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Bitter Cold, Blustery Winds, Plunging Temperatures in the U.S.; Gen. Petraeus Meets with Yemeni President; Tension at a Tipping Point in Iran

Aired January 02, 2010 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: As we go on the air tonight, tension at a tipping point in Iran. At any moment, we could see another uprising on the streets. What's behind this latest round? CNN's Iran desk is on the job.

In the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Yemen, a top secret meeting, anti-terror meeting between that country's president and President Obama's top military man station there. We will tell you what went on. CNN knows.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon.

We want to start with a developing story, though, right now. Bitter cold, blustery winds and plunging temperatures. Not one, but two weather systems are making a messy start to 2010, to this year, for much of our country. Look at those wind chills there in the radar that you see right there.

Now, an arctic blast sent the mercury plummeting in Minnesota. 34 degrees below zero in some parts of the state. That's close to a record. And, imagine this, in south Minnesota, about 3500 people were without electricity for a time this morning in that bitter cold.

And the story is snow in Maine, where the year's first big storm is packing a real punch. And the sunshine state is it not immune to this brutal system either. Parts of Florida are under a hard freeze warning, and citrus growers are on edge tonight keeping an eye on their crops.

And it is a gusty night right here in New York City, where I am. Look at that as we go on the air, 12 degrees. And the wind chill even colder than that. I think at last check, Jacqui, it was about -- minus 1, wind chill here in New York City. So it's definitely frigid in a big, big part of our country.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it really is. In fact, you know, the wind chill conditions making your body feel really awful out there. And it just take a matter of minutes in order to get frostbite tonight.

Now, this is what we're expecting. The worst of this arctic blast coming in is tomorrow morning. So this will be the worst. But, unfortunately, it's going to linger through probably the middle of next week. So we're expecting it to feel like temperatures in the 30s below zero, across the upper Midwest, and even all the way down to the south. We're looking at tens and 20s, and that is extremely cold for places like Florida as you mentioned.

Now we saw this morning a number of record lows across the Dakotas and into Minnesota. The coldest wind chill reading was 54 below zero in Granite Falls, Minnesota. And we're starting to see those 20s and 30s begin to develop across the region.

Now I talked a minute about how dangerous that is, and how long it will take you to get frostbite. I posted this wind chill chart on my Facebook page if you're interested. And this range, we're only looking at a matter of 15 to 30 minutes with those kinds of temperatures. So brutally, brutally cold.

That's all due to an arctic high pressure system. Now, we got another system we're dealing with that's bringing in the low pressure and the snow conditions across the northeast. This is that same pesky low that was bugging us late in the week last week including your New Year's Eve plans that you had in the northeast.

This is bringing in some very strong winds. And this system is actually doing what we call retrograding. It's moving backwards, closer towards the coast. And that's why the winds are going to pick up in intensity for tonight and continue throughout much of the day tomorrow. Now the worst of the snow was going to be somewhere here along I-95 and in land. That's where we're expecting to see a good foot of snow or so. But the winds are going to be strong all over the place. And so we've had a lot of delays at some of the airports in the northeast. A lot of holiday travelers still out there, Don. Boston and Newark over two hours. We're expecting these delays continue through tomorrow as that low hovers near the coast.

LEMON: All right, keep watch. Jacqui, we'll check back. Thank you so much.

We want to talk now about some tough talk and a personal message today on terrorism from Pres. Barack Obama. He made a direct connection between the suspect in the Christmas Day terror attack on a U.S. airliner and an al Qaeda forces based in Yemen.

The president said the group, al-Qaeda, in the Arabian Peninsula has attacked U.S. targets before, and the U.S. he vowed is fighting back.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So as a president, I've made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government; training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al Qaeda terrorists. And even before Christmas Day, we had seen the results; training camps had been struck, leaders eliminated, plots disrupted. And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know you, too, will be held to account.


LEMON: There's another development tonight that we want to tell you about involving Yemen. President Barack Obama has been briefed on today's meeting between the president of Yemen and the commander of U.S. central command General David Petraeus. Yemen's president offered his thanks for U.S. help and Yemen's battle against extremist.

Our Ed Henry is travelling with the president. He is in Hawaii.

Ed, I want to start with this. The president remarks tying al- Qaeda forces in Yemen to the Christmas Day attack.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: His strongest words yet, Don. He had not gone there yet in remarks throughout this past week or so. I think that is very important to note. But I also think what you just mentioned about the president being briefed about General David Petraeus' trip to Yemen. That is a clear signal that the U.S. is still leaving the door open potentially to more air strikes against al Qaeda targets in Yemen.

