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War Before the War; Interview With Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn

Aired December 22, 2009 - 20:00   ET



ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, here are the questions we want answered.

How far does the military go to train our troops for war? A CNN exclusive, the most intense war games you have ever seen.

SGT. 1ST CLASS MARK SHANK, FORT IRWIN MEDICAL TRAINER: Combat's stressful. I want to make training more stressful.

VELSHI: Meet the people posing as terrorists for a good cause.

And is the new blockbuster movie "Avatar" really an anti-war flick with Americans cast as the bad guys?


STEPHEN LANG, ACTOR: I want you to learn from the inside. I want you to gain their trust.


VELSHI: Tonight, one of the stars, Stephen Lang, talks about the film and its real message.

Plus, what in the world is going on in Washington? Name-calling, stalling, antics and temper tantrums. It's circus on Capitol Hill over health care. Democrats have the votes, so why are Republicans vowing to fight until Christmas Eve? I will ask Senator Tom Coburn.


ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN prime time begins now.

In for Campbell Brown, Ali Velshi.

VELSHI: Hi, everybody.

We start tonight as always with the "Mash-Up." We're watching it all so you don't have to.

Let's start with breaking news. The chief justice of Brazil's Supreme Court has ruled David Goldman should have custody of his 9- year-old son, Sean. Goldman had been waging a five-year legal battle to get his boy back.


INES FERRE, CNN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously good news for Goldman, but his lawyer wants to know the details of the handover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just heard this moments ago. In fact, we got the news in a tweet from the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Brazil.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is David Goldman aware of this? How did he find out?

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm standing five feet away from him and he is very encouraged. But he has had so many setbacks that we're waiting to see what the full details are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His attorney now says that they're trying to find Sean to reunite father and son.

FERRE: The lawyer for the Brazilian family has said that they will take any legal action that they need to take. So, we're really right now up in the air as far as what the next step could be.


VELSHI: The boy's Brazilian grandmother has written a letter to Brazil's president asking him to intervene. So, the story isn't over just yet.

Our next stop, Washington, where the Senate's Republicans and Democrats have actually agreed on something. They will vote on health care reform at 8:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The Republicans don't have the votes to block it, but they are showing absolutely no signs of surrender.


BURGESS MEREDITH, ACTOR: Why don't you stand up and fight this fight?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This debate is not over.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The fight is not over.

MCCONNELL: The final vote in the Senate is not the final vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not done yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not over yet.


VELSHI: Adrian. Despite all the political fighting, at least a little holiday spirit seeped into the Senate today. Check out Democratic Senator Roland Burris of Illinois.


SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: 'Twas was the night before Christmas. and all through the Senate, the right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it. We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin. And in the midterm elections, we will get voted in.

Despite the obstructionist tactics of some, the filibuster had broken. The people had won.

Democrats explained as they drove out of sight, better coverage for all, even our friends on the right.


VELSHI: Who can resist some good verse?

And while the Democrats have all the votes they need in the Senate, they lost a vote in the House today. Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith announced that he is switching parties.


REP. PARKER GRIFFITH (D), ALABAMA: I take this step because I believe our nation is at a crossroads. And I can no longer align myself with a party that continues to pursue legislation that is bad for our country, hurts our economy, and drives us further and further into debt.


VELSHI: Democrats weren't surprised by the Griffith flip. The first-term congressman had voted against the stimulus, energy and health care bills.

Well, tonight, some good news, yes, good news on the economy. Home sales are on the rise, and not by just a little bit, by a lot. They jumped 7.4 percent in November, after a big increase the month before. The backstory, first-time homebuyers are taking advantage of the tax credit, low home prices and low mortgage rates.

Let's go across the pond now to London, where some people do live like kings, or princes for that matter. And some don't have a roof over their heads. That's where Prince William comes in. Tonight, Buckingham Palace revealed that Prince Williams spent a bitterly cold night sleeping on the streets of London.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With just a woolly hat and a sleeping bag to shield him from the bitter cold, Prince William spent a night last week experiencing life as the homeless do all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They felt that he understood the vulnerability of young people, particularly on the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William is patron of the Centrepoint organization and spoke earlier this year at the charity's 40th anniversary.

PRINCE WILLIAM, ENGLAND: My brother and I were lucky enough to grow up supported by the love and nurturing of our family. They saw to our education, our health, our well-being and every other need. So many young people have none of this. It is for them that Centrepoint represents the difference between misery and dejection and a sense of hope and renewed self-confidence.


VELSHI: And tonight European media is going crazy over the story that France's first lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, befriended a homeless man. The report says she's given him money, talked music and even offered him a place to stay for a month.

