Return to Transcripts main page


Israeli Spies Suspected in Dubai Hit

Aired February 17, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers here on THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: controversy over an assassination in Dubai boils over in Israel as suspicion for the killing falls on the Israeli spy agency. We're live in Jerusalem this hour.

A Taliban flag comes down replaced by an Afghan flag as international forces gain ground in the military offensive to drive out militants. CNN's Atia Abawi is embedded with the United States Marines on the frontline.

And top American conservatives in a defining moment, detailing their movement's principles in what they are calling the "Mount Vernon Statement." Will it launch a new era of conservative ascendants?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There are new developments in the case of a Hamas official taken out by a team of assassins in a luxury hotel in Dubai. That killing is now causing an uproar in Israel. Some security officials there are accusing the country's spy agency, the Mossad, of being behind the hit and putting Israeli citizens at risk in the process.

CNN's Paula Hancocks in Jerusalem for us watching this story. All right, Paula, what's been the reaction in Israel to the story?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this point, there are seven Israeli residents who are found themselves slap-bang in the middle of an international manhunt. They say that their identities have been stolen and used by this alleged hit squad. Now, the seven live in Israel, but they have European passports as well, many of them British and one of those lives in the Kabuts (ph) in northern Israel and he says he feels like he's in a bad movie.

These residents are asking what happens now, why would their identity stolen and what happens when they try to travel, because, of course, it's going to set off alarm bells if a border control types in their name, and certainly, that is something they are worried about.

It's not just the residents. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has weighed in to this as well. He has asked for a full investigation asking how they could have been fake U.K. passports used. And according to the Dubai police, they have been used for about the last six months. There have been travels between Europe to Asia to the Middle East. No border controls picks up the fact that they were false. So, this is a question going forward.

And also, we know that the foreign office in Britain is summoning the Israeli ambassador to talk about this, to find out exactly what is going on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's been some serious criticism within Israel of the Mossad. The Israeli government isn't saying anything about this assassination, but some media critics and others are saying that this may have been a tactical success for the Israelis in killing a Hamas leader, but a strategic blunder. Explain the reaction that you're seeing and hearing in Israel.

HANCOCKS: You know, it's interesting, Wolf, because, obviously, the Mossad is never going to comment. They have this policy of ambiguity. The Israeli government doesn't really comment although the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, today said there's no actual proof that it was Mossad. But the Israeli journalists and, certainly, the editorials, which are pretty strong, are saying that it is obvious it is Mossad, but they have messed up.

Now, there is a precedent to this back in 1997, Mossad tried to kill the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. They tried to poison him in Jordan. The two Mossad agents who at that point were traveling under Canadian passports were caught. There was a big diplomatic incident, and in the end, Israel had to send over the anecdote over and actually save the life of the Hamas leader.

So, there is a little bit of wringing of hands in the Israeli media and among some Israelis, thinking, they're assuming it is the Mossad, but have they messed this up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember that incident. The late King Hussein of Jordan personally told the Israeli government, get the anecdote, save Khaled Meshaal's life, otherwise, there will be severe repercussions in Jordanian-Israeli relations, and the Israelis responded to that.

Standby for a moment, Paula, I want to bring in our homeland security contributor Fran Townsend.

What does it say to you, Fran, that the Israeli government is silent in either rejecting or accepting credit or blame, whatever you want to call it, for this assassination?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's sort of standard fare, Wolf. One, these operations are not uncommon, this is not unprecedented. Remember, there was the Russian assassination attempt in London several years ago. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was very -- and at the time, it was actually Prime Minister Blair, who's very unhappy with the Russians. It was a poisoning. There was a big investigation. So, these things happen.

What you hope for is that it's: A, successful, you get the target, and B, you get your people out. So, by that standard, this operation, while there were some errors made here, was a success if it was an Israeli operation.

BLITZER: It could be. But you don't know for sure.


BLITZER: You're just assuming, like so many others, that it probably was.

TOWNSEND: Well, it has all the classic hallmarks of it. Of course, an intelligence service of a national government wouldn't admit one way or another. They're right not to comment on it one way or the other.

BLITZER: Paula, let me bring you into this conversation. Is there a sense in Israel that it's one thing to go out and assassinate a Hamas official in Gaza using a drone, for example, some sort of missile, a hellfire missile, which the United States tries to do in Pakistan against al Qaeda or Taliban operatives, but it's another thing to send in a hit squad into a third country like the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai in this case, and actually assassinate someone who is on their hit list? Is that a subject that's being discussed right now in Israel?

