Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Apache Chopper Down; Saddam Hussein Judge Wants Out

Aired January 16, 2006 - 16:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, it's coming up on 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, a trail of smoke causes a trail of suspicion. What caused the downing of a U.S. Apache helicopter in Iraq today that killed two U.S. soldiers? There's no official explanation yet, but one group says it's responsible.

The Iranian nuclear standoff heats up. Britain, France and Germany say they'll call for an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Meanwhile, Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Could a U.S. military attack be an option?

And fighting the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a dominant strain of flu this season is stronger than two widely-prescribed drugs.

Are you at risk? We're investigating this hour.

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

For the third time in 10 days, U.S. troops have been killed in the crash of a helicopter in Iraq. And like a similar incident last week, it appears today's crash was the result of hostile fire.

Let's get details from our CNN senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, what do we know?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this incident is still under investigation, but we do know that two U.S. Army pilots were killed and they may have been shot down.


MCINTYRE (voice over): A video posted on an Islamist Web site claimed to show the U.S. helicopter gun ship blasted out of the sky by a shoulder-fired missile. But the U.S. military dismissed the video as likely insurgent propaganda, saying it appeared to be shot at the wrong time of day and was also inconsistent with other known facts about the crash. A Pentagon official said at least one witness thought a rocket-propelled grenade, not a missile, hit the helicopter. The U.S. military is confirming that the two-person Apache attack helicopter went down in a swamp while patrolling an area north of Baghdad known for terrorist activity and that both pilots from the Army's Task Force Ironhorse were killed. It's the third-deadly crash in 10 days, which is about half the total number of Army helicopters lost in an average year in Iraq.

But experts say considering Army helicopters have logged nearly a million flight hours in grueling combat conditions, it's a wonder more haven't crashed or been shot down.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: If you think about the bad weather that they're flying in, if you think about how many shoulder- fired missiles that may be over there, you'd say overall over the last several years the record's been really quite good.

MCINTYRE: Since the war began, at least 18 U.S. military helicopters have gone down either by accident or hostile fire in Iraq. Friday, a Kiowa warrior reconnaissance helicopter was shot down near Mosul, killing the two Army pilots.


MCINTYRE: And Wolf, now U.S. commanders are worried about another threat. According to the industry publication "Defense News," commanders are worried about a new version of the improvised explosive device that can be rigged to pop up from the ground and explode as a low-flying helicopter flies over.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Thank you very much.

More disturbing news from Iraq.

Thank you.

The death of those two U.S. soldiers in this helicopter crash brings the number of American troop fatalities, at least at this point, to 2,219.

In the Saddam Hussein trial, an odd occurrence that could throw the proceedings into turmoil. The presiding judge wants out of the trial, and it appears some want him to stay.

CNN's Michael Holmes is in Baghdad. He's joining us now with more -- Michael?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials with the Iraqi High Tribunal are telling us that the tribunal's committee and the head of the IHT it have not yet formally accepted the resignation of Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, or that they haven't yet. Tomorrow or the day after there's going to be a meeting of IHT judges to decide whether they will agree to the resignation or not.

According to the official we spoke to, he added that if Amin insists on resigning, he would leave no choice to the IHT other than accepting that resignation. Well, of course that's going to throw things into a bit of a spin.

This official told us that Judge Mohammed Saed al-Hamash (ph) might be the possible replacement judge if Judge Amin, his resignation is accepted. Mohammed Saed al-Hamash (ph) is one of the other four judges who would remain on the judge panel for Saddam's trial.

He usually sits next to Judge Amin in the court. He's a Shiite judge. He's from Najaf City.

So as it stands, no firm decision. But if Judge Amin holds firm, we could see a new face on our TV screens when the Saddam trial starts up again. That will be on January 24 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Michael. Thank you very much.

Michael Holmes in Baghdad with the latest on that.

Meanwhile, the showdown over Iran's nuclear program is heating up. Diplomats representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council met in London to discuss the issue today. And Britain announced plans to seek an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That body could send the issue to the full Security Council for possible sanctions against Iran, which resumed its nuclear program last week, insisting it's only pursuing energy not weapons.

Looming in the background of the nuclear showdown, the possibility of U.S. military action. The Bush administration says it's focusing in on a diplomatic solution, but all options remain on the table.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by with more on this story. But let's get to CNN's Brian Todd. He's looking at the military option -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have spoken to analysts who know Iran's military capabilities very well and one who even war- gamed around them. They present a scenario that may be even more challenging militarily and politically than the conflicts the U.S. is involved in right now.


