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U.S. Honors Dalai Lama; Turkish Troops Poised to Enter Iraq

Aired October 17, 2007 - 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: All right, Jack, thank you.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, tensions with China flare as the U.S. honors a holy man. President Bush on hand as the Tibet's Dalai Lama receives the Congressional Gold Medal.

Also, Turkish troops poised to enter Iraq -- threatening to throw the only stable part of the country into chaos.

And a new contender for the race for the White House -- Comedy Central's Steven Colbert. You're going to find out how his faux campaign could have a real impact on some other candidates.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's one of the few stable areas in Iraq and now there's real fear the northern Kurdish region of Iraq could be plunged into violence and chaos. Turkey's parliament has now given the formal go- ahead for Turkish troops to cross the border into Iraq in search of separatists.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Northern Iraq -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Turkish government's decision to authorize its army to cross the border into Iraq has people here in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq worried -- none more so than those living right on the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Along Iraq's northern border with Turkey, Kurdish villagers have been living in fear at the Turkish parliament's vote. For more than a month, Turkish troops have been shelling villages here and they worry troops stationed on nearby hills could soon be marching past their doors. Kurdish politicians warn if they do, the consequences will be dire.

BARHAM SALEH, DEPUTY IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: Unilateral action will mean irreparable damage to bilateral relations and there will be a bad consequence to Iraq, a bad consequence to Turkey, a bad consequence to the region. ROBERTSON: The almost unanimous vote, 507-19, authorizes Turkey's army to cross the Iraqi border in hot pursuit of the PKK -- the Kurdish group Turkey accuses of terrorist killings. The permission is immediate. But the Turkish Army has a year to decide whether or not to act.

The United States fears any troop incursion, now or later, could destabilize the only prosperous and relatively safe region in Iraq.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq. Actually, they have troops already stationed in Iraq. And they've had troops stationed there for quite a while.

ROBERTSON: In fact, the Turks have been here since 1997.

(on camera): That's one Turkish outpost on the hill over there. It's overlooking one of the largest Turkish bases here inside Northern Iraq. There are six of these bases -- more than 1,000 Turkish troops inside Northern Iraq. They have tanks here and they have armored personnel carriers, as well.

(voice-over): This base, 20 kilometers, or 12 miles, inside Iraq, is a serious reminder to the Kurds of the nearby Turkish threat. It's not clear how many PKK fighters there are in Northern Iraq and Kurdish officials say most are in Turkey. And there's no proof the PKK's terror attacks will launch from Iraq.

But Iraq's other deputy prime minister, who went to Turkey to try to head off a Turkish invasion, admits the PKK attacks are an Iraqi problem and if Iraq can't stop them, then Turkey should.

TARIQ HASHEMI, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: It will become a legitimate right for Turkey to do whatever is needed for national security.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTSON: Along the border, that won't go down well. The Kurds here already don't trust their government in Baghdad. Despite those increasing tensions, Kurdish officials say they'll do whatever they can to head off any type of conflict. They also say that right now, they don't see that Turkey is getting close to coming across the border -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Erbil in Northern Iraq for us.

Nic, thank you.

A controversial House resolution with huge international implications seems to be falling apart. It would label the killing of Armenians almost a century ago by Ottoman Turks a genocide. Now some are backing off -- backing off big time, saying it's a stumble by the speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's watching this story for us.

What's happening on this controversial resolution, Dana, right now?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's happening, Wolf, is that 40 House members, including the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee sent Nancy Pelosi this letter this afternoon, urging her not to take this vote. And it's just the latest example of why, despite Nancy Pelosi's insistence that this a vote of morality and principal, it's unlikely to happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is backing away from her pledge to hold a controversial vote labeling mass Armenian killings nearly a century ago genocide.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Whether it will come up or not or what the action will be, remains to be seen.

BASH: That just three days after making this vow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THIS WEEK," COURTESY ABC)

PELOSI: I said if the -- if it passed the committee, that we would bring it to the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: It did.

So why the reversal?