HANCOCKS: Well, certainly, Wolf. If this had happened in Gaza, I really don't think that we'd be discussing it at this point. It is the fact that it is on a third territory even though this Hamas leader was actually living in Syria.

And the fact is, many Israelis do trust their government and their intelligence agency. If they are told, as we have been told by Israeli security forces, that this man, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was a key link between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and he was actively smuggling arms into Gaza, the main thing that Israelis are going to think is, thanks goodness he's been taken out of the equation, because they believe he was a security threat to the state.

Now, obviously, we are hearing now that they believe it has been a strategic threat, this is what the editorials are saying, but there could be embarrassment about to come around the corner if, in fact, it does turn out that these false identities were taken from Israelis, and it does implicate even further Mossad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Fran into this conversation.

Fran, to a lot of Israelis, Hamas is terrorist organization, sort of the equivalent as al Qaeda is for the United States. Here's a hypothetical: would the U.S., if it learned of an al Qaeda leader, a top al Qaeda leader in a third country, go out and send out an assassination hit squad to kill that al Qaeda leader -- not with a drone missile, not with a remotely targeted device, but actually go out there and assassinate an al Qaeda leader in a third country like the United Arab Emirates?

TOWNSEND: Well, let's look for a moment what this prior administrations have said about Osama bin Laden, if they find him wherever he is. And that's often included Pakistan because of the tribal areas, we would get him. So, I don't -- I wouldn't comment, Wolf, on any particular case, but I will tell you, this is what intelligence agencies do. They are supporting the foreign policy of their governments, and they do things covertly, they travel covertly. And while many governments now will act outraged by the use of British or Irish passports, their intelligence services are all about the same thing to protect their citizens.

BLITZER: As they say in the old TV show, "Mission Impossible," the secretary will disavow any knowledge --

TOWNSEND: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- if you are captured or killed.

Fran, thanks very much. Paula, thanks to you as well.

We'll continue to follow this story.


BLITZER: All right. There's new information coming in from Port-au- Prince. Let's go to CNN David McKenzie on those missionaries who are being released by the government in Haiti.

What are we learning, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Wolf, just moments ago from this central police station, eight of those missionaries who have been accused of taking some children across the Dominican Republic, accused of trafficking, in fact, they are out there, a judge order, they've just been released, Wolf, moments ago. They were brought out of their cell and a massive media scrum. They were brought out and taken into the State Department van and State Department officials, and close to the central police station where the government has open up base and enter a secure area where the escort details.

Wolf, we don't know at this point whether they are leaving tonight, but certainly, eight of them have been released in some kind of bail arrangement. Two of them remain still in jail according to the lawyers and according to any kind of (INAUDIBLE) that is Laura Silsby, and Charisa Coulter. Silsby is widely believed to be, as the ring leader of this group, has faced more serious accusations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of these developments with you, David. Thank you.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with the "Cafferty File."

Also, a day of critical advances in the battle to oust Taliban militants from a key stronghold. We have a report just in from the frontlines in Afghanistan.

And he died after a routine surgery over at the National Naval Medical Center. Now, the Navy is announcing a review of a death of Congressman John Murtha.

Plus, conservatives defining themselves and signing a statement of their principles and beliefs. We'll talk to Eric Erickson of He was there. He signed what's being called the "Mount Vernon Statement."


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CAFFERTY FILE: Wolf, some Canadian doctors want their government to decriminalize euthanasia. They say that euthanasia is already widely practiced in Quebec's hospitals and that the government should stop ignoring that fact. They say doctors know when the death is, quote, "imminent and inevitable" and suggest that there ought to be guidelines for medical professionals to follow in such circumstances.

Those who support what they called "dying with dignity" say it could apply to patients with a terminal disease like cancer or children born with serious medical conditions or seniors whose bodies are simply shutting down on them.

Euthanasia is legal in some countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium. Switzerland allows doctor-assisted suicide.

Here in the U.S., Washington state and Oregon have laws that allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally-ill patients. The patients have to be at least 18 years old and mentally competent. There is some support for a similar rule in Montana.

Euthanasia has long been a controversial issue, much like abortion, especially among religious groups. Critics worry that doctor-assisted suicide would pressure people with terminal illnesses who may be poor or disabled to end their lives early. Supporters insist it's a dignified way for people who are suffering to go in peace.

One of the most well-known supporters of euthanasia is Jack Kevorkian, of course, dubbed "Dr. Death." He served eight years in prison after saying that he had assisted in at least 130 deaths.

