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Bitter Fighting as NATO Forces Try to Counter Taliban Insurgency; 20 Wounded in Montreal School Shooting; Measure Honoring 9/11 Causes Skirmish in Congress; Jimmy Carter's Disagreement with Bush Administration; NASA Loses Another Bolt From International Space Station; Keith Ellison Interview; Leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela Gather In Havana
Aired September 13, 2006 - 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: 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 today's top stories.
Happening now, a secret eye in the sky spots a suspected Taliban gathering, but guess what? No attack is launched.
It's 1:30 a.m. in Afghanistan. Did U.S. commanders miss a chance to deal a deadly blow or did they avoid a catastrophe?
In Havana, where it's 5:00 p.m., a worldwide summit takes aim at the United States. Will the leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela stand together as symbols of a new Cold War?
And it's 4:00 p.m. in Minnesota, where a primary winner moves closer to becoming the first Muslim in the United States Congress. I'll speak with the candidate, Keith Ellison.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the skies over Afghanistan a silent stalker spots what may be a very high-value target, but there's no attack. Did the U.S. military miss a chance to deal a devastating blow to what's now a raging insurgency? New images and no clear answers from the fog of war.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's been looking into this story all day -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a military official in Afghanistan tells me coalition commanders are looking into how this one image was released into the public domain, a picture of what was likely a very tempting target for coalition aircraft.
TODD (voice over): In the sights, more than 100 suspected Taliban insurgents, July of this year in southern Afghanistan. A coalition official in Afghanistan characterizes this only as intelligence imagery, will not discuss what type of vehicle took this picture, first published by NBC News, or whether that vehicle was armed.
The coalition considered firing on this gathering, according to the spokesperson, but did not. A decision made, the official says, at least in part because they were gathering at a cemetery. Likely a funeral for Taliban fighters killed by coalition troops earlier that day.
A missed opportunity or a disaster averted? The coalition won't discuss rules of engagement. So we ask CNN analyst General Don Shepperd.
GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Generally speaking, we try to avoid strikes -- the military tries to avoid strikes on mosques and on cemeteries because we know the sensitivity of those, particularly in the Islamic religion and in all religions.
TODD: But Shepperd also says U.S. forces do sometimes target mosques or cemeteries after going up the chain of command if they know there are high-value targets there and if commanders believe collateral damage is acceptable under the circumstances, if they're being fired upon from those areas.
Still, the coalition official says U.S. forces do try to hold themselves to a higher moral standard than their enemy. The spokesperson cited the funeral this week for an assassinated governor in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber killed several people. "It's hard to condemn the enemy if we do the same kind of thing."
Then there's the question of real-time accuracy.
SHEPPERD: When you are firing a missile from a predator drone or dropping bombs from an aircraft, you can't really see what you are hitting on the ground. So although you are going to hit Taliban, you also are going to hit whoever is with or near the Taliban.
TODD: A military official in Afghanistan says the picture was "inappropriately released to the media." Military officials at one point asked news organizations to pull it out of circulation, then conceded the cat was out of the bag -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, thank you.
Brian Todd reporting on the ground in Afghanistan.
There's bitter fighting as NATO forces try to counter a Taliban insurgency. Do the allies, though, have enough troops to get the job done?
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even with the increased fighting in Afghanistan, today NATO failed to reach a commitment to send more troops to Afghanistan.
STARR (voice over): Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province is just one place where fierce fighting has erupted in recent weeks between Taliban fighters and NATO troops. And it's all beginning to sound like Iraq.
NATO announced that 173 Afghans have been killed this year in suicide bombings. A tactic not seen in the past. Dozens of British and Canadian troops have been killed in the last five weeks. And new questions about whether NATO's security force, ISAF, has enough troops.
JAMES APPATHURAI, NATO SPOKESMAN: There's no denying that they are stretched and that more forces would allow all of the ISAF mission to achieve its objective more quickly and at lower risk.
STARR: But in Brussels, a NATO meeting called Wednesday to ask member countries to send 2,500 more troops failed to win any new pledges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not expecting any.
STARR: NATO will try to agree on more troops by the end of the month. Commanders say they also need more C-130 transport planes and attack helicopters. There are currently about 20,000 NATO forces across the country and perhaps up to 7,000 active insurgents.
