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American Journalist Abducted in Iraq; Supreme Court Upholds Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law

Aired January 17, 2006 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, it's 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 4:00 p.m. in New Orleans, where the mayor, Ray Nagin, says god wants his city to be a "chocolate city." He also says god is mad at America.

Some are now mad at Mayor Nagin.

And it's 5:00 p.m. in Detroit and New York, where civil liberties groups strike back against the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping. They've gone to court, suing to stop the spying.

And it's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad, where U.S. troops are still trying to keep a lid on the chaos almost three years after the invasion. What went wrong? What went right? I'll ask the man who was in charge in Baghdad, Ambassador Paul Bremer. He's standing by.

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

We begin this hour with a developing story, an ominous turn in the case of an American journalist abducted in Iraq. In a video that aired just a little while ago on the Arab network Al-Jazeera, the kidnappers of freelance writer Jill Carroll are now demanding that the United States release all female Iraqi prisoners within 72 hours.

Jill Carroll's family has issued a statement asking for mercy.

Let's turn to our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel, for details -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 28-year-old Jill Carrol from Ann Arbor, Michigan, had been working as a freelance journalist for the "Christian Science Monitor" for several months when she was kidnapped by gunmen in Baghdad on Saturday, January 7. Until now, Carroll's family has declined to comment but issued the following statement following the kidnappers latest threat.

This comes from her parents and her twin sister, Katie, appealing to Jill's kidnappers in a written statement. They say, "Jill is an innocent journalist and we respectfully ask that you please show her mercy and allow her to return home to her mother, sister and family. Jill is a kind person whose love for Iraq and the Iraqi people are evident in her articles. She's been welcomed into the homes of many Iraqis and shown every courtesy. From that experience, she understands the hardships and suffering that the Iraqi people face every day."

"Jill is a friend and sister to many Iraqis and has been dedicated to bringing the truth of the Iraq war to the world. We appeal for the speedy and safe return of our beloved daughter and sister."

Now, unlike many Western journalists in Iraq, Jill did speak some Arabic and had been living in Iraq full time since the fall of 2003 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We wish her only the best.

Andrea, thank you very much for that.

And coming up, we'll have much more on the situation in Iraq. He may have been the most powerful man in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Paul Bremer spent a controversial year as the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq. He's out with a new book. You'll be surprised at some of his frank criticism of the way the war was run, the aftermath of the war.

Paul Bremer standing by in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up this hour.

Today in our look at the culture wars, should a doctor be allowed to prescribe lethal amounts of medicine to help a terminally ill patient commit suicide? Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a controversial law on doctor-assisted suicide, and it's a stunning, stunning blow to Bush administration.

Brian Todd is standing by with details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is an issue that according to a recent poll divides Americans right in half. And this ruling comes at crucial time for one woman who may have to make a wrenching decision very soon.


TODD (voice over): Charlene Andrews is a late-stage breast cancer patient from Oregon who wants to die on her terms, not have the government or the disease decide when and where. Andrews is thrilled with the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling upholding Oregon's assisted suicide law.

CHARLENE ANDREWS, CANCER PATIENT: The U.S. Supreme Court did justice in recognizing the feelings and the needs of the people who have this terminal illness to be able to use that process in a compassionate and dignified manner.

TODD: The Bush administration had argued against that process based on the Controlled Substances Act, which makes it illegal to take or administer powerful drugs that the Justice Department argued have no legitimate medical purpose. New Chief Justice John Roberts was in the minority siding with that argument. But writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, "The U.S. attorney general simply doesn't have the power to block a state law that's been passed twice by voters. A victory for states' autonomy doesn't appease those who believe assisted suicide goes against the basic premise of a doctor's oath."

JAMES BOPP, NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE: It is not medical treatment. It is the absence, it is the opposite of medical treatment. It is doing harm to your patient.

TODD: Other opponents believe the law discriminates against the elderly and devalues people with disabilities. Experts on law and medical ethics say the debate over end-of-life issues may well turn with this ruling.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN, CENTER FOR LAW AND PUBLIC HEALTH: I predict that a lot of states are going to say, well, it matters to my -- my citizens about how they die. And I want to give them this option.


TODD: Another expert says those who favor the law can cite Oregon's track record. Since the law went into effect in 1997, he says he knows of no cases of abuse, no instance where a patient was mistakenly induced into suicide -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting.

