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President Obama Shifts Course on Torture Investigation; Geithner Grilled Over Federal Bailouts

Aired April 21, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He now says he's open to prosecuting the architects of the Bush-era interrogation policies. It's an about- face from just a day earlier, what officials in the White House were saying.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's got the latest.

The president took questions from reporters today on this very sensitive subject.


Over the first 100 days nearly here, we have seen a very disciplined White House, often singing from the same song sheet, but not on this issue.


HENRY (voice-over): A dramatic reversal, the president now leaving the door open to his attorney general prosecuting former Bush Justice Department officials who crafted policies allowing alleged torture of terror suspects.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general, within the parameters of various laws. And I don't want to prejudge that.

HENRY: A sharp break from what his press secretary said 24 hours earlier, joining Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in saying the president didn't want prosecutions.

(on camera): But why not the Bush administration lawyers, who, in the eyes of a lot of your supporters on the left, twisted the law, why aren't they not being held accountable?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president is focused on looking forward. That's why.

HENRY (voice-over): In the last 24 hours, Senate Intelligence chair, Dianne Feinstein, urged the president to withhold judgment. And the liberal group circulated a petition demanding Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special prosecutor.

(on camera): Is this an example of this White House giving in to pressure from the left?

GIBBS: I don't -- have not -- I doubt the president has been on in the last 24 hours, so, no.

HENRY (voice-over): The president did suggest he would be willing to accept a 9/11-style commission to probe the matter.

OBAMA: To the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take.


HENRY: Now, some of the former Bush Justice Department officials who could be under scrutiny include former attorneys like John Yoo, Jay Bybee.

Their defenders say that they were legitimately devising policies that they believed were fair and justified under the circumstances and did not constitute torture. That obviously could be the subject of investigation of some of these so-called truth commissions that people like Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, are pushing for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We are going to be speaking in a few moments with Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, in the Senate.

All right, Ed, thank you.

Let's move on to some tough questions about the way the Obama administration is handling the $750 billion financial bailout.

The treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, was grilled today by a panel formed to try track the bailout money and how it's being sent.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now.

It was quite a hearing today, Dana.


And Secretary Geithner actually announced that the government does have a good chunk of the $700 billion in bailout funds left. In fact, if you look on the wall next to me, I will show you an exact number, $109.6 billion, to be exact.

And, because of that, Secretary Geithner said, or at least he made clear that they're not going to come to Congress and ask for more money. But, Wolf, the big issue for a growing number of angry Americans is that they need more information about how the government has already spent nearly $600 billion of taxpayer money.



BASH (voice-over): This bailout watchdog panel was formed six months ago, but this is the first time anyone from the Treasury Department agreed to appear.

And Timothy Geithner was bluntly told that speaks to a huge problem.

WARREN: People need to understand why you are making the choices that you are making.

BASH: One of the many choices that perplexes taxpayers is why the Treasury Department may say no to banks who want to return government money.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Why wouldn't you take the money back?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: My basic obligation and our responsibility is to make sure that the system, as a whole, as a whole, has the ability to provide the credit that recovery requires.

BASH: Geithner tried to convince the panel he understands that Americans deserve information about how hundreds of billions in bailout funds are being spent.

GEITHNER: I believe in the importance of transparency, accountability and oversight.

BASH: But, even as he testified, the bailout program's inspector general released a withering report chastising the rescue program for lacking transparency and revealing 20 criminal investigations and six audits.

NEIL BAROFSKY, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL: Our investigations really run the gamut, from smaller banks to -- to larger financial institutions. Did these banks lie to us when they presented their financial information, lie to Treasury to get this money?

BASH: Neil Barofsky's report also ripped a new Obama initiative to free up credit, a public/private partnership to buy bad assets, saying, it could expose taxpayers to fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't get it, Mr. Secretary, how this represents protecting the taxpayer.

BASH: The congressional watchdog panel also raised concerns that the Obama plan tilted in favor of private industry and exposes taxpayers to too much risk.

DAMON SILVERS, TROUBLED ASSETS RELIEF PROGRAM OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: And, if we eat through the equity in those partnerships, is it not the case that the FDIC and the Fed are on the hook?

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now, the treasury secretary argued, their plan to buy bad assets really is the best option for getting credit markets flowing again. And, in terms of the inspector general, Wolf, he made clear that because he does worry that this could be riddled with fraud and abuse, he wants there to be some really tough safeguards to avoid that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much. Dana Bash is on the Hill.

