
Go ahead. You go ahead.
ROTH: The U.N. Correspondents Association, UNCA, protested Annan's response.
JAMES WURST, U.N. CORRESPONDENTS ASSOCIATION: I have to tell you that James Bone is not an embarrassment. He's a member in good standing of UNCA. He had every right to ask the question.
ANNAN: I agree he has a right to ask questions, and I came here to answer questions. But I think you also have to understand that we have to treat each other with some respect. And you can ask questions. There are ways of asking questions and ways not to ask questions.
ROTH: The reporter, James Bone, of the "Times of London," has been on a one-man mission, Wolf, consistently bringing up the question about the Mercedes at daily news briefings when Annan has not been around. But the U.N. really has not much else to say other than pointing reporters to the Paul Volcker report, which did not link Annan to any guilt in this manner.
Annan, though, might have ignited things when earlier telling the press at the press conference, you missed the story on oil-for-food, being led astray by leaks and other agendas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Richard Roth reporting for us.
Richard, thanks very much.
And that reporter from the "Times of London," James Bone, will be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll get his side of the story. Here in Washington, meanwhile, the vice president, Dick Cheney, cast the deciding vote as the U.S. Senate approved legislation to trim deficit spending by almost $40 billion. Cheney cut short a trip overseas to secure passage of the measure which limits spending on programs such as student loans, Medicare and Medicaid.
Democrats did force one minor change that will require a House vote before President Bush can sign it. Democrats fared better in blocking attempts to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Senate Republican leaders fell four votes short of what they needed to cut of a filibuster
Last-minute maneuvers mark a high-stakes showdown over the USA Patriot Act as well. Democrats and some key Republican defectors are holding out for a temporary extension of key anti-terror provisions due to expire only in days. That's not good enough for the GOP leadership, not good enough for the Bush administration.
Let's go live to our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry. He's joining us from Capitol Hill.
Talk a little bit about the political price everyone is paying in this showdown.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the negotiations are literally growing more frantic by the moment. Last hour we talked about how senators shuttled diplomacy in and out of Majority Leader Bill Frist's office, desperately trying to find some way out.
I think both sides are growing weary about the politics, about the charges going back and forth. They've now moved this to the Senate floor.
There's a huge scrum right around Majority Leader Bill Frist's desk. You can see Arlen Specter, Harry Reid, senior lawmakers on both sides, intense negotiations back and forth, horse trading.
In fact, Senator John Sununu, a Republican who supported the filibuster who has been bucking the White House, rushed off an elevator to try to catch up with the negotiations. It was moving full speed ahead without him.
I saw him, I said, "Is there a deal?" He said, "Not yet."
But there seems to be a sense that both sides are moving closer and closer to a deal. And what we're hearing is not necessarily a short-term extension. The White House is still refusing to go for that. Maybe some sort of amended version of the conference report that's there right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ed. We'll be watching, together with you. Thanks very much.
Ed Henry, busy guy on Capitol Hill. If this were a chess match, the president might be in check. But he's come up with a strong countermove, warning Senate opponents that they're playing with national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate Democratic leader recently boasted about killing the Patriot Act. This obstructions is inexcusable. The senators obstructing the Patriot Act need to understand that the expiration of this vital law will endanger America and will leave us in a weaker position in the fight against brutal killers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.
What are you hearing over at the White House on this political brinkmanship, eyeball to eyeball? Who is going to blink?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of course, as you k now, this really is a critical piece of legislation for the president. He has invested so much political capital in trying to convince Americans that he's strong on national security. It is one of the areas in his polls that really show strong numbers, still. It is one that he cannot afford to lose.
One Republican insider put it this way: the said, "Look, we admit in some ways we've had a horrible year. What needs to happen here is that the president needs to be prepared to go into 2006 with some legislative victories, to prepare his State of the Union Address saying, we didn't get 100 percent of what we've made some significant strides."
Wolf, this is all about what White House insiders are saying is who is going to set the agenda, that that really is going to determine who moves forward. There's some real -- there's some small items that they want to push forward, that being technology advancement, healthcare initiatives. But there are also some really big items, too, the Alito nomination, immigration reform.