TODD (voice over): Is attacking this man and the weapons at his disposal the best option for diffusing Iran's nuclear threat? Colonel Sam Gardiner has spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran.

Gardiner, for decades a strategic planner at the National War College, developed a war game for the "Atlantic Monthly" magazine in 2004. He presented three options: a conventional attack on Iran's revolutionary guard using primarily air strikes, a so-called regime change option targeting the leadership.

COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Special Operations would probably come from Afghanistan, maybe come from Azerbaijan, and then the bulk of the ground force would come from Iraq in this option.

TODD: And what Gardiner says is the most commonly discussed option, striking some of Iran's nuclear facilities.

GARDINER: There would probably be about a three-day air campaign with aircraft like the B-2, cruise missiles fired from ships and aircraft, and we would go after the facilities we know about.

TODD: If the right facilities were taken down, Gardiner says, Iran's nuclear capabilities would be set back a few years. Gardiner and other military analysts we spoke to believe a conventional attack using any ground forces would be difficult because of the mountainous terrain in southern and western Iran.

U.S. bases now in neighboring Iraq provide shorter striking distances and reinforcement capability that didn't exist before. But there's also a question of taxing already-thin combat-ready units.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The Iranians can do the math. They see that we're tied down in Iraq, they see that we're tied down in Afghanistan, they see that we're tied down in North Korea.

TODD: Analysts say Iran's retaliation could be devastating, with a standing army of hundreds and thousands of troops and an already sophisticated chemical and biological warfare program.


TODD: And that's just the immediate military response. Analysts say Iran could then wreak havoc on the world's oil supply, mining the Persian Gulf, attacking tankers, all but cutting off the supply not only for the U.S. and its allies, but for countries like China, which might then bring about its own economic retaliations against the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you very much.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, what are they saying at the White House about a possible military option?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, certainly they say that it is always on the table. But it is not really an option right now.

They always have the military option on the table, essentially, like the president's predecessors, to try to keep some teeth in their diplomacy. And Wolf, right now, because of Iran's actions, whether it is busting the seals at their nuclear facility last week, or even the Iranian president's radical comments about annihilating Israel, they hope here at the White House that perhaps it is a time to seize the moment, if you will, diplomatically. That perhaps they can get further diplomatically than they have in some time with their European allies and Russia and China when it comes to dealing with Iran. Now, you mentioned earlier that there -- there was a meeting today in London. Diplomats talking there about what to do about Iran, and that they will refer this to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, where they hope to take it, as far as the U.S. is concerned, to the United Nations for their Security Council. That is something that the White House has hoped for, for some time.

But they still are, Wolf, meeting some resistance from Russia and China in particular. Those two countries have strong economic ties to Iran, but there were some welcomed comments from Russia's president here at the White House today, Wolf. He said that they have a very close position with the West on the Iranian problem. That's something that the White House certainly welcomed here.

BLITZER: And China and Russia both have veto power at the U.N. Security Council as well.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Dana Bash is our White House correspondent.

The Iranian government, by the way, is barring CNN journalists from the country after a freelance translator misquoted the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The network has issued a statement saying, "Due to an error in translation, CNN incorrectly quoted Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his speech given Saturday as saying that Iran has the right to build nuclear weapons. In fact, President Ahmadinejad said Iran has the right to nuclear energy and that 'a nation that has civilization does not need nuclear weapons,' and 'our nation,' Ahmadinejad said, 'does not need them.'"

CNN, in its statement, says it's taking "this matter very seriously and apologies for the error."

Coming up, we'll talk more about the tense situation with Iran. The former defense secretary, William Cohen, and the former deputy director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, they're standing by to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM security council.

In the meantime though, let's go to CNN's Jack Cafferty for more on his question this hour.

Jack, this Iranian situation is getting intense.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed it is. We talked about it last week in "The Cafferty File," got a lot of e-mails from people that had all kinds of ideas about what ought to be done about it. Unfortunately, we didn't get the problem solved. And so it's still there on Monday.

You've got to love the New York newspapers. We had a front page headline in New York this morning that said, "Oy Ney."

It is referring to Republican Bob Ney who resigned his chairmanship with the House Administration Committee over the weekend. This is just the latest in a growing list of Republican issues that might affect voters come November.

