Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

West Memphis Three Released; Gadhafi's Last Stand?

Aired August 19, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, a stunning turnaround in a shocking case, as three men convicted of murdering three boys walk free after serving 18 years for a crime many are convinced they did not commit.

Plus, the former Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell and the fallout from her walkout on CNN's Piers Morgan. She has been buzzing about it all day. Piers Morgan is here to talk about it this hour.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's begin this hour with breaking news and a disturbing warning about Moammar Gadhafi. Two U.S. officials tell CNN they believe the Libyan leader could be planning for a last stand, a -- quote -- "last stand" possibly involving a final military offensive against civilians.

That comes as rebel troops are making critical advances on the capital after months of near stalemate. We are on both fronts this hour with CNN's Sara Sidner. She is in western Libya. And CNN international correspondent Matthew Chance in Tripoli.

Let me go to Sara first.

Sara, what are you seeing, what are you hearing? How close -- you are with the rebel forces, covering the rebel forces. How close are they to Tripoli? How much trouble is Gadhafi in right now?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are very close to Tripoli, only about 30 miles.

And what we saw today in a very strategically important town of Zawiyah is a massive amount of fighting, but only in one section of the city. The rebels now say they now have control of 80 percent of this strategically important city, important because it is a direct supply route to the capital, Tripoli. We know that there are major fuel shortages in Tripoli.

It also has an oil refinery that can pump out something like 100,000 barrels a day. The rebels are now in control of that oil refinery. They have cut that off to the Gadhafi regime, a big win for the rebels here in the western part of the country. There was, though, massive fighting in the eastern section of the city.

One section of the city, it was a very, very strong firefight. But you can understand why the Gadhafi forces want to keep hold of this important city of Zawiyah -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew, you are in Tripoli. That's where the elements most aligned with Gadhafi remain. What is the scene there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very quiet tonight, but we have been subject to some very intensive airstrikes by NATO warplanes over the course of the past several days.

We were taken to see some of bomb sites earlier, residential areas hit. But one of the houses that was struck said to be the house of the security chief in Libya, perhaps the reason it was struck.

I just want to refer to these comments that you have been talking about, the U.S. officials saying that Gadhafi could make a last stand. It's something that the leader has been talking about. He has made addresses to thousands of supporters in the center of Tripoli over the course of the past several days, telling them to be ready for a possible push against Tripoli and to resist it.

Also, over the course of the past several months, residents of the capital have been armed by the authorities with Kalashnikov assault rifles and things like that. And there very much is a preparation here for some kind of push possibly in the weeks and months ahead by these rebel forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you sensed, Matthew, any change in the Libyan regime's attitude towards and you and other members of the international media who there over the past day or two based on these reports that things might be becoming ominous for Gadhafi?

CHANCE: Well, I think there is certainly a lot of tension in Tripoli these days. And that tension is mounting almost with every NATO airstrike.

At times, obviously it's palpable. But I think generally we are being treated pretty well. Generally we are getting a certain amount of information, although of course we are kept under very close guard by the government minders that are assigned to us. We are not given free rein to support in this city at all.

But with these reports now and with these military developments that the city has been encircled essentially by these rebel advances, there is this kind of siege mentality that has taken root, that the people of Tripoli no longer have an escape route, for instance, to the West to Tunisia. The roads are stopped a block further by the rebels and that means that everybody is essentially struck here under these NATO airstrikes. And that creates a very tense and anxious atmosphere -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Sara, one final question to you before I let you go. The rebels, are they becoming more confident as you sense what's going on?

SIDNER: Absolutely. They are becoming more emboldened. They feel like they can really have a chance at Tripoli. They say that they are trying to really get their coordination in order, and not just coordination amongst themselves, but coordination with NATO, because to be fair, for every major battle they have won, NATO has played a significant role in helping out with airstrikes and the rebels really expect that to continue, but there is definitely a sense in the rebels' part.

And I will give you this example. We asked one of the fighters today who was in the middle of this massive firefight, hey, when do you think you might push on to Tripoli. And he said, and I am quoting here, two days, maybe by the end of the week. That's how strong they feel about the power that they now have and about the momentum that they now have.