Those are things that they are trying to convince the Republicans that, look, you've got to stick with us, you're not going to win -- you're not going to lose, rather, in 2006, and this is -- this is really central to that legislative agenda.
BLITZER: And Suzanne, briefly, how does the domestic spying issue that has erupted over the past several days hover over this whole brinkmanship over the Patriot Act?
MALVEAUX: Well, you know, Wolf, of course it really complicates matters, because what they're saying here is this is an issue that they believe, the White House believes, is not going to go away. They're experimenting on ways to try to explain in more detail about this domestic spying program, but they're also quite confident here. What they're going to do is take a look at this Christmas holiday break and see how it plays out with the American people. They do not believe that this will resonate with the American people and that you'll see the kind of outrage that you've seen in Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks very much.
Let's go up to New York now. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I'm not sure about the outrage in Washington. I got a few thousand e-mails in the last couple of days, though, from people all over this country who don't think it's such a cool idea.
Let's hear it for those folks out there in Hollywood. "USA Today" reports that several new films about terrorism portray the terrorists as all warm and fuzzy. There's Stephen Spielberg's "Munich," about the 1972 Olympic massacre. It gives the points of view of both Israeli soldiers and members of the PLO.
"Syriana" paints a sympathetic picture of a man recruited into a radical Islamic group that's planning to attack a U.S. oil company.
Then there's the ShowTime miniseries, "Sleeper Cell," all about an al Qaeda-like group that's planning an attack in Los Angeles.
And "Paradise Now," a movie about two men recruited for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
Now, is this just more Hollywood liberal claptrap, or are the studios trying to cash in on a growing antiwar sentiment in this country?
Here's the question for this hour: Should Hollywood be showing a human side of terrorists? You can e-mail us your thoughts at email@example.com.
BLITZER: Excellent question, Jack. No brain freeze, at least as far as I can detect.
Was the name shortened from McCafferty, Cafferty?
CAFFERTY: My name? No.
BLITZER: You didn't here James Carville kept calling you "Jack McCafferty?"
CAFFERTY: No, I didn't.
BLITZER: All right. Well...
CAFFERTY: That was James McCarville.
BLITZER: That's something like that. Thanks, Jack.
CAFFERTY: My buddy James McCarville.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Up ahead, in New York, long lines and patience stretched thin. It's day two of the city's crippling transit strike affecting millions. How are New Yorkers faring?
And a tragic accident. Crews pull pieces of that crashed seaplane from the waters off Miami Beach. Their analysis already helping identify one problem. What else do they hope to find?
And the fate of Osama bin Laden. He hasn't been heard from for a long time, but does that mean he's been quieted or that he's just being quiet with his actions?
Stay with us.
BLITZER: So how brutal is the weather for New Yorkers who now have to walk blocks and blocks and blocks simply to get home or to get to work.
Let's get a weather update. Our meteorologist, Chad Myers, standing by -- Chad.
BLITZER: Coming up, a daring escape from jail. An inmate accused of multiple rapes is now on the lose. An urgent manhunt under way in Miami.
Also, he's a war veteran and a powerful lawmaker who's long stood up for the U.S. military on Capitol Hill. Now he's one of the president's key opponents on the war in Iraq. I'll speak live. Congressman John Murtha, he's standing by.
BLITZER: Zain Verjee once again standing by at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
A shakeup in New York's U.S. Senate race. Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton's Republican challenger, Jeanine Pirro, has dropped out. The longtime prosecutor announced today she's decided to run for New York State attorney general instead after discussions with state GOP leaders. An adviser says that's the job she really wants to do, but Pirro reportedly had been under some pressure to step aside.
A federal appeals court has turned down the Bush administration's request to move so-called enemy combatant Jose Padilla. Padilla faces terrorism conspiracy charges in Florida. The government wanted to transfer him from military to civilian custody, but a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the government's actions have left the impression Padilla may have been detained for three years by mistake even if his detention was justifiable.