Ney was pressured by House Speaker Dennis Hastert to give up his position after he was linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. This makes Ney the second powerful Republican after Tom DeLay to resign key positions in the House of Representatives.

DeLay, of course, is under criminal indictment in Texas. He is also a subject of the Abramoff investigation.

Then there's Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California. He just quit outright after pleading guilty to taking bribes. It was reported he also wore a wire for prosecutors. If he did, more issues could drop there.

Of course there's the indictment of Scooter Libby, the CIA leak investigation which could eventually get -- find its way to Karl Rove.

Plus, the SEC investigation of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist about whether he improperly sold stock.

All in all, a lovely resume, don't you think?

Here's the question: Is it too late for Republicans to repair the damage before the midterm elections?

E-mail us your thoughts:, or And we'll read some letters a little bit later -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And find some more good headlines for us in the New York tabloids.


BLITZER: "Oy Ney." All right. Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I like that.

BLITZER: I like that. Thanks very much, Jack.

Still ahead, on this Martin Luther King holiday, his family remembers, divided over how his legacy should be managed. Is there a chance they'll make peace?

Also ahead, Al Gore's combustible charges against President Bush in the domestic spying controversy. Gore's tough words and an angry Republican response.

And later, dead or alive? The fate of al Qaeda's number two man still unclear even at this moment. But this much is certain: the attack meant for him is stirring outrage.



BLITZER: Welcome back.

Today's the 20th Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. The civil rights leader would have turned 77 years old yesterday. But there's a shadow over this year's celebration of King's life and his work.

Our Zain Verjee is at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She's got more on this story -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, King Day celebrations were held in cities across the country today. But the flagship observances held right here in Atlanta where King lived and preached, it's also where an increasingly bitter battle is unfolding over how his legacy should be managed.


VERJEE (voice over): The annual King Day parade in Atlanta the culmination of a weekend of events honoring Martin Luther King Jr. The procession passes Ebenezer Baptist Church where the civil rights leader preached his message of social justice. It also passes the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change founded by King's widow, Coretta, shortly after he was assassinated in 1968.

King's tomb is there, as are his papers and other historic items from the civil rights movement. Now a rift has developed over the future of the center.

Last month, the board broached the possibility of selling the center to the National Park Service. Among those supporting the move, former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, who says that the facilities are badly in need of repair.

ANDREW YOUNG, KING CENTER BOARD MEMBER: Because of the wear and tear by the visitors that come through there, you do need constant maintenance. That was one of the reasons why I was an advocate of turning over the physical property to the Parks Department.

VERJEE: Two of King's children, Dexter and Yolanda, also support selling the center to the government. But two other children are opposed.

Bernice King says it could compromise the center's integrity.

BERNICE KING, MARTIN LUTHER KING'S DAUGHTER: And a lot of times, if you are housed in a building that's owned by the federal government, you are a little more uncomfortable doing something like that. And so you lose that essence.

VERJEE: Her brother, Martin Luther King III, is more blunt.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, MARTIN LUTHER KING'S SON: Bernice and I stand to differ with those who would sell our father's legacy and barter our mother's vision, whether it is for 30 pieces of silver or $30 million.

VERJEE: With the family evenly divided, perhaps only King's widow could break the tie. But Coretta Scott King has been silent since suffering a stroke last year. And the family says she's unable to make her wishes known.


VERJEE: And the subject came up briefly in today's celebrations. One of King's nephews who is president of the center said selling it would free up money for "developing programs, not managing buildings."

Meanwhile, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III say they may take legal action to block any sale -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thank you very much.

The life and death of Martin Luther King Jr. have long provided material for conspiracy theorists. Documents once classified are now debunking many of those conspiracy theories and are now available online for all of us to read.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, knows exactly where they are, and she's joining us live -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, over 200 pages, FBI documents available at the FBI Web site on Dr. Martin Luther King under the Freedom of Information Act. There's a whole wealth of information here, everything from the autopsy report here from 1968 to once-internal FBI memos from the early '60s looking into Martin Luther King.

This one here from 1963 calling Dr. King the "most dangerous Negro of the future." Others looking into the communist influence on Dr. Martin Luther King.

Lots more information here, the investigation from a review from 1975 into the assassination investigation. It does debunk some of the conspiracy theories. It says in its conclusion that it concludes that James Earl Ray acted alone.

There are over 16,000 pages of documents under the Freedom of Information Act that have been released on Dr. Martin Luther King. But these 201 pages available for you to read online at home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thank you very much.