A rebellion among Pelosi's own Democrats -- many withdrawing their support in the face of warnings from Turkey, a crucial Mideast ally, that passing the Armenian resolution would damage relations.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I must have had 25, 30 members -- Democrats -- come to me yesterday and say -- you know, very agitated about this coming to the floor right now. They have gotten the message. So I would say if it would run today, it wouldn't pass.

BASH: Democrat John Murtha, one of the House speaker's closest advisers on national security, has long opposed the Armenian resolution and says Pelosi miscalculated.

MURTHA: She feels morally committed to this issue. It's just that it's impractical at this point to go forward with it.

BASH: Turkey has hired several high power lobbyists, like former Congressman Bob Livingston, who is working with the administration to convince lawmakers to oppose the resolution. Several Democrats switching their position say they now believe Turkey's threat to prevent the U.S. from facing military operations there is real.

Democrat Allen Boyd was lobbied personally by the U.S. commander in Iraq.

REP. ALLEN BOYD (D), FLORIDA: He and Ambassador Crocker are the top two people we have on the ground over there in that area. And so I think it's incumbent upon us to take their counsel when they give it to us in that way.

BASH: Because Turkey is a key staging area for Iraq, more Democrats worry the Armenian resolution would jeopardize their goal of bringing troops home.

REP. JOHN TANNER (D), TENNESSEE: Anything that impedes or takes away from that objective, in my opinion, should be put on the shelf.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: We're told that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will likely not bring this resolution up for a vote if she thinks it will not pass. And Congressman Rahm Emanuel, one of the only -- actually, the only member of the Democratic leadership who opposes it -- flatly told CNN, "The votes are not there" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Dana Bash reporting.

Let's go back to Jack in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You know, Ray Charles could have seen that was a stupid idea from the beginning. She and -- well, I don't k. You're just doing a great job, Pelosi. Terrific.

One school district in Maine is considering making birth control pills available to girls as young as 11. The Portland Middle School health's center already provides condoms to students in grades six through eight. But this new proposal would include prescriptions for birth control pills and patches. And the parents of these 11-year-olds might not even know about it.

Although students need a parent's written permission to obtain the services of the health centers, under state law the kids don't have to tell their parents about what kind of services they get there. School health officials say this a service that's totally needed -- their words -- even though it's a small number of students who reported having sex. Some parents also think it's a good idea.

But, needless to say, not everybody thinks it's a neat idea. Critics say it makes it easier for girls it have sex and take control away from the parents. The school is set to hold a meeting on this proposal tonight.

It ought to be a heated discussion, don't you imagine?

Here's the question -- should 11-year-olds be able to get prescriptions for birth control pills at school without parental permission?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, for that.

Jack Cafferty.

Up ahead, the so-called super bug that may be killing more Americans in the not too distant future than AIDS. An entire school district is now shut down because of it. You can find out what you can do it protect yourself and your loved ones.

Also, Saddam Hussein's jailer facing court-martial. We're going to show you what an American military commander is accused of doing for the dictator, and that could now send him to prison.

Plus, Hillary Clinton's red state challenge -- can she woo conservatives nationwide the way she did in Upstate New York?

The CNN Election Express is there.

So are you.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: China is seething over a high profile honor for the spiritual leader of millions of Buddhists. The Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal today, with President Bush looking on and speaking there after a private meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House yesterday.

Let's go straight to CNN's State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

She's watching this story for us -- Zain, what are the Chinese saying about all this?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, China says that it's outraged. And it's warning the U.S. that this could damage relations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): This a Chinese nightmare -- a U.S. president giving a hand to the Dalai Lama -- the Buddhist spiritual leader -- onto the world stage.

BUSH: I will continue to urge the leaders of China to welcome the Dalai Lama to China. They will find this good man to be a man of peace and reconciliation.

VERJEE: Mr. Bush gave the Dalai Lama the top honor for a civilian -- the Congressional Gold Medal.

PELOSI: For his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights and religious understanding. VERJEE: The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for championing autonomy for six million people in Tibet, who live under China's iron rule. But for China, he is a traitor and a danger.

China accuses the U.S. of gross interference in China's affairs and warns further damage to U.S. ties with China. China doesn't want the Dalai Lama to get any recognition.

JAMES LILLEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: The Dalai Lama receiving the medal directly from the president publicly is what they call an affront to Chinese dignity and sovereignty.