And I have tell you that it is no big surprise that we are hearing this information that Gadhafi might be waiting for a final stand or preparing for a final stand. The rebels themselves believe that's what's going to happen. They believe there is going to be a massive firefight if they ever get to Tripoli -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner, be careful over there.

Matthew Chance, please be careful as well.

Two of our courageous journalists on the front lines of this war unfolding right now, we will get back to them.

But let's move on to another story we're following, a shocking twist in an equally shocking murder case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMIEN ECHOLS, RELEASED: My name is Damien Echols. I'm 36 years old and released today from death row for a crime I did not commit over 18 years ago.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Three men walking to freedom to the cheers of supporters 18 year after they walked into prison convicted of the gruesome murder of three young boys.

The case of the so-called West Memphis three gained notoriety and publicity over the years as doubts grew about their guilt and the convicted men maintained their innocence. Finally, they were released today after entering a new plea in a complex legal maneuver. More on that in a moment.

First, CNN's David Mattingly shows us how the shocking story began.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What happened in these woods shook even hardened cops. It was a crime so terrible, families from miles around lived in fear. And, at the time juries had no doubt, three West Memphis, Arkansas, teenagers were guilty in the satanic ritual murders of three 8-year-old boys.

But, a decade-and-a-half later, many now believe it was a case of justice gone bad.

(on camera): The police, the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, all of them got it wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In our opinion, yes.

MATTINGLY: Reexamining old evidence and using DNA testing not available at the time of the murders, defense attorneys say the belief in a satanic ritual of sexual assault and mutilation was a fantasy, a satanic panic that they say sent three innocent teenagers to prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we are saying is that there's no credible evidence that links any of these defendants to the crime.

MATTINGLY: The bodies of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Steven Branch were discovered bound, naked and submerged in a muddy ditch.

In a petition filed in federal court, defense attorneys say their experts today find no evidence of sexual assault and no evidence of a satanic cult.

And the evidence that horrified juries, signs of ritualistic torture and mutilation, may have actually come from animals attacking the bodies after the boys were killed.

(on camera): When we asked for a comment about the old case, Arkansas prosecutors turned us down. But, in an earlier statement, a spokesman for the state attorney general said that Arkansas will look at the new findings objectively. But they stand behind the old convictions and do not believe that the courts will change anything.

(voice-over): The oldest defendant at the time, 18-year-old Damien Echols, was sent to death row. Sixteen-year-old Jason Baldwin and 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley got life in prison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And David is joining us now from Jonesboro, Arkansas.

David, how did it go down today, the release of these three men?

MATTINGLY: Well, it was very confusing as the judge was going step by step through this complicated legal maneuver, where they had the agreement that the West Memphis Three would enter guilty pleas, essentially pleading guilty to these murders and then being set free so they could go out and proclaim their innocence, again, very confusing, very slow going today.

But when it happened, there was a great sense of relief among the supporters there. Damien Echols was one of the three who was sent to death row. He had the most to lose and he had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ECHOLS: Still very much in shock, still overwhelmed. You kind of have to take into consideration that I have spent almost the past decade in absolute solitary confinement. So I'm not used to being around anyone, much less this many people.

It's kind of overwhelming.

QUESTION: Is it bittersweet?

ECHOLS: It's not perfect. It's not perfect by any means. But at least it brings closure to some areas and some aspects. You know, we can still bring up new evidence. We can still continue the investigations we have been doing. We can still try to clear our names. The only difference is now we can do it from the outside instead of having to sit in prison and do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Echols and the other two of the West Memphis Three are free men tonight, but as he was talking about, Wolf, it's not perfect.

And that's because in the eyes of the state of Arkansas, they are still guilty of this crime and prosecutors say it is case closed; they got their men.

BLITZER: David Mattingly reporting for us from Jonesboro, Arkansas, David, thank you.

And this programming note for our viewers. You can see a lot more on the story later tonight in a special entitled "Presumed Guilty: Murder in West Memphis." That airs tonight 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 Pacific only on CNN.

And we're just learning this, new information coming in, the Hamas government in Gaza calling off apparently its de facto truce with Israel.

CNN's Kevin Flower is joining us from Jerusalem with more on what is going on.

Kevin, what are you picking up there?