Let's go right back to Jack. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Iran is warning Israel not to attack its nuclear facilities, with one top official saying, if Israel attacks -- quote -- "Iran will respond in a way that they will not be able to sleep easy anymore" -- unquote.

The warning comes a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised tensions between the two countries. He called Israel the most cruel and repressive racist regime at a U.N. conference in Geneva. Israel, which is now being led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line government, says that Iran is developing nuclear weapons that could threaten its very existence.

One top government official compared Iran to Nazi Germany, saying the Islamic republic wants to do what Hitler did 65 years ago to the Jewish people -- quote -- "Israel can never live with the idea that Iran will hold a nuclear bomb" -- unquote.

Meanwhile, "The London Times" reports the Israeli military is getting ready to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. They say Israeli forces have acquired special aircraft that would be required for the strikes and are practicing missions to simulate an attack.

The newspaper also says there will be two nationwide drills in Israel to help the public prepare for any potential retaliation from Iran. One senior defense official told "The Times," Israel wants to know they can strike Iran within a matter of days or even hours if given the green light.

It's believed Israel would need to hit more than a dozen targets if they do this, including moving convoys. The same official adds, it's unlikely Israel would bomb Iran's facilities without getting at least tacit approval from the United States.

Vice President Joe Biden recently told CNN Israel would be ill- advised to attack Iran.

So, here's our question: Israel's reportedly getting ready to attack Iran's nuclear sites. Should they?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

Some serious exercises under way over there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Get ready. You're going to get a wide range of views, I suspect, on this question. CAFFERTY: Yes, I think so.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Thanks very much.

Bush administration official who authorized what some call torture could -- repeat, could -- be prosecuted. President Obama leaves open that possibility, but says those who carried out the interrogation techniques should not be prosecuted. What does the Senate's point person on intelligence matters think?

The Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, is here.

President Obama hopes to engage with Iran even as Iran agitates now. Critics argue the president risks looking weak. What's going on, on that front?

And after years of isolation, Libya is being embraced by the U.S. You are going to find out what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did today.


BLITZER: Right now, President Obama's clearly rethinking his response to what he calls a difficult chapter in America's history. He says he's leaving open the possibility of criminal prosecution for the architects of the Bush administration's harsh interrogation tactics.

Some top Democrats say officials who carried out that policy should be held accountable.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. She is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: The president made it clear that he does not believe that those who actually engaged in the enhanced interrogation techniques should be prosecuted. Listen to what he said.


OBAMA: For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it's appropriate for them to be prosecuted.


BLITZER: Is he right? FEINSTEIN: I reserve judgment on all of that. What I wrote to the president about was to say, please reserve judgment until all of the facts and evidence are in, until the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has had an opportunity to evaluate the conditions of detention and interrogation for everyone of the high-value detainees.

BLITZER: So even though CIA officers who thought they were legally authorized to go ahead and engage in these techniques, you would leave open the possibility that they themselves could be prosecuted?

FEINSTEIN: Well, as I understand it, they were not CIA officers, they were contractors. In other words, private citizens that the CIA contracted to carry out interrogation. That's my understanding of the situation.

We were told this, I believe in 1906, 1907 -- 2006, 2007, and that's my understanding.

BLITZER: So you're leaving open the possibility that these private CIA contractors could be prosecuted. The president is saying -- you know, is now saying, maybe those who authorized, who wrote the legal opinions, who authorized the policy, maybe they should be held accountable as well.

I assume you agree with him on that point.

FEINSTEIN: No, no. Look, I hold an admiration for the Central Intelligence Agency. It's a tough job. It's very -- it's a difficult life. And I want to be very supportive. I'm the chairman of the committee.

On the other hand, we're doing a classified review. I don't want to prejudge it. Nor as chairman do I want to say what I think until I have all of the facts. As I understand it, that's proper attitude. That's where we should be. We should wait to see the facts and then make the judgments.

I have read the OLC Commission -- Office of Legal Counsel reviews, I don't happen to agree with them. But that's what they are and were.

BLITZER: All right.

FEINSTEIN: So let our work get done and then the judgments can be made.