VERJEE: But this latest episode is unlikely to blow apart U.S.- China ties.

BUSH: But I don't think it's going to damage -- severely damage relations.

VERJEE: Despite the controversy, the Dalai Lama was in good humor.

DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN SPIRITUAL LEADER: I determined to read my (INAUDIBLE) statement in English, asking something like my English examination in the front of dignitaries and scholars. (LAUGHTER)

VERJEE: He thanked the U.S. for sticking by his free Tibet cause.

LAMA: This little nation will bring tremendous joy and encouragement to the Tibetan people.

VERJEE: He even tweaked his audience.

LAMA: As a politician, sometimes maybe a little lie here and there.

VERJEE: And was blunt in his appeal to China.

LAMA: To recognize the great problems in Tibet, the genuine grievances and the deepest sentiments of the Tibetan people inside Tibet, and to have the courage and the wisdom to address these problems realistically.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Even though China's really angry about this episode, Wolf, it's not really spelled out any consequences the U.S. could face -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee at the State Department.

Thank you.

The current Dalai Lama, by the way, is the fourteenth to hold that title. He's believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be the reincarnation of a fourteenth century spiritual leader. He was enthroned in 1950 at the age of 16. And in 1959, he fled to India after a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. He's lived in exile ever since.

And there's a battle with China over the second ranking Panchen Lama, with the Dalai Lama and the Beijing government each having picked a void to fill that role. This is the Chinese choice. The Dalai Lama's choice is believed to be in Chinese custody, as well.

Here at home, a Virginia school system is taking no chances with a potentially deadly strain of a drug-resistant staph virus. Today, it shut down several schools after a student became infected with the super bug and died.

Joining us now is our national correspondent, Jason Carroll.

He's watching this story for us -- a lot of schools have been shut down, Jason.

Update our viewers on what's going on.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the schools were closed and shut down as a precaution. Hospital officials won't confirm that that student actually had the deadly staph infection. But according it published reports, the student's mother has confirmed it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): Cleaning crews descended on 22 schools in Bedford, Virginia, disinfecting locker rooms and desks, trying to prevent this deadly super bug from spreading. This after Ashton Bonds, a 17-year-old senior at Staunton River High School, died. School officials say there's a possibility Bonds died from an aggressive infection -- methicillin, resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA -- a mutated strain of a staph infection.

RYAN EDWARDS, SPOKESMAN BEDFORD COUNTY SCHOOLS: We have been dealing with MRSA for the better part of the past month. And we have had cases appear steadily since then. We have -- we have six confirmed cases, and possibly seven, within the county.

CARROLL: Doctors across the country are concerned, as well. A new government study shows MRSA infections are more widespread than once thought. The study says MRSA may have contributed to nearly 19,000 deaths in 2005 -- more fatalities than those who died from AIDS that year -- figures some doctors call astounding.

DR. ELIZABETH BANCROFT, LOS ANGELES COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: I would say that what this study is, is a wake up call. And what we've seen prior to this time are studies in individual geographic locations, individual hospitals. And the key thing about this study, the strength of this study is that it was really a nationwide, scientifically validated sample.

CARROLL: The study shows the majority of infections -- 85 percent -- occurred in hospitals and medical clinics, oftentimes through open wounds. But doctors are seeing more and more cases outside hospitals, especially among athletes playing contact sports. Ricky Lannetti was a healthy 21-year-old football player for Lycoming College in Pennsylvania Avenue until he showed up at an emergency room nearly unconscious.

TERRI LANNETTI, SON DIED OF MRSA: They didn't know what was wrong with him. They had no idea. It was one organ after another that just started shutting down on him. And it was that -- it was that quick. By 7:36 that night, he died.

CARROLL: Doctors think an open sore on Lannetti may have exposed him to MRSA in the locker room.

Ashton Bonds played football, too, but stopped more than a year ago after being injured.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CARROLL: And school officials say they will continue using professional cleaners on either a monthly or a quarterly basis. But they also stress it's up to students to make sure they wash their hands regularly, which is, of course, one of the best ways to prevent contamination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jason.

Thank you.