Miami police are hunting for an escaped inmate accused of raping seven women and girls. Authorities say Reynaldo Rapalo escaped from a Miami-Dade County jail last night. They say he used a makeshift rope made out of bed sheets to climb down from the building's roof.
He's considered armed and dangerous. Rapalo is awaiting trial in February. If convicted of the attacks, he could face life in prison.
Salvage teams have now found the cockpit voice recorder from the Chalks Ocean Airways seaplane that crashed off Miami Beach, Florida, on Monday. The vintage plane's owner is voluntarily grounding its fleet for inspection.
Federal investigators say they found a fatigue fracture inside the wing that broke off the plane shortly after takeoff. All 20 people on board died when the vintage aircraft plunged into the ocean -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.
As new crash details surface, our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is digging online for more information on this particular aircraft.
Abbi, what have you learned?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we've been looking into the causes of various incidents involving this particular aircraft used by Chalks. At the NTSB Web site they have an archive of incidents involving all kinds of aircraft and airlines. You can search and find out what happened in various cases.
We're finding only a small handful involving this particular plane, and Chalks. That's the Grumman 73-T. And we're not really finding much of a commonality between the causes.
For example, in the one fatal incident in '94, it was a failure to follow pre-flight checklists. In an incident in the 1980s, it was to do with the landing gear.
We did find one example of a fatigue fracture, but it dated right back to 1960s, and actually to an earlier model of aircraft. Not the one specifically involved this week.
This site, by the way, ntsb.gov, has a searchable archive of these incidents that goes back to 1962 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.
Coming up, the human side of terrorism. We'll take a closer look at that. That's Jack Cafferty's question of the hour, and we're going to go into that. Also, is there a human side of terrorism? John Murtha, the Democratic congressman who has been the point man in getting U.S. troops in Iraq re-deployed, he's standing by to join us from his district tonight. He's speaking out again. We're going to be speaking with him live.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.
Miami Beach: an investigator examines the wreckage of the seaplane that crashed Monday, killing 20 people.
Los Angeles: a building full of dynamite goes up in flames. Authorities decided the explosives were too unstable to be moved, so they set the building on fire.
On to the Republic of Georgia. A World War II veteran proposes a toast to Joseph Stalin, making the late Soviet dictator's -- marking the late Soviet dictator's 126th birthday. Despite the millions killed and imprisoned, he still retains a following among many communists.
And over at the Vatican, Pope Santa? Pope Benedict XVI sports a fur-trimmed red hat in St. Peter's Square. It was popular with popes hundreds of years ago.
Those are some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.
A new twist today in the controversy over secret domestic spying. Court sources confirm to CNN that a federal judge is stepping down from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, as it's known.
"The Washington Post" reports James Robertson is leaving in protest of secret domestic spying. But court sources are tight-lipped about his motives. The FISA court usually operates very much in the shadows.
But our Brian Todd has been investigating. And Brian is standing by now in the newsroom -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this court was actually created to work in the shadows, to deal with the very sensitive matters of U.S. national security, intelligence and surveillance. And the FISA's court's location is about as mysterious as its reputation.
TODD (voice-over): A secure room deeply layered inside the U.S. Justice Department, not meant to be in the news, where it now finds itself front and center.
KENNETH BASS, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAWYER: It's above top- secret.
TODD: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known by the 1978 legislation that created it, FISA. Kenneth
Bass helped create the court as a Justice Department attorney in the Carter administration.
BASS: Eleven judges, but they only meet one at a time. They meet as often as the government's request for surveillance requires. It will average, I think, historically, perhaps once, twice a month.
TODD: The court's task, to quickly grant or refuse requests from U.S. government agents who want to run surveillance on a terror suspect or a foreign agent. The 11 judges, already themselves federal district judges, are appointed to the FISA court by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Former Justice officials say, when government agents, usually from the CIA or the National Security Agency, want to monitor a suspect, they first have to go through the Justice Department to apply for a warrant with the FISA court.
BRUCE FEIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The court then examines the evidence that's presented by the executive branch, seeking to show that the individual has got some -- there's reasonable suspicion, cause to believe they're connected with a foreign power or a foreign terrorist organization, and that they may be engaged in a plot to commit either espionage or a terrorist kind of crime in the United States.