So, here's the question: should euthanasia be legal? Go to, and give us your thoughts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And update now from President Obama on that major anti-Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. He huddled with his national security team over in the White House Situation Room. The U.S.-led multinational forces are gaining ground in their battle to oust the Taliban from a key stronghold.

CNN's Atia Abawi is embedded with U.S. Marines. She filed this report just a little while ago.


ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Hellfire missile targeting the bunker of a suspected Taliban commander. On day five of Operation Moshtarak, the marines are fighting a relentless enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: The insurgents are moving from the south up to here. They're mainly in this area here, and what they're doing is they're trying to maneuver around us through this area.

ABAWI: But using slow and methodical tactics, the U.S. troops say they are gaining ground in more parts of the city of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold. And in a show of confidence, the provincial governor and commanding generals visited the city, raising the Afghan flag in one of Marjah's main markets, a market that now stands empty after the shop owners fled the fighting.

But is it too soon to be celebrating? While government officials in Kabul point to successes, commanders on the ground remain caution. They are not announcing a victory just yet.

BRIG. GEN. LARRY NICHOLSON, U.S. MARINES: I think that the Afghan government is getting a little -- maybe a little ahead of themselves frankly. I think we're in. I mean, the interesting thing is, we got 5,000 Marines and Afghan soldiers in Marjah, continuing to work everyday. Do we control all of Marjah? No.

ABAWI: But they hope that will soon change, now that they are getting extra help and support with the arrival of more Afghan national security forces.

(on camera): Today, 95 Afghan National Civil Order Police arrived into the city of Marjah. The reason they were chosen over the Afghan National Police is because they have more training and years of experience -- in fact, more experience than many of the Afghan soldiers that arrived with the Marines the day the operation began.

(voice-over): With the civil order police bringing in additional supplies and ready to take up their positions, the Marines will now be able to push further into the city.

CAPT. CARL HAVENS, U.S. MARINES: They got, I think, seven or eight trucks fully loaded, loaded capable of doing things that we need to do as well besides just regular police work. So, we are going to go back to figure out how we're going to integrate them and see if we can free up any of my guys to push them out to T.C. (ph) Marjah and secure that area.

ABAWI: A reminder that the fight is far from over.

Back at the market, the celebration has ended, and this cherished Afghan flag is coming down. The Afghan soldiers here are replacing it with a smaller, older version. A flag they say they don't mind losing if the Taliban come back, and this bazaar becomes a battleground again.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: New details of the violent past of that Alabama professor accused of gunning down three colleagues. We're now learning of an assault over a booster chair. Stand by.

And controversy in the stronghold of the National Rifle Association -- how a new law is heating up the gun debate.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what else is going on?


Well, a small plane slams into a northern California neighborhood, stuck in by heavy fog, three people inside the Cessna died. Two homes caught fire and a day care center was showered with debris, but fortunately, no one on the ground was hurt. Witnesses say it looked like the plane clipped some power lines before it went down.

And in Texas, two men died when a plane there crashed into a concrete storage building and split into pieces. The pilot and passenger of the twin engine left the airport only minutes before the accident. Witnesses describe hearing the sounds of an engine stalling right before the plane fell from the sky.

A North Carolina man convicted of murder will go free because of mistakes made during his trial more than a decade ago. It's the first win for the North Carolina Innocence Commission, the only state-level panel of its kind. Judges made the ruling after questions were raised on how state experts used evidence for the conviction. The 47-year- old always maintained his innocence.

And there's more evidence coming to light that the Alabama professor accused of killing her colleagues had a violent past. Massachusetts authorities say Amy Bishop was charged with assault in a nearly eight- year-old case. She is accused of attacking a woman at an IHOP restaurant over a child's booster seat. Bishop faces capital murder and attempted murder charges in the shootings at the University of Alabama in Huntsville last week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you. Standby, we're going to get back to you.

Lost or stolen guns ending up in the hands of criminals. It's a huge problem that Pennsylvania cities are trying to tackle by requiring gun owners to file reports when their firearm goes missing. The new rules are stirring up controversy in a state known as an NRA stronghold.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we spent a lot of time this week examining how guns are illegally trafficked across the United States, but we thought we should also took a little bit of time to examine maybe a possible solution. One idea in particular took us to the state of Pennsylvania where an idea there has been quite controversial.

JANA FINDER, CEASEFIRE PA: So, we got tired of hearing people complain.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Jana Finder says not enough is being done to keep illegally trafficked guns off Pennsylvania streets. This might be the heart of the northeastern gun country.

FINDER: Report their handguns when their lost or stolen to the police.

