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The Situation Room

Civil Unrest Rocks France; Australian Authorities Foil Terror Plot

Aired November 07, 2005 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving simultaneously.
Happening now, a twelfth night of civil unrest is rocking France. Neither force nor reason has worked to end the violent riots outside Paris. Now, officials will impose a curfew to try to help restore order. And the clashes have claimed their first victim.

Australians are now waking up and learning police have apparently stopped a terrorist attack. They've nabbed 17 people around the country and are hunting down others.

And on terror tactics, should the U.S. torture detainees to stop an attack? President Bush says the U.S. does not torture, but stops short of saying no to torture in all cases.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

France is on fire. Arson and rioting have now spread to almost 300 cities. And the government is calling police reservists and allowing mayors to declare curfews. The violence entered its twelfth night tonight with rioters in the southern city of Toulouse torching a bus and hurling gasoline bombs at police. The arson attacks have also spread from the outskirts of Paris right into the heart of the capital.

Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Paris. She's joining us now live with the latest. Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's really hard to imagine as we stand at the heart of this big city with its bright lights, the Eiffel Tower sparkling behind me, that this city is undergoing the civil unrest that France has not seen since 1968 and those famous student uprisings.

Over the last couple of weeks, here (ph) now and especially over the weekend, the rioting, the burning did come into the city of Paris and did fan out now to about almost 300 cities around this country.

Tonight, it seems, though, that on its twelfth or thirteenth night, so far it seems to be less than on previous nights. There are reports of an empty bus having been torched in Toulouse in the southern part of this country and attacks in the northern area of Lille.

Today, the French prime minister went on television in an interview on the main television channel here. And he spoke of the crisis. He talked first and foremost about an absolute necessity for a return to law and order. And he said he was going to give, the government would give the local authorities the power to call for curfews -- quote -- "whenever they thought it was necessary." That apparently is going to be formalized at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

He also said, though, an acknowledgment that many of the disaffected youths are those who come from the suburbs where there is massively high unemployment -- four times the national average -- where there is very bad education and services, that more money needs to be spent to better the lives of the people there.

We ourselves have been to one of the suburbs, in fact, where it sparked almost 12 to 13 days ago. And we talked to people who said that what was happening was a venting, a boiling over of rage that had been simmering for a long, long time among people who have absolutely no hope.


BLITZER: Christiane, stand by for a moment. CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. He's going to give us an aerial view of what's going on in France right now. Show our viewers the enormity of the situation, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the enormity is, it shows up on a map of the entire country of France. Take a look at this. These are all the suburbs that have had trouble, some big, some small, but all over the place. And of course, as we fly in toward Paris, we see that's where the big the cluster is, that's where all the real serious trouble.

Where is this in Paris? If you know Paris at all, or if you don't know Paris at all, this is a good place to learn about it. Really, right down here near the star, is where all the tourist attractions are. This is out toward the northeast. If we move out that way -- if you flew in, you'd like to go to Charles de Gaulle Airport. It's out here. As you went from the airport in toward town, then you would move toward this rioting area. As Christiane described a little while ago, this is largely housing people, in many cases immigrants, low income housing, often government subsidized.

Further away from this is where you get into the tourist areas of France, if we move down here, the Eiffel Tower of course along the side of the Seines. A short distance away, Arc de Triomphe, which is at the end of the Champs-Elysees. These are the sites that people normally go to.

But I want to go down the other way, just a little bit further down the Seines here, as we move down the Champs-Elysees, you come to the Louvre, which everybody knows, and not far away, a popular modern museum, the Pompadou Museum.

This is more on the edge of where you go as a tourist if you are going to Paris. But if you get here, you can see right over here, there is one of the incidents. And this is about five blocks -- we measured it, about a half mile. So, that's how far we are when you look at downtown Paris and where all the trouble is, and how far it's pushed. So, the big question of course, as Christiane is raising there, how much closer will it push or is -- tonight maybe is it backing off?

BLITZER: All right. Tom, stand by. Christiane still with us.

Christiane, as you look at situation, does it look like there is some end in sight? In other words, are there negotiations, a mediator or someone intervening with these young people, the children, the grandchildren of the immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East that are trying to stop this?

