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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Information on Saddam's Final Hours; A Look Ahead to Election '08

Aired January 1, 2007 - 19:00   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 tonight's top stories.
Happening now, new information and haunting images of Saddam Hussein's final hours. Tonight, the U.S. role in trying to prevent a rush to execution and uncensored video of Hussein's taunting by guards and of his hanging.

Also this hour, Betty Ford returns to her husband's side, a grieving widow braced by her family, a day of emotional and high powered tributes to former President Gerald Ford on the eve of his funeral here in Washington.

And a new year of presidential star gazing. We're going to kick off 2007 with a fresh look at the race to '08, and the resolution some of the top contenders might want to make.

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

New details emerging right now of what went on behind the scenes in the hours before Saddam Hussein's execution, some serious concerns and some serious disputes between top U.S. and Iraqi officials, with some Americans actually urging their Iraqi counterparts to delay hanging the former dictator.

CNN's Brian Todd is watching all of this for us. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that those hours were indeed very anxious with a lot of behind the scenes and back room maneuvering. As you mentioned, a member of the Iraqi parliament tells CNN on at least two different occasions last Thursday and Friday, top U.S. officials in Baghdad suggested to their Iraqi counterparts not to rush the execution.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): This scene at the end was tense. But a top Iraqi official tells CNN the final hours leading to Saddam Hussein's demise were also filled with anxiety. At one point, according to a member of the Iraqi parliament close to Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki, a top U.S. official suggested a delay of about two weeks. The parliament member says Maliki and his aides rejected that, citing security concerns and rumors of possible violence swirling around the capital.

During this period, last Thursday and Friday, the officials says the Americans asked for written documentation to make sure the execution was legal according to the Iraqi constitution. Despite his position against the death penalty, this parliament member says Iraqi President Jalal Talabani did not object. By Friday morning, the documents were ready. Late Friday night, in Baghdad, the parliament member tells CNN top U.S. officials met with Maliki's deputies to work out when the handover should take place and other logistical arrangements. At that point, Iraqi officials tell members of the media the prime minister put his pen to the last crucial document.

JOHN BURNS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Finally, signing off on the execution order, at midnight on Friday, only about five hours before Mr. Hussein was taken up that miserable passage to the gallows.

TODD: A top official tells CNN the execution had to take place before sunrise on Saturday, when the Eid holiday began for Sunnis. By 6:00 local time Saturday morning, Saddam was on the scaffold. Two witnesses have disputing accounts on his bearing. A top judge, part of the court that upheld the death sentence says this...

JUDGE MUNIR HADDAD, IRAQI SUPREME APPELLATE COURT (through translator): I was very surprised. He wasn't afraid of death.

TODD: But Iraq's national security advisor has this account.

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NAT'L SECURITY ADVISER: He was staring at me and I was sort of looking at him, as well, in a forceful way, and then he said, he was telling me, don't be upset, of course, you know, this is -- he's afraid.

TODD: Not in dispute, these bitter exchanges captures on cell phone video between Saddam and the guards, all of whom were Shia. Saddam was Sunni. After he offers prayers, the guards shout praise for Muqtada al Sadr, the popular Shia cleric, whose father is believed to have been murdered by Saddam's regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TODD: Saddam defiantly replies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TODD: Moments later, Saddam Hussein had dropped to his death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

TODD: Witnesses say his eyes were open. By Sunday morning, the dictator, whose body was transferred by the U.S. military, was laid to rest in his hometown near Tikrit.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: U.S. military officials would not comment for this story, saying the execution proceedings were matters handled by the Iraqis. When I asked him about the prime minister's mood since the execution, the member of Iraq's parliament told me, simply, he's relieved. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- thank you Brian.

And now that Saddam Hussein is dead, might 2007 be a less brutal year for Iraq? Coming up, I'll speak with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Burns of "The New York Times" who you just saw in Brian's report. He has some unique perspective regarding Iraq's future after Saddam Hussein. John Burns, here in THE SITUATION with me -- THE SITUATION ROOM with me, that's coming up.

