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THE SITUATION ROOM
Two Western Journalists Killed in Syria; U.S. Reluctant to Get Involved in Syria; Weapons in Iran's Shadow War; Outed Sheriff Vows To Fight Claims; The Latino Vote
Aired February 22, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the streets of Syria flooded with protesters. Remembering two killed journalists, including Americans. This hour, you'll here from Marie Colvin's grieving mother.
Plus, a new tool used by terrorists -- radios turned into killing machines. We're going to show you how.
Also, Mitt Romney -- he's struggling in Michigan right now, the state of his birth. We're taking you to the town where he grew up. And you might be surprised to see what we found.
And President Obama gives all of us another little song. He's singing once again, but this time, with music legends as his back-ups.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting in Mesa, Arizona.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The relentless assault on Syrian cities claimed dozens of lives today, including two well-known Western journalists. In the besieged neighborhoods of Homs, the explosions came every few seconds.
BLITZER: At least 20 people died there, among them, the legendary American war correspondent, Marie Colvin, and the French photographer, Remi Ochlik. They died in an apparent mortar strike on a house in the Baba Amr neighborhood used as an opposition media center. The rubble seen here is the aftermath of that attack.
Only last night, Marie Colvin told our own Anderson Cooper that the Syrian regime is ruthlessly targeting civilians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE COLVIN, LONDON "SUNDAY TIMES": Every civilian house on the street has been hit. We're talking about, you know, this is a very kind of poor popular neighborhood. The top floor of the building I am in has been hit, in fact, totally destroyed.
There are no military targets here. It's a complete and utter lie that they are only going after terrorists. There are rocket shells, tank shells, anti-aircraft being fired in parallel line into the city. The Syrian Army is simply shelling the city of whole starving civilians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Marie Colvin worked for Britain's "Sunday Times." She had covered conflicts all over the world. She lost an eye a decade ago while on assignment in Sri Lanka.
Remi Ochlik had been everywhere from Haiti to Libya, won an award for his work last year covering Libya's revolution.
Tonight in Homs, in Syria, residents rallied in memory of the two journalists. They held up this sign and they called on Arab leaders not to forget their embattled city.
CNN's Arwa Damon was in Homs last week and was in the very same communications center where these two journalists died.
She filed this report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allahu Akbar!
Akbar Allah alim al-wakeem (ph)!
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "It hit us. It hit our house. There is something burning!" the voice on the tape cries out. "The media house in Baba Amr has been hit!"
"Drop the live camera!" someone shouts. "They have discovered our position."
But nothing, they swear, will shut them down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allahu Akbar!
DAMON: We survey the damage
(on camera): To get to the upper floors, you really have to hug the wall, because there's one window that's exposed. But this is where you really see the full impact of the damage that was caused by the incoming rounds. I mean, this right here, it just speaks for itself
(voice-over): It's not the first time this house has been hit.
(on camera): This floor has obviously been completely trashed. And the activists were telling us that the bombardment -- we keep hearing it over and over again, the sounds of artillery falling -- is nothing compared to what they have been through before.
But this was once an ordinary home. An ordinary family lived here. And we don't know what their story was. There's just bits and pieces of their lives that have been left behind, including this children's toy.
(voice-over): Now this battered home is the opposition's media hub, buzzing with activity. Some of the activists don't want their identities revealed. They are all wanted men, most in their 20s.
Many of those home videos you see on YouTube are uploaded from here. In the face of great danger, teens go out to shoot videos like this one. Others post images to Facebook and other social media sites.
(on camera): One of the biggest accomplishments for the media team here was getting up a live stream so that they could show the world exactly what was happening in real time. And they believe that this really aggravated the Syrian government.
Now, this is one of the live cameras that they had set up outside. And they're telling us that it was shot by a sniper's bullet that went in right there and then came out the other end.
But even though the government managed to bring down this live feed, they still had other cameras set up, still managed to get the images and the message out.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: And Arwa Damon is joining us now -- Arwa, a very, very sad story.
