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Iraqis Who Aided Americans Seek U.S. Asylum; Man-Eating Indian Tiger Kills Again; Christie Talks Sandy Recovery, Travels to Florida; Vatican Officials Face U.N. Committee on Child Sex-Abuse; Oscar Nominations; Dangerous Smog

Aired January 16, 2014 - 12:30   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For example, they wore masks back then so they weren't recognized in their community, The risks they took really were putting their lives on the line.

But it wasn't just them, it was other workers, administrative. It could have been in any numbers of roles and, yeah, thousands of them, still waiting.

Omar hasn't heard for a year. I spoke to a guy today, hasn't heard anything for 18 months.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Michael, you talk to these, is there anybody that feel a sense of regret that they helped Americans in that fight, in that battle? It seems like he doesn't have any regrets, amazingly so.

HOLMES: No. He was actually very proud of it.

I mean, the day that he went out and saw these guys laying an IED in his house and they threatened to cut his head off, he said enough, enough.

This has a present-day relevance where a lot of people in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, they remember the days when al Qaeda was running the show there. In many ways al Qaeda is an ally of convenience to the Sunni tribes because they feel excluded and all the other reasons they've discussed over the last few days.

But they don't like these guys. They don't like the way they ran the town when they were there, their style of extreme governance.

A lot of people there were very proud of working against al Qaeda.

MALVEAUX: Yes, you've got to just be amazed at the kind of bravery and determination of Omar, and many people there, many Iraqis, as you say, just ordinary citizens just trying to live and help of course the American forces when they were there.

Michael, thank you, as always. We really appreciate it. Good to see you. Please stay safe. Seven deaths in two weeks blamed on a hungry tiger with a taste for human flesh. We are talking about villagers in northern India. They want that man-eating tiger killed. Wildlife activists, they want to take it to a sanctuary.

Anna Coren, she's got the back story.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The hunt is on for a man-eating tiger in India following the latest attack in the last two weeks.

The female tiger has claimed her seventh victim after the remains of a woman's body was found in a forest. The tigress is thought to have strayed from a home about to 2,000 tigers.

Animal-rights activists have condemned the move, calling on rangers to instead tranquilize the tiger, an endangered species, and return it to the park.


MALVEAUX: There are only about 1,700 tigers that are left in the wild in India. A century ago there were about 100,000.

We're following this. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, heading to Florida this weekend, this is a trip that could be critical for his political future.

That story, plus, his first appearance before voters since the bridge scandal broke. That, coming up next.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back.

The next few days, very important for Governor Chris Christie, might get an idea of just how much damage, if any, that bridge scandal has done to his presidential prospects.

Now, Christie's former aides are accused, as you might recall, closing lanes to punish a mayor who didn't support their boss. Christie said he had no knowledge of this.

Today, he's been at the Jersey Shore to talk about other things, Hurricane Sandy recovery. This was the first appearance before voters since the political storm hit.

Here's what he said.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I suspect there are few more cameras here today than we might have originally thought for a Sandy event, but I hope all these people with cameras will frequent the local businesses so that - (APPLAUSE)

CHRISTIE: -- so you can get something out of this today other than seeing my smiling face.

And no one, I can assure you, ever told me or anybody on my team that it was going to be easy.

Hadn't been up to this point, and there's all kinds of challenges, as you know, that come every day out of nowhere to test you.


MALVEAUX: Well, today, a state assembly committee could issue subpoenas for some of Christie's aides, one of those tests. The panel meets today.

Our Wolf Blitzer is joining us to talk about Christie's big week ahead.

Wolf, it was interesting. He seemed to have a little bit of a good humor about this when he was saying, look, I kind of recognize more publicity here, I know why.

The spotlight is on it more because of some of these scandals that at least he's somewhat involved with here.

But the big weekend, of course, is before those Republican donors who essentially could bankroll a presidential run.

How important is this weekend when he's in front of his base?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It's very important because, in addition to being the governor of New Jersey, he's also chair of the Republican Governors Association.

His job is to help get fellow Republicans elected to become governors of various states, re-elected in the cases where there are currently Republican governors. He's going to go out and raise a lot of money, and that is often seen as a springboard to a potential presidential run.

Americans like governors, potentially as presidents of the United States. Over the years, a lot of governors have gone on to the White House. So, he was widely seen as one of the key front-runners for the Republicans before this George Washington Bridge scandal erupted.