Meanwhile, a protest in Jordan's capital against Saddam's execution drew a surprise participant. CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us from Amman with details. Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. An unexpected appearance by Saddam Hussein's oldest daughter, Raghad, in the Jordanian capital Amman earlier today. She appeared at a rally in support of her father, and it's the first appearance of a close member of Saddam's family since his execution on Saturday morning, local time. We've been seeing a lot of protests around Iraq, a lot of celebrations, as well. But this rally today in the Amman underlines just how much support there still is in the Arab world for the former Iraqi dictator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice-over): From the Jordanian authorities, there's been deafening silence on the execution of Saddam. Many in this mainly Sunni country allied with the United States are furious at his execution. The chants strike a popular cord.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CHANCE: President Bush and the Iraqi government will be punished, they warn. Arab leaders who remain silent could be held responsible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CHANCE: Across Jordan, there have been many small protests in support of Saddam, but this time there was a celebrity arrival. Still in mourning, his oldest daughter, Raghad, made an unexpected appearance, the first by a close family member since her father's execution. She stood and listened to the words of support, then said her good-byes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CHANCE: I want to thank you for this gathering, she said. May God protect you. But with political asylum in Jordan since 2003, it is the authorities here now protecting her. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Raghad is saying, as well as her younger sister Rana, worked for years in exile here in Jordan to organize the legal defense of their father, Saddam, one of the conditions of their amnesty -- their asylum here in Jordan is that they do not engage in any political activity. But now Iraqi officials are accusing family members of Saddam, including Raghad of using millions of dollars stolen by Saddam during his time in power to fund the Iraqi insurgency. So, many of these safe havens could soon be challenged. Wolf?

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting for us from Jordan, thank you.

A grim milestone for U.S. troops in Iraq. The number of Americans killed there now tops 3,000. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us with details of the mounting U.S. death toll. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in December, 113 troops lost their lives in Iraq, making it the deadliest month of 2006.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): As the U.S. military begins what will be its fifth year at war in Iraq, in Montrose, Pennsylvania, the grave of 27- year-old Army Staff Sergeant Daniel Arnold, just one of the now more than 3,000 Americans who have lost their lives in the Iraq war. Arnold was killed months ago in Ramadi when his vehicle came under fire. His father is still grief-stricken.

KENDALL ARNOLD, FALLEN SOLDIER'S FATHER: These boys go over there, because they want to, not because they have to and do their job, and it's just so terrible, the loss of life over there.

STARR: Who are the 3,000 who have died? Every state in the country has held funerals. California has lost the most, nearly 300; the Army, which has the most troops on the frontline, has lost more than 1,200; the Marine Corps, more than 600. It's a far cry from generations past. More than 400,000 troops died in World War II; more than 36,000 in the Korean War; and more than 58,000 in Vietnam. In the first Gulf War, 382 died. It is still the improvised explosive device that is the number one threat. More than 1,000 have been killed, more than 11,000 injured by IEDs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: In its fourth annual survey, "The Military Times" newspaper, a privately owned newspaper, found that 42 percent of it military audience did not approve of the way the president was handling the war; just 35 percent voiced their approval. It's just one survey -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Jack Cafferty has the day off. He and "The Cafferty File" will be back here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

Coming up, uncensored and in demand. More and more Iraqis are now getting a hold of cell phone video of Saddam Hussein's hanging -- the phenomenon and the reaction.

And Osama bin Laden is still very much at large, while Saddam Hussein is dead and buried. We're going to bring you up to date on the hunt for the al Qaeda leader.

Also, a touching personal moment and the official tribute -- Gerald Ford's family at the Capitol Rotunda, along with the late president's successors -- all that coming up.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The U.S. Capitol quiet again tonight after thousands of people including presidents past and present paid a tribute to Gerald Ford, whose funeral will take place tomorrow at Washington's National Cathedral.

Gary Nurenberg is joining us now live from Capitol Hill with more on what has happened today. Gary?

