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Arnold Schwarzenegger Visits Iraq; President Obama Faces America's Bankers; Where Terror Suspects Are Welcome

Aired November 16, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama about to face the most powerful communists in China, and he owes them money. America's daunting debt is weighing heavily on his trip to Beijing.

Plus, they want terror suspects in their own backyard. Yes, they want them -- why some Illinois residents are just fine with turning a local prison into the new Guantanamo Bay.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger's advice to troops in Iraq -- the governor is in the war zone trying to build up muscles and morale.

I'm Wolf Blitzer CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In just a few hours, President Obama begins some of the hardest work of his trip in China, meeting with communist leaders who are essentially bankers to the capitalist hub of the world. That would be the United States.

America is more in debt to China right now than any other nation, almost $800 billion as of August. And you can bet that figure has been on the president's mind throughout his Asia trip and particularly when he landed in the Chinese capital.

CNN's senior international correspondent John Vause is in Beijing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The real substantive meetings will take place over the next few days, when President Obama meets with senior Communist Party officials, including President Hu.

When they sit down on Tuesday, it will be the sixth time they have met face-to-face this year, an indication of just how important the relationship is between the United States and China.

Chinese officials are expected to push Mr. Obama on issues like a strong U.S. dollar, the federal budget deficit, and Mr. Obama's commitment to free trade, while the U.S. president will be looking at China to help push along issues like climate change, how to deal with North Korea's illicit nuclear program, and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Obama's trip to China began on a friendly note with a town hall- style meeting in Shanghai with university students. The questions were mostly friendly, but President Obama did push it on issues like human rights, in particular freedom of speech.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader, because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear.

VAUSE: And while the president was extolling the virtues of freedom of speech, unlike previous visits by other U.S. presidents, this session was not broadcast live by the state network, CCTV. Instead, it was streamed live by the state news agency, Xinhua, on their Web site, but text only, words, no video. It was also available live on the White House Web site with simultaneous Chinese translation.

But, for the most part, Mr. Obama was seen live and uncensored by only a small number of people on mainland China.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So far, this may be one of the most memorable moments of the president's Asia trip. Some critics are calling it the lowest moment. People in the United States and around the world are buzzing right now about the way Mr. Obama bowed to the emperor of Japan.

Let's turn to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's working this story for us.

A lot of controversy as a result of this bow, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No question, Wolf.

Well, you know, it's the traditional greeting in Asia, a slight bow, hands by your side, but President Obama's unique version of that sign of respect is getting him some disrespect back home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): It wasn't just a nod of the head. President Obama, meeting the Japanese emperor and empress, bows deeply and shakes hands. The blogosphere explodes. "Ignorant and treasonous," one site thunderers. "How low will he go?" the "Los Angeles Times" blog asks.

The YouTube video is getting massive hits. Another site shows how other world leaders choreographed their meetings with the emperor. Conservative pundits say they are disgusted an American president would bow to anyone.

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW FOR NORTHEAST ASIA, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Even within Japanese culture, it was an excessive bow. And it plays into the image of Obama being overly obsequious during his overseas trips.

DOUGHERTY: The State Department claims the president was simply following protocol.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I think it's a natural response of the president the first time he meets the -- the Japanese head of state to show a sign of respect.

DOUGHERTY: The emperor, once revered as nearly a god, now is just a figurehead since Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.

Critics point to how previous presidents did it: George W. Bush, no bow, same for Vice President Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon, a slight bow. Mr. Obama's body language got him in hot water previously, when he appeared to make an awkward bow to the Saudi king.

His press secretary had to do some tap-dancing on that.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I think he bent over with both -- to shake with both hands to shake his hand. So, I don't...

DOUGHERTY: Nevertheless, Barack Obama's popularity is boosting the U.S. image abroad, according to a July international poll by the non- partisan Pew Research Center. Under George Bush, only 37 percent of respondents said the U.S. would do the right thing in world affairs. Seventy-four percent said it would under Barack Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: So, we did ask the State Department to clarify exactly what the protocol on all of this is. And they are still checking into it. They say that the rules are pretty clear when it comes to international dignitaries coming to the United States, but not so clear when our dignitaries, U.S. dignitaries, go abroad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, they are still basically studying whether the president did the right thing or didn't do the right thing; is that right?

DOUGHERTY: Well, apparently so.

But, you know, if you go to the Web site, they say that a protocol -- somebody from the Protocol Office is supposed to be traveling with the president. So, it does raise the question of how all this happened.