And how he handles it, what happens in the coming days, weeks and months will clearly be very critical in whether or not he becomes a viable Republican presidential candidate.

I suspect he's going to be well-received in Florida this weekend. He's going to be campaigning for the current Republican governor down in Florida, raising some money.

But let's see what happens in these investigations, now that there's subpoena power, attorneys on all sides involved, a lot of political adversaries he has. They're going to be going through all the record, all the e-mail, all the phone calls. We'll see what emerges, if anything.

MALVEAUX: So, it's not going away, clearly. There are a lot of questions here, a lot of investigations, as you say.

Some of these donors, these big donors, might actually hold onto their money a little longer until the scandal blows over and they see what kind of impact this has in the longer term.

Could this be an opportunity, Wolf, for other candidates, potential candidates, to move in and take advantage of that?

BLITZER: Yes. If he slips, for example, there are other Republican governors, whether Scott Walker or John Kasich of Ohio or others, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida.

There are other Republican governors out there who might see an opening and say, you know what? This may be the moment. This may be the opportunity, as far as the White House is concerned that I've been looking for.

So, yeah, if he slips right now, if he goes down, there will be openings for others.

And it's still, as we all know, pretty early in the process. I think that formally they're really not going to have to start making announcements until after the November midterm elections.

But they've got to start preparing. And it's never too early if you want to be president of the United States.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, certainly when it comes to raising money.

Wolf, thanks, as always. We appreciate it.

Yeah, well, this guy, he's criticized the Obama administration in which he served. Now the former defense secretary, Robert Gates, he's going to be answering some tough questions from our own Wolf Blitzer.

You're going to want to see this. This is "THE SITUATION ROOM," today at 5:00 Eastern.

And now for the first time ever, the Vatican is being forced to defend itself in public over sex child abuse in the Catholic Church.

The big question, of course, did the church protect abusive priests?


MALVEAUX: The Vatican got a grilling on the global, sex child abuse scandal.

For the first time now, the Vatican is being forced to defend itself at length and in public against allegations that it enabled the rape of thousands of children by protecting pedophile priests.

Five top Vatican officials, they're in the hot seat today, facing some tough questions from a U.N. committee in Geneva that's wrapping up an investigation on the church scandal.

They spoke just a short time ago with our senior Vatican analyst John Allen, about what's going on.


JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, I think at one level the presentation made today by these two senior Vatican officials played very well with the child abuse experts in Geneva.

There was a firm commitment to a zero-tolerance policy. One of these Vatican officials described what he called the nonnegotiable principle, that the paramount interest in all of this has to be the protection of children.

They pledged full cooperation with criminal probes of church personnel accused of abuse and so on.

But I think that favorable response was also tinged with a degree of skepticism about how effective the Vatican is going to be in actually implementing the zero- tolerance policy on the ground, because, of course, these officials also insisted that the Vatican is not the direct supervisor of the more than 400,000 Catholic priests around the world, that that job falls to local bishops and religious superiors.

So, the question will be, are these just words on paper, or is this zero-tolerance policy really going to make a difference on the ground?

MALVEAUX: Right. And let's talk about the pope, Pope Francis. very popular for many different things, but here is some criticism of his handling of sex child abuse cases.

For example, you had in November the Vatican refusing to give the U.N. any details about its own investigations into those alleged sexual abuse cases of children.

And you've got these reports this month saying that the Vatican refused an extradition request from Poland for an archbishop who's being investigated for alleged sex abuse.

Is he any different, this pope, from his predecessors?

ALLEN: Francis clearly profiles as a performer on many fronts, and he has said repeatedly he wants to be a reformer on the sex abuse issue as well. He tightened up Vatican anti-abuse laws in July. He's created a new commission to promote best practices on detecting and preventing abuse.

If there was a news flash out of today's hearing, it was that one of the Vatican officials confirmed that in the case of that Polish archbishop that you mentioned, a former papal diplomat in the Dominican Republic, that the Vatican is not merely looking at the possibility of defrocking him, but they're also subjecting him to a criminal procedure that could end up with him spending time behind bars in a Vatican jail. A little bit like the papal butler, you may remember, who was accused of stealing papers off Pope Benedict's desk.