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The country is saying good- bye to a president it has respected for decades, Wolf, but the Ford family is saying good-bye to someone it deeply loves. We got a very visual reminder of that earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NURENBERG (voice-over): Betty Ford brought her family tonight to the Capitol Building where her husband first brought her 58 years ago. The building where they shared so many private moments was tonight the stage for a very public moment of grief. The current president and first lady were here this afternoon, bowing their heads in apparent prayer.

Former President Bush paid his respects, accompanied by his wife and former Secretary of State James Baker. Former President Clinton and Senator Clinton, Senator Kennedy, incoming House Speaker Pelosi, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld all paid quiet tribute. Those famous faces were the exception. Most of the day it was members of the public who had waited in the January rain of Washington for perhaps 35 or 40 seconds of time in the Rotunda. Those lines included people who knew the president...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well I worked for him. I highly respect him. I just had to come down.

NURENBERG: But most didn't know Mr. Ford. They came because of what they knew of him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm concerned, (inaudible) respect for a man who served his country for many years and was a good and honorable man.

NURENBER: Mr. Ford's children, Michael and Susan, had a quiet moment at their dad's casket this morning and then stayed in the Rotunda, greeting the strangers, sometimes the old friends who had waited in line to file past the former president's remains. Something one man says he will never forget.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was moved and touched. We've lost a great American. President Ford helped heal our nation, and the family is still helping to heal our nation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NURENBERG: Not a bad legacy, Wolf, for either a president or a family.

BLITZER: Gary, thank you for that -- Gary Nuremberg reporting. And you saw a glimpse of it in Gary's report. There was that particularly poignant moment, only a couple of hours ago, when the former first lady, Betty Ford, prayed at her husband's casket with her family behind her. We are going to play that moment for you right now and out of respect for the former first lady, we'll remain silent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SILENCE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And our deepest condolences to the Ford family. Please be sure to join us tomorrow morning, our special SITUATION ROOM coverage of the funeral of the former president, Gerald Ford. Our coverage will begin tomorrow morning right here 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

And we'd also like to update you on the condition of former Michigan Congressman William Broomfield. He's the one who collapsed during Ford's funeral at the Capitol Saturday night. He was treated at the scene by outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is a doctor, and later at a Washington hospital. The 84-year-old Broomfield was released yesterday.

Up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM insult to injury. Moments before Saddam Hussein was put to death, he was taunted as a fallen tyrant. Someone even shouted "go to hell", all of it caught on video.

Also, in one minute, he lost his football game. Hours later, he lost his life. We'll have the latest on the mysterious drive-by shooting of a pro football player in Denver -- all of that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Check back with Mary Snow from New York with a closer look at some other important stories making news. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 10 or more journalists may be called as key witnesses for both sides in the perjury and obstruction case of former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press calls the prospect unprecedented and horrifying. Jury selection begins in two weeks. Libby is accused in connection with the CIA leak case.

A two-hour flight, stormy weather, a pair of distress signals and a passenger plane carrying 102 people vanishes in Indonesia somewhere between Java City and northern Sulawesi. Contact with an Adam Air Boeing 737 broke off. Search teams are scouring Sulawesi Island. It is unclear if the plane was over land or water when it disappeared.

From Kansas to Nebraska to Colorado, utility crews are struggling to restore power to thousands of customers after a powerful winter storm. Pilots and a dozen planes flew over parts of the area today to look for snowbound travelers. The second holiday blizzard dumped almost three feet of snow on the region. The storm has now dwindled to rain on the East Coast.

And finally, the National Football League calls this morning's shooting death of 24-year-old Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams a terrible tragedy. It happened in the early morning hours when a drive-by shooter opened fire on a limousine Williams was riding in. Police are looking for a white SUV in connection with the attack. Two other people in the limo were also injured. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary thanks very much. We'll get back to you shortly.