Let's take a closer look at this frightening drug-resistant staph strain. It affects more than 90,000 Americans each year. It invades the bloodstream and can destroy flesh. The bacteria can be carried by healthy people. It lives on skin or in noses. The strain can be deadly when it gets inside the body and it spreads through open wounds, as Jason just mentioned.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself. Don't overuse antibiotics. And, as Jason also mentioned, hand washing is key, especially for hospital workers.

Up ahead, she won over New York's conservative rural voters in her Senate bids.

But can Hillary Rodham Clinton do the same thing nationwide?

The CNN Election Express takes you to Upstate New York.

And President Bush insisting he's no lame duck. You're going to find out how he says he intends to remain relevant in his last 15 months in office.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Tomorrow Congress will hold a vote attempting to override my veto of the SCHIP bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The attorney general nominee, Michael Mukasey, talking torture as his confirmation hearings get underway in Washington today. Mukasey called a 2002 memo saying the president can authorize what some have alleged to be torture -- that would be a mistake, in Mukasey's words.

Meanwhile, a former assistant attorney general who opposed the administration's policies on inter -- enhanced interrogation techniques -- is voicing new criticism of them, as well. That would be Jack Goldsmith, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel over at the Justice Department until 2004.

He's now with Harvard University, the author of a new book entitled, "The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration".

I asked him about interrogation policy and allegations of torture.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JACK GOLDSMITH, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: I did have, when I was in the administration, some serious questions about some of the interrogation opinions written before I got there. And I took steps to try to put them on a sounder legal foundation, because I did worry about what might be done in the name of those opinions.

BLITZER: Because in the book, on page 151 you write this: "On an issue that demanded the greatest of care, OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel's analysis of the law of torture was legally flawed, tendentious in substance and tone, and overboard."

You weren't happy with their -- "overbroad."

Excuse me.

What was your concern?

GOLDSMITH: I had a lot of concern about the opinions. One was their interpretation of the definition of torture. Another one was the extremely tendentious tone of the opinions. A third was the analysis of the commander-in-chief's power to disregard the statute and the way it was analyzed. And, fourth -- and really most importantly, most fundamentally -- the opinion was just wildly overbroad for the goals it was trying to serve.

BLITZER: You were also very concerned about the warrantless wiretap program. And you had your opinion at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, but others had a very different view.

What happened?

GOLDSMITH: Well, this was an area where we had some conflict. I can't go into the details much. But I had a view of legal authorities and the senior leadership in the Justice Department embraced my view about it. And the White House disagreed with us sharply.

BLITZER: And that set the scene for that encounter at George Washington University Hospital, when the attorney general -- then John Ashcroft, basically was told to sign some document that you strongly opposed, that the deputy -- the acting attorney general opposed, but that the White House really wanted him to sign -- Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card, who then the White House chief of staff.

GOLDSMITH: Yes.

BLITZER: And you fought it.

Who won that battle, though?

GOLDSMITH: Again, while I was there the White House eventually came around to the Justice Department view, in part because of the confrontations of that week.

BLITZER: But at one point, you decided you had enough and wanted out.

What was the specific reason that you decided, I'm getting out of here?

GOLDSMITH: Well, I left in the end in June of 2004, after a year of battles. And I was kind of exhausted and worn out by the battles. And I thought because of the steps I had taken, I worried that people inside the government who needed to rely on Office of Legal Counsel opinions had lost faith in me. So that's the main reason I quit.

I had almost quit earlier over the matters related to the hospital scene, but for a variety of reasons decided not to after the Justice Department and the White House agreed.

BLITZER: You write in the book, also: "The White House was afraid of tying the president's hands," and go on to say, "a fear grounded in an unquestioned commitment to a peculiar conception of executive power."

Does the president have too much power, this president, right now?

GOLDSMITH: Boy, that's a hard question to answer in the abstract. In some areas, he's got a lot of power. In some areas, he doesn't have enough. The point of the -- the main theme of the book, one of the main themes of the book was that the conception of power that the White House held led them to engage in a lot of what I viewed as self- defeating strategies about not trying to get Congress and the other institutions of government on board, going it alone, trying to expand authority and assert authority on their own powers. And the result has been blow back by the other institutions of government that I think has left the executive branch weaker than it would have been otherwise.