BLITZER: Yes. You would think, after the controversy involving whatever it was, a bow or just bending over to the Saudi king, you know, he would have obviously discussed this with his chiefs of protocol. And maybe he did, and that's why he decided to bow this time to the emperor of Japan.

Now, I suspect this controversy will be around for a while.

Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's back with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, first of all, congratulations. Your daughter got married... JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... an extremely exciting time for a dad.

CAFFERTY: It was.

Is this important, whether he bows to that Japanese guy or not? Do we care about that?

BLITZER: A lot of people do though, you know. It's symbolic.

CAFFERTY: They do?

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people.

CAFFERTY: OK. I'm not one of them.

BLITZER: OK.

CAFFERTY: There is no shortage of publicity for Sarah Palin on the release of her new book. Take a look at the cover of "Newsweek" magazine this week. The question says, "How do you solve a problem like Sarah?"

And it says she's bad news for the GOP and for everybody else, too. Now, this is not the kind of publicity that will cause her to be taken more seriously, not that there's any great risk of that anyway. Sarah Palin is all over TV. She's talking with Oprah. She's going to do a five-part series of interviews with Barbara Walters.

But she's very picky when it comes to what kinds of situations she exposes herself to. On her book tour, she is skipping a lot of the biggest cities in the country, places that authors almost always hit, like L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and even New York.

Instead, she is opting for smaller and, in many cases, much more conservative cities. You're probably already hearing more details about Sarah Palin than you want to know, about her personal life, her family, her children, her daughter's pregnancy, the campaign, the spat with John McCain aides, yadda, yadda, yadda, what she thinks about Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson.

Sarah Palin says she was not surprised when she was asked to be on the presidential ticket. She said she felt -- quote -- "quite confident in her abilities."

Well, it turns out she's one of the very few who feels that way. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows only 28 percent of Americans say that Sarah Palin is qualified to be president. That number is probably a little high, actually. Seventy percent say she's not.

That number could be a little low. Here's the question. Put yourself in Barbara Walters' shoes. If you were going to interview Sarah Palin, what would you ask her?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, and post a comment on my blog -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: A lot of good questions to ask Sarah Palin right now, and I'm sure they will all be asked in one form or another, right?

CAFFERTY: The -- the -- the answers are what are always interesting, though, in a conversation with her.

BLITZER: Yes, that is correct.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, appreciate it.

He's California's governor, not the commander in chief, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is giving marching orders to U.S. troops in Iraq. That's coming up.

Also, new fears that Iran is burying its nuclear program beyond the reach of American bombs.

And we're digging deep near revelations about the alleged Fort Hood gunman. Why would a devout Muslim spend his time and money at a strip club? It's a pattern we have seen before with the 9/11 hijackers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I was here in 2003 visiting all of you here. And, before I left, I said, "I will be back."

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SCHWARZENEGGER: And the Terminator always keeps his promise.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's certainly back. The nation's only Terminator-turned- governor says he's pumped up to visit U.S. troops in Iraq. California's Arnold Schwarzenegger is there as he tours the Middle East.

Let's go straight to Baghdad. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is standing by.

Mohammed, a big day for the governor of California in the Iraqi capital.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Governor Schwarzenegger paid a surprise visit to troops here at Camp Victory today. He was signing autographs, posing for pictures, and shaking hands. The governor was here to raise the troops' morale and thank them for their service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHWARZENEGGER: I just wanted to let you know that how much we in the United States appreciate the work that you're doing. Now, I know that you're thinking many times, "Why am I here; what am I doing?" or maybe you're not making the kind of progress sometimes that you wish that they will make here.

But don't ever get discouraged, because there's no one that I know that doesn't sometimes ask themselves that question: Why am I doing this? Is it worth it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAMJOOM: Governor Schwarzenegger also told the troops he would do everything he could to make sure they had all the support they needed when they returned home from deployment.

But, Wolf, the mood wasn't all serious. The governor made reference to some of his most famous movie lines and some of his most popular movies. And he also got a big round of applause when he said why he was limited from seeking a higher office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHWARZENEGGER: I, as an immigrant that was not born in the United States -- otherwise, maybe I would be running for president or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAMJOOM: And the troops really ate it all up.

Wolf, the ones we spoke with afterwards said that this really motivated them, that they were very happy that the governor paid them a visit here today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In his busy schedule, did he have any time to pump iron with the troops, Mohammed?