And now for some Christmas cheer guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts. An interactive camera at Rockefeller Plaza right here in New York City captured a very special moment that was replayed on NBC's "Today Show." Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is really cool. Check out what our cameras caught, a proposal midway through. We tracked down the London, Ontario, couple and found out she said yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, boy, they might not have liked it if she had said no. We're zooming in on them and she slaps him across the face.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't that something, how you could just accidentally capture something like that? And maybe they will have that now for themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very, very cool.


VELSHI: And very, very romantic.

And while we political junkies have been following the health care battle in the Senate step-by-step, David Letterman is getting a little bored with all the bureaucracy. It's tonight's "Punchline."


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": The Senate is ready to pass the health care bill. No public option. No buy-in. No opt-out. No trigger. And you folks know what this means? Neither do I.


LETTERMAN: I have no idea. No idea what it means.

It will be -- the first most important issue to Americans is the health care. That's the first most important issue to Americans, at least until the new season of "American Idol," and then...



VELSHI: And that's the "Mash-Up."

We continue our special series now the "War Before the War." You're going to see war training that is so real, it gets some of the troops thinking they might actually be in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And "Avatar," the number-one movie at the box office, even though some people say it's pushing an anti-war message. Is it? Well, I put that question to the movie's Lieutenant Quaritch.


LANG: It's the story of -- quote -- "civilization," a strong people going and displacing indigenous peoples, weaker peoples, more primitive peoples, in order to get what they're sitting on.



VELSHI: All right, tonight, we have a CNN exclusive. But we need to warn you that some of the images we are about to show you in the next story, well, it may not be suitable for all viewers. You're going to see some very realistic war training for our troops designed to get them used to the horrors of war before they even set foot in a combat zone.

Our T.J. Holmes shows us the people whose acting skills turned the Southern California desert into a true battlefield setting. Again, while the wounds shown in this story are fake and part of a training exercise, they appear to be very real. So, be warned.

Here now, our special series the "War Before the War."



T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert O'Malia has lost count...


HOLMES: ... of how many times his leg has been blown off by an IED. And here he is again bloodied by another insurgent attack, surrounded by Army medics scrambling to save him.

ROBERT O'MALIA, FORT IRWIN ROLE PLAYER: I really am missing my right leg. So, when they see an actual leg missing, it hits them. You know, they see a leg, so they actually have to react. And it's as real as it gets before they actually go out in combat.

HOLMES: O'Malia is acting. He was born without his right leg, but throw in a little fake blood and special effects and he's an invaluable teacher here at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

The mission here is to provide the most realistic experience for troops going into combat. It's so realistic that at times it can be shocking and disturbing to the soldiers.

O'MALIA: I have seen every possible reaction. I have seen freezing, shaking.


HOLMES: And that's the point.

SGT. 1ST CLASS MARK SHANK, FORT IRWIN MEDICAL TRAINER: Combat's stressful. I want to make training more stressful. The reason being is, is that I don't want a kid to be out there and the first time he ever sees something really, really bad, it's in combat.


SHANK: If your life is 100 percent stress, I want training to be 120, 150 percent stress.

HOLMES: O'Malia among the group of private citizens, actors and soldiers who serve as role players at the NTC. Though he was never able to serve in the armed forces, he considers this his military service.

(on camera): You have found a way now to maybe not be in the military, but to affect the military, to affect what's happening in Iraq and in Afghanistan through this role.

O'MALIA: Yes. It hits home. I see people that have gone out to Iraq and Afghanistan. After this training, they will come back and they will personally thank us for what we did, because this training has helped save some of their brothers or sisters out in combat.

HOLMES (voice-over): Other role players here include many Iraqi- Americans who occupy the replicas of Iraqi towns to give soldiers an authentic taste of how Iraqi citizens often interact with U.S. soldiers.

Samira Henry came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago. SAMIRA HENRY, ROLE PLAYER: I am from Iraq. I love my country. And I love this country, too. And I will do my best to help both countries.

COL. BENNIE WILLIAMS, 1ST BRIGADE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: I think also the role players here, they have a vested interest in this also. They know if we're successful and if they help in our preparation, the people that benefit from this is the Iraqi people.

HOLMES: Key to giving the troops the best training are the Fort Irwin-based soldiers who play the role of al Qaeda and other insurgents. Abdul Qadeer calls himself the NTC's Osama bin Laden. In reality, he's a 24-year-old soldier from Maryland.