BLITZER: Do you have any evidence that the president or the vice president has abused power?

GOLDSMITH: No, I wouldn't say that I have examples or evidence that they abused power. I mean they had views of the legal authorities that I sharply disagreed with. But it's nothing that I would consider the level of abuse.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Terror Presidency."

The author, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

He's now a professor at Harvard Law School.

Thanks for coming in.

GOLDSMITH: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And up next, An American commander facing court-martial right now over what he allegedly did for Saddam Hussein in prison.

Also, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert says he's running for president. We're going to show you why some real candidates may not find it all so funny.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a change in leadership at the government intelligence organization that fights al Qaeda and other extremist groups. Retired Vice Admiral John Scott Red says he's stepping down as chief of the national counter terrorism center. Red says he's retiring next month to have knee surgery and to spend more time with his family.

And the embattled president of Oral Roberts University is taking a temporary leave of absence while a lawsuit against him and the school is resolved. Three former ORU professors accused Richard Roberts of misusing school funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle including expensive trips and presents for his family. The professors say they were fired after reporting the alleged improprieties. Roberts adamantly denies the accusations.

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

New details emerging now of the final days of Saddam Hussein. They are coming out of the court-martial of a U.S. military commander in charge of his captivity.

Let's go right to CNN's Brian Todd. He is joining us now with what he's picking up.

What is the commander accused of doing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An extraordinary case here, Wolf. This army colonel faces life in prison for allegedly aiding the enemy. Now we're told that charge doesn't directly relate to Saddam Hussein, but the case has revealed some fascinating details about Saddam's detention.

His final days were supposed to be in strict confinement at a maximum security camp near Baghdad run by the Americans. But Saddam Hussein may have been provided with Cuban cigars and hair dye courtesy of the U.S. military. That's according to reports of witness testimony at the court-martial of Army Lieutenant Colonel William Steel, commander at Camp Cropper where the former Iraqi dictator was held until his execution in December. Steel's not charge in connection with the cigars or hair dye, but is accused of aiding the enemy by providing an unmonitored cell phone to other detainees.

EUGENE FIDELL, NATIONAL INST. OF MILITARY JUSTICE: How far we have come from the civil war or from other conflicts when aiding the enemy meant giving some food or ammunition or something like that. Now, it's a cell phone.

TODD: One charge that Colonel Steel fraternized with a detainee's daughter was dropped but other charges stand.

In addition to aiding the enemy, he is accused of unauthorized possession of classified information, conduct unbecoming an officer for an inappropriate relationship with a female interpreter, and failure to obey an order.

Steel's pleaded not guilty and his defense attorney reportedly has said in court he was trying to teach detainees humanely. The military said his attorney could not speak to the media during the trial.

Military officials waived a possible death sentence for aiding the enemy, but he still faces life in prison. Compare that to the U.S. servicemen charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the harshest sentence among them, ten years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without in any way minimizing what went on at Abu Ghraib, what is going on here, at least in theory, according to the government, is a significant breach of security that calls into question the integrity of the confinement system.

TODD: Even if Colonel Steel is acquitted on the aiding the enemy charge, he is still likely going to prison. Steel's already pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information and possessing pornographic videos. The maximum possible sentence on those, six years, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.

Some major news out of Turkey today, news that could have a significant impact on the war in Iraq. Today the Turkish parliament gave its government the go ahead to launch a possible military incursion into Iraq. The target? Kurdish rebels who have been staging cross-border attacks into Turkey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now from Baghdad, U.S. Major General Kevin Bergner, U.S. Army. He's the chief spokesman for the multi-national forces in Iraq.

General Bergner, what does the U.S. military do if the Turkish forces actually cross the line and go into northern Iraq into the Kurdish areas looking for PKK terrorists?

MAJ. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCES-IRAQ: Well, first of all, Wolf, I guess I would start off by saying that this is very much a diplomatic issue between the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq. You have heard and probably seen the same reports just in the last 24 hours.

Prime Minister Maliki has convened his cabinet to take on these concerns and to address specific ways that could better work with the governor of Turkey on this issue and they even sent the Vice President Hashimi to Ankara yesterday to directly engage their Turkish counterparts on this issue.