STARR: Now, Wolf, NATO countries say they are really tapped out with other commitments around the world and don't have the troops to send to Afghanistan. The U.S. says NATO has taken on that responsibility and has to live up to its commitments -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Barbara, for that.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
At least 20 people are wounded in a shooting at a Montreal college. A suspected gunman is dead. There was some confusion over other possible gunmen, but police now say there was only one. There's no word on a motive for the shootings.
Let's bring in CNN's Zain Verjee. She's watching this story. She's got some more.
What are you picking up, Zain?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I just got off the phone with a film professor at Dawson College. He told me this, that they were in the classroom and they heard about three to four gunshots, that they heard people running. Someone was shouting, "He's got a gun! He's got a gun! He's shooting!" He told me that he and his students stayed in the classroom for about 30 minutes. They heard more gunshots. After a little while he said he went outside. He saw policemen that had drawn their guns, that there was a student, he said, that was bleeding profusely from his face.
He tried to call 911 and he said it was just jammed and it just said, "Please wait. Please wait."
He went back, tried to calm down his students. And after a short while, a S.W.A.T. team came with their rifles into his classroom, scared the students, and eventually they left. And he and his students are safely at home. But he was certainly shaken -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This is something extraordinary in Montreal. You went to school -- you went to McGill University, which is not that far away.
VERJEE: No, it's not. McGill University, Concordia University, Dawson College, they are all close by.
Dawson College is a fairly small college. There's about 7,500 students that go there. They have this system called the CEGEP in Canada. It's kind of like a pre-university course that they take.
A little more about Dawson from what I remember, it's located in the heart of downtown toward the western part of the city. The main roads are Demaisonerv (ph) and Atwater (ph). There's a subway also that connects the school to the underground system.
It's a really busy part of downtown. There are a lot of businesses there as well. It's a fairly affluent area.
From what I understand from a colleague and friend of mine that I just got off the phone with, also, said to me that it caused a major traffic disruption in the city. People were really shaken by that. Well, as you can see, people are running, being evacuated not only from Dawson College, but also from the surrounding buildings.
But one point that was made to me is that Dawson College is a safe place and people have been shocked by this. One -- one person I spoke to said there's never even been a fistfight there of late -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much.
Zain Verjee reporting.
Let's go to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, leaders from more than 100 developing nations are meeting in Cuba this week. Some of them don't like us. I mean, some of them really don't like us.
Among those expected to attend are the presidents of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, a high-level North Korean delegation, and, of course, Cuba. They are expected to make a statement chastising Israel and the United States for the invasions in Lebanon and Iraq, expected to endorse Iran's nuclear energy program, and to criticize U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
Although some of the countries attending say they are not interested in bashing the United States, and issues like poverty and healthcare are high on the agenda, it doesn't sound, nevertheless, like a gathering where President Bush would feel very welcome.
The question is this: What does the United States have to do to improve its image among the developing countries on this planet?
E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File".
And by the way, if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions, plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert.
Just go to CNN.com/situationroom.
Up ahead, an all-out political battle over 9/11 just two days after the anniversary. Democrats and Republicans square off over a House resolution.
We're going to go live to Capitol Hill.
And we'll introduce you to the man who is poised to become the country's first Muslim member of the U.S. Congress, Keith Ellison. He's standing by to join us live in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, former president Jimmy Carter at odds with President Bush and speaking his mind. He takes the administration to task in a very candid interview with our own Larry King.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It sounds like a resolution that would appeal to everyone in Congress, a measure honoring victims of 9/11. But it's become a source of another skirmish as Republicans and Democrats clash over the war on terror.
Let's go live to our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, only two days after Senate -- the Senate passed its own resolution commemorating the 9/11 anniversary and the five years since the terrorist attacks, and passed it unanimously, House Republicans introduced a resolution of their own. But what has House Democrats crying foul isn't the fact that it also commemorates the 9/11 anniversary. Rather, it's the other bits of commemoration that House Republicans have put into this resolution.
In particular, it includes the Republican Congress' record on passing legislation like the renewal of the Patriot Act and the House- passed immigration bill. Both pieces of legislation were strongly opposed by House Democrats.