BLITZER: Because one Democratic member of the House, Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York, he says that one of those individuals who wrote a legal opinion, Jay Bybee, who is now a U.S. federal judge, he says this: "He ought to be impeached. It was not an honest legal memo," Nadler says, "it was an instruction manual on how to break the law. "

Is Nadler right? FEINSTEIN: Well, I can tell you this, I sat on the Judiciary Committee, I did not know that Mr. Bybee had written those opinions. I find the opinions rather horrendous, certainly unprecedented, and it's a real stretch.

Having said that, the question of impeachment is another one. And right now, until I finish the work, I'm not prepared to say, look, these are momentous events, these are the -- this is the biggest bipartisan effort the Senate Intelligence Committee has made. I want it to be unvarnished with any kind of comment, bias, or prejudice.

Let's get our work done in a straightforward way. Then the committee will review it, and findings and recommendations may well be forthcoming.

BLITZER: Some members of the Bush administration say the Senate Intelligence Committee, and you've been a member going back, what, to 2001, something like that, that the Senate Intelligence Committee was fully briefed on all of these enhanced interrogation techniques and effectively signed off on them.

Did you -- did you know what was going on?

FEINSTEIN: No. We did not. I was briefed -- it was either 2006 or 2007, as a matter of fact, in a conference committee of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee, I put a measure in the intelligence authorization bill that would limit interrogations to the Army Field Manual.

This was added to the authorization bill. The authorization bill was vetoed by the president. So I have worked for a long time. I believe the use of contractors is inappropriate. That contract has now been canceled.

I believe that we should go to the Army Field Manual. I have legislation again that will do that. So my...

BLITZER: So let me be precise...

FEINSTEIN: ... record is very clear.

BLITZER: So when Abu Zubaydah or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were being water-boarded, you, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, did not know about the waterboarding?

FEINSTEIN: That is correct.

BLITZER: Should you have known?

FEINSTEIN: I believe we should have. I'm not a supporter of the briefings of the "gang of eight," so-called. I believe the entire committee should know. And I believe that briefings should be more formal in that regard so that members can evaluate it.

These briefings are very difficult because the briefings are often obtuse. But this briefing I was not a party to. BLITZER: All right.

FEINSTEIN: So I really can't comment on it.

BLITZER: The former vice president, Dick Cheney, says the documents that show that -- he says, show that these interrogation techniques work, and saved American lives in the process, he wants those documents released now as well.

Do you want those documents released?

FEINSTEIN: I'm aware that he has asked for it. I have no objection to their release. I think we need to get all of the facts and documents out where appropriate in the public domain, and where not appropriate in a classified setting where the people who make these judgments are, namely the Intelligence Committees.


BLITZER: Senator Feinstein is the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Strip-searches for schoolchildren, it sounds shocking, but it's happened, and now the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the issue.

Plus, an invitation to Osama bin Laden -- who is laying out the welcome mat for the world's most wanted terrorist?

And the president leaves the door open to criminal prosecutions of Bush administration officials. The best political team on television looks at what's behind this turnabout.


BLITZER: President Obama today met with Jordan's King Abdullah, even as the president launched what the White House is calling an effort to achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. That may require putting some pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians.


OBAMA: I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have articulated that publicly. And I will articulate that privately. And I think that there are a lot of Israelis who also believe in a two- state solution.


BLITZER: But the president will certainly have to overcome what he concedes is -- quote -- is some profound -- in his words, profound cynicism in the region about the possibility of even progress.

Meantime, Mr. Obama's involved in a balancing act when it comes to policy toward Iran.

Let's go to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. The president speaking out today about that sensitive subject as well -- Jill.


Well, President Obama says he wants to engage with Iran, but there have been a lot of zigzags in the relationship recently. Look closely, though, and you see a pattern.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In Tehran, supporters chanting death to Israel welcomed back their president after his anti-Israel tirade at a U.N. conference.

President Barack Obama takes issue, but keeps his cool.

OBAMA: There's no doubt that the kind of rhetoric that you saw from Ahmadinejad is not helpful. In fact, it is harmful, not just with respect to the possibility of U.S.-Iranian relations, but I think it actually undermines Iranians' position as -- the world as a whole.

DOUGHERTY: And he goes even further

OBAMA: We are going to continue to take an approach that tough, direct diplomacy has to be pursued, without taking a whole host of other options off the table.