LAVANDERA: But Finder, along with a group called CeaseFire PA, has launched a grassroots campaign to get local governments to sign on to what's become a highly controversial law called lost and stolen ordnances. Supporters of gun rights hate it. The ordinances require gun owners to report if their weapon have been lost or stolen usually within 24 hours.

FINDER: There is very strong support for law officers because they have told us that this kind of requirement would give them another investigative tool to help crackdown and reduce the number of illegal handguns in our streets.

LAVANDERA: Finder says these laws target the number one source of guns for criminals, people with clean records who buy guns then supply them to street criminals, so-called straw purchasers.

(on camera): The battle over straw purchase ordinances is being waged across small towns all over Pennsylvania, in city council chambers like this one here in Duquesne.

(voice-over): Duquesne City Council was one of the latest to get behind. So far, 25 Pennsylvania cities have adopted the ordinance.

MAYOR PHIL KRIVACEK, DUQUESNE, PENNSYVLANIA: I think that doing this gives us a chance to maybe to reduce the violence in the city.

LAVANDERA: That maybe, in the mayor's answer, is what infuriates Ken Stolfer and his gun rights activist group called Firearm Owners Against Crime.

KEN STOLFER, FIREARMS OWNER AGAINST CRIME: To come up with an idea and adopt it based on "Well, it might work," is ridiculous. We wouldn't get into an airplane that might fly. There is an awful lot of laws relating to firearms. The real problem here is that it's not illegal to lose a firearm. It's not illegal to have it stolen. But they want to prosecute you for being in that situation.

LAVANDERA: Supporters of the lost and stolen ordnance say it's a way to keep a tighter watch on the guns that go missing.

Gun control advocates say images like these are playing off too often across Pennsylvania. Six law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year alone. This funeral honored Officer Michael Crenshaw, who was murdered with an AK-47 in this neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh. Investigators say that the suspect was wearing a ankle bracelet, a parolee on drug and gun charges.

So far, more than 100 police departments have come out in support of the lost and stolen ordinances.

But not everyone in law enforcement thinks it's the answer. Penn Hill's police chief, Howard Burton, says lost or stolen, it's just another feel-good law that would not have saved Officer Michael Crenshaw.

CHIEF HOWARD BURTON, PENN HILLS POLICE: You still have to realize we're dealing with the criminal element. No matter how many laws that are out there, they still will be broken.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Another source of frustration for the critics is the fact that it's best as we can tell no one has been arrested or charged with violating the lost and stolen ordinances. Supporters say that it's still early, that these laws only started gaining steam about a year ago. Several have been tied up in lawsuits and other police departments are still figuring out the best way of implementing them -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in Dallas for us -- thank you.

A new political manifesto is unveiled by a group of well-known political conservatives at an historic site. We're going to tell you what they are urging Republicans to do, and we'll talk with a major supporter of the mission.

The death of a veteran major congressman now under review. Naval officials want to know why John Murtha died after a relatively routine operation.

And the window on the world -- we're going to show some spectacular views of earth and space never seen before.


BLITZER: To our viewers here on THE SITUATION ROOM -- happening now: John Murtha's medical treatment is now under official review. Naval officials want to find out why the Pennsylvania congressman died after routine surgery. We'll have a report from our senior medical correspondent. Stand by.

NASA astronauts get a new window on the world, stunning views from space out of the space station's brand new observation deck. It's a sight so spectacular, it moved some of them to tears.

And Tiger Woods is gearing up to step back into the spotlight. The golf champ is getting ready to make his first public appearance since the scandal surrounding his personal life hit the headlines.

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


BLITZER: Some leading U.S. conservatives are hoping that a new document will galvanize their movement and help to lead it back into power. It's called the "Mount Vernon Statement" and it details core conservative principles and beliefs.

Eric Erickson is among those who signed it. He's managing editor of the popular conservative blog And Eric is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: What do you hope to achieve by this?

ERICKSON: Beginning again the conversation on what the principles of the Constitution are and why the country was founded, reminding people that under the Constitution, Congress only has 17 powers. It's actually supposed to be very limited in a day and age when we think Congress can do anything it wants.

BLITZER: Is this the equivalent of the Contract with America was back in the '90s?

ERICKSON: Not necessarily, in that the Contract with America had specific items of legislation it wanted to be passed. I was actually delighted that the conservative movement has released a statement that didn't contain the words "contract" or "Reagan" in it.

BLITZER: I read the whole statement. Let's go through some of it and maybe you can flesh out what -- what you mean. And you endorsed this. Among other things, it says: "In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics."

