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Future of Iraq; U.N. Ambassador John Bolton Resigns; Bush Meets with Powerful Shiite Leader; Bus Driver Trapped in Atlanta Crash with Truck; Body Scan Machines Raise Privacy Concerns; Entertainers Receive Kennedy Center Honors

Aired December 04, 2006 - 14:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Kyra Phillips.

Ahead this hour, will the Geiger counters go off again in London? Scotland Yard looks for more evidence in a radioactive spy case.

LEMON: And imagine having to follow this act. Robert Gates has a date on Capitol Hill as he aims to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the helm of the Pentagon.

NGUYEN: Plus, a wind-whipped wildfire torches 10,000 acres. California burns again.

Next in the CNN NEWSROOM.

LEMON: Raging flames, erratic winds and out-of-control wildfires chasing hundreds of people from their homes in southern California. You're looking at live pictures now. Some already have lost almost everything.

And CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is on the scene in Moorpark, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

What can you tell us, Thelma?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, I can tell you the good news. No mandatory evacuations today, and no homes are immediately threatened.

Now, you can tell it is extremely windy out here. We're talking sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles an hour. But comparatively speaking, the winds have died down compared to what they were in the last few days. And that has been very good news for the 1,500 firefighters who are on the ground trying to get the upper hand on this blaze.

They've also been able to launch an all-out air attack on this fire with six fixed-wing planes and also nine helicopters going after the flames out here. Five homes have been completely destroyed, five structures also destroyed. But today I can tell you, Don, that as we drove into this valley, looking into the area, we could not see any significant flames, just two major smoldering spots. And so firefighters have been able to come out here and really make a difference.

Now, we're standing at a business right now. This is the Peach Hill Soil's organic recycling business. This is an 82-acre site where they take tree trimmings, green waste and manure and recycle it into soil amendments for gardening and landscaping. And you can see that everything completely has been destroyed out here.

Robert Medrano owns the business for the last 18 years. He says it was about 7:00 last night when a wall of flames came up over the ridge and he says overtook his business. It was like trying to stop a freight train.

Robert, can you describe what it looked like out here?

ROBERT MEDRANO, OWNER, PEACH HILL SOIL: Yes. You know, we thought we had prepared for this. We thought that we could battle the fire, if it should make it into our site. But about 7:00 last night, we were just overwhelmed with flames. And we realized that with what the resources we have, there was just no stopping this fire at that time.

GUTIERREZ: What did it look like when that wall of flames came up over that ridge?

MEDRANO: It's hard to describe. A lot of flames. But it literally just takes your breath away. It takes the air route out of the atmosphere.

And I -- and I realized very quickly that I had no business being up here trying to fight the fire. We then backed off and we did what we could throughout the night until 4:00 this morning. And we realized we were just basically spinning our wheels, that we weren't really doing anything because of these strong winds.

GUTIERREZ: Now, this is the second time in three years that you've lost your business to fire.

MEDRANO: That's correct. Unfortunately, Moorpark has experienced a couple of major fires in the last few years. We happen to be on the west side of Moorpark, so when the east winds blow, we usually get the embers blowing into our site.

Again, I really thought that this time we would be prepared and be able to handle it. It came in from a different angle than it did a few years ago, and we weren't positioned properly. But again, you know, the winds just dictated which way the fire was going to go. We had no way of knowing.

GUTIERREZ: Your father told me you are insured, though, and that you may build again?

MEDRANO: Yes, we are insured. You know, we're a permitted operation. We have all our insurance.

We are aware of the dangers of an operation such as this. We take precautions. But, you know, we enjoy what we do. We feel it's necessary for the surrounding communities. And yes, we will rebuild. GUTIERREZ: All right. Robert Medrano, thank you so much for joining us at a very difficult time.

MEDRANO: My pleasure.

GUTIERREZ: Now, so far there are no containment figures. The CDF officials are flying right now, trying to assess the acreage that has been burned and also how much of an upper hand they've been able to gain. But they feel that they may have this all under control by tonight.

Don, back to you.

LEMON: Yes. And those winds really, really creating quite the havoc there.

