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CNN NEWSROOM

American Airlines Cancels More Than 900 Flights to Inspect Planes; Polygamist Ranch Revelations; Halt on Troop Withdrawals

Aired April 10, 2008 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Tornadoes, flooding rains, hail, even blizzards. We're tracking dangerous storms from the Gulf Coast all the way to the Great Lakes.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And they're moving east. Who is under the gun right now and who's next?

LEMON: And what does it mean for air travelers already fed up with thousands of flight cancellations? And it appears to keep growing and growing and growing.

WHITFIELD: The ripple effect.

LEMON: Yes.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: And if you've got a ticket to fly, you may or may not have a plane, by the way. Hundreds more of them are being inspected today, leaving a lot of fed-up flyers in limbo. So what's it like inside one of the world's busiest airports?

Our Susan Roesgen is at Chicago's O'Hare.

The last time we saw you, Susan, you didn't have much of a backdrop of people behind you. Now a few more stragglers. What's their situation?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A few more. It could be the time, Fredricka. It could just be the start of the afternoon flights.

Folks are walking up. I have got the cancellation, departure, arrivals board over here, so people are checking their flights. But really, there are very, very few cancellations, maybe three or four out of hundreds of departures and arrivals that I see on the board.

Folks behind me, yes, the line is a little bit longer now in security. But for the third day of cancellations, and another nearly 1,000 American Airlines flights canceled, it isn't too bad right now. Now, this doesn't mean, Fredricka, that there aren't many more people at other airlines trying to squeeze in with other airline passengers when American had to reroute them or put them on other planes to get them where they're going. And American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan says this is something they had to do to comply with FAA rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY FRANCES FAGAN, AMERICAN AIRLINES SPOKESWOMAN: This is a big hub for us, we have a lot of MD-80s. And I know that our mechanics, our engineers, our quality assurance folks have been working to look through all of the issues related to this very technical, very precise, very detailed airworthiness directive so that we can meet and exceed the standards, if need be, of the FAA.

We have been very success in getting some of the airplanes back in service. And we're very happy that we are able to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROESGEN: Now, the thing to remember about what the American Airlines folks are calling this, airworthiness technical issue, is that according to the FAA, it is an extreme safety hazard. If those wires in the wheel wells of the American Airlines planes or of any MD- 80s flown by any airline, if those are not properly bundled, as we've seen from CNN's Drew Griffin, that can cause a failure of the landing gear or it can cause a spark that might cause a fire and an explosion.

American Airlines spokespeople continue to call it a technical issue, just binding the wires properly. The FAA actually warned all the airlines about this MD-80 issue back in September of 2006 and gave the airlines 18 months to comply. Two weeks ago, American Airlines had to ground some of its MD-80s for this issue, but not all of them.

And then the FAA came back on Monday of this week and said they are not up to par, you've got to do it. And that's when American began canceling all these flights and rounding its MD-80s so that they could fix the problem and get them back into service.

So there are a lot of passengers who obviously, Fredricka, they want safety, they appreciate maintenance checks, but they're angry because they realize now that American Airlines had time to do this, had time to phase these maintenance checks in, and didn't do it, did it all at once this week, leaving a lot of people scrambling.

WHITFIELD: Yes. A lot of folks appreciate, you know, the notion of making the airlines safe for us, the aircraft safe. But it's being blindsided that we're hearing from so many passengers and people who work for the airlines, who didn't seem to like that.

Susan Roesgen, thanks so much, from Chicago.

And we're learning more details about last week's raid now on a polygamist's group compound in west Texas. But along with those new details, some key questions remain unanswered. The latest now from CNN's David Mattingly in San Angelo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a story with far more questions than answers, but one perhaps looms largest: Where is the girl whose story of physical and sexual abuse launched the massive raid on the polygamist compound?

JONI HOLM, CHILD PROTECTION PROJECT: I believe she is in danger. And -- and if you -- if they stop looking for her, we will never find her.

MATTINGLY: Joni Holm is a child protection activist who helps girls running away from polygamist compounds, like the one in Texas. She says the missing girl's extended family fears she may have been taken away and hidden from authorities.