Also, you were just there a few days ago and you saw Marie Colvin on the scene in that very same location where she was killed.
First of all, tell us a little bit about your experiences with her.
DAMON: Well, you know, Marie is the kind of journalist who so many others in the industry really strives to be. She bodies the essence of what it is that we do and why it is that we do it.
She had this fierce passion for the story, a determination to shed light on various atrocities, no matter what the cost.
At the time when we left Syria, she actually had left Baba Amr with us. Activists believe that a strike by Syrian forces, a ground strike, was going to be imminent. She, of course, then stayed behind and went -- went back into Baba Amr, because she believed that deeply, that what the regime was doing to its own people had to be uncovered.
This is a woman who has been to every war zone that you could possibly imagine and still, she was talking about how this was one of the worst things that she had ever witnessed. Which just goes to show you what is actually taking place there. And it goes to show you how indiscriminate this shelling is, that our industry has tragically lost yet another voice determined to keep telling the story of civilians caught in the crossfire.
BLITZER: Beyond being caught in the crossfire, is there any evidence that the Syrian authorities are actually targeting Western journalists like yourself?
DAMON: Not necessarily that they're targeting Western journalists. But that particular location, the media house, as we call it, what you saw in that story and where Marie and the French photographer, Remi, were killed, that has been a target by the Syrian government. The activists, for quite some time, had a live stream being broadcast from there. And they believe that the Syrian government is really determined to try to do whatever it can to stop those YouTube videos from coming out, to stop activists in areas that are under siege from speaking.
So they really do believe that they, themselves, are in the crosshairs of the Syrian government.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon, one of our own courageous journalists.
And as I always say, please be careful.
DAMON: Thank you.
BLITZER: And later this hour, you'll hear directly from Marie Colvin's family about what drove her to put her life on the line.
Plus, you'll also hear my interview with Marie when she was in Libya only a few months ago. She told me about her fears covering wars.
All of that is coming up later this hour.
As the slaughter in Syria grinds on, the United States is reluctant to get involved, at least militarily, as it did in other conflicts, including in Libya. But there's one frightening prospect may -- repeat, may force Washington's hand.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been looking into this for us -- Barbara, what are you finding out?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Syria has one of the world's largest chemical weapons programs.
And what happens if those chemical weapons are under no one's control? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
STARR (voice-over): What if it all gets even worse in Syria?
The White House is still pinning hopes on a diplomatic solution.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In terms of a military acts to a secure part of the country, that is not currently a policy we're pursuing.
STARR: But as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Tunisia for Syria talks, the idea of arming the rebels isn't going away. A State Department official said arming the opposition will likely be discussed, but the U.S. position is it's not a good idea.
One worry, Iran and Russia. Both still support al-Assad's regime and no one is sure who the opposition really is.
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Until we're clearer about, you know, who they are, I think it would -- it would be premature to talk about arming them.
STARR: Then there's concern about al Qaeda's presence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS")
JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Another disturbing phenomenon that we've seen recently, apparently, is the presence of extremists who have infiltrated the opposition groups.
STARR: The U.S. military is preparing options for the president, should it be requested. One nightmare scenario they are considering -- what to do if the regime falls and Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons is looted.
CNN has learned a classified military analysis estimates in a worst case scenario, it could take more than 75,000 troops to secure the sites.
LEONARD SPECTOR, MONTEREY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: That's a very large number.
STARR: The U.S. military believes there's more than 50 chemical weapons sites across the country.
SPECTOR: Syria probably has one of the largest programs in the world. It has multiple types of chemical agent, the World War I gases like chlorine and phosgene and also the more modern gases, the nerve gases.
STARR: The worries range from al Qaeda to Hezbollah getting their hands on the weapons.
SPECTOR: What would worry me the most is that artillery shells with chemical weapons would be sold or moved to Hezbollah. And that would really alter their capabilities against Israel substantially. (END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: Now, Wolf,, we often hear about military plans, military options, including very large numbers of U.S. troops to operate in a contingency. Look, a lot of the times, those large number don't really happen.