Bottom line is even before the Christmas Day incident in mid- December, there have been reports that basically the U.S. in working with the Yemeni government depending on who pulled the trigger. There were air strikes against al Qaeda in Yemen. And this is very clear from what the president said today, and the fact that General Petraeus is on the ground in Yemen, meeting with officials there. That the U.S. is still weighing various options about potentially issuing more air strikes in the days ahead. And so it's very clear that there's an intense focus right now on al Qaeda in Yemen -- Don?

LEMON: He says he will hold people accountable, Ed, for the security mistakes that he calls here in the United States.

Explain to us what he's talking about. What he means by that.

HENRY: He's zeroing in on this CIA, potentially other intelligence officials who have sort of what might be called a pre- 9/11 mentality. In the early part, the preliminary findings of the investigation that the president ordered he gets by last Thursday. What we're told by senior officials, he's getting in terms of information is that the CIA knew that this eventual suspect had some -- or appeared to at least have some sort of ties to extremists in Yemen, potentially elsewhere, and didn't necessarily share that with other intelligence officials. That was the kind of breakdown that we saw that lead to 9-11.

Thankfully, in this case, it sort of fizzled out, because it didn't fully detonate. But it could have been an horrific attack on Christmas Day. So the president on Tuesday, his first full day in the White House is going to have after this vacation, the CIA leaders, other intelligence officials in the White House situation room demanding answers about what went wrong, and more importantly beyond pointing blame. What went wrong? What are you going to fix now to prevent future attacks? That's really the point of all of this talk.

LEMON: Yes. And Ed, it's a good reminder there, as you are with the president. The president is vacationing. And you can see so are other folks getting on with their lives. We can hear the music there with people on their vacation enjoying in Hawaii.

Ed, thank you very much. We really appreciate that.

HENRY: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: There's new evidence for the growing U.S. concerns about political instability in Yemen and Somalia. And the terror threats emerging from both countries. This video from yesterday in Somalia al-Shabaab fighters wrapping up military training near Mogadishu. Their leader says the fighters are prepared to battle government forces in both Somalia and in Yemen. And in response, Yemen is reportedly tightening security along its coast.

Earlier I discussed the situation in Yemen and today's visit by General David Petraeus with military intelligence analyst Ken Robinson. I asked him if he thinks the general's trip could be a precursor to wider U.S. action in Yemen.


KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST (via telephone): Well, I think it is, because what we have right now is really good diplomacy going on because they're trying to establish legitimacy with the government of Yemen and with the Arab street because these bombings are going to happen, and legitimacy is going to be half the battle. The other part of it is going to be proper target selection of legitimate targets that have had to do with either giving sanctuary to al Qaeda or threatening the survival of the state of Yemen, and we have to avoid collateral damage in the process.


LEMON: And meantime, we're getting word about a possible link between the Christmas Day terror attack and November massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas. A U.S. counterterrorism official tells CNN that would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had direct contact with Muslim cleric name Anwar al-Awlaki. He is the same American-born Imam who exchange e-mails with the accused Ft. Hood gunman Nidal Hasan.

Shades of the old west. Pro-basketball players accused of drawing guns. The off-court action, the law enforcement officials are stepping in to take care of.

And American Airlines popping up on the feds radar.

Also, your comments are wanted tonight right here on CNN. It's how you get on the air -- Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or


LEMON: Two Delta planes, same smoky smell in the cockpit, and same decision to turn back to Boston twice today. An unidentified odor forced pilots to do an about face shortly after takeoff and land back at Logan International Airport. The first plane was headed to New York with 34 people on board. The second was headed to Ohio with 38 people. Delta says its pilots were acting out of an abundance of safety. Both incidents are under investigation tonight.

The FAA is keeping a close eye on American Airlines after the carrier had three botched landings in less than two weeks. You're looking at video of the worst of the incidents when a jet overran a runway in Jamaica, injuring 91 passengers. That came just a few days after a plane slip off the side of a North Carolina run way. And on Christmas Eve, an MD-80 struck its wingtip while landing in Texas. American Airlines is said to be cooperating with the FAA while conducting its own investigation.

A locker room incident could cost a pro-basketball team much more than a game. Police are investigating a reported stand-off between players Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton of the Washington Wizards. Well, the "New York Post" reports the two players drew guns during a dispute over a gambling debt. Arenas denies the story, but the team admits he brought hand guns into the locker room. Coach Flip Saunders discussed the distraction.


FLIP SAUNDERS, WASHINGTON WIZARDS COACH: You'd like as a coach a player who's able to totally focus on your game at hand, and when you have other things to distract off the court or whatever, you know, those are things that you're always concerned about. But from my standpoint, and as I told our players, you know, we still get judged on what we do as far as on the court. You know, for the guys that are here, doing things.