HOLM: She is still somewhere in Texas, and they need to look. They need to find her, because she is still there.

MATTINGLY: Meanwhile, attorneys for the compound were in court arguing over how the state should handle evidence it takes from the ranch. Afterward, there was no comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to do my talk in the courtroom.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Outside the courthouse, new details are emerging of a standoff that occurred Saturday night when authorities attempted to enter the temple. Law enforcement sources tell us that men from the compound attempted to block the doors. But then they moved away at the last minute when officers brought in a battering ram.

After that, they say they encountered very little resistance, and, as they searched from house to house, the only guns they found were for hunting.

(voice-over): And restrictions now appear to be easing at the compound. Just like the women, men are now allowed to leave the ranch, but they cannot return. Authorities say they still don't know how many men there are.

David Mattingly, CNN, San Angelo, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: President Bush announces some new timelines and deployment figures for Iraq today. And it means an indefinite halt in troop withdrawals after July.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, with that.

Barbara, what do you have? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this hour now, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, are having their turn on Capitol Hill after days of testimony from General Petraeus.

Right now they're appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And we are likely to hear a little bit of political fireworks, I have to say, Don, about all of this, about whether this pause is really a pause.

Is it a 45-day pause, as General Petraeus said? Is it an indefinite pause? Is it an open-ended commitment to U.S. troops? Senator Carl Levin now beginning the hearing and pretty much laying the groundwork to rake the secretary over the coals on this.

Here's what President Bush said earlier today at the White House when he explained his version.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By July 31st, the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will be down by 25 percent from last year. Beyond that, General Petraeus says he'll need time to consolidate his forces and assess how this reduced American presence will affect conditions on the ground before making measured recommendations on further reductions. And I've told him he'll have all the time he needs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: But here is the facts, here is how it all really breaks down. The surge ends in July. A 45-day pause while General Petraeus reassesses the situation. Troop tours of duty now cut from 15 to 12 months.

So, by all indications, we really should be looking at December. That's when two brigades are scheduled to come home from Iraq. And General Petraeus will have his first opportunity to make a real decision about whether they should be replaced, which may or may not happen, or just let troop levels decline in Iraq. All of this to be discussed in the next couple of hours at this Senate hearing we're watching unfold -- Don.

LEMON: Indeed. Barbara Starr. Thank you, Barbara.

Make sure you stay with the CNN NEWSROOM. Later we'll hear directly from General Petraeus himself. He sat down for a comprehensive interview with CNN's Michael Ware a short time ago in Washington.

And it's been almost a year since the massacre at Virginia Tech. Are American campuses any safer now? We'll take a closer look at the issue of campus rage.

WHITFIELD: And sources say the FBI is looking into the way polygamist leader Warren Jeffs and his group made their money. We'll follow the money trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

LEMON: Almost one year after the Virginia Tech massacre, state officials today agreed to an $11 million settlement for the families of the victims. The families claim state negligence was partly to blame for the deaths of 32 people last April 16th on the Virginia Tech campus.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin had predicted a settlement, saying the state would want to avoid a public fight with grieving families. Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine says a substantial majority of the families have agreed to the plan.

WHITFIELD: Almost a year after the Virginia Tech massacre, are college campuses any safer? Are officials any better at spotting troubled students?

A CNN "SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT" documentary tackles all those questions. SIU correspondent Abbie Boudreau has a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Sometimes the warning signs are clear.

RICHARD SONNEN, PLANNED SCHOOL ATTACK: I hated myself, I hated them. I hated everybody. I was sick. I was a sick man.

BOUDREAU: Richard Sonnen was a would-be teenage school shooter from Idaho who was planning to stage another Columbine. He was angry, depressed and bullied.

SONNEN: I wanted to get as much revenge as I could.

BOUDREAU (voice over): And you were prepared to shoot them?

SONNEN: Yes.

BOUDREAU: And you were prepared to shoot yourself?

SONNEN: Yes.

BOUDREAU: And end it all?

SONNEN: Yes.

BOUDREAU (voice over): Yet, Richard Sonnen didn't end it all.