But the question here is what to do about the chemical weapons, if they have to do something about them at all. The hope by the U.S. military is that they don't and that there will be a diplomatic solution -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure there are a lot of contingency planning underway at the Pentagon, Barbara, for all sorts of scenarios.
A war over Iran's nuclear program may be a little more likely now that the Islamic Republic has formally blocked the United Nations nuclear watchdog team from inspecting a key site.
In a rather sober statement, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors left Iran without being able to visit an important military base. That base is suspected of being a testing ground for explosives capable of detonating nuclear weapons.
Meantime, we're learning more about weapons Iran may be using in what's being described as a shadow war already being waged over its nuclear program.
Our Brian Todd has examined photos of bombs used in an alleged plot to target Israelis in Thailand -- Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we got these pictures from Thai police and went over them with bomb disposal technicians. They are chilling images of devices which our experts say are designed to take out vehicles and kill everyone inside.
TODD: (voice-over): In one picture, a device sits near a shoe amid the carnage of a damaged rental house, the aftermath of a bomb that mistakenly went off. In another, blood is spattered near a device that appears almost intact.
Pictures newly obtained by CNN show bombs that were allegedly part of an abortive plot in Thailand. We got the photos from Thai police. Three of the bombs went off. One of the three people being detained lost his legs in a blast.
(on camera): Is this a sophisticated device?
JACK TURNER, FORMER AIR FORCE BOMB TECHNICIAN: All signs point to, no. This device is relatively cheap to acquire and make and all the components are readily available at, you know, general stores. TODD: (voice-over): Jack Turner was an explosives ordinance disposal technician with the air force. He served three tours in Iraq and was wounded by an IED.
The bombs in these photos were packed inside $27 radios, had round magnets strapped to one side. The white material is C4 class plastic explosives.
(on camera): Take a look at these ball bearings that, in these pictures, are packed inside these devices. One expert says these are designed only for what he calls "the frag," the fragmentation effect, to splatter all over the place and kill or hurt as many people as possible.
(voice-over): Each device, experts say, could destroy an unarmored car and kill everyone inside, but could not take down a building.
(on camera): In two side by side pictures in what appear to be similar devices, you have one of the key functions.
That's the initiation system, right?
TURNER: That is correct. Essentially what you have here is a military hand grenade fuse. You can see the safety pin right there. Here's a better shot of it right here. And essentially, once that's pulled, it -- it's -- it's armed. And then this right here is the grenade spoon. And as soon as that is let go...
TURNER: -- it sets off a pyrotechnic train of three to six seconds, a delay, basically. And it burns down through to a detonator which sets off the main charge.
TODD: (voice-over): Thai police say these devices contain materials not available in Thailand, materials they say were likely smuggled in.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: The blasts didn't kill anyone and their targets are not clear, but Thai police have suggested that Israeli diplomats may have been the intended victims.
Thai officials have also drawn a tentative link between the bombs in Bangkok and devices used the day before in India and Georgia which targeted Israelis. Those devices bear a remarkable similar to bombs used to kill Iranian nuclear scientists.
Israel has blamed Iran for these latest attacks. And the three people being held in the Thailand plot all have Iranian passports.
Iran has denied the accusation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, have they caught everyone allegedly involved in the Thailand plot?
TODD: They have not yet. Arrest warrants have been issued for five suspects all identified as Iranians. Three of them are in custody and charged, while two remain at large. Thai authorities are gathering evidence to seek an arrest warrant for a sixth suspect. So, they're still hunting for them.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much. You'll keep us up to speed.
Mitt Romney touts his Michigan roots, but who actually knows him there? We're talking to people at the Michigan town where he grew up.
Plus, more follow-up from my exclusive interview with the ousted Arizona sheriff, Paul Babeu. You're going to see why he's calling for an investigation right now into his own conduct.