Thank you very much.

Thelma Gutierrez.

And let's continue to talk about the winds. Just 90 miles away those winds are fanning yet another fire. This one in the Fontana area, and burning close to where the Sierra fire scorched 640 acres. That was about a month ago. In the path of the flames, the Sierra Lakes Golf Club.

NGUYEN: Well, when will they and firefighters get a break? Let's check in now with CNN's Rob Marciano about those winds.


NGUYEN: Let's talk about this: invitations, resignations, confirmations. The White House deals with all of this week as it ponders the future of Iraq.

A White House briefing just wrapped up, and our Suzanne Malveaux was there. She joins us now live with the latest.

What did you hear, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, something that's also wrapping up probably in the next 10 or 15 minutes or so is President Bush's meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. He's a very important leader in Iraq. He's a Shiite leader, and he is in charge of the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament, also as well as a militia group.

Now, he arguably is more -- more powerful than Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who President Bush met with last week. And what's significant about this meeting as well is that he is a rival to the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American.

So the idea, of course, becoming closer to al-Hakim would, in some ways, marginalize Sadr's power, his ability inside of Iraq. Also very important is Hakim's close ties to Iran. In some ways it really gives the administration a chance in some ways to influence the impact Iran has on Iraq, not directly, but by working with leaders like Hakim.

Now, we have been told that Hakim is coming as an Iraqi representative, not as a leader or representative of Iran. But certainly that is going to be part of the discussion.

The other controversial aspect of this, Betty, is the fact that he's in charge of this militia, the Badr Brigades, armed from Iran, trained in Iran. And also, Iraqis very fearful of that militia group. They believe that they've been engaged in torture, that they're a part of the death squads.

Hakim has denied that from the very beginning. But we asked that to U.S. officials, posing the question, is this the kind of guy that the president should be talking to or who he needs to talk to?


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a man who spent 20 years in Iran when Saddam Hussein was in power. But he's also made it clear that he sees himself as an Iraqi leader, not somebody who is beholden to Iran. As regards to the issue of militias, certainly they're going to be discussed in the meeting with the president.


MALVEAUX: So, so far, U.S. officials expressing satisfaction, at least some sense of confidence here that they don't believe he's necessarily involved in some of those harsher allegations -- as you know, the death squads and militias -- but Betty, it's hard to separate because you've got all that sectarian violence and you've got these leaders who represent these different groups. They want to make sure that he is, in fact, on board, that his group is not a part of the problem, but part of the solution -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, you bring up a very interesting point. And as we wait to hear what comes of that meeting, let me ask you this. The meeting today with al-Hakim, does that compromise, by any means, al-Maliki's power in Iraq?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it depends on who you ask. It certainly could if you look at the situation with al-Maliki.

We know that Hakim, in some sense, and certainly in Iraq, is viewed as perhaps even more powerful than Maliki. So if Maliki's leadership is so weak, if it falls apart, if they decide this is not working, then Hakim certainly is an alternative. But the Bush administration is not saying that at this point.

They're saying, we are still sticking with Maliki. We still believe that we can try to bolster his regime, his government. But Hakim does offer an alternative if it doesn't work out.

NGUYEN: Some perspective there.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

Thank you, Suzanne.

LEMON: Now let's head to the U.N., where U.S. Ambassador John Bolton is on his way out. We may hear from Bolton and the president in about an hour.

Meantime, let's get the latest from Senior U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth.

Hi, Richard.


John Bolton is stepping down. He says, in effect, he feels, according to some officials, maybe it will be too much of a distraction for the Bush administration if he was to try to keep his post. It would have required some maneuvering by the White House to bypass Congress where, after the election results of November, Bolton certainly didn't have more support than he had when he had those contentious confirmation hearings a couple of years ago.

Here at the United Nations, there was praise for John Bolton today. Also guarded reserve in reviewing Bolton's term, including remarks by secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.


KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: I think it's difficult to blame one individual ambassador for difficulties on some of these issues, whether it is reform or some other issues. But I think what I have always maintained, that it is important that the ambassadors work together, that the ambassadors understand that to get concessions, they have to make concessions, and they need to work with each other for the organization to move ahead.