JAMJOOM: Wolf, not only did the governor announce that he was going to be pumping iron tomorrow; he also told the troops he expected to see as many of them as possible when he hit the gym in the morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for him. I know it always pumps up the troops to see the governor of California and others come over. And good for him. Thanks very much, Mohammed Jamjoom, from Baghdad.

It's the accident that left nine people dead. Regarding that crash between a small plane and a helicopter over the Hudson River, federal officials are now doing something to make sure no more lives are lost.

And the headline speaker promotes openness, but the country promotes censorship. What happened when President Obama held a town hall meeting in China?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In 1979, trade between...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Afghanistan, the leading cause of death for U.S. troops is the IED, the improvised explosive device. In Iraq, new tactics and new vehicles sharply decreased the number of deaths from roadside bombs.

But, as our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence reports, the Afghan version of an IED is very different and very deadly -- Chris.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are making some of these bombs out of tinfoil, batteries, bicycle seat springs, items almost impossible to track, because you can find them in anyone's backyard.

(voice-over): In Afghanistan, it's man versus bomb. Soldiers are getting frustrated, fighting an enemy they can't touch.

LT. CHARLIE DROLSHAGEN, U.S. MILITARY: It feels like sometimes there's nobody for you to blame.

LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Charlie Drolshagen is with the Fourth Engineer Battalion. They go looking for bombs to clear the routes for other NATO soldiers and marines. They're also the only unit to deploy to Iraq this year and then move directly to Afghanistan.

(on camera): In Iraq they would see one person or one team plant a fully assembled bomb, but the tactics are completely different here.

(voice-over): One man gets paid to dig a hole.

LT. MATT FITZGIBBON, U.S. ARMY: He doesn't know what the hole's for. He just knows that he's getting paid $20 to go dig it.

LAWRENCE: That hole could sit for days until a second man is hired to string a wire.

FITZGIBBON: And then someone else will come along and -- and might -- might have a different role in it.

LAWRENCE: It may take a month, but a killer bomb is being assembled even as patrols pass by.

FITZGIBBON: And unless you start putting the puzzle pieces together, you don't realize that that's exactly what they're doing.

LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Matt Fitzgibbon calls the militants ingenious. Another officer in Kandahar told us they have learned how to place warnings that only Afghan civilians are likely to see.

MAJ. SCOTT BRANNAN, TASK FORCE FURY: They will put out word of mouth so, the locals know not to go in that area.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Compared to the more sophisticated devices that exploded in Iraq, the military has a much tougher time tracking the bomb-making materials here.

(voice-over): Officials say, they are so simple, you can find them in anyone's backyard.

LT. MATT FITZGIBBON, U.S. ARMY: I mean, the devices, they are building out of, you know, bicycle seat springs and, you know, all kinds of odds-and-ends things, cigarette packages and tinfoil and batteries.

LAWRENCE: The road clearance team has lost 11 soldiers, including four last month to a devastating 1,000-pound bomb.

SGT. LOUIS ROJAS, U.S. ARMY: The vehicle got blown -- it got blown out a good 20, 30 meters away from the road.

LAWRENCE: Sergeant Louis Rojas tried to comfort the driver.

ROJAS: I was actually caressing his head at the time, you know, talking to him, you know, telling him to stay with us.

LAWRENCE: Rojas, who's got a wife and daughter, has seen so many friends die, he thinks IEDs are inevitable.

ROJAS: Could be my today that we're leaving, or, you know, tomorrow that we're clearing the routes.

LAWRENCE: On the battalion's memorial wall, they have left room for more names. And with three months left in their tour, the unit has dozens of roads to clear before they see their families.

DROLSHAGEN: It's nice to get sympathy and -- and understanding from home, mostly because it reminds us that there's a normal world out there without roadside bombs.

LAWRENCE (on camera): In some cases, the militants would set off a smaller test explosion and then watch how the soldiers deployed out of their vehicles after the blast.

Once they figured out the pattern, they started placing anti-personnel mines in those areas. So, for the soldiers and Marines out here, it is a constant struggle to stay one step ahead -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Very dangerous stuff, deadly stuff, indeed -- Chris Lawrence in Afghanistan for us.

Let's check in with Betty Nguyen to see what other stories are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, no child care, no deployment, that is what an Army cook from Savannah, Georgia, has told her superiors. Military police arrested 21-year-old Specialist Alexis Hutchinson after she refused to go to Afghanistan, saying she that has no one to look after her 10-month-old son.