LEMON: Well, the family of the teams late owner called the incident dangerous and disappointing.

An update tonight on the controversial firing of Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach. In an affidavit released by the university today, team athletic trainer Steve Pincock states that Leach told him to lock wide receiver Adam James in a dark place. And Pincock says he later told James he was sorry for placing him in an equipment shed near the teams practice field. Doctors had diagnosed James with a concussion, and according to the trainer, Leach wanted James to be, quote, "uncomfortable." Leach was fired on Wednesday.

A ragged army fights in the streets of Tehran. Iran's opposition is battling the regime. And one of its leaders says he'll pay the price for his cause.

And New Year's ushers in a new era for gay couples in New Hampshire. We're going to talk to one of them, live.


LEMON: Well, the protests in Iran have quieted down, but the uneasy silence on the streets, well, hasn't been mirrored on the Internet. On Friday, the politician who's campaign for presidents sparked the recent protest. Rage against the regime's efforts to subdue protesters. And Mir Hossein Mousavi says he'll pay the ultimate price for his cause.

Reza Sayah on CNN's Iran desk is keeping an eye on the situation for us.

Have you see anything so far, Reza?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don. New video into the Iran desk. And we're going to tell you about it. For nearly a week now, Iranian officials have said security forces did not fire guns during the mass protest by the opposition movement last Sunday. New video into the Iran desk purportedly from the Sunday protest appears to show a gunman take aim and fire.

Here it is. The person shooting the video appears to be hiding behind a car. In a second right there, you see a gunman take aim, fire, and then he's going to run away. Seconds later, you're going to see what appears to be dozens of protesters run after them. During the Sunday protests, at least 7 people according to the state media in Iran were killed. State-run media says they were killed either by accident or their deaths were staged in order to spark more unrest.

Among the people killed, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader's nephew. His name Ali Mousavi. On Saturday, Mousavi's Web site said he was paid a visit by a key opposition figure, Mehdi Karoubi, who wanted to pay his respects for his nephew's death. The visit comes right after Mousavi's statements saying he's willing to die for his movement.

In the meantime, more criticism, more threats and condemnation from Iran hardliners. First off, let's show you a statement about Mousavi saying he's willing to die. "I'm not afraid of being one of the post-election martyrs who lost their lives in their struggle for their rightful demands. My blood is no different from that of other martyrs."

In the meantime, more threats and condemnation from the hardliners. This time Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati during Friday prayers blasting supporters of the opposition movement calling them enemies of god, and saying that they should be executed.

Don, hundreds of people have been arrested over the past few days. Iran's state-run media said many of them will be put on trial in the coming days.

LEMON: Hey, Reza, I think it's important that we just got this new video into CNN. I was just talking to the producer and the director about it. I'm going to roll it again, if you can explain to us what's going on because Reza is monitoring this new video coming into CNN. We're hearing that the protest could ramp up. Reza, take it away just for a bit and explain to us again.

SAYAH: This is video that hasn't been aired on CNN. And keep in mind, video is coming in during the days after the protest. And there you see what appears to be a gunman, crouch down, take aim, fire. He's going to run away. And moments later, you're going to see protesters run after him.

In the background, you see thick smoke and fire. You'll recall on Sunday during the protests, you had a lot of protesters set fire to security official vehicles and motorcycles. And there you see what you saw a lot of on Sunday, protesters overwhelming, chasing and taking advantage of the low numbers at times in intersections of security officers, at times overpowering them. Something you hadn't seen in the past that really illustrates how aggressive, how intense these protests are becoming -- Don.

LEMON: And Reza is monitoring the feeds and all of the wires to see what's going on. And we will bring it to you in this broadcast if it happens.

Reza, thank you at our Iran desk, at our headquarters in Atlanta.

Earlier, I asked two Iran experts about what could come next.


LEMON: We spoke so extensively during the initial uprising after that contested election. Fear that this is going to get out of control. Or maybe as bad as during the initial election?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: Well, Don, again, these videos really underscore for you the brutality of the Iranian government and the tremendous courage of the Iranian people. And back when we talked in June, I think there were a lot of skeptics who said, well, this opposition movement is really limited to the elite youth of northern Tehran and is soon going to fizzle out.

And we see six months later, how strong it has maintained its momentum and how it's happening not only in Tehran, but throughout the country. And I think the protesters really transcend age, geographic location, and socioeconomic class.

LEMON: This is one of the most important stories of our time. There's a democracy if Ahmadinejad is taken out of power. Before we go and talk a little bit, do you think that Ahmadinejad will be taken out of power? You believe that he's just a puppet. He is between Khomeini and then Mir Hossein Mousavi, and sort of in the middle, but really has no power.