KEVIN FLOWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we know is it was actually a statement from the Hamas military wing, which is known as the al-Qassam Brigades. And they made this announcement on Hamas radio. And in the message, they said there is -- quote -- "no more truce with the enemy." They called for all of the factions -- and that meaning all of the political and resistance factions in Gaza Strip -- to basically unify and respond to what it called the crimes of the Israeli occupation.

Now, it's worth noting that this truce that they are referring to is really a de facto truce. It's sort of a -- not a really formal truce, nothing that is on paper with the Israeli government. And in fact the government would probably scoff at the notion of there being any truce with Hamas whatsoever. They hold them responsible for the hundreds of rockets that have been fired in the past year into southern Israel.

But that said, by many analyst standards, Hamas has restrained itself to a great deal and has not been engaged -- or it says it has not been engaged in a lot of these activities against Israel itself. It has often pointed to splinter groups, smaller Palestinian militant groups that it says it doesn't have control over it.

And it has claimed in the past that it has made efforts to try and restrain these groups from firing rockets and taking action, violent action, against Israel. It appears now that at least the Hamas military wing is saying it's not going do that anymore.

And it would seem to foretell possible Hamas -- violent activity by Hamas against Israel in the future. But it's not really clear what the intentions are of this going forward at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kevin, we will stay on top of it. It follows that deadly incident yesterday outside of Eilat in southern Israel. Seven Israelis were killed. The Israelis accused Hamas of doing it. They have been launching retaliatory strikes in Gaza ever since. We will stay on top of this story.

Other news we are following, she walked off the set of CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." Christine O'Donnell has not stopped talking about it since. She has a different version, though, of what happened. Stand by for that. Piers is here.

And a controversial change in immigration policy -- why some illegal immigrants right here in the United States might not -- repeat -- might not get deported after all.

And it's enough to give you the scare of your life, finding out the government thinks you are dead when you are very much alive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A major shift in U.S. immigration policy when it comes to which illegal immigrants get deported.

CNN's Dan Lothian is joining us now from Martha's Vineyard, where the president is vacationing right now.

This is a significant change in policy. Dan, explain what the administration wants to do.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is.

First of all, you know that immigration reform has been a difficult sell up on Capitol Hill. Aides point out that this shift does not take the place of comprehensive reform, but it will impact some 300,000 cases currently pending in federal courts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Illegal immigrants with criminal convictions have long been the target of U.S. government agents, as CNN witnessed in this exclusive early morning raid in Massachusetts a few years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assaults with dangerous weapons, assault and battery.

LOTHIAN: A manhunt followed by a deportation hearing, followed by a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic.

But low-priority cases, for example, students and the elderly, have been rounded up too. Now in a letter to nearly two dozen lawmakers, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has outlined a case-by-case review that would suspend deportation proceedings against some illegal immigrants who are not high-priority cases and are not considered a national security.

Ali Noorani with the Immigration Reform says it's a start that may bring fairness and balance to a broken immigration system.

ALI NOORANI, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum: It serves the country in the best way possible because it prioritizes our law enforcement resources on the worst of the worst and keeps immigrant communities together.

LOTHIAN: The White House believes that by targeting criminals considered a security risk, it will enhance public safety and ultimately ease clogged immigration dockets.

But this policy shift as Congress is out and the president is on vacation is controversial. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer called it backdoor amnesty. A sheriff in her state, Paul Babeu, says it's smacks of politics.

PAUL BABEU, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA, SHERIFF: There is a clear agenda here in an election season, because if we were going to do this, why on earth wouldn't we do it in the first two years of the president's administration?

LOTHIAN: With some 11 million immigrants in the U.S., the sheriff says locking down the border should be the number-one priority and that Congress, not the president, should be deciding immigration policies.

BABEU: This is about the rule of law, and the king is not above the law. The rule of law is the king in America.

LOTHIAN: But immigration lawyer Victor Cerda, a former ICE official, says lawmakers on Capitol Hill are having a difficult time passing anything.

VICTOR CERDA, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: Frankly, I just don't see Congress taking any steps right now. It's such a bipartisan issue, emotional issue, and even society as a whole, we're divided.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: The White House says that the president is deeply committed to fixing immigration laws. Latino groups applaud that, but say that there is a lot of major problems and they're hoping to work not only with the president, but also members up on Capitol Hill, in order to find the right solution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Huge controversy erupting on this decision by the administration.

