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The Situation Room

NYC Transit Strike Over; Patriot Games

Aired December 22, 2005 - 16:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's almost 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive at one place at the same time.
Happening now, it's 5:00 p.m. now in New York. Union leaders throwing in the towel after a judge threatens to throw them in jail. Transit workers get back to work, letting New Yorkers get on with their lives.

Here on Capitol Hill, in Washington, last-minute make-or-break maneuvering over the USA Patriot Act. Lawmakers keeping key anti- terror provisions alive, at least for now. Is that good news or bad news for the president?

And it's 4:00 p.m. in Louisiana. A CNN exclusive. Extraordinary new images capture Katrina's raw power. A man who defied the storm documents the destruction of his own community.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In New York City, the transit strike is over, but it's not exactly the end. Right now workers are returning to their posts after the union's executive board voted to send them back to work. But New York's mayor says getting things up and running again will take time.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: We have an enormous mass transit system that serves the seven million riders in the city, and it can't be turned on or off with a flip of the switch. There are a lot of logistics that need to be dealt with in order to get the subways and buses moving again.

The Transit Authority will need something between 10 and 18 hours after workers show up to get the system up to full capacity, but we would expect buses to be running later this evening, and hopefully most subways in the morning.


BLITZER: CNN's Adaora Udoji is outside New York's Penn Station. Allan Chernoff is in Brooklyn.

Adaora, let's go to you first. What's the latest?

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. We're all smiles down here at Penn Station. Of course great news to all of these folks who have been making a long and difficult commute the last three days. Great news that this strike is over.

Only two and a half hours, and we've already heard reports, Wolf, that there are some buses that are running in the middle of town here, which is, of course, good news. The best part I think I've heard is it's a small victory for sanity. That was from one very happy commuter.

As you said, the mayor came out just a little over an hour ago and said that 4:00 p.m. workers, 4:00 p.m. Eastern workers should report. And right now many of them are probably making their way.

They, of course, also having that problem of how do they get to work if the buses and subways are not working. So it might take some time for them to get there.

He also said it would take up to 18 hours for the entire system to get up and running at normal rates, that we expect buses to continue to start running tonight. And by tomorrow morning, for morning rush hour, those subways should be around.

Wolf, the day did not start out very encouraging. The union was insisting that the Mass Transit Authority take pensions -- discussions about pensions off the table. The MTA and governor were insisting that the union workers had to get back to work before they would be doing any negotiating, but as we know now, a state mediator came in, found some common ground, so they can continue to negotiate. But that also means the workers will get back to work and New Yorkers will now have a way to get around just in time right before the holidays -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A little gridlock going on in Manhattan right now, but that is not surprising at all. Adaora, thank you very much.

Let's stay in New York. We'll head over to Brooklyn, though. First to the courthouse in Brooklyn. Allan Chernoff is standing by there.

Lots of loose legal ends to tie up, Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Precisely, Wolf. And they have not all been tied up, because just moments ago the judge here decided to adjourn until next month the hearing involving the leader of the transit union, Roger Toussaint. He had been scheduled to appear in court at 11:00 this morning, potentially to face contempt of court charges that the judge said might land Toussaint in jail.

But the judge now saying he does not want the court to be perceived as being involved in any way favoring one side or the other in these negotiations. He wants the negotiations to proceed; therefore, adjourning all of this.

The judge also said he hopes that Christmas can be salvaged now. Of course a few shopping days certainly haven't hurt, but at least the Christmas holiday itself, the mass transit system should be running.

The judge also adjourning any discussions of the fines as well. But right now those fines still appear to stand $1 million a day for the union for the illegal strike -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff in Brooklyn for us.

Thanks, Allan, very much.

Here in Washington, there's a deal breaking and deal-making situation unfolding on Capitol Hill, as a deadline looms for the Patriot Act. Lawmakers may be giving the controversial anti-terror measures a lease on life, but not necessarily as long as some had wanted.

CNN's Andrea Koppel is covering Congress for us today. She's joining us live with the very latest -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sounding frustrated, annoyed, and absolutely determined, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, just met with reporters and explained why he has now agreed to not the six-month extension that the Senate sent over to the House, but rather a one month -- actually, it's more of a five-week extension to the Patriot Act.