PROF. HAMID DABASHI, IRANIAN STUDIES, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: From the beginning, as you know, he has not been a player. And particularly over the last three months, he's no longer a figure. And your concentration, the word attention on this issue is absolutely extraordinary and necessary. Because the very unique, Don, is a non- violence civil rights movement in the context of a very violent context. And the implication of this, given the demographic aspect of this movement, 80 percent of the Iranian population is under the age of 40. Fifty percent of it is under the age of 25. The reason that it has this global resonance --

LEMON: Because they are --


DABASHI: It's precisely that you have a non-violent civil rights uprising, mostly charged by...

LEMON: ...young people.

DABASHI: Young people.

LEMON: And young educated people with the tools to go online.


DABASHI: The class -- the socialist structure that's under license is really widespread is not Tehran based, is not upper middle class, is none of that. It's really spreading all over the country.


LEMON: That's Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Endowment, and Columbia University's Hamid Dabashi discussing the protest in Iran.

If you need to get away, get some sunshine and some warmth, day at the beach? Well, not as pleasant as it sounds.

Look at that, 55 degrees. That's the temperature in Miami beach right now at 10:22 Eastern Time, or 10:24 as it says there. Two minutes difference. Parts of Florida feeling a deep breeze tonight. Why it could mean trouble for the crops and the economy, of course.

And a lot of buzz around this guy tonight. He was thrown into the can after allegedly driving off with a coke machine. You got to see this video to believe it.


LEMON: Cold and Florida. Those are two words you don't often hear in the same sentence, especially if you're talking about South Florida and Miami Beach. But as we told you at the top of the hour, winter isn't skipping over the sunshine state this year.

Blake Burman from CNN affiliate WSVN joins us now live from Miami Beach. Usually you'd be in short sleeves and shorts. But not tonight. You guys aren't used to this cold weather down there, are you?

BLAKE BURMAN, WSVN REPORTER: Yes, right now, it's 55 degrees here. We were talking to a lot of people here on Lincoln Road from the Midwest. And they said, 55, that's beautiful. But not down here.

You can see, though, on Lincoln Road, it is absolutely packed. Still a lot of tourists here. But the two big accessories tonight on South Beach, sweaters and lights.


BURMAN (voice-over): Saturday night Lincoln Road, the restaurants packed and the space heaters are out.

(on camera): Did you expect to come to south Florida and sit underneath a space heater?

WHITNEY PAYNE, IOWA RESIDENT: No, not really. It ought to be a little bit warmer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we didn't bundle them enough. We should have brought more blankets.

BURMAN (voice-over): The cold no laughing matter for crop growers with a freeze watch in effect for Miami-Dade County and western Broward County. At this homestead farm, they've picked as much sweet corn as they could, Saturday. And for the crops not yet ready, they put a coat of water to keep them warm through the next several nights.

SHANNON MCNEILL, WORRIED ABOUT CROPS: We're just getting all we can, all the corn out of the field we can, between now and Wednesday morning, when a (INAUDIBLE) is supposed to be here.

BURMAN: A more festive mood Saturday night at the Junior Orange Bowl Parade in Coral Gables, an appropriate year for the theme to be Miami winter wonderland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lucked out with clear skies, and a little bit of a chill in the air.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Since I have this on, it's kind of cold.

BURMAN: Yes, it is cold. But Megan Probasco says this sure beats Iowa City.

MEGAN PROBASCO, IOWA RESIDENT: Consider yourselves lucky. It's a little chilly in Iowa.


BURMAN: So for those braving the cold, many of them at least here on Lincoln Road coming in to get some ice cream. So it's not too terrible. But it is expected to dip into the 40s here, and, of course, that is a big concern for crop growers as this freeze watch continues throughout the night.

We are live tonight on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, Blake Burman.

Back to you.

LEMON: Hey, Blake, before you leave, you know, we talked about the crops, and of course that affects the economy. But also tourism as well. Because the economy is bad. And Florida depends on tourism, especially south Florida.

What's the concern about that? Have you had a chance to speak to officials on that? BURMAN: It is a big concern. I'll tell you, though, a couple of people we spoke to, what's helping out is Iowa is in town for the bowl game. Atlanta is in town for Georgia Tech, for the Orange Bowl Game. The Pittsburgh Steelers travel, huge, so they've brought tens of thousands of fans down here. So for at least this weekend, because of football, we are fine, you can see. This is as busy as we've seen Lincoln Road here at least in the last several weeks. But the last thing we need here on Miami Beach, the ocean, just about a few blocks that way, for the temperatures to dip into the 50s. Right now, the last reading we had 55 degrees - Don?