DOUGHERTY: Iran isn't responding the way Mr. Obama hoped, especially on halting its nuclear program. But, so far, he seems willing to turn the other cheek. A Mideast negotiator for President Clinton says that's the right approach, at least for now.

AARON DAVID MILLER, AUTHOR, "THE MUCH TOO PROMISED LAND": The administration must find a way, however bumpy the road, to see if they can't find a way forward on the nuclear issue with the Iranians.


DOUGHERTY: But some critics argue Mr. Obama risks looking weak. They ask, how long can you turn the other cheek without getting something in return? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill, thank you.

Jill Dougherty's at the State Department.

And, by the way, here's an image you wouldn't have seen not so long ago, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, today hosting the son of the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. There they are at the State Department. The younger Gadhafi is his country's national security adviser.

The State Department spokesman says the meeting focused on security cooperation between the U.S. and Libya. Relations have warmed considerably since in the half-dozen years since Moammar Gadhafi renounced terrorism and gave up efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

A mother of three children boards an airline flight and leaves partially paralyzed -- the stunning story of what happened when the plane hit turbulence.

And a suspect is accused of being the so-called craigslist killer. Stand by to find out what you can do to stay safe if you place an ad online.

And the Reverend Jesse's Jackson's new offer to try to free an American in trouble overseas -- he's done it before. Could he do it again?


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

Happening now: an invitation to Osama bin Laden to come to Pakistan's Swat Valley. It's now under the Taliban's control, and a spokesman says the world's most wanted terrorist is welcome to settle in the region.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is offering to go to Iran to help free the American journalist Roxana Saberi, recently sentenced to eight years in prison for spying.

And a federal judge says Rod Blagojevich cannot go to Costa Rica for the reality TV show "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" The judge says the ousted former Illinois governor should stay in the United States to fight charges he tried to sell President Obama's U.S. Senate seat -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

All right. Let's get back to our top story. The president of the United States makes a major decision today potentially to launch criminal investigation in to some former top Bush administration officials.

Let's talk about this with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political contributor Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard," and CNN political analyst Roland Martin.

It looks like a major change from only yesterday and the day before, Gloria, because we had heard earlier the president did not want to go after, not only those CIA officers who may have actually engaged in these enhanced interrogation techniques, but the authorities who approved the policy, whether writing legal opinions or others. But today we heard a different message from President Obama.


And I think it is a real shift, Wolf. And I think the president was hearing from senior Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, whom you just interviewed, who are in the middle of their own process of reviewing all of these memos and the question about enhanced interrogation.

And they wanted to put the brakes on this and say to the president, don't preclude us from doing anything, because we haven't finished looking at all the evidence here.

I think this leaves him, however, with a real problem at the CIA. This could create a morale problem over there. But, again, I think the president did change his mind here.

BLITZER: And you just heard Dianne Feinstein say, Steve, the chairman -- the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it wasn't really CIA officers who did the enhanced interrogation, the water-boarding, and the other techniques. These were CIA contract employees. They were non-government. They worked as contractors for the CIA. And she leaves open the possibility maybe some of them should be criminally investigated, as well.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, they were presumably acting on the same legal advice, however, that -- that anybody else would have been in such a situation.

Look, I -- I think this is really outrageous. It seems like President Obama caved to the left here. I mean what you had was -- a bunch of far left groups that I think were make -- were talking about this, were pushing this for quite a while. But it really was on the fringes of the Democratic Party. And now, I think, just with his comments today, reversing what Rahm Emanuel had said on Sunday and what Robert Gibbs had said yesterday, that he has really opened this up and made what was sort of a fringe argument now a mainstream argument.

BLITZER: Did he flip, Roland?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he certainly flipped. And, frankly, I think it's a bad call by the president. Look, you are the president, you make the call. And so it's very difficult all of a sudden to say, well, aides are saying one thing, the president is saying is another thing. You have to be decisive in making this decision.

Now, if you have Democrats who, like Feinstein, they were making these various arguments, you can listen those arguments beforehand. But when you say we're not going to move forward with prosecutions, these things are going to be behind us, that's what you do.

You don't come back, the day after you went to the CIA, you don't come back to say, well, hey, we're leaving the door open, because now you're putting folks in doubt. This is a bad move out of the president. And again, it makes him look weak when he was looking strong before by saying no prosecutions.