TODD: Then, the court grants or refuses a warrant for the surveillance.
But, if it's an emergency, U.S. agents do have the authority to conduct the surveillance right away, then get a warrant later from the -- from the FISA court -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, very interesting. Good work. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Let's move on to another story we're following right now, Osama bin Laden. It's a question that we have been asking periodically: Where exactly is Osama bin Laden? What is the fate of the al Qaeda leader? It's a subject for a lot of educated guesses. But no one seems to know for sure.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, though, has been tracking the latest thinking from high-ranking U.S. officials -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been traveling in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and, as always, the question he gets asked, what about bin Laden?
OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda.
STARR (voice-over): The last time the world heard from Osama bin Laden was just before the U.S. presidential election, proof he stayed in one place long enough to tape a message.
The CIA noted with interest several details, a backdrop, lighting, a camera. Other people were there and saw bin Laden. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld now offering the conventional assessment, that, if bin Laden is alive, he is probably spending most of his time trying to avoid being caught.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I have trouble believing that he is able to operate sufficiently to be a -- in a position of -- of major command over a worldwide al Qaeda operation. But I could be wrong. We just don't know.
STARR: No one is sure why bin Laden hasn't made a new tape. His top deputy has made several tapes recently. The U.S. government believes bin Laden survived the recent earthquake in Pakistan and uses couriers now to communicate.
But the U.S. hopes the circle around bin Laden is shrinking -- four of bin Laden's most senior operations and planning experts now in U.S. custody at undisclosed locations, two operatives killed in Pakistan in separate attacks this year by CIA drones firing missiles, U.S. sources say, although the deaths were never officially confirmed.
STARR: Senior U.S. military officials, Wolf, are really stressing the fact that the war on terrorism now is far beyond Osama bin Laden, that the worldwide terrorist network now means the U.S. is dealing with what military officials now call the long war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much -- Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jack Cafferty is going through your e-mail. Should Hollywood be showing a so-called human side of terrorists? He's going through your e-mail. You will want to stick around for that -- much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A little bit of a surprising discovery about one of the worst hurricanes to ever strike the United States.
The National Hurricane Center now says Hurricane Katrina was a strong Category 3 storm, about 127 miles an hour, when it slammed into the Gulf Coast in August, not a weak Category 4, which starts at 131 miles per hour, as previously thought.
Even so, the Hurricane Center says Katrina, which left more than 1,300 people dead in five states, was one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history.
Two New Orleans police officers caught on tape beating an elderly man have now been fired. At least one officer was seen punching 64- year-old Robert Davis and slamming his head against a wall in the city's French Quarter in October. A third officer who was accused of grabbing a reporter has been suspended without pay for four months.
The officers' attorney contends they acted within proper police procedure in trying to restrain Davis.
In October, CNN told you about possible euthanasia at a hospital in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Today, CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin reveals new details.
Drew is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
Drew, what do we know about how this investigation is going right now, and how close authorities might be to any announcement?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several weeks ago, we first reported that those 73 subpoenas were issued in connection with what happened at Memorial Hospital. We know those people are being questioned.
We know the Louisiana attorney general has hired a famed forensic expert, Cyril Wecht, and has sent tissue samples from some of the bodies at Memorial to a lab in Philadelphia.
Now we know investigators are looking at more than one medical personnel who may have been involved. But the attorney general, he's not releasing any details. It's extremely sensitive. And that office has given no indication how long this is going to take, or if, Wolf, charges are to come from it.
BLITZER: You know, there's this whole question, Drew, about whether or not these patients were near death, and someone thought maybe it was better to just let them die with -- as they say, with some sort of dignity, than to let continue suffering. What are you hearing?
GRIFFIN: Actually, that's not what we're finding out.
