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The Situation Room

Eight U.S. Soldiers Charged With Murder; Saddam Hussein Attorney Gunned Down; Massive Kidnapping Near Baghdad; New Reports on WMD Presence; Arnold Schwarzenegger Takes Helicopter Tour of U.S.- Mexico Border

Aired June 21, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, a new and potentially serious blow to the image of U.S. troops fighting and dying in Iraq. It's 4:00 p.m. at Camp Pendleton in California, where seven U.S. Marines and a sailor are charged with murder in the death of a disabled Iraqi civilian.

President Bush warns North Korea against a long-range missile test, but is anyone listening? It's 8:00 a.m. Thursday in Pyongyang. We will take a closer look at the dictator who call himself the "Dear Leader." Some say he's crazy. Others say he's crazy like a fox.

And this pop diva has visited wounded American troops. Now she wants to keep the troops safer. Cher talks to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He will join us live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

Until recently, they were on the front lines fighting a brutal insurgency. Tonight, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are in the brig at California's Camp Pendleton. They are charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy, after allegedly pulling an unarmed disabled Iraqi man from his home and killing him without provocation.

Let's turn to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's watching this story for us -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this news out of California is some of the most serious type of charges that you can possibly have raised in a time of war, that American service people willingly violated the law. And the military made it clear today how seriously they are taking these accusations.


FOREMAN (voice-over): In the Iraqi town of Hamandiyah, the funeral of a 54-year-old man this spring brought mourners and accusation that Hashim Ibrahim Awad was murdered by U.S. Marines. And now those accusations have brought charges.

COL. STEWART NAVARRE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: All Marines are trained in the law of armed conflict and are expected to fully comply with it.

FOREMAN: Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are charged with kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy in connection with Awad's death.

NAVARRE: The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by its members very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations.

FOREMAN: Awad's family says he was pressured by U.S. forces to be an informer, and when he refused, they say he was taken from his home by a patrol of six to eight troops, and killed.

"We heard gunshots," Awad's brother says, "about 100 gunshots, maybe less."

Local police say Awad's body was returned the next day, along with an assault rifle and a shovel. The family suggests those items were placed with Awad's body to imply that he was an insurgent burying bombs by the road. The family further alleges, U.S. troops have offered them money to drop their accusations.

Every claim of unlawful activity is flatly rejected by John Jodka, the father of one of the servicemen charged in this case.

JOHN JODKA, FATHER OF ACCUSED MARINE: He's told me that he is absolutely innocent of these charges and that he was doing his job as a United States Marine, per the orders given him. And I absolutely believe him.

FOREMAN: For now, the Marines are pointedly reminding everyone, all these men are innocent until proven guilty. But the Corps is moving toward a trial.


FOREMAN: We asked the Marines about some of the specific charges raised, including that one about bribery to try to make the family not raise these accusations.

The Marines say they will not talk about any of the specifics of this case at this time. However, in the coming weeks and months, we will certainly hear more about it, as well as more of the defense against, as I said from the beginning, Wolf, these most serious of charges -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they carry with them potentially the death sentence.

Thanks very much, Tom Foreman, for that.

And later this hour, we will speak with the father of one of those Marines accused of murder.

Other news we are following -- the bodies of two American soldiers who were kidnapped and slain by insurgents are to arrive in the United States tonight. The more we learn about the brutal nature of their deaths, the more shocking the details are. Were these Americans left alone and vulnerable in a dangerous area?


BLITZER: And joining us now, Major General William Caldwell, the spokesman for the multinational force in Iraq.

General Caldwell, do we have new information, more specific information, on how these two American soldiers, who had been missing, were actually killed?

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY SPOKESMAN, COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ: Well, Wolf, there's no question, you know, our condolences go out to the families of both PFC Menchaca and PFC Tucker.

Clearly, their bodies showed signs of severe trauma and require further forensic pathology analysis for us to make a positive identification as to their remains.

They currently are en route back to the United States. The airplane is right now, about a half-hour ago, in Germany and will be taking off shortly, returning back to the United States.

BLITZER: The "Washington Post," General, reported today this -- I'll read it to you: "In telephone interviews, two Yusufiyah residents described a gruesome scene in which insurgents beheaded and dismembered the soldiers, after dragging their bodies behind pickup trucks."