"ABDUL QADEER," TRAINER: I never imagined that I would be, you know, being the head insurgent coming here and then just taking over and then telling other guys that go blow up convoy. Go set up an IED. Go do a suicide vest.

HOLMES: Despite being the most wanted man the Mojave, in his year with the fake insurgency, he's never been caught by any unit that has come here to train.

QADEER: The secrecy is the biggest thing, because when every unit comes here, they want to find me. That's -- their number-one list is, Abdul Qadeer, you're in charge of al Qaeda. We need to find you.

I have heard every single battalion commander says, you get this guy, we will give you a four-day pass the second you come back. We will put you on leave for a week.

HOLMES: Today, he set a trap for the 1st Brigade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These here are dead. These guys are wounded. And he's just got a laceration on his arm. He will be all right.

HOLMES: An IED under a Humvee.

QADEER: I joke about it and everything, but it's a very serious situation out here, where we do have to train every soldier out here to be better at coping with insurgency and how they react to IEDs and everything like that.

HOLMES: But that IED isn't the end of the attack. Soon, an Iraqi police official arrives. And one of Qadeer's suicide bombers tries to kill him.

QADEER: It's a difficult situation to put yourself in, because you're trained to be a soldier. And then you have to right turn 180 and become an insurgent now. And the better we are, the better they are in country.

HOLMES: Qadeer is somewhere in the crowd during the attack, the most wanted man hiding in plain sight. And, once again, he slips away. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: All right, once again, another great piece in the series.

T.J., this has been designed in its current configuration in training around Iraq. With the emphasis on putting more troops into Afghanistan, is something going to change?

HOLMES: They expect it to. They normally do a new unit every month during the year. This past year, they only did two rotations of Afghanistan, the rest before training in Iraq.

And I asked the general there -- when I did the story, we were still waiting on the decision from President Obama. Now that we have it, he said, we are ready to go as soon as we hear the decision. So, they do anticipate in the coming weeks and months they will hear that more and more soldiers will be trained for Afghanistan. They can turn on a dime, month to month.

VELSHI: Is that right?

HOLMES: They can have it ready, change a few actors, change a few of the settings, and they can train for Afghanistan on a dime.

VELSHI: What changes in terms of day-to-day or month-to-month changes on the ground? So, rather than Iraq to Afghanistan, if there a month when there's a certain type of insurgency going on, can they adapt to that?

HOLMES: They get minute-by-minute, day-by-day updates about exactly what is happening in theater, exactly what methods the insurgents are using in Iraq or Afghanistan, also the exact type of weaponry they're using. They get that and they apply it in theater literally the next day they can have it changed.


HOLMES: So, it is -- absolutely. It mirrors exactly what's happening in Iraq. It's always up to date.

VELSHI: Fascinating story. You will be back tomorrow night.

HOLMES: Tomorrow night, more focusing on -- tomorrow, I'm talking to General Abrams, who runs the fort, Fort Irwin, where it started, how it started out, where it's going next, where it is now, of course, but also where it's going next, and evolving, and also the other big player in this whole scenario, the desert itself.

It's the perfect place to train for this type of thing, the perfect type of conditions out there. And they have the use of an area the size of Rhode Island. So, it's a perfect training scenario and perfect training conditions and again it's the other star in this whole -- I called him -- does he feel like sometimes a studio exec sometimes out there?

VELSHI: Yes, sure.

HOLMES: Not really, but has a lot of actors and a lot of production he has to be in charge. So that's tomorrow night.

VELSHI: We will see you tomorrow night. Thanks, T.J.

HOLMES: All right, no problem, buddy.

VELSHI: All right, tonight, one of the stars -- while we're talking about studios, one of the starts of the hit movie "Avatar" is here. A lot of the people who have seen the movie are talking about the underlying political message. Is it trying to make a political statement? I will ask the movie's bad guy.


LANG: Some people have referred to this as a space Western. And, you know, in some ways, the Na'vi, who are the indigenous blue creatures on the planet, they are not unlike Native Americans.



VELSHI: Well, it was a huge weekend at the box office for the movie "Avatar." Its stunning special effects are just part of the reason why moviegoers here in the United States bought $73 million worth of tickets, much more internationally.

My guest, Stephen Lang, plays Colonel Quaritch. He leads the battle to get hold of a rare mineral that humanity needs to survive. Now, the mineral is on another planet. And getting it could mean wiping out an entire civilization.


LANG: Out there, beyond that fence, every living thing that crawls, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for Jujubes. It is my job to keep you alive. I will not succeed.


VELSHI: Along with that on-screen drama comes real-life controversy. Is "Avatar" going beyond entertainment and pushing an anti-war message?