And still ahead, as the world focuses in on Saddam Hussein, what about another man feared and hated around the world? That would be Osama bin Laden. Are American forces any closer to finding him in this New Year?

And it's also time for political resolutions as the New Year begins. Which Democrats, which Republicans have resolved to run for the White House? We'll update you on that, as well. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, Saddam Hussein's hanging causes angry demonstrations. Furious crowds of Hussein supporters protested today across parts of Iraq. They were largely confined to where Iraq's Sunni Arabs live as Saddam Hussein himself was a Sunni.

Meanwhile, a new year, a new and grim statistic -- more than 3,000 Americans have now been killed in Iraq. Meanwhile, December is the bloodiest month for American troops in the past two years.

And harsh judgment -- in usually sharp language, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, says federal judges are not paid enough. Roberts blast Congress over what he says is its failure to increase judicial salaries and says the issue has reached the level of a constitutional crisis.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. New anger today over Saddam Hussein's execution -- in Amman, Jordan the former dictator's daughter took part in a protest over her father's hanging. Demonstrators chanted pro Hussein and anti-American slogans. Inside Iraq, more and more people are getting a hold of that uncensored video of Saddam Hussein's death.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad with more now on how the pictures are spreading and the reaction to them -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, word of Saddam's execution spread immediately. The images of Iraq's former dictator's final moments spread even faster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): It's a Bluetooth frenzy. Iraqis in this cell phone shop in Sadr City pass on the uncensored video of Saddam Hussein's execution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's something amazing. No one really believed that Saddam would be executed because the people were so scared of him and his regime. So, anything of him, on TV, or on mobile phones, they want to see it. It's like a thirst that cannot be quenched. Even little kids are looking for it.

DAMON: And not just on cell phones. It's also being dumped onto thumb drives, and this man is taking the distribution one step further.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: We are going to copy it onto CD or tape and put it in the marketplaces, he says, because there is demand for it. In the footage that the Iraqi government released, the video ends after the noose is placed around Saddam's neck. The concern among some officials was that if the government releases the execution in full, they will be viewed as being a brutal regime.

(on camera): But then, the unedited cell phone footage appeared on the Internet. Obviously, shot in plain view of the authorities who were in attendance. Its distribution has preempted any rumors that Saddam Hussein might not be dead.

(SOUNDS)

DAMON (voice-over): At this man's home, a triple celebration -- his nephew's engagement, the religious holiday of Eid and Saddam's death. Even though this Kurdish family believes that Saddam deserved to be hanged for his crimes they don't agree with the way that the execution was allowed to be shot and circulated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The way the whole thing was filmed was a bad decision by the government and ultimately helped Saddam, because the people sympathize with him.

DAMON: But sympathy was hard to find among those who found satisfaction in the brutal images of their former dictator falling to his death.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: There were those that will mourn Saddam and protested his execution. Pro dominantly Sunnis, to them, these images only prove that it is a Shia-led government, rather than one of national unity, and threaten to deepen the already growing sectarian divide. Wolf?

BLITZER: Arwa, thank you. Arwa is in Baghdad.

Moments before that rope was tied around his neck and he was put to death, Saddam Hussein was taunted as a fallen tyrant. Someone even shouted "Go to Hell."

These and other details are emerging in several reports, including one in today's "New York Times."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from "The New York Times" John Burns. An amazing article you had on the front page of the paper today. This execution of Saddam Hussein, it seems the Iraqis had so much time to prepare, and do it right, but a lot of people are concluding they simply botched it.

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I think that you could hardly imagine an event more emblematic, of what America has accomplished or failed to accomplish here than the final chapter of Saddam Hussein. His execution. They captured him, as you know, three years and nearly one month ago. They've had him on trial now for 18 months or so. They had plenty of time to plan this, but the essential problem was, of course, that the United States handed over a great deal of authority to the Iraqi government. And they did a kind of step aside here.

They insisted that the Iraqi law be followed to the extent that they could. They were very careful about the physical custody aspect. They were very concerned about any attempt to free him at the last minute. Once they surrendered him, Saddam Hussein, they lost control of the event. And what followed, of course, as everybody who has seen the video tapes was a blatantly sectarian event.