While I have you, this is the first full day of the president's vacation on Martha's Vineyard. Do we know what he did?

LOTHIAN: We do.

First of all, this morning, the president had a briefing with John Brennan, his counterterrorism adviser, the White House releasing a photo of that meeting.

Then, later in the day, the president visited a local bookstore not far from where I'm standing with his two daughters, bought some books. And then of course he did what he does often in Washington. He went out and played some golf.

BLITZER: All right, he's got to vacation a little bit. Golf is good.

All right, thanks very much for that, Dan Lothian in Martha's Vineyard.

The walk-off that started a war of words. Christine O'Donnell now calls CNN's Piers Morgan a sexist.

And is it all true? Is it a publicity stunt? What is going on? Piers Morgan is here. We will ask him what he thinks about her latest remarks.

And God's men and women putting their lives on the line. We will take a closer look at how the clergy prepare to head into war zones.

(CROSSTALK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Christine O'Donnell walks off the set of CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." You know that by now. She walks right into the spotlight. Piers is here. He will join me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former Tea Party-backed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell walked off the set of CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." And she has been buzzing about it ever since.

CNN's Joe Johns is here with more on what's going on.

What's going on with Christine O'Donnell and Piers Morgan, for that matter?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the name of her book is "Troublemaker: Let's Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again."

And she is definitely been creating a stir since it went on sale. But if this was a publicity stunt to get a spike in sales, there is not a lot of evidence of that happening. As of mid-afternoon, the book was 3,346th on Amazon's bestseller list.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": It would appear that the interview has just been ended.

JOHNS (voice-over): It's amazing what walking off the set of a national prime-time TV show can do for someone who is trying to sell a book based on a losing Senate campaign.

MORGAN: I'm just asking you questions based on your own public statements and now what you have written in your book. It's hardly rude to ask you that, surely.

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), FORMER DELAWARE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, don't you think, as a host, if I say this is what I want to talk about, that's what we should address?

MORGAN: Not really, no. You are a politician.

O'DONNELL: Yes. OK. I'm being pulled away. We turned down another interview for this.

MORGAN: Where are you going?

JOHNS: For one thing, after Christine O'Donnell walked off the set of "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," she didn't have to talk much more about the campaign or the book.

But now she is trying to make it all about the talk show host, telling a FOX station that what got her upset was not Piers' question about gay marriage, but the line of questioning about sex in general.

O'DONNELL: He had a decidedly inappropriate line of questions leading up to that, that many people, what the bloggers were saying, was just borderline creepy. I was not there to talk about sex, and he would not stop trying to talk about sex.

JOHNS: Then there the tweets. "Piers, thanks for the invite. Schedule is already packed. Maybe another night. No hard feelings, you cheeky bugger."

The whirlwind media blitz peaking today on NBC's "Today."

O'DONNELL: You know, he put me in a position that was very awkward and very uncomfortable, and we were late. I'm getting the wrap up signal off camera because we had a - a room full of Republican women and C-SPAN waiting for me, and - and it - the interview was over, and he wasn't letting go because he needs the ratings, which is why he's exaggerating what happened. I didn't storm off. His sound person is the one who took off my mike.

JOHNS: And who was that that stepped in front of the camera? She says it was one of her staffers.

For all the tension here, this is plain old fashioned buzz building, the likes of which O'Donnell probably hasn't seen since the political ad that propelled her to fame, or perhaps infamy.

O'DONNELL: I'm not a witch.

JOHNS: And while she claims it's all about the ratings for the talk show host, few would deny the really ratings boost would only come after Christine O'Donnell's call to take off the mike.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: One theory about all this excitement involving Christine O'Donnell is that she's thinking about running for office again. Officially, she has been asked, and says she doesn't know whether she'll run for anything again, but that she is interested in continuing to remain a voice - Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns, thanks very much.