Based on all the information that you have at this point, is that true?

CALDWELL: Wolf, we are confronted down there by a very brutal element of anti-Iraqi forces that have absolutely no respect for personal dignity or deceased.

And the sight upon which our commanders and troops arrived on was one that was very horrific. And just, at this point, we're going to continue with the analysis and provide the families the full details of everything they still want to know.

BLITZER: So, you don't want to say whether or not they were actually beheaded?

CALDWELL: At this point, it would be inappropriate, Wolf, for me to comment on that. But I will tell you it's a very brutal force that we were confronted against down there, who absolutely have no respect for human life, as evidenced in the way they treated both our soldiers and the way they treat civilians in that area.

BLITZER: There's a report on an Islamist Web site that the new supposed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, personally was involved in killing these two American soldiers.

Is that, based on the information you have, accurate?

CALDWELL: Although we cannot confirm or deny that now, because we just really don't know, by initial indications from the detainees that we've picked up and the questioning that is going on, that has not been something we have heard from them.

But we can't absolutely deny it at this point. But we've had no indication from it in the questioning that's going on, the tactical questioning that's going on of the detainees we picked up from down there.

BLITZER: A lot of us are wondering why three American soldiers were in this location to begin with -- apparently by themselves in this Yusufiyah area. It's the Triangle of Death, one of the most dangerous areas in and around Baghdad.

The circumstances surrounding their deployment there -- based on what you know, what can you tell us?

CALDWELL: Wolf, the commander of the unit down there has called for an investigation. It's undergoing at this time.

We have established that there probably was a single vehicle at a location down there with our three soldiers and he has called for an investigation to look into all the facts surrounding that to determine exactly what was taking place at the time that the attack occurred there at 7:55 p.m. on Friday night.

BLITZER: Is that standard operating procedure to send three soldiers like that with one vehicle into such a dangerous area?

CALDWELL: Wolf, we have a fairly known standard throughout the theater here that any movement that you make is done in about a three- vehicle convoy or larger, for a variety of reasons that -- you know, as you might imagine, for just inherent security, in case a vehicle breaks down or radio goes out, mutual support.

That's our normal modus operandi. So this was unusual to have identified a single vehicle being at that location.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a question on the Saddam Hussein trial. Another of his attorneys was gunned down, was killed today. We believe this is the third of Saddam Hussein's lawyers who have been killed.

Should the U.S. military -- and you speak for the coalition, the military forces -- be involved in protecting Saddam Hussein's attorneys?

CALDWELL: What I'd say there, Wolf, you know, the government of Iraq is a sovereign nation. If they were to request and ask for assistance from the Multi-National Force, I am sure General Casey would probably take that under strong advisement and probably provide whatever they requested, because we're here to support them. But that's a decision the government of Iraq will have to make.

BLITZER: One final question, General, before I let you go.

Apparently, two Iraqi soldiers are now charged with killing two American soldiers in and around Balad in recent years. There's a trial. And, apparently, there's a new report that has just come out, and you're familiar with that, I am sure.

Here's the question that a lot of viewers are asking: Can American troops in Iraq trust their Iraqi soldiers that go out with them on these kinds of operations -- the fear being that the insurgents might slip in terrorists into the Iraqi military?

CALDWELL: Wolf, we go through a fairly deliberate process in vetting the soldiers that currently serve in the Iraqi army. And then we spend a lot of time with them before we ever go out on patrols, working closely together through training, coordination, planning, and then we go out on joint patrols together.

The American soldiers that are going out with the Iraqi Army soldiers fairly well know these counterparts and they have trust and faith in those that they're going out with.

If, for some reason, they didn't, nobody would ever force an American soldier to do something he or she felt uncomfortable with.

If they felt that they could not trust somebody else around them, they'd bring it to their immediate superiors and somebody would look into that immediately.

BLITZER: General Caldwell, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck over there.

CALDWELL: Well, thank you.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


Republican leaders in the House have decided not to vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, at least not now. They had some sort of bitter closed-door Republican Caucus meeting. And, then, shortly afterwards, the Senate said, well, they're not going to vote to renew the Voting Rights Act either, at least not right now.