A bullying hanging, that is extremely disturbing, I think, to all those who hoped for a better outcome for the United States here.

BLITZER: And we saw the official video, that was on Iraqi television, that tried to show a more dignified execution, but then, there was that cell phone video, that was released, that you could clearly hear the taunting, and the cries of "Muqtada," references to Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, who's very powerful in Iraq right now, and as you point out, this was simply fuel the hatred between the Shia majority in Iraq and the Sunni minority.

BURNS: Yes, indeed. And as you know, the United States, the United States military command, the United States embassy in Iraq, have been trying very hard to get the Maliki government, the new Shiite government of Iraq, to behave in a way that is less sectarian. More uniting.

And to have seen how they allowed this to degenerate as it did, an event which, by the way, was very much personally controlled by Mr. Maliki. He was engaged right up to the point, really, that Saddam arrived at the Hadamiya (ph) prison. He assigned the officials that were present, some of whom engaged in this taunting, and at the end, when the body was then delivered to Saddam's tribe, where did they pick it up, but right in the forecourt of Mr. Maliki's office.

So this was a very much politically-controlled event that could have hardly been a more, if you will, distressing of how little this government is prepared to act in the name of all Iraqis, and in terms of the principles of the civil society that I think we all thought America was trying to construct here.

BLITZER: And, you know, the interesting thing, also, is that United States military had control of Saddam Hussein, up until almost the very minute when he was handed over for hanging, for the execution, and then shortly after he died, the U.S. got him back. It was a U.S. military operation that flew that coffin to -- near his hometown of Tikrit which suggests to a lot of Sunni Arabs out there in Iraq and elsewhere the U.S. will be complicit in what they see as a calamity, if you will.

BURNS: I think this goes both ways.

It's certainly true that the United States is still widely blamed, on all sides here for things that go wrong, and among Sunnis, they will be blamed for having in effect connived at the humiliation of Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, there's been a most remarkable transformation in the last year, with the Sunni community, the now minority community, the usurped, if you will, community, coming to see the American military as their protectors.

And if the story is fully told, and that's another question, of course, if the story of what happened on Friday night, through Saturday, up to the delivery of the body back to Mr. Hussein's hometown up near Tikrit is fully told, I think that Sunnis would understand that the United States, to the extent they felt they could, was trying to prevail here, on the side of fairness, and some sense of justice.

In fact, the very handover of the body would not have occurred, Maliki's people were saying they were not going to deliver up that body. They were going to keep it in a secret place. It would not occurred without intense American pressure in the 18 hours that followed the execution.

In fact, the United States provided a military helicopter, a Black Hawk helicopter to bring the leader of Mr. Hussein's tribe down from Tikrit to make his representation personally to Mr. Maliki. And then when the body was handed, bizarrely, as I said, in the forecourt of Mr. Maliki's office in the back of an open pickup truck the Americans were on stand-by at the heliport about half a mile away in the Green Zone, and loaded it aboard that Black Hawk helicopter and flew it back up to Tikrit.

If that story is hold, I think that Sunnis will come to understand, that in this case, the United States, really did try to prevail on the behalf of justice, and on the behalf, if you will, in a sense, of the Sunni community.

BLITZER: One final question, John, before I let you go.

Let's look ahead to this New Year, 2007. Saddam Hussein is dead now, but the violence continues. Is there any indication you are getting whatsoever, that this year, this new year, is going to be less brutal, less violent than 2006 was?

BURNS: I'm afraid the answer to that is no, and I don't think that the U.S. military commanders across the Tigris River from me here believe that, either.

I think what they do believe, and it comes back to the execution is, that whether this war can be won or lost now depends on the Iraqis and specifically, on the Iraqi government. The United States has done pretty much all that it can do, to make this war winnable. It now depends on the government, beginning to act in the name of all Iraqis, and beginning to behave like a democratic government.