BLITZER: All right. One of the -- the former president, George W. Bush's, top aides, the former chief speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, writing in "The Washington Post" today this, Gloria: "President Obama's decision to release these documents is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible acts ever by an American president during a time of war and Americans may die as a result."

Wow! That's a pretty serious charge.

BORGER: It's pretty strong. I think it's a little bit of hyperbole there, you know, But clearly, there is -- there is that school of thought, Wolf.

The White House would argue, and I would actually agree with the White House on this, that a lot of this was already out there -- that we knew generally what kinds of techniques were being used and that nobody should be surprised, really, by -- by what's in these memos, at this point.

BLITZER: Did he go too far, Marc Thiessen, Steve?

HAYES: Well, I think -- I think the president certainly is irresponsible. I think Marc Thiessen, in the piece, makes another point that I think can't be emphasized enough. People need to understand that what happened here was with the release of this memo, the White House, in coordination with the CIA, blacked out some of the information and released other parts of the information.

The information they released was the details about these techniques. What they withheld, what they blacked out was the information that the techniques produced, which the CIA has said itself...

BLITZER: Cheney...

HAYES: ...was valuable.

BLITZER: Cheney wants that information...

BORGER: That's what Dick Cheney wants, right?

BLITZER: ...released, Roland.


MARTIN: Wolf, look, I think what Marc should recognize was irresponsible was for the United States to sit here and say we don't want other countries torturing our folks, but we sit here and torture, as well. So the actions of torture -- that's actually what put us at risk, as opposed to saying releasing the documents.

So maybe you deal with A as opposed to B then you recognize what the real problem was.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by. Don't go away. We're going to continue this conversation.

A foreign policy swipe at President Obama -- the former White House contender, Mitt Romney, calls him a timid advocate of freedom.

Is that a new Republican line of attack?

I'll ask the best political team on television.

Plus, a 13-year-old strip searched because of an over the counter pain reliever. Now the U.S. Supreme Court is taking her case.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Guys, we're hearing a sort of new line of attack from several prominent Republicans, including Mitt Romney, the former GOP presidential candidate. I spoke with him earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hear what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a president who, I think, is still looking to find his sea legs in this regard, to make sure that he can -- he can stand and defend the purposes of freedom. He is the leader of the free world and that has a responsibility which goes beyond just talking about our own mistakes.


BLITZER: He's very unhappy, Mitt Romney, that the president wasn't more forceful in responding to the Iranian leader, to the north Korean missile launch, to what -- to what happened over at the Summit of the Americas.

Does he have a point, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I think what the president has done is given Republicans an opening here, because there is a tonal question here. It isn't about handshakes or pats on the back. It's about whether you should respond forcefully to Ahmadinejad when he says awful things about Israel, for example -- as being racist and perpetrators of genocide.

At a certain point, the president, I believe, has to summon a certain amount of outrage that people -- that people want to hear from him, just the way they wanted to hear his outrage when he was railing against those bonuses at AIG.

So, tonally, I think the president may have to make a shift here. You can talk to people and want to engage with them and nuclear weapons around the world, but you can still say what you believe sometimes.

BLITZER: Even though, Steve, the president ran as a candidate saying there would be a new tone in U.S. foreign policy.

HAYES: Yes, well, I think it's -- I think Gloria is right. It's one thing to have a new tone. And I appreciate what he wants to do. I understand that he wants to sort of start over. And I think he -- frankly, he gets some leeway. He gets some -- some flexibility on that.

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: But Gloria is absolutely right. I mean especially when you look back and you -- you look at the things that he said about Wall Street in particular and calling them shameful and really denouncing Wall Street's actions in the strongest of terms. And then you hear somebody like Daniel Ortega talk about the United States and the history of terrorism. And you've got Hugo Chavez with the things that he said.

And all the president can do is summon up a smile or, in Ortega's case, you know, he applauded at the end of his speech. I think there's a real disconnect here.

MARTIN: Look, cut to the chase.

Who cares what Mitt Romney says?

He lost. Here's what you have. Mitt Romney, frankly, is competing every day in the news cycle with Newt Gingrich, who seems to be every other day offering some kind of comment, as well.

Well, the Republicans, do they have an opportunity?

Possibly. But you know what, they've got about four years to actually make their case. A lot of stuff can happen. At the end of the day, he ran and is doing exactly what he said he was going to do. The American people bought it. They didn't buy John McCain's deal.