Hutchinson's attorney says her mother backed out of plans to keep the baby during her year-long tour. This case is under investigation. And, so far, no charges have been filed.

Well, Chicago police are determining if a body pulled from the Chicago River is that of the city's school board president, Michael Scott. The body was discovered early this morning, and an autopsy is under way. Investigators are not confirming the identity, although Cook County's board president issued a statement of condolence to Scott's family.

Well, the crowded airspace over the Hudson River in New York is about to change, in the wake of a fatal August collision between a small plane and a sightseeing helicopter. And you may remember that one. Well, Federal Aviation officials say they are splitting it into two zones. One will be for local air traffic, such as aircraft carrying commuters, sightseers. And the other for long-distance flights passing through the New York City area. Those changes take effect on Thursday.

And the U.S. Postal Service reports a net loss of $3.8 billion for fiscal 2009. That is about $1 billion more than last year. The loss comes even though the Postal Service reduced its work force by 40,000 and imposed billions in cost-cutting measures. The postmaster general wants to reduce mail delivery to just five days a week, consolidate mail facilities, and look for new income sources.

Very interesting, especially in light of that loss, but mail just five days a week? I don't know. Wolf, what do you think?

BLITZER: You know what? I guess Saturday and Sunday -- we don't get on Sunday already.

NGUYEN: Yes.

BLITZER: I could live without the mail on Saturday, if it's going to save $3.8...

NGUYEN: Yes, if it will save some money, right?

BLITZER: If it will save $3.8 billion, that might be worth it.

NGUYEN: I don't know if it will do all that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I don't think it will.

NGUYEN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I was at the post office, bought some first-class -- you know how much a first-class stamp costs, Betty?

NGUYEN: How much is it now, 43, 45 cents?

BLITZER: Forty-four.

NGUYEN: Forty-four cents.

BLITZER: Yes, always...

NGUYEN: It seems like it goes up every year.

BLITZER: Bought a little roll of 100.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: They're -- they're all self-adhesive now.

NGUYEN: Oh, that's lovely.

BLITZER: That's very good.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Betty, thank you.

President Obama is getting a firsthand look at restrictions on freedom of the speech -- freedom of speech in China, the open forum with students that wasn't as open as some would like.

Plus, how Chinese car owners are helping to bail out one of America's Big Three automakers. Do you see something in GM that U.S. drivers -- do they see something in GM that U.S. buyers don't necessarily see?

And they know Sarah Palin better than most. We're talking about Alaskans. They are sharing their thoughts on their former governor's new book and her fondness for going rogue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Our freedom and our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: A new prison in a small Illinois town could become the new home for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Townspeople weigh the pros and cons of becoming what some are calling Gitmo north.

As the Taliban intensify their campaign, is the U.S. ready to step in to guard Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

And it hasn't been released yet, but her book is already a bestseller. CNN's Candy Crowley previews Sarah Palin's book, "Going Rogue."

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

President Obama has held a lot of town meetings, but none quite like this one with college students in Shanghai. It's a reminder that the Chinese still have a -- a long way to go when it comes to freedom of speech.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is traveling with the president in Asia -- Dan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right up to the last minute,the White House was negotiating with the Chinese government over details of the town hall meeting. Now, the president took eight questions, and used this platform to both praise and carefully prod the Chinese government.

(voice-over): Working the room, as he often does in town halls across the U.S., President Obama's most pointed answer came not from a question in the audience, but from the Internet, delivered by the U.S. ambassador.

JON HUNTSMAN, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Should we be able to use Twitter freely?

OBAMA: I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes. I have always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I'm a big supporter of non-censorship.

LOTHIAN: In a country that routinely blocks access to cyberspace, even this event wasn't completely free. As CNN's Ed Henry was talking to students in the audience before the town hall began...

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He was just telling me about what question he wanted to ask President Obama.

LOTHIAN: ... a government official stepped in and ended the conversation. HENRY: OK. But he was just telling us about President Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: Yes.

LOTHIAN: The town hall meeting attended by more than 400 university students was streamed on the White House Web site and carried on Shanghai's local state-run station, but not on China's national network.

President Obama danced around a question about arm sales to Taiwan, was asked whether terrorism still remains America's greatest threat, on his Nobel Peace Prize award, told a questioner, it's not something he deserves, but emphasized the need to promote peace.

Mr. Obama was not asked about human rights, but used his opening remarks to push that message.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation, we believe are universe rights.