In that sense, what happened on the early hours of Saturday, at the Hadamiya (ph) Prison, a couple of miles north of where I stand, was, as the U.S. office now says about the state of the war in general, a very disheartening event.

BLITZER: John Burns, reporting for "The New York Times," joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. John, thanks very much for your excellent work.

BURNS: Not at all. Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And following the execution of Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi leader's Baath Party issued a statement online, threatening retaliation. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right.

The message was posted online by remnants of Saddam's Baathist Party calling on loyalist to seek revenge for Saddam's execution. The message was posted online in English and in Arabic. And CNN has been able to confirm that the translation is mostly accurate.

It calls on loyalists to strike without mercy enemies in Iran and the United States. Now this is the same language where we found a warning last week that was warning of grave con consequences if Saddam should go ahead and be executed. The Department of Homeland security issued a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies at the end of last week, that was warning of Web chatter to this effect, sand said that was being done out of an abundance of caution, and the FBI reiterates that there is no credible or specific intelligence that indicates any imminent threat. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you for that. Jacki Schechner reporting.

Up ahead tonight, more than five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden continues to elude his pursuers. An update on the search for the West's public enemy number one.

And later, new year, fresh pursuits. Some 2008 presidential contenders have already made their intentions known. Who will tip his or her hand next? Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As we begin 2007, Osama bin Laden still very much a fugitive. The failure to capture him underscored to many by the fact that Saddam Hussein is now dead and buried. Turn to CNN's Brian Todd, he is giving us an update on the hunt for bin Laden. Brian?

TODD: Wolf, with Saddam now vanquished, our attention indeed does turn now to the West's public enemy number one, and a trail that seems no warmer than it was years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Barely five years after September 11th, and the battle of Tora Bora, when U.S. and Afghan forces may have come closest to getting him, the world's most wanted man seems a distant shadow. At last word from U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials, Osama bin Laden is believed to be in the mountainous frontier along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But on which side of the border?

Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. says this.

MAHMUD DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: He was in Afghanistan, he is in Afghanistan. He has never been in Pakistan. I don't know why people say all this. It's, again, trying the baby on the other - or trying the blame on the other side.

TODD: Afghan officials tell us they don't want to get in a back and forth blame game with the Pakistanis, but they have in the past disputed the idea that bin Laden is within their borders. And a former CIA officer who was at the Battle of Tora Bora agrees.

GARY BERNTSEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: No, he wouldn't be in Afghanistan because in Afghanistan the U.S. can bring full military force against him.

TODD: Not the case inside Pakistan, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. The official guidance? American forces are not allowed to chase bin Laden inside Pakistan because of political sensitivities there.

But President Bush has said U.S. forces would enter Pakistan if they had actionable intelligence on bin Laden. Terrorism experts have said recently they believe bin Laden may be near Chitral, in Pakistan's remote north.

With Pakistan and Afghanistan still bickering where bin Laden might be and who is doing more to get him, even arguing over their border, how can bin Laden be found? One expert offers a possibility.

KEN ROBINSON, MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The U.S. will just remain vigilant and eventually these people make a mistake. They try to communicate to a friend, relative of acquaintance, they try to exercise command and control, they try to put out some type of propaganda, and then when they do, they slip up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And, of course, there is more going on behind is scenes than meets the eye. Last week President Bush's homeland security advisor Fran Townsend told CNN there is, in her words, increased activity on the part of the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the hunt for bin Laden, and as she termed it, "unbelievable" cooperation from the Pakistanis. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian, let's see what happens in 2007. Thank you for that.

Still ahead, the race for the White House, and the list of contenders, expected to grow in the coming weeks. We're going to show you who is in, who is out, and who is still deciding.