Thank you, Brian, very much.

What will the Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide mean nationwide?

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's been monitoring the situation online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: This is the state Web page, Wolf, for Oregon where they have the information about the Assisted Suicide Act and also the forms here, the requests for medication. Also, reports into how many people have been requesting medication each year under this act. And this is the state that people are looking for -- looking to, groups like Death With Dignity, who are looking for legislation like this in states across the country.

They're saying that California and Vermont are the states closest to considering similar legislation right now.

On the other side, people also looking at this state law, religious groups like the National Right to Life, who oppose assisted suicide. Also, disability groups like Not Dead Yet. This is a group that has been opposing this recent decision here. They're a disability rights group who say that decisions like this send the wrong message about disabled people and people with terminal illnesses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.

And another life-and-death court case. This one very, very tragic as well.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court says the state can take an 11- year-old girl off life support. The girl is under state custody and is in a permanent vegetative state.

Her adoptive mother and stepfather allegedly kicked and beat her with a baseball bat. The mother was found dead two weeks after being charged with assault and battery. The stepfather has been fighting to keep the girl on life support. If his stepdaughter dies, he could be charged with her murder.

Moving on now, there may be a new storm brewing along the Gulf Coast, where lawmakers are getting a firsthand look at the rebuilding effort. And there's fresh criticism of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin after his bluntly-stated vision of a new New Orleans.


MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: This city will be chocolate at the end of the day. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be.


BLITZER: Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, caught up with the mayor earlier today. Susan's joining us now live from New Orleans.

What's going on, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people are talking about this. The mayor told me that he's sorry. He said he didn't mean to say what he said. He said it didn't come out right.

He says he knows that he offended a lot of people here and he'd like to move just on. But many people cannot stop talking about the mayor's call for a chocolate New Orleans.


NAGIN: And when we come together...

ROESGEN (voice over): In his speech, Mayor Nagin claimed to be speaking for god. But today, ordinary folks, black and white, standing in line for city permits to rebuild their hurricane-damaged homes, say the mayor was out of line.

(on camera): As a white woman, what do you think of the mayor's remarks?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: White, black, indifferent. It doesn't matter. It's just you can't reunite a city if you have comments that are, you know, I think going to divide a city. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think they were inflammatory or divisive or -- but I think he should have chosen his words more carefully.

ROESGEN (voice over): Mayor Nagin says he should have chosen his words more carefully.

NAGIN: If I could take anything back, that's what I would take, any references to god. I think that was inappropriate for that particular setting. It was something that I had discussed with a minister several weeks before, and for some reason, it became top of mine and it became part of that speech. It was totally inappropriate.

ROESGEN (on camera): Inappropriate, but do you believe it, that this should be a majority African-American city?

NAGIN: Well, I just look at the data. And the data tells me that from every perspective that the city will come back, and it will be, you know, a very diverse city, similar to what we had before.

ROESGEN (voice over): Pre-Katrina, the city was 67 percent African-American. And Nagin says he was trying to give tens of thousands of displaced African-Americans hope that the city would help them return. But back in the line for building permits, one man said the mayor's comments about a chocolate New Orleans were ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He used the wrong dairy product to describe us. We're more Neapolitan, not chocolate. We're more vanilla, strawberry -- you know, it's just stupid. It was a stupid comment on his part. And, you know, it's just pitiful. It doesn't do the city any justice.


ROESGEN: Now, many people I heard from today, Wolf, said they're afraid. They're afraid that the mayor's comments were sounding so outlandish, that the rest of the nation may be less inclined now to try to help New Orleans recover.

BLITZER: Susan, thank you very much.

Susan Roesgen in New Orleans.

And wondering what the New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, meant by his comments? Well, wonder no more.

The mayor sets the record straight tonight live on "AC 360, "ANDERSON COOPER 360." The comments, the controversy, the exclusive. Anderson keeps the mayor honest tonight live, 10:000 p.m. Eastern.

Now to a widely-watched political decision. Since his re- election to the Senate in 2000, Mississippi Republican Trent Lott has weathered many storms. 2002, he was pushed out as majority leader after some controversial comments. Last year, Hurricane Katrina destroyed his beachside home. So it was anyone's guess if he'd seek a fourth term. Today, Lott announced that he will run again. The 64-year-old recently hinted he may run for another leadership position in the Senate. We'll watch this story with you.