But that wasn't the case for Steven Kazmierczak, whose girlfriend, Jessica Baty, says she saw no signs that he would go on this Valentine's Day shooting spree at Northern Illinois University. He killed five, injured 16, then turned the gun on himself. JESSICA BATY, GIRLFRIEND: He was not abusive towards anybody or anything ever. He didn't -- I didn't think he had a violent or aggressive bone in his body. He was just nice -- he was a nice guy.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Listening to you talk, it's almost like he had a double life.

BATY: I don't know how he could have had a double life. I was in his life all the time.

BOUDREAU (voice over): So how do colleges deal with the growing number of students with mental illness? And what more can be done to stop school shootings before they happen again?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And Abbie Boudreau joins us now with more on the SIU special "Campus Rage."

So, Abbie, I guess what's so perplexing when you hear people talk about, you know, their feelings, what they observed, et cetera, you kind of wonder, why are they comfortable about talking?

BOUDREAU: This particular boy, Richard Sonnen, his mom actually e-mailed us shortly after the NIU shooting. She wanted to tell us a lot more.

Said told us her son had actually plotted to kill his high school classmates. She was afraid he could be violent if he stopped taking his medication.

But Richard Sonnen, who's now almost 19, and his mother Elaine (ph) thought it was important to talk about warning signs, like depression and feeling suicidal. In this case, the signs were clear and Elaine Sonnen (ph) was able to stop her son from carrying out a massacre. But in so many of these other cases, the warning signs are not so clear.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then sometimes the warning signs are clear. But then you've got to know what to look for.

BOUDREAU: Right. Sometimes these warning signs are ignored.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

BOUDREAU: And sometimes they go unnoticed. And basically, it makes sense, because so many of the times these experts are saying more and students than ever before are in college and they're on medication.

With the high number of college students who are now in -- needing these counseling centers, college counseling centers are having a hard time keeping up. They're understaffed, they're underfunded. And this is a huge problem.

And we'll explore those issues in our Special Investigations Unit documentary.

WHITFIELD: And I guess after this, particularly after Virginia Tech, a lot of campuses are kind of looking at themselves. They're looking at their campus policies a little bit more aggressively and trying to figure out, how do we all become a lot more proactive?

BOUDREAU: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: All right, Abbie. Thanks so much. We look forward to the special.

And that documentary, "Campus Rage," premiers tomorrow night, CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

LEMON: Well, sources tell CNN the FBI is investigating how Warren Jeffs and his polygamist sect make their money. Our Randi Kaye has been looking into that as well. We'll follow the money trail straight ahead.

(BUSINESS REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Kyra Phillips.

You're in the NEWSROOM.

LEMON: All right, we're working on several stories for you today right here in the CNN NEWSROOM, including this one, storms, floods and possible tornadoes moving across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The leading edge stretches from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and it is moving east.

The state of Virginia today agreed to an $11 million settlement for the families of victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. The families said state negligence was partly to blame for the massacre nearly one year ago.

China says it's broken up a terrorist plot aimed at this summer's Beijing Olympics. Officials say Islamic terrorists planned to attack Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities with poison gas and explosives.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's check in with Chad Myers, talk about weather at the top of the hour and last hour. It's ugly. We saw the pictures, most recently in north and west Texas, Chad. What else is happening out there?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, we got flooding overnight in Oklahoma. We have rain and thunderstorm activity now in Memphis. Not a lot of activity, and I was just talking to my producers here saying, you know what, I'm getting a little concerned. Not concerned that we're not getting storms, concerned that we're not getting storms to kind of use some of the energy. We're kind of building it all up and then all of a sudden, it's all going to go all at once and these storms are all going to be rotating.

So, we're in Little Rock, Memphis, all the way down to Shreveport. That's where the storms are now, and yes, that is snow, that is really snow back out there into Denver and into Scottsbluff and into McCook, Nebraska and parts of western Kansas. And there will be blizzard conditions across the Dakotas tonight and severe weather right along the cold front as it pushes into St. Louis and Memphis and into Shreveport. Moves farther to the east tomorrow, all the way from Cleveland right on back down to New Orleans.