He said that he didn't want to force President Bush's hand to make him the first president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt back in the 1930s to call a special session of Congress. He also went on to explain why after 11 sessions, 11 hearings over the last year, he would not and could not sign off on what the Senate had agreed to, that is, that six month extension.


REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: I did not want to leave the American public more vulnerable to a terrorist attack because a filibuster went on in the Senate. And I conceded the president's point on that.

The fact is, is that a six-month extension, in my opinion, would have simply allowed the Senate to duck the issue until the last week in June. Now, they came pretty close to wrecking everybody's Christmas.


KOPPEL: Now, what that means, Wolf, is that if the Senate signs off on this five-week extension, that would mean that the Patriot Act, rather than expiring on December 31, would expire on February 3. But as Mr. Sensenbrenner also said, in his words, if the Senate rejects now what the House is saying, he said, "Then we're going to be back here next week" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill.

Thanks, Andrea, very much.

The fits and starts and setbacks over the Patriot Act speak to the bigger problems the president is now facing.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux for more on that -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you can imagine, senior administration officials are watching very closely what is happening there over the Patriot Act, and a senior administration official saying that the president would sign on to a one-month extension if that is something that the Senate would go along with, as well as the House.

This, of course, coming a day after the president failed to convince senators essentially to sign on to the Patriot Act, renew it in its entirety by the end of the year.

Now, all of this, of course, Wolf, is happening at a time when the president is trying to reaffirm his own political clout going into the new year.


MALVEAUX (voice over): President Bush, heading to Camp David and his Texas ranch for the holidays, is eager to set the stage for a new year.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has been a year of strong progress toward a freer, more peaceful world and a prosperous America.

MALVEAUX: Aides say for 2006 the emphasis will be on the progress in Iraq and strengthening the economy.

BUSH: We had three sets of elections in Iraq. It's an amazing moment in the history of liberty. People are working. We've added 4.5 million new jobs since April of 2003.

MALVEAUX: But the president arguably got coal for Christmas when Congress, heading for its recess, delivered Mr. Bush two significant legislative blows. First by blocking oil drilling in the Arctic, a key component of Mr. Bush's energy plan. And second, by refusing to renew the administration's broad anti-terrorism law, the Patriot Act, for another four years.

Instead, the Senate punted, extending it for six months, to later review provisions Democrats and some Republicans worry may violate civil liberties. The Senate and House are still negotiating.

SENSENBRENNER: Today's House passage and the Senate's expected passage later today of this five-week extension...

MALVEAUX: Despite the setback, in typical White House fashion Mr. Bush cast the outcome as a success. BUSH: The Congress understand we've got to keep the Patriot Act in place, that we're still under -- under threat, there's still an enemy that wants to harm us.

MALVEAUX: Wednesday, the administration was able to push through $40 billion worth of cuts in the budget, but only after the vice president cut short an overseas trip to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.


MALVEAUX: Now, administration aides say that the president, of course, going into the new year is going to focus on small legislative victories in the areas of health care, immigration and technology. At the same time, Wolf, of course, also trying to reassure Republicans that they will hang on to their majorities in both the House and the Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux, over at the White House.

Time now for Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File." He's in New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How you doing, Wolf?

You remember this guy? This is 24-year-old John Walker Lindh, who came from -- we're going to see him here hopefully in a moment. Do we have the tape? There he is.

This guy came from an affluent San Francisco suburb, and he was captured on the battlefield fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was dubbed the "Taliban American."

Lindh pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban and to fighting against the United States-backed Northern Alliance. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now his lawyers are whining they want his sentence reduced. Oh, too harsh, they say. They say another American citizen who was caught in Afghanistan was freed after less than three years.

Lawyer James Brosnihan says of Lindh, "He was really in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Let me ask you something, counselor. If that's true, why did he agree to plead guilty and why did he agree to accept a 20-year prison sentence? He certainly could have chosen to go to trial. He did not.

This is the second time that lawyers have asked for a reduction in Lindh's sentence. So here's the question: Should the government reduce John Walker Lindh's prison sentence?

You can e-mail your thoughts to -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: All right. Good. I suspect you're going to get some good e-mail on this question too.

We're going to speak tomorrow, by the way, to his lawyer here in THE SITUATION ROOM. But that's tomorrow. We'll see what our viewers think today.

Thanks, Jack.