AMANPOUR: Well, there are negotiations. The government refuses to call them negotiations. There is some mediation. In fact, one government official who actually is part of the local government in Clichy-sous-Bois, where all this started, is trying to mediate.

But the government is taking a very tough law and order message. The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is the brunt and the butt of very much of disaffection and actually quite a lot of upset in the suburbs because of the language he's used. He called these people scum. He used the term bringing in sort of a jet hose to clean out these areas of what he called the scum and the violent youth.

And they told us they found that language was unforgivable. They said the government is just treating us like we were garbage. And they said this is par for the course of the government, in fact. And the prime minister admitted today, that they had cut back funds and finances to some of the projects, some of those housing projects over the last couple of years and they knew that they needed to reinstate it.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour on the scene in Paris. Christiane, thank you very much. Tom Foreman here in THE SITUATION ROOM, thanks to you as well.

Let's move on to a developing story of a terror plot apparently foiled by officials in Australia. Police have now detained 17 people in a series of raids and arrests that are being carried out in Australia right now. Let's get the latest.

CNN's Brian Todd standing by. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, those operations we are told are still going on at this hour.

We have been speaking with officials from the Australia Federal Police and other law enforcement agencies. And here's what we can tell you. Australian officials say they have been able to disrupt what they call a proposed terrorist attack. Nearly two dozen search warrants have been executed across the cities of Melbourne and Sydney in the early hour of Tuesday in Australia.

In the Melbourne area, nine men have been arrested and charged with terror-related offenses, including intentionally directing the activities of a terrorist organization. Separately, in the Sydney area, an official with the New South Wales Police tells CNN eight people were taken into custody overnight in a counterterrorism operation. Some of them have not been charged. But as we say, this operation is ongoing.

We pressed officials on what these suspects were planning. They were very cautious about giving information. But here's what the police commissioner of New South Wales told an Australian network.


KEN MORONEY, COMMISSIONER, NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE: Certainly, on the basis of the investigations that have been continuing in New South Wales and Victoria -- investigations I would clearly indicate have been going on some 16 months and involve the Australian Federal Police, AZO and Victoria and New South Wales Police -- we believe that we've been able to significantly disrupt a proposed terrorist attack here in Australia. That doesn't allow us any degree of complacency, because as we now place the people before the courts, we can't afford that complacency to exist for no other reason. And we have known from overseas experiences that certainly other persons are prepared to take the place of individuals.


TODD: Now, that same official, Police Commissioner Ken Moroney was asked separately if bombings had been planned. He replied -- quote -- "certainly so". And he said chemicals that could have made a bomb were confiscated.

Several law enforcement intelligence and counter-terror agencies in Australia took part in these raids, Wolf. And I'm sure we'll find more on this just in the coming hours.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us. Thank you, Brian Todd, for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. He's watching all of this unfold with us. He's got the "Cafferty File". Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. The city of Chicago might be the home for the first all-boys high school primarily for black teenagers. The "Chicago Tribune" reports the board of education is going to vote on this next week on something called the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men. It's part of Mayor Daley's initiative to fix the city's schools. And they could use some fixing.

The goal is to increase the high school graduation rate for black males. One recent study showed it at an anemic 39 percent. That's just pathetic.

Critics say it's an attempt to privatize the schools. But the founder of the school says that black boys perform better in schools that are only male.

So here's the question. Is a public high school primarily for black males a good idea?

Email us your thoughts, I don't know about you, Wolf, but when I was in high school, the boys were much more interested in the girls than they were in almost anything the teachers had to say.

BLITZER: I think that's a fair assessment.

You have to be black to be allowed to go to this school. Is that one of the requirements, though?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know that it's a requirement. It says it's primarily for black students. The schools with the lowest graduation rates are apparently in those parts of the city with the greatest black population.

BLITZER: Jack, we'll check back with you. Thank you very much, very interesting question.

When we come back, CNN's Anderson Cooper -- you remember him, he used to be on during this hour. He'll join us live to tell us where he is. What he's working on. What he's up to. Anderson Cooper coming up after this break.

Plus, President Bush and torture. He says the U.S. doesn't do it, but he's fighting a law that would ban it. We'll tell you why.

Also, a church versus the IRS. Is this congregation being singled out for an anti-war sermon? We have the story.