This prompted a Democratic congressman, Representative Artur Davis of Alabama, to say the following -- quote -- "Apparently, the leadership of the Republican Party can't bring its own rank-and-file members in to line to support the Voting Rights Act. This ought to be a significant embarrassment, as they fan out around the country trying to skim off a few black votes over the next four months" -- unquote.

Some lawmaker complain that it unfairly singles out nine Southern states for federal oversight, because those states, in the past, practiced racist voting policies. But some members of both parties think that states that have a history of discrimination might still practice it and they have earned the extra scrutiny from regulators.

The law dates back to the civil rights era. It enfranchised millions of black voters by ending poll taxes and literacy tests.

So, here's the question: When it comes to voting rights, should some Southern states be watched more closely? E-mail your thoughts to, or go to

Here's something else the Congress has decided not to do -- Wolf.


BLITZER: A favorite theme of yours almost every day, Jack. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's what -- that's what the news is out of those clowns every day: We're not going to do this, and we're not going to that. We're not going to have immigration reform. And we are not going to have hearings on the NSA spying. And we are not going to vote to renew the -- the Voting Rights Act.

I mean, that's all they do. They do nothing.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much. We will get your e-mail coming up later this hour.


BLITZER: Coming up next, though: nuclear negotiations. President Bush talks tough on Iran and North Korea. We will find out if the European allies will go along. We are going to go live to Budapest.

Saddam Hussein, his lawyer gunned down in the street -- should there be a mistrial? And will Saddam Hussein's American lawyer return to Baghdad?

Also, she is for the military, but against the war. Cher speaks out for a cause. She sat down with Anderson Cooper. He will join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: President Bush is in Budapest, Hungary, tonight, after wrapping of his talks with European leaders in Vienna. And he is delivering new warnings to two nations at the top of his global threat list, Iran and North Korea.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush is here in Budapest, Hungary, of course, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the overthrow of Soviet rule. And he is going to be giving a speech tomorrow where he will parallel Hungarian struggle for democracy and freedom with that of the Iraqi struggle as well. But, earlier today, Wolf, it was really a quite a dramatic ending to that one-day summit, E.U. summit, in Vienna, Austria, a press conference where President Bush was essentially challenged several times by European journalists about the very low opinion that many Europeans have about the president -- President Bush, of course, very passionate in his defense, as well as his host.


QUESTION: You've got Iran's nuclear program. You've got North Korea. Yet, most Europeans consider the United States the biggest threat to global stability. Do you have any regrets about that?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's absurd. My statement is, the United States is -- we'll defend ourselves, but at the same times, we're actively working with our partners to spread peace and democracy. So, whoever says that is -- it's just -- it's an absurd statement.


MALVEAUX: The host as well, the E.U. president, Wolfgang Schuessel, also defended the president, saying he thought that accusation was grotesque.

In the meantime, of course, there were protests of President Bush's visit, about 1,200 students who gathered outside and accompanied by none other than the so-called peace mom, the American Cindy Sheehan, who has lost her own son in Iraq, joining those protesters, Wolf, all of them peaceful and rather small -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, did the president get agreement from the European allies as far as North Korea and Iran are concerned?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, Wolf, the president got what he came for.

And, essentially, there was agreement on those two critical issues, when it came to Iran, a very united front -- the president, as well as European leaders, both of them saying that they rejected this offer by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying that he was going to go ahead and respond to that incentive package sometime mid-August, both of them saying, that's not good enough. They want it sooner, as opposed to later, that they really need to seize the moment.

And the other, of course, when it came to North Korea -- President Bush, as well as his European counterparts, saying that North Korea would be met with very serious consequences if it decided to test some sort of long-range missile -- President Bush also saying he was very impressed with the Chinese, who reached out directly to the North Koreans to say, look, this is going to be a very big problem, if they go through with their threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president in Budapest tonight. For all the attention he's getting, Kim Jong Il is one of the most mysterious leaders in the world.

CNN's Zain Verjee is joining us with a closer look at what we know and what we don't know about North Korea's leader -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we don't really know for certain where or when he was born, how many times he's been married, or even exactly how many children he has. But we do know that, despite his reputation as being a little bit odd -- he's even been called crazy -- he's anything but.


PETER MAASS, "NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": He's not crazy. He might be emotional. He might be somewhat eccentric. But crazy, absolutely not.