Give me an example. You don't -- you don't spell out details, but what do you mean by that?

ERICKSON: Well, for example, again, people think that Congress has the power to impose an individual mandate on health care and require individuals to buy health care insurance. That's nowhere in Section 1 -- Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

BLITZER: But that's something the U.S. Supreme Court could adjudicate...


BLITZER: -- down the road if -- if the Congress goes too far and it's deemed unconstitutional.

ERICKSON: Exactly.

BLITZER: That's why there's a legislative branch of the U.S. government.

ERICKSON: Right. But there's also a citizenry that forgets that Article 1, Section 8 only says they can do 17 things.

BLITZER: All right, well, let's go -- let's go on to some more, because I want to press you on some more specifics.


BLITZER: "The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist."

ERICKSON: Right. We live in a day and age where the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness or the pursuit of private property has been undermined by institutions such as universities, liberal academia, by the left in general, according to the conservative viewpoint, that there are actually things in life that are true and we shouldn't hide from those truths. There is good, there is evil, there's truth. And a lot of people these days forget that some things are black and white.

BLITZER: But who could disagree?

Here are the self-evident truths in the Declaration of the Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?"

Now, who disagrees with that?

ERICKSON: Well, you know, ask the people upset about Tim Tebow's commercial about the life issue. On the liberty issue, ask -- ask the Congressional Democrats who want to run Congress...

BLITZER: But are there -- are there names you want to...


BLITZER: All right, who disagrees with the 1776 Declaration of Independence?

ERICKSON: Oh, no one says they disagree, but people forget and reinterpret it over time. And that's why the purpose of this -- this conversation is starting, because people have reinterpreted it over time. It's -- it's like the bible, all of a sudden, 2,000 years later, it's different than what it was meant to be.

BLITZER: Here's another line from the Mt. Vernon Statement: "The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant."

All right, who is -- who -- who are you accusing...

ERICKSON: Well, you know...

BLITZER: -- of seeing the Constitution as obsolete and irrelevant?

ERICKSON: This is Democrats and Republicans. You've got Utah Senator Bob Bennett, who once said that it was an outmoded document of an agrarian society. You've got Barack Obama, who totally ignores the -- the limits of the government.

BLITZER: Like what?

Give me an example.

Where is he dismissing the Constitution as obsolete and irrelevant?

ERICKSON: Well, I mean you can go back to the health care debate.

Does Congress even have the right to weigh in on the health care debate?

This is an issue worth discussing...

BLITZER: Well, so many congress...

ERICKSON: -- is it Constitutional?

BLITZER: Well, so many presidents have talked about health care. For seven presidents, they've failed to get health care reform passed...


BLITZER: But they've all talked about it.


But does the government have the power to completely take it over, to shut out the private sector?

BLITZER: But the point that I'm trying to make is, isn't the -- the Supreme Court the final decision maker when it comes to whether or not the legislative branch or the executive branch goes too far?

ERICKSON: No. I don't think the Supreme Court is. And I don't think the founders of the Constitution did. We live in a day where we think when the Supreme Court says something is so, that's the case. But the Supreme Court changes its mind. It's not infallible.

BLITZER: Because I -- I read the statement and I think most Americans, if they read the statement, per se, they'll say, what's so controversial about this?

You just say that liberty is important...


BLITZER: -- democracy is important, freedom is important.

ERICKSON: And that's why I think this has to be a first step. This was on the 50th anniversary of the Sharon Statement that William F. Buckley authored where there actually were more specific principles so...


BLITZER: So more...


BLITZER: You're saying more -- more to come?

ERICKSON: I think more will come.

BLITZER: But no Contract With America with specific -- the Contract With America...

ERICKSON: You know...

BLITZER: -- had specific ideas.

ERICKSON: Conservatives get into this habit where they want to call everything a contract because of 1994 and they want to resurrect Reagan every time they say something. This is first time the conservative movement has gotten together and hasn't done either, which I think is a step of maturity.

BLITZER: And let's be precise, this is not the Tea Party movement?

ERICKSON: This is not the Tea Party movement, but I think you'll see the Tea Party movement embrace something like this and the -- the Sharon Statement from 1960.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

Thanks for coming in and explaining it.

ERICKSON: Thank you.

Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Erick Erickson, a good guy.

Now there's one more thing you have -- you have to deal with the next time you go through airport security. Don't be surprised if someone asks to see your hands.

What's going on here?