Up ahead, new video exclusive to CNN, a situation you're definitely going to want to see, but never in your own home. See what happens as Hurricane Katrina raged through one man's house. It's a terrifying tale all caught on videotape about to be seen.

And he was the son of a well-loved football coach in Indianapolis. He's now dead in a mysterious incident. We'll tell you about James Dungy, son of Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy.

And a 20-year-old hijacking drama involving the killing of a United States sailor. There are new updates in this terrible story. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here's a pretty sight. You're looking at these live pictures, New York City transit buses. They're now getting ready to get back into operation.

The transit strike is over with. These buses are going to start picking up passengers very soon. The subways are going to be moving. Good news for seven million commuters in New York City.

From New York, let's head over to Baghdad. Witnesses at the trial of Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants gave gruesome testimony of torture and killings suffered at the hands of the former regime. Once again, though, they were overshadowed, to a certain degree, by outbursts from the former dictator, who lashed out directly at the Bush White House.


SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI FORMER DICTATOR (through translator): The White House lies once more, the number one liar in the world. They said in Iraq there is chemicals and a relationship to terrorism, and then they announced later that we couldn't find any of that in Iraq.


BLITZER: The former leader also spoke out about his own treatment. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUSSEIN (through translator): I documented my injuries before three medical teams, two -- two -- for sure, unequivocally two. And eight months for now -- almost healing now eight months later, and some bruises and marks three years later are still clear. We don't lie. The White House lies.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He's in Baghdad with more on this trial.

You watched it all unfold, Aneesh. What are your thoughts?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Saddam, as you say, embarking on a tirade for the second time in as many days, Wolf. Today it wasn't just about his alleged abuse. He says he was beaten while in the custody of U.S. troops, but also pointing his finger to the Bush administration and the intelligence that led to war.

Now, in terms of that abuse, the White House has called the claims preposterous. The Pentagon has said they're simply not true.

I spoke today with the court's chief investigative judge, Rahd Juvi (ph). He says at the beginning of the investigation process he asked all of the defendants if any had been abused, all of them, including Saddam, said now. But I also spoke today with Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil Dulaimil. He said that they have documents, they have evidence.

Saddam alluded to a little of that in court today. They have submitted it to the court.

All of this, though, Wolf, takes the focus away from the witnesses who have been giving graphic testimony of abuse and torture and does what Saddam wants it to do, puts it on him and his detainment rather than on the charges that he faces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I noticed that Saddam Hussein in that courtroom, he's always wearing a business suit, no tie. His other co-defendants, almost all of them, if not all of them, are wearing the traditional Arab kufiyah.

What statements are they trying to make by doing that?

RAMAN: Well, Saddam is essentially playing to the cameras in the courtroom, not the judges. He knows that the world is watching, he knows the Arab world especially. So he wants to come across, as he always has, as the underdog, avenging the West as the West.

And one of the things we see in the courtroom, Wolf, that you don't see on the video feed are the defendants walking in. Saddam Hussein always the last to enter. And when he does -- and he holds a Koran as he enters -- all the seven other co-defendants stand up, as do the defense lawyers, and you get this sense he's trying to project himself as the leader of a state that in a sense does not exist anymore. But he is doing this trial because he knows in this trial he knows that history is recorded, is recording everything, and that his image is at stake. So this is all part of his political maneuvering to send a message to the Arab world.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad for us.

Aneesh, thank you very much.

Ahead of the holiday, the VIPs are making visits to troops. Following on the heels of Vice President Dick Cheney, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, flew into Baghdad earlier today.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's got details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's the question on the minds of so many Americans this holiday season: this time next year, how many U.S. troops will be in Iraq?


STARR (voice over): Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Iraq to wish the troops a happy holiday and meet with his commanders to make final plans to reduce troop levels early in the new year.

Just before landing, Rumsfeld said he still wasn't ready to make any announcements about bringing home some of the more than 150,000 troops now on duty.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: As you know, we make plans for all kind of possibilities. And when we get specific recommendations from General Abizaid and General Casey, why, we have the task then of considering those recommendations.

STARR: Senior military officials tell CNN it's a done deal. Twenty thousand troops in Iraq for election security are going to be heading home. That will leave about 138,000 troops in place.

An additional 3,700 soldiers from the 1st Armored Division now in Kuwait will stay there as a backup security force. Also, 3,700 solders from the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, will have their deployment orders canceled. But some may go to train Iraqi forces.