And Operation Steel Curtain in Iraq -- U.S. troops going on the offensive. We have some exclusive new video just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.



Let's turn to an important question at the core of the U.S. war on terror. Should the United States torture dangerous terror suspects if there is a risk of a terrorist attack about to take place?

That question is coming up as five U.S. soldiers are charged today with abuse for allegedly punching and kicking detainees in Iraq, and amid recent reports the CIA is hiding terror detainees somewhere in Eastern Europe.

President Bush hopes to make clear where the United States stands on torture.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We're gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We're trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct is within the law, we do not torture.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit more about U.S. detention and interrogation procedures for terror suspects.

We'll go over to the White House, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux standing by. Why is this issue coming up, Suzanne, right now?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, of course, at the heart of this debate is really a split within the administration.

On the one hand you have the Republican-controlled Congress -- Senator John McCain leading that effort, a Vietnam vet, one who had experienced torture, presenting for legislation this amendment calling for the ban of torture and the inhumane treatment of detainees. The Senate votes for this, approves it 90-9.

On the other hand, of course, you have Vice President Dick Cheney, who comes out, wants an exemption for the CIA when it comes to that amendment, to give the president more flexibility, more authority when it comes to dealing with the most dangerous of those kind of detainees.

So, of course, even the threat of a White House veto, if this legislation passes without that exemption.

In the middle of all this, Wolf, is that you've got these Republicans, who say even if you agree with the administration, this debate just does not sound good.

BLITZER: Suzanne, it's clear that the president is with the vice president on this issue, although, I'm hearing from other sources that the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice may not necessarily be with the vice president.

Is there this kind of split among the president's own advisers?

MALVEAUX: I actually asked about that, Wolf. And they say that, essentially, that they don't believe that there is a split, at least within the State Department, although there are some officials within that department, within the Pentagon, and even within this building, who do not agree with the vice president and do not agree with President Bush on this.

And, you know, what really is the position here? A lot of them say, and I've been trying to get a clear understanding of this all day. They don't even want to talk about it on background. But they say, look, the more specific, I should say, and the more information you give the enemy, perhaps that is not the best tactic, that the fear of the unknown is what really works, as long as there are within the international law. They don't believe it's necessary to have this additional legislation.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at White House. Thank you, Suzanne, very much.

Earlier today I spoke with Michigan Senator Carl Levin. He's a key Democrat on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. Says the question of whether or not to use torture should not center on stopping a rare or imminent attack, but should focus on the general treatment of detainees.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE.: What should the standards and what should the criteria be in a normal situation in terms of capturing people?

John McCain has it right. This country has always stood for values, which we have been able to persuade the world are the right values. Moving away from those values now and justifying torture the way the vice president does, is exactly the wrong way to win allies in the war against terrorism.

We cannot use the tactics which terrorists use and go after terrorists if we want to attract people to our cause. So, John McCain has it right. Ninety senators agreed with John McCain. I think the vice president is almost totally isolated on this issue and doesn't have much support, I believe, even inside the administration.

BLITZER: But, don't you think there is a case that can be made under the most drastic circumstance, the so-called ticking time bomb out there, the Alan Dershowitz argument from Harvard Law School, that there may be that rare moment where torture is absolutely essential to save lives?

LEVIN: That's not what this issue is. The issue here is what are the criteria, in general, for the use, the way, in which we are going to treat prisoners and treat detainees?

This is not a question of that one isolated issue where we think somebody knows where there is a ticking nuclear weapon going off. Obviously, some president is going to say I'll take the responsibility in that case to go against our usual criteria.

The argument here is what are the standard operational procedures for the CIA or anybody else representing the government? And here John McCain, it seems to me, has it right. That we've got to have procedures that we can subscribe to, and hold out to the rest of the world as being different from what terrorists do.


BLITZER: Senator Carl Levin speaking with me earlier today.

Let's get some more information now on U.S. detention and interrogation procedures for terror suspects. Joining us is Alan Dershowitz, professor at the Harvard Law School. Author of the book, "The Case for Peace." He's joining us now live from Watertown, Massachusetts.

Professor Dershowitz is torture ever, ever justified?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, I agree with Senator Levin. It seems to me there are two issues.