And details of the review that the U.S. Navy has now ordered into the death of Congressman John Murtha.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people seem to miss. They never get that right. They...



BLITZER: The U.S. Navy is now taking a harder look at the hospital care Congressman John Murtha received right before he died. A senior U.S. Military official tells CNN the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, right outside Washington, is now reviewing the case. Murtha had his gallbladder removed at the center last month and he died a few days later.

Let's talk about this with our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen -- Elizabeth, it's a fairly routine operation, yet he's dead.

What's going on here?


People hardly ever have complications from just getting their gallbladder removed. There is one complication that sometimes can happen, which is that the intestines get nicked, the person gets an infection and can die.

And, Wolf, it was on your show that we broke the news about 10 days ago that a source close to Murtha said that, in his case, his intestines were, indeed, nicked.

And now the National Naval Medical Center is doing a review, that's according to my colleague, Barbara Starr, who's doing a great job investigating this.

Let's look at the timeline of what happened here, because I think it is very, very telling. What happened is that on January 28th, he underwent gallbladder surgery. January 31st, less than two days later, he was admitted not just into the hospital, but into intensive care. That's how sick he was. He never got out of intensive care. He died on February 8th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this is relatively routine, though all surgery, potentially, could be complicated. But gallbladder surgery is -- is relatively routine.

These kinds of surgical errors, how often do they happen?

COHEN: You know what, Wolf, they happen much more than you think. And we have it right from the horse's mouth. There was a study that was done where doc -- where researchers asked surgeons, how often have you made a -- an error recently?

And 9 percent of surgeons said that they had made a major error in the past three months. I think that's very telling.

BLITZER: You've got to always be careful and cautious before going into any kind of surgery whether very, very complicated or routine.

Elizabeth, thanks very much.

We'll stay on top of this investigation by the U.S. Navy. A special election to fill Senator Murtha's seat in Pennsylvania will be held on the state's primary day. That's May 18th. Murtha's term ends in January. The May 18th election will also determine the Republican and Democratic nominees for November's general election.

Let's go Lisa Sylvester.

She's got a story that's just developing right now.

What's going on -- Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, new developments in the Toyota recall. The government now says it will open a formal investigation into potential power steering issues in 2009 and 2010 model Corollas. It all begins tomorrow, as the Transportation Department begins its probe, with an estimated 500,000 vehicles.

Earlier today, Toyota announced it was considering a recall as one option, but said there fewer the 100 complaints. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received about 150 complaints from drivers.

Students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville say before Amy Bishop went on a bloody rampage on campus, allegedly, they complained that the biology professor was ineffective and acted strangely during class. The group even sent the department head a signed petition. And on the day of the shooting, one witness said she knew something with Bishop wasn't right.

PROF. DEBRA MORIARTY, CAMPUS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I don't really know that her face changed at all during any of it. And she -- she looked angry when I first saw her. You know, the -- somebody who just was mad at you and was going to shoot you, like, you know. And -- and I don't think that that changed. She didn't -- when she saw me, it wasn't any different. It was not like, oh, here's Deb, let me shoot her, too, you know?

It was just that face was there.


SYLVESTER: Coming up in our next hour, we'll have much more from a survivor of the deadly rampage in Alabama. And we'll reveal more about who Amy Bishop is, including more evidence of a violent past

And add to your airport security process hand swabbing. Yes, the Transportation Security Administration is launching a new program that will allow screeners to wipe randomly picked passenger's hands to look for traces of explosives. The measure comes after the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight.

And a live look now at New York City -- well, some there could have a very painful wait ahead for their tax refund checks. Governor David Paterson hopes to offset a $1.4 billion budget gap by holding onto some of the checks to maintain the state cash flow. If the move is approved, New York would be the third state to do this, this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

We'll get back to you.

By the way, if you caught the vice president earlier in the day marking the one year anniversary of the economic stimulus plan, you might have noticed a small black mark on Joe Biden's forehead. The vice president is just one of many Christians around the world observing the holy day known as Ash Wednesday. During church services today, clergy members will be placing ashes made of the -- a palm on the foreheads of Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans as a symbol of their own mortality. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 day period of fasting and repentance known as Lent, which precedes the Easter holiday. This year, Easter falls, by the way, on Sunday, April 4th.

Major breaking news about those Idaho missionaries arrested on kidnapping charges in Haiti. Some of them have been released and are about to head home to the United States. We'll have a live report coming up from Port-au-Prince.

And what does the president say when he phones astronauts in space?