Commanders say 2006 will see a change in strategy: less combat for troops.

LT. GEN. JAMES CONWAY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: The typical things that you might see associated with combat operations, cordon and knock (ph) patrols, sweeps, those types of things that you've been reading about American soldiers and Marines doing over the last year, you're going to read increasingly about Iraqi units doing those things.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: Wolf, with this shift in strategy away from having so many troops in combat and more in a supporting role, clearly the Pentagon hopes it can convince Congress and the American public in 2006 the central question is not precisely how many U.S. troops are in Iraq, but the job that they are doing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting.

Thanks, Barbara, very much.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, made his own visit to southern Iraq today. He met with British troops and commanders in Basra, telling them the situation in Iraq has improved over the past year but reminding them that the stakes remain high.

Coming up, the 18-year-old son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy is dead. Police don't suspect foul play in James Dungy's death. We'll tell you about the investigation into what happened.

And it's a horrifying tale caught on tape. And you'll only see it right here on CNN. See what happened as Hurricane Katrina tore through one man's house. We have new video to share with you.


BLITZER: Let's head over to Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.


Two corrections officers at the Miami-Dade County jail where a suspected serial rapist escaped on Tuesday have been suspended with pay pending an investigation. Reynaldo Rapalo remains at large. He's accused of raping seven women and girls.

Authorities say six out of 247 cameras at the jail needed servicing, and two of 23 roof cameras where Rapalo is believed to have escaped were not working. Now, they're being fixed. Sixteen thousand dollars is being offered for Rapalo's capture.

A setback in the investigation into what caused Monday's deadly crash of a seaplane off Miami Beach in Florida. Federal investigators say data from the plane's cockpit voice recorder is unreadable, but they are looking to see if there are cracks in the plane's left wing like those found in its right wing support beam. Twenty people died when the aircraft's right wing broke off shortly after takeoff, and the plane then just plunged into the ocean.

A nun convicted of defacing a Colorado missile silo has been released from a federal prison in Connecticut. Sister Ardeff Plant (ph) served more than two years in jail. Authorities say she and two other Dominican sisters drew a cross in their own blood on the silo back in 2002 to protest the war. The other two nuns were also convicted of obstructing national defense. They were released earlier. Plant (ph) says she plans to continue protesting.

And wolf, this could be the ultimate Christmas treat. And I want you to listen to this closely.

How would you like a fruit cake decorated with diamonds, 223 diamonds, to be exact? It's one of 17 diamond-crusted displays in an exhibit in Tokyo, and it's for sale. The asking price is $1.65 million.

A Tokyo pastry chef says it took him seven months to design and make the cake.

Wolf, how good a cook are you?

BLITZER: I'm not a good cook. But they're beautiful diamonds. And I suspect, Zain, you like diamonds yourself, don't you?

VERJEE: I do. I'm like any other woman, I love diamonds. But, you know, I'm open to just one, not 223.

BLITZER: All right, one diamond for Zain. We'll see if there's anyone out there who wants to provide you that.

Thanks, Zain.

Maybe you've given up on making plans to see your family and friends for the holidays. The good news, if you have, guess what? It's not too late.

Before you jump online, search Web sites like Yahoo! or Google, you might want to look at some smaller emerging sites for group travels.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has more in today's small business report -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, ran a little experiment today. I wanted to find out if we could take the whole SITUATION ROOM staff, all 47 of us in New York, Atlanta, D.C., to the Bahamas for Christmas. How about that one? I can hear the cheers in the background.

BLITZER: Sounds good.

SCHECHNER: Well, here's what we did, is we called a leading travel research group called PhoCusWright, and they've led us to this Web site called

Now, they're not affiliated at all with Google. They are an emerging company. They have partnerships -- or not partnerships, but they work closely with Travelocity and other sites in the industry.

The idea is booking group travel in one place all at the same time. Now, they specialize in groups from five to 20, but they book up to 500 people.

And what you can do on this Web site is you can pick somewhere like Atlantis in the Bahamas, something like that, and you can arrange your cruise -- did I mention we're cruising, by the way, when we go down there -- and your hotel. What you can't do online yet is book your actual transportation if you're flying or you're doing a rental call or something like that. You've got to call them up to do that right now.