In the meantime, let's go back to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by with more -- Jack.


In "The Cafferty File" today, we're looking at stupid things people chose to say on Martin Luther King Day. This hour, it's Senator Hillary Clinton in New York. We'll get to Mayor Ray Nagin in THE SITUATION ROOM at 7:00.

Senator Clinton removed any doubt about her Hollywood liberalism when she said this to a mostly black audience at a Baptist church in Harlem.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation. And you know what I'm talking about.


CAFFERTY: No, exactly what were you talking about, Senator Clinton? She went on to call the Bush administration one of the worst in U.S. history.

In response, the Republican National Committee said, "On a day when Americans were focused on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton."

Here's the question: What did Hillary Clinton mean when she said the House of Representatives has been run like a plantation?

You can e-mail us at

BLITZER: You're there in New York, Jack. She's got to run for re-election this year to the U.S. Senate before she can run for president in 2008. What's -- does she have an opponent yet in New York?

CAFFERTY: It wouldn't matter. I mean, she'll be re-elected very easily in New York. The Republicans have no one. Jeanine Pirro thought she was going to make a run. That didn't go anywhere. She'll be re-elected to the Senate. The constituency in New York is right up her ally.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty, with "The Cafferty File."

Up ahead, in 2003 he was Washington's top man in Iraq, painting a positive picture of the U.S. occupation. Now Paul Bremer tells a very different story in a brand-new book. I'll ask him about the discrepancies between what he said then and what he's writing now.

Also, lawsuits over domestic spying. We'll show you who's suing the Bush administration over government eavesdropping on U.S. citizens.

And there's a surprise development in a California lawsuit over the teaching of intelligent design. We'll show you what happened today.



BLITZER: Welcome back.

He spent a year as the top American official in Baghdad and was arguably the most powerful person in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was a period marked by controversy, and now the former U.S. civilian administrator, Ambassador Paul Bremer, is out with a surprisingly frank book about the war and the efforts to build a new Iraq. It's called "My Year in Iraq."

Ambassador Paul Bremer is joining us now live from New York.

Congratulations, Ambassador, on the new book, which I read and I found very informative, even though I was surprised, because I didn't necessarily think it was going to be as honest and as blunt as you were. But thank you for writing it.

I want to go through some of the specifics, though.

One of the reasons I was surprised, because there were several instances where you right in the book things that you didn't say earlier. In fact, there were several inconsistencies, and I want to give you a chance to respond to those.

For example, on page 106 in the book, you write on October -- on July 14, 2003, you write this: "In my view, I told her" -- referring to Condoleezza Rice -- "the coalition's got about half the number of soldiers we need here and we run a real risk of having this thing go south on us."

Around the same time, the following month, you were interviewed by me, and this is what you said. This is the exchange we had.


BLITZER: Do you need more U.S. troops, more boots on the ground, as they say at the Pentagon, in order to get the situation to stabilize?



BLITZER: You said you had enough. You had -- you didn't need more troops.

Explain the inconsistencies.

BREMER: Well, Wolf, a couple of things. Basically, three points.

First of all, I have been in government now for about 40 years. And I have tried to be guided by two principles the entire time.

One of them is that, if you're working in the executive branch, you owe the president and the people who work with the president your honest views.

Secondly, you should keep those views within the government. And if you come to a point where you basically can't support a policy that you're responsible for, you have only one choice, which is to resign. You don't go out and talk to the press about policies you can't support.

Now in the case of the troop strength, it's more complicated than simply the number of troops on the ground.

What I was particularly concerned about during my time there was sustaining combat capability, of which the number of American troops is only one of three elements. You also had to look at the number and quality of coalition forces.

We had at the time of those interviews I think about 33 countries on the ground with us. And you have to look at the quality and quantity of the Iraqi security forces. And my main concern which is laid out in the book was with the overestimation, I felt, of the quality of the Iraqi forces, because there was a real tendency, I think, to believe that those forces were more quickly going to be able to replace American forces.

BLITZER: And I want to get that to that in a moment. But if you read your book, which I have, you told the president, you told the secretary of defense, you told the national security adviser repeatedly -- it jumps out at all of us -- you thought maybe 500,000 troops were needed in Iraq, which is the number that the U.S. used to liberate Kuwait in 1991.