And so, as much as you saw Democrats attacking President Bush after his speech on 9/11, so, too, you have Democrats in the House accusing Republicans also of playing politics with what should have been a solemn occasion, they said. In fact, the chief sponsor of the House resolution, Republican Peter King of New York, accused Democrats and said their criticism was nothing more than cheap demagoguery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I guess with Election Day less than 60 days away, they have chosen to say what was nonpartisan two years ago is extremely partisan today. And I regret that, because there is a lot that we still have to do as a Congress, but there's much we achieved. And I believe it's important for us not just to talk about the horror of September 11th, but to chronicle for history what we've done, what we intend to do, and let history be our judge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Now is not the time to divide the country. Slogans and partisanship will not bring us victory. "Stay the course," "You're either with us or against us" are not military strategies.
Five years after 9/11, we must be clear. The war in Iraq has distracted us from finding Osama bin Laden, dismantling al Qaeda, and fighting the war on terrorism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOPPEL: But despite Democrats' objections, like Peter Clyburn there, in the end, Wolf, they are expected to support the resolution, if for no other reason than the fact that it does commemorate the victims of 9/11 and the first responders. As you know, it's a political year, and Democrats are all too aware of the fact that if they didn't support it, that could be used against them and political ads or whatnot as we approach November -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Andrea Koppel on the Hill.
Former president Jimmy Carter has some major disagreements with the Bush administration. He's speaking his mind, as he often does.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us from New York with details -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
In an interview with Larry King, former president Jimmy Carter had some strong words and advice on a host of issues both inside the U.S. and abroad.
SNOW (voice over): Not one to sit on the sidelines, former president Jimmy Carter is weighing in on two of the topics he knows best: politics and peacemaking. On the contentious Connecticut Senate race, President Carter tells CNN's Larry King he's surprised and disappointed at Senator Joseph Lieberman for running as an Independent after losing to a Democratic challenger. He calls Lieberman a good man, but...
JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was one of the originators of public statements that misled the American people into believing that the Iraqi war is justified. He's joined in with the Republican spokespersons by saying the Democrats who disagree are really supporting terrorism.
So, for all of these reasons, I've lost my confidence in Joe Lieberman and don't wish to see him reelected.
SNOW: No stranger to the Middle East peace process, the man who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to diffuse global conflicts is critical of the way Israel invaded Lebanon.
CARTER: Well, I think Israel should have responded by attacking the southern part of Lebanon and by dealing with the Hezbollah threat if they were going to refuse to make any sort of prison exchange to alleviate the tension. But for them to decide to bomb the entire nation of Lebanon, and to declare that the Hezbollah threat across the border that only involved the taking of two soldiers and the killing of a few others, I think greatly and unnecessarily escalated the entire conflict.
SNOW: On North Korea and Iran, he likens the U.S. dealings with both countries as going into a closet to pout. And on Iraq, President Carter is highly critical of U.S. policy, believes troops should be removed in a cautious and methodical way over a year. And he has some stinging words for Vice President Dick Cheney.
He says Cheney deliberately misled the American people about the origins of the Iraqi war. And in his words, "made ridiculous claims."
SNOW: Now, the White House did not have any reaction to President Carter's comments, but reiterated the vice president said Sunday that he and President Bush did everything they could think of to make the nation safe.
Now, as for Senator Lieberman, a spokeswoman said in reaction, "Joe Lieberman has disagreed with former President Carter on foreign policy for a long time so his statement does not come as a shock. But we regret that his statement is full of factual misinformation. In particular, it is entirely false to suggest that Joe Lieberman in any way equated dissent about the war with supporting terrorists."
And we'll have more on this at 7:00 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you very much.
Mary Snow in New York.
And this programming note to our viewers. The former president, Jimmy Carter, has much more to offer, including his solutions to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
You can see the entire exclusive interview tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." That airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
Coming up, we'll have the latest on a developing story we've been following these past several hours, a school shooting in Montreal. At least 20 people are injured. We're going to go there for a live update.
Plus, lost in space. Again. More hardware goes missing. Will it affect the safety of the space shuttle and the space station?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We'll check back with Zain Verjee for a quick look at some other important stories making news.
VERJEE: Hi, Wolf.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill backed by the White House that could formally legalize the controversial NSA wiretap program. The vote fell strictly along party lines.
The bill allows President Bush to submit the program to a special court which would determine whether it's constitutional. If not, the program can be reworked and resubmitted.
An out-of-control wildfire in southern California is threatening to shut down Interstate 5, the state's main north-south highway. The 27,000-acre blaze is burning within a mile and a half of a mobile home park, although no evacuations have been ordered yet.
Fifteen hundred firefighters are working the lines. The fire was started more than a week ago by someone burning trash.
And just moments ago, Hurricane Gordon was upgraded to a strong Category 2 storm, but at this point it doesn't look like it will hit land. Behind it, a depression that could soon become Tropical Storm Helen.
There's been less tropical activity than forecast. And government experts now say that that may be due to warm water El Nino conditions in the eastern Pacific Ocean -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thank you.
NASA today says another bolt has gone missing from the International Space Station. It's the second bolt that the astronauts have lost in two spacewalks. What does this mean for the safety of the space station?
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, NASA is calling the spacewalk a success, missing bolt and all. It started at 5:00 a.m. this morning and went about seven hours. And basically astronauts discovered that a bolt had gone missing about 7:00 a.m., and NASA thinks it's just floating off into space.
They are not worried about it causing any damage. They say it's not a problem. They don't think it is, actually. And that the cover that it was holding down can do just fine with just four bolts -- or three bolts, rather, instead of four.
Now, what they are working on is a pivotal joint that's going to allow two solar panels that are being installed or have been installed to rotate and actually face the sun. These are the solar panels right here. And when those are actually fully installed, they will double the amount of power to the International Space Station. When they're unfolded, they run about the length of an entire football field.
Now, this is the second of two spacewalks. The third one is coming up on Friday. Those panels, by the way, will be completely unfolded tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jacki, thank you.
Jacki Schechner reporting.
Coming up, he could create a first on two fronts. Perhaps the first Muslim in the U.S. Congress and the first African American representative from Minnesota. Candidate Keith Ellison will be here to tell us more about himself.
And it's a meeting of the minds. Three men united in their dislike for the United States. The leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela meeting in Havana. We're going to go there.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: He arrived in the United States to study but may have received his real education in al Qaeda training camps. Is he poised to attack Americans whenever he gets the signal? Let's turn to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's known as "The South American". Thirty-one-year-old Adnan al- Shukrijumah is believed to be one of al Qaeda's most deadly sleeper agents and an urgent threat to the United States.
ARENA (voice over): The Saudi-born Shukrijumah came to the United States with his family when he was just 20 years old. His father wanted what only America could offer his son.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I brought him here in 1995 so that he could get a college education.
ARENA: But Shukrijumah's American experience took a sharp turn in his mid 20s. Sources say he met a man named Ismail Fayid (ph), an alleged al Qaeda operative who officials say helped turn Shukrijumah from a typical student into one of the most wanted men in the world.
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, he is dangerous. Yes, he had ties with persons who were al Qaeda. And we believe he shares the ideology and if had the capability, would participate and attack himself.
ARENA: Shukrijumah made his way to al Qaeda training camps, where it's believed he received extensive weapons training. But it's the time he spent in the United States that has investigators most worried.
The FBI says Shukrijumah has surveilled targets in Chicago, New York, Washington and Houston. And it's believed he came up with a plot to blow up apartment buildings.
STU MCARTHUR, FBI ASST. SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: He has great understanding and knowledge of how this country works and operates. And that underscores his dangerousness.
ARENA: The FBI believes that Shukrijumah is now somewhere in Pakistan. The U.S. is passing out match books there with his picture promising a $5 million reward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kelli, thank you. Good report. And by the way to our viewers. More of Kelli's reporting coming up including a rare interview with a man who lives, breathes and sleeps this hunt. The FBI's lead agent on the case. That's airing tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW," 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Horror and carnage today in Canada. There are conflicting reports but at least one gunmen opened fire at a college in downtown Montreal. Police say four people are dead including the gunmen. And at least 20 are wounded many of them critically wounded. We have a report from the scene.
Genevieve Beauchemin has the story. GENEVIEVE BEAUCHEMIN, TVA CORRESPONDENT: Well now police are still inside the perimeter here. Still inside the building. Still trying to make sure that the area is secure. They say they will be here for several more hours.
But of course the scene has quieted down. People though are still milling about. There are students who have been here all afternoon. Trying to understand what happened to them. I do have a student with me whose name is Avi Murgi (ph) who was inside the building at the time. He was in the cafeteria. The place where the shooter was apparently. Tell me what you saw.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, as much as saw I didn't see everything. But I did hear a lot of shooting. Then at first I thought it was a joke. And then after you see people running, running. And we just all ran and left the cafe as soon as possible. We went out an exit. Everybody was calling their parents. Everybody was calling. The cops were coming out of nowhere. And it's basically -- And then after I heard more shootings when we were outside. We ended up all the way to Concordia just from running. I never knew I could run this fast.
BEAUCHEMIN: And then you said that you saw the shooter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw a body being dragged out by the police. That was believed to be a shooter. But I can't confirm that. But what I saw was a body being dragged. First time in my life I ever saw a dead body. Completely different from what you see on TV. Once you see it in real life, it's horrible.
BEAUCHEMIN: Thank you, Avi. And those are the stories that we've been hearing from a lot of the students who have been pouring out of the building here. Saying that they wanted to call their parents and tell them they were safe and tell them about this unbelievable situation they saw inside.
BLITZER: And we'll have more on this story coming up. That from our affiliate reporter on the scene in Montreal.
Still to come. Jack Cafferty wants to know can we all just get along? Leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela now in Cuba. Expected to band together and lash out against the United States. So Jack is asking this question. What does the U.S. need to do to repair its reputation?
And helmets and protective vests. What might combat gear for American troops look like in the future? We're going to take a closer look.
BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of hour. Here to tell us what we're working on. Hi, Lou.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight we are reporting on disturbing new questions about U.S. strategy and leadership in the war against terror and radical Islamist terrorists. Did our military fail to kill nearly 200 terrorists because of unreasonable rules of engagement? We'll have that live report for you from the Pentagon.
Also U.S. and NATO troops fighting fierce battles against radical Islamist terrorisms in Afghanistan. But NATO countries refusing to help. Saying they can't spare anymore troops to join that fight. Although European NATO countries have 1.5 million troops.
And tonight, illegal aliens overwhelming many of our schools. But civil liberties groups are threatening to stop the schools from gathering vital information on their citizenship and immigration status. That's putting our children's public education at risk. We'll have that report and a great deal more coming up at the top of the hour. We hope you'll join us. Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Lou. We'll be watching. The winner of Minnesota's primary is poised to break new ground in the United States congress. Including possibly becoming the first Muslim member in U.S. history. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joining us with more. Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, that's right. As a result of yesterday's primary, Minnesota Democrats can claim a new first.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It's likely this year will see the first Muslim elected to Congress. He's Keith Ellison who just won the Democratic nomination in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District.
KEITH ELLISON (D), MN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: In this election, we had people who say, "shalom," we have people who say "a salaam aleikum."
SCHNEIDER: Ellison's religion was not a big issue in the Democratic race.
ELLISON: Whether it be peace or veterans' benefits or health care, or the fact that we haven't had a minimum wage increase since 1997, those are really the driving issues.
SCHNEIDER: Ellison regards himself as a staunch progressive in the tradition of Paul Wellstone, his personal hero. Republicans are calling attention to divisive positions Ellison took in the past and his association with Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
ELLISON: I worked on the Million Man March and I was proud to do so.
SCHNEIDER: Republicans have little hope of defeating Ellison in a district that voted 71 percent for Democrat John Kerry in the last presidential election. They are trying to use Ellison's past associations to taint Minnesota Democrats as too extreme. OLSON BLOIS, POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the insinuation has been radicalism. Some insinuation of anti-Semitism. Though Representative Ellision had strong support from the Jewish community.
SCHNEIDER: Ellison says his views have changed.
ELLISON: As I've gotten older I've gotten much more sensitive to the needs of all community.
SCHNEIDER: His views on the Middle East.
ELLISON: I support Israel. I support a negotiated peace in the Middle East.
SCHNEIDER: Ellison will have to choose what role he wants to play.
BLOIS: The first Muslim elected to congress or the first black congressman from Minnesota. Or the shadow of Paul Wellstone coming through here too. And I think that depends on the issues he picks.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): Ellison gave me every indication he intends to be a progressive voice. Not primarily a racial or a religious voice -- Wolf.
Bill Schneider, thanks very much.
And the candidate Keith Ellison is joining us now. He's in Minneapolis. Mr. Ellison, thanks very much for coming in. I know you are state representative. Congratulations on this win. You realize, of course, given the heavily Democratic nature of this district, this is your election to lose?
KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, we are not taking anything for granted, Wolf. We are working very hard. The celebration ended last night. And we were on the ground working really hard today.
BLITZER: What does it mean to be the first -- it was hard for me to believe that there has never been a Muslim elected to the United States Congress. How does that feel to potentially make history in that regard?
ELLISON: You know, Wolf, I've been taking this whole history stuff day by day. I think the big history we made last night is that we have included more of the people of the district in all of the various different descriptions and religious faiths and colors and cultures than I've ever seen before. That for me was the history making event.
Of course I have my own personal profile as we all do. But that for me is just a fact. I've been focusing on how to unite and include and bring people in.
BLITZER: I know, have been reading a bit about your background. You converted to Islam while you were in college from Christianity?
ELLISON: That's right. Yes, sir.
BLITZER: What made you decide that you wanted to embrace Islam?
ELLISON: It was a personal religious choice.
BLITZER: And that was that. And you've obviously made some major changes over these many years in your attitude. What about this other issue that's come up? You are also going to make history by becoming the first African American to be elected to the U.S. Congress from the State of Minnesota assuming you win?
ELLISON: Well. That's another personal detail of my life. I mean, I'm proud to be who I am. But Wolf, in this day and age, we really need to focus on what we have in common. Not what sets us apart. We have to all say that we need our seniors to have a real drug benefit. We've got to make sure we support all of our veterans of whatever color. We have to come together as a community. And so today, points of difference are not nearly as important as points that we have together. We're one country, and we have to make sure that the common good is exalted and embraced by all.
BLITZER: As a practicing Muslim, how does it feel when you hear the president of the United States or other top officials here in Washington speak of Islamic fascists?
ELLISON: Well, you know, though I wouldn't use that terminology. I think it's improper to connect those two words, but the more important thing about the Bush administration is I think that it's economic policy. The way that it's pursued the war in Iraq. Two things that I think really do not serve best interests of the American people.
BLITZER: As you take a look at the challenges you face right now. As the first potentially African American member from the state of Minnesota. Hard for me to believe you are making history on that. Also that there's never been a Muslim elected to the United States Congress, what's a bigger thrill for you in terms of that element of making history?
ELLISON: You know, it's all mixed up together. Wolf, I mean, again. I haven't put the emphasis on my own personal identity. The emphasis for me is on the people, how to mobilize the people, how to persuade them to vote in their own best interests, how to talk about peace as being the guiding principal of our nation, how to argue that we have to fix this broken health care system that we have. I mean, these are the things that we need to talk about, how we all come together around serious problems that are not being addressed by the Bush administration.
BLITZER: Keith Ellison, poised to make history here in Washington. Congratulations once again on the victory yesterday.
ELLISON: Real pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate your coming in.
Up ahead, the enemy of my enemies. My friend, might three world leader as that dislike the U.S. be saying that to each other. We'll tell you what the heads of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela are up to right now.
And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour. He's the very available Canadian foreign minister. She's a very single U.S. secretary of state. Canada's Peter McKay and Condoleezza Rice. Might they be interested in more than simply a diplomatic dance? Jeanne Moos takes a closer look on a story that's making lots of waves in Canada.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Zain once again for a quick look at some other important stories making news. Zain?
VERJEE: Wolf, all four attackers in yesterday's storming of the U.S. embassy in Damascus were themselves Syrian. That's according to Information Ministry sources in that country. Three of the men were killed by Syrian forces guarding the embassy. A fourth died at the hospital.