One, how do you treat detainees in the normal course of events? And of course, you don't torture them. Of course, you subject them to the Geneva courts and treat them completely decently.

But he still wants to evade the issue. What would happen in an extraordinary case?

In Australia today they arrested 15 people. What if they had information that there was a bomb about to go off in a school somewhere or in a major building with lots of people? Torture would be used.

And then I think Senator Levin is right. The president has to take personal responsibility. It should never be justified without a presidential authorization for specific use of specific tactics at a particular case.

What we're doing is trying to have it both ways with studied ambiguity. We say we don't use torture, the president says. But then he authorizes the use of water boarding, which is being done against Sheikh Khalid Mohammad and others. Water boarding is, you lower the head of the suspect into water until he almost dies.

But that they say, isn't torture because he's not actually physically hurt. We need guidelines. We need rules. And we need to be prepared for that extreme case. You can't just leave it for the president. It's as if we had a case of a plane flying into a building.

Somebody is going to have to make the decision whether to shoot down that plane with civilians on it. It shouldn't be the person on the ground, it shouldn't be the CIA agent. It should be the president of the United States or the secretary of Defense. What we need is accountability, which is what we don't have now, which just leads to situations like Abu Ghraib.

BLITZER: But what happens if you don't have time? If there's this ticking time bomb and you don't have time to get authorization from the president of the United States? What do you do then?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, first of all, you always have time to get on the phone, just like have you would have time to get authorization to shoot down the plane that's heading for the Capitol. But if you don't, you make the best decision you can under the circumstances, knowing it will need after-the-fact presidential authorization.

That's why I use the metaphor of a warrant. We do that in many, many other contexts. We don't want to legitimate this practice. It's a terrible, terrible thing and don't want to authorize it, except perhaps in the most extraordinary cases where life saving measures are required. In that case, you need an authorization from the president.

Right now we have worst of all possible worlds. We have the president saying we never use it, but have to do whatever it takes. With a wink and a nod, this sends a message to the CIA and others -- do what you have to do, just don't tell us. We want deniability, we don't want our fingerprints on it. You will take responsibility. We'll put in jail a few lower ranking people, but don't pin it on the president. It has to be pinned on the president.

BLITZER: So Professor Dershowitz, correct me if I'm wrong. You're taking the position that the CIA, the civilian personnel should have a different standard when it comes to interrogation than the military code of justice, the military personnel.

DERSHOWITZ: I'm saying that torture should never be authorized by the CIA or by the civilian personnel -- by anybody. Only in the most extreme emergency, akin to the shooting down of a plane with civilians on it, should arguably, the president be authorized to make the decision that in this particular case, we have to break the law. We have to engage in an act of necessity. And if we're not prepared to have the president sign off on that, then we should never do it and let the chips fall where that may.

In a democracy, you don't let lower ranking peoples authorize the most extreme measures. If we have to take measures like dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman makes that decision, not some pilot on an airplane. The same has to apply to the use of any extraordinary means, like torture.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but if you were in the United States Senate or advising senators right now, would you tell them to vote with John McCain or not vote with John McCain?

DERSHOWITZ: I would vote with John McCain because Senator Levin is correct by saying this deals with routine cases. But, I would also have an amendment saying that if you want to have the president authorized to do this, you have to have specific authorization from the very top to the specific actions used in every case. That would guarantee, it would never be used, except in the fate of the nation really hung in the balance.

BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz from Harvard Law School. Thanks very much, Professor.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's check with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Some programming information to share with our viewers, who used to be his viewers. Anderson, you're moving up?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you won the bare-knuckle brawl, so you got my old time slot. I've now moved to 10:00 Eastern Time, a two-hour edition of 360.

Here's what we have tonight, Wolf.

The White House is in trouble on several fronts where Democratic leaders don't seem to be reaping the benefits. We'll talk with former Senator John Edwards about what the Democrats need to do for 2008.

Also at 10:00 tonight, the "Ice Man:. The young flier who died 63 years ago found frozen in the Sierra Nevadas. We'll have the latest on who he is.

Also tonight, a cruise ship mystery. A woman disappears on an Alaskan cruise. But, the cruise ship never notifies her family. We'll explain why.

That story, all the late-breaking news, some good conversation and a few surprises tonight, 10:00 Eastern. Wolf?