Yet, when you were asked repeatedly in public about more troops, you repeatedly said there were enough troops there.

BREMER: Well, look, the half-million figure, by the way, was not something I came up with. It was -- it was put to me in a draft report of the Rand Foundation, a bipartisan, nonpartisan foundation that had studied previous occupations.

The military commanders all along said that they thought they had enough troops. I believed otherwise.

They believed that having more troops would actually make the situation worse, that for some reason, if we had more troops on the ground, it would create more difficulties for the occupation. I had a different view.

My view was that we had a fundamental responsibility for law and order in Iraq above all other responsibilities, and that we needed to be able to retain the combat capability to put that forth.

BLITZER: But why couldn't you tell -- why couldn't you tell the American public that if you believed that sincerely? And you know what was at stake, the lives of a lot of American soldiers.

BREMER: Wolf, look, you have been in Washington not as long as I have, but that's not the way the government works. The way the government works is -- and I tried to make that clear in the book -- there are disagreement in government on important matters. That's not surprising. That's the way it should be.

But those disagreements belong inside the government, they don't belong in the public domain. And as I said, if I was at a point where I thought I could not support the policy, I would have resigned.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk about another issue that jumps out in the book, Chapter One, entitled "Chaos." And let me read a couple examples of what you write. This is when you first arrived there, shortly after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

"The targets of looting were widespread. Looters had ransacked power plants and substations. Essential services, including trash disposal and firefighting, were spotty. We were also getting many reports of sexual assault."

Listen to exchange, though, you and I had shortly thereafter on June 25, 2003.


BLITZER: Let's get right to the key question at hand. Was the U.S. prepared for what seems to be an incredibly chaotic situation unfolding on the ground inside Iraq?

BREMER: I think we were. And I don't think it's incredibly chaotic, Wolf.


BLITZER: Well, it was pretty chaotic, wasn't it?

BREMER: Well, you're talking about -- you said June 25, if I heard you correctly.

BLITZER: June 25, 2003.

BREMER: Right. That's six weeks after I arrived, by which time the situation had, in fact, calmed down.

You can play this "gotcha" game if you want, Wolf, but let me tell you, I spent 14 months on the ground there, and I had to deal with the situation as I found it.

And what I found when I got there was that the looting was going unchecked. And as I said in the book, I think that was a mistake not to stop that looting, because not only did it do economic damage, which was billions of dollars, but it basically set the tone that we weren't prepared to deal with law and order, which was our fundamental responsibility and which was a theme throughout my 14 months.

BLITZER: This is not a "gotcha" kind of game. I'm just trying to understand what you were saying then as opposed to what you're writing now. And I think that it's just a matter of trying to clarify what was -- which part of that was true.

BREMER: Well, what I wrote in the book is the accurate reflection of what I tried to do in Iraq.

BLITZER: Here's another thing you write in the book on page 209: "We have too many people looking for WMD" -- weapons of mass destruction -- "and not enough looking for terrorists. I've been pushing, as has Abizaid" -- General John Abizaid, the Central commander -- "to get this rebalanced, and the process is finally under way."

Here's an excerpt of what you told me on June 25, 2003 in another interview.


BREMER: As Secretary Rumsfeld said, I'm confident, as he is, that we will find evidence of the programs or the weapons themselves as we -- as we exploit the information we have.


BLITZER: You believed, as almost everyone else did, that the Iraqis had chemical, biological weapons, may have been working on a nuclear weapon. And that was the major justification for going to war. If in fact they had that, wasn't it important to find it, the chemical, the biological stockpiles, to make sure they couldn't be used?

BREMER: Of course it was important. And, in fact, what you just quoted is what we found.

We did find that he had the programs. The final report of the inspectors by Charles Duelfer about a year ago said the one thing that was clear was that Saddam Hussein retained the programs, the intention, the equipment, and the personnel to resume his programs as soon as the sanctions were lifted. And as Duelfer pointed out, the sanctions were clearly eroding in the early part of 2003.

In fact, several of the countries, Russia and France, were actively trying to get them lifted. Of course it was important that we try to find them.

I didn't suggest that we not -- that we not look for them. What I suggested -- you used the word in the book -- was that we rebalance, that we increase the number of people who were looking for the insurgents.

