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The Situation Room

Bush Backs Away From Blaming Iran's Leaders; Are Saudis Funding Insurgents in Iraq?

Aired February 14, 2007 - 17:00   ET


REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: I don't mean to interrupt.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just thought he was looking at the watch because he was getting bored. I wasn't sure, you know?

Remember the debates?


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is what the president was actually referring to. Mr. Bush's father glanced more than once at his watch during a presidential debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot back in 1992. It was an image that certainly didn't help what turned out to be the 41st president's losing bid for reelection. A little political history right there.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Bush backs away from blaming Iran's leaders.

So who's sending weapons to kill American troops in Iraq?

Are the Saudis now sending their own aid to insurgents?

And why would a powerful Shiite cleric actually leave Iraq?

The U.S. military says it's tracking Muqtada al-Sadr.

But is it targeting Muqtada al-Sadr?

And a wicked winter storm slamming much of the nation with snow and ice. Hundreds of thousands of people are without power. We're going to tell you about the flight from hell, as some are calling it, a flight that never got off the ground.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Powerful explosives are taking a terrible toll among U.S. troops in Iraq. But just days after U.S. officials blamed Iran's leaders for shipping those deadly weapons to Iraq, President Bush is now backing away from that claim.

Does the United States have the goods on Iran or not?

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question is what does the intelligence show?

And when a low level intelligence officer's opinion conflicts with the president of the United States, you can get the -- you can bet the president has the last word.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): After weeks of promising to get it right, the U.S. military got it wrong. An anonymous civilian intelligence officer in Baghdad made the explosive charge Sunday that high tech armor piercing bombs, so-called EFPs, were being smuggled into Iraq by Iran's Quds force, under direct orders from the highest levels of the Iranian government.

It took the commander-in-chief to set the record straight.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know they're provided by the Quds force. We know the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said to the Quds force go do this. But we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government.

MCINTYRE: The fact is the U.S. military does believe the Quds force is acting on orders from Iran's supreme leader. But that's a strong suspicion, not something the U.S. can prove, especially to a skeptical international audience.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: I think people want to hype this up. What we are seeing is that within Iran, weapