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FBI Fears al Qaeda Reprisals as Blind Sheik Falls Ill, Mt. Hood Search Continues, Florida, California Impose Temporary Moratorium on Lethal Injections

Aired December 16, 2006 - 17:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: And the race for president is on. But who is in and who's out?
And he's known as the blind sheikh and his health is failing. Should the U.S. be worried about another terror retaliation? This is the CNN NEWSROOM, welcome I'm Carol Lin. Let's first catch you up on the headlines.

Right now a massive search for three missing climbers lost on Mt. Hood. Rescue teams brave avalanche conditions with military aircraft hovering overhead. We're expecting a news conference at any moment and we're going to bring that to you live.

In the meantime, utility crews out in force in the coastal northwest today. Several hundred thousand homes still without electricity after the record-breaking windstorm there. We're going to have a live report on that.

Lethal injection as practiced in California declared unconstitutional. A federal judge found deadly drugs improperly mixed and executioners poorly trained. His extension of a statewide ban on executions came as Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced a similar moratorium after problems this week with a lethal injection.

And rival Palestinians stormed the streets of Gaza after a stunning announcement by President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas announced a plan to stage early elections, a move denounced as a coup by the radical party Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament.

And Senator Tim Johnson said to be improving. Doctors say Johnson remains in critical condition but has opened his eyes and responded to voices since emergency brain surgery Wednesday.

In the meantime, one of our biggest stories tonight, the desperate search for three missing men lost on Mt. Hood. About 60 seasoned climbers embarked up the mountain this morning after a sudden break in the weather. At more than 11,000 feet, it is the highest mountain in Oregon. The upper elevations are closed to aid the rescue effort after days of relentless snow. Authorities say the searchers face avalanche conditions, but there is good news. There is word one of the climbers may be seeking shelter in a cave. Chris Lawrence live in Hood River, Oregon right now. Chris, what are we anticipating for this briefing coming up?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We may get a better idea Carol of some of the conditions that are going on up there on the mountain right now. You know throughout the morning and even into the earlier afternoon there have been several cases where the rescuers thought they saw what could be some of the missing climbers but it later turned out to be not so. One of the experienced pilots here says that is to be expected on what is the first somewhat clear day out here. And when you get an idea of some of the conditions that they're going through up there, it makes it even that much more clearer. Some of the crews that are up on the mountain have described conditions, these gusts that come along that literally pin them down, make it unable to climb any higher. The snow is very powdery and we've heard at times of literally whiteout conditions when that wind gets to whipping up some of that snow on the mountain. A lot of the crews that are up there are having to make their way using skis and snowshoes in order to avoid literally just sinking into the snow. The families are keeping a very hopeful attitude right now. They came out earlier today to thank not only the rescue teams that are putting their lives on the line because of the avalanche conditions, but also the people out here, the people in Oregon and the people around the country who have been praying for their loved ones' safety. So again, a very hopeful attitude from the families, the rescue teams, putting in some very, very tough conditions up on the mountain and we may get an idea, a little bit more of an idea of what those conditions are in just a few minutes. Carol?

LIN: All right, so Chris, there is a sense of optimism today. At least by one of the climber's mothers who made the bold statement that today was her birthday and that her son would never miss her birthday. Is there -- can you give us a sense of whether the mood has changed here. Not just the weather, but whether they are seeing any potential breaks out there?

LAWRENCE: Well again, it's hard. You want to tread carefully because you don't want to give a sense of false hope on one hand and you don't want to dash any hopes on the other. And one of the pilots here, one of the very experienced pilots said he expected today to be somewhat of a roller coaster in that you might see something, it may look like they really got a lead and they're really making a development but then it may later turn out to be not so. And he kind of braced himself for that, that this could be a very up and down day for the rescue teams and the families as well.

LIN: All right, Chris Lawrence, I know you're standing by for this briefing. We'll hear from the sheriff of Hood River County as well as a captain from the 304th rescue squadron. Chris, thank you.

Right now though we want to get more detail on the search as well. Sergeant Gerry Tiffany of the Hood River County Sheriff's Department joins me on the telephone. Sergeant I know we're about to hear from the sheriff, but give us an idea of where things stand right now.

GERRY TIFFANY, HOOD RIVER COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Right now we're starting to pull some teams back. They've been up on the mountain since 4:00 a.m. A lot of them are tired. Weather is going south on us again, it's starting to get bad, the winds picking up. So we had a team make it to the 10,600 foot level and had to return because of the weather conditions.

LIN: Sergeant, is there a destination? I mean they're climbing, they're looking, do they know where to look? Have they narrowed that scope?

TIFFANY: On the last known fix on the cell phone, they have got that narrowed down. But the location of the other two climbers is, you know, they could be anywhere. And that's -- we have to spread out our search to look for them.

LIN: Now there are reports out there that eyewitnesses, the last time they saw these climbers, that they were well outfitted, that eyewitnesses say they had some pretty good equipment, some of the best equipment out there for this rough terrain and these extreme conditions. Are you pretty confident that they're well suited up and are able to brave these elements that we're watching on our screen right now?

TIFFANY: Yes, they are. We have a large -- we're pretty confident that they can withstand some pretty severe weather for kind of an extended period of time so we are still hopeful.

LIN: All right. Every chance that they could still be alive. You have also some of the best high tech gear available to you. The military involved now in the search. Infrared devices, any heat seeking devices, any clues there?

TIFFANY: Not yet. If they haven't, I'm kind of out of the loop with the military, they're going to be holding a press conference here shortly. So, you know, to fill people in on what they know and have learned.

LIN: What are the -- the searchers who are on the ground, the rescuers whom you're pulling back, how did they describe conditions? We know the weather improved, but what did they really encounter?

TIFFANY: Really deep snow. The winds are picking up and that's what -- it's really -- trying to walk through that deep snow and stuff it's just wearing them out. And they have to come back and rest for a while before they can make another attempt which it will probably -- start again in the morning, I will assume at 4:00 like we did this morning.

LIN: Sergeant, in taking a look at the conditions on the mountain over the last few days, I mean obviously extreme conditions, but it almost looks like beyond a needle in a hay stack. I mean what is going to be the big break in this search?

TIFFANY: Just somebody, you know, come across something and find them, find a clue or if they are in a snow cave, they can get out of it and signal us in some way. But most of it is just going to be going up there and looking. The guys on the mountain are familiar with it. They know how the climbers go up and how they come down. That's where we're concentrating the search, is in those known routes where people usually know where to go up and down at. LIN: All right, Sergeant Gerry Tiffany, thank you very much, with the Hood River County Sheriff's Department. We're going to be hearing from the sheriff shortly as well as a captain with the 304th rescue squadron involved in the search. Conditions still pretty tough up there and rescuers having to pull back for the day. But an early start again tomorrow. We're going get more details when this briefing begins. We'll bring it to you live.

Severe conditions also in the northwest. Utility crews are working overtime to try to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers. Yesterday's windstorm now is being blamed for at least four deaths. And dozens of people have ingested hazardous fumes from improvised heating arrangements, bringing their bar-b-cues inside, for example. Live for us right now from Kirkland, Washington, Katherine Barrett. Katherine, when you hear of people just lighting up coals inside their house, you know it has to be a desperate situation.

KATHERINE BARRETT: Well the first day was all right, the temperatures were only in the 40s. But last night they were below freezing and I can tell you there was no electricity or heat in my home and when I got up this morning, it was 50 degrees in the hallway downstairs which I actually considered pretty good. But you can imagine if your home is not well insulated, and you've got a family to keep warm, you might try and do that. The Red Cross says though, people can get very severe carbon monoxide poisoning even if they have a generator in their garage. These things need to be very well ventilated and there should be really no combustion inside your home unless it's in a fireplace. But the cleanup goes on here. They have restored power to some of the more than a million people who were without it yesterday. Still, though, more than a half a million people without power. Many of those that means without heat. Most of the problem again, trees like this one, which damaged power lines and damaged the main transmission grid for the state's largest utility. This tree came crashing down Thursday night, spearing its limbs right through the living room of the house behind me, taking out the family's indoor Christmas tree. Luckily no one was hurt. But trees are down on homes like this around the area. Yesterday we spoke and heard one dramatic story from a woman in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island.

LIN: Katherine I'm going to have to interrupt this particular report, we've been waiting for this briefing from Mt. Hood, let's go to that briefing right now. That appears to be Captain Chris Bernard of the 304th rescue squadron.

MIKE BRAIBISH, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD: Crews will be able to fly twelve hour shifts. There are two crews that will fly. What's going to affect our ability to fly, of course, is fuel. They'll have several hours of loiter time but they are going to be working 12-hour shifts back-to-back as long as the search continues. The UH-60's have been operating from about 9,000 feet on above 11,000 feet today. And they have been using visual searches. The C-130 is using infrared to conduct searches. And the UH-60s will continue to fly until it gets too dark to fly for them right now. What I'll do now is turn it over to Sergeant Collinson and after he gives you an update on the ground, we'll be able to answer a few questions for you. SGT. SHAUN COLLINSON, HOOD RIVER CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: All right, thank you very much. Just so everyone is aware, as of right now all of the searchers in the field are coming back down off of the mountain. Unfortunately the weather right now is such that they have to come back down as well as the lateness in the day. They don't want to be trapped up there overnight if they can avoid it. As far as on the (INAUDIBLE) county side, our searchers were able to get about to the 10,600 foot level before they had to turn around and come back down. They were doing avalanche testing all along the way. They have to do this safely. Same thing in Hood River, they made it up to about the 10,000 foot level before they had to turn back. Searching is not going to be stopped for the rest of the day. I mean there will be searching going on tonight. It will be mainly in the air but we will be up bright and early tomorrow morning and we'll be searching again using ground pounders and mountaineering resources.

BRAIBISH: And with that we'll go ahead and we'll just take questions from -- going around the group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The report about the two climbers that were supposedly seen or not seen today.

BRAIBISH: There was a possible visual sighting. The aircraft, it was a UH-60 crew that made the sighting. They came down, refueled, went back up and it was not the climbers they were looking for. It was possible that it could have been rocks that were obscured by the high winds and the snow blowing there. Possible it could have been some of the other rescuers. But as of right now, they have not found any sign of the missing climbers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) indicated that searchers are now coming back down the hill. Can you give us a sense of perhaps the frustration that they weren't able to find these guys on this day because the weather may change.

BRAIBISH: I think it's important to emphasize that we are still searching. Yeah, there is a degree of frustration that we have not found them yet but the fact of the matter is that the search continues right now. We're optimistic and we're going to continue to approach this with a great deal of determination. No matter what that weather is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is the weather looking tonight and tomorrow.

BRAIBISH: I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's the weather forecast looking for you for tonight and tomorrow.

BRAIBISH: The weather is rough up there. The winds are very high. It's making visibility -- visibility is heavily reduced. But we're getting these air frames up there. They're staying up there. As you know, the ground crews are -- have been up there, they are now coming down. We're going to keep our eyes over the next 24 hours on how the weather is going to be. But we're going to take every opportunity and every chance to get our crews, whether it's ground or air up there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like you came close. Eventually you want to get all the way up to 11, 11,200?

COLLINSON: That's correct, especially on the (INAUDIBLE) County side, we actually want to exceed that. Which means we're going to go up to the top and go over and down on to the north side of the mountain. So they're going to -- they're going to have to climb the entire mountain and then go over the top. It's actually the safer and easier route on the south side. But from everything that we've gotten as far as tips and clues, it sounds like these people are going to be on the north side of the mountain, in the Hood River County side. But, again, you know weather permitting, we're going to be up there again tomorrow. From what our understanding, the weather is going to be as good today if not better at least for a good portion of the day tomorrow. So hopefully it will allow us to get up there and actually get a little bit further than we did today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) conditions were up there, would you give us in distinct terms basically winds are like this or visibility is like this, give us a sense what (INAUDIBLE) is like there?

COLLINSON: Well they have got a lot of soft snow, it's blowing around. So what they have is a lot of white -- it's not quite a whiteout condition, but if the winds start picking up you do get a bit of a whiteout area where they're searching. What they're also finding is that the snow is really soft and it's really hard to get through. They can't go as fast as they'd like to. And a lot of the areas that typically wouldn't be covered up earlier in the year are covered up at this point and it presents a lot of safety hazards for everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The black hawks, can you give us an idea how close they were able to get to the mountain or do they have to stay pretty far off at bay?

BRAIBISH: Well the UH-60 Black Hawks, they predominantly were focusing on the Cooper Spur area. And it's -- with the high winds it's dangerous to get down close to the mountain, to get too close to the mountain. There are times when the visibility is down to -- excuse me, there are times when visibility is just dozens of feet with the way that snow is going up there. So at any given moment, it's hard to say how close they can get. But when they're relying on a visual search, they're going to get as close down to the mountain as they can. Now I want to emphasize that the UH-60s are in communication with the crews on the C-130s. The C-130 has an infrared capability so if they find something that gives them a positive ping, they're going to communicate that to the UH-60 crews and the ground crews and they'll get in closer for an investigation of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the only plane flying close to the summit that is the C-130 right?

BRAIBISH: Well the UH-60 crews were up above 11,000, about 11,500 feet. The C-130 is at a higher elevation to make sure that the air space is clear so that everyone is able to operate safely. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How late will the C-130 fly tonight?

BRAIBISH: The C-130 will conduct 24 hour operations. Its greatest limitation is fuel. It's going to obviously have to land, refuel and get the crews back up there. But the Nevada Guard does have two crews here and they're prepared for 24 hour operations.

I haven't heard any reports from the C-130, direct from the C- 130. But there are going to be all kinds of signals up there on the mountain, especially during daylight. Infrared capabilities, the best signature we can get actually will be in the very early morning when those things that don't produce a heat signature have cooled down. So that's one of the reasons that we're very eager to have that air frame flying overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any discouragement there wasn't anything obvious right when the helicopters and the planes got up there?

BRAIBISH: These crews are seasoned crews. Everybody, all of us would have liked to have found them by now. But these crews know that there is still hope and they are still committed to getting airborne and searching.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Searching tomorrow?

BRAIBISH: That's going to depend upon the weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Each day that goes by has to take a toll. Under these circumstances what is the probability of survival for the hikers?

BRAIBISH: These hikers were well prepared. These climbers were well prepared. They're experienced climbers and we have a great deal of optimism that -- that we will find them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) that they were going to continue the search through Sunday. Is there any talk about stopping all this tomorrow or where is that going?

COLLINSON: As far as I've been told, there hasn't been any decision made to stop the search or suspend it after tomorrow. I will say this, it is harder to get volunteer resources up during the week because people have jobs and things like that. But I do know that there are people committed to this search and will probably search as long as they possibly can.

BRAIBISH: That's correct, flying tonight -- Tonight we will have a C-130 flying. The helicopters, it's very dangerous for them to fly at night. So the C-130 will be taking that mission this evening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) What appeared to be two individuals up on the northeast side of the mountain --

BRAIBISH: Yes. That was -- there was a possibility that there was a visual sighting of what at first we hoped were the climbers. As it turned out, it was not. That was what was a possibility of rocks or other searchers that they saw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) as to what gear they may have taken with them up to the higher elevations at all? Have you heard anything on that?

COLLINSON: No, there was the speculation that they left some of their gear behind but that hasn't been located. There were search parties specifically looking for that. As far as we know we're going under best case assumptions that maybe they have everything with them and if so, their survivability goes way up because they had a lot of good equipment so we're going on the grounds of hopefully they have that with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- snow caves, additional snow, the climbers are actually up and moving during the daylight hours so it's easier to spot?

COLLINSON: Obviously that's our hope. It's going to make our search a lot easier if we actually have people that are up there and wanting to be found versus being underneath snow and things like that. If they are in snow caves they are going to be well insulated during the real cold temperatures but I would expect if you know they want to be found, they're going to be out there on clear days. Most people in snow caves will dig themselves out each day, let some fresh air in, I would hope that they would get out, see the weather and be out there, knowing that people are out there looking for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know the weather forecast tonight for temperatures on the mountain?

COLLINSON: Not that I have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) 20, 30 up there, maybe higher?

COLLINSON: I would say maybe higher than that. Gusts of winds probably exceeding that, maybe 40, 50 miles an hour. I know it wasn't quite the dream picture that we had hoped for today but there is a chance that tomorrow will be a better day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) what would happen then, how quickly could you get someone back up there to investigate what they may have found.

COLLINSON: Depending if it is found early morning hours, I mean we could have searchers that would be up and ready to go probably by 3:00, 4:00 in the morning. The problem is, is getting them from point A to point B. It is a long trek for them. It's going to take several hours. I mean there are some things that we can do to -- some short cuts we can take. But it would probably take five to six hours from the time that they are seen or something is seen before we could actually get a team up in even the general area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What temperature is the baseline for the infrared to work at night?

COLLINSON: That's out of my league. BRAIBISH: I'm not sure -- the infrared -- what the infrared does is it picks up a heat signature from anything that emanates heat. So I don't know what the broadest temperature range is on that. But obviously it's going to be tuned to, you know, the human body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about beneath a snow cave?

BRAIBISH: That's -- I'll have to check on the fidelity of that for you.

Any further questions?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will there be another briefing?

BRAIBISH: We'll follow with our pattern that we've had here starting with 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.


BRAIBISH: We'll brief by exception. If something breaks, we'll get in touch with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 9:00 a.m. tomorrow?

BRAIBISH: 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. Yeah, we'll plan for here, otherwise we'll get word out through the sheriff's office.

LIN: You're listening to the latest briefing from Mt. Hood from the (INAUDIBLE) County Sheriff's Department as well as the Oregon National Guard on the status of the search. They have not found these three missing climbers. They did have, oh, gosh, I don't know, what they thought might have been a break when one of the pilots looked down and saw something they thought might have been climbers. They concluded they were not. The sighting was not of the climbers, perhaps some rocks that had been moved by the storm. But they were not the climbers. So they are pulling back the ground search for the day. They are still going to have a C-130 flying at night. They're hoping to get a break with the infrared heat seeking devices that they have. They need the rest of the ground to relatively cool down enough for them to be able to detect say heat from a human body. So they're hoping that that break can come overnight or close to the dawn hours. So right now they are going to have a plane up in the sky overnight.

It is a 24-hour rescue operation. They are still optimistic that these climbers can still be alive. They're waiting for a break like having these climbers perhaps get out of their snow cave when the weather is clear enough so that it will make it easier for the rescuers to sight them on the mountain. They are searching both the north side of the mountain where the climbers were last seen as well as the south side of the mountain. They did talk about conditions today. The weather did improve. All of that is relative. They're still talking about winds blowing at around 40 miles per hour. Not ideal conditions for ground searching. So let's go to CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider. Bonnie is the wind likely to die down at all? They're trying to be a little more optimistic that it's going to be a clearer day tomorrow. BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It should die down a bit, Carol. What is happening is there was a very weak front passing through the area, kind of falling apart as it did. Well you have to realize the elevation of Mt. Hood is so high, over 11,000 feet so it really is completely exposed to all of the elements. The wind and the snow. The snow packed on the ground and as they mentioned very powdery in nature. So the wind blowing it about -- making for whiteout conditions. Now we're also looking at not only the elevation at Mt. Hood but we have an automated weather station about 6600 feet. And that helps to predict whether or not there's going to be an avalanche warning. That combined with weather balloons that are launched from Salem, Oregon, about twice a day from the National Weather Service, they check the weather conditions at different elevations, even further up higher than Mt. Hood. So we're getting that information now and that will help to give them a better idea of what the forecast is for tomorrow. It's just tough because there is no weather station at 11,000 feet and that's what makes it very, very tough to predict as well.

LIN: And critical because they're saying that the other black hawk helicopters that they have on this search cannot get in there close enough to the ground to be useful while these winds continue to kick up.

SCHNEIDER: Right, and that also has to do with visibility, with it being a blinding nature of the wind, with the gusts as high as 40 miles per hour. Unfortunately that's going to be a concern for not just today but tonight as well.

LIN: All right, but at least they're optimistic Bonnie that these climbers could still be alive. So they're hoping for a break perhaps tomorrow. Thanks Bonnie. Bonnie's going to be staying on top of this story as we track the very conditions up there and what these men are facing on that mountain.

In the meantime we do have men up in space. Astronauts aboard the international space station are in the middle of a repair job that's lasting several hours. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


LIN: Right now high above us astronauts are working on the second phase of their rewiring mission at the international space station. And our space expert Miles O'Brien monitoring their progress. Miles I've never known an electrical mission to be, you know, like the rewiring of my house did not get this much coverage. But I guess this is --

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I hope not actually. You want it to be a low key operation, don't you, yes?

LIN: How are they doing? I heard they needed to jigger something.

O'BRIEN: Well it's so far so good. As a matter of fact, the rewiring job is done and it's all been a success. And the real trick on this space walk Carol, was not so much the space walkers' job, which was a lot of connecting and reconnecting. By the way, take a look at them here. There you see up underneath number one, that's astronaut Sonny Williams and then way down at the bottom there, that's Robert Curbeam, they call him beamer. But that really gives you a good sense of scale doesn't it. Right over here, that's the main U.S. laboratory, the destiny lab and that's the unity docking module. That's a little air lock that they come out of. In any case, tangled web of wires that were sort of set up on a temporary basis six years ago have all been replaced now by the permanent wiring structure, connector by connector. And radio call by radio call, computer command by computer command. And on top of that, not only were the guys on the ground having to do a lot to make sure this is all -- everything is off when it should be and on when it should be, but even in the space station, they had to put in some jumper cables to make sure critical systems when the breakers were off so to speak would keep running. So it kind of looked like a 1925 switchboard there to get all that done. And so you could imagine that it's quite a spaghetti of wires, of course they train for these things for hours and hours. They just kicked on the ammonia cooling system and it's all working. So that's great news. And they're about halfway through the spacewalk. That leads them on to another task, they're going to get involved in putting some micrometeoroid deflectors on the Russian side of the space station, just a little bit.

But they may have some time to deal with the problem that has bedeviled them now since Wednesday. They're trying to retract the solar rays up here. These are the P-6 solar rays. Eventually they're going to get moved over here. The retraction was part -- one stage of that effort to get it moved. They got it to -- let's go a little bit farther, right to about that point right there and things got all fouled up. You can stop right there, give you a sense of it. It's kind of like folding a map. Only this map was not being cooperative as maps tend to be. And take a look at some of the pictures. They have done everything they could think of. They've wiggled it, retracted it, put it up and down numerous times. They even told the astronauts Carol to get on the treadmill, start banging around to see if they could wiggle it.

LIN: Oh I'm sure that went over real well.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, yeah, well you know, make a real effort here and they did and they got into that. Here they tried rotating that boom there. That's sped up by about 10 times. But take a look here. You can sort of see what we're talking about here. Right down in this area, you can see how it is all bunching up and if you look really carefully there is a wire here that goes through it, I can't hit a moving target very well.

The wire goes through it and there is holes inside the solar arrays and little grommets there. It is getting fouled up on one of those little grommets. And if you're on earth, it would be simple. You would just go up and moosh it together and that would be the end of. In space, it is more difficult.

So if there is time at end of the spacewalk, they may go over and do some jiggling themselves and solve this problem once and for all. The possibility does exist that they will call for a fourth unplanned, previously unplanned spacewalk in order to fix this thing, get this thing closed up and buttoned up. But that remains to be determined.


LIN: All right. That's fascinating, Miles, the detail of that. And you're saying that spacewalk is only half over?

O'BRIEN: Yeah. They went through it lickety-split. Got to hand it to them. The spacewalkers did a really good job but this was all about the coordination and effort to get that sequence of ones and off and all the jumper cables right. And they did it right. So a tip of the hat to the guys in Houston, too.

LIN: I hope they get a good dinner afterwards.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

LIN: Thanks, Miles.

Well, the race for president of United States, who is in and who is out? That's next. So stay right there.


LIN: Two possible additions and one definite subtraction from the presidential campaign trail.

Citing two Democratic sources, the Associated Press reports that 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards will seek the presidency in '08. Now, the former North Carolina senator will reportedly make a formal announcement later this month.

Another White House hopeful though gets cold feet. Two weeks after filing papers for a presidential exploratory committee, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh now says he won't run in 2008. Just says it is not realistic right now.

And from the ranks of the GOP, former health and human services secretary Tommy Thompson is weighing a bid for presidency for his party. An aide to the former Wisconsin governor says Thompson will be filing papers for presidential exploratory committee. The list keeps growing.

So why the failing health of this terrorist in U.S. custody could create a new threat.


LIN: The declining health of a terrorist cleric is putting intelligence and security officials on edge. Omar Abdel Rahman, known as the blind sheikh is serving a life sentence in the U.S. He's told supporters to retaliate if he dies in prison. U.S. and European officials also say the threat of an attack is higher during the holiday season. Concerns are especially high in Europe where several plots have been uncovered this year.

So is it paranoia or is this a very real threat? Joining us to give us her take on all this, Farhani Ali, an expert on terrorism and homeland security. Farhani, good to have you.

So, this latest threat, he for a time was thought perhaps to be on his deathbed. He had made this vow, though, several years ago, that should he die in a U.S. prison that there should be a jihad. Why do you think this is a real and tangible threat?

FARHANI ALI, RAND CORP.: Well, he has been a symbolic figurehead for several years now. In fact colleague of mine said that, you know, the blind sheikh has been a lightning rod for decades. Remember the history of the blind sheikh, his links to al Qaeda, he was in Afghanistan, he led the Muqtab al Hemel (ph) which is a services bureau, he worked for Azzam (ph). He is the symbolic figurehead of the Egyptian Islamic group which only until August of this year merged officially with al Qaeda.

And he continues to issue statements. In there are several jihadi Web sites and online statements, even in Iraq that pledge to seek vengeance should he die. But I want to bear in mind that there are several reasons why al Qaeda would want to attack the U.S. It is not the sheikh alone.

LIN: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. They don't need an excuse. And frankly, if they had a window, they would have attacked by now. So why should anyone take this particular threat seriously? It just could be bluster on his part.

ALI: I don't know if it is bluster. I just want to remind everyone he is one of the older -- one of the earlier generations of senior jihadi leaders. And I think that's important. What we're see is a transition from the older leadership to the newer leadership. And that is going to be significant. He has always been, again, he has been, he is and he will remain a martyr whether he dies here or anywhere else. And I think that's -- he's going to be remembered as a martyr just like Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Just as Abel Azzam Asef Cudup (ph) when he died in Egypt.

And so I think that the impact will be minimal because, again, as you indicated and as I believe, there are several other reasons why jihad is being waged today.

LIN: Right. And they don't need an excuse, frankly, to attack.

ALI: Absolutely.

LIN: And if they could attack, theoretically they would have by now. At least on U.S. soil.

ALI: Absolutely.

LIN: All right. So interesting in the sense that he is still potentially a threat. Still a leader amongst his movement. But in terms of anything tangible happening, no concrete evidence of anyone's ability to carry out that threat.

ALI: Not at all. In fact, because he's been in prison since about '96, he's far removed from the conflicts in Iraq. He's far removed even from his own group, the Gemah Islamiyah (ph) in Egypt. And so that organization, tactically on a strategic level and even operationally has been -- is being led by other members and other leadership. And because he's been, again, I think that's the point, one we have to remember, that it is just a symbolism. And that he will be remembered. He'll go down in what I call the who's who book of martyrs. So he falls in the long list of martyrs.

Perhaps just as when Abu al Zarqawi died, the emir in Iraq issued out a eulogy for him, there was a video, there was a manuscript of all his work. And you might see the same thing for the blind sheikh. They did that in January this year. Al Qaeda issued a video ...

LIN: Farhani, we'll see if anybody actually is listening. We'll find out. Farhani Ali, thank you very much.

ALI: Thank you.

LIN: Coming up, the latest in the search for the missing climbers on Mt. Hood, Oregon.


LIN: He saw a problem and took it upon himself to fix it. In doing so, sent dozens of kids on the path to healthier lives. His name is Todd Sisneros. And he is the winner of CNN's Fit Nation contest. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has his story.



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like most physical education teachers, Todd Sisneros wanted his students to be healthy and fit. But he noticed a disturbing trend.

SISNEROS: A different world. We can't expect kids to put down video games and put away the computers and go outside and play all the time. As much as we would like that to happen, it not going to.

GUPTA: Add to that the energy zapping 100 plus degree temperatures in Laughlin, the Nevada desert town where he teaches and the high number of low income single parent families and you have the makings of and obesity crisis.

TIM FRYE, PRINCIPAL: I think we in education always faced the dilemma we only have the students for the six hours a day. If we try to provide a healthy lunch here at school, but we don't get that opportunity to really monitor what they eat outside of the school setting.

GUPTA: So with the principal's support, Todd set out to level the playing field.

SISNEROS: I was just trying to find a way to get kids to exercise despite the obstacles that are there.

GUPTA: The result was Mr. S. DVD workouts for kids. An interactive workout Todd created with just a simple camcorder, a DVD burner and some seed money he raised with the students in the community. The program has been an overwhelming success with both kids and parents. The only complaint Todd has gotten ...

SISNEROS: Mr. S, really upset that my child gets up at 6:00 in the morning, puts a DVD on and I hear him stomping around in the house.

GUPTA: Todd's story inspired me and all of us at CNN so much that we declared him the winner of our 2006 Fit Nation contest. Todd's response when my producer told him he won $5,000 ...

SISNEROS: To be honest with you, I about drove off the road. Making a teacher's salary, I may be able to go a week without having to eat ramen and dollar TV dinners.

GUPTA: Congratulations. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.



LIN: Headlines around the globe right now. Battling out of control wildfires in southeastern Australia. Nine volunteer firefighters from New Zealand were injured when the blaze suddenly overwhelmed them. Milder weather is helping slow down those flames right now. More than 2,000 square miles of land have burned and about 30 homes destroyed.

And a report out of CUBA indicates Fidel Castro is remaining active despite his ill health. The country's ruling Communist Party paper says Castro phoned Cuban officials and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday. The report could be aimed at quelling rumors the Cuban leader is on his deathbed.

And thousands of Hamas supporters filled the streets of Gaza protesting a call for early elections. That call was made today by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He's hoping new presidential and parliamentary elections will end an increasingly violent standoff between his Fatah party and Hamas.

Well, from dictators to our secretary of state, who is in the running for "Time Magazine's" person of the year?


LIN: The latest on the search for three climbers missing somewhere on Oregon's Mt. Hood. Some 60 rescuers were called back for the day due to worsening conditions. A threat to both of them -- to both them and the missing climbers. The potential for an avalanche as well. A rescue plane with heat sensors will stay in the air tonight for searching signs of the missing men.

So let's go CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider for more on the conditions there. Right now, the weather on Mt. Hood. It is only, what, almost 3:00 in the afternoon, 2:00 in the afternoon there?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. And it actually got worse today because there was a weak front that was passing through the region. And that kicked up the winds. We're talking about some very high elevations here.

So the mountain completely exposed to all that is happening around it in terms of wind and the snow that is already on the ground, blowing about.

Now in order to investigation the weather better, a couple of different things are happening. We have a weather balloon that was launched earlier to get an idea of what it is like vertically as you go up into the atmosphere to get weather conditions.

Right now the weather station that they use that is closest to the highest elevation is 6,600 feet. And when you're talking about elevations at 11,000 feet, it is still not quite far enough to get an idea of what the weather is in order to forecast and predict.

But currently the temperature up there is around 1 degree. Winds sustained out of the south at 25 knots. But we did hear some reports that gusts were as high as 45 miles per hour. So that is something to keep in mind, that the wind as you go vertically certainly does get stronger and that is something they'll be keeping an eye on for tomorrow as we look at that.

And here is where the weather balloon is being launched in Salem, Oregon. That gives us an idea as we go up vertically in the atmosphere of what we can expect. And it is kind of an extrapolation of the two to give you an idea of what the weather conditions will be like for tomorrow.


LIN: All right. Thanks very much, Bonnie.


LIN: Coming up on primetime CNN tonight, a special treat. Who has made the most impact on the world this year? Is it a diplomat or a president? Or the new House speaker? Watch at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for "Time Magazine's" person of the year. At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Laci Peterson's mother Sharon Rocca talks to Larry King about life without Laci, four years after her daughter's murder.

And at 10:00 p.m. Eastern what would happen if you missed a single paycheck? Could you get by? Two-thirds of Americans say no.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many of us, if we look at ourselves and look at our income have security, income security?


LIN: This weekend on CNN NEWSROOM, why are so many Americans living paycheck to paycheck? Who is to blame? And how can people make sure it doesn't happen to them? Tune in for "A Paycheck Away", that's 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. In the meantime a check of the day's headlines in about four minutes.


LIN: Stay with us at 8:00 Eastern when "Time Magazine" announces its annual person of the yore. The title is given to someone or something that has affected the world and the way we live. For better or for worse. So here is a look at some of the contenders.


ROMESH RATNESAR, "TIME" WORLD EDITOR: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is the president of Iran, this year kind of emerged as a dominant player on the world stage.

LIN (voice-over): Iran's president also emerges as a candidate for "Time Magazine's" person of the year. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gets a nod as person of the year after he uses the United Nations as a bully pulpit. Rounding out the list for global influence, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il.

RATNESAR: The real concern with Kim Jong-Il is not that he would use a nuclear weapon but that as the head of a really desperate, poor, starving country, he would be tempted to sell some of the technology needed to develop the weapon to other states that are interested or even to terrorist groups.

LIN: On the domestic front, the nominees are Donald Rumsfeld who stepped aside as secretary of defense. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice makes the list.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, all, very much.

LIN: As does incoming speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I used to be the next president of the United States of America.

LIN: Former Vice President Al Gore gets a nomination for jumping back into the public spotlight with his film on global warming.

JOSH TYRANGIEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME.COM: You're a politician and you are associated with an ideology, Democratic, Republican, and what he did is strip all that context away and come off as a guy who cares very much about a particular issue. That's a magnificent transformation.

LIN: Person of the year doesn't have to be a person. YouTube is nominated for kicking off a revolution as millions of people share videos on the World Wide Web.

TYRANGIEL: So many of the interesting YouTube videos have been from American soldiers in Iraq and you actually get to connect with them in a way that the nightly news never shows you, that newspapers can't convey in the same emotional level.


LIN (on camera): The announcement will be made right here on CNN in the 8:00 Eastern hour. For a look at candidate profiles and past winners, log on to



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