And, in fact, as that excerpt points out from the book, by the fall of 2003, we had done that. We had basically rebalanced our intelligence assets so that we were both looking for WMD and trying to find out more about the insurgency.

BLITZER: The other -- another important discrepancy, at least that jumped out at me, was the whole issue of inflating Iraqi military and police capabilities. You write this -- a conversation you had with Secretary Rumsfeld.

"'Secretary Rumsfeld, I have to be frank,' I said. 'You're seeing inflated numbers on police rosters. We shouldn't kid ourselves thinking that the Iraqis are better prepared than they are.'"

Yet, on November 2, 2003, we had this exchange. Listen to this.


BLITZER: How many troops, Iraqi troops in this new Iraqi army or security force, whatever specific phrase you want to use to call them, are there right now? How many have been re-deployed to help you, and how many do you project having over the next year?

BREMER: Well, the total number of Iraqis involved in one way or the other in their security we think we'll reach about 220,000 by September, which is a very substantial -- a very substantial number.


BLITZER: Now, here's what jumped out at me -- and correct me if I'm wrong. While you were warning or suggesting to Rumsfeld, let's not use these inflated numbers, because a lot of these guys are simply going to disappear, they're not going to show up when the going gets tough, you, in effect, were trying to sell the same inflated numbers to the American public.

BREMER: I was using the numbers that our military, who, after all, are responsible for the military strategy, not me. Those are the numbers that they were using.

I had my doubts about the quality of those people, not the numbers themselves. What I said to Secretary Rumsfeld, to John Abizaid and others was, it is a mistake to think that an Iraqi, an 18- year-old Iraqi who's been swept off the streets, given an AK-47 and told he's a policeman, it's a mistake to think that he can replace an American soldier one for one in the spring of 2004, which was the direction of the military thinking. And I was very frank about my concerns about that.

And by the way, Wolf, those concerns turned out to be true, because when we had the major crisis in April, the Iraqi forces basically collapsed, all of them, the police, the army, the national guard, as it was then called, the civil defense force. And we were -- we were really faced with a major crisis at that point.

BLITZER: Let me read to you another quote from the book on page 358, near the end of the book, a conversation you had with Condoleezza Rice.

"The message to most Iraqis is that the coalition can't provide them the most basic government service: security. We've become the worst of all things -- an ineffective occupier."

What does that mean?

BREMER: Well, it means exactly what it says. I said right from the beginning of the book, I said right from the beginning of my time in Iraq, it's very clear that I felt our most fundamental role as the government in Iraq, which is what we were until we gave back sovereignty, was to provide law and order and security.

And as the insurgency rose in the fall of 2003, and Iraqis were getting killed, many more than Americans, the Iraqis began to be much less favorably disposed towards the occupation. We saw it in the polling we were doing.

So we were not very popular as occupiers, but at least if you're going to be an occupier, you ought to be able to provide law and order. That's what I meant.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope."

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, appreciate you joining us. And I appreciate risking your life, spending those -- that year-plus in Iraq. You had an incredibly difficult assignment, and as I said earlier, I learned a lot reading your book.

Thank you very much for helping us better understand what was going on.

BREMER: Nice to be with you again.

BLITZER: Paul Bremer joining us in New York.

The intelligent design debate flaring up in California with an unexpected twist to a lawsuit against a rural school district. We'll show you what happened.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, my exclusive interview with Senator John Kerry. The former Democratic presidential candidate goes on the record on domestic spying, the nuclear showdown with Iran and much more.


BLITZER: Here's a close 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.

Mine tragedy in Rumania -- a methane explosion on Saturday kills seven miners.

Turkey: Panicked chickens try fruitlessly to escape government workers. Bird flu has led officials to slaughter hundreds of thousands of birds.

Africa: George W. Bush's daughter Barbara chats up Ghana's foreign minister.

Spain: A priest blesses a dog during the feast of San Anton, the patron saint of animals -- some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Zain Verjee once again joining us from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.


Former President Gerald Ford could be coming home from the hospital on Thursday. He was admitted to the Eisenhower Medical Center near his home in Rancho Mirage, California, over the weekend, suffering from pneumonia. The hospital says he is responding well to treatment. Ford is 92, the nation's oldest living former president.