And a little clarification, what you were seeing earlier, Don, and maybe you couldn't see it, we had this map up behind you, this is a map of Dallas-Ft. Worth. And we are actually seeing MD-82s in the air now. So, the mad dogs are up and flying, at least a few of them are. That one's going to Atlanta. That one right there is going to Raleigh-Durham, the MD-83. There you go. So, some of them are flying. That's some good news for travelers today.

WHITFIELD: They're the lucky ones if they're on those flights, right?

MYERS: Yes.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Chad.

MYERS: Sure.

WHITFIELD: Don.

LEMON: Disturbing new revelations, Fredricka and Chad, are emerging after a week-long police search of a polygamist compound in west Texas. Among other things, beds were found in the group's temple and authorities believe male members of the group were using the beds to have sex with their under-age wives immediately after their marriage ceremonies.

Right now, 416 children removed from the compound in last week's raid are still in protective custody. 139 women who left the compound voluntarily are being housed with the children.

Police are still looking for Dale Evans Barlow, a 50-year-old registered sex offender. He's alleged to be the husband of the 16- year-old girl whose phone call tipped off authorities and led to that raid.

A law enforcement source tells CNN the FBI is looking into possible fraud scams involving the polygamist sect headed by Warren Jeffs.

CNN's Randi Kaye started following the money trail two years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was supposed to be Warren Jeff's private sanctuary.

MIKE WATKISS, KTVK REPORTER: He was going to repopulate his flock with his own seed and bringing the best-looking, the youngest girls down here.

KAYE: Instead, he went to prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you Warren Jeffs?

WARREN JEFFS, POLYGAMIST LEADER: Yes.

KAYE: And the 1,700 acres he dropped an estimated $800,000 on, far out of reach. With the self-proclaimed prophet locked up, someone still has to foot the bill here, right? But who? Keeping them honest, we followed the money and found you, the taxpayer may be picking up part of the tab.

Along with people like this man, living hundreds of miles from Texas in Mesquite, Nevada. We met him two years ago when we first started tracking Jeff's cash.

(on camera): Is any of the money from here or all of the money here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have anything to say.

KAYE: Do you donate any of it to the church, to Warren Jeffs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have anything to say.

KAYE (voice-over): Here's how it works. Former members of Jeff's FLDS sect tell me men are ordered to work for construction companies owned by FLDS church members and turn over at least 10 percent, sometimes all of their paychecks.

One police investigator tells me this funnels $2 million a month to Jeffs' church. That's $24 million a year, shared among his compounds including the YFZ Ranch in Texas.

Rena Mackert, who left the sect in 1977, believes some of her 31 siblings were living in the Texas compound.

RENA MACKERT, FORMER FLDS MEMBER: My brothers worked on construction crews, were paid absolutely nothing. The kids that do get paychecks, they know the minute they start that job, the paycheck goes to the prophet.

KAYE: When Jeffs was on the run in this SUV, Mackert says he demanded an extra $1,000 a month.

(on camera): It's not exactly a sophisticated operation. Often cash is simply driven across state lines. In 2005, Seth Jeffs, Warren Jeffs' brother, was stopped by police in Colorado. In his car, they discovered more than $140,000 cash, thousands of dollars worth of prepaid credit cards and a cash-filled donation jar with Warren Jeffs' picture on it. The label read "Pennies for the prophet." (voice-over): The money trail doesn't stop there. Investigators and former followers say the sect is beating the welfare system, costing you money. Members apply for food stamps, then send that food to Texas. Also, with multiple wives and only one marriage recognized as legal, the other wives claim to be single moms with dependents, making them eligible for government aid. They collect welfare, lots of it and it's all legal. Money out of your pocket and into the polygamists'.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: On to presidential politics now with 12 days to go until the Pennsylvania primary, Barack Obama appears to be narrowing the gap with Hillary Clinton. The latest CNN Poll of Polls, an average of three separate surveys shows Clinton still leading, but only by 46 percent to 42 percent. That's a four-point lead for Clinton, down from a six-point lead earlier in the week.