In the attack, the men first set off a car bomb near the embassy. And then they attempted to storm it. The Syrian security forces beat them back. A Syrian embassy guard was also killed. No Americans were hurt.
British police say a gun bust in England has ties to New Jersey. British officials say they have seized hundreds of shotguns and automatic weapons today and arrested a 55-year-old man. He suspected of legally trafficking in firearms. But American officials say they've helped the British investigation. U.S. law enforcement officials say they followed up on a search warrant in New Jersey.
It's taken over 60 years. But Germany will soon see the ordination of its first rabbi since the holocaust. Tomorrow the rabbis will be ordained in a special ceremony in Dresden. Many religious and political leaders say that it's an important step toward reestablishing a strong Jewish community in Germany -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much. Zain Verjee reporting. Three of the Bush administration's biggest enemies will be gathering just 90 miles from U.S. shores: the leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. CNN's Morgan Neill is live in Havana. He is joining us now with a little preview of this huge summit that's about to unfold where you are, Morgan?
MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Cuban officials are taking care to emphasize this summit isn't directed against any country. Nevertheless, today those same officials accused the U.S. of war mongering and sponsoring terrorism. And there's likely more to come.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NEILL (voice-over): Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and of course Cuba's Fidel Castro, all outspoken critics of the Bush administration and its policies. All by Thursday, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. They'll be in Havana for a summit it's what's known as the Non-Aligned Movement. The movement was a Cold War creation. A platform for nations siding with neither the United States nor the Soviet Union.
The rules on membership were flexible enough that Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a close ally of the Soviet Union, gave voice to some of the movement's central themes.
"Peace for powerful countries and the small ones," he said. "Peace for all continents and all people. We understand perfectly that without a fight, we'll never achieve it."
Led by Yugoslavia's Tito, Egypt's Nasser and India's Nehru, the movement had a clear sense of purpose. As long as the Cold War lasted. But now its members are left grasping for a new path. Fighting charges it's a talking club with little real impact.
Cuba's foreign minister says the movement needs to stay united. In order to face the challenges posed by a world ruled by a more powerful nations. The Non-Aligned Movement is huge. Some 116 nations belong. It's so diverse, it holds oil-rich Kuwait and impoverished Burkina Faso. Tiny Grenada and immense South Africa. As well as rivals India and Pakistan.
NEILL: And Wolf that kind of diversity can make it very hard to find common positions. Now the other issue everyone here is focused on is whether ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro will make an appearance. And it looks like we are going to have to wait as Cuban officials are simply refusing to say -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Morgan Neill reporting via broadband for us from Havana. Thanks. We'll be staying in close touch over the next few days. Let's stay in close touch right now with Jack Cafferty. Here he is. Jack?
CAFFERTY: Wolf there are a hundred nations represented at that conference down there in Cuba. The question we ask what does the United States have to do to improve its image among the developing countries of the world?
Agatha writes this from Tennessee -- "The rest of the world would like us to stop acting like frightened children and start noticing the terrible suffering elsewhere on the planet. Are we really the kind of people who want others to die as in Iraq so we can feel safe in our beds at night here at home? What kind of people does Bush think we are? Grow up, guys. We have responsibilities and it's not all about us."
Kim in Virginia writes, "It doesn't matter what we do. We're the richest, most powerful country on earth. Everyone hates the big shot."
Joe in Florida -- "I know how we can improve our image with developing countries. How about we stop invading them?"
Charles writes, "Given that a billion people lack clean drinking water and 2 billion are without proper sanitation, perhaps the best way to shore up the U.S. image abroad is to lead a global infrastructure initiative aimed at addressing this basic issue."
Dean writes, "Needed, a U.S. P.R. campaign. Maybe Karen Hughes could do something like, Have you checked out the U.S. lately? A lot has changed. Come on, check us out. Hey, 20 million illegal aliens can't be wrong."
And Gerard from Pennsylvania, "How about appointing a 'friendly relations czar'? He could smile and hand out candy at UN conferences."
If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post some more of these online. Mr. Blitzer?
BLITZER: You know, if you could be in Havana right now meeting some of these world leaders, Jack, I think that could be an interesting assignment. Morgan Neill's our bureau chief. He has got it. But you and I are watching from afar.