This is something that is still very much a diplomatic issue where the two countries on a bilateral basis need to come to terms with how they're going to deal with this very real security threat for Turkey.

BLITZER: Are U.S. or other coalition forces moving north, though, now towards the border with Turkey?

BERGNER: Wolf, that is not happening and that is not part of the Multi-National Forces' focus.

BLITZER: How worried are you that the Turks might suspend their cooperation? We're told, what? That 70 percent of the U.S. cargo coming into Iraq comes through Turkey. If that were to stop, that would be a major logistical nightmare for you, wouldn't it?

BERGNER: Well, Turkey has been a supportive ally to our forces, both in terms of the logistical access that has been provided, as you described, as well as air space and transit and so that is important to us and it continues to be something that we value a great deal.

BLITZER: On the issue of Blackwater, General, the Iraqi government now suggesting they want to kick out more than 1,000 private security guards who work for Blackwater because of the incident last month in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed. Who would protect the thousands of American diplomats and other American government employees working in and around Baghdad, if those private security guards were kicked out?

BERGNER: Well, first I would say that this is an important issue for both of our countries. And it's one that Secretary Rice has personally called, Prime Minister Maliki to say how strongly and how seriously our country takes this. And the two of them agree to create this bilateral commission that the deputy chief and the administer of defense for the Iraqis are co-chairing to get at those important issues related to contractors in general. That's the bases for charting the way for and determining exactly how those companies will work in the future, what their arrangements will be and we are, we are hopeful that embassy-led effort here with the government of Iraq counterparts who will be able to satisfactorily address the concerns that are very real concerns.

BLITZER: And in the end, you're hoping that Blackwater guards themselves would be allowed to remain and protect those American diplomats?

BERGNER: Well, we'd hope that the two governments would be able to come up with some arrangements where private security companies could continue to perform the important missions that they are performing.

BLITZER: General Bergner, thanks very much for joining us.

BERGNER: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, she may be a liberal, but does she have what it takes to pick up votes among conservatives there? There's some evidence that she does. We'll tell you what's going on.

Also, President Bush as the end of his term approaches, does he already have one foot out the door battling the lame duck label?

That's coming up next, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're taking you beyond the beltway with the CNN Election Express. Today in upstate New York, supporters of democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cite the rural often conservative regions to critics who question whether she can win over red state America.

Mary Snow is joining us from Duchess County upstate New York with the CNN Election Express. We see it right behind you, Mary.

What are the people in upstate New York, my old stomping ground, saying?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, we came to one of the reddest towns in this county. It's considered a republican stronghold. Senator Clinton lost her re-election bid here in November in this town, but some here today are saying that they are not ruling her out in 2008.

To naysayers who say Hillary Clinton can't win the White House, the Clinton camp says, consider her New York victory in 2006.

BILL CLINTON: Look at New York. In New York, when she went in for re-election she carried 56 of our 62 counties.

SNOW: Many are rural and republican, like Duchess County. President Bush won here in the last two presidential elections. Hillary Clinton won it in her re-election to the senate. Supporters credit her victory to many visits and her focus on economic issues.

One local democratic official says Senator Clinton was a hard sell to doubting republicans.

JOSEPH RUGGIERO, DUCHESS CO., DEMOCRATIC CMTE.: She wins them over. She carried upstate counties, most rural counties that democrats hadn't carried in a long time.

SNOW: Some republicans aren't swayed.

LILLY O'HARA, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: I just don't know how to explain it. I don't trust her.

SNOW: Do you support her for president?

CORINNE WEBER, DUCHESS CO., REPUBLICAN CHMN.: Never.

SNOW: Why?

WEBER: I don't think she, she's got the ability.

SNOW: But among a group of retirees in one of the reddest towns in Duchess County, some who voted for president Bush twice say they now consider supporting Hillary Clinton.

Have you warmed up to her?

NEIL DILORENZO, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: Nobody can warm up to Hillary Clinton. She's very efficient, that's what you can say about her.

SNOW: Going from a maybe to a definite yes, say some republicans, will depend on more than Clinton herself.