LEMON: You're very lucky. All those people from up east, up north and east -- you know, they're used to the cold. So 55 is pretty warm for them. And you're a pro, because usually people would be yelling behind you on Lincoln Road. I've been there many times. So thank you very much. We appreciate you joining us here on CNN tonight.

Meantime, President Barack Obama links a Christmas Day plot to al Qaeda forces in Yemen. What are the targets? And what are the chances of new military strike? Is that a real possibility? The latest on a possible U.S. retaliation.


LEMON: Time now for your top stories.

A failed Christmas Day terror attack was a stark reminder of al Qaeda's ultimate goals. That's the word from a top government official who says al Qaeda is testing U.S. defenses as they plan to launch an attack on U.S. soil.

The director of the National Counterterrorism Center says U.S. officials know with absolute certainty that would-be terrorists are working to refine their methods.

The Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard whose drawings of the profit Mohammed angered the Muslim world now attacked in his own home. The suspect, an axe-wielding Somali man with suspected ties to al Qaeda. He has been charged with attempted murder. Efforts have been stepped up to protect Westergaard, who escaped the attack. He's been moved to an undisclosed location.

After days of rain and mudslides, rescuers are pulling bodies from beneath huge mountains of mud and dirt in Brazil. The coastal city of Angra Dos Reis has been especially hit hard by this. Rescue teams are on duty around the clock, but hope is fading for survivors. At least 60 people have been killed in the southeastern part of that country.

Word that U.S. General David Petraeus met with Yemen's president today has ramped up speculation about potential U.S. military action there.

And our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports the U.S. is already scouting potential new al Qaeda targets. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yemeni forces earlier this month on a raid against al Qaeda just north of the capital of Sana'a. The military shouts, "Come out. It is better for you. Do not be afraid." Shots are fired. Several suspects are finally captured.

This was one of Yemen's efforts to hit back at Al Qaeda. U.S. assistance with several recent strikes that may have killed some of these men is now openly acknowledged.

ABU BAKR AL-QIRBI, YEMENI FOREIGN MINISTER (via telephone): These are Yemeni armed forces attacks. They were of course supported by American intelligence and by the training of the Yemeni Armed forces.

STARR: What is next? The U.S. military and the intelligence community are looking at everything they have got on Al Qaeda in Yemen. Strikes are expected to continue and could involve U.S. missiles or aircraft sources say. The U.S. and Yemen are looking for targets linked to the attack of U.S. flight 253.

But direct retaliation hasn't always worked.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our target was terror. Our mission was clear. There will be no sanctuary for terrorists.

STARR: In 1998 after Al Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in east Africa, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks against targets in Afghanistan. But Al Qaeda was untouched in Afghanistan. Key operatives had long led the area.

U.S. retaliation that worked in it happened in Yemen in 2002. A U.S. drone fired a missile. One of the dead was an Al Qaeda operative believed to have been behind the October, 2000 attack on the Navy warship Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors.

(on camera): Even now, the U.S. is continuing to provide training, weapons, and intelligence to the Yemeni forces. But if President Obama decides to strike back in retaliation for the botch attack on the Northwest Airlines flight, there will be a target list for him to approve.

Barbara Starr, CNN, The Pentagon.


LEMON: Let's talk now about the possible U.S. military strike against al-Qaeda targets inside Yemen. I'm joined here in New York by Gregory Johnsen. He is currently at Princeton University. And he's written extensively about Yemen for a range of publications. I'm also joined on the phone by Edmund Hull. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen.

So we'll get to you in a second. But I want to speak to Mr. Hull.

Mr. Hull, what should our viewers know about Yemen? You say there are some misconceptions that you need to clear up?

EDMUND HULL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO YEMEN: Right. Well, the first thing is that the al Qaeda threat is not simply to U.S. interests, but very much to Yemeni interests as well. The people of Yemen have suffered a great deal in terms of economic well being because of al Qaeda's activities there. So that's number one. And I think the second thing is that -- based on that, actions by Yemeni security forces are likely to be much more effective in countering the al Qaeda threat in Yemen than direct action by U.S. military forces.

LEMON: As a former U.S. ambassador there, can you help our viewers explain to what it is like -- what is Yemen? It just seems like, and even to me, just a far away place that most people don't know about.

HULL: Well, Yemen is a very rugged country. The population of about 22 million is widely dispersed. There are areas in Yemen that are remote and therefore provide potential safe havens for al Qaeda. It's very difficult and challenging for the Yemeni government to extend government control and services to those areas, and yet that is absolutely essential in gaining the support of the Yemeni population in counterterrorism.

LEMON: Gregory Johnsen, you know, the big question -- is there a possibility of some sort of conflict? Boots in the ground, military action in Yemen?