We have the videotape. You'll see it. You'll hear it. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's been an extremely momentous day for astronauts on board the International Space Station. First, they were treated to really spectacular views of Earth and space from the station's new observation deck. And then they received a personal phone call from President Obama praising them for a job well done. He and some middle schoolers that were over at the White House also had plenty of questions for astronauts.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you guys want to just mention some of the research and experiments that you can conduct in -- on the Space Station that you could not be doing back here at home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a great question, Mr. President.

Let me start off by saying one of the nice things about where we physically are right now is that we remove the effects of gravity. So we're able to do experiments that involve the effect of gravity, basically, on Earth, as we look at what happens with the absence of it.

For instance, when you do combustion studies, flames on -- on Earth burn in a teardrop fashion because the air comes in from underneath it and feeds the flame. But we can't do that here. Since the air doesn't know where "up" is, there's no convection. So the flames burn very purely in a ball.

In a similar sense, when we do cellular research for even -- like for cancer research, for instance, on Earth, the cells actually collapse under their own weight. And so their growth on Earth are a little bit distorted. Here, without the gravity effect, we can grow the cells very purely and understand the mechanisms by which that they are replicating.

OBAMA: This is Jordan from Nebraska.

JORDAN: Do you think that it would ever be possible to create artificial gravity in space?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the hard things about the long duration of space flight is the human body dealing with weightlessness and a lack of gravity. And one way you can create gravity is to spin things.

If you take a bucket of water or paint, you can spin it around and you'll notice that the water stays pressed up against the bucket because you're accelerating it. And so you can artificially create that acceleration. It that makes you feel like you're in gravity just by rotating something like a centrifuge. So it is possible. But to do that, it requires a really large structure. And so that's something that we haven't done here on the Space Station, but that's one way you could do it.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: And are there any recognizable landmarks that you can see from space?

OBAMA: Yes, you know, the rumor was, is that you can see the Great Wall from space. But I'm not sure that's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can see a lot of great landmarks. We can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the great skyscrapers in New York and the Grand Canyon is just breathtaking.


BLITZER: Now, let's bring in CNN's Lisa Sylvester.

She's got more on this unprecedented view of Earth that these astronauts saw.

Some of them actually were so excited, they were moved to tears.

SYLVESTER: Yes, you know, this is pretty -- a fascinating thing. This was actually the third and final spacewalk of Endeavour's 13 day mission. Today, we got this amazing view of Earth from the International Space Station, as the astronauts were able to crank open the shutters inside the station's new observation deck -- seven windows providing a 360 degree view of the Earth.

Here, what we're looking at is we're looking down at the Sahara Desert. And this new deck, though, it's actually more than just, you know, a nice view. It actually has a practical purpose. It allows the astronauts to better monitor robotic operations. But, you know, we want to do a time situation here. We want to take a look at what a little bit of time and a little bit of technology, what a difference it makes. It was 50 years ago, April 1960, that the world got its first television view from space.

Take a look this. It's a grainy black and white image, but this is pretty fascinating stuff. But, you know, and you take a look at sort of like the before and the after and see how far we've advanced, Wolf...


SYLVESTER: Yes, in such a relatively short period of time. It's amazing.

BLITZER: You can get it in high definition right now and one day we'll have it in 3-D. But still, the Space Shuttle program is ending.

And so when -- when is the last launch?

SYLVESTER: Well, the U.S. space program is actually in a moment of transformation, as you mentioned. The Space Shuttle program is coming to an end this year. It was after the Columbia Shuttle accident that President Bush, he decided to end the program because the shuttle was aging and it was becoming technologically obsolete. Now, there are only four more shuttle launches left before the program is scrapped. The last one is scheduled for September 16th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what happens after that?

SYLVESTER: A very good question. Well, the Bush administration started what was going to be the shuttle's replacement, the Constellation Program. But President Obama, citing budget concerns, he cut the Constellation's budget. So after the shuttle program ends, the United States will have to rely on Russia to ferry its astronauts into space. And the U.S. government is really hoping and urging that the private sector will step up and establish some kind of commercial space program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So Richard Branson.

SYLVESTER: Yes, Richard Branson.

BLITZER: He's -- he's the guy.

SYLVESTER: He's at the top of the list and...

BLITZER: But they're -- they're looking forward to what he can do.

SYLVESTER: And who knows, maybe this means you'll get a ride into space (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Maybe one of these days.

SYLVESTER: No, I know.


Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

And at the top of the hour, we're going live to Haiti for more on the breaking news -- eight American missionaries released from jail. They're getting ready to come back to the United States. Still, two others are still being held.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is, should euthanasia be legal?