Coming up, Al Gore's war of words. The man who once challenged the president for the presidency -- that was when he was running for the presidency -- is now challenging the president on the legality of the government's domestic spying program.

And two drugs thought to fight the flu, the common flu -- not the bird flu, the common flu, are now said not to work much at all. How might you protect yourself from this season's dominant flu strain? Important information you need to know, that's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

The former vice president, Al Gore, is blasting President Bush over his domestic spying program. The Democrats' 2000 presidential candidate is accusing his former rival of criminal action by approving wiretaps of terror suspects without court warrants.


AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping, it virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.



BLITZER: Al Gore speaking here in Washington earlier today. He's calling for a special federal investigation of the president's actions, the naming of a special council to investigate.

But the Republican Party's chairman is firing right back. Ken Mehlman says the president has the law on his side, and he accuses Al Gore of going on a diatribe laden with inaccuracies and anger.

Meanwhile, is Osama bin Laden's right-hand man dead or alive? U.S. officials saying Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two man, was a primary target of Friday's CIA air strike in Pakistan, but some in that country are outraged about the strikes.

Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, is joining us now with more on what we know -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. counter-terrorism officials say the CIA air strikes Friday on the border village of Damadola were aimed at a gathering of senior al Qaeda personnel and Taliban supporters.


ENSOR (voice over): They had been invited, U.S. officials say, to the local compound of an extended family for a feast to celebrate the end of the Muslim holiday Eid. Nothing remains of that compound.

Officials say they are sure Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's number two, was invited and there was reason to believe he was there. Though Pakistani officials quoted by The Associated Press say Zawahiri failed to show up.

U.S. officials say evidence other senior al Qaeda were there is "solid," though they still do not know whether Zawahiri is dead or alive.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think there's a reasonable chance that we'll learn some time during the week if Zawahiri was not killed, that he is still alive, principally because al Qaeda would want to make that point for propaganda purposes.

ENSOR: Knowledgeable sources say that a group of men rushed away with the remains of about 12 bodies of which as many as eight were foreigners. U.S. officials declined comment on that.

While sources say the U.S. does have access to DNA from Zawahiri's family to compare if needed, the FBI says there has been no request for lab work yet.

The CIA strike has prompted loud protests in Pakistan, putting renewed pressure on the government of President Pervez Musharraf, which has complained publicly about the infringement of Pakistani territory.


ENSOR: If the attack failed to get al-Zawahiri, it will be a clear sign of the limitations of air power in the battle against terrorism. But given the uproar over this attack, the idea of putting forces on the ground to get al Qaeda in Pakistan seems more remote than ever -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David. Thank you very much. And we are going to have much more on this story coming up.

Also, in our SITUATION ROOM security council, the nuclear showdown with Iran. Some have suggested sanctions against the country, but could a U.S. attack, a military attack against Iran, be among options?

And avoiding the flu this season may have just gotten a little bit harder. Health officials say two drugs commonly used to fight a dominant flu strain don't offer much help at all.

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself? We are watching.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: With Iran inflaming many nations in the world community, after restarting its nuclear program last week, it's a question bound to come up. Should the United States consider attacking Iran. Is there a military option? Also, targeting al Qaeda's number-two man, Ayman Al-Zawahri.

Joining us now, two members of our CNN Security Council, CNN World affairs analyst William Cohen, former defense secretary -- he's president and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington -- and our senior national security adviser John McLaughlin, the former deputy adviser of the CIA.

Thanks to both of you very much for joining us.

I want to play a sound bit from what John McCain said yesterday on Iran and the possibility of using military action to stop its nuclear program.

Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option. That is a nuclear- armed Iran. Now, the military option is the last option, but cannot be taken off of the table.


BLITZER: I know, the Pentagon, they are always having contingency planning on everything and exercises on everything.


BLITZER: But, realistically is there a military option to deal with Iran right now?

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I would put that at the far end of the spectrum, as far as either possibilities or probabilities.

There are always contingency plans for virtually every scenario. But this is not something, I think, that is in the -- in the offing, certainly not in the immediate future. The administration's going to try to develop a coalition that will go to the Security Council and seek sanctions upon Iran.

That will be the priority. And it seems to me, any discussion at this point is -- is vastly premature about the military.

BLITZER: How much -- how much time, realistically -- What's the current assessment? -- is there by it's too late?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it depends on what you mean by too late. When...