That's one of the things I talked about with Stephen Lang.


VELSHI: Stephen, a lot of talk about this movie and its special effects. And they really are quite fascinating. Are you more surprised that people are talking about the political undertones that could be coming out of this, this movie, the messages in the movie?

LANG: I'm not surprised at all. I think that the concerns, the themes of the movie, the environmental themes of the film, are so overt, that it would be -- I would be shocked if people didn't remark on that.

VELSHI: For the eight people out there who may not have seen it yet, how would you describe it? What is the allegory? What is the story in terms of the environmental message?

LANG: Well, I think it postulates an Earth -- it refers to Earth 150 years from now as a dying planet. Understand, this is a science fiction conceit.

And here we go to a pristine world. And the Earthlings, who are the aliens in this case, seem bent on destroying that world, out of their own blindness and their own greed.

VELSHI: And you say the Earthlings are the aliens. The people from Earth, who need to get this...

LANG: Mineral.

VELSHI: ... this mineral that's on another planet, they are now sort of invading that other planet. They're going there displacing people to get the mineral that they need.

LANG: Yes. It's an old story. I mean, it's not -- certainly not an exclusively American story. It's not manifest destiny. The -- it's the story of -- quote -- "civilization," strong people going and displacing indigenous peoples, weaker peoples, more primitive peoples, in order to get what they're sitting on.

VELSHI: So, your character, as the military leader who's doing this, you're either the hero or the villain, and some have painted you as the villain.

LANG: Yes. I think it's -- I think that is, in fact, his function in the script.

It's very difficult for me to admit that, but I think that it is. And, having said that, what we really attempted to do, it was very important for us to do, was to really imbue him with some qualities that were really laudable.

I mean, the guy is -- firstly, he's the head of security, takes his job very seriously. He's trying to protect people. There's a paternal side to the man. He's an excellent leader. He's brave. He's courageous. He's extremely loyal. He's very, very focused, a lot of really positive qualities that somehow have -- through a history of really vicious, dirty wars back on Earth, some part of him has been shorn away. Some part of his soul and his spirit has been kind of left in tatters.

So, when -- by the time he even gets to Pandora -- and I have to point out that it's -- he's head of security. It's a private security. This is a corporate deal, not a government.

VELSHI: Sure. Sure.

LANG: By the time he even begins his job on Pandora, he's really become pure function. He's something of a great white shark in a way. He's extremely aggressive. He's extremely rigid. He's extremely charismatic in his own way.


LANG: But it has dire consequences on a planet where flexibility and kind of lifeness are really the keys.

VELSHI: All right, Now, here's an interesting thing. Typically in movies where there are humans and other, the audience is rooting for the humans. In this case, the audience finds themselves rooting for the other, the alien, the planet that is being invaded for this mineral that humanity needs, very interesting change in the normal construct that we're used to.

LANG: I see that some people have referred to this as a space Western. And, you know, in some ways, the Na'vi, who are the indigenous blue creatures on the planet, they are not unlike Native Americans. And Hell's Gate, which is where the humans hang out, is not unlike Fort Apache.

So, think of a Western that's done completely from the Indian's point of view, and you might have a -- or where sympathies are totally with the Indians, and it might give you some idea.

VELSHI: Right.

LANG: But Jim Cameron is -- it's not that simple with Jim. He's a smart man, an extremely smart man. And he's an artist of the first order. And, you know, he loves military stuff.

VELSHI: Right.

LANG: Not in some gung-ho rah-rah kind of way. He just -- he appreciates the qualities that go -- why we need a military, why wars are thought. And his own brother is a Marine, in fact.

And, so, the portrait that's drawn of the humans is not an unsympathetic one, by any means.

VELSHI: Right.

James Cameron is so well-known for remarkable effects in big movie. This one is no disappointment on that front. How was it different for you? You've been in a lot of films. How is this one different in the way it was put together?

LANG: Well, I worked on it for a period of over two-and-a-half years, which is a long time to keep a role kind of flaming in your heart. And there were times when I would shoot for four months, and then I would be -- I would go and I would -- I did "Public Enemies." "Public Enemies," we shot it, edited it, and it came out all during the time I was still working on "Avatar." So, the just duration of the gig was one special thing about it. But, also, working with Cameron, there's no one quite like him. He brings kind of a -- this wonderful ferocity to the set. He's extremely focused. He's extremely improvisational. And he's not only a master of technology, which he is, clearly. He's also superb with actors. He really gets down in the trenches and kind of works with you. So...