But like any small emerging business, they actually already have competition. That would be, and they, Wolf, are partnered with Orbitz, one of the larger sites you may have heard of.

BLITZER: I certainly have, Jacki. Thank you very much. Good work.

Coming up, flying with scissors. The rules of airport security now have been eased, but are passengers feeling relaxed?

And a panda's coming out party. The National Zoo's newest and youngest star steps right into the sunlight.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive. When Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on the Gulf Coast almost four months ago, its awesome forces caused twin effects of death and devastation.

Now, in a rare video, our Brian Todd is here to give us a sense of what that experience must have felt like -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The experience that only a survivor could tell you about, Wolf. CNN obtained this videotape from a gentleman named Kenner Jackly (ph). He lives in Slidell, Louisiana, at least 30 miles inland from the Gulf, but right on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

So the storm surge you're about to see is water from the lake coming up to the second floor of Jackly's (ph) home. We'll take you back to August 29, when Hurricane Katrina is in full force.

Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people's treasures are floating down the stream here now. Man, this is unbelievable. Whew.

When is this thing supposed to stop? Whew.

The whole floor is just shaking underneath me. There must be a bunch of houses out down there.

All right, man, I got that -- there goes Charley's boathouse. It's taking off now. Poor Charlie.

Little boat underneath there, man. Least you're out of here. I don't know if I can get out or not. I'm probably -- the whole floor is buckling up down below me.

I guess that's how that work it (INAUDIBLE) Oh, man, that's all my stuff coming out the door, them sliding glass doors down there. Just seen the TV going out the front door. Man, I can hardly wait.

The water has gone down quite a bit, though. I think it's on its way out.


TODD: Kenner Jackly (ph) is a former Merchant Marine, very much accustomed to heavy storms. But he told me he has never seen anything like that. The entire bottom floor of his house is still in shambles. He's selling companies of this tape to make money for reconstruction of his house.

We are going to have much more of this tape to show you in the 7:00 hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. And Kenner Jackly (ph) will be our guest at that hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much -- a lot more of this videotape coming up, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, about an hour-and-a-half or so now.

Twenty years ago, as a hijack drama played out in Beirut, a United States sailor was killed by a gunman. Last week, Germany paroled a jailed hijacker, letting him go home free to Lebanon. The Bush administration said it's appealing -- it appealed in vain against the release.

A German Justice Ministry official says the United States did not make an extradition request.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent once again, Barbara Starr. She's joining us on this heartbreaking story.

What's going on, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was one of the first times a terrorist act played out across TV screens in America.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are beating the passengers. They are beating the passengers. They are threatening to kill them now.


STARR (voice-over): June 1985. It was all on television. TWA Flight 847 was headed from Athens to Rome, when it was seized by terrorists and forced to land at Beirut International Airport.

The hijacker singled out 23-year-old U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, after seeing military I.D. He was tied up, beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head, his body then caused on to the tarmac.

Last week, one of the hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hamadi, was released from a German jail after 19 years and allowed to fly to Lebanon. U.S. officials are furious and want Hamadi to face trial now in the U.S.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: What I can assure anybody who is listening, including Mr. Hamadi, is that we will track him down, we will find him, and we will bring him -- bring him to justice in the United States for what he's done.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Robert Dean Stethem of the United States Navy was only 23 years old.


STARR: At the highest levels, the Pentagon making it clear it has not forgotten a young sailor tortured and executed 20 years ago.

The chief of naval, Admiral Mike Mullen, issued this extraordinary statement, saying, "Navy sailors, including me, still regard Robert Dean Stethem as the uncompromising, unflinching hero he was."


STARR: But, Wolf, as you say, there is no extradition treaty with Lebanon. And U.S. officials say, despite the diplomatic pressure they are trying to exert on that country, they really still do not expect this man to be returned to the United States to stand trial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you very much.

So, could the U.S. government have done more in the Hamadi case?

Earlier, I spoke with Kenneth and Patrick Stethem, the brothers of the slain United States Navy diver. Twenty years after his murder, they're still looking for justice for their brother Robert.


BLITZER: Kenneth Stethem, thanks very much for joining us.

Patrick, thanks to you as well.

You're the two brothers.

Ken, first, to you. Your reaction to this German decision. KENNETH STETHEM, BROTHER OF MURDERED NAVY DIVER: Totally disgusted at the German government and at the United States government for allowing this to have happened and not doing something about it.