LOTHIAN: The Chinese students appeared to embrace this exercise in democracy...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's very good.

LOTHIAN: ... and President Obama himself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): There were no surprises, no tough questions. But a White House official says that the president was able to deliver an important message about open government and human rights. And they believe that the town hall meeting was a meaningful way to do it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian in Shanghai for us.

Thank you, Dan.

Look who has a booming sales business in China right now -- the troubled U.S. carmaker General Motors. GM lost over $1 billion in its first quarter since emerging from bankruptcy, but guess what? GM now says it can afford to start repaying billions of dollars in loans from the U.S. government as early as next month. It turns out the automaker is in better financial shape than expected, in part because of the huge Chinese market.

Let's go back to our senior international correspondent, John Vause, in Beijing -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, industry analysts say General Motors makes an annual profit in China of about $1 billion a year. Even the president said today in Shanghai that GM could learn from the operations here to increase sales back in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE (voice-over): It's the biggest car market in the world, with a record 12.5 million vehicle sales expected in China this year. Until now, only the U.S. and Japan produced more than 10 million cars in one year. And what's hot in this hot market? GM. Last month's sales for China's biggest foreign carmaker more than doubled.

KEVIN WALE, PRESIDENT, GM CHINA: They're off the charts, and they're hard to comprehend unless you live in China.

VAUSE: Bankruptcy in the U.S. seems to have had little impact on GM in china. Sales have been surging all year, thanks in part to government rebates for smaller cars and a perception that American brands are high end.

(on camera): At this GM plant they are making the Regal, XL (ph) and the new LaCrosse, two shifts working from 6:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night, pretty much at full capacity.

(voice-over): And that new Buick LaCrosse has been in big demand, GM's first car since emerging from Chapter 11 in July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking about actually...

VAUSE: In a major shift, the interior was designed in Shanghai, not Detroit, incorporating traditional Asian concepts like feng shui, laying out the dashboard and seats to maximize positive energy, or chi.

BURT WONG, BUICK LACROSSE DESIGNER: We look for a nice elegant shape, nice elegant key lines to do this chi, the chi concept.

VAUSE (on camera): One of the big differences between the American and Chinese markets, in the United States the owner of the car would also be the driver of the car. But in China, the person who paid all the money, well, they would be sitting in the back.

(on camera): So these are the controls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the controls.

VAUSE (voice-over): And so that means lots of leg room for that very important passenger and access to controls for the air conditioner, DVD and stereo.

WALE: And the voice of China is so large, that the influence of Chinese as taste, culture and fashion has got to be reflected in global cars today.

VAUSE: It's not your father's Buick anymore, and judging by sales in the U.S. and China, that's a good thing for General Motors.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And there's that old saying: As General Motors go, so does the nation. And General Motors is doing very well in China --Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for GM.

Thanks very much, John Vause.

The fear: Iran or North Korea could be hiding several secret nuclear sites deep underground. America's possible answer? A massive 15-ton bomb that may be able to penetrate some of the most heavily fortified bunkers.

And ahead of the release of Sarah Palin's new book, how are people in one state that plays prominently in that book feeling? We're going to Alaska.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some parts of the country, they're counting down to the official release of Sarah Palin's book. In some places, book stores are gearing up for a huge crush of buyers.

Our Chief National Correspondent John King visits one place especially grateful for all the attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wasilla's famous resident lives across this shimmering lake. Her image, still a smiling life-sized calling card at the local Chamber of Commerce.

It's mostly back to normal a year after the big election, but to visit Pandemonium Booksellers is to be remind that Wasilla, like the rest of America, is preparing for the next installment of the Sarah Palin debate.

SHANNON CULLIP, OWNER, PANDEMONIUM BOOKSELLERS: I think it will stir it up a little bit.

KING: Owner Shannon Cullip says presales of Palin's "Going Rogue" are shattering store records and re-igniting the Palin political divide.

CULLIP: It's either one extreme or the other, I would say. People either completely, completely have her on a pedestal or don't like her. It's not too much in the middle. You'll have just some people just, "Oh, she's just such an amazing woman, I can't believe what she's accomplished," and that sort of thing.

KING (on camera): And the flip side, those who...

CULLIP: The flip side, "I can't stand her."

KING (voice-over): Palin's fast political rise has been good for business here. Books on her tenure as governor are in the Alaska section. And other political titles sell more now, too. CULLIP: I have a little bit of everything. You know, I have "The Audacity of Hope." And during the election you would find that people bought both. You know, they were comparing.