VERJEE (voice-over): Indeed, Kim Jong Il's persona may be carefully cultivated. AS supreme leader of an impoverished country, he has little to bargain with on the international stage, and his reputation may work to his advantage.

But, behind it, there is, by all accounts, a shrewd dictators.

MAASS: Really, everybody who has met with Kim Jong Il -- and there have been quite a few, South Koreans, Americans, Russians, North Koreans who have since defected -- they all come out saying, this man knows what he's doing.

VERJEE: Kim Jong Il inherited the role of absolute ruler from his father, Kim Il-Sung, who died in 1994.

The elder Kim dubbed himself "Great Leader." And the younger followed suit. He is known as "Dear Leader." He's believed to have been born in the Soviet Union in 1941 or '42. But his birthplace is often listed instead as a mountain famous in Korean mythology. He's thought to have been married three times, although it's not clear if all were official. And he's known to have three sons and at least one daughter.

Rather short in stature, he's rumored to wear platform shoes. He, nonetheless, had a reputation as a hard-partying playboy as a young man, and reportedly still has an eye for the ladies.

JERROLD POST, FORMER CIA PROFILER: He recruits, at junior high school level, attractive young girls with clear complexions and pretty faces to be enrolled in his joy brigades. And the joy brigade's function is to provide rest and relaxation for his hard work, senior officials.


VERJEE: Kim is also very passionate about horses.

He's also a huge film buff, with a collection of as many as 20,000 films. U.S. officials say he even once went so far as to order the kidnapping of a South Korean actress and her director husband -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks for that, a fascinating report.

Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM: Marked for murder? Another lawyer in the Saddam Hussein trial facing a horrifying fate -- will the case go forward now, and will Saddam Hussein's U.S. attorney, Ramsey Clark, return to Baghdad to represent the ex-dictator?

And flying high with Arnold Schwarzenegger -- we will take you to the air for his tour of the border with Mexico. And we will find out why he's criticizing members of his own party over immigration reform.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants in the trial will start a hunger strike tomorrow, that according to the former justice minister of Qatar, now a member of Saddam Hussein's defense team.

He says Hussein and the others won't eat as a way to protest the killing of yet another member of that defense team.

CNN's Mary Snow has more on the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today's murder of a lawyer for Saddam Hussein raises questions about what's next for this trial that has been plagued by problems.

Now, one member of the defense team I spoke with says he plans to move forward with closing arguments next month.


SNOW (voice-over): This is the third lawyer for Saddam Hussein to be murdered since Hussein was put on trial for crimes against humanity in October. It's a fate attorney Khamis al-Obeidi, seen here in November, spoke about with CNN's Nic Robertson.

KHAMIS AL-OBEIDI, ATTORNEY FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN (through translator): Our clients' interests is more important than anything else, and, even if there is risk, we will attend.

SNOW: Now another member of Saddam Hussein's team, an American and former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark, faces the same danger.

(on camera): Will you go back?


SNOW: Why?

CLARK: Because I couldn't imagine not going back. How do you -- how do you walk away from it? SNOW: Does the thought go through your mind that your life is on the line?

CLARK: It may be. But it's not suicidal to go back. It's not a picnic either.

SNOW (voice-over): In addition to fighting on behalf of Saddam Hussein, Clark has battled the Iraqi court to get round-the-clock armed guards for defense lawyers and their families.

CLARK: The lawyers were told that they could have either one or two pistols right now and two guards. Well, two guards aren't worth much, and a pistol is probably a danger. Five guys come in with automatic weapons dressed in police uniforms, saying they're Ministry of the Interior, you're going to pull a pistol?

SNOW: Clark also says Hussein's lawyers can't afford prohibitive security costs. He cites a $6,000 private contractor fee just to be escorted from the Baghdad Airport into the Green Zone as just one example.

As for Clark, he says he doesn't travel with security. The last time he carried a pistol, he says, he was in the Marines.


SNOW: Now, one international law expert I spoke with says it's doubtful there would be a mistrial at this point, because of the extraordinary circumstances involved, and because the actual trial phase is over, with just the closing arguments left -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you very much.

And just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM: American Marines charged with murder and kidnapping. We will speak with the father of one of those accused.