VELSHI: You're happy with the final product?

LANG: I'm absolutely awed by the product. And I read it. I mean, I knew -- I kind of had an idea of what it was going to be. And still I found it surprising and thrilling.

VELSHI: Well, Stephen Lang, thank you for joining us. It's a real pleasure to talk to you.

LANG: Thanks. It's great to be here.


VELSHI: All right, tonight, a new Army rule is making pregnancy a punishable offense. It has caused a national uproar. Four women have now been sent home. And tonight the general who issued that order is speaking out. You will hear from him next.


VELSHI: New developments in a story we first brought you last night.

A U.S. Army general in northern Iraq, Anthony Cucolo, banned soldiers from getting pregnant or getting a fellow soldier pregnant. But now that general is saying, even if his troops break the rules, they won't be court-martialed.

In a conference call with reporters today, he elaborated on his thinking.


GEN. ANTHONY CUCOLO, U.S. ARMY: Anyone who leaves the fight earlier than expected in this 12 month deployment creates a burden on their teammates. I certainly consulted with my lawyer about the entire general order number one.

Remember, this is just one sentence in a pretty sizable policy. I have not ever considered court marshal for this. I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this. Any pregnancy that's a product of a sexual assault will most certainly not be considered here.


VELSHI: With me now, retired Army General Russel Honore, who's also a CNN contributor. Cucolo once served under him. And CNN legal analyst Lisa Bloom, who's outraged at the no pregnancy order.

General Honore, Lisa, thanks for being with us. General, last night Lisa said she thought this was outrageous and even possibly unconstitutional. You don't take this view?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. As a matter of fact, obviously from General Cucolo's statement today, he recognized that he's not going to actually court marshal people and nobody has been court marshaled. But the facts about constitutional right as far as pregnancy in the Army, while you're deployed, we give up certain constitutional rights when we join the Army. And one of them is the freedom of speech and one of them is the freedom to drink alcohol when you want.

So as far as a violation of somebody's constitutional right who's been told not to have sex, who's been told that we need to keep you in the theater to maintain the combat power, to maintain teams is not about the constitution. It's about maintaining a strong deployable Army where 14 percent of our Army are female, and that 14 percent serve honorably around the Army and we cannot run the Army without them.

VELSHI: Let me ask Lisa. Lisa, I was surprised yesterday when I saw blog comments very much in support of General Cucolo's position and what General Honore is saying. Here's the interesting thing.

This order talked about banning alcohol, banning pornography, banning general bad behavior. You make some distinction between all of that and banning somebody's right to decide to procreate and get pregnant.

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, let me explain the constitutional law here. The right to drink alcohol, by the way, is not a constitutional right but the right to bear and beget a child is a fundamental constitutional right that's been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court for over 70 years. And it's been recognized over and over again in a long line of cases.

And while it is true, as General Honore says, that some constitutional rights are abridged when somebody joins the military. For example, they do have restricted first amendment rights. They do not forfeit all of their constitutional rights. The very rights, by the way, that they are out there fighting to defend. And their fundamental rights are retained. And it is a fundamental constitutional right.

What that means on constitutional law is that it is accorded the highest level of protection. And I think as a public policy matter as well as a legal matter to tell our female service members who are risking their lives on the battlefield that they either have to have an abortion or risk going to jail is absolutely outrageous.

You know, pregnancy does happen. Birth control can fail. It's not necessarily a voluntary act. We have married soldiers who are serving in Iraq who are living together under policy. And to tell those married service members or any service member that they have to have an abortion or risk court marshal, which is still in the policy...

VELSHI: All right.

BLOOM: ... no matter what the general says verbally today, it's still in the written policy.


BLOOM: It's absolutely outrageous.

VELSHI: General, let's -- today, four female U.S. senators sent a letter to the secretary of the Army objecting to the policy. Here's what they said in the letter.

"This policy also undermines efforts to enhance benefits and services so that dual military couples can continue to serve. We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child."

What do you say?

HONORE: Oh, well, we have to skip to dramatic conclusions. First of all, we haven't court marshaled anybody. We are in civil discourse here. The Army has been doing this for over 232 years maintaining this capability to maintain combat power. Women are treated fairly.

And, oh, by the way, it's not just the women. There's a baby daddy out there someplace, too, that if we start punishing people for this, and that has to be taken into consideration.

But by and large, this issue is being vetted. I know General Cucolo. I bet the money on him he's going to do the right thing. And our soldiers and those family members back here that are supporting him need to know their Army is doing a great job.

VELSHI: What is the right thing? What is the right thing, General Honore, when you say you think General Cucolo is going to do the right thing?