Some doctors in Canada are urging their government to re-examine the issue. They claim that hospitals in Quebec practice it all the time.

Lisa writes: "I think euthanasia should absolutely be legal. I treat cancer patients and some of the suffering I see is heartbreaking. Changing the law would foster the type of end of life discussions that are not possible to have now."

Steena writes: "I've just started nursing school and my first rotation has been in nursing homes. After spending time caring for patients whose bodies are failing them and seeing how miserable their lives are, I 100 percent support euthanasia. The quality of life should trump the quantity of life. And for those who disagree, I say spend some time with a terminally ill person."

Lauren writes from Chicago: "No. Euthanasia should not be legalized. There are too many variables in deciding whether a death is imminent and inevitable and too many ways for persons with bad intentions to fix the system in order to meet their ends."

Jim in Illinois says: "Many Americans will spend most of their family's financial resources in the last year of their life and then die, too often painfully. The current system in the U.S. is broken. But, sorry, I forgot, we should not even think about reforming the medical and health insurance systems."

Sarah in Wisconsin simply says: "No. Euthanasia is murder."

M. writes: "Yes, it should be legal. For those who disagree, I urge you to spend three days and nights being fully present at the bedside of four terminally ill patients in hourly rotations at a nursing home. One cannot adequately address the serious matter without witnesses the lives of those who are in the proceed of dying."

And Tom writes: "Yes, Jack. When the vet tells you your dog is terminal, there's no quality of life ahead, only suffering, you do the humane thing and put them down. Why shouldn't we show as much love and concern for a human being?"

If you want to read more on the subject, controversial though it is, go to my blog at Do you want to go for a ride in space -- Wolf?


CAFFERTY: Me either.

BLITZER: I told you, I don't even like roller coasters.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but you fly.

BLITZER: That's different.

Thanks, Jack.


BLITZER: Tiger Woods is about to break his silence. Details on of when he'll speak and what he's expected to say. Stand by.


BLITZER: A Scottish Terrier named Sadie is being hounded by the press after winning the best in show over at the Westminster Kennel Club.

CNN's Jeanne Moos reports on Sadie's Moost Unusual moments in the spotlight.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): With a brush and a shake, the Terrier takes Manhattan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sadie, Sadie, Sadie.


MOOS: Great Scott, it's the Hottie Scottie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sadie the Scottie.


MOOS: She barked her way from interview to interview.


WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST: You are the baddest girl in here. You (INAUDIBLE). Yes, you are. Say, yes, I am. Say it, girl.


MOOS: Ready for her close-up, except when the camera closing in freaked her out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's got a great bark, too.

RANGEL: She's got a great bark.

MOOS: The toast of the town ran around in a two van motorcade followed by flashes. She posed patiently for pictures, accepted endless treats.

Her favorite dish?

RANGEL: Chicken hot dogs.

MOOS (on camera): I heard it's organic chicken hot dogs.

RANGEL: No, they aren't organic.

MOOS (voice-over): Gabriel Rangel is Sadie's handler. She lives with him in California like a normal dog in a house with three kids. Now, here she was riding up and down skyscrapers and elevators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like a dog to me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll have Sadie up on the table.

MOOS: Before her appearance on "INSIDE EDITION," there was the obligatory photo-op.


MOOS: Best in show shown getting fed off a silver platter, though her manners were no match for this Labrador's.


MOOS: We award the Lab the best in show on YouTube. Sadie dropped her chicken. The Lab didn't drop a thing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what's next for Sadie?

RANGEL: I think she's going to want -- want to be a mama.


MOOS: As for who's going to be the dad...

RANGEL: She loves her friend. It's a Chihuahua.

MOOS (on camera): Oh, OK.


MOOS: Is it a romance?

RANGEL: Well, I think so.

MOOS: You're going to have a mixed breed...

RANGEL: No, he's not going to have any mixed breeds.

MOOS (voice-over): Maybe PETA protesters at the dog show think mutts rule, but they're not ruling Sadie. The number one Scottie and the number one Chihuahua, Tad, are doomed to forbidden love.

(on camera): So I hear you have a secret meeting with Donald Trump.

(voice-over): Actually, just another photo-op. But if you want Sadie's hair to trump Donald's, better brush it before the bow-wow pow-wow on Trump Tower's 26th floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, my mother was from Scotland.

MOOS: No relation to Sadie. She won over 100 other competitions before winning at Westminster. It's enough to give a regular dog an interiority complex.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Happening now, anticipation is building for freed American missionaries to leave Haiti and return home.