So if you're Mitt Romney, deal with it. He won, you didn't.


BLITZER: Hold on.

HAYES: But don't make arguments?

Don't make any counterarguments...

MARTIN: No, you can make...


MARTIN: You can make it, but you lost.

BLITZER: He may be -- he may be running again in 2012, you never know.


MARTIN: And that's why he's talking right now.

BORGER: And we know he is. BLITZER: All right.

MARTIN: That's why he's talking right now.

BLITZER: Take a look at this picture that just came into THE SITUATION ROOM, the president of the United States. He's out there. He's working. He's volunteering. He's got a little pick ax over there. He's planting trees at an event. Earlier in the day, he signed a legislation expanding AmeriCorps national service from about 75,000 to more than 250,000. And he said he and the former president, Bill Clinton, among others, were going to go out and demonstrate their commitment to national service by planting a few trees.

And there he is. There's Bill Clinton planting a tree, as well. Good for them. Planting trees is very important.

All right, guys. We'll see you tomorrow.

Republicans say President Obama's decision to release CIA interrogation memos is making the country less safe.

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A flight that changed her life forever -- an airline passenger paralyzed when the plane hits turbulence. Now, details of the federal investigation.

And it's been dubbed the Craigslist killing -- a public relations nightmare for any boss. The Craigslist CEO is here to talk about it.


LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll be reporting on what could be another big hacking attack by Communist China against this government, this time on the Pentagon's three $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter Project. No one, however, in the Obama administration is saying who's responsible for what appears to be outright cyber warfare.

Also, what seems to be an important legal victory for our Constitutional right to bear arms may not be such a clear cut win for gun rights advocates after all. We'll have that special report on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That and (AUDIO GAP) and apparently, the Obama administration is moving too slowly to implement its pro-amnesty policy. One of the groups now questioning the legitimacy of our southern border with Mexico.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM continues in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now, if your children are in school and teachers think they have drugs, should your children be searched -- even made to take off all their clothes and strip searched?

That's what happened to one young woman. And now the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on this sensitive issue.

Our Samantha Hayes is over at the Supreme Court -- Sam?

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the decision before the Supreme Court is this -- whether administrators should be barred from searching students they suspect may have drugs or be dealing them on campus.


HAYES (voice-over): Savana Redding had never been in trouble before the day she was called to the principal's office six years ago.

SAVANA REDDING, FORMER STUDENT: I was just sitting in class and the vice principal pulled me out of class and told me to bring my stuff with me. And when we got to his office, he asked me some questions about some pills and other contraband.

HAYES: She denied another girl's claim that she had given the other student prescription strength ibuprofen pain pills. And none were found, even after she removed all of her clothes, down to her bra and underwear, in front of a female school nurse and another female staffer.

REDDING: And I just felt like I couldn't trust anybody anymore. And everyone was talking about me. And it was just extremely embarrassing.

HAYES: The Supreme Court heard Redding's side of the story Tuesday from ACLU attorney Adam Wolf.

ADAM WOLF, ACLU LEGAL DIRECTOR: To think that the school officials could have conceivably just guessed that Savana was possessing ibuprofen underneath her underpants was just unreasonable.

HAYES: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed sympathy for Redding, saying: "This search was quite different from the search of her purse."

But Justice David suitor asked whether: "it is better to have the risk of a violent sickness or death from a student's overdose than the risk of embarrassment?"

An issue of whether privacy trumps safety, to which the school district attorney says no.

MATTHEW WRIGHT, LAWYER FOR SCHOOL DISTRICT: They have that awesome responsibility. They need the flexibility to act immediately and effectively when they reasonably believe that the child's health and risk are at issue.

HAYES: As for Redding, watching her story told before the high court brought mixed feelings.

REDDING: It was pretty overwhelming. Kind of -- I don't know, some things made me mad. And other things, I was really glad to see that the justices were competent.


HAYES: This comes during the tenth anniversary of the Columbine shootings -- the tragedy that prompted schools all over the country to reassess their safety measures -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Samantha Hayes, thank you.

She's at the Supreme Court.

His girlfriend tells ABC News he, "could not hurt a fly." But a prosecutor says: "he's a predator."

Today in a Boston court, a 22-year-old second year medical student said nothing. Philip Markoff is being held without bail. He's accused of shooting to death a model who offered massages on the Web site Craigslist. He also faces charges of armed robbery and kidnapping regarding a second woman.