First of all, he was supposed to be on the show and he canceled this interview. He did have a conference call with reports. But it does seem like he's backing away from this and in your opinion, is anybody ever going to get court marshaled for having a baby in the military?

HONORE: Well, I can't -- I would suspect that's very unlikely. Number one, when the lead story out of Iraq is about soldiers getting pregnant and getting court marshaled, a big kooha (ph) to our Army and the deployed forces by having to get their mission done and maybe we have too many troops in Iraq now. We need to bring some of them home when the lead story is about soldiers getting pregnant.

VELSHI: Lisa, if they're not getting court marshaled, is it OK that there are rules to discourage people from changing their status as active soldiers by getting pregnant or by getting somebody pregnant?

BLOOM: I believe that the status quo up until this order was the appropriate way to handle it, which is pregnant soldiers get redeployed. They get sent back home to their home base. That's appropriate because we all recognize having pregnant soldiers on the battlefield is a bad idea.

By the way, this is also a clear example of sex discrimination in my view. If you look at how this has already played out in the last month or so since the policy went into effect, a pregnant female soldier has been punished. She was reprimanded. She refused to give up the name of the male soldier who impregnated her. So nothing happened to him.

That's the way this clearly is going to be carried out if we don't get real about it. It's not going to be equally falling on the women and on the men. And that's a big part of the objection a lot of people have, just simply criminalizing pregnancy.

VELSHI: Do you think, Lisa, because you told me last night you thought that General Cucolo was going to reverse his initial stance on this. It looks like he's kind of going in that direction. You think that's what's happening?

BLOOM: Well, he clearly is backtracking today. You know, it's not a very good backtrack to say well, I'm just not going to enforce the written policy. If you really don't want to court marshal people, change the written policy and order, instead of giving him all of the power to still do it. I believe as this story continues to unfold, up the chain of command someone, is going to tell him you have to change this order. It's a slap in the face to female service members, and I don't think it's going to continue.

VELSHI: General, you think that's the next step? Some greater clarity on how to deal with pregnant soldiers but taking it out of the court marshal realm?

HONORE: Oh, trust me, he'll be getting a lot of guidance inside policy but it won't be from telling him what he can or cannot do under uniform code of military justice. You can see a policy shift coming probably from the Pentagon to clear this up.

You got to understand, we've got two wars going on simultaneously. We have troops being shot out there every day, and this is just one of the issues they're dealing with. And that division is doing a great job. And that ought to be the story coming out of Iraq as opposed to talking about the possibility of court marshaling troops.

VELSHI: Well, yes, one probably doesn't --

BLOOM: I like that. He's going to get some guidance all right.

VELSHI: But one doesn't outdo the other. I think your point is well taken, General Honore. It's a privilege that we can probably have a conversation about this as opposed to just bad news. But I don't think one takes away from the other.

Thanks very much for both coming back on and clearing some of this up. This has been a very, very interesting topic for a lot of our viewers as we've seen in the feedback that we've received. So thanks to both of you again.

HONORE: God bless our troops.

VELSHI: Excellent.

VELSHI: Well, tonight, we know precisely when the Senate is going to vote on the health care reform bill but the result is pretty certain, we think. Why does it still feel like a pro-wrestling match in Congress?

Insults, sniping, bullying -- is this what you voted for? I'm going to ask the senator who tried to stop the debate dead in its tracks.


VELSHI: Right now, the clock is ticking. The Senate will finally vote yes or no on the Democrats' bill in just under 36 hours at 8:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24th. Republicans do not have the votes to stop it, but in the last few weeks we've seen stonewalling, name calling, temper tantrums and all sorts of antics to delay the inevitable. It's what the voters hate about Congress. So a little bit ago I asked Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma about all the bad behavior.


VELSHI: Are you proud of or embarrassed by the fact that you are labeled as one of the senators trying to do everything to prevent the passage of this bill?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I really haven't considered about that label. Look, this, in my estimation, this bill is bad for our country. It doesn't fix health care. It certainly doesn't control the cost which is what we have to do. It expands us into a broken system that we all want to fix.

VELSHI: But ultimately, a bill is going to get passed on Christmas Eve barring some unforeseen circumstance.

COBURN: Well, probably so. But this -- remember, Ali, we don't set the schedule. The majority leader sets the schedule, and so you've seen these crazy votes because they want to get it passed before Christmas, not because the country's going to fall apart if we pass it before Christmas but for political reasons to get it done just because so they can say they got it done.