A small rural school district in California is settling a lawsuit, agreeing to cancel a controversial class on intelligent design. A group of parents sued the El Tejon district to stop the elective course which questioned evolution and endorsed creationism and was taught by a minister's wife. Last month, a federal judge ruled that a similar class in Pennsylvania violated the separation of church and state.

Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy's quitting Harvard's Owl Club, amid accusations of hypocrisy. Kennedy grilled Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito last week over Alito's ties to a Princeton group opposed to the admission of women and minorities. Harvard's Al Club bans women. And, after word got out, Kennedy asked to be taken off the club's membership roll.

The only survivor of that West Virginia mine disaster is out of intensive care. But doctors say Randy McCloy remains in serious condition and still hasn't regained consciousness. They say that his organ functions are recovering. But they don't know yet how complete his physical and mental recovery will be. Twelve of McCloy's fellow miners died from carbon monoxide poisoning when they were trapped by an explosion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much -- Zain Verjee reporting.

Coming up here in the THE SITUATION ROOM, two groups say the NSA's secret spying program is unconstitutional. And they're suing the agency. We will tell you who brought the lawsuits and what is happening.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Senator John McCain on the attack -- excuse me, Senator John Kerry -- Kerry -- on the attack. Kerry blasts the Bush administration on its overall job performance, suggesting it's one of the worst ever. We will tell you what else John Kerry said. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

A counterattack today against the Bush administration's domestic spying program -- lawsuits were filed in federal courts, calling the eavesdropping unconstitutional and accusing the president of exceeding his authority.

Let's turn to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena has more. She has more -- Kelli.


The lawsuits accusing the president of exceeding his constitutional powers were filed in federal court in New York by the Center For Constitutional Rights and in Detroit by the American Civil Liberties Union.


ARENA (voice-over): Have innocent Americans been caught up in the snare of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program? Well, that's the question two civil liberties groups want answered.

SHAYANA KADIDAL, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: We firmly believe that our clients were targets of this secret surveillance program and that their conversations with us, their attorneys, were overheard by the government.

ARENA: In its lawsuit, the Center For Constitutional Rights says its lawyers cannot properly represent clients overseas, for example, hundreds of men being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, because they fear their phone conversations will be listened to.

KADIDAL: And the burden is on the government to tell us otherwise.

ARENA: The ACLU filed a similar suit on behalf of author James Bamford, journalist Christopher Hitchens, and others whose work involves the Middle East.

ANTHONY ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: The real harm has already occurred, the harm that we can no longer have conversations free from government intrusion.

ARENA: Both groups say their clients have well-founded fears that they have been targeted by the NSA, but no hard evidence.

ANDREW MCBRIDE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think it is a stretch. And I think the government will argue that, under the law, these people lack standing, because there is absolutely no evidence that their communications were listened to or that this program intruded in any way on their speech with anyone.

ARENA: The White House dismissed the lawsuits as frivolous and argues, the program is legal.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the American people clearly understand the importance of what we're trying to do to protect them and prevent attack from happening.


ARENA: It's an argument the administration will continue to make before Congress at hearings which are expected to begin early next month -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, thank you very much -- Kelli Arena reporting.

Still to come, words of regret -- after Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested the House of Representatives is run like a plantation, does she regret her words? Plenty of politicians have said things they wish they didn't. Our Bruce Morton will remind us.

And, remember, in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Senator John Kerry on the nuclear standoff in Iran, the war on terror, and more.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, is getting some new information on Democrats and Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court nominee.

What are you getting, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in an exclusive interview with CNN, Senator Ben Nelson just became the first Democrat to say he will vote for the nomination of Samuel Alito for the high court. Nelson, as you know, is a pivotal swing vote, a leader of the gang of 14 moderates. He also just told me does not believe a filibuster is warranted by his fellow Democrats.

I did press him on the fact that some of his fellow Democrats say that Judge Alito will take the court too far to the right.

Here is what he said.


SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Well, I think Judge Alito has made it clear that he doesn't intend to take it. And, at this point in time, I I -- I take him for his word. And I would hope that others might consider that as well. But, obviously, there are going to be people who have a different view of it. But I think that his -- his pledge and his commitment and strong judicial background are sufficient for me to vote for him.