GREGORY JOHNSEN, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: Well, in my view, that would be a catastrophic mistake. There are no easy, no obvious solution in Yemen. But I think one of the most important things for the U.S. to remember is that it's not going to defeat al Qaeda in Yemen today, tomorrow, next month or even next year. It's going to be a very long, a very hard slog. There's no magic missile solution.

LEMON: Why do you say that?

JOHNSEN: Well, al-Qaeda is someone that the U.S. has already defeated once in Yemen. It defeated it, really in -- once in '03, and al-Qaeda came back after a prison break in February of 2006.

So if the U.S. continues to go down the same road, it's going to get the same results. The U.S. is going to be fighting different incarnations of al-Qaeda in Yemen every few years.

LEMON: And so, you know, just some of the guidance from our people here at CNN, some of our Pentagon folks, some of our folks who were with the president, our foreign correspondent saying, this is a very significant development that General David Petraeus at this meeting that he had with the Yemeni president, and the discussion that he had with the president saying that this is a bit unusual in precedent setting, and a much bigger deal than many people know that it is, or if it is.

Do you agree with that? Is it a huge deal?

JOHNSEN: Well, David Petraeus last visited Yemen in July of this year. And I was actually in the country when he came. And essentially he brought the message to President Salih that, look, the United States is giving you much more money now. And the United States wants to see a return on its money. So essentially he pressed President Salih to take the fight to al Qaeda in Yemen.

LEMON: So now?

JOHNSEN: So now he's coming back with that message, only he's underlying it with harsher words and with more money that the U.S. is promising.

LEMON: He wants to see action. Is that it?

JOHNSEN: He wants the Yemeni government to take action against al Qaeda. To take very strict and stride action. The problem is, is that by focusing so exclusively on al-Qaeda within Yemen, the U.S. almost induces the type of results it's hoping to avoid.

LEMON: Do we still have Mr. Hull on the phone?

HULL: I'm here.

LEMON: Last question to Mr. Hull, do you think that there will be boots in the ground. Do you agree with Mr. Johnston that it's probably not the case?

HULL: Well, I hope there are boots on the ground, but I hope they are Yemeni boots. That's going to be more effective. The U.S. role here is providing intelligence, training, equipment. That's our comparative advantage. But I would argue strongly that we're not just talking about a military response to this problem. We've got to broaden our efforts. We've got to look at the economic, political and social factors that make Yemen attractive safe haven for al Qaeda, and we have to address those as well.

And I think the significant thing is that Washington is taking Yemen seriously. It hasn't necessarily in the past. And if we get out ahead of this, we can counter it much more effectively than being in a reactive mode.

LEMON: Edmund Hull, Gregory Johnsen, thanks to both of you.

He was on a mission to save a fallen comrade during a gun battle in Afghanistan, and was wounded himself. Hospital corpsman Anthony Ameen is a CNN hero. And you're going to see why next right here on CNN.


LEMON: In 2008, hospital corpsman Anthony Ameen and his unit were fighting and ambush by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Ameen rushed into enemy fire to save a wounded marine, but was wounded himself. Anthony Ameen has our story of a CNN hero. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANTHONY AMEEN, 3RD CLASS HOSPITAL CORPSMAN: In the last two weeks, I noticed a big change in my abilities, what I can and can't do, as far as mobility and agility.

PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 17 months and 23 surgeries, hospital corpsman 3rd class, Anthony Ameen hopes to run again one day.

AMEEN: The morning of July 21, 2008, we set up for an ambush on the Taliban. It's a very busy morning. Very hectic. And as we approached the enemy, our ambush was successful. And shortly thereafter, they did a counterattack. And we heard mortar fire, machine gunfire. We had air support helping us out.

HOLLAND: Ameen received a call over the radio from his platoon sergeant to help the wounded marine.

AMEEN: About 10, 15 feet from getting to him, all I remember is just hearing the loudest explosion I've ever heard. It seemed like dirt just pushed me off the ground about 3 to 5 feet, kind of doing like a backwards cartwheel.

HOLLAND: He had stepped on an improvised explosive device. And now both Ameen and the wounded marine needed medical attention.

AMEEN: As a corpsman, I knew that I lost my left foot. And then I heard my doctor. And I just remember he said, hey, hold on, hold on, we're going to get to you in a minute. We got to work on him. And I remember grabbing my buddy's hand, in a sense just kind of cheering him on. But I was also telling myself to kind of hang in there.

I remember after about 2:00, 3:00 minutes, my medicine was kicking in pretty hard. But I remember he let go of my hand. At that point, I kind of realized he wasn't with us anymore. That was a hard moment for me.