What made you change your mind?

ELEANOR GANNON, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: Depends on who she's running against and whoever she is running against, that would be my decision.

SNOW: While there was division over Hillary Clinton among the voters we spoke with, they did agree on one thing and that is this, they consider the 2008 election one of the most important in their lifetime.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you.

By the way, the CNN Election Express is headed to key battleground states over the next several weeks, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida among others.

And this important programming note, I'll be joining you from Las Vegas November 15th when I host CNN's next democratic presidential debate. November 15th in Vegas.

President Bush insists he's not a lame duck. In his news conference today, he took multiple swipes that democratically- controlled Congress and said he intends to remain relevant in his final 15 months in office. Listen to this.

PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: We'll sprint to the finish and finish this job strong, that's one way to ensure that I am relevant. It's one way to ensure that I'm in the process and I intend to use the veto.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN political analyst Gloria Borger. She's watching all of this.

So is the president stressing this now, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he wants to show he's still in the game, Wolf.

You know there comes a time in the second term of a presidency when everybody talks about him being a lame duck. A lot of his top staff has left. He wants to prove that he's still running the agenda.

But I was talking to a lot of republicans today who sort of cringed when he used that word relevant, Wolf, because it reminded them of 1995 when none other than president Bill Clinton said this at what has now become an infamous press conference. He said, "The president relevant here, especially an activist president and the fact that I'm willing to work with the republicans. The question is, are they willing to work with me? I have shown good faith."

And, of course, Bill Clinton had just lost the Congress to the republicans. He said he was willing to work with the republicans and, Wolf, that's what the president said today, too. He said, we've got to work for the common good. Now, there are lots of democrats who aren't so sure he's willing to do that.

BLITZER: I remember that news conference. I was the White House correspondent then and it got a lot of buzz.

What about the news conference today? Why is the president doing this?

BORGER: Well, the president does want to prove that he's there and he can work with the democrats, but he also believes that this is a Congress that's very unpopular. In fact, it's the only institution that's more unpopular than he is.

He was trying to take them on on two issues, the issue of spending and the issue of terrorism. These are two issues that he believes have some salience for the Republican Party, but these republicans, again, that I spoke to again today said you know we ought to start looking for some new issue terrain here because the issues that matter to the American public, Iraq, health care, those are democratic issues. So, they're saying, Mr. President, maybe we ought to find some new fights to fight.

BLITZER: He's still going to be president for a while.

All right, Gloria, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what is coming up right at the top of the hour.

What are you working on, Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Wolf.

Tonight, we're reporting on what is called the nation's toughest local crackdown on illegal immigration, one county in Virginia showing the federal government and other communities around the country how to stand up to socioethnocentric special interests and corporate America insisting on hiring illegally illegal aliens.

Also, one of the country's largest internet companies Yahoo facing charges that one of its top executives lied to the U.S. Congress trying to protect Yahoo's business interest in communist China. We'll have that special report.

And Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York determined to ram his plans to give away drivers' licenses to illegal aliens down the throats of voters and lawmakers. Spitzer ignoring the will of his people in New York using what he calls steamroller tactics to crush the opposition. We'll have complete coverage of the outrage and I'll have strong words for the "New York Times" and the good, the good Governor Spitzer about honesty and responsibility and government and journalism. Who's telling the truth about the governor's proposals and why has he embarked on this outrage?

Please join us for all of that at the top of the hour, all the day's news.

Wolf, back it you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. We'll be watching. Thank you.

Stephen Colbert, the comedian, the talk show host and now presidential contender. Candidate Colbert preparing to take on democrats and republicans with a groundbreaking campaign strategy. Stand by. Howard Kurtz will explain.

And should 11 year olds be able to get prescriptions for birth control pills at schools without parental permission? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

All that coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a new candidate in the race for '08 and he's offering a unique perspective on all the pressing issues of the day. That would be the talk show host Stephen Colbert. He says he's running for president.

Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM is CNN's Howard Kurtz. He's the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." He's also the author of a hot new book about TV news, called "Reality Show."

Howie, what's going on here with the Colbert report?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I had Stephen Colbert on the phone. Very funny guy and what he told me was no joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you thinking seriously of running?