HENRY: Now, after Judge Alito's hearings ended last week, the window of opportunity for a Democratic filibuster was only slightly open. Now, with Nelson on the Alito bandwagon, maybe some other moderate Democrats will follow -- that window closing fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, good work. Thanks very much, Ed Henry, reporting from Capitol Hill.

Zain Verjee is reporting from the CNN Center in Atlanta. She is joining us now with a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.


After a brief ban, Iran is now allowing CNN to resume broadcasting from the country. Iran's official news agency reports, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad requested the ban be lifted on CNN journalists. The ban was reported to be imposed yesterday. It follows a translation error broadcast by CNN, mistakenly quoting Iran's president as saying his nothing has the right to build nuclear weapons. In fact, the Iranian president said his country has the right to nuclear energy. CNN has apologized for the translation error.

A knowledgeable source tells CNN that some of those killed in last week's CIA airstrike in Pakistan were Egyptian. The source added, the Egyptians had direct ties to Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. U.S. officials say they expected al-Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda members to attend the targeted event. It's still unclear if al-Zawahiri was at the event. And it's not clear either if he's dead or alive.

NASA officials say they will try again tomorrow to launch the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto. Today's liftoff was canceled in part because of strong winds in Florida. The probe is set to begin a three-billion-mile trip, traveling faster than any other spaceship, 10 times faster than a speeding bullet. The spacecraft will be the first to send back close-up images of Pluto and its moons.

Wolf, pretty cool.

BLITZER: Very cool. Thanks very much, Zain, for that -- Zain Verjee reporting.

You have heard the phrase you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Well, a new study shows that, when it comes to Web sites, you barely get a first chance.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is joining us now with more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it is one- twentieth of a second, to be exact.

A new study from a doctor of psychology out of Carleton University in Canada says that's how long it takes to decide whether or not you like the way a Web site looks.

I'm going to do that again. Take a look. These are some of the sites that were used. They were downloaded in 2002, part of the study. The idea is, you like the way a Web site looks, you're going to spend more time on the Web site, looking for other things about it that you like.

And in the competitive world of e-commerce, that becomes very, very important. Now, I spoke with Jared Spool today, who runs this Web site. It's a consulting company for companies to tell them how to design their Web sites., by the way, is one of his clients.

And he told me, you can't discount content and context of use. What does that mean? It means, when you go a Web site, are you getting what you're looking for and is it laid out in a way that you will easily find it?

And he used craigslist as a good example of this. This is a very popular online community. A lot of people go to it. It doesn't look like it has seen a designer in years, as Jared would put it. But people know what they're getting when they go here -- so, the idea being, if they changed it and updated their design, Wolf, maybe people wouldn't go back. So, it's very interesting stuff about how we look at Web sites.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed.

Thank you very much, Jacki, for that.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program. That begins in a few minutes, right at the top of the hour.

Lou, what are you working on?


Coming up at the top of hour, we will have all the day's news, of course, including the latest on the government's use of wiretaps on American citizens. I will be talking with the two plaintiffs in the case who have filed suit against the National Security Agency.

Also, the Bush administration doing nothing to secure our borders, and today coming up with an interesting new charade before Congress. I will be talking with a congressman who has a real plan to address the border security issue.

And, Wolf, we will talking about the separation of church and state in this country. The Catholic Church may be risking its tax- exempt status by lobbying against efforts to secure our borders. We will have that special report and a great deal more and why the United States had better start paying attention to Latin America before it's too late. We hope you will be with us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Lou. We certainly will.

Up next, politicians say the darndest things, whether they're shooting themselves in the foot or putting foot in mouth. Our Bruce Morton has a collection, some of the greatest hits, or misses.

And the latest to join that hit parade, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who says the House of Representatives has been run like a plantation. What exactly does she mean?

We want to hear what you think. Jack Cafferty is going through your e-mail.


BLITZER: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is getting reinforcement today for her charge that the Bush administration will go down in history -- and I'm quoting now -- "as one of the worst that has ever governed our country."

In my exclusive interview with Senator John Kerry today, I asked him if he agreed with Senator Clinton, his potential presidential rival in 2008.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think this administration is one of the most derelict in responsibility in history, sure. I don't disagree with her. I mean, almost every single issue of importance, with a completely apolitical point of view -- look at health care in America. What's their plan? They have no plan.