And Cher, the pop icon, is using her voice on behalf of a group she feels is voiceless. We are going to tell you who that is and why.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Raw politics and raw emotion exploding on the Senate floor right now. Senators are arguing into the night over the Iraq war and dueling Democratic exit strategies. One plan calls for beginning a phased redeployment this year. The other calls for all U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by July 1 of next year. Neither plan is expected to pass.

But less than five months before congressional elections, the debate is giving Democrats a new opportunity to blast the Bush administration's Iraq policy. And it's giving Republicans another chance to accuse Democrats of wanting to cut and run.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Our amendment is not about cutting and running. Rather our amendment acknowledges that staying the course is a strategy that shows no promise of success and it's time to change that strategy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We've made serious mistakes and the costs have been very high. But these would pale in comparison to what is likely to unfold should we follow the course advocated by this resolution.


BLITZER: In Iraq, the insurgency rages on. Bombings and shootings took a heavy toll today again. Still unclear, the fate of dozens of worker abducted as they were on their way home near Baghdad. CNN's Arwa Damon is in the Iraqi capital -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a mass kidnapping 20 kilometers to the north of Baghdad, at least 50 employees working in a factory complex that falls under Iraq's ministry of industry were kidnapped today as they were leaving work at about 3:00 p.m. This according to Iraqi police and officials of Iraq's ministry of industry.

They left work in about five buses when armed gunmen stormed these buses and drove them off to an unknown location. And in northern Iraq, in Mosul, Iraqi police found 16 bodies strewn throughout that city. And then earlier this morning, in Baghdad, a car bomb detonated just outside a restaurant in the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City, killing two civilians and wounding another four -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad, thank you for that. Now more on our top story here in the United States. The murder charges filed today against eight U.S. troops are casting a new cloud over the Iraq mission.

As we reported, seven U.S. marines and one sailor are being held at Camp Pendleton in California tonight. They're accused of taking a disabled Iraqi civilian out of his home in Hamdaniya in April and shooting him to death.


BLITZER: John Jodka is the father of John Jodka III, one of those Marines who has now been charged with murder, among other charges. He's joining us together, with the attorney Joseph Casas.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

And, John Jodka, let me start with you.

What did your son tell you? What has he told you specifically about what happened in April? JOHN JODKA, FATHER OF ACCUSED MARINE: He's told me that he is absolutely innocent of these charges and that he was doing his job as a United States Marine, per the orders given him. And I absolutely believe him.

BLITZER: Did he walk through with you specifically the incident involving this allegation, that your son...

JODKA: He did -- he did not.

BLITZER: ... and six other Marines and a Navy corpsmen actually killed this Iraqi civilian?

JODKA: He did not walk through the specifics with me, because I do not enjoy attorney-client privilege. And, so, specifics are not discussed when I speak with him.

But I am certain, from his conviction and his training and his dedication, that these charges will be proven -- that he will be proven innocent of these charges.

BLITZER: Joseph Casas, you are representing this Marine who has now been formally charged?


BLITZER: What, basically, is your defense going to be?

CASAS: Well, we're playing blindfolded chess at this point. We finally have charges. We know a little bit about what they're going to be -- what evidence is going to be presented against them. We have seen some statements that were obtained by Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Our defense is going to be, simply, that he did not -- at least PFC Jodka did not commit the atrocities that the government is alleging occurred. As to any specific defenses, I'm not able to answer that question at this point.

BLITZER: You realize, Mr. Jodka, that your son and these other Marines and sailor, they potentially face the death penalty if convicted?

JODKA: I absolutely understand that this is a life-and-death situation for my son. Much as he was in combat in Iraq, this is another form of combat and strife that he faces.

BLITZER: Carolyn Jodka, the mother of your son, says this -- said this on June 11 in "The Los Angeles Times": "Initially, he was very excited to go to Iraq, very committed to the mission, eager to do the job. But, after a few months, the reality set in: 'This isn't what I expected.'"

Is that what you heard from your son?


Obviously, I heard from my son in Iraq it was a very difficult situation, a very difficult environment. But he, along with his brothers, remained dedicated to the mission, remained dedicated to the Marine Corps. And he was absolutely certain that he and his brothers would carry through. But, obviously, it was a very difficult place to be.


JODKA: And there's no denying that.

BLITZER: The Marine commandant, General Michael Hagee, went to Iraq to urge all Marines to obey the rules of engagement. When he came back, he said, on June 7: "As commandant, I am the one accountable for organization, training and equipping of Marines. I am responsible, and I take these responsibilities quite seriously."