BLITZER: ANDERSON COOPER 360, a new time slot. Good luck, Anderson, we'll be watching.

COOPER: Thanks.

BLITZER: Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, preaching policy from the pulpit. A California church finds its tax exempt status in jeopardy. We'll tell you what's going on.

Also ahead, the third day of the big push at Iraq's border with Syria. We'll have a progress report on what's called Operation Steel Curtain.



BLITZER: Welcome back. Zain Verjee is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. It's the third day of Operation Steel Curtain in Iraq. The U.S. military says 36 insurgents have been killed in the mission that's essentially aimed at flushing them out and cutting off the influx of foreign fighters. Three- thousand U.S. and 550 Iraqi troops are participating in the operation. One Marine's been killed and nine others wounded. The fighting is taking place near the Syrian border.

The search continues for those still missing the day after Evansville, Indiana's, deadly tornado that killed at least 22 people. Most of them lived in a mobile home park that was hit by the twister in the early hours yesterday morning. State officials say almost 600 homes in two counties were destroyed or badly damaged. It's the nation's deadliest day of tornado activity in more than seven years.

Football fans have seen the last of star receiver Terrell Owens on the field this season. The Philadelphia Eagles suspended Owens for last night's game after he criticized the organization and the quarterback, Donovan McNabb, in an interview. He also got into a fight with a former teammate. The club suspended him for three games and plans to deactivate him for the rest of the season.

Gambling kept his father out of the Hall of Fame and banned from baseball. Now, Pete Rose, Jr., a career minor leaguer may be in more serious trouble. He's pleaded guilty to charges that he distributed an illegal drug. It's sometimes used as an alternative to steroids, but it's also known as the date rape drug because basically, it can induce a coma-like state. Rose could face up to two years in prison in a plea-deal.


BLITZER: Getting back to the story in Iraq, we're focusing in on this one town. Why is that so important?

VERJEE: It's really important because it's believed that this town -- it's called Husayba -- is one of the main places where foreign fighters and insurgents will come through, will cross the Syrian border and come into Iraq. It's a very low-lying dusty town as well, Wolf. It's in the Sunni area known as Al Anbar in western Iraq.

Now, the other reason this is also politically important for the United States is that they need to restore security to this area so that the Sunnis in the region can participate in the December 15 elections. And, as you well know, that's extremely significant to get them to feel that they're involved in the process. Sunni politicians are a little concerned, though. Many of them saying this military operation could backfire and alienate the Sunni population, especially if there are civilian casualties.


BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much. We'll check back with you soon.

Our Internet reporter Jackie Schechner is checking the situation online. She's finding a lot of information about another story that Zain just reported on -- Pete Rose, Jr., busted, drug trafficking. What's -- what are you picking up, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: The drug we've been talking about all day is GBL. And this is the chemical cousin, or analogue, to GHB, which is something you might have heard of before.

Now, when Caleb Shortridge died of a GHB overdose back in 1998, his parents went online to use the Internet to find out more information about the drug. And all they found were sites that were pushing it, promoting it, trying to sell it. So, they created this,

Now, I spoke to the president of their board today who is an L.A.P.D. narcotics detective, she's retired. She runs this Web site now, and says that this drug is incredibly deadly. And there is just not enough information about it.

Go to this Web site. It gives you some interesting stuff. Like this, this is what it looks like. It's a clear liquid. It can be disguised as anything from an ink-jet cartridge cleaner to nail polish remover, really just an extraordinary amount of things out there that it can be disguised as, Wolf.

And take a look at this. This is what happens to a styrofoam cup when you put this in it, it is deadly. If you want information, go to the Web site. They also have information on addiction, facilities for treatment.

She told me today, Wolf, that withdrawal from this thing can be deadly. Really dangerous, scary stuff.

BLITZER: Stay away from this stuff. Jacki, thank you very much. Horrible stuff indeed.

Let's get some more now on the top story here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the rioting in France that's now spread across the country and claimed at least one life in almost two weeks of violence.

Eleanor Beardsley is a journalist in Paris. She regularly contributes for National Public Radio. She's joining us on the phone now from Paris. How bad is it tonight based on what you can tell, Eleanor?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Well, it's pretty bad it. It started again for a twelfth night. Two schools were burned and a bunch of cars, not in Paris but in the provinces. But for the first time not tonight, but in the last two days, there's a real sense among the French people that this is a huge national crisis, whereas before it was just sort of in the suburbs.