HOLLAND: Today Ameen is in therapy at the San Diego Naval Hospital, training with Brazilian Olympian Joaquin Cruz, who recruits for the Paralympics.


AMEEN: The hardest thing coming back home for me would be knowing that my life is completely changed forever. I also am reminded that the marine that I was running to save that day, and the reason why I said this because I think his spirit is kind of living inside of me. Because every -- I'm reminded of him constantly. And it's kind of like my motivation to get through the day, knowing that I did a good deed for somebody who unfortunately is no longer with us. But my prayers go out to his family.

HOLLAND: Ameen hopes this training will help him to once again represent the United States. This time as a member of the U.S. Paralympics team.

Philippa Holland, CNN.


LEMON: Definitely a hero.

Do you know a hero? You can nominate him or her at

You know, a couple exchanges vows for the third time, third time, in New Hampshire. And this time, it has the full backing of the law. There they are right there. We're going to meet them. Who took who's last name. I'm going to ask them that, too.


LEMON: Some gay couples in New Hampshire rang in the New Year by getting married. About 15 couples braved the cold to exchange vows outside the state house in Concord. Now the state's new law legalizing same sex marriage went into effect at 12:01 a.m. New Year's Eve. I guess that would be New Year's Day, right?

New Hampshire joins Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Iowa in allowing gay marriage. And there they are.

By Skype Jeffrey Burr and Neil Blair, they join us from Franconia, New Hampshire.

So congratulations. The picture is frozen. Let's just show some -- we're having a little bit of trouble. Maybe it's so called there. Let's show some pictures from their ceremony as I talk to them. And I want to ask you about what you did.

You did it right there at midnight. It's a civil union ceremony. It became legal two years ago, but this time you decided to wait a few hours, right? Why did you decide to wait a few hours?

JEFFREY BURR: It was a more civilized hour. We also wanted to make sure that we did it on New Year's day to take advantage of the right and the opportunity. But we we're having quite a snowstorm up here as you know, so we decided to do it during the daytime.

LEMON: During the daytime. So here's the thing. Most people would think like the coasts, you know, and the states in places where people consider liberal like New York, New York City, possibly D.C., California, that something like that would happen in those places, but instead it's happening, you know, there. And most people wouldn't think it would happen there. What do you think? What do you make of it?

BURR: Well, I think New Hampshire is an interesting state overall. And we live in very northern New Hampshire, which is actually quite rural. And we feel fully supported, fully honored and backed by our family, friends and communities up here. And I guess we just believe if it can happen here, it can happen in the United States of America. LEMON: Do you feel any differently, though, I mean, as before -- I'm sure you were in a committed relationship before. Is this more empowering? You know, people say you turn 40, do you feel any different? You turn 50, do you feel any different? When you're allowed to be able to get married, do you feel any different?

NEIL BLAIR: You know, that's a good question, because I actually didn't really think that I would feel any different. You know, third time is the charm kind of thing. And for me it was always about the civil rights, not necessarily the implied name. But I have to say that I do feel different knowing that you are married at least under the eyes of the state law here in New Hampshire. It does make a difference. You walk a little bit more confidently and a little bit more proudly.

LEMON: A lot of people talk about the sanctity of marriage. And you know, I think half or more than half of people end up getting a divorce. And, you know, it's the same amongst same-sex couples. I don't think that the percentages are any different.

What do you say about that?

BURR: Well, you know, having the right to marry and having that legal equality comes with not only the rights but the responsibilities and the obligations. And, you know, any couple, same-sex couple that marries, they have the same opportunity, but also obligation if they end their relationship, they get divorced.

So, you know, I think that it's -- you know, it's really going to be no different. And marriage is also --

LEMON: Do you --

BURR: Sorry?

LEMON: Is it -- is this a federal or a state thing? Some people say it should be decided among the states, the federal government should not be in it. So, real quickly, we're running out of time, and I want to get a couple of points to you.

Do you think it's a federal or a state issue?

BLAIR: I think it's totally a federal issue. I mean, we need to -- we need to, of course, have states rights, but until the DOMA is overturned -- don't ask, don't tell, and you know, completed quality at a federal level, we never truly will be equal. And a lot of people are not aware of the iniquities that are involved in that.

LEMON: How do you -- speaking of DOMA and speaking of all of that, the president made a big commitment on the campaign trail, and then this at the HRC Dinner a couple months ago to gay men and women saying he was going to overturn DOMA, don't ask, don't tell.

What do you think about that the president has done so far and the possibility in the future. BLAIR: Well, I think the president has done a great job so far. There's always room to move further. There's a lot to be done, and he needs to take some action. But at least here for us personally in the state of New Hampshire, we finally do have some equality.