VELSHI: But Senator, you've been there for weeks. And I understand that you've been very, very involved in this. Is it easy for you to remove yourself a little bit and put yourself in the place of the American people who are a little puzzled because most of us don't do business this way? Have you heard, has your office heard that this is just puzzling to people why this kind of thing is happening?

COBURN: Not at all. Our calls are about 90 percent, please keep fighting, do everything you can to not allow this bill to go through. And they understand that this bill is going to lead to the federal government stepping in between physicians and their patients in this country. There's no question about it. It's going to lead to rationing in this country.

There's no question about it. They have three different panels that they've set up that they're going to determine what you and -- what you can get, what you can't get, where you can get it and when you can get it.

VELSHI: I guess I'm trying to figure out the difference between the substantive debate and the stuff that's just procedural. The other day, for instance, you forced a 767-page amendment proposed by Bernie Sanders, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, to be read on the floor ostensibly to slow things down. There was no chance that amendment was going to get passed, didn't have the votes. And yet, you did that until Senator Sanders, you know, withdrew the amendment. Those kind of tactics are a little difficult for people to understand.

COBURN: Well, let's talk about the tactic. Number one is Senator Sanders is a very honest liberal and he believes a government ought to be in charge of health care. I thought the American people ought to know what was in that bill, so that's number one.

Number two, is most of the Democrats didn't want to vote on that bill. So they were happy he withdrew it. Number three is had we gotten past midnight, they never would have made a vote before Christmas day.

So there were three reasons to do it. One is, if we're going to ultimately this plan that we call the bill, the Reid bill, will eventually get us to single payer government-run system which is what most of them will want and are afraid to say.

VELSHI: But ultimately, you can't do anything to stop that at this point, can you?

COBURN: Well, look, the question is whether we can stop it or not. The bill is going to pass the Senate this week before Christmas. There's no question about that.

Does that mean this bill's going to become law? No, it doesn't. And everything we've done is to be able to teach the American people what is in here.

We still don't know everything. My staff has been going over this thing for four days. The new amendment. We're finding new things every day and, yet, we voted the first vote 30 hours after it was introduced, so 2,700 pages of legislation you have to make a decision on with a 400-page amendment that affects that whole -- the first 2,100. You have to make a decision -- that's the worst way in the world I can think to pass legislation. So what is the reason we're doing it this fast?

We're doing it for a political reason. We want to pass a bill to say we passed a bill. Not because it's in the best long-term interest in doing the best right thing for America. As a physician -- Ali, let me just say this.


COBURN: As a physician, I despise half the insurance companies that my patients have. I want to fix what's wrong with the insurance industry, but the government isn't the answer to replacing the insurance industry with a government. I want to tell you, I have a whole lot more problems with Medicaid and Medicare in my practice than I do with insurance companies.

VELSHI: Senator Coburn, thanks for joining us and one way or the other, we hope you all get to go home for Christmas.

COBURN: Well, I think we're going to go home. I hope all of your viewers have a great holiday season.

VELSHI: Thanks, Senator.

COBURN: You bet.


VELSHI: Up next, the first lady, first daughters and first dog make a special visit to some sick kids in Washington.

And we've been going through the FBI's newly released files on Michael Jackson. Get this. They were worried that his child molestation trial might be a target for terrorists. More details straight ahead.


VELSHI: Well, there's more must-see news happening right now. Here's HLN's Mike Galanos with today's "Download."

MIKE GALANOS, HLN PRIME NEWS: Hey, Ali. First off, word that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with the top ambassador. It happened this morning. That ambassador would be Santa Claus.

Secretary of State outlined her wishes for the New Year. They included Middle East negotiations, empowerment of women, fewer nuclear weapons, respect for human rights, dialogue with Iran, enough food for the people of the world to eat. How's that for a Christmas list?

Now, this in Arizona. Three people are dead after a sudden dust storm triggered a series of highway collisions. Twenty cars and trucks slammed into each other. This on Interstate 10 south of Phoenix. Both directions of the freeway connecting Tucson to Phoenix were closed for several hours. Frightening scene there.

And how about this? In Washington, Michelle Obama and the first daughters brought a dose of holiday cheer to sick children at a hospital. They also brought along the family dog, Bo.

Michelle Obama read the Christmas classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and her daughters read a book called "Snowmen at Night." And Mrs. Obama also gave the kids a hint on what she got the president for Christmas, saying it was, quote, "sports stuff."

Sounds good. Ali, thanks.

VELSHI: Hey, I didn't see video of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Santa Claus. We just got reports that she met with him.

GALANOS: Right, exactly. No video as of yet. Secret meeting.