BLITZER: More of my interview with John Kerry, that is coming up, 7:00 Eastern, right here in the THE SITUATION ROOM.

The White House is calling Senator Clinton's attack on the president out of bounds.

When politicians play hardball, they sometimes score big. And they can also strike out.

Our national correspondent, Bruce Morton, has been thinking about this. And Bruce is joining us live -- Bruce.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, do politicians sometimes say things and then wish they hadn't? You bet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country.


MORTON (voice-over): If you're trying to move to center, because you might run for president, you might wish you hadn't said that.

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans.

MORTON: If you're trying to get investors to come to your city, you might have to explain that it's OK if some of them are white.

And remember Trent Lott, the Mississippi senator who announced today that he's running for another term, at a Strom Thurmond birthday party in 2002?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: When Strom Thurmond run for president, we voted for him.


LOTT: We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.

MORTON: Thurmond, of course, ran supporting racial segregation. And Lott's remark cost him his job as Senate Republican leader.





MORTON: Sounded great at the 1988 Republican Convention, but then Bush had to raise taxes. And a lot of voters got mad at him.

The Reverend Pat Robertson has had a run lately, but it's a long list.

Jesse Jackson lost some voters forever when he called Jews "hymies." Dan Quayle, the first Bush's vice president, got in trouble for attacking TV's Murphy Brown for raising a child alone.


MORTON: A personal favorite, James Watt, Ronald Reagan's interior secretary, who had a whole string of gaffes. Finally, after he barred the Beach Boys from performing on the Mall on the Fourth of July, Nancy Reagan, who had friends in the group, presented him with the sculpture of a foot, a size you could put in your mouth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember that very well.

Thank you very much, Bruce, for that assessment.

Up next, more on the Hillary Clinton controversy. What did the New York Democrat mean when she told a crowd in Harlem that the U.S. House of Representatives has been run like a plantation? We will get your views. Jack Cafferty is standing by.



BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's joining us again from New York with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.


The file today focusing on politicians who chose Martin Luther King Day to open their mouths and say really dumb things.

This hour, Senator Hillary Clinton, who remarked in front of a black audience at a Baptist church in Harlem yesterday that the House of Representatives -- quote -- "has been run like a plantation."

We were curious what you thought she might have meant by that.

Funny about the Clintons. All you have to do is put that name in a question, and the number of responses goes up by a factor of two or three -- very, very volatile responses to anybody in the Clinton family.

Marie in Bartlett, Illinois: "What she meant was pretty clear. The Democrats have been shut out of Congress, unable to be heard, dismissed as invisible, much like slaves working on plantations. She co-opted the phrase from Newt Gingrich, when he criticized the Democrats in 1994."

Allen in Nashville, Tennessee: "What did Mrs. Clinton mean? Let me interpret: 'I am running for president in 2008, and I want black people to vote for me.' That is what she meant."

Steven in New Windsor, Maryland: "I don't think there is any secret what Hillary meant. If you disagree with 'Massa Bush,' you go to the woodshed. That goes for Republicans, as well as Democrats."

Wayne writes: "Hillary Clinton needs to have more pillow talk with Bill, after her latest stupid comments. At least Bill was a great communicator, even though I never voted for him. Hillary's mouth will continue to send up the red flags on a scary presidential candidate."

Karen in Dallas, Texas: "Plantation means D.C. is run by a bunch of rich white guys, whose only worry is becoming richer, at the expense of the middle and lower classes."

And this from Jorge in Sacramento, California: "Does this mean members of Congress are now entitled to 40 acres and a mule?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's amazing when you say that the number of e-mail you get really increases when you mention the word Clinton, give us...


CAFFERTY: Either one of them.

BLITZER: Either one?


BLITZER: There is still that fire out there. There is still that passion, pro and con.

CAFFERTY: Everybody has strong opinions about both of them, which, in Hillary's case, I guess, should she decide to run for president, could -- could help, but it could also hurt her.

There are -- there's also -- there's a high negative opinion of her across the country, according to some of the polls I have read.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks very much. See you in one hour.

We're back in THE SITUATION ROOM one hour from now, 7:00 p.m. Eastern -- more of my interview with Senator Kerry.

Lou Dobbs standing by right now to pick up our coverage -- Lou.

DOBBS: Wolf, thank you.