LEMON: Jeffrey and Neil, Happy New Year to you. Congratulations. A toast to you.

BLAIR: Thanks, Don.

Thank, Don. Thanks for the opportunity.

LEMON: All right, calling all cars. Be on the lookout for a speeding coke machine. Stay with us for a coke chaser.


LEMON: Swimmers in Rhode Island showed no fear as they sprinted into the frigid ocean on New Year's Day. I could never do that. The polar bear plunge is an annual event. Although members of this club take a dip every week in winter. This year's swim will help a local teen cancer patient go somewhere considerably warmer. The money raised will go toward sending her on a dream vacation to the Caribbean.

Now, for that, I would consider doing it. So good luck to them.

If all your friends leaped into a freezing lake, would you do it, too? More than a thousand thick-skinned people plunge into Lake Minnetonka. It's part of the 20th annual ice dive. A Minnesota tradition. Even more hair raising or hair freezing, it was a zero- degree morning. I was thinking about a Seinfeld episode with George.

There are easier ways to buy a cold one than the crime committed by a man in Tennessee. He tried to steal a vending machine by chaining it to his pick-up truck. Within minutes, police were hot on his trail. But the suspect kept trying to escape even when the chain broke and he lost that machine. Police eventually caught and changed him with resisting arrest and thief. The local sheriff calls it the strangest crime that he has ever seen.

That is some weird video to look at.

Ahead, a last host at the Tavern on the Green. The iconic New York City Restaurant is shut down maybe for good. I go check it out.


LEMON: New Year's Eve may have been the last hoorah for an iconic New York City restaurant. The Tavern on the Green has gone dark. But well wishers are still gathering to toast the famous central park eatery. So I stopped by to see if I could get one last meal.


LEMON (voice-over): What a party on New Year's Eve, at the world famous Tavern on the Green. And just hours later --

(on camera): It's Friday, 12:30 just afternoon, Tavern on the Green, let's go and see if we can have some lunch here.

(voice-over): Not happening, the American icon, just off New York's Central Park is no more.

(on camera): Not open. The end of an era.

(voice-over): Americans have been in love with Tavern since it opened in the 1930s, in large part thanks to Hollywood.

CRAIG DRENOWATZ, VISITING FROM DALLAS, TEXAS: I know the first time I found out, "Ghostbusters".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I had no idea.

DRENOWATZ: Rick Moranis running around outside, you know, right before he gets eaten by the lion.

LEMON (on camera): Central Park, Tavern on the Green...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Just got to go there.

LEMON: And Tavern on the Green and weddings go together, too. Just ask Ruth Ann Warren, married here in the 1980s.

RUTH ANN WARREN, MARRIED AT TAVERN: I had a beautiful dress. It was modelled after Diana, Princess Diana, gorgeous white gown, French lace. And we had the white horse and carriage here. Beautiful memories, you know?

LEMON: What does it mean to you?

WARREN: Well, it's sad for me to see this -- I didn't believe it when I heard that it wouldn't be open anymore. It's a landmark of New York. And I can't understand how they couldn't save it. I still think that it will always be Tavern on the Green.


LEMON: Always be Tavern on the Green. What a nice sentiment that is. The restaurant shut down early Friday for at least six weeks. But its future is still very much up on the air. Tavern's new operator has yet to sign a contract with the restaurant's landlord which is the city's department of parks and recreation. If it does reopen, expect a new look and maybe even a new name. They're talking about the name in court. Let's hope they work it out. Everyone loves Tavern on the Green. Just kind of rolls off the tongue.

OK, some of your feedback now. Also, a lot of you are talking about this Javaris Crittenton story and Gilbert Arena, and commenting on it.

But let's take some of your comments right now. How much time do we have? We have a little bit here. KingofHeart says, "Bravo for pointing out that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. And contrasted the sanctity argument versus gay marriages." That's talking about the gay marriage story that we just did.

MissWilliams87 says, "Showdown in the locker room, are they crazy? They could have hurt someone else with their stupidity. Glad you're back, Don."

I don't think it was in the locker room. I think they were settling their dispute.

One more, let's see. "How long will it be before there are guns in high school locker rooms."

Very interesting stuff. Hey, really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us here tonight on CNN. And thanks for your comments. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or We still have a few more minutes here.

It's really cold in New York, so I'm stretching it because I don't want to go outside. I'm Don Lemon in Atlanta. I'll see you back here tomorrow night, 6:00, 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, Christian Amanpour host "THE WAR WITHIN," a documentary where we first aired on CNN back in 2007 about the state of radical Islam and Britain. We thought it was still timely so once again here now, "THE WAR WITHIN." Good night.