And he already put us spin on an Al Green song, now, he's singing a brand-new tune. The president of the United States sings the blues. That's coming up as well.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, unemployment could be headed back up to nine percent again, not what President Obama wants to here as he faces re-election. Gallup reports the unemployment rate in mid-February stood at nine percent, up from 8.3 percent in mid- January. Gallup's monthly report on unemployment is a preliminary estimate about the U.S. labor department will report next week.
The report also found 10 percent of U.S. employees are working part-time but one full-time work can find it. And they put under employment at 19 percent, up significantly from a month ago. While the Obama administration as quick to trumpet a lower unemployment rate of 8.3 percent in January, others were already warning about a gloomy jobless picture.
Congressional Budget Office last fall predicted unemployment would remain close to nine percent until the end of this year, and now, they say unemployment is going to stay above eight percent well into 2014. Meanwhile, there are other signs the economy is not out of the woods by a long shot. Gas prices already at their highest levels ever for this time of year, and they're headed higher.
Get this. In Florida, in Florida, drivers already paying right at six bucks a gallon in some places. Government job cuts could place a further damper on the economy with the government being the largest employer in the nation. And lastly, while manufacturing revs up and stocks rally, remember this, it only takes one shot to set the economy back. Last year, we had a lot of them, the Arab spring revolution, Japan's earthquake, Europe's debt crisis. Can you say Iran?
Here's the question, can President Obama win re-election if unemployment goes back up to nine percent? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That would be quite a struggle for his re-election campaign, Jack, no doubt about that. Thank you.
Here in Arizona, it's certainly been a life-changing week for the Arizona sheriff, Paul Babeu. He resigned from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign after an ex-boyfriend alleged that Babeu threatened to deport him if he revealed their relationship. Babeu, who's known for being tough on immigration, is also running as a Republican for Congress. He denies the allegations against him.
He told me exclusively in an interview that he's a victim of a political plot to destroy his reputation. CNNs Miguel Marquez has been working on this story from day one.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sheriff Paul Babeu tweeting pictures from the campaign trail, trying to get back to normal as now two investigations swirled around him, one ordered by the Pinal County attorney, and now, the state's top lawman as well.
TOM HORNE, ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL: The initial scope that I've agreed to is to determine whether Paul Babeu abused power by threatening to deport someone for personal reasons, and also, whether or not this person illegally or improperly hacked into Paul Babeu's website. Now, because I have been politically aligned with Paul Babeu, I'm recusing myself from the investigation.
MARQUEZ: Babeu claims his Mexican ex-boyfriend, Jose, hacked his Twitter account. Jose denies it and says Babeu threatened to deport him. Babeu says that's false, and he's ready to prove his innocence and let the voters decide as he told Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview.
BLITZER: How will your -- the constituents in this Congressional district do you believe? How will they respond to all of this?
SHERIFF PAUL BABEU, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA: Wolf, we're going to put that in their hands, and this is where -- I was the first Republican ever elected in my county, county wide, since 1875. And I defeated an incumbent in a landslide election. And this was a whisper campaign before. People would put out stuff, even my political opponents, sending packages to the news media.
And all the media has been hands off of this stuff, because it shouldn't matter. This is 2012. I should be judged on merit, on my performance, and results.
MARQUEZ: But the sheriff's problems are multiplying. His Republican opponent for Congress has blasted Babeu for misusing public funds.
MARQUEZ (on-camera): And now, for a guy trying to run for Congress, he is facing serious problems. He can't even publicize his events at this point for fear the media will show up. Wolf, I've never heard of that from a congressman.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a problem. But Babeu also says these investigations will take a look to see whether Jose also did something wrong.
MARQUEZ: They are looking into his as well, and that may be the biggest problem of all, because there is a lot of evidence out there that Jose has not released, I can tell you. That would be very damaging to his career as well.
BLITZER: All right. We'll watch together with you, Miguel, thanks very much.
We're here in Mesa, Arizona. It's the site of tonight's CNN Republican presidential debate. Which candidate has the most to gain? More importantly, perhaps, who has the most to lose? We'll preview this critical debate. That's coming up.