And it's a spiritual experience for all who attend. One man talks about his uniquely moving experience at the hajj. He's a Palestinian who often sees death up close. Our Zain Verjee will introduce us to him. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a new year, so, what kind of political resolutions do some of the presidential prospects have? Many of them previously suggested they would decide whether or not to run for president after the holidays. So, for more on who is deciding, who is still deciding, let turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She is joining us once again from New York. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, it's a long list. You could say this holiday break serves as a time of political soul searching for both underdogs and political stars. And we could soon start seeing the results of that searching.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Democratic Senator Barack Obama said he would use his vacation in Hawaii to think about. Republican Senator John McCain said, he'd use the holiday break to talk about it with his family. The big if, being whether or not to run for president in 2008.

Also, mulling it over, Senator Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, and former New York City major Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side. As the frontrunners in the race took a break from the spotlight, former Senator John Edwards walked into it, announcing last week he will seek the Democratic nod.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not too hard to get attention, if you look around where I am standing right now. That's pretty obvious. There are cameras everywhere.

SNOW: Helping create interest was his choice of settings. Edwards announced his candidacy in New Orleans during rebuilding efforts. While he entered early, he joined two other Democrats already in, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

STUART ROTHERNBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: You want to have a good early start, and you want to get attention, and you want to send some sort of message.

SNOW: While no Republicans have formally entered the race yet, outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is expected to set up an exploratory committee soon. Others who have taken that step include Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. As the pool widens, the landscape changes.

STUART: The most exaggerated early story of the 2008 presidential race is these early polls. Which are nothing but indications of name recognition and media attention and media hype.

SNOW: Attention, though, makes a difference. After Senator Barack Obama was greeted like a star in New Hampshire in December, a poll in that state now shows him in almost a dead heat with Senator Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on camera): But as one political observer points out, with a rise in polls comes a rise in expectations, for top tier candidates and any misstep can help usher in room for a candidate who is lesser- known. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary, thanks for that. Mary Snow is in New York.

Also on this first day of the year, we thought we would look at the potential New Year's resolutions for some potential White House contenders. Joining us for our first strategy session of the year, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, the president of American Cause.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about presidential politics. 2008. We are now in 2007, so it's appropriate, we talk about the 2008 -- I know both of you have been thinking about New Year's resolutions for these respective candidates. Let's hear some of yours, Donna.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES: Well, I've been thinking about Hillary Clinton, she's the front runner, by all of the pundits and everyone else.

BLITZER: On the Democratic side.

BRAZILE: On the Democratic side. Some would say on the Republican, because she's also leading Rudy Giuliani. Look, I think you are going to see more of her personal side, the mother, the daughter, you know, you are going to see Hillary appear on shows where she can show who she is as a person, not just the first lady or the senator, but who Hillary Clinton really is.

BLITZER: So what I hear you say, she's not going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BRAZILE: She could come here, and also go on "The Daily Show" and all the other shows. I think Barack Obama will use those upcoming hearings on Iraq to beef up his resume, to talk about foreign policy. To show people that he has real experience or some ideas what to do internationally.

I think John Edwards is going to take up permanent residence in Iowa so he can win those caucuses. And look, I believe people like Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and others who t are contemplating running, will have extreme makeovers so that they can go out there and energize the party.

One other person, Al Gore. Once he kissed the head of that Oscar after he wins, I'm predicting that in 2007, look for Al Gore possibly to make a last minute entry. I'm not saying he's running, but I'm saying there's every possibility that Al Gore can unite the party and be someone who can come in at the last minute.

BLITZER: All right, those are good New Year's resolutions. What about you, Bay?

BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE: I think it's interesting what Donna would suggest about Hillary. Hillary was one of the people I had on my list. That she would let us know who she is. We have only known her now for how many years. She was the first lady for eight years, one of the most well-know women in the nation and yet we are now going to find out who she is. So this is clearly a makeover in the making here.

But I think what Hillary needs to do is make a decision. Whether she's going to run or not going to run and let's stick with it, is she going to be a liberal or centrist, and let's decide. Is she for the war, against the war, let's stick with whatever she decides.