And Piers Morgan is joining us now from lovely San Diego. Piers, thanks very much for coming in.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Well, my pleasure. Well, I'm here interviewing Jon Huntsman, the presidential candidate. So getting a bit of San Diego sun, and it's - it's (INAUDIBLE) out with Ms. O'Donnell, too, I hear.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk a little bit about your interview. She walked off, as everyone on earth, I think, by now probably knows. She walked off at the - from your set.

She says - and she was on the "Today" show this morning - she says you're creepy. What do you say?

MORGAN: I - I just find it all quite baffling. I mean, her rhetoric has got more extreme as every hour has gone by. Apparently I'm a sexist, I'm creepy, it was sexual harassment, all these kind of nonsense, when, of course, what she fails to remember is that everybody has now seen the interview, so they can make their own minds up.

I - I haven't seen any impartial, dispassionate observer recognize any of the charges she levels at me. I was asking her about her own public statements. I asked her about video clips of herself speaking. And I asked her about content from her book, which she was on my show to promote. I - I'm at a complete loss to understand where this inappropriate questioning has come from.

BLITZER: Here's a - here's an example, maybe what she was referring to. We're sort of guessing a little bit. I'll play this clip from your interview with Christine O'Donnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Are you still a supporter of total abstinence, even if you're on your own?

O'DONNELL: Are you the pro-masturbation talk show host?

MORGAN: Yes. Why not? Yes.

O'DONNELL: Oh, good for you for taking that stance. You know, right now -

MORGAN: If the option is to be the anti, I think I'd be in the pro department. Yes.

O'DONNELL: OK.

MORGAN: And I'm not afraid to say so. So, over to you, Ms. O'Donnell.

O'DONNELL: Well, what I'm going to do, and what my goal is now, is to fight for the freedom of speech in America, that allows you to say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you - what do you think about that explanation? Is that what she was referring to, that little exchange?

MORGAN: Well, if anyone - if anyone's getting harassed there, I would imagine her accusation that I'm in the pro-masturbation lobby is bordering on harassment and a bit creepy, Wolf.

No, I think, look, she said all this stuff about masturbation, about sex and so on, in a very controversial MTV interview. It's referred to in her book. She came on my show to promote that book, and I think I'm perfectly entitled to revisit stuff like that, given that she's written about them in detail in her book that she's publicizing.

And I don't think it's creepy. I think it's journalistic. She is somebody who's presumably preparing to run for some kind of office again in the future, or else she wouldn't be doing all this, and I think we are entitled to scrutinize her public statements.

BLITZER: She also seemed to suggest on the "Today" show earlier today that you're sexist, and I'll play this clip of - of what she says. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: Imagine if Bill Clinton were there. Would he - would he ask him, do you still hang out with Monica - Monica Lewinsky? Come on, we talked about it in the '90s? Do you still have that fascination with cigars, Bill? Come on, what's wrong with it? No.

And, if he did ask a male former candidate that, the outcry would be that it belonged on Pay Per View, not supposedly a reputable network like CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: OK, Piers, does she have a point?

MORGAN: Well, my - my response to that would be if Bill Clinton came on my show to promote a book, an autobiography in which he went into great detail about Monica Lewinsky or whatever, then of course I would ask him about it, even if it was historic. It would be a matter of public record and public interest.

I'd also say that the clip you showed earlier, the first one, she doesn't look very harassed to me. She looks like she's in a jocular mood. Was being - laughing and joking, giving it back to me.

The moment she walked off had nothing to do with that questioning. It was to do with me asking her directly about her views about gay marriage, which is a very contentious issue at the moment because of Michele Bachmann's position on this. And she is a Tea Party exponent herself, I think must have been expecting the question. She's now been answering it today.

But why, for the life of me, did she not answer it when I asked her? Instead, she walks off, and is now recreating this whole cock and bull story about me being sexist and harassing, and so on, to mask the fact that when I asked her directly about that issue, she simply refused to answer and walked off. That is her problem, not mine.

BLITZER: Do you think it was a publicity stunt, Piers, on her part to try to get attention for her new book? She obviously wants to sell a lot of copies of the book and make some money.

MORGAN: I - I mean, I not - if it was, I don't think it's working. I'm not sure how many people would now rush out to buy her book.