Parents of others who are in trouble in Iraq for allegedly killing Iraqi civilians insist they feel let down by the U.S. Marine Corps. Do you?

JODKA: Yes, only in certain aspects of the leadership.

I believe the rank-and-file Marines completely support my son. He is absolutely certain of this and reminds me of this every time I see him and talk to him. However, from the top leadership of the Marine Corps, I find a great wasteland of disappointment.

In none of General Hagee's pronouncements or monologues has he ever once proclaimed that these men deserve the presumption of innocence as fighting heroes of the Marine Corps, persons who are on the tip of the spear. The only one in the senior executive leadership who has done so has been Vice President Cheney in an interview with Sean Hannity on his radio show.

General Hagee and none of the senior leadership that I have heard have -- have made any comments regarding the presumption of innocence. And I find great disappointment in that.

BLITZER: Well, we just heard Colonel Navarre say that the working assumption is that these men are innocent until proven guilty. That's the working assumption.

Let me get your lawyer, Joseph Casas, to weigh in.

The working assumption, under the Military Code of Justice, is that these men are innocent until proven guilty.

CASAS: That's absolutely correct, Wolf. And that's what we have been talking about all along. When the media first rushed on this case, it almost seemed like there was an immediate rush to judgment that these guys, as Congressman Murtha said, were cold-blooded killers.

And, so, we immediately started reminded the American public that the military justice system, just like the civilian justice system, has a strong presumption of innocence. And it's good to hear that the Marine Corps is abiding by that today.

BLITZER: One final question to John Jodka.

Can you speak to your son now? Under the assumption he's innocent until proven guilty, do you have any access to talk to him?

JODKA: Certainly, I can see him on the weekends. And he can call me in the evening, certain times during the evenings. And, certainly, this weekend, I will be visiting with him. And I'm hoping that he will call me some time during the week.

BLITZER: John Jodka and Joseph Casas, thanks to both of you for coming in. Appreciate it.


BLITZER: And I spoke with them earlier today. In other news, might weapons of mass destruction really be in Iraq right now and might WMDs been there all along? Today two top congressional Republicans spoke out about an unclassified U.S. Army report on the matter. Let's bring in our national security correspondent David Ensor. What's going on, David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, according to two Republican legislators and a Pentagon official, a new military report says that since 2003, the U.S. has found over 500 chemical weapons in Iraq.


REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: This is not a proverbial silver bullet smoking gun. This indicates one more time that there's a lot of things in Iraq that we don't fully comprehend and understand. But what it does dispel is the very simple notion that there was not a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, but that actually hundreds of these existed and continue to exist in Iraq.


ENSOR: But the ranking Democrat on House intelligence, Jane Harman, said, quote, "there's nothing new here." And Charles Delfor (ph), the CIA's weapons inspector tells us the weapons are all pre- Gulf War vintage shells, no longer effective weapons. Not evidence, he says, of an ongoing WMD program under Saddam Hussein -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David, thank you very much. Still ahead here tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, getting a bird's eye view of his state's troubled border with Mexico. We're going to take you along for the ride. We'll get a live report.

Plus, she's against the war but wants U.S. troops in Iraq to be safer. Now Cher sits down with CNN's Anderson Cooper to talk about her new cause. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: She's a pop music icon known by one name, and now Cher wants to be known for her new cause: getting U.S. troops safer helmets. Cher sat down for an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper that airs tonight. Anderson is joining us now with a preview.

Anderson, what's going on?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, what Cher's trying to do, basically, is raise money for, I think, a Project Helmet, which actually sends -- allows American citizens or anyone to get on the Internet and buy liners for helmets for the Marine Corps.

They said the army already has these liners inside their helmets, but marines serving in Iraq, the helmets often will hit the skull, and that can cause a concussion, can cause brain injury if there's an IED explosion.

These liners actually help protect the skull, according to this organization and -- that Cher is now involved with. She said she really got involved after a man named Dr. Bob Medders (ph) started this organization about two years ago to help his own grandson and Cher got involved. Listen.


COOPER: How much does each one cost?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the marine helmet is 71 bucks.

COOPER: Seventy-one bucks can make a difference between life and death for a marine. You would think this is already being done. You would think this is standard issue. Did it surprise you?