BLITZER: Iran having a nuclear bomb?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I -- I think you will find assessments all over the map there.

My personal assessment would be that they are some years away from it, which doesn't mean that they don't have the intention and that they aren't developing all of the systems to get there. But I suspect their centrifuge operations are probably at pilot stage now.

Now, all that said, were they to acquire fissile material, through some means, they probably have the capacity to speed that timetable up dramatically, as I think the -- the head of the IAEA said recently.

BLITZER: What if they just decided to do an Israeli-like airstrike against -- what, are there a dozen or 16 or whatever number of targets. Wouldn't that dramatically slow down their nuclear program?

COHEN: Well, first of all, there are multiple sights. Many of them may be underground. They may be difficult to get at.

But, then, there are the consequences and the fallout from it. So, it's not just a simple case of -- of taking them out from the air. You then have the political and military fallout, in terms of what takes place in the region. I think the...

BLITZER: So -- so, let me just interrupt. So -- so, what the Israelis did at Osirak, the Iraqi nuclear reactor, back in 1981, that -- that was history; that's really not applicable? Do you agree with that?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that was one target in a fairly -- program that was not very far along. The Iranian program is spread over a number of targets. There are three main sites, but then there are many ancillary sites.

So, to carry out a military campaign there would be something that would probably require multiple airstrikes over a number of days, in my judgment.

BLITZER: So, the...

MCLAUGHLIN: It would be complicated.

BLITZER: And, so, the diplomatic option.

And the hope, of course, is -- and I have heard this from high U.S. officials -- is that, if the U.S. and its allies can delay this program, perhaps, there could be regime change peacefully; a new -- a new leadership could emerge, replacing Ahmadinejad, that might be more cooperative?

COHEN: Well, that's certainly a desirable goal.

I think, in the meantime, we -- what we have to take into account is, what is the role that Russia is going to play and China will play? Neither country should see as being in their interests to allow Iran to go forward to become a nuclear weapons-producing country. Russia has indicated it would help Iran develop a nuclear power capability.

And CNN, of course, has gotten itself into something of a controversy of Iran in terms of its interpretation, nuclear weapons vs. nuclear power.

We mistranslated. Our freelance translator mistranslated the president. COHEN: Right.

But -- but, in any event, I don't think Russia has it in its -- its -- its interests, or China sees it as being in its interests to have Iran develop a nuclear weapon.

This also has an impact upon North Korea, because, to the extent that Iran is allowed to go forward without restraint in this regard, North Korea is looking at this very closely. And China does not want to have a nuclear weapons producer on its border and all that that entails for the region itself. So, they have a real interest in seeing this doesn't take place.

BLITZER: What's your assessment on the Ayman Al-Zawahiri assassination attempt that the CIA conducted last Friday?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what I'm hearing is that the people who planned the attack here in Washington were very confident that there were a sizable numbers of al Qaeda figures there and that Zawahiri might have been among them.

And, at this point, we don't know what happened. I'm guessing that we will find that some al Qaeda leaders were killed and that we will learn some time in the course of next week or so whether Zawahiri were there.

A number of things are possible. He might have been there and then warned to leave. There might have been a leak of the operation. He might have been intending to go there and, just like most people will sometimes, in the course of traveling, change their plans, he might have changed his plans.

So, at this point, I think we are in the -- in the mode of wait and see.

BLITZER: There has to be a pretty high threshold for the U.S. government...



BLITZER: ... to authorize a strike like this, given the sensitivities of President Pervez Musharraf.

COHEN: Oh, absolutely.

We have to have very good intelligence at a high level that this gentleman is going to be there, or this individual, I should say, is going to be there. But we have to take into account what the political consequences are to President Musharraf. And, so, it's always a balancing that needs to be taken into account.

You may recall that, during the Clinton administration, we tried to go after bin Laden. We had no bases in the region. We had no access to Afghanistan at that time. We had to try by a long-distance attack. It was...


BLITZER: You launched a cruise missile.

COHEN: We launched a missile. And it had to travel hundreds of miles. And it had to go over territory that we didn't necessarily have the permission of that country. So, it's very controversial. And you have to -- you have to weigh the political consequences to make sure that this is a high-value target, and the consequences of killing that individual and the benefit from it vastly outweigh what the consequence will be politically.