And Marie Colvin was certainly one of world's great war journalists. Her mother talks to CNN about her daughter's legendary passion for reporting.
BLITZER: In about 2 1/2 hours, the candidates will take the stage here in Mesa, Arizona for the CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate. It's been four weeks since the last debate. Since then, Rick Santorum has certainly surged into a very close battle with Mitt Romney.
Tonight is the last face-off before next week's Arizona and Michigan primaries and the Super Tuesday extravaganza, the week after ten contests on March 6th. But if Romney can't win in his boyhood home state of Michigan, will he be in real trouble? Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is in Detroit. He's standing by right now with more -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney is trying to connect with people where they live. He's also trying to lower expectations here in Michigan, but at the stage, it's really hard to see just how you can lower those expectations.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
JOHNS (voice-over): Deadlocked with Rick Santorum in the latest poll here, Mitt Romney has pegged his campaign in Michigan on his claim to favorite son status, even though at times, it's been a little awkward.
ROMNEY: I was born and raised here. I love the state. It seems right here. The trees are the right height. JOHNS: Tree height aside, Romney needs a win here, because common sense says he's supposed to have home field advantage, especially since his dad was a political powerhouse in the state and even ran for the Republican nomination for president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were for George Romney years ago. And so, it's just a natural fit for us.
JOHNS (on-camera): This is where Mitt Romney actually grew up, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, about 40 miles outside of Detroit. His dad was chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation and later was elected governor of the state. That was 50 years ago.
(voice-over) At city hall, there's a ballot box for early voting in the presidential primary, but we were not able to find anybody who actually knows Mitt Romney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been out in Massachusetts or someplace -- or Maine?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massachusetts, yes. So, he hasn't been around here for a while.
JOHNS: Frankly, some say Romney's been gone too long to get much traction from his Michigan roots.
GENTRY T. COLLINS, FORMER RNC NATIONAL POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Massachusetts and some state, and so, we saw in 2008 that Sen. McCain gave him a real run for his money in the state of Michigan, and we're seeing that again in 2012 with Rick Santorum. So, I think it is too late for him to claim home state status.
JOHNS: Also, Romney opposed the auto-industry bailout which was very popular in the state that depends on cars for jobs, though, the bailout was much more important to Democrats than Republicans.
Plus, polls show a lot of social conservatives here have responded warmly to Rick Santorum's appeal to social issues, which raises the question whether a loss in Michigan by the guy with all the money and organization of Mitt Romney would throw the entire race for the Republican nomination into a tailspin.
KERWIN SWINT, KENNESAW STATE UNIV.: If Mitt Romney loses the Michigan primary, that's potentially a very big deal because if that happens you could see his campaign deflating, taking on water. And you could easily see the prospects of a brokered convention in Tampa. Because what would probably happen after that, assuming Romney does lose Michigan, he's probably not going to do very well on Super Tuesday either.
JOHNS: And a lot of Republicans think a brokered convention would be a very bad idea because a nominee chosen at such a convention might have a real hard time competing against the Obama reelection machine -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: All right. Joe thanks very much. Good report. As we count down to tonight's debate here in Arizona, I'm joined by our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and "TIME" magazine correspondent Michael Scherer. The cover of the new issue of "TIME" magazine features people from Arizona and it says why Latinos will pick the next president. Michael wrote the cover story. You say that the Republican candidates really need to change their approach to Latinos if they're going to get a man elected to the White House. Explain, Michael, what you came up with.
MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is what we know. Since the mid '90's about 50, at least 50 of Latino voters nationwide will vote with Democrats. About 25 percent will be with Republicans, the question is that last 25 percent. And if a vast majority of it or vast majority of it goes for the Democrat again this time like it did last time, like it did in the mid '90s, there's a real good chance that Obama will be able to pick up a number of these Western states, will be able deal with some of his troubles in Florida. And he could -- there's a path to the presidency here for him even if he does poorly in the industrial Midwest.