KING: Palin calendars are a big seller at the moment, and post- election political sales tend to reflect Wasilla's more conservative leanings.

(on camera): Glenn Beck outsells President Obama at the moment?

CULLIP: Oh, yes,

KING: Oh yes?

CULLIP: Big time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The governor's office is down that end of the hall.

KING (voice-over): This was Governor Palin's Anchorage office until she abruptly resigned in July. As new Governor Sean Parnell rises to make his own mark, he, like everyone else in Alaska, is waiting for the next Palin chapter.

GOV. SEAN PARNELL (R), ALASKA: I can really say nothing except that I wish her the best, because she treated me and her fellow Alaskans so well and looked out for us well.

KING (on camera): Do you as governor pick up the phone at all and say, you know, hmm, this is a tough one, let me seek her advice, or have you both sort of moved on?

PARNELL: We keep in touch just on a personal basis. I haven't -- we haven't had the policy consults or anything, but we do keep in touch.

KING: You going to read the book?

PARNELL: Of course I'm going to read the book.

KING (voice-over): Not everyone here is a Palin fan, of course. Democratic Senator Mark Begich among those who choose their words carefully.

SEN. MARK BEGICH (D), ALASKA: I don't know what her future's going to be. I'll let the public make that decision.

KING (on camera): Are you going to read the book.

BEGICH: I don't know. You know? I've got so many other -- I've got a health care bill to read.

KING (voice-over): Fireside Books is in Palmer, a short drive from Wasilla. It will be open three hours early on Tuesday.

DAVID CHEEZEM, OWNER, FIRESIDE BOOKS: I expect people will be lining up and knocking on the door. Sarah Palin fans are not the most patient people in the world. They want it now.

KING: Owner David Cheezem is a Democrat and thought he had a chance at winning a race for the state house last year.

CHEEZEM: The thought was, you know, Republicans aren't that excited about John McCain. I might be able to get some votes here, where otherwise I wouldn't. And then she came in and ran for vice president. And at that point, there's just no way, and I lost dramatically.

KING (on camera): But you don't seem to hold it against her too much.

CHEEZEM: No. No, not if she sells a bunch of books here.

KING (voice-over): Proof that all politics is local, even as the debate about Sarah Palin's national ambitions opens its next chapter.

John King, CNN, Palmer, Alaska.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Our Candy Crowley is going through the book right now. We have a copy. We'll share that with you. Her report coming up in our next hour.

Stand by for that.

What's said to be the last autograph signed by President John F. Kennedy has just been sold at auction. Kennedy reportedly signed a copy of "The Dallas Morning News" on what would turn out to be the day of his assassination in that city.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, how much did it go for?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's a newspaper that in 1936, cost just five cents a copy. But this copy has just been sold for almost $40,000 because of the signature on it and the date.

This is a copy of "The Dallas Morning News" from Friday, November the 22nd, 1963. And if can I zoom in there on the photo of President Kennedy and the first lady, you can see a faint autograph that says "To Jan White (ph), John Kennedy."

This is a photograph alongside an article predicting that thousands of people would turn out for this campaign stop in Dallas. That day, of course, the headline from "The Dallas Morning News." The next day was this one.

The auction house is Heritage Auctions. What they say is this was a hotel worker called Jan White (ph) who was there, an employee, saw the president that morning, asked him to sign a copy of the newspaper. And then she's had it in storage ever since. It's been bought by a collector in California who says that he was willing to go into the six figures for this piece of history and he will be putting it on display -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much. Good autograph.

The woman behind a controversial leader. You've heard a lot about the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but what about his wife? She almost never appears in public, and it's believed has never spoken to a crowd in public until now.

And as we learn that the Fort Hood massacre suspect frequented a strip club in Killeen, Texas, what else might that teach us about his behavior?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're digging deeper on the only suspect in the Fort Hood massacre. As CNN previously reported, the conservative Muslim, Major Malik Nidal Hasan, actually frequented a street club near the scene of the massacre, and that's raising some eyebrows considering reports that the 9/11 hijackers also visited strip clubs leading up to the 9/11 attacks.

Let's talk about it with Professor Akbar Ahmed. He's an Islamic studies professor here at the American University in Washington, D.C.

Professor, thanks very much for coming in.

When I heard about the fact that he had gone to the strip club in Killeen outside of Fort Hood in the weeks leading up to the attack, I thought of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta and the others, and the reports that in Vegas and elsewhere, they visited strip clubs, even as they prayed five times a day.