KURTZ: We've all seen politicians launch their campaigns on late-night television trying to appeal to an audience that doesn't watch "MEET THE PRESS" or "LATE EDITION."

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

THOMPSON: I am running for president of the United States.

KURTZ: Last night another candidate announced on Comedy Central's Colbert Report and it was the host himself.

STEPHEN COLBERT, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Well, after nearly 15 minutes of soul searching, I have heard the call. Nation, I shall seek the office of the president of the United States. I am doing it!

KURTZ: Colbert says he'll be a favorite candidate in his native North Carolina. Is this anything more than a stunt by a guy who plays a high decibel blow hard on TV? He could have an impact because he's a media magnet who may draw cameras away from the second tier candidates. He'll liven things up and says he will run on home state issues such as, why did John Edwards move out of South Carolina when he was 1 year old?

COLBERT: Now the point is, folks, I am from South Carolina, I am for South Carolina. And I defy any other candidate to pander more to the people of South Carolina. Those beautiful, beautiful people.

KURTZ: I asked Colbert if he plans to give up his show in favor of campaigning. His answer, I'm quoting now, do you think I'm a fool.

Wolf. BLITZER: Howie, this is, obviously a good stunt for him. He has a hot new book, just like you, that's out right now. I assume it will help him sell a few copies.

KURTZ: I think that may have occurred to him. I think, clearly, Wolf, Stephen Colbert may get more laughs than votes out of his favorite candidacy in South Carolina, but I was thinking about it, a typical cable show has a choice of booking Duncan Hunter or Mike Ravel, Stephen Colbert. I think I know which one might get the call.

BLITZER: We want Howard Kurtz, though, because we love your book. Howard Kurtz, joining us from the "Washington Post" thanks very much. Stephen Colbert is also a very funny guy.

It's an extremely, extremely controversial question. Should 11 year olds be given prescriptions for birth control pills at school without their parents' permission? You're weighing in with Jack with your e-mail when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty file.

Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a school in Portland, Maine, that's actually considering doing this. Should 11 year olds be able to get prescriptions for birth control pills at school without parental permission or even their knowledge?

Kevin in Dallas writes, "What are they thinking? Don't birth control pills contain hormones and are they making these available to girls who in many cases who haven't hit puberty yet? I'm curious what a medical professional would say to that. I think it's a rotten idea."

Lisa writes from Las Cruces, New Mexico, "If an 11-year-old girl is sexually active isn't it better if she has birth control than not. Parents have never been able to control their kids. What makes you think this generation is any different? Anyone who objects to girls getting all the help with birth control available has no right then to complain about abortion or about single mothers."

P.J. in St. Thomas, "No, absolutely not. How is giving permission for a child to be raped, sexually exploited or abused spelled? Are the schools educators or enablers for the growing number of molesters and pedophiles?"

Jena in New York, "Although seemingly unethical without parental consent, the 11-year-old girl approaching her doctor about obtaining birth control should be obliged. This shows maturity, concern and the most importantly respect for herself and therefore should be reciprocated in return with confidentiality on the part of the doctor."

Shamus in Brooklyn, "Of course, seeing children are having sex younger and younger nowadays, they might as well be safe about it."

Jeffrey in Atlanta, "11 year olds who want to have sex don't need birth control, they need a slap in the face."

And Jim in Virginia writes, "Being the father of an 11-year-old girl, let me answer this clearly for the politicians, hell no."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/Caffertyfile. We post more online along with video clips of the Cafferty file. Absolutely absurd in this father's opinion.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. See you back here in an hour.

Let's end with some of the Hot Shots coming right now.

In Gaza, a woman cries during the funeral of an alleged Hamas militant.

In Germany, a farmer stops traffic to let his geese cross the road.

In Cairo, an Egyptian commando drops from a helicopter into the Nile River.

And in Maryland, puppies play during a taping of the Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl."

Some of this hour's Hot Shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

Mark your calendar starting November 5th, just one year from Election Day, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for three hours back-to- back, from 4 to 7 p.m. eastern. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" will begin at 7 p.m. starting November 5th.

Let's go to Lou right now.

Lou.

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