Meanwhile, many are wondering what Craigslist is saying.

CNN's John Roberts spoke with its CEO -- John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CO-ANCHOR, "AMERICAN MORNING": Wolf, this is the second big hit for Craigslist in just the past month. It's also believed that New York radio reporter George Weber met his killer over Craigslist. And now police say Philip Markoff was using the electronic classifieds Web site to troll for his victims.

Jim Buckmaster is the CEO of San Francisco-based Craigslist. And in an exclusive interview, I asked him how he felt personally about Craigslist now becoming, for some people, a conduit for murder.


JIM BUCKMASTER, CEO, CRAIGSLIST: We prohibit all kinds of illegal activity. As I say, the incidence is actually quite low on the site, given the overwhelmingly law abiding activity on the site. But having said that, no criminal use is acceptable to us.

And in the erotic services category, we adopted telephone verification, credit card authorization. Those two steps eliminated about 90 percent of the inappropriate activity on the site. And we're now chipping away at that remaining 10 percent.


ROBERTS: So you might ask yourself if they are so ripe for criminal abuse, why does Craigslist even accept these type of advertisements?

Well, according to Buckmaster, it's because Craigslist users want that sort of material. And, if they were to try to disallow ads like that, it might be seen as some sort of infringement on freedom of speech -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.

John Roberts reporting for us.

The Craigslist CEO, by the way, has a lot more to say about the situation. The full interview with John airs tomorrow morning on "AMERICAN MORNING," beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. The most news in the morning every morning on "AMERICAN MORNING".

A powerful storm, a terrifying flight and a very serious injury -- it's all a matter for investigation. CNN's Ed Lavandera has our story -- Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a Continental Airlines flight out of Houston hit turbulent skies over South Texas. The incident left one woman partially paralyzed. And now federal aviation authorities are looking into how it happened.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Severe storms barreled through Houston last Friday night, forcing flight delays. On the tarmac that night was Continental Flight 511 -- 104 passengers and five crew members waiting out the storms on their way to South Texas. After a three hour delay, the flight finally took off.

But when it landed in the town of McAllen, ambulances were waiting to transport two injured passengers and one injured crew member.

The most seriously injured passenger is an unidentified 47-year- old woman who is currently paralyzed and in intensive care. Her attorney says the woman struck her head on the bathroom ceiling when the plane suddenly dropped in the turbulent skies.


RAMON GARCIA, PASSENGER'S ATTORNEY: We have a lady who is -- got up from her seat, went to the bathroom. While either in the bathroom or coming out of the bathroom is when this situation occurred.

LAVANDERA: Continental Airlines says its focus is on helping the passenger's family. A spokeswoman says the seat belt light was illuminated during the turbulence, but it's not clear if the passenger was already out of her seat when the light came on or if she ignored the light and got up to go to the bathroom.

The passenger's attorney says the woman was stretched out on the plane's floor for the remainder of the flight, until paramedics could start treating her. (END VIDEO TAPE)

LAVANDERA: The passenger is a mother of three children. But beyond that, very little is known about her. Her attorney says she doesn't want her name released publicly. The FAA says it's turning over crucial flight information over to the NTSB for further investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks.

What a nightmare for that.

Ed Lavandera reporting.

Let's go back to Jack.

He has The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- Israel is reportedly getting ready to attack Iran's nuclear sites.

Should they?

John writes from Ohio -- East Liverpool, Ohio: "If Iran becomes capable of having nuclear weapons, naturally, Israel will feel threatened. Remember how the U.S. and JFK reacted when threatened by Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba? President Kennedy was ready to go to war over that. Just maybe Israel has a point."

Doug in Dallas says: "Maybe the better question, Jack, is what in the world -- what is the world going to do when Israel does attack? Israel has shown they'll do what they think is necessary to protect themselves regardless of what anyone else thinks -- and they're usually right. Ahmadinejad is a bully. Israel deals with bullies very well. Iran's fueling the fires of hatred. They'd better be ready for the response."

Paul writes: "Of course they should not. It would only add validity to Ahmadinejad's vile comments at the U.N., spurn more extremism in the area and set the diplomatic process back to square one. The cycle of violence and destruction has to stop somewhere and the quickest road to that should be through focusing on the Palestinian issues and bringing moderate Islamic nations on board."