I mean, she accused me on the "Today" show of doing this for ratings. You don't book Christine O'Donnell right now for ratings. You know, she's kind of yesterday's woman. I found her a moderately interesting booking simply because she had a book out in which she was going over some pretty contentious events in her past. So when I asked her about them, I was flabbergasted that she kept saying to me it's in the book, but I don't want to talk about it.

Well, that's not a sensible way to conduct an interview. And I - I really come back to the fact that nobody else who's watched the interview has remotely thought that I was creepy or sexist or harassing her. And if you look at her own tweets immediately afterwards, you will see a much more jocular tone.

I think she's realized it backfired badly on her, the walkout was very puerile, it was completely inappropriate of her to do that, and she's now trying to rewrite history and smear me with all sorts of ludicrous claims, when of course, as anyone who watches my show tonight, because we're going to re-air the entire interview, unedited. They can all make their own minds up. And I defy anybody to find anything genuinely inappropriate once you understand all that I'm talking to her about is in her book that she's there to promote.

BLITZER: We invited her, by the way, Piers, to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM today. She declined. She has an invitation, and she wants to come on next week. We'll be happy to have her.

I will be watching tonight, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," 9:00 P.M. Eastern, only here on CNN. Piers, thanks very much.

And Christine O'Donnell is getting some criticism from some other conservatives as well. Check out CNNPolitics.com for an exclusive column written by the conservative writer Brent Bozell. It's been posted. You might be surprised by what he has to say.

And imagine if the U.S. government said you were dead when you were very much alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: You look very much alive to me.

MARJORIE LOUER, SOCIAL SECURITY RECIPIENT: I feel alive now, but at one time I didn't.

CHERNOFF: Was that because of what the Social Security Administration told you?

LOUER: Yes. Exactly. Yes. In fact, one young clerk looked me in the face and told me I was dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to take a closer look at why this is happening to thousands of Americans every year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get this. Thousands of Americans are being told they're dead by the U.S. government every year.

CNN's Allan Chernoff is joining us from New York with more on this story. Alan, what is going on?

CHERNOFF: Well, Wolf, remember that great quote from Mark Twain, "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated?" Well, it certainly does apply to thousands of Social Security recipients every single year, including one elderly woman we met who received some very untimely news from the Social Security Administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Marjorie Louer is a healthy and vibrant 94-year-old, yet the Social Security Administration thought she died five years ago.

CHERNOFF (on camera): You look very much alive to me.

LOUER: I feel alive now, but at one time I didn't.

CHERNOFF: Was that because of what the Social Security Administration told you?

LOUER: Yes, exactly. Yes. In fact, one young clerk looked me in the face and told me I was dead and I said but I'm standing right here.

CHERNOFF: Marjorie went to her local bank to get some cash, but her ATM card wouldn't work. When she went inside, a bank officer cut the card up right in front of her and said according to our records, you're dead.

LOUER: And I explained to her, well, I didn't feel dead, but she insisted I was. And from there -

CHERNOFF: To your face?

LOUER: To my face.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Someone inside the Social Security Administration had accidentally typed in an incorrect digit while recording the number of a person who had recently died, leading the computers to believe Marjorie was the decedent.

It happens all the time. About 14,000 times a year according to the Social Security Administration. What's more, when someone is recorded as deceased, their Social Security Number and address are recorded in the death master file that the public can purchase, raising the risk of identity theft for those who have already suffered the ultimate insult of being declared dead.

Social Security told CNN, "Mistakes do happen and there isn't a process where there will be zero mistakes. We try to correct these situations as quickly as we can."

Marjorie had the mistake corrected. Proving her identity to the bank and notifying Social Security that sent her two months of missed payments. Both Social Security and Citibank mailed apology letters, but the memory of having been killed off remains a bitter one for Marjorie.

LOUER: It's a dreadful experience to go through. You laugh and your friends joke with you, but inside you're feeling pretty sad about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Social Security says it could be nearly error-free if every state participated in a system called Electronic Death Registration. But only two-thirds of the states do apparently because of a lack of federal funding for the program - Wolf.

BLITZER: Not a whole lot of funning coming in either right now.

All right. Thanks very much, Allan, for that.