VELSHI: Unconfirmed as of yet. All right, Mike. Good to see you my friend.

GALANOS: OK. See you, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. Straight ahead, the FBI releases new information about the investigation of child molestation charges against Michael Jackson in the 1990s.


VELSHI: While the world was watching Michael Jackson perform on and off stage, so was the FBI. Today, it released files that revealed that the agency tracked the pop star's move for 17 years.

CNN's Ted Rowlands has been going over the documents. He joins us from Los Angeles to tell us why.

Ted, we're talking about more than 300 pages of documents. Why was the FBI so interested and involved with Michael Jackson?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they did investigate a death threat in '92 but the bulk of the documents released today had to do with the child molestation investigations of both '93 and 2004.

In '93, the federal government actually looked into a possible federal case against Jackson but decided against it. But FBI agents did help California authorities with interviews out of the country in the Philippines, Canada and England.

In 2004, the FBI was even more hands-on. According to these documents, agents met with the alleged '93 victim in an unsuccessful attempt to try to get him to testify in the '04 case. A lot of people think if he would have that would have made a difference in the case. They also analyzed evidence which was pulled from Neverland Ranch including 16 computers. And according to these documents, they actually sent an agent from Virginia to California to help local prosecutors with their strategy in building a case against Jackson. Very revealing.

VELSHI: Interesting. In there, there was some reference to concerns by the FBI about terrorism at Michael Jackson's 2004 trial. ROWLANDS: Yes, very interesting. And basically the theory was on that because it was an international media event. They thought that the courthouse itself was a potential soft terrorism target where the media would basically document some sort of terrorist attack.

The FBI didn't find credible threat, but these documents clearly show that they were watching this courthouse and the people around it. One of the entries points out a Black Panther member which was picked out, who was picked out by an agent. It says, "A known new Black Panther Party member was observed to be present in the crowd during Jackson's first court appearance." That was the quote. Obviously, a lot of eyes on that courthouse and that trial.

VELSHI: Ted, good to talk to you. Thank you for poring through that and bringing us some information, Ted Rowlands.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. And up next, tonight's "Guilty Pleasure." Jeanne Moos found a Christmas prank that you have to see to believe.


VELSHI: All right. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. But first, tonight's "Guilty Pleasure." Tis the season to be wrapping gifts among other things. Jeanne Moos shows us the ultimate holiday prank.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you hate to wrap, try to wrap your head around this. You return to your apartment and the TV, the chairs, everything is gift wrapped from the vacuum cleaner to the clock.

MUSIC: Bring warm hugs and kisses

MOOS: To the couch and cushions, from the toilet lid to the toilet brush to the light switch, it's the ultimate holiday prank. And when the unsuspecting occupant came home, he said the same three words --


MOOS: Over and over.

SAUNDERS: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

Almost like a hallucination.

MOOS: While Chicago resident Louie Saunders was off on a trip, about 16 friends who do improvisational comedy wrapped up his apartment. It took eight hours.

(on camera): Was there anything that was disgusting to wrap?

ADAL RIFAI, PRANK RINGLEADER: Probably that bath mat. MOOS (voice-over): Everything was left exactly as they'd found it. The towel on the rack, the food in the fridge. From butter to brew --

(on camera): They wrapped your beer?

SAUNDERS: They wrapped the six-pack I had in my fridge and they wrapped each individual beer.

MOOS (voice-over): Prank ringleader Adal Rifai put video of the gift-wrapped apartment to music on YouTube. That's Louie's shampoo. What is the thing in the tub?

RIFAI: I think there's a towel laying in the tub, so we wrapped it then put it back in the tub.

SAUNDERS: There was a towel laying in my tub?

MOOS: At least when everything is gift wrapped, you've got a nice place to throw the excess wrapping.

(on camera): So how many rolls of paper does it take to gift wrap everything in a studio apartment? About 35.

(voice-over): It was December 13th when Louie walked into his gift-wrapped home.

SAUNDERS: I can't live here.

MOOS (on camera): Have you unwrapped yet?

SAUNDERS: Only unwrapping pretty much the necessary items like shampoo.

MOOS (voice-over): Sure, a gift-wrapped couch is noisy. The place is staying wrapped, at least through the holidays.

(on camera): Did you wrap anything that was already wrapped?

SAUNDERS: I did have Christmas presents for people that they had wrapped and I now cannot find.

MUSIC: It's Christmas every way.

MOOS (voice-over): We mean everywhere.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


VELSHI: Louie's friends need to find a hobby.

That's all for now. Thank you for joining us.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.