Is there a contradiction here? Explain what's going on.

PROF. AKBAR AHMED, ISLAMIC STUDIES, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Wolf, there's clearly a contradiction. You go to a strip club, and then you kill and wound so many people, as Major Hasan did, and you shout "Allahu akbar!"

BLITZER: Allegedly did.

AHMED: Yes, allegedly did.

What you are really seeing is a tremendous conflict of identies in this man, Major Hasan's personality. He is an American. Remember, he's born here, he grows up here, he's an officer in the American Army.

He's also rediscovering his own Islamic identity. And it's a mishmash kind of version of Islam, because while he's going to the strip club, that's one part of his identity. He goes out and shoots people and wounds people, and he yells "Allahu akbar," which is very much part of his Islamic identity. He's trying to assert a triumphant, victorious kind of Islam, because that is associated with a kind of war cry.

BLITZER: Is there some kind of perverse interpretation of Islam some justification that these men may have had for going to strip clubs and enjoying lap dancing, while at the same time getting ready to kill?

AHMED: Not at all, Wolf. We should be very clear about this. Not at all.

Even in his mind I'm not sure how he links, connects these particular dots. This really is a very individual response, and it comes, as you say, not only him, but the 19 hijackers. Some of them were doing precisely the same thing.

BLITZER: On his business card that he ordered while he was stationed at Fort Hood he had the initials -- he had "Major Hasan," but he had the initials "SOA." I'm going to show that up on the screen. We'll show it to our viewers.

What exactly does that mean?

AHMED: Now, Wolf, this is interesting, because the American media, of course, is translating that to mean "SOA," "Soldier of Allah." Now, the fact is that many Muslims take Arabic phrases and abbreviate them, so AOA means "Asalaam Aleichem," which means peace be upon you, greetings for you.

At the same time, this could mean -- "SOA" -- meaning (SPEAKING ARABIC). That's glory to -- the greater glory to God. And then immediately after in brackets he's got (SPEAKING ARABIC), which again means the gracious, the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because he's got "SWT" in parentheses after "SOA."

AHMED: Exactly, which is praising the exaltedness of God himself, the glory to God. So, it could be that. It could be soldier of Allah. I mean, only he would be able to interpret it.

BLITZER: But what does the "SOA" stand for in Arabic, for example? Because I've heard various interpretation from "Soldier of Allah," to "Servant of Allah," "Slave of Allah."

You understand this better than I do.

AHMED: It could also mean (SPEAKING ARABIC). It could also mean that.

He could be being clever and using one abbreviation to mean two or three different things, maybe trying to disguise it, or then simply meaning (SPEAKING ARABIC), which also means glory to God. So we need to be a bit careful how we interpret it, because only he can explain it. I would say that anyone using this phrase on a card, a major in the American Army, in itself is curious, itself is odd.

BLITZER: And when about what he cried out, "Allahu akbar!" right before the shooting started, according to several eyewitnesses who survived? Some have seen that as a jihadist warning going out.

How did you interpret that? AHMED: I would -- Wolf, it's a terrible act. It's an act of murder and mayhem. And that, of course, in his mind, again, he's associating with Islam by making this war cry, by saying, "Allahu akbar."

At the same time, we must remember that "Allahu akbar" is "God is great." It's a phrase like many Christians would say something about Jesus or some other religions would use some other divinity in some form. Muslims would use it eating or standing or talking to people simply to praise the greatness of God.

In his case, obviously he's using it to associate with an act that he's committing, which is an act of murder, which is an act of carnage. So it has a different meaning. It has...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're out of time. But knowing what you know about -- you've read, obviously -- you don't know this man personally -- would you describe him as an Islamic jihadist terrorist or just a guy who went berserk?

AHMED: I would say he is a prime example of extreme pressures on a Muslim living in the West where he simply collapses and goes berserk, because what he did, by any interpretation, was not a purely Islamic act. He was acting as a man who was on the rampage, who has just gone over the hill, over the brink.

BLITZER: Professor, thanks very much for coming in.

AHMED: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Regarding Iran, a new report raises some disturbing possibilities about its nuclear program, and that's prompting fears from the United States over how to respond.

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

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests Iran could -- could be hiding more secret nuclear sites, and that is raising the stakes on all sides.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Iran's once secret underground nuclear fuel enrichment plant. The Pentagon is worried Iran is now burying weapons factories so deep, that the current arsenal of bombs can't reach them, leaving the U.S. with no viable military option if a strike was ever ordered.