BLITZER: You have been in the real situation room at the White House when these kinds of decisions are made. Take us behind the scenes, in advance of last Friday's decision to launch presumably one of these Hellfire missiles from a drone, a Predator drone. How difficult of a decision is that for the U.S. government?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, of course, the U.S. government hasn't acknowledged that it did that. But let's just assume for a moment that it occurred, that it did.

Typically, there is a protocol you go through. There's a checklist of things you have to satisfy before you make a decision like that. You have to have high confidence in the intelligence, as Secretary Cohen suggested. The bar is very high for the intelligence.

You look at collateral damage. You look at the consequences strategically and politically of an act like that. And then you go through a risk-gain calculus. And it's always very hard. You know, people talk about wanting intelligence to be a risk-taking enterprise and not be risk-averse.

Well, that's when the rubber meets the road. Sometimes, you take that risk. And, by definition, you can make a mistake or things can go wrong. It can get messy. So, it's a very difficult calculus. And, in the end, as the secretary said, if you decide the benefits outweigh the potential problems, you go ahead.

BLITZER: All right, John McLaughlin, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

William Cohen, thanks to you as well.

And given the sensitivities and the fallout, I assume a decision like that would have to be authorized by the president of the United States.

COHEN: We have to take into account, Wolf, every time, when you talk about collateral damage, you are killing innocent people in the process. So, the president of the United States has to be apprised of what those consequences are and then make a decision that it's worth the risk and worth the embitterment and the bitterness that will follow that, if you kill innocent people who are not engaged in a war against you. BLITZER: We will leave it there.

Thanks very much.

And we will see what happens in the next few days, as this story unfolds.

Come -- oil prices are rising, as we suspected all along.

Ali Velshi is joining us from New York now with the "Bottom Line."

Ali, what are you picking up?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's right out of the discussion you were having about Iran.

Iran is OPEC's second-biggest oil producer, after Saudi Arabia. And Iran's economy minister said on Sunday that oil prices would rise beyond levels the West expects -- that's a quote from him -- if sanctions are imposed on Iran, and part of the saga around Iran's nuclear program that you were just discussing.

Iran says that it's just about electricity prices, and it's moving toward developing better electricity sources. Now, here's the problem, that Iran relies heavily on the revenues from oil, but it produces -- it produces 2.4 million barrels of oil.

The world only produces about half-a-million more barrels of crude oil than it uses. So, we cannot afford for Iran to pull any of that oil off of the market. Now, there are some estimates that say Iran has -- gets about 90 percent of all of its foreign revenues from the sale of oil. So, when Iran threatens that they are going to slow down the supply of oil, it's unclear as to who will suffer more.

Iran's president was quoted as saying that those who use harsh language against Iran need Iran 10 times more than we need them.

Second problem affecting the price of crude oil is Nigeria. It's the world's eighth biggest exporter. It's the fifth biggest source of U.S. oil imports. Now, ethnic fighting in Niger has resulted in the death of about six people, when gunmen raided a Shell oil platform in the Delta on Sunday. And that's just the latest violence.

Last week, Western hostages were taken. A major pipeline was blown up. Royal Dutch/Shell -- that's the largest operator in the region -- because of the violence, had evacuated 326 staff. It's producing about 100,000 fewer barrels a day.

Remember, we only have 500,000 extra barrels a day in the world. Final note -- back to Iran for a second -- that country has the world's second largest reserves of natural gas. And, as you know, that doubled in the price in the last year. But most of Iran's natural gas isn't developed.

So, for the moment, no effect on the price of natural gas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thank you very much, Ali, with the "Bottom Line."

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a developing story of the town of Statesboro, Georgia -- a lawyer taken hostage near City Hall. We will talk to a reporter who is on the scene.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, two presidents named Bush, two wars, two very different results. We will take a look back at the Gulf War then and the war in Iraq now.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program. That begins right at the top of the hour.

Lou, what are you working on?


Coming up here at 6:00 Eastern, we will have all the day's news, of course. We are also going to take a look at Mexico, its government and its people, their unbelievable arrogance and sense of entitle -- entitlement about our border. And for some reason, they say their citizens have the right to cross that border at will. We will have a special report for you. We will also tell you about the very strong and surprising words of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Also, tonight, the bird flu -- the cases around the world are rising. We will tell you what the World Health Organization is doing about it.

And, Wolf, you might as well call the H-1B visa program the chief imported labor program.

We will tell you why at 6:00 Eastern. Please join us -- now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs coming up in a few minutes, at the top of the hour -- thank you, Lou, very much.