BLITZER: I understand your disgust at the German government, but why the United States government?

K. STETHEM: The -- the United States government and the family have sort of been expecting something like this to happen.

And our family has been trying for the last six months to get an opportunity to speak with the State Department and Justice Department, in order to prevent this very thing from happening.

BLITZER: And what have they said to you over...

K. STETHEM: There was...

BLITZER: ... the past six months?

K. STETHEM: There was no meeting. There was no messages. There was no response.

BLITZER: Is that your experience, Patrick, as well?


And -- and, currently, since Hamadi was released, we have phone call, we have e-mails into the State Department. They have yet to contact us.

BLITZER: Here is the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said yesterday. Listen to this.


MCCORMACK: What I can assure anybody who is listening, including Mr. Hamadi, is that we will track him down, we will find him, and we will bring him -- bring him to justice in the United States for what he's done. We will make every effort, working with the Lebanon authorities or whomever else, to see that he faces -- faces trial for the murder of Mr. Stethem.


BLITZER: Is that not satisfactory to you?

K. STETHEM: Absolutely not.

We have heard the same -- the same exact comment for the last 20 years. There was four men responsible for that hijacking and Rob's murder. Three of them, they have been tracking for 20 years. They haven't brought them in yet. And the one guy who was in prison, who was captured, who was convicted, has been let go.

And even though they say that they will be working with the Lebanese government, there's no timeline on it. There's no sense of urgency.

BLITZER: What do you want to see happen? What can happen at this point? This Hamadi, he's -- he's presumably a free man in Lebanon right now.

P. STETHEM: Absolutely.

The last thing this administration needs, the last thing this country needs is a new poster boy on terrorism in the Middle East, and if we don't bring him into justice, if we don't bring him back to the United States, he's going to be a celebrity over there.

So, we have to put pressure on Lebanon to cooperate. And, if they don't, we would like to see them added to the list of countries that sponsor terrorists.

BLITZER: The Lebanese prime minister, Fuad Saniora, he said this yesterday.

He said: "The U.S. government could have requested that Germany hand him over. Why are they asking us? He served his sentence in Germany, and there are measures that will be completed in Lebanon. Why are they asking us now?"

That's the reaction of the Lebanese prime minister.

P. STETHEM: He's in their country. He was -- his extradition was requested by the United States.

The German government recognizes that United States wanted custody of him, but they went out of their way to ensure his safety, his safe return to Lebanon, obviously, in return for their hostage. Germany has a long history of trading hostages -- terrorists for hostages.

BLITZER: You think the hostage -- the German woman who was being held hostage in Iraq, is related, that her freedom is related to the release of Hamadi?

P. STETHEM: Absolutely. They're denying it.

But fact of the matter is, there's a strong Shia presence in southern Iraq. And Iran has a strong influence with them. So, there are several counterterrorism experts that are saying, we don't have the evidence, but the fact that she was released within a day or so, that reeks of their standing trading of terrorists for hostages.

BLITZER: Well, just for the record, the German government flatly denies that there was any connection between the release of Hamadi and the freedom of the German woman who was being held hostage in Iraq.


P. STETHEM: A perfect example of this is, his brother was in a German prison. He served half his term before being traded for two German businessmen that were held hostage. K. STETHEM: And although the German government has denied there was a tie two between the two, a Foreign Ministry official, the week before Hamadi was released, said that, whatever ransom was tied to this archaeologist's demands, they were willing -- they were going to be willing to pay.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, tell us a little bit about your brother.

P. STETHEM: Rob was very determined. He had a great sense of humor. He was very tenacious.

After one of the beatings he suffered on the plane, there's a good example. They sat him down next to a 16-year-old Australian girl. And she was trying to take care of him the best she good. He saw that she was upset. He started cracking jokes with her to try and get her at ease. But, at the same time, he recognized that he was the only one of his group that didn't have a wife and kids. And he told her, if any one of us is to die, it should be me.

BLITZER: If the U.S. government gets its hands on Hamadi and the other hijackers, what do you want to see happen to them?

K. STETHEM: You know, we don't have any preconceived notion of -- of the sentence. We want him to be brought to justice. We want him to be tried in the United States, because he killed an American service member and -- and a U.S. citizen.

P. STETHEM: It was an American plane. It was American people that were on that plane. It was an American service member. The trial needs to be here in the United States.