And on our political ticker, Barack Obama says he wants to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But he won't make the issue a litmus test when he makes appointments to joint chiefs of staff. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy requires gays in the military to remain silent about their sexual orientation. Obama was interviewed in a gay news magazine called "The Advocate."

And you might call it the candidate dating game. Now, that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg won't be running for president himself, folks are wondering if he'll endorse anyone. He says he'll consider it. Today, he introduced Republican John McCain at a business roundtable in Brooklyn. But he introduced Barack Obama at an event in Manhattan two weeks ago. And he's also met with Hillary Clinton. So, they keep you guessing, or at least he's keeping you guessing.

LEMON: Move over, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, really?

LEMON: We're talking Fred Thompson here.

WHITFIELD: Oh, OK.

LEMON: Another ex-presidential candidate may be going Hollywood. Mike Huckabee, who played a guitar on the campaign trail and performed comedy on "Saturday Night Live," has signed a contract with a talent agency. But don't buy your tickets just yet, though. Don't buy them just yet. Huckabee's daughter says he's just exploring some options.

WHITFIELD: An exploratory committee.

LEMON: Explore ...

WHITFIELD: They've been through that before.

LEMON: You are so smart, so witty and quick, Fredricka Whitfield.

All the latest campaign news is available at your fingertips, go to CNNpolitics.com. We also have analysis from the best political team ...

WHITFIELD: On television.

LEMON: ...on television. That and more, CNNpolitics.com.

WHITFIELD: All right, this is pretty alarming. A high school student wails on a teacher and teachers at the school say it's just another day at Lewis High School in Baltimore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Take a look at that. What you see here is cell phone video shot last week at Baltimore's Reginald F. Lewis High School. Listen to the teacher screaming. That's a student on top, and a teacher on the bottom screaming. Even worse, the teacher says the principal suggested that she brought the attack on herself.

Here is Lowell Melser our CNN affiliate WBAL.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOLITA BERRY, ART TEACHER: It's like we're not important -- like we don't matter.

LOWELL MELSER, REPORTER WBAL: Reginald F. Lewis High School art teacher Jolita Berry fights back tears as she remembers this incident unfolding in her classroom last Friday. Those aren't students fighting, but that is a student on top of Berry in what she calls a relentless beating all caught on a cell phone camera. Berry says she told the student to sit down and behave herself. And the rest, well, you can see yourself.

BERRY: I looked over. The friends were cheering her on. And before I knew it, she hit me in the face.

MELSER: Other teachers helped break up the fight, and Berry thought she could turn to her principal for help. But after a little consoling, she felt that the tables were being turned on her.

BERRY: On one hand, she told me that she is sorry that this happened to me, but then she turned right around and told me that telling a student that I was going to defend myself was a trigger word. All right. I triggered them.

MELSER: Berry says she and other teachers in her shoes feel that they're at a loss, feeling the schools they teach in are not safe and now they have the tape to prove it. They just hope that the Baltimore City school system is watching.

BERRY: No learning place should be this violent.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LEMON: That was Lowell Melser of CNN affiliate WBAL. A second teacher, we should tell you, has now come forth to say the incident you saw is common at Lewis High School. Yes, it's common. That's what the teacher says. That teacher says his complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Here is what the school district says about the matter, quote, "Our schools must be safe and supportive places to learn. This is a fundamental commitment to our students, teachers and parents. We take any disruption of the learning environment extremely serious and respond immediately and forcefully to any disruption." That's the end of the quote there.

The principal at Lewis High School was unable -- unavailable for comment to CNN. We will speak with the teacher next hour live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: Six girls and two boys are to appear in court tomorrow in connection with another beating that was caught on tape. You remember seeing this one, it was the beating of a central Florida school mate, all eight defendants now are charged as adults, and is currently being held or transferred today from a juvenile detention center to the Polk County jail.

Police say the 16-year-old victim was beaten unconscious and required hospital treatment. The parent whose teen is charged says the victim provoked the others on MySpace.