Doctors are losing two key weapons for fighting flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say two widely prescribed antiviral drugs don't work against this season's dominant strain of flu.

For more on that and the latest on the spread of flu, we are joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH here in Washington.

Dr. Fauci, we are not talking about bird flu now.


BLITZER: We are talking about good old-fashioned normal flu that we all get...


FAUCI: ... normal flu.

BLITZER: ... we all get vaccines for. At least, a lot of us get vaccines.

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: What's going on?

FAUCI: Well, what has happened is that, over the past year, there has been a rather striking increase in what we call resistance of the seasonal flu to two of the four commonly used antiviral drugs. This is not a vaccine. This is a drug that you treat people that...

BLITZER: In other words, if you come down with the flu.

FAUCI: Right. Exactly. You go to a physician. You have systems. They might give you this drug.

So, there's a class of drugs called the adamantane drugs, what is called rimantadine and amantadine. And we found that, two years ago, about 1.92 percent of the isolates were resistant. Last year, it was 11 percent -- and, this year, a striking 91 percent.

BLITZER: Ninety-one percent?

FAUCI: Percent, right.

BLITZER: So -- so, that basically makes these drugs, which traditionally have been prescribed...

FAUCI: These -- right.

BLITZER: ... useless.

FAUCI: Precisely. Precisely.

So, now we are dealing with the drugs that -- to which this virus is sensitive to, namely Tamiflu and Relenza. It's still sensitive to Tamiflu and Relenza. But two out of the four drugs, the most inexpensive drugs in our armamentarium, have now been recommended by a health alert from the CDC for physicians not to use those two drugs when patients come in with seasonal flu.

BLITZER: Your colleague, Dr. Julie Gerberding of the CDC, said on Saturday, flu constantly evolves, and we are always one mutation away from drug resistance.

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: Is that what -- what happened this time?

FAUCI: Well, that's likely what happened.

You know, sometimes, there's spontaneous mutations. But, more likely, it was -- was selection by the use of drugs, perhaps even not appropriate use, and not taking drugs for a long enough period of time. When you take drugs, you have to take them correctly. This, I think, Wolf, also underscores the importance and the need for standard vaccination for seasonal flu.

BLITZER: But even if you get a vaccine, as I did...


BLITZER: ... as you did...

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: ... you can still come down with the flu.

FAUCI: You could still come down with it, but it's much, much less likely, particularly if you are a healthy young adult. There's a -- there's a very strong chance that you won't, anywhere from 75 to 90-plus percent chance, if you're a healthy, young adult, if you get vaccinated.

BLITZER: So, the -- the bottom line in all this right now is what, is that, if you come down with the flu -- and this is a...

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: ... a very serious problem -- how many people die every year from the standard flu?

FAUCI: Thirty-thousand people in the United States each year, with 200,000 hospitalization, die from the standard, predictable, seasonal flu.

This tells us, we need to clearly vaccinate more people. But, also, these drugs should be used appropriately upon prescription from a physician. So, if get symptoms of flu or if you're an individual with a higher risk of getting complications, you get the flu, you go to your physician and let them prescribe it and used appropriately, as opposed to willy-nilly, using it in ways that may not be appropriate.

BLITZER: Everybody seems to be hoarding Tamiflu right now...


BLITZER: ... because they're afraid of bird flu...

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: ... which may or may not ever come. And let's hope it never comes.

Is there enough Tamiflu around right now...


BLITZER: ... to deal with standard...

FAUCI: Right.

BLITZER: ... traditional flu problems, cases that erupt?

FAUCI: There is, if used appropriately. If everybody goes and wants Tamiflu, when they don't really need Tamiflu for influenza, then, you could quickly run out when people have a -- a mad dash to the drugstores.

But for the people who need it and appropriately gets prescribed by a -- by a physician, there's enough to -- going around in the pharmacies throughout this country.

BLITZER: What a business.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, thanks for your help. Thanks for your good work.

FAUCI: You're quite welcome.

BLITZER: And thanks for coming in and explaining this -- a lot of our viewers deeply concerned about this problem, as they should be.

Thirty-six thousand Americans die every year from the flu?

FAUCI: Yes, indeed.

BLITZER: That's a huge number. Thanks very much.

Let's go now to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She has identified some crucial online tools to help you track and prevent the spread of what is called seasonal flu -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we have been talking about the Centers for Disease Control.