ROTH: Kofi Annan's deputy, Mark Malik Brown, the deputy secretary- general, had been on the receiving end of Bolton's ire. And many times -- several times Bolton demanded an apology after the deputy secretary-general criticized the type of audiences Bolton might be appealing to in America. Today, the deputy secretary-general told reporters he had no comment, but he said that "No comment" with a smile on his face. That deputy secretary-general, like Kofi Annan, is also leaving office at the end of the year.

China -- Japan's ambassador said he was disappointed Bolton was stepping down. China also remarked that John Bolton was a very hard- working ambassador.


WANG GUANGYA, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I worked very closely with him. And I believe that he's hard-working. And so I regret that he's going to resign.

QUESTION: Did he change the place at all? GUANGYA: I think that, in a way, yes, because he's different (ph). He's hard-working. He's pushed the American interest here. So I think that this is what my impression.

Sometimes we differed, but certainly I think that I can work together with him. He knows the job.


ROTH: Diplomats such as the French ambassador and others praised Bolton's legal bulldog approach to working out difficulties on resolutions such as the Lebanon-Israel-Hezbollah conflict and North Korea sanctions. Others thought he was a bit of a bully and played favorites.

John Bolton, though, will be remembered here. He will leave a mark here at the United Nations, especially for some ambassadors who he said he seemed to get them to start coming in to work earlier at the Security Council, at least for the month when he was president of the Council. That may not last long, though, after he's gone.

Back to you, Don.

LEMON: And Richard, that's opinions. What about overall effectiveness?

ROTH: Overall effectiveness, I would have to say that he was pretty effective, though his lack of finesse, whether that has any lasting impact, many diplomats here know that ambassadors just represent their countries and are given certain instructions. But he was definitely, I would say, one of the more effective U.S. ambassadors over the last few terms that I've observed. But because of what happened in Iraq and the other troubles of the Bush administration, that really will overhang everything.

LEMON: Senior U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth.

Thank you, sir.

NGUYEN: In other political news, Robert Gates will be in the hot seat tomorrow, with Iraq as the background. Confirmation hearings are set to begin for President Bush's choice to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

Let's go now to CNN's Dana Bash on Capitol Hill with a preview.

Hi there, Dana.


And Robert Gates is making his final round of courtesy calls to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee before that confirmation hearing, which is tomorrow morning. But even as senators look forward to somebody new in charge at the Pentagon, the man who still is in the job, Donald Rumsfeld, is still causing quite a bit of controversy here on Capitol Hill, even angering some fellow Republicans.

At issue is a memo that Secretary Rumsfeld wrote the day before the election last month but was leaked over the weekend in which he said that there should be major adjustments in tactics in Iraq. Now, after a meeting with Robert Gates, Republican senator Susan Collins was openly frustrated. She said that the leaking of the memo was a strategy of trying to leave office, saying that you actually had a lot of good plans but that was -- they were different from what you heard in public.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I found the memo to be inconsistent with very recent testimony and statements by the secretary of defense. And I wish very much that he had shared those findings and recommendations with Congress many months ago.


BASH: Now, that frustration with Secretary Rumsfeld is one of the main reasons why Republicans and Democrats alike are likely to allow Robert Gates to go forward with his nomination and probably rather quickly. We expect, perhaps, the vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee to be as early as tomorrow, late afternoon, or evening, after the hearing, and even a full Senate vote expected by the end of the week.

But even though perhaps the nomination might seem like a sure thing at this point, we certainly can expect there to be some serious tough questions tomorrow morning at this hearing. Of course, the issue, by and large, will be about Iraq.

So far, Robert Gates has held his cards very close to the vest when it comes to his personal feelings and views on Iraq policy and how that should change in a written questionnaire that he returned to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. He simply did not say whether or not he thought it was a good idea to withdraw troops or not, but he also said that he would have done some things differently in Iraq -- excuse me -- but he did not -- was not specific on what those things would have been -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, maybe he'll elaborate tomorrow. Dana Bash will be watching.

Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

LEMON: We were all talking about this story a while ago. It was disturbing when it happened, and T.J. Holmes has some developing news about this.

What's going on? Human smuggling. Remember that?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. A lot of us remember this story.

That was in May 2003. This was the deadliest smuggling incident in this country's history. Nineteen illegal immigrants died in that.

Well, that man you're looking at there, Tyrone Williams, now been convicted. He was the truck driver.

He has been convicted on 58 counts having to do with that transport and death of those illegal immigrants. There were some 70, 75 illegal immigrants packed in the back of his truck.

They ended up, some of them, 19 of them, dying of dehydration, overheating, suffocation. This was an ugly scene, a horrible story that we all remember. Again, that was back in May of 2003.

Now, last year he was convicted in another trial having to do with a smuggling incident, but that conviction ended up being thrown out. So he was retried, and now, again, he has been convicted on 58 counts having to do with the death of 19 illegal immigrants he was trying to transport from south Texas to Houston.

What is going to happen now to Mr. Williams is that the same jury that just convicted him on those 58 counts now going to determine whether or not he is going to get the death penalty. That phase of the trial is expected to begin immediately, maybe as early as this Wednesday. And that same jury will decide whether or not he gets the death penalty.

The law does allow that in case someone, an illegal immigrant, dies, then the person who was helping in that transport can be -- can get the death penalty. So they are now going to decide.

But again, this is the second trial for Mr. Tyrone Williams. Again, guilty -- a guilty verdict on 58 counts having to do with those 19 illegal immigrant deaths -- guys.

LEMON: Yes. Even now you still can't believe it when you hear it.

All right. T.J. Holmes, thank you very much for that.

We know what killed a former Russian spy. Now Scotland Yard travels to Moscow on the trail of whodunit and why?

Espionage junkies, stay right where you are. The NEWSROOM is on the case.

NGUYEN: Where should your kids go to school? Well, the Supreme Court revisits the tricky issue of affirmative action and the business of busing.

We're live from Washington ahead right here in the NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: Finding a balance. Is it OK to use race as a way to assign kids to racially balance a city's schools? Well, the Supreme Court took on the issue of affirmative action today, with justices asking whether school districts give too much weight to race in deciding where kids go to school. CNN's Gary Nurenburg is in front of the Supreme Court with an update.

Hi there, Gary.


This is essentially the latest chapter in a struggle this country has had for decades, since essentially 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled that American schools had to desegregate. Since then, local school boards have come up with various plans to desegregate, to integrate, to achieve and then maintain racial diversity. Many of those plans challenged in court along the way, as justices struggle to find what are constitutionally acceptable means.

Today, demonstrators arrived at the Supreme Court to express their support for plans in Louisville and in Seattle. Each of those school districts on occasion uses race as one factor in deciding where children can attend schools.

The bottom-line philosophy here is that racial diversity is a good thing and that children sometimes have to be denied entrance to schools they would like to go to because their presence there would upset that racial diversity. Justices today were skeptical.

Chief Justice John Roberts quoting the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, saying, it teaches us we are to be, each one of us, treated by our individual skills as individuals and not judged on our race. How, he asked, do we get around that? Other justices asked lawyers arguing for the plans today, how if racial diversity is a good thing, is it possible that we can have plans that do not use race as a factor?

Those are some of the struggles the justices are making, the country is making as it tries to come up with a way to achieve and maintain racial diversity in schools. The question is, where do you draw the line?

The answer from this Supreme Court, sometime in the next several months, will provide that roadmap for school districts across the country. It could have a major impact in cities throughout the United States. It could be one of the most significant cases of this term -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, it could. CNN's Gary Nurenburg will be watching.

Thank you for that.

LEMON: The poisoning of a former Russian spy left traces of radiation all over London. Now British police, trying to follow the trail of clues, have widened their investigation to Moscow.

CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh joins us now from Scotland Yard with late- breaking details.

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The Metropolitan Police here in London are confirming that health officials are searching two more locations here in London for traces of radiation, as you mentioned, that might be related to the mysterious death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy that died here last month.