This new Air Force 15-ton bomb may change that calculation.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: We'd certainly be able to take this out with a massive ordnance penetrator, the 30,000-pound boss.

STARR: This is the massive ordnance penetrator, or MOP, now being rushed into development to be carried on B-2 and B-52 bombers. The most likely targets? Iran and North Korea, which are believed to have buried weapons facilities hundreds of feet underground or into the sides of mountains.

PIKE: Some of those would probably require this massive ordnance penetrator simply because they are buried so deep and no other bomb would be able to certainly destroy them.

STARR: At 30,000 pounds, the MOP, some experts say, will be able to penetrate 650 feet of concrete, a significant boost over current bunker-busting bombs like the 2,000-pound BLU-109, which can penetrate just six feet of concrete, and the 5,000-pound GBU-28 which can go through about 20 feet of concrete.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: This has been a capability that we have long believed was missing from our quiver (ph), our arsenal, and we wanted to make sure we've filled in that gap.

STARR: No air strikes against North Korea or Iran appear to be in the works, but Iran says it could start enriching uranium here in the next two years, and both the U.S. and Israel want to ensure that Iran cannot manufacture and assemble a nuclear weapon.

All of this has now led to more funding for the MOP. The Pentagon plans to have the first bombs available by December 2010, two years earlier than planned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, the Pentagon likes to say it's not helpful to speculate on future military targets, but certainly this weapon gives the Pentagon, Wolf, an option it hasn't had before -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a huge, huge bomb, Barbara. Thanks very much for that.

Today, federal officials are taking a tour of an Illinois prison that could be the new home for suspected terrorists. Just ahead, plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp hits home in the heartland.

And how far would the U.S. go to protect Pakistan's nuclear arsenal from terrorists? I'll ask the veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh what he's uncovered.

Stand by. That interview coming up.

And later, what's up with the space shuttle? One of its final missions ever is now off the ground.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," a win for the Washington Redskins in the United States Supreme Court a day after the embattled football team finally broke its losing streak. The court refused to hear an appeal from Native Americans who say the team's name is offensive. That ends the latest round in a 17-year court battle between the Redskins and American Indians over the team's trademark.

Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A big weekend for the Redskins, right?

BLITZER: Huge.

CAFFERTY: They finally won a football game, too, right?

BLITZER: Yes, I was thrilled.

CAFFERTY: Who did they play?

BLITZER: The Redskins played -- who did the Redskins play?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Denver.

BLITZER: Denver. Denver, that's who they played. I forgot.

I know they are playing Dallas. That's coming up. That will be a tough one.

CAFFERTY: Denver is a pretty good team, too.

BLITZER: Denver is excellent, yes.

CAFFERTY: So -- well, maybe they will get something going there now that they got their court case cleaned up.

The question this hour: If you were interviewing Sarah Palin, what would you ask her?

Jennifer in Winnipeg, "There are many things I would like to ask Sarah Palin. However, I'm quit sure she wouldn't understand any of them and would immediately go into rhetoric mode and babble incoherently."

C.J. said, "I'd ask her how wonderful it feels to wake up every morning knowing that you frighten the hell out of the liberals by just speaking common sense. She makes it look so easy."

T. says, "I'd ask her what books and magazines she reads. I'd also like to know her thoughts on the Bush doctrine. She never did answer those questions."

Tony says, "She mentions in her book she believes in creationism. I'd ask her if she had become vice president, would she have taken steps to have the federal government encourage the teaching of creationism in public schools."

Paulette in Pennsylvania, "I wouldn't seek her out, but if she crossed my path I'd ask her, 'Honey, what is it you don't understand about 72 percent of the American people not believing you're qualified to be the president?'"

H.J. writes, "I'd ask her why she puts up with the insulting, ignorant left that. Does she feel this is the reason that good people like herself fail to run for office, leaving us with the people who only have their own interest in mind? We need more people in office like Sarah, but why would they be interested?"

Jay says, "I'd ask her to name all 50 states just for fun."

Kate writes, "How many Internets are there?"

And Linda in Kentucky says, "I would ask her, 'Where do you go to get a clue?' I bet you can't see that from our house."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog and read many, many more of these. Every time we do a Sarah Palin question, as you know, Wolf, the mailbox gets flooded with responses. There's a lot of good stuff on the blog.

BLITZER: Always is.

All right, Jack. Thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.