And it is a real concern for Republicans. They have run a primary that has mostly been sort of law and order and tough talk when it comes to immigration reform and polls show that it has really turned off Latino voters nationwide. Even Latino voters, who are predisposed as conservative socially conservative, want to vote for the Republican Party, they're turned off by some of the rhetoric that they've heard.
BLITZER: You know Gloria this is really I think this the first debate where Mitt Romney may not necessarily be the front-runner given these national polls shows Santorum doing better than him among registered Republicans. What does Mitt Romney need to do tonight?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well first of all, to Michael's point, I think he's going to continue to be very tough on immigration, which may not be a great general election strategy for the state of Arizona, but it's a very good primary strategy. The other thing I think Wolf is that he has to actually look presidential. Remember those early debates when he was the presumed frontrunner. He was quite presidential. He's not as good when he sort of gets in the gutter. So I would say if you to continue attack Rick Santorum, do it on the issues, do it on the earmark question, do not get personal with Rick Santorum.
BLITZER: I don't see, Michael, and you've done a lot of reporting out on the campaign trail -- I don't see Mitt Romney or for that matter any of the candidates really worrying about a general election strategy right now. They just want get Republicans on board.
SCHERER: No, that's right. It's just sort of been one contest at a time and if you call around, as I'm sure you have Wolf to some of the sort of elders of the Republican Party, there's a lot of concern about this, because they feel -- they fear that the general election opportunities are being sacrificed to win states like Iowa or South Carolina or Arizona where there is among the Republican base a real nativist (ph) pull. And I agree with Gloria. I don't think -- you started to see Mitt Romney pivot away from some of his harsh rhetoric when he was in Florida and he was in front of a large Latino constituency including Cubans who tend to vote Republican and I'm not expecting to hear that tonight in Arizona.
He's got to -- you know he's playing for his base. I -- you know we were out there last week when Romney came through Mesa for a rally. He didn't have many Latino faces in that crowd and you're -- right now in Maricopa County where's there's enormous population of Latino voters, they're just not playing in the Republican primary.
BLITZER: You know Gloria, the -- Santorum, he's been saying some controversial things on some of the social issues --
BORGER: Absolutely --
BLITZER: You know when you have to defend your position on Satan and Hitler and stuff like that you've got some problems out there right now. But I suspect Mitt Romney is not going to go after him tonight --
BLITZER: -- in our debate on these social issues.
BORGER: Somebody will ask about it whether it's CNN or whether it's another candidate, but I do not believe that Mitt Romney would be the right candidate to go after Rick Santorum on the social issues because he's to the left of Rick Santorum on a lot of these issues and I think that's not a strength in the Republican primaries.
I mean, Rick Santorum maybe being criticized by the Republican Party elders and the establishment in Washington, but he knows exactly what he's doing, which is he's trying to establish himself as the cultural conservative in this race so he can differentiate himself from Newt Gingrich and tell Republicans I'm the person who represents your values. This is purposeful, but Mitt Romney is not the candidate to take him on, on those issues.
BLITZER: Good point, Gloria, thanks very, very much. Michael thanks to you as well. The new issue of "TIME" magazine "Why Latinos Will Pick the Next President of the United States". And please be sure to join John King as he moderates the CNN Arizona Republican Presidential Debate tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, only on CNN.
Almost 50 people are dead and more than 600 injured in a horrific train crash, where and how it happened, that's coming up. Plus, the protests over the Koran burning by the U.S. military turned deadly today. What the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai says he plans to do about it.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, a really horrific accident at a train station in Argentina. What happened?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is horrific, Wolf. Authorities say a commuter train in Argentina may have lost its brakes before barreling into a platform in Buenos Aires. Officials say 49 people were killed and more than 600 people were injured. The impact crushed the first two cars into each other and trapped dozens of passengers. Authorities call it one of the worst crashes in the country's history.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he'll launch an investigation into the deaths of five people during protests over Koran burning. U.S. military leaders say the holy books were accidentally burned by troops at Bagram airfield. Protests are being held around the country. The U.S. Embassy suspended all travel and is warning Americans to avoid the area.