Now, what's interesting that officials are saying is that these two locations include a hotel in Chelsea, as well as an office building in central London. As you mentioned, these developments come as British anti-terrorism officials expand their investigation from here all the way over to Moscow.


VAN MARSH (voice over): British anti-terrorism officers are on the ground in Moscow as Scotland Yard expands its investigation into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. They've told Russian authorities that they want to question witnesses who met Litvinenko in London shortly before his death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): President Putin said that Russia would provide all the cooperation for the investigation.

VAN MARSH: But Russia's foreign minister is warning that continued suggestions that official Russian involvement in Litvinenko's death could damage Moscow's relations with Britain. Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying there's "... the necessity to avoid any kind of politicization of this matter, this tragedy."

The developments come as the British press explores various motives behind Litvinenko's death, like whether Litvinenko allegedly had a plan to blackmail Russian politicians, businessmen and journalists allegedly linked to espionage, or that rogue Russian intelligence agents were allegedly settling scores with Litvinenko, a vocal critic of the Kremlin.

Litvinenko posed for this picture taken last year with other Kremlin critics. Anna Politkovskaya, in the middle, was shot dead a few weeks later. On the left is exiled Chechen separatist leader Ahmed Zokayev.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will see that it is an intelligence officer, a Russian intelligence officer, either former or existing.

VAN MARSH: From his death bed, Litvinenko accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of signing off on his assassination. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement in the poisoning.

Meanwhile, doctors say a second man found to have ingested a potentially lethal dose of Polonium-210 is not showing signs of illness. Mario Scaramella is now in a London hospital. He met Litvinenko on the day and place that he was thought to have been poisoned to warn Litvinenko he thought both of their lives were in danger.


VAN MARSH: Now, Scotland Yard's antiterrorism officials are expected to meet with several people while they're in Moscow, including a former spy who met with Litvinenko on the day that he fell ill. But what's going to be key in this investigation is just how much cooperation these British officials will get from their Russian counterparts -- Don.

LEMON: Alphonso Van Marsh joining us from London. Thank you very much for that, sir.

Tonight on a special edition of "AC 360," Anderson Cooper devotes a whole hour to the Litvinenko poisoning plot. Go beyond the headlines and sound bites tonight at 10:00 Eastern.

NGUYEN: Well, a major Shiite leader from Iraq visits the White House. What does it signal for the country's future and what does it mean for its embattled prime minister?

Up next, we're reading the political tea leaves with a Middle East expert. You don't want to miss this.

Stay in the NEWSROOM.


LEMON: McDonald's is once again trying to shape up its image. Susan Lisovicz joins us from the New York stock exchange with all the details.

Looking might fetching today, I might add, Susan.

How are you?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Don. Well, I'm trying to shape up my image for you to keep pace with you.

The fast food giant is testing high-tech mini gyms at seven locations in California, Illinois, Colorado and Oklahoma. The "R" gyms are -- as in Ronald McDonald -- are aimed at smaller kids than us, ages 4 through 12. They have features like stationary bikes with video games that play only when a child pedals. And electronic basketball courts that cheer players.

If the "R" gyms are a hit, McDonald's could convert its more than 5,000 play places over the next year.

McDonald's often blamed for the growing problem of childhood obesity. The company recently began offering apple slices and low fat milk and expanding its salad menu, whether kids like it or not, Don.

LEMON: But everyone's not happy. Not everybody's cheering about this one.

LISOVICZ: No, right. Because they say that, you know, I mean, there's still a long way to go. That McDonald's is simply trying to bolster its image, that it's a P.R. move, and dodge possible legislation, as well as obesity lawsuits. We saw a couple of them here in New York a few years ago.

One worry is that parents may actually overestimate the benefits of the "R" gym and allow their kids to eat even more junk food.

McDonald's, of course, has a different viewpoint. It says the move, along with its healthy menu improvements, are evidence of its seriousness about fighting childhood obesity.


LISOVICZ: Coming up, one of Pfizer's most promising new drugs crashes and burns. I'll tell you the reaction on Wall Street in the next hour of NEWSROOM.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


LEMON: Yes, we've got this one just in. Let's go to T.J. Holmes.