Sources close to this investigation, and, quite frankly, a lot of people who were there at the hospital, including doctors and nurses, people we have talked to, are saying they were not all patients in their final moments of life, who would have died anyway. Some patients had DNR, do not resuscitate, orders, but we have been told that doesn't mean they were near death. Two possibilities, we are learning, are emerging, of what, if anything happened, what did happen. Here's the number-one scenario. The staff thought it was in danger, sitting in that hospital surrounded by water, and looters, and chaos. Or, number two, the staff was simply tired and frustrated, waiting for help. They were down to the last patients, who would have been hard to evacuate, bedridden patients. And, if this happened, Wolf, that it may have happened to speed up the evacuation of the staff.
BLITZER: Is there a particular drug, perhaps, in the bodies that they're testing right now to determine whether or not this happened, and how many bodies have you discovered are actually being tested?
GRIFFIN: Forty-five bodies, though we actually believe the suspected cases of euthanasia -- or possible cases, I should say -- are much smaller than that. And, yes, there is a drug being tested for. We're told it's morphine. It's a painkiller that, in large doses, can kill -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Drew, very important work you're doing. Thank you very much.
Drew Griffin is on the story for us.
And much more of Drew's full investigative report will air tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, exclusively, right here on CNN's PAULA ZAHN NOW," 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. You will want to see that.
Also ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, the rocker Elton John becomes one of the first in Britain to get hitched under the new law that sanctions gay civil unions. How far around the world is this trend spreading right now?
And, in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Jeanne Moos takes a closer look at the transit strike in New York as only Jeanne Moos can do. This is something you will want to stick around for as well, Jeanne Moos, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM from New York.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Let's head back to Zain once again at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a closer look at other stories making news.
VERJEE: Hi, Wolf.
Despite a string of security lapses and allegations of fraud and mismanagement, the University of California will stay on as manager at Los Alamos nuclear lab in New Mexico. The $512 million contract to run the nation's top nuclear lab had been put out to bid for the first time in its 63-year history.
But, government officials say, U.C. is keeping the job. The university is partnering with engineering giant Bechtel Corp. to run the lab.
The Palestinian Central Electoral Commission says it may cancel parliamentary elections scheduled for January the 25th. It says that, because Israel is not allowing the Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem, that they would do that. An Israeli newspaper reports that Hamas candidates pose a major threat to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
And it adds that Israeli officials believe that Abbas will use Israel's opposition as a pretext to postpone the election.
Elton John is hitched, Wolf. The British pop superstar and his longtime partner, David Furnish, tied the knot in ceremony in Windsor, England, today. The two were among hundreds of couples that took advantage of Britain's new law allowing same-sex civil unions.
After the ceremony, 700 guests attended a lavish evening party at Elton John's estate. Guests included the rocker Ozzy Osbourne and former Beatles star Ringo Starr.
Now, if you're thinking of getting a puppy for Christmas, take a look at this. I mean, they are adorable. But you could end up paying a very big price. The Border Puppy Task Force, made up of animal protection and health agencies, says smugglers are buying hundreds of puppies at rock-bottom prices in Mexico. They then sell the dogs in the United States for massive profits.
But buyers often then discover the puppies are too sick or too young to survive for very long.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADELINE BERNSTEIN, LOS ANGELES SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS: You can find these dogs in an existing population. You don't need to create more, and you surely don't need to bring them in from another country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: Wolf, back to you. Very cute, aren't they?
BLITZER: Yes. The dogs are adorable.
BLITZER: But that's a weird story. No dog. I don't...
VERJEE: Do you have...
BLITZER: I don't have a...
BLITZER: You know, our viewers love it, Zain, when you're -- our viewers love it when you're in all of the wall here...
BLITZER: ... in all three screens, the big screens, the little screens. They like that very much. And -- and your sweater matches those beautiful flowers, in the holiday spirit.
VERJEE: Thank you.
VERJEE: Thank you.
BLITZER: ... we will see you later, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's a new type of Internet virus spreading holiday cheer this year. It's called the Here Comes Santa Claus worm.
And, as our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is about to tell us, it doesn't care if you have been naughty or nice -- Abbi.
TATTON: Wolf, if you are one of the millions of people that uses instant-messenger to chat to their friends online, as I'm doing right here, right now, then you will want to listen to this.