However, you're quite right, that critics have raised the question of whether all that is going to be adequate. I think, honestly, Suzanne, what critics are looking for is for this pope, for any pope, but Francis in particular --


ALLEN: Not merely to verbally confirm his commitment to protecting children, but to discipline bishops when they drop the ball.

MALVEAUX: Right. Right.

ALLEN: I think that's the perfect (ph) piece of the puzzle that has to fall into place before critics are going to be satisfied.

MALVEAUX: Sure. Sure. And that is a piece of news when they're dealing with that archbishop.

Final thing here, John, if you can wrap this up very quickly. What can the U.N. do if this investigation finds that the Vatican didn't comply with the U.N. convention on the rights of the child?

ALLEN: Well, they don't have any power to force the nations to do anything. What they rely upon is what we might call moral authority, or the power of shaming. They are expected to issue a set of recommendations on the back of today's hearing.


ALLEN: And I think the hope is that public opinion will compel the Vatican to take those recommendations very seriously. The point they're trying to make, Suzanne, is that the world is watching.

MALVEAUX: Yes, the world is watching. We certainly hope for progress on that front. Thank you so much, John. We really appreciate it.

And the Oscar nominations, they're in. Who's going to take home the gold? Who got snubbed? That, next.


MALVEAUX: Just so cool, '70s crime paper, "American Hustle," and the outer space thriller "Gravity" leading the Oscar nominees announced earlier today. Both films getting 10 nominations. The film "12 Years a Slave," about a man being taken from freedom, a free man, into slavery, just one nomination behind. Our Nischelle Turner and Gil Robertson, with the African American Film Critics Association, join us from Los Angeles.

And, first of all, I mean I love "12 Years a Slave." I got a chance to see that. But I know that the top two critics just loved, "American Hustle," starring Christian Bale, who got the best actor nomination, got a ranking on Rotten Tomatoes, 93 percent fresh. That's huge, Nischelle, right? What does that say about the chances of winning?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes. Well, it says that, you know, it is a critical darling. And what it says also is that David O. Russell has his dream team together, Suzanne. You know, David O. Russell put this team of actors that he loves together. He worked with Amy Adams and Christian Bale on "The Fighter." He worked with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper on "Silver Linings Playbook." You put them together, you add Jeremy Renner to the pot and it became movie magic. It's really good acting. It's a great script. And, you know what, he made a great film.

MALVEAUX: Yes, yes, certainly.

Gil, what do you think about it, the top nominations "American Hustle," "Gravity"? Would that have been your call?

GIL ROBERTSON, AFRICAN AMERICAN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION: You know, I mean certainly both films were on AFCO's top 10 list and both films, you know, are doing very well at the box office and also earned a lot of, you know, praise from film critics from across the country. So it's not a surprise at all.

MALVEAUX: All right. Not a surprise.

Nischelle, weigh in here. You know, a lot of people talking about Tom Hanks.


MALVEAUX: Should have gotten a nomination, right, for "Captain Phillips." He pretty much carried that film, talking about this relationship, showing this extraordinary relationship between the Somali pirate captain and the hostage that he played in his own character there. Did he get a snub? What do you make of it?

TURNER: Well, I think Barkhad Abdi would disagree with you, Suzanne, that Tom Hanks carried that film because he did get a nomination for supporting actor this morning. But, you know, here's the thing about the best actor race today. It was so packed and so loaded, there were a lot of fantastic performances by Oscars. So I wouldn't call anyone a snub in this category because there was just no way to fit in all the really good performances this year. I mean we saw -- you're seeing the nominees on the screen right now, Christian Bale, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce Dern, Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio. Who you going to take out?

MALVEAUX: Yes, I mean, isn't that an amazing problem? They're just all so good this year. That's pretty incredible here.


MALVEAUX: Gil, I want to talk about the actress nominations here. Two long-time leading ladies on the list. Of course, Judi Dench, from her role in "Philomena," and Meryl Streep, of course, "August: Osage County." This is her - this is her eighteenth - eighteenth nomination. Look at the competition. ROBERTSON: You know, it's a great group of women nominated. But I would have to say that I think Meryl Streep is going to walk away with it. She literally walks on water in "August: Osage County," and she is just such a strong actress that she's really going to be tough to beat. You know, as for some of the other --

TURNER: Oh, I disagree. Can I disagree with Gil?