CAFFERTY: You know, what I get the sense this is? It's a chance just like when the rest of the world comes to the United Nations. One of those conferences in New York. All the diplomats and the hangers on come here and they go shopping and they go to Broadway and they go out and eat in the restaurants. I have a hunch the same thing is going on with the folks down there in Havana. Pretty swinging city or at least it used to be and it's on the way back. So they are probably all having a pretty good time.
BLITZER: They are all coming to New York next week for the UN General assembly. If you are planning on driving in Manhattan any time next week or the week after, Jack, forget about it.
CAFFERTY: You are probably too young to remember when Castro came here as a young dictator from Cuba and trashed a New York hotel room. When they left, they found a bunch of chicken bones and stuff in his suite. Do you remember that?
BLITZER: I remember reading about that when I was some place. Jack, thank you very much. See you back here in an hour.
Up next, high tech and new gear for the U.S. soldiers of tomorrow. We're going to show you what the future may hold. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The war on terror represents a new challenge for U.S. military, calling for new combat gear for U.S. troops. CNN's Miles O'Brien has a welcome to the future report. Miles?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, in a war zone, comfort and safety don't usually go hand in hand. In fact, when the war on terror began, troops were carrying upwards of 120 pounds of equipment in armor.
But soon we may see a lighter more nimble soldier emerge from the trenches.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Dutch Degay of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center here is working to completely redesign combat uniforms from helmet to boot.
DUTCH DEGAY, U.S. ARMY NATICK SOLDIER CENTER: What we are trying to do is evolve our body armor. This actually doesn't touch the body. This next generation piece of body armor stands off the body in order to absorb the impact of the round without the individual soldier feeling that impact.
O'BRIEN: Improvements also include sensors that monitor vital signs and a lighter state-of-the-art helmet that provides infrared and thermal vision capabilities. As well as a futuristic eye monitor connecting soldiers to a battlefield network.
DEGAY: The individual soldier has the on board computer plugged into the network. So they now become network centric and can see everything inside the battle space. Even though it's not directly in front of them.
O'BRIEN: Degay expects the new gear to be available in two to three years. The whole system could be in the trenches by 2010. So what's next after that?
DEGAY: A set of camouflage that actually act as a mirror to the outside environment. And I literally disappear in the battle space.
O'BRIEN (on camera): The next generation gear isn't just safer. The new helmet weighs half as much as the current version. And the new armor is designed to shed heat and moisture more effectively. The hope is it will also give our troops some much-needed comfort -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Miles, thank you. And could the United States fend off a disabling cyber attack? That's what the massive government exercise code named Cyber Storm intended to find out. Today the Department of Homeland Security released the results of that test. Let's bring back our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
SCHECHNER: Wolf, when we talk about cyber security, we are not just talking about the Internet. We are talking about the North American electrical power grid or about how the FAA tracks flights across the country on any given day. Well, the government wanted to find out what would happen if it pulled together more than 100 public and private agencies back in February and see what would happen if a hacker or terrorist tried to attack this infrastructure. This is what was called Cyber Storm.
And the Department of Homeland Security today says it was a success. But they found several areas where they could definitely improve. For example, they think there could be better communication in case of main communication going down. Better back-up systems. They say there also could be better communication between the public and the private sector.
Now we asked the Department of Homeland Security how they would grade their state of readiness right now in case of a cyber attack. They said they weren't prepared to answer that but there were plenty of lessons they planned to implement by the end of the year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jacki. Thank you.
Let's take a close 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.
Check these out. A man salutes Lebanese troops on patrol in southern Lebanon. In Tokyo, a robot moves among pedestrians during a demonstration designed to escort guests and visitors around office buildings and hotels. In Texarkana, Texas. A dead pigeon lies in the street. The town's weekend festival was marred by pigeons falling dead from the sky after eating poisoned corn from a roof of a bank. The bank says it was simply trying to deter birds from annoying customers and didn't intend to kill so many pigeons.
And in a zoo in India, a 2-year-old white tiger yawns broadly. Some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.
Remember we're in the SITUATION ROOM 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. weekdays. Back for another hour at 7:00. See you then. Let's go to Lou in New York.
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