CHER, ENTERTAINER/ACTIVIST: Well, I think after the Humvee thing, I wasn't as surprised. But I keep thinking there's nothing that's going to shock me anymore. And then when I found out about this, I think I was -- I just was astounded at the price that could save someone's life, for $71, or you know, that such a little price had to be used to save someone's life.


COOPER: Cher went with Dr. Medders to Capitol Hill to help him testify. She's given more than $100,000 of her own money. She's trying to get as many people as possible to donate money to this cause as well. She says it's a cause she believes in, and one that she feels good participating in. Listen.


CHER: To be able to use your celebrity for something that you really think is worthwhile is so rewarding. It just makes you feel like this is the right thing to do. This is the American thing to do. Also, it really pisses me off when people say that if you're not for the war, you don't support the troops. And I'm not for the war and I really support the troops.

COOPER: And that's possible. You can oppose this war and be supportive of the troops.

CHER: Yes, because they don't have anything to do with it. They're -- these are these boys that are unbelievable, boys and girls, and they're just so young that are just like -- they want to do the right thing and they think that what they're being told to do, is that's their job and they're going to do it.


COOPER: Wolf, what you may not know also is that Cher has visited marines and soldiers in Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Hospital as well, has done it several times, and we talked about what she has seen there later on tonight.

BLITZER: It's shocking that private funds have to pay for this, that it's not coming from the billions of dollars being spent every week. Anderson, we'll be watching tonight. Thanks very much. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" airs 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. You're going to want to stick around and see that.

We also want to follow up on CNN's coverage of World Refugee Day. Yesterday, we brought you reports from around the globe. Now let's check in with our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton for an update -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, a spokesman for the U.N. Refugee Agency here in the U.S. told us that World Refugee Day isn't generally planned as a fundraising event. However, after yesterday's coverage, their phone lines for donations have been frantic.

We too here at CNN have been flooded with your e-mail about the stories that we highlighted, like this one is from Michael Milco. He's from Chicago and he's actually worked in African refugee camps. He says of the people in those camps, they're "professional people, businessmen, farmers, teachers who have been uprooted by atrocities. They're people like me and you."

All these stories, the e-mails, and the reports are available on line at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Up ahead. Don't try to cross the border when a former action hero is in town. The California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger eyeing the border from high in the sky.

When it comes to voting rights, should some southern states be watched more closely? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here's "The Bottom Line" on the markets. The Dow, the NASDAQ, the S&P all were up today, with the Dow gaining more than 100 points.

Tonight, the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a new perspective on the immigration wars. Just hours ago, he took a helicopter tour of the U.S. border with Mexico. He's getting the lay of the land before National Guardsmen join a security crackdown that he had some serious doubts about. Let's go to CNN's Chris Lawrence, he's joining us from the border. Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Governor Schwarzenegger got a bird's eye view of some of the problems here on the border but he said the solution is right there in Washington.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): As his helicopter swept over the mountains, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger kept one on the California- Mexico border and one on Capital Hill.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Each one of those members has been to Washington to work out the problems that the United States has.

LAWRENCE: House Republican leaders announced they will hold public hearings on immigration reform. That means they're unlikely to reach a compromise with the Senate before the November election. Which prompted the Governor to criticize Democrats and members of his own party.

SCHWARZENEGGER: It would be inexcusable, it would be ludicrous, for them to say they can't work it out. That's their job.

LAWRENCE: Schwarzenegger says there's no time for two months of hearings all over the country.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And maybe take this whole thing on the road show and debates out there because we know what the facts are.

LAWRENCE: The governor has shown his independent streak before when he initially resisted President Bush's plan to put troops on the border.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I was hesitant about it because it was a half baked idea.

LAWRENCE: But after getting assurances from the federal government and touring the boarder, he's come around. The governor has agreed to deploy more than 1,000 National Guard troops, with guarantees that the government will pay for them and that the mission will last no longer than 18 months.


LAWRENCE: Which means they're only here until the border patrol hires and trains enough new agents to take over. Now so far more than 200 National Guards troops are already training with the boarder patrol. And by the middle of next month they will start doing flyovers and communication jobs, any kind of jobs that involve a support capacity, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much Chris. Chris Lawrence on the boarder with Mexico.

Let's go to New York. Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty file."