LEMON: All right, stressed out and pushed to the limits, how are multiple tours in Iraq affecting the mental health of men and women in uniform? A veteran helping fellow vets will join us with some answers about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: President Bush today ordered an indefinite halt to U.S. troop withdrawals in Iraq after July. He also told the military to shorten combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan from 15 months to 12. A survey released by the army last month shows evidence of the strain caused by multiple tours in the Iraq.

Twenty-seven percent of soldiers on their third and fourth tours in Iraq reported anxiety, depression, post combat stress and other problems. That's compared to only 12 percent of soldiers on their first tour. How do military men and women cope with the stress?

Joining me now to talk about this, Michael Blecker, a Vietnam War vet, and Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares. That's a non- profit group founded by veterans to help veterans.

Good to see you.

MICHAEL BLECKER, EXEC. DIR., SWORDS TO PLOWSHARES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, the numbers are alarming. But given that you are talking to and dealing with vets all a time on a nearly daily basis, this does not come as a huge surprise to you in terms of the fatigue, the post-traumatic stress.

BLECKER: No, it doesn't. Not at all. We all knew that -- it's not a shock to see that people have repeated deployments, the impact that has, the level of stress they're subjected to. All the ingredients is a perfect stew for severe stress and post-traumatic stress.

WHITFIELD: So the administration is proposing this new plan of attack, if you will, from 15 months to 12 months deployment duty, how much of an impact, how much of an answer is this to what the vets are facing?

BLECKER: Well, it's better than 15 months.

WHITFIELD: It doesn't sound like a huge improvement, though, does it -- three months?

BLECKER: No, not at all. You count the days when your tour ends and another three months is a big deal. Still, the problem is is these pause periods, the period of time between the deployments are so brief.

And of course, every time you go back, as you just said, the rates -- the acknowledged rates of depression, the acknowledged rates of anxiety, the acknowledged symptoms of trauma increases. Those are the self-reported ones. It's probably much greater than that. Those are just the self-reported numbers that you're hearing about.

WHITFIELD: So, when you talk about the time in between each deployment, based on what you're hearing from military men and women, is there kind of a recommendation on what's reasonable, what gives a soldier enough time to decompress before gearing back up and going back off to the front lines?

BLECKER: Boy, in Vietnam -- I served in Vietnam. I served in '68 and '69. I had one tour of duty. That was all I had to do voluntarily. Beyond that -- I mean involuntarily. Beyond that, it was my choice. So, you had one tour of duty and it was over. That was seen as a way to cope with the trauma.

I mean, perhaps one could go back into a combat situation, but the issue is what does that do with the rest of that individual's life? How does that affect them for the rest of their life, those repeated tours? And that's across the board.

WHITFIELD: Maybe I'm hearing from you that it's rather blasphemous to ask a soldier to go back, period.

BLECKER: Don't you think -- people think they're like pressing their luck? At every level -- it's not like you have to be a psychiatrist to appreciate the impact it has to return to a combat zone. If you escape -- because you see, you experience life- threatening things that go on around you, and to repeatedly go back to that same combat zone. I mean, obviously anyone can appreciate that. You don't need to have a traumatic, profound insight into that. WHITFIELD: What do you, or what do soldiers who have been perhaps rather forthright with you feel like you need to hear from the commander in chief, whether it's this one or the next one about Iraq and moving forward?

BLECKER: I just think we haven't have to understand and appreciate the limits of what we're doing with our foreign policy. What does it mean to commit a war? What does it meant to have an occupying army? What are the costs of war? What does that mean?

Who is bearing that sacrifice? Shouldn't the rest of us share a little of that sacrifice if we want to engage in this kind of war, this occupation?

WHITFIELD: Are you talking about draft?

BLECKER: Well, when I was in Vietnam there was a draft. Right now it's the only way they -- they had personnel to fight that war so people didn't have repeated tours. But the impact that has on the country, it certainly got everyone's attention.

Now, people don't even know there's a war hardly, unless they read it in the paper or something, or they see it on TVs. They're disturbed about those images. But it's not ...

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: People in large numbers you're saying -- people in large numbers are not having to make a sacrifice?