There's a worm around, a virus. If you get a message from someone who looks like your buddy saying, hey, click on this and a link to Santa Claus, don't do it. It's not actually your buddy. It's actually the virus posing as your buddy.
And, if you click on the link, it's going to download a malicious file to your computer that is going to slow your computer down.
Now, instant-messenger -- viruses like this have been on the increase, including -- according to the research firm IMlogic. They said, this year, there's been a sharp increase in such viruses.
What to do? If it looks like it's coming from your buddy, message them back. Find out if it's actually them. Don't click on unsolicited links, because, if you do, this virus, which is actually called Gift, just in time for the holiday season, is going to do your computer some harm -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you very much. I'm so worried about all those links, I barely click on anything nowadays.
Up next, the latest on the seaplane crash in Miami. I'm going to be speaking with the man leading the investigation, the NTSB acting chairman, Mark Rosenker. There's new information that has just come in.
And our Jack Cafferty wants to know if Hollywood should be showing what's called the human side of terrorists. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Dominique Dawes tumbled into the spotlight during the 1996 Olympics as part of the Magnificent Seven gold-medal winning gymnastic teams. "Awesome Dawson" became the first African-American to win an individual gymnastics medal, with the bronze in the floor exercise.
DOMINIQUE DAWES, GYMNAST: It just meant a lot to do it for the country, my team and myself.
ZAHN: After the Olympics, Dawes turned heads on Broadway, dabbled in acting and modeling, and cartwheeled her way through a Prince music video.
She hung up her leotard in 1998 and went on to the University of Maryland, but soon realized that gymnastics was not quite out of her system. Dawes participated in her third Olympic Games in 2000, in what she calls a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Dawes is completely retired from gymnastics, and splits her time between coaching and motivational speaking.
DAWES: It's really going out there and teaching young girls what being fit is all about.
ZAHN: She's also president of the Women's Sports Foundation, and has recently launched a new project, Go Girl Go.
DAWES: I feel like I do have to inspire and empower others, and that's why, you know, I have found these different platforms, these different venues, that I feel like I have been able to touch lives in.
BLITZER: Several new developments today in the investigation of that deadly seaplane crash off Miami Beach. Federal investigators now say the plane had cracks in its airframe that went unnoticed by the airline.
The AP reports that the airline, Chalks Ocean Airways, now has voluntarily grounded its entire fleet for inspection. The cockpit voice recorder from the seaplane has now found its way and arrived here in Washington. Investigators raised a large part of the fuselage today, and the investigation continues into the crash that killed all 20 people on board.
I spoke just a short while ago with the acting chairman of the NTSB, Mark Rosenker.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Is it true that this -- this wing that you have now recovered had that fracture, that -- that crack in it that, possibly, could have been a cause for this plane going down?
MARK ROSENKER, ACTING CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, we certainly saw fatigue fractures. And we have -- we have actually taken a section of the -- of that wing spar cap, and we are sending it back to Washington. It's on its way right now for further investigation from our materials laboratory at our headquarters.
BLITZER: How often, under normal circumstances -- and this is an old plane. It's almost 60 years old, these seaplanes. There's a small fleet of them that this airline uses.
How often would you check for those kinds of stress fractures?
ROSENKER: Actually, it's a very sophisticated test that is required in order to do that. So, it -- we're taking a look at the manuals, but they may well not have a requirement unless there's airworthiness directives of FAA requirements.
Because it's such an -- an invasive type of -- of a -- of a investigation and test, that it's rarely, rarely done, unless there's a reason. Right now, clearly, there's a reason to be looking at the rest of the fleet.
BLITZER: So, none of these seaplanes, for the time being, are going to be flying any place in the United States; is that right?
ROSENKER: This model, that's correct, with Chalk.
BLITZER: And, just to be precise, because we're showing our viewers that exclusive amateur video -- you've seen it -- we've seen it -- there's no doubt that it was the right wing that burst into flames and that wing had the engine attached to it, as well as fuel in the wing; is that right?
ROSENKER: That's correct.