Marilyn in Florida writes: "Joe Biden has got it right, ill- advised is precisely what an Israeli attack on Iran would be. That said, Israel, whatever you think of the country, has always been a loose canon. If they decide to strike, they won't ask us first. We won't know until we see the smoke."

Rauno in Wisconsin: "Israel should not attack Iran, nor is it necessary. Israel already has a huge nuclear arsenal of its own that could obliterate Iran. It's not even clear Iran has the ability to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. If Israel goes forward with it, the U.S. should withdraw all support for the Israel government." And Ray in -- Ryan, rather, in Galesburg, Illinois: "Israeli forces have acquired special aircraft that would be required for the strikes. Gee, I wonder where they found those? Can we just say the U.S. has set up the region for catastrophe?"

Well, I don't think we can say that yet.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

And look for me at home shortly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good. Go home and enjoy and relax and we'll look for you here tomorrow, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Sometimes watching local news can be, shall we say, engaging?


PETE THOMPSON, KARK NEWS: I have a very important question to ask you. And I'll get down on my knees here.

Can I have your hand?

Courtney, will you marry me?


BLITZER: Jeanne Moos -- she's getting ready to reveal the response to that proposal. That's coming up.

And democracy in action in South Africa in our Hot Shots.


BLITZER: Here's a look at today's Hot Shots.

In Poland, a man prays at a barbed wire fence during the annual March of the Living at Auschwitz.

In Geneva, a woman shouts in a demonstration against violence in Darfur.

In South Africa, a girl waves to her classmates outside a school being used as a polling station.

And in Belgrade, a baby kangaroo is fed from a bottle.

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

When TV journalists fall in love, it can make for a Moost Unusual newscast.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.



JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Normally they whisper sweet nothings like...


COURTNEY COLLINS, KARK NEWS: It's our top story this evening.


MOOS: And...


THOMPSON: Back to you.


MOOS: But this just in to KARK -- a marriage proposal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twisters playing (INAUDIBLE) on the road.





MOOS (on camera): It happened at the end of the newscast. The anchor had just been told through her earpiece that the show was light, that she had to fill, that she had to stretch for two-and-a- half minutes.

(voice-over): But the one who did the stretching was Courtney Collins' fellow reporter and boyfriend.


THOMPSON: Courtney...

COLLINS: Oh, my goodness.

THOMPSON: I just want to tell you how much I love you. Three months in, I lost my dad. And we know that -- we both know that you have been such a rock for me to lean on.


MOOS: Courtney arrived at the station a little over two years ago and it was pretty much love at first sight. Now, Pete Thompson was getting the ring from the weatherman and was on the air on his knees.


THOMPSON: Courtney, will you marry me?

COLLINS: Of course I will. Oh, my gosh.


MOOS: And what would a TV news proposal be without the ultra obvious spelled out on the screen?

Pete said later he couldn't think of any way to get her to lose the unsightly Band-Aid in advance without arousing her suspicions.

The last time something like this happened was at KAMC in Lubbock, Texas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...if you might want to marry me.

How about that?



MOOS: Emily Leonard said she did two things she thought she'd never do on TV, cry and...

LEONARD: Squeal like a wild banshee.

MOOS: Ditto on the heartfelt hugging at KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas.


THOMPSON: I love you.

COLLINS: I love you, too.

Well, I'm out.


MOOS: Not laughing with the grouchy news purists at the Web site news NewsBlues, who suggested: "There's a special place in hell for lovesick morons who interrupt news programming."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KARK) THOMPSON: Should we do a final wrap of weather?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, let's do that.


MOOS: Courtney continued to sniffle through the forecast.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up there toward Jonesboro, Brinkley, Batesville.


MOOS: Doppler radar must be picking up the happy tears.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tomorrow a slight chance of rain to the north. For tomorrow, temperatures in the 60s.


MOOS: And what could be more romantic than the pulsating strains of news music?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

Good evening, everybody.

President Obama reversing course and saying former Bush administration officials could be prosecuted for authorizing harsh CIA interrogations or torture. This is the latest in a series of reversals by the Obama administration. We'll have that story.

Also, Treasury Secretary Geithner faces a barrage of new criticism over the massive government bailout of Wall Street. This as the government watchdog says it's launched 20 criminal investigations into fraud in the bailout program.