And just want to let you know that they are on top of it online. CDC, you can go to their Web site. And they are monitoring just the regular good old seasonal flu activity. You can get a weekly flu report and a map. Take a look at this. You can see the areas where it's widespread. Those are the areas out West in red.

And the blue regions are the next worst cases. That would be regional flu. Those weekly reports, you can read these, a synopsis, every week. They continually update these. And, also, all of this information we have been talking about, including the latest health alerts about what medications aren't effective, what to do, key facts, all that stuff online for you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much.

And, still ahead, Jack Cafferty has your e-mail on the GOP's image.

And this note: Coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, is the Constitution really at risk? Al Gore's blistering assessment of government eavesdropping -- we will have the latest, including Republican reaction.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: There's a frightening standoff going on in Georgia right now.

Let's bring in our Zain Verjee. She's standing by with details -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, an attorney is being held hostage in his office near City Hall.

Police are trying to negotiate with a man and a woman in the office who say that they have a bomb. This is happening in the small Georgia town of Statesboro.

Joining us now on the line is Jake Hallman. He's with "The Statesboro Herald." And he joins us now.

Can you describe exactly, to your best knowledge, what happened? What do you know?

JAKE HALLMAN, "THE STATESBORO HERALD": Well, what the police have told us is that, about 9:15 this morning, they received a 911 call that there was a hostage situation in an attorney's office in downtown Statesboro.

They responded. And, basically, the hostage situation has been going on ever since.

VERJEE: Are police negotiating with the hostage-takers? What do you know about them and what they want?

HALLMAN: Well, police have been negotiating, both with a bullhorn and also using a -- a bomb squad robot that they sent in.

There isn't any solid word on what they want. The information that police have released said that the two individuals who are holding the hostage are upset with some legal issues from the recent past and want to get those issues resolved. What we have heard unofficially is that it stems from some kind of custody dispute.

VERJEE: Do you know anything about the condition of the hostage?

HALLMAN: As far as we know, he's all right.

We have heard rumors that rumors that he is bound. But the police really aren't releasing much information on him.

OK. Jake Hallman, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HALLMAN: Thank you.


BLITZER: All right, Zain, we will stay on top of this story. Thanks very much.

Up next, is it too late for Republicans to repair the damage from recent scandals before the midterm elections? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail. We will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check back with CNN's Zain Verjee one more time -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, we have just learned that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the final appeal of California's oldest inmate on death row.

Clarence Ray Allen is scheduled to be executed one minute after midnight. That's just a few minutes after his 76th birthday. The court's rejection sets the stage for that execution. Allen is in a wheelchair and he is partially deaf.

Word today that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon moved his eyelids 12 days after suffering a massive stroke. A hospital statement says that the family reported seeing the movement and says that it's medically significant, but it's not clear to which extent it is. Doctors have reported slight signs of improvement in the comatose leader's condition in recent days. But they also warn that he's not out of danger.

Africa's first elected female head of state is pledging to rebuild her nation. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in today as the new president of Liberia. She promised what she called a fundamental break with Liberia's violent past, a 14-year civil war. First lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represented the United States at today's inauguration in Liberia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much.

Let's go to New York now.

Jack Cafferty standing by -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Republican Bob Ney resigned his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee, after being linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal -- the latest in a growing list of Republican issues that could affect the midterm elections coming up this November.

The question is, is it too late for Republicans to repair the damage before those midterm elections? Shirley in Marble Falls, Texas: "Congressman Ney and one or two others will be sacrificial goats. Then the Republicans will change a few minor laws, but make a really big deal out of it, and they should squeak through, provided we are as stupid as they think we are. I have begun to wonder."

Tony in Harriman, New York, writes: "If Democrats think this will be the deciding factor for the midterm elections, then I think they will be greatly disappointed. I believe it's wrong to label all Republicans as damaged goods because of a few bad apples."

Mark in Saint Louis, Missouri: "The Republicans certainly seem to be doing everything they can to lose control of Congress after the 2006 elections. But they benefit from a Democratic Party that cannot communicate a unified message to the American people."

Tom writes from Monument, Colorado: "It is too late. Even the most optimistic believe that these many allegations will be strung out successfully into the election window. The Republicans have a massive problem."

And Rick in Norwalk, Connecticut, writes: "The only way to repair this culture of corruption is to throw the bums out. If the American people don't clean house, then they are at fault for the corruption -- not just the politicians" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you in one hour.

"LOU DOBBS" beginning right now -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.