It's what we call a wet wing, which means gasoline is in the wing tank, in the wing itself. And, in reality, we were able to get that. That was the first piece we were able to recover. And that's when we recognized late last night that we had an issue here with fatigue fractures.
BLITZER: What do you expect to learn from the voice recorder that is now in the hands of the NTSB, I assume, by experts here in Washington?
ROSENKER: Well, we will certainly understand the initial takeoff phase of the aircraft. Hopefully, we may learn something, if there are any noises. We may hear the wing crack, an explosion, perhaps.
There are a number of things that we will learn from the cockpit voice recorder, if we're able to read it out. BLITZER: A lot of viewers watching this, they hear about a 58- year-old plane, almost a 60-year-old plane, and they are wondering, is it safe to fly these older planes, even if they have been modernized, retrofitted, even if they have been updated? How worried should they be when they get into these older planes?
ROSENKER: If they meet the airworthiness standards, then, clearly, I would be flying any plane like that.
BLITZER: You have to have these routine tests to make sure the planes are airworthy, and was the -- you don't know if this specific Chalks Ocean Airways plane had that kind of a test to determine whether it was really airworthy. Is that what you are saying?
ROSENKER: Well, we're going to take a look at all of the manuals. We're going to take a look at, also, the maintenance records to get a much better understanding of the condition of the aircraft.
BLITZER: Mark Rosenker is the acting chairman of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board.
You have got an incredibly difficult mission ahead of you, you and your entire team. Good luck. We're all counting on you to get to the bottom of this, so that, God willing, it will never happen again.
Thanks very much, Mr. Rosenker.
ROSENKER: We'll do that. We'll do that, Wolf.
And have a good holiday.
BLITZER: I spoke with him earlier right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm going to speak to Jack Cafferty right now. He's in New York.
CAFFERTY: Indeed, THE SITUATION ROOM annex, as we would like to call it.
CAFFERTY: "USA Today" reporting, Wolf, that Hollywood has come out with several new films about terrorism that portray the terrorists as all warm and fuzzy, films like "Munich," "Syriana," and "Paradise Now."
So, the question this hour is, should Hollywood be showing a human side of these terrorists?
Some of the answers we have gotten.
David in San Juan, Puerto Rico: "Sure. Why not? Hey, why we are at it, why not show the human side of Nazi movement, too? And wouldn't it be fun to see the human side of the KKK? Come on, Hollywood. I smell summer blockbusters here."
Ron in Summerville, South Carolina: "Of course we should show an accurate portrayal of the human beings who become terrorists. Not understanding them, or even trying, is what has gotten us into the mess we're in today."
Brian, United States Marine Corps, retired, in Los Angeles, California: "Greed comes in all colors, Hollywood included. Tell the warm and fuzzy story to the 3,000-plus families of 9/11."
Gris in Providence, Rhode Island, writes: "How are we as Americans going to be able to defeat the terrorists unless we understand their humanity? I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to understand the enemy. There's a difference between knowing your enemy and being sympathetic to their cause."
And Curtis in Portland, Maine, writes: "Isn't the human side of terrorists an oxymoron, sort of like jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, or FOX News?"
CAFFERTY: I like that.
BLITZER: Curtis, got a good sense of humor there.
CAFFERTY: Oh, I like...
BLITZER: Did you see -- did you see "Syriana"?
BLITZER: I saw it. And it's the George Clooney movie.
BLITZER: It's very complicated, very good. But it does show, you know, these terrorists, and what happens, and what motivates them. It was a very powerful film.
I haven't seen "Munich" yet, but I'm anxious to see the Steven Spielberg production.
CAFFERTY: I remember watching -- what is the guy's name -- Jim McKay on ABC Sports. I watched that live during those Olympic days.
BLITZER: I did, too. I did, too.
CAFFERTY: What a couple of days that was of live television.
BLITZER: Oh, my God.
All right. Jack, thanks very much.
BLITZER: We will see you in an hour right back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. See you then. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at 7:00, by the way, a live interview with Congressman John Murtha.
Kitty Pilgrim, filling in for Lou, she is standing by in New York.
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.
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