BLITZER: It seems to be spreading around France, but even into some of the neighboring countries now like Belgium which also have large immigrant communities from North Africa and from the Middle East.

BEARDSLEY: That's right, it is spreading. And people are sort of at a loss. At first it was this anger, you know, about these two boys that died. And that was understandable, but -- the violence wasn't condoned, but we can understand it. And then people started not understanding when -- that the youths were burning their own schools and community businesses and their parents' cars and things like this.

And this is the sad thing with it spreading. It is the young people that don't have any demands, they're seeing more and younger and younger people out there. The police are coming across younger people. And the French people don't understand what's going on now. It's turned just sort of chaotic.

BLITZER: I understand that curfews are now being imposed in many of these areas around France. What happens to those who break or violate the curfew?

BEARDSLEY: Well, that remains to be seen. The first curfew was installed tonight, but the prime minister did say that it hasn't been done since the Algerian War in 1960 that a curfew was installed in France. So, I don't know what's going to happen if they break the curfew. It's going to be very interesting, because the problem is all the youth out on the streets. There is going to be maybe some huge clashes.

But this is a real state of emergency now. We haven't seen this since 1968 with the student riots and the Algerian War. And they've installed -- instituted these curfews. This is really big.

BLITZER: Is it safe for Americans to be visiting Paris at this point, Eleanor?

BEARDSLEY: I would say completely. For a long time until maybe two days ago, the people -- the French people were looking at the foreign coverage and going, God, the world thinks Paris is burning. It's not the case. I've been going to the suburbs. And you have to look for the damage. It's not like it's everywhere.

And I'm in Paris now. And it's certainly not in Paris. And I went to a neighborhood where two cars were burned the other night in Paris and people were not at all concerned. And they said, you know, these are a few youths come in and they're trying to scare people.

But no, I think it's perfectly safe to visit Paris. Just stay away from certain areas in the suburbs.

BLITZER: Eleanor Beardsley, we'll check back with you, thank you very much for that.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, modern-day pirates. They don't fly the skull and cross-bones, but they're armed with automatic weapons, grenades, rockets. Their latest target, a cruise ship.

And is the IRS going to war against a California church because of an anti-war sermon? We'll tell you what's going on out west.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: President of the United States just moments ago landed together with the first lady in Richmond, Virginia. They're walking down Air Force One, a little rally planned over at the Richmond Airport.

Right now on the way back from Latin America, the president campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore. He's got a tough race against Democrat Tim Kaine. That election tomorrow.

We'll watch all of this for you, get back to you if there's any news in Richmond.

Other news we're following, automatics weapons fire and rocket propelled grenades. they're the last thing you'd expect on a luxury cruise, but that's exactly what passengers on one ship woke up to as they came under attack by pirates over the weekend. And it turns out that was by no means an isolated incident.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now live with details. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it is an extremely serious and growing problem. Last year there were some 340 pirate attacks around the world.


STARR (voice-over): The attack on the Seabourn Spirit cruise ship off the coast of Somalia was just the latest in a disturbing series of incidents on the high seas around the world. Just last week, the U.S. Navy warned ships to stay more than 200 miles off the coast of Somalia to avoid pirates.

The Horn of Africa continues to be one of the most dangerous areas -- 25 attacks since March of this year. That comes on top of a five-fold increase over the previous two years. One cargo ship's crew bringing food aid to Somalia was held for 100 days before a ransom reportedly was paid.

But one maritime security expert suggests the cruise ship attack is more sinister. It may be the opening salvo in a new series of warlord-backed terrorist attacks in the region.

KIM PETERSEN, PRESIDENT, SEASECURE: It's just not likely that pirates would try to gain control over, in this case, some 368 persons, crew and passengers alike, in order to steal the silverware.

STARR: Naval warfare experts say the U.S. Navy simply isn't large enough to do anything about the problem whether it's piracy or terrorism.

STEPHEN PIETROPAOLI, NAVY LEAGUE: There's clearly not enough United States Navy, at 281 ships, to cover the oceans of the world. There wouldn't be even at 600, but there's clearly not close to enough now.