Groundbreaking today for a new Smithsonian Museum that will tell one of the most significant stories in American history, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is expected to open in 2015. President Obama spoke about the significance of the location for the museum; a place he says played a central role in the lives of African-Americans.
And that is one big rock, mate. An Australian mine has uncovered a more than 12 carat rough pink diamond, the largest ever in the country, the argyle (ph) pink jubilee, as it's called, will be polished and it could catch over a million dollars. Look at that stone, there, amazing. Natural pink diamonds are so valuable they are often reserved for royalty or museums. That is gorgeous. I just have to tell you, Wolf -- that picture of that that is one gorgeous rock, 12.76 carats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Wow. Is it true diamonds are a girl's best friend, Lisa --
SYLVESTER: I would say it must be nice. It must be nice. That is one -- certainly one big rock if you have to carry that thing on your hand, but I would say diamonds are a girl's best friend, sure.
BLITZER: Lisa, we'll get back to you on that and more. Thanks very much.
Also a really sad day in the world of journalism today as two reporters are killed by relentless shelling in Syria. One of them was the Great War correspondent Marie Colvin. I spoke to her during a rather violent time in Libya last year. My interview with Marie and a lot more coming up.
BLITZER: Let's get back to this hour's big story. Two very courageous journalists killed in Homs, Syria, one of them the French photographer Remi Ochlik (ph), the other the American reporter Marie Colvin who wrote for "The Times of London" and whose family lives in New York. Our Mary Snow is joining us now with more. Mary, what did you find out? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Marie's mother, Rosemarie Colvin, is speaking out she says to make sure her daughter's legacy lives on. She says she suspected Marie was in Syria, because she hadn't heard from her in two weeks and she watched her daughter's report on CNN last night, a report that contains images that are disturbing, but show the reality of what is happening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW (voice-over): Just hours after veteran journalist Marie Colvin was killed in Syria, her mother, Rosemarie, did what she says her daughter would have wanted. She opened her Long Island home to reporters, instead of hiding in grief.
ROSEMARIE COLVIN, MOTHER OF MARIE COLVIN: She died doing what was really, really important to her. She said she needed one more day to finish the story, it was a big story, and she needed one more day and she would come out today.
SNOW: That story for "The Sunday Times of London" (ph) was about civilians being killed in Homs, Syria. Just hours before her death, Colvin told CNN's Anderson Cooper about watching a 2-year-old boy die of a shrapnel wound and she wanted the world to see this conflict up close, just as she did.
MARIE COLVIN, JOURNALIST: I think it's actually stronger for an audience that, you know, for someone who is not here, for an audience for which the conflict, any conflict is very far away. But that's the reality. These are 28,000 civilians, men, women and children, hiding, being shelled, defenseless.
SNOW: Colvin called Syria's claim that it's only targeting terrorist gang a lie, saying every civilian house where she was had been hit by shelling. Exposing the truth, say family members, is what drove her and that meant covering some of the world's most dangerous hot spots. She had worn an eye patch since losing her eye when covering the conflict in Sri Lanka (ph) in 2001. Marie's mother says she never asked her daughter whether working in war zones was worth the risk.
ROSEMARIE COLVIN: I've never said that because it would have been the most useless conversation you could ever have had with my daughter. From the time she was a little child, she was committed to doing things that were important.
SNOW: Rosemarie Colvin says as a teenager Marie took part in civil rights protests, studied abroad and even talked her way into letting Yale allow her to file an application when she missed the enrollment deadline.
ROSEMARIE COLVIN: I'm going to miss her so much. And I just hope we can bring her home one more time. It doesn't look good.