CAFFERTY: Arnold, sounds like he just got here last week. He's been in the country what 25, 30 years.

BLITZER: It's hard to lose an accent when you come in as an adult.

CAFFERTY: Yes, yes, yes. Republican leaders in the House and for that matter in the Senate have postponed voting on renewing the 1956 Voting Rights Act. Some lawmakers are complaining it unfairly singles out some nine southern states for additional federal oversights because those states had a record years ago of practicing racist policies against blacks. The question then is this, when it comes to voting rights, should some southern states be watched more closely?

Ronald writes from Gilbert, Arizona, "Yes, having been born and reared in the south during the civil rights years and knowing first- hand it's historical record of exclusion and racism, the best way we can honor all those that were beaten and hanged fighting for the right to vote is to keep them honest."

Mike in Dartmouth Massachusetts says, "As an American Indian let me remind you and your viewers that African-Americans are not the only minority that has been historically shut out of the voting process. Major newspapers have recently reported Indians have had a very difficult time voting in South Dakota as recently as 2004.

Chris in Austin, Texas says, "Why would anyone think that Southern states should be watched more closely? Surely it has nothing to do with the fine citizens of Alabama voting down a state amendment in the 2004 election that would have removed the legality of poll taxes from the state constitution."

Jane in Wisconsin, "The Voting Rights Act does not need to be renewed. No one is being disenfranchised anymore in the south. There may have been a need for this act decades ago, it's served its purpose though and does not need to be renewed."

Mike in Blandensville, Illinois, "Being from Illinois I say with pride, no state does it better than we do, cheat that is. Based on the last couple of elections I say Florida and Ohio are close behind, and of course New Jersey is a perennial contender. The southern states are not serious players in election shenanigans, so unless they plan to reinstate poll taxes, I'm wouldn't think they are much of a concern.

And finally Frank, a doctor in Tennessee, "Give Congress some credit, Jack. Don't underestimate the effort which goes into deciding which important things not to do. There are hours of closed-door meetings. In the medical practice, we call it supervised neglect." Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks very much. Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. That means that Paula Zahn is standing by. Hi Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Wolf, thanks so much. Coming up, as the big debate continues right now in the Senate, we will dig deeper into the question of whether to set a date for bringing American forces home from Iraq. We will talk to Representative John Murtha and debate it with our own team of in-home political experts.

Also a remarkable story about a whole family, 11 cousins in all, who all decided to have their stomachs surgically removed. Why would anyone make that choice? You're going to find out in just a few minutes. These are some amazingly brave people.

BLITZER: I will be watching. Thanks very much, Paula, for that.

Still ahead, the future of care for older Americans. We will find out how communities may replace nursing homes. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: You have enough money for retirement? In today's edition of welcome to the future. CNN's Miles O'Brien shows you one solution that might help keep money in your wallet and a roof over your head, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the average cost of a private room in a nursing home is $203 per day. That's nearly $75,000 a year. There's some alternative living arrangements for the parents of boomers and boomers themselves.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): This man, elder care expert, Doctor William Thomas, sees a future where community is key.

DOCTOR WILLIAM THOMAS, ELDER CARE EXPERT: In the 20th century, old age is about leisure and independence and requirement. In the 21st century, aging is going to be about community, interdependence and darn good neighbors.

O'BRIEN: For the boomers, it's a flashback to the communes of the '60s. So-called inter-generational co-housing communities, planned by the residents, usually densely packed homes built around a central courtyard and a common house where the meals are prepared and shared. There's a playground for kids and grandkids too.

THOMAS: Twenty years from now, America will have constructed so many useful and clever alternatives to the nursing home that those institutions are no longer necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Seventy eight million baby boomers, American born between 1946 and 1964 begin retiring in 2008. If and when Medicare and Social Security run out, Dr. Thomas thinks that co-housing may be more of a necessity rather than an option, Wolf.

BLITZER: Miles thanks very much. And this quick update on the story with Cher and the padded helmets. The marines have issues a statement saying they welcome any recommendations, but also insist that the Marine Corps is committed to providing the best head protection for our war fighters, and they say the reduced weight of the light-weight helmet is best for most marines in Iraq.

Tomorrow, the Vice President Dick Cheney, in an exclusive interview with our John King, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Paula Zahn starts right now.