T.J., watching the pictures come in. Unbelievable.

HOLMES: Yes, take a look at these pictures here. This is here in the Atlanta area. A live picture you're looking at of an accident on Interstate 20 where a tour bus has apparently run into the back of a semi.

You see that semi there to your right. The trailer of it there on the right of the screen, the white. And then, of course, you can make out the tour bus there that has a hole, essentially in the side of it, where it looks like maybe the firefighters had to cut that open to get in there.

We're trying to get word on injuries right now. A local affiliate reporting that maybe there's just been one injury in this accident. You wouldn't think that, looking at that scene. But also we don't know how many people might have been on this bus. We don't know.

We know it's a tour bus, but don't know if an actual tour was going on at the time, people -- how many people were on the bus, if it was full of people.

Again, more pictures here we're showing. We took it just a short time ago. But just an ugly, nasty mess of a scene. Looks like an awfully hard impact, violent impact, with, we're hearing right now, just one injury. Going to keep an eye on these -- on these pictures here for you, as well -- Don.

LEMON: Certainly amazing. Let's keep those up for a little bit. Look at that, T.J., right into the back, almost perfectly into the back of that semi.

HOLMES: I mean, squarely, almost like you're aiming for the sucker and you couldn't hit it any better. But don't know exactly what the -- what this scene was and what happened and why this might have happened, but we all know here in Atlanta, working out of Atlanta, traffic out there on those highways, I-20, things like this, we see them day in and day out, cars running into the back of each other.

LEMON: Yes. We certainly hope they're OK. Thanks, T.J.

NGUYEN: Let's talks some politics now. He's been an ally of Iran and an opponent of Iraq's prime minister, but today he is President Bush's special guest.

Cleric Abdul Azziz Al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the largest bloc of Iraq's parliament, huddled with Mr. Bush at the White House. What effect could this meeting have on the fragile balance of power in Iraq?

Let's take a look at that with Ken Pollack from the Brookings Institution.

Thanks for being with us, Ken.

KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Thank you, Betty. My pressure.

NGUYEN: We'll still waiting to get word on what has come out of this meeting. But in your eyes, how productive do you think it's going to be?

POLLACK: Well, obviously, we don't know. It really depends on what both sides bring to the meeting. If President Bush just wants to berate Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, my guess is that it's not going to be very productive. By the same token, if Abdul Azziz al-Hakim wants to tell President Bush to do something that he doesn't want to do, that's not going to be very productive.

But there is the potential for these two men to actually make some progress. In particular, what's important about this meeting is that it is President Bush reaching out beyond Nuri al-Maliki to the real powers behind the throne.

I think what the administration has finally recognized is that Prime Minister al-Maliki is really, ultimately captive to these major Shia militia figures. And that, unless they're willing to allow him to take steps, he's not going to be able to do so.

NGUYEN: So is this a way for the U.S. to hedge its bets on al- Maliki? If he doesn't pan out, then they've got a friend in al-Hakim?

POLLACK: No, I don't think it's necessarily that. I think it's more of a matter of trying to make it possible for al-Maliki to actually do something useful.

I think that the president really does believe that al-Maliki is the best hope for his policy in Iraq to work out. But I think that they're coming to a more realistic appraisal that al-Maliki can't do it by himself and, in fact, his power is extremely limited. And that, unless he's got the backing of very powerful militia figures like Hakim, it's unlikely he can do anything.

NGUYEN: Well, as you know, everybody's weighing in on the violence in Iraq, the situation that many say is spiraling out of control. U.N. secretary-general -- outgoing that is -- Kofi Annan, says that the situation there is beyond a civil war.

Do you agree with that, and do you feel this maybe could spread throughout the region?

POLLACK: Well, I certainly think that we are already in a state of civil war in Iraq. It's a low to midlevel civil war.

The problem is that the trend lines are very bad. It is headed the kind of toward the Bosnia-like or Lebanon-like or Congo-like all- out civil war. And you know, what we've seen, Betty, historically is that those kind of civil wars do have a tendency to spread. One civil war can cause another civil war.