BLECKER: Oh, no. There are communities that are totally clueless about the impact this war is having. People are aware of the war, but it doesn't affect them directly. They're not on -- their rear ends aren't on the line. And that somehow is the best way to get people's attention.

Believe me, if you had a draft, this war, this occupation, would not go on. I guarantee you right now.

WHITFIELD: Michael Blecker, thank you so much for your time and your perspective.

BLECKER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Don?

LEMON: The president lays down some new troop numbers for Iraq. But what about those benchmarks that the Iraqis were supposed to meet? Some were met, well, and some were not. We'll break it down with our Wolf Blitzer.

WHITFIELD: And it's that time of year, time to watch this guy resume his quest for immortality. Now you know what we're talking about, right? The Masters, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: All right. Tiger Woods has played nine holes in the first round of the Masters. Woods is where he usually is, right around par, just waiting to pounce. He is, of course, the odds-on favorite to win the season's first Major held each April at lovely Augusta National Golf Club.

And that's where we find our Larry Smith. He's there.

You have to be quiet, Larry. Are you on the links?

(LAUGHTER)

WHITFIELD: Very, very quiet.

LEMON: How is it going, my friend?

LARRY SMITH, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You're right. Doing great. It's a beautiful afternoon here at Augusta. Tiger -- you're right, he is always the man, no matter what. You probably saw the odds where some bookmaker somewhere laid even odds that Tiger will win or the entire field.

It really is Tiger against the field these days. He is that dominant a force in golf, and really in all of sports. He's trying to go for his fifth Masters green jacket. And he made an interesting comment a few weeks ago. When someone asked him about winning the Grand Slam in 2008, that is winning all four Majors in the same year.

And he said, "it's certainly within reason." Anybody else says that, you're thinking that they're crazy. But it's Tiger Woods -- 32- years-old, and again, the greatest golfer of his era. Already 13 career Majors in his pocket. The only golfer in the modern era to have held all four Major championships at once.

He's been really on fire in the past five or six months. And considering that he may just now be reaching his peak at age 32, certainly anything is possible.

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TIGER WOODS, FOUR TIME MASTERS CHAMP: You have to understand why I said that, because I've done it before. I've won all four in a row. Majority of my career -- I think this is my -- what is it, 12th or 13th season out here. And I think nine of those years I've won five or more tournaments, so I just have to win the right four.

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STUART APPLEBY, BEST MASTERS: TIED FOR SEVENTH: Easily means that if all things fall in place, but that's not easy. It could happen, absolutely. Absolutely. It could happen. And he -- to be honest, I don't think he's really worried about that. He's totally in the now and working on winning this week.

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ERNIE ELS, TWO TIME U.S. OPEN CHAMP: Obviously if he wins -- it's on. But it's all about momentum. And we've seen Tiger when he pulls momentum. He can do some crazy things.

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SMITH: Well, Tiger rarely has a phenomenal Thursday. And right now he is just very even, even par, 10 pars in a row heading into the 11th hole, Amen corner, as you might have heard it called. There's a seven-way tie right now at the top at two under par led by Ian Poulter who is in the clubhouse at two under.

And Zach Johnson, last year's champion, just birdied a moment ago. And he right now is still on the course at two under par, as well.

Lots of golf to come this week. Let's go back to you, Don.

LEMON: All right. Thank you. You've got -- I think you win out with the best job today. Fred and I were discussing that.

WHITFIELD: Envious.

LEMON: Envious.

SMITH: It's not bad.

WHITFIELD: Good weather. All the azaleas in bloom. We could go on. It's so pretty.

Oh yes, I have to be very, very quiet.

LEMON: Thanks, Larry Smith.

SMITH: All right. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Pretty serious matter straight ahead. Dangerous storms slamming the nation's midsection and the worst may be on the way. Live to the severe weather center shortly.

LEMON: And frustrated, disgusted, you name it. Thousands of passengers are feeling it as hundreds of flights are canceled. We'll hear from some of those who are stranded.

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LEMON: Hail, tornadoes, flooding rain, even blizzards. We're watching a host of dangerous storms from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.

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