STARR: This recent drill demonstrates a typical act of piracy. Small speed boats with men armed with AK-47s and shoulder fired rockets, forcing ships to stop.

Another pirate tactic has been to issue false distress signals to lure ships into a trap.

It's not just a Horn of Africa problem. It's a global crisis across the oceans. U.S. Naval Intelligence reported more than two dozen piracy acts in just the last eight weeks from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia.

The economic impact is massive.

PETERSEN: We're talking about something that is in the billions of dollars. And if you look at something like the cost to countries like Kenya that relies so heavily on tourism, this is going to, perhaps, be a death knell to the visits of cruise ships that have become increasingly important to the region. Cruise ships simply can't afford to be taking their passengers to areas where there is risk of their coming under attack by machine guns and RPG7 grenade launchers.


STARR: And, Wolf, a Navy official who tracks piracy, tells us that as long as shipping companies are willing to pay ransoms, then piracy is likely to continue. But the U.S. Navy is stretched thin and able only to really focus on potential terrorist attacks.


BLITZER: Do these luxury liners have defensive equipment, military personnel, if you will, paramilitary security operators, that can deal with these kinds of threats?

STARR: Well, clearly they are civilian luxury tourist cruise liners. They do not have military personnel on board. But a very interesting wrinkle emerged today, Wolf. There is an acoustic device that is apparently on some commercial ships. It basically emits a huge signal, a noise that deters any potential attackers. There are reports that this Carnival ship did have such a device on board that was manned by its commercial crew.

Also, keep in mind, in the Horn of Africa there are a number of U.S. military forces quite nearby. They could have been called into action if it got any more serious.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting for us. Good piece, Barbara. Thank you very much.

Up next from the pulpit to an investigation. Did an anti-war sermon bring down the wrath of the IRS on a California church? Is it a case of violating free speech or violating tax exempt status? We'll tell you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A large Southern California church is getting unwelcome attention from the federal government. The IRS says it may strip the congregation of its tax exempt status.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now live from Pasadena with more. What's going on, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is one of the largest, most liberal churches here in Southern California. The congregation is used to leaders taking a stand. But now they are worried they may have gone too far.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Reverend George Regas has been retired for 10 years, only occasionally coming back to give sermons at All Saints Episcopal Church. REV. DR. GEORGE REGAS, RECTOR EMERITUS: I was here 28 years, and we dealt with hard political issues.

LAWRENCE: He criticized everything from Vietnam to President Clinton. But it's a sermon he gave just before last year's election that has his church in a fight with the IRS.

REGAS: The IRS' charge is tempting...

LAWRENCE: During this Sunday service, parishioners learned their church is now under investigation.

REGAS: I did not violate the tax law. I did not explicitly say vote for Kerry.

LAWRENCE: Titled "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush", Regas' sermon never urged parishioners to vote one way or the other. But he did say Jesus would oppose the Iraq war, and some of President Bush's policies would make Jesus sad.

REGAS: I mean, the separation of church and state is important, and it's being threatened today. But it does not mean the church cannot speak to the state, cannot call the state into accountability.

LAWRENCE: IRS agents launched an inquiry and informed the church it may have jeopardized its tax exempt status. Officials tell us no church can distribute statements that may help or hurt any one candidate.

BOB LONG, CHURCH SENIOR WARDEN: The implications here could be much, much wider.

LAWRENCE: Bob Long is one of the leaders at All Saints. He says any denomination should be alarmed by the IRS investigation.

LONG: If the IRS were to basically chill our rights to express our speech and our religious beliefs by threatening our tax exempt status, that's a threat that not only comes to us, it comes to every church.

LAWRENCE: All Saints says an IRS audit team offered to drop the matter if the church confessed to the accusation. Church leaders refused saying they support the IRS rules, but don't believe they broke them.


LAWRENCE: Now, the IRS won't comment on exactly where the case with this church stands. But they did tell us last year they created a committee of experts just to investigate cases like this one around election time.

So far that team has reviewed about 60 cases, about a third of them churches.

Wolf. BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us. Chris, thank you very much.