Remember, it was the civil war in Rwanda that ultimately caused the civil war in Congo. Civil war in mandatory Palestine, today the state of Israel, caused civil war in Jordan, which caused civil war in Lebanon, which caused civil war in Syria.

So there's a very big danger of this situation getting further out of hand.

NGUYEN: Well, as we look to solutions, Annan says that the international community must step in to help. But I do want to mention, too, that al-Hakim says that Iran should play a role. I want you to take a listen to what he says about Iran.


ABDUL HAZZIZ AL-HAKIM, IRAQI SHIITE LEADER (through translator): They can help Iraq and the Iraqis a lot. They can participate in solving security and economic problems.


NGUYEN: Granted, al-Hakim has strong ties with Tehran. What do you think about Iran getting involved in this?

POLLACK: Well, as you point out, Hakim has very strong preexisting ties to Iran. We should also keep in mind that Hakim, as a Shia, is very nervous about not having his big backer, the Iranians, at the table, if the Sunnis are going to get to bring their big backers, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Turks to the table.

That said, there's no question that Iran could be very helpful in dealing with problems in Iraq. It does have quite a bit of influence there.

By the same token, we shouldn't get carried away with that. I think there are a lot of people who are calling for talks with Iran as if that's going to solve problems. Iran has some influence in Iraq. It would be very useful to have that influence harnessed to the forces of progress, because quite frankly, we need every bit of help that we can get, but we shouldn't assume that Iran can solve the problems of Iraq. NGUYEN: Well, if you ask General John Abizaid. He has a very clear view of Iran's involvement in Iraq. And it's not a pretty picture. Listen to what he has to say.


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It's clear that money is coming in through their intelligence services. Training is probably being conducted inside Iran through various surrogates and proxies. Iranian equipment is finding its way into the hands of Shia extremist groups. It's hard to believe that that's not a matter of policy from the Iranian government.


NGUYEN: So with that in mind, how careful should these talks be with Iran?

POLLACK: Very careful. Because the fact of the matter is that the Iranians are doing all of these different things that General Abizaid talks about. And they're not contributing to the security and stability of Iraq.

But by the same token, those are the reasons that Iran has influence inside of Iraq. And it's those very features, that very support that Iran is providing, that allows them to push various Iraqi Shia groups in different directions, should they choose to do so.

It's why dealing with the Iranians, finding a way to harness them and bring them into this process could be very helpful. But it is also a cautionary note, that the Iranians ultimately have subtly different interests from us, that they might want to take things in a different direction.

And again, as I said, even if they are fully cooperative with us, we need to be very reserved about what we can expect from them. They can't solve the problems of Iraq for us.

NGUYEN: It is a very delicate and possibly even dangerous dance that will be taken up.

We'll see, Ken Pollack. Thank you for your time.

And we want to remind you, our viewers, that we are waiting for tape to come from the White House of that meeting between al-Hakim and President Bush today. We'll bring it to you when it happens.

LEMON: And critics say it's about more than a missing flight when travelers are on the losing end of a terror risk score. That's ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Oh, boy, T.J., looks like driver is trapped, right?

HOLMES: Yes, we're watching these pictures here now. We're talking about this bus crash, this charter bus here in Atlanta, outside Atlanta just west on I-20, ran into the back of a semi here.

And we were watching this activity. You're looking at tape here. But we're also monitoring live pictures of what appears to be -- I mean, at the time ten or so rescue workers cutting delicately in certain sections, areas of this bus, because we're getting reports that now the bus driver is trapped in the middle of all of that.

Of course, you know where the bus driver would be sitting, right in the front of that bus. Don't know how hard that impact was. But you can see there, it was a pretty violent impact. Smashed the front of that bus in a little bit and, apparently, the driver is trapped.

We don't know from local authorities what kind of shape that driver might be in, how bad a shape, how injured he is. Don't know if he even is able to communicate with the firefighters at this time. Don't know if he's able to talk to him, if he's OK. But they know he is still there, and they are working to get him out.