This is a woman that is constantly changing. It's time for her to tell the American people where she stands and stay with it. As for Obama, my resolution, my recommendation for a resolution for him is that he keeps smiling. First he goes into the closet, finds everything that's there, what he's done, thought about saying, said, since he's been 10 and reviews it. Because the Clinton machine has got him in their targets and they love to work the personal. And so he best better be ready to respond to anything and keep smiling, because it's that smile they want to take off his face.

BLITZER: What about on the Republican side?

BUCHANAN: On the Republican side, I think with Rudy Giuliani, his resolution should be to stay out of Iowa. They are going to strip him out of his clothes and run him out of that state if he's not careful. It would be wise to start in New Hampshire. McCain has got to take control of that Irish temper of his. He has done a pretty good job but when -- in the midst of the campaign, if he lets it blow, the last thing Americans want is a hot and angry candidate.

Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney should downgrade the clothes, the quality of his clothes. He's a little too slick for Iowa, and then he should move to Iowa. That's where he can make inroads against a -- McCain. And conservatives are looking for a candidate. And I think you are going to see some out there and my recommendation to them is, think Iowa. That's where a conservative can make a difference.

BLITZER: Good New Year's resolutions. Good analysis, as usual, guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: We predict that Wolf will continue to be one of the sexiest men alive, too. Don't you think?

BLITZER: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

BRAZILE: Hope your wife don't get mad at me.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, as all of our viewers know, are part of the best political team on television. Very, very astute observers, as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, one man who often sees death finds inspiration on a holy pilgrimage. Why this journey means so much to him. We'll have that story from our Zain Verjee. She's in Saudi Arabia, covering the hajj. This is a story you will see only here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's the last day of the holy journey, the hajj. Millions of Muslims traveled to Saudi Arabia for this year's pilgrimage including one man with a unique story. Our Zain Verjee is there. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Conflict zones around the world. Like Iraq, Sudan, Somalia. We met one man, Mohammed Abed, from Gaza. He told us, why he need to be here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE (voice-over): He's looking at a breathtaking image he's just made, where the whole Muslim world is represented. But Palestinian photographer Mohammed Abed is between two worlds. Here, in Mecca, he's both journalist and pilgrim. His life and livelihood is Gaza. He says, he's had enough.

MOHAMMED ABED, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I need to change my mood. Every time I shoot blood, especially between Israeli and Arab - and Palestinian in Gaza, OK, I shoot picture, but this is make a problem for me, in my mind, in my emotions, you know?

VERJEE: He's emotional in Mecca, too, he says. But the difference is he's anxious to cover this story and be apart of it.

"I saw millions of people going around the Kaaba with the same clothes, the same chance, men and women together. It stopped me in my tracks," he says. "Seeing the people circling the Kaaba really moved me."

He says he was so awestruck at first, he couldn't even shoot. When he finally did, his pictures of the Kaaba ended up in the paper.

ABED: The life is very bad.

VERJEE: Out in the streets and on the marble of the Grand Mosque, Mohammed aims his camera at the faces he rarely gets to shoot. Like this old man. Or these women, who wanted to pose.

But it's not all smooth outside the Grand Mosque. He runs into police, ever ready to pounce on photographers who aren't allowed near the Kaaba.

A few feet away, he sees fellow Palestinians.

ABED: You know me?

VERJEE: Taking pictures of them makes him smile.

The holiest day of the hajj pilgrimage is day two, the Day of Arafat. Mohammed puts down his camera and utters a silent pray alongside almost 3 million Muslims. He has a special plea.

ABED: I want to pray for the Palestinian people. The finish the occupation and finish the battles (ph) with Israelis. This is the important thing I like (ph) this.

VERJEE: Mohammed tries to tend his spirit here and erase the images of loss and pain in Gaza and replace them with this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (on camera): Pilgrims are saying an emotional farewell to Mecca and to the Kaaba, the black, cube like structure that you see behind me. At the end of the hajj they say they leave with a real sense of spiritual renewal and rebirth. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.. Just ahead, a CNN special called "I-Report for CNN, the Year as You Saw It."

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