MALVEAUX: Oh, feel free, Nischelle. Jump in.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. Sure.

TURNER: Gil's a critic and I'm just the entertainment reporter, so he's got the mind (ph). But I think this is Cate Blanchett's category to win. I think that she's the one to beat. Her performance in "Blue Jasmine" was fabulous. But listen to this little nugget here, guys. You know how women -- and it is true, we always talk about there aren't a lot of roles for women of a certain age in Hollywood.


TURNER: But Amy Adams is the only nominee under the age of 40 in this category, and she's 39. So let's hear it for all of us women of a certain age. Go girls.

MALVEAUX: There is - there is hope, Nischelle, without even talking about how old we are. Gil, Nischelle, thank you so much. Good to see you, as always. We'll be looking to see who actually is going to win. Looking forward to it.

TURNER: Absolutely.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, we want to give a little love here to the foreign language film category. The Oscar nominees are, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" from Belgium. "The Great Beauty" from Italy, "The Hunt" from Denmark, "The Missing Picture" from Cambodia and "Omar" from the Palestinian territories.

And if they made a movie about the air in Beijing right now, it would have to be a horror film. That is right. Because the pollution there is so bad, it's scary. It's also dangerous. Scientists barely have room on their instruments to even measure this stuff. That story coming up next.


MALVEAUX: Smog in Beijing is so bad right now that it's actually dangerous. There are some readings that show the level of pollution in the air is about 25 times higher than the level that's considered safe. The visibility, it's so bad that several highways had to be closed. People say they can't even see the skyscrapers that are right across the street. Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us.

So, God, Chad, what - I mean, what is going on over there? That is really bad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it never gets good. You know, I mean, it never really gets to be healthy in Beijing, especially in the winter when the air doesn't move very much. We have these stagnant high pressure systems and we have a lot of coal used to heat the homes. Making power, coal, cars, all this stuff in Beijing all making kind of a mess.

We're as good as 161 for the unhealthy measure earlier this week, but we were as bad as 671.

MALVEAUX: Good Lord.

MYERS: I can't give you -- those numbers don't mean anything except this happened in Phoenix this year when a dust storm, the haboob rolled through, and you couldn't see across the street. So this is how bad it truly is in Beijing day after day, hour after hour. This is what it looked like. You could actually see through the clouds, through the smog on Sunday.

Now I'm going to move you ahead. See yesterday. You can't even see the ground from the satellite.

MALVEAUX: That's unbelievable.

MYERS: The people can't see the buildings across the street.

MALVEAUX: You know, I've been to Beijing and people wear masks. You know, I mean they just walk around, they wear masks all the time here. Why has it gotten to this point? Why is it so bad?

MYERS: Well, now that you have all of this piled up against the mountains, it can't get away. The wind can't blow it away from the mountains. You have to - look, think about Beijing. Think about the topography to the west. If the wind wants to blow it that way -- it's almost like Denver. If you heat every house in Denver with a coal stove, we could make this same type of pollution that they have in Beijing in Denver, but we don't. We do - we have a lot more better practices than that. And the cars are polluting as well.

MALVEAUX: And explain to this -- this to us. How do you breathe this? What does that feel like when you're breathing in that level of pollution and smog?

MYERS: Yes. We talked about the dust storm a little bit ago. And dust and dirt and sand is different than what they're breathing in. These particulates, these small, tiny particulates, are getting into the lungs. It's like black lung. My grandfather died of black lung. He was a coal miner in Pennsylvania. And every time he'd come home, he'd cough all this stuff up. That's what they have in their lungs. It's just getting stuck in there. And it's taking years off these peoples' lives. No question.

MALVEAUX: That - that is a -- it's a shame. I mean is there anything they can do? MYERS: They can switch power plants. They can, you know, switch to fossil -- different fossil fuels that make less pollution. And, you know, what they've done so far is they've actually shifted their workweek to work seven days, but not everybody works seven days. It's not Monday through Friday. Some people work Wednesday to Sunday, some are Thursday to Monday to kind of spread out the pollution a little bit.

MALVEAUX: Because you just can't breathe the air.


MALVEAUX: All right, Chad, thank you. Appreciate it. It's kind of sad, actually.


MALVEAUX: Well, thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD. CNN NEWSROOM does start right now. Have a good afternoon.