Don't know what really caused this crash, what might have been happening on the road at the time, how the incident happened. We also don't know how many other people might have been on the bus. Again, it is a chartered bus, as you can see here.

But we're continuing to monitor, showing you video here, but we're monitoring live pictures, as well, to see what kind of shape the bus driver might be in. But they are working right now to cut him out and get that person untrapped from that driver's seat, guys.

We're going to keep our eye on that for you.

LEMON: Yes. As soon as we know, you'll know. Thank you, T.J.

PHILLIPS: Well, if you're traveling by air, body x-rays at the airport, one of two new security systems that have privacy advocates up in arms.

CNN's Jeanne -- Jeanne Meserve, that is, reports.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a bombardment of low-level x-rays, this so-called backscatter machine can detect weapons concealed on the body. It also reveals the body itself in exquisite and embarrassing detail.

But with new modifications, operators of the machines will now see only the body's outline. And so the Transportation Security Administration plans to begin pilot testing later this month at Phoenix and a handful of other airports.

But privacy advocates say the more intimate images could still be stored and misused.

MARC ROTENBERG, ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFO CENTER: Essentially they're putting a digital fig leaf on the image. The machine itself can still record all the detail and store that information for use at a later point.

MESERVE: The TSA disputes that.

ELLEN HOWE, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: The images, once they leave the screen, will be gone forever. They will not be saved in any way, shape or form.

MESERVE: Other details about travelers certainly are being saved by the government. For the past four years, in secret, the government has compiled information on people entering and leaving the country, scoring the risk they pose by computer. And it plans to keep the data for 40 years. It is called the Automated Targeting System, or ATS.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Job one for me is keep bad people out of the United States. That is what the people of this country expect.

MESERVE: But privacy advocates are livid that the government will share the information with state and local governments, even government contractors. Travelers aren't aware of their score. Getting the information on which it is based and correcting mistakes is cumbersome and lengthy.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: The concern with this is that innocent people will not just not be allowed to fly as a result of ATS, but also they'll be denied jobs, they'll be denied contracts and licenses and other benefits as a result of being erroneously identified by the government as terrorists.

MESERVE: Business Travel Coalition says it was stunned to learn of what it calls a massively intrusive program. Some Democratic members of Congress are also up in arms and promising hearings.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


LEMON: And straight ahead, entertainment news with A.J. Hammer of SHOWBIZ TONIGHT.

Hey, A.J., what's on tap?


Well, the country's most prestigious honors go out to five superstars. And Nicole Kidman finally gets her man back. I'll have all that and more when CNN NEWSROOM returns.


LEMON: Well, honors for the best of stage screen and music. Plus, Hollywood and rehabilitation. One star gets out after his second stint for treatment.

Here with the names, the places and the details, live from New York, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT's" A.J. Hammer.

How you doing?

HAMMER: Good, Don. I got all that information, from Hollywood to Nashville, and India to Britain, five of the world's leading superstars were presented with America's highest tribute for excellence in the performing arts, the Kennedy Center Honors.


DOLLY PARTON, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: It feels good. It's a great honor. And we're very proud to be here with all these other great artists.

HAMMER (voice-over): Country music star and actress Dolly Parton joined film director Steven Spielberg, Motown legend Smoky Robinson, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and composer Zubin Mehta as the five entertainers were given the prestigious honor in Washington, D.C.

Following a private reception with the president and the first lady, the five honorees headed on over to the Kennedy Center, where a roster of their very famous friends and colleagues presented their awards.

ARETHA FRANKLIN, SINGER: He is my oldest and dearest friend. So at the moment, I think it's only fair to ask you, Smoke, what took you so long?

HAMMER: What took you so long, indeed, Smoky. Singer Aretha Franklin, Sarah Brighton, Reba McEntire and Tom Hanks, just a few of the stars who were paying tribute to their very famous friends.

One slightly uncomfortable moment did come in the course of the evening when Jessica Simpson, who was singing "9 to 5", abruptly ended the song with the words, "Dolly, that made me so nervous."

Later on...


LEMON: A.J., we're going to get back to you.