K. STETHEM: Twenty -- almost 20 years ago, the first Bush administration -- Reagan/Bush administration made a big mistake in not demanding that Hamadi be extradited and brought here.

And the Germans didn't do it because they were -- they said they were afraid that we would give him a capital punishment sentence. OK? He still could have been extradited with -- with a promise of just life. And -- and here -- here's -- here's my -- my cut on the war on terrorism.

You know what? The military is out there every single day doing their job. And it's time that the politicians, the administration, and -- and the Congress got together, recognized the atrocity that -- that this is, and come together, put their arguments aside, and say, we want him back now.

BLITZER: Ken and Patrick Stethem, thanks very much to both of you for joining us. Our heart goes out to you, your entire family. Good luck to both of you.

K. STETHEM: Thank you, Wolf.

P. STETHEM: Thank you.


BLITZER: Still to come, a mysterious incident and an 18-year-old boy dead. We will have details on the death of James Dungy, the son of the coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

And, in our 7:00 p.m. hour, more of that amazing video of a man riding out Hurricane Katrina. We will introduce you to the man who taped Katrina's violent visit.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: A major setback for Wal-Mart, news just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get details.

Zain Verjee is standing by at the CNN Center -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, the Associated Press is reporting that an Alameda County jury in Oakland, California, has awarded $207 million to thousand of employees at Wal-Mart stores who basically claim that they were denied lunch breaks.

Wal-Mart, as you know, is the world's largest retailer. They were ordered to play $57 million in general damages and $150 million in punitive damages to about 116,000 employees, both former and current. Essentially, the jury said that Wal-Mart violated a 2001 state law that basically requires them to give employees at least 30 minutes unpaid lunch breaks for employees who work at least six hours.

This is a class-action lawsuit. It's the first one of about 40 nationwide alleging workplace violations. Wolf, it was initially filed by a handful of former Wal-Mart employees in 2001 in the San Francisco Bay area. And it's taken years of legal wrangling to even get to trial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much. We will follow this story for our viewers.

The father was coaching his team to a very successful season, and then an unfortunate tragedy, a horrible tragedy, involving his son.

Let's go to New York -- details from CNN's Mary Snow -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Tony James Dungy, the son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, was found dead. Today, the Colts met with the team to tell them the sad news and offered their sympathy.


SNOW (voice-over): Before Thursday's tragedy, it had been a season of high hopes for Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. DON BANKS, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": I can't think of a more heart- wrenching tale to tell in the middle of, really, what has been his finest season in his finest moment in a very long NFL career.

PEYTON MANNING, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS PLAYER: And our thoughts and prayers...

SNOW: The Colts offered prayers and praise when asked how Dungy was holding up.

BILL POLIAN, PRESIDENT, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: He's Tony. He's the most amazing person in the world. His faith is his rock.

SNOW: Family is said to be his other rock. James was the oldest of five children and is seen here with his father and President Clinton. In high school, he moved from watching his father's games on the sidelines to playing himself.

JAMES DUNGY, SON OF TONY DUNGY: It's just me playing my sport.

SNOW: Police say he was found dead in a Tampa apartment and won't know the cause of death until an autopsy is completed.

James Dungy's death has shocked Colts players, who consider their coach a role model

JIM SORGI, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS PLAYER: He's more than a coach. He's more than friend. He's -- he's everything. He's everything rolled up into one.

SNOW: Dungy and the Colts have been on a tear. Sunday, they just missed having the best NFL season in history, by breaking a 13- game winning streak and losing to the San Diego Chargers.

Dungy, in typical fashion, took the game loss in stride.

TONY DUNGY, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS HEAD COACH: Well, we have to go out and -- and play better. And -- and we have got to, you know, continue to improve.

SNOW: Dungy set his sights on the Super Bowl. If that happens, he would be the first black head coach to lead his team there. But, for now, football takes a back seat. Team members say they will respect Dungy's wish to press on without him. But they say they're having a tough time.


SNOW: And, late today, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Florida released a statement, saying that James Dungy's death appears to be a suicide, but said the autopsy has not yet been completed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story, that is, too. Thanks very much, Mary, for that. Up next, the attorney for Taliban-American John Walker Lindh wants the federal government to reduce his sentence. Should the government oblige? We want to hear what you think. Jack Cafferty is going through your e-mail.