The president is now speaking in Richmond, Virginia over at the airport there -- looking at some live pictures. He's there to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore. It's election eve in Virginia. He's trying to do his best to help the Republican candidate.

Only a few days ago, the president was in Virginia. Kilgore didn't even show up for the president's event then. He was widely criticized. But, now Bush is returning from Latin America campaigning for Kilgore right now.

Up next, the high cost of hurricanes. Insurance companies paying out record amounts in the wake of this year's record season.

Plus, Jack Cafferty standing by with you email on this hour's question. Is a public high school primarily for black males a good idea?

Stay with us.


BLITZER: There she is, Kyra Phillips. She's anchoring PAULA ZAHN NOW. That's coming up right at the top of the hour. Kyra is joining us now live with a preview. Kyra?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Well, everyone knows that raising teenagers is a pretty tough job. So is teaching them. But are the nation's kids getting so rowdy that schools need stun guns to keep control? Well, at the top of the hour, we'll visit a high school where police say they had to use a Taser against a student who threw a book at a teacher. Join me for both sides of the controversy at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Kyra, thanks very much, Kyra Phillips reporting.

Zain Verjee is also doing some reporting. She's joining us from the CNN Center now with some business stories we're following. What exactly are you following, Zain?

VERJEE: Well, Wolf, the United Nations health chief is saying that unless the world is ready, a deadly global bird flu pandemic is inevitable. The World Bank is saying that the cost would be more than human lives. It estimates that a one-year pandemic could cost the global economy $800 billion. The assessments come at an international meeting of health experts in Geneva, Switzerland, targeting worldwide preparedness. This comes as we get word tonight that a Vietnamese man has died of bird flu in Vietnam.

An insurance data group says that U.S. insurers paid out a whopping $40.8 billion in the third quarter. It went to home and business owners hit by Hurricane Katrina, as well as other natural disasters. The sum, not surprisingly, is a record. The reporting agency says that preliminary third-quarter estimates suggest that 2005 will be the costliest year ever for payouts on disaster damages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. See you tomorrow. Zain is with us in THE SITUATION ROOM every day.

Still ahead, the "Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty, with your email. Coming up: Is a public high school primarily for black males a good idea?

Later tonight on 360, the mystery of the "Ice Man". Who is the young flier encased in ice for decades in the Sierra Nevadas? Tonight, one family says they know. Please be sure to watch ANDERSON COOPER 360 tonight at its new time, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific only here on CNN.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's go right to New York. Jack Cafferty is going through your email. Jack?

CAFFERTY: Chicago, Wolf, might be home soon to the first all-boys high school primarily for black teenagers. The "Chicago Tribune" reports the board of education is going to vote next week on something called the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men. The idea is to boost the high school graduation rate in some of the poor parts of Chicago. It's estimated at only 39 percent.

The question is, is a public high school primarily for black males a good idea?

John in California: "Absolutely not. Too many people fought to desegregate the schools to now return to segregation for any reason. We'll never learn to get along with everyone if we don't learn to live and grow side by side at all stages of life with each other."

Amy in Houston writes: "I think it's a great idea. I know that my daughter, who's been in all-girl math classes, has benefited greatly. I hope the Chicago school board has the courage to enact this program, and not capitulate to the politically correct police."

Joan in Newton, North Carolina: "Yeah, let's spend our tax dollars on a school for black males. And while we're at it, do one for Hispanics. And let's not forget one for rednecks. If you insist on separating any group of kids, why not separate the troublemakers and bullies from the kids who want to go to school and learn?"

John in Thousand Oaks, California: "As a product of an all-male high school in Denver, I found that my wise ass ways were unacceptable, unfunny, and a distraction to the reason why we were all there -- to learn. As a result of a structured environment that was low on tolerance to dilly-dalliers, 98 percent of us went on to college." And Benjamin writes: "Being an 18-year-old high school student, I can speak with complete and utter honesty in saying that this is absurd. If they want to do well in high school, they will."


BLITZER: Good work, Jack. Thanks very much. See you tomorrow.

To our viewers: Don't forget, from now on, we're in THE SITUATION ROOM weeknights 7:00 p.m. Eastern, also every afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Until tomorrow, thanks very much for joining us.

Kyra Phillips sitting in for Paula Zahn. Kyra's joining us now. Kyra?