SNOW: Rosemarie Colvin is worried about retrieving her daughter's body. Now the French Foreign Ministry is demanding that Syria allow the Red Cross to retrieve the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, the French photographer also killed in that shelling -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a sad, sad story, Mary. Thanks very much. Marie Colvin was certainly one of the best war correspondents of our generation. I spoke to her last spring at a time of rather bitter intense fighting between Moammar Gadhafi's army and the Libyan rebels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We know a lot of journalists have been detained, some have been killed. Marie, you're one of most courageous journalists on the scene right now. Give us a little flavor of what it's like to try to cover this war in Misrata.
MARIE COLVIN: Well, I think one of my worst moments was last night. I was out in an ambulance, and one of these missiles landed so close, the ambulance leapt (INAUDIBLE) into the air. I later found I was seeing casualties brought in, and there was my ambulance driver who dropped me off 15 minutes earlier. He was lying on the ground injured. I just can't describe the (INAUDIBLE) injuries.
BLITZER: Would you say this is the most dangerous environment you've covered over the years? And I've watched and seen your reporting over the years. How would you rate what's going on in Misrata right now?
MARIE COLVIN: I think this is -- well, I wouldn't say (INAUDIBLE) because Chechnya was pretty bad, but it's the most dangerous environment (INAUDIBLE) largely because it's so unpredictable. The front has changed building by building the entire time I've been here. And when I say front, we're talking about, you know, rebels who two months ago hadn't even seen a gun, so they're unpredictable. Remember, you know, as much as Libya is kind of the heart of darkness to a lot of us Americans, Libyans haven't actually ever been in a war, so they don't know what they're doing when they're fighting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Sad day for all of us. We'll always remember Marie Colvin as a very courageous journalist.
BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has certainly made it no secret he's a devout Catholic. So it's no surprise that he plans to give up something for Lent. But what will he and Callista definitely not give up?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what are you giving up for Lent? Have you decided?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to give up desserts. All desserts --
GINGRICH: -- for all of Lent.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)
GINGRICH: I challenge you to ask her what she's giving up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are you giving up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm giving up my opinion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn't count.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not McDonald's, though.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we love McDonald's.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Newt Gingrich is here in Arizona. He's certainly hoping up for a good showing in tonight's debate. Remember, John King moderates 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is can President Obama win re- election if unemployment goes back up to nine percent, Gallup said it went back to nine percent in mid February according to their polling. Becky in Las Vegas "Sure he can win long as he's running against a Republican."
David writes "Not a chance." Leonard writes "Only an Iranian nuclear threat can stop President Obama from being re-elected". Julia in Fayetteville (ph), North Carolina, "President Obama will be re- elected by the Republicans. The president is still trying to correct the mess they made prior to his first day in the White House."
Rick in Detroit, "It's possible President Obama could survive nine percent unemployment but very unlikely. It would probably take a major blunder by the GOP opponent for Obama to win with the economy slumping again. The economy is what put the president into the White House, and the economy also led to the 2010 mid-term slaughter of the Democratic Party."
David in Las Vegas writes "If unemployment goes up, if Europe's financial world collapses, if gas is $5 a gal, if, if, if. Why would he want to be re-elected?" Merrill writes "In a normal election year I would say no. But with the current field of Republicans he may carry all 50 states. I'm beginning to wonder if the Republicans are trying to throat election." You want to read more about this go to my blog CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack thank you. President Obama sings the blues. We're going to give you a glimpse of his surprise performers with some huge music legends over at the White House.
BLITZER: It seems President Obama likes to sing in public. He unexpectedly took the stage at a celebration of blues music at the White House last night. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody. Have a wonderful evening. Thank you so much. Give it up for our all stars.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Thank you so much. Amazing evening. Thank you. God bless you all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were trying (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I heard you (INAUDIBLE). I heard you singing Al Green, so you started something. You got to give it up now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on (INAUDIBLE). You can do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on --
OBAMA: Baby don't you want to go --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) place --
OBAMA: Sweet home Chicago --
(SINGING) (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's good. How could we forget last month at the Apollo Theater in Harlem? "Let's Stay Together", that was Al Green's great hit, the president does a great version of that as well.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.