And we will take you inside Hurricane Katrina, exclusive and extraordinary pictures from a man who watched the hurricane tear his home apart -- much more ahead in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. You will want to see this.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

Belgrade: Health workers in protective gear pull about 100 dead birds from the Sava River. Serbia-Montenegro is on alert for a possible outbreak of the deadly bird flu.

Saint Petersburg, Russia: firefighters trying to put out a blaze at the estate of a 19th century czar's palace. The building was being restored.

An Israeli soldier cleans the barrel of an artillery piece earlier. Palestinian militants launched a homemade rocket into an Israeli military base. Israeli officials say they will retaliate.

Newport Beach, California: A boogie boarder enjoys larger-than- normal surf caused by a huge storm near Hawaii.

Those are some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

We will take a quick break.

Jack Cafferty is standing by next. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, how you doing?

Lawyers for John Walker Lindh want his prison sentence reduced. They say it was too harsh. You may remember Lindh. He was this loser from an affluent San Francisco suburb captured on the battlefield fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. His lawyer says, oh, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He pleaded guilty to some stuff and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The question is, should the government reduce John Walker Lindh's prison sentence? And I got to tell you, there's not a lot of sympathy out there for this guy.

Curtis in Portland, Maine, writes: "No. Life is a series of choices. He chose to live the barren life of a Taliban soldier and fight Americans. So, he should feel right at home in prison. Maybe now he will appreciate firsthand what Afghani women go through on a daily basis."

Georgie in Charleston, South Carolina: "Indeed, his sentence should be reduced. He was charmed, some might even say seduced, by a culture and a religion, and thrust on to the battlefield under the impetus -- impetus of youthful zeal. Hasn't he suffered enough?"

Steven in New Windsor, Maryland: "I think his plea should be canceled, and he should stand trial for treason. That way, we can execute him. It's absurd that our system allows for these costly, groundless claims to even be entered."

Debbie in Weatherford, Oklahoma: "Why, sure. We could have shortened James Earl Ray's sentence for shooting Martin Luther King. Or, if Lee Harvey Oswald had lived, we could have shortened his also. Look at the Constitution. It's treason to do what Lindh did. He's lucky he got what he got."

And Phil in El Paso, Texas, writes: "Wrong place at the wrong time? Oh, yes. He got on the wrong bus in San Francisco and wound up in Afghanistan? Twenty years? They should have stood him in front of a firing squad on the battlefield for treason."

He did -- he agreed to plead guilty. He agreed to the 20-year prison sentence. So, where he is, is partially because of his own decision-making.

BLITZER: It was his decision, his attorney's decision. His lawyer is going to speak with us tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: Well, they were afraid...

BLITZER: He's got some explaining to do.

CAFFERTY: They were afraid of the death penalty, if he went to trial, so they offered him this plea deal. And he took it. You know, right or wrong, it was his decision.

BLITZER: OK, Jack. Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty. See you in an hour, back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, he has already created a sensation in the nation's capital. Now a little panda cub is really taking a big walk.


BLITZER: You can help decide New Jersey's fate. The acting governor, Richard Codey -- Codey -- has been soliciting suggestions for state slogans. And he's narrowed thousands of ideas down to five finalists. Now he's asking you to vote online.

Abbi Tatton has more -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, from over 7,000 submissions down to five, and you can vote at the New Jersey Web site.

Now, a spokeswoman tells me that they do want to hear, most of all, from New Jersey residents. And they are worried about online voter fraud, hoping that voters will come clean and actually state where they are from.

I am not from New Jersey, but I still have a favorite. Mine is: New Jersey, love at first sight.

You can read the other four finalists at the state Web site. Voting closes January 1 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Before we leave you, Washington National Zoo's new panda cub is getting adventurous. Five-month-old Tai Shan took his first steps outside today in the outdoor viewing area. His mom looked on, as he climbed fallen tree limbs. Dad stayed asleep at a nearby exhibit. Zoo officials say they want Tai Shan to get a little more used to being outside before the public gets to see him outdoors.

We are here every weekday in THE SITUATION ROOM, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Eastern as well, an hour from now.

Coming up, we will have more of that exclusive new video, the day Hurricane Katrina roared ashore the Gulf Coast -- extraordinary video.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Kitty Pilgrim filling in for Lou -- Kitty.