Up next, Former President Bill Clinton talks candidly to CNN's Sanjay Gupta about the health scare that changed his life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Bill Clinton is perhaps the world's best known heart patient. After he left office he had bypass surgery and he's also had stents. The former president opens up about his health in a new CNN documentary.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports "The Last Heart Attack." And joining us now is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our Chief Medical Correspondent and the host of the weekly program.

Sanjay Gupta - and the - Sanjay, it's really - really looking forward to the - your documentary, but this is an amazing story you have to tell about a lot of people, but the former president of the United States particularly.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, I think, Wolf, the thing that was so striking is that arguably, you know, he had access to the best health care - some of the best health care in the world. Certainly for all the time that he was president and then afterward as well, and without his knowledge really, he was sort of, you know, developing significant heart disease to the point where he would have to have surgery as we all know.

How could that happen if he has access to the best care in the world? And what is the lesson I think for anybody who worries about heart disease because of their own family history?

I asked these questions of former President Clinton and his doctors and I also asked him what he's doing to stay healthy now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I was lucky I didn't die of a heart attack.

GUPTA (voice-over): Former President Clinton, like too many people, was busy. And for years, he ignored warning signs from his heart. But in 2004, during an exhausting book tour, there was something different.

CLINTON: I had a real tightness in my chest as I was getting off the airport and it's the only time I had it unrelated to exercise.

GUPTA (on camera): We are here outside New York Presbyterian Hospital and in just a couple of hours, President Bill Clinton, former president, is scheduled to undergo surgery.

CLINTON: I immediately went down to our local hospital and they did a test. They said you got real problems. They hustled me down to Columbia Presbyterian and they confirmed in the determination that I had serious blockage and need the surgeries.

GUPTA (voice-over): The doctors immediately knew options were limited. The 58-year-old Clinton needed to have his chest opened, his heart stopped and surgery performed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no medical treatment for reversing the obstructions that have already formed in his blood vessels.

CLINTON: They got Hillary and Chelsea there and all I remember is it was happening fast and everybody who cared about me was scared and I felt rather serene. I thought I dodged the bullet. I didn't have a heart attack.

GUPTA: On Labor Day 2004, Mr. Clinton had four blood vessels bypassed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Starting this morning around 8:00, he had a relatively routine quadruple bypass operation. We left the operating room around noon and he is recovering normally at this point. So I think right now everything looks straightforward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: So it's a pretty good idea, Wolf, as most people do of how the story goes for Former President Clinton. But it got me thinking, I think it gets a lot of people thinking, Wolf, first of all, if it could happen to him, could it happen to me.

And also there was all this drumbeating that I was hearing from cardiologists as I started working on this, Wolf, that it is possible to essentially eliminate heart disease in this country, to - to get to the point where we have the last heart attack, to make people heart attack-proof.

And that's what the - you know, I went through, as well, through lifestyle changes, but also some of the most advanced testing and really understanding what the risk factors are for heart disease. They may not be what a lot of people think. This science is changing, Wolf, and a lot of people can benefit from it.

BLITZER: Because you have a history and you've spoken about this, reported about it, a history of some heart disease in your family and people will - we always assume if you have that history, Sanjay, you're going to be a victim at some point down the road. But there are things you can do to - to prevent that.

GUPTA: It's absolutely true. I mean, you are not pre-ordained to have heart disease or not pre-ordained to have a heart attack. I believe this and I think, you know, again, a lot of people in the cardiology community are really starting to beat the drum on this.

Let me give you one quick example, Wolf. People talk about cholesterol numbers a lot. I think you and I have talked about that. And they say if your bad cholesterol number is too high, that's a problem. That puts you at risk for heart disease. That's somewhat true, but not completely.

What we now know, it's not just the amount of cholesterol, but the size of the particles of cholesterol. Small particles are worse. They damage your blood vessel wall. Large particles not as bad. So you need to know all of that information to really determine your risk of heart disease.

And more importantly I think, Wolf, for everybody, what you can do about it. Doctors now tell me, Wolf, I am essentially for the next several years heart attack-proof. They've essentially given me a guarantee I'm not going to have a heart attack.

BLITZER: Well, how do you know? How you can test to see if - if the cholesterol is a good cholesterol, if you will, or the bad little particles or the worst particles that could really damage you?

GUPTA: There are tests that exist for that now. You know, the number that most people get back is just the total amount of cholesterol, but the number that I got back, and, again, this is not a sophisticated test or a costly one, but it just actually looks at the particle size. And they figure out how many small particles do I have versus large particles. And in my case, the good news was most of the particles were large particle, not as damaging.

You can also look directly at the blood vessel itself, Wolf, again and not an invasive test, but a rather simple one. Look at the blood vessel wall and determine how much plaque has actually built up. That's - that's what you really want to know in terms of determining your own risk.

BLITZER: Because normally they give you the LDL level, the HDL level.

GUPTA: That's right.

BLITZER: But you're saying there are more specific data that you need.

GUPTA: That's right. And I think, you know, a lot of cardiologists including Dr. (INAUDIBLE), who you'll meet in the documentary. They do this pretty routinely now where they check - check the particle size. But I will say, Wolf, that it's not done across the board, you know, by all cardiologists or all doctors. So I think, you know, as we're hearing from the American Heart Association and others, there's a message in this new science that we're presenting not just for patients, but for doctors and hospitals alike.

BLITZER: I can't wait to see the documentary Sunday night, 8:00 P.M. Eastern. I know the next time I go see my cardiologist, I'm going to ask her for that specific information as well. You're going to save a lot of people's lives, Sanjay -

GUPTA: I hope.

BLITZER: -- in doing what you're doing with this documentary. I know that for sure.

GUPTA: Well, I hope it helps you, Wolf. Thanks so much for watching it.

BLITZER: Thank you. Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The special airs Sunday night, "The Last Heart Attack," 8:00 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN.

Close to God and close to danger. We'll introduce you to the clergy who minister to troops on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They may not shoot in the war zone, but chaplains of all faiths are doing God's work in the line of fire.

CNN's Chris Lawrence went behind the scenes to see the training.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Angel to chapel and chapel (ph) assistant, you can return to their vehicle. Over.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's tough. Taking pastors from pulpits and students from seminaries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're moving too slow. You're not communicating properly and for simple command. Tell me when I move. Guys just had them.

LAWRENCE: To the point where they can run with real soldiers.

LT. ADRI BULLARD, METHODIST SEMINARIAN: This sort of stuff, these big booms that are the main difference. You really don't have those going off at a seminary, community school or anywhere.

LAWRENCE: Adri Bullard is a second lieutenant, a Methodist seminarian, one of 200 candidates training at Ft. Jackson. This is boot camp for chaplains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You stay behind the angel block or behind the wheel base. Those are the safest place for you to be. Attack, attack, attack.

LAWRENCE: Here, clergy of all faiths learn to survive in combat. Actually not just survive, to minister in the midst of chaos.

(on camera): Chaplains don't shoot, but they've got to learn how to move and communicate under very loud stressful conditions.

(voice-over): They'll soon be in the ranks of nearly 3,000 chaplains who all have to meet the requirements of the specific faith that sponsors them, from Imams and Baptists to Roman Catholics and Rabbis.

Several hundred are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they perform Sunday services on remote bases. And sometimes help the fallen return home.

Last summer, an Army convoy was hit by an IED in Afghanistan. Captain Dale Getz was in it, the first chaplain killed in action since Vietnam. When they etch his name on this memorial, it will be a reminder to new chaplains of the risks they face.

CAPT. KARLYN MASCHOFF, ARMY CHAPLAIN: The danger is what gives us sometimes the credibility to minister our soldiers. They know we've been there. We face the fear.

LAWRENCE: Karlyn Maschoff joined after terrorists attacked the U.S. on September 11th. She's since been to Iraq several times.

MASCHOFF: My first 12-month deployment was in 2005, 2006 and that was a tough period where there was a lot of loss of life. There was a lot of bloodshed and a lot of uncertainty.

LAWRENCE: She's seen marriages fail and watched soldiers die.

MASCHOFF: My faith in my God who cares for me and will never leave me is solid. But there are those times when you feel like you're - there's a lot that's being expected of you and you just have to persevere.

LAWRENCE: From the young, to the experienced, they truly serve God and country.

MASCHOFF: Chaplains will bring the hope for the future. And that is our message as we work with our soldiers that it's a dark day, but it's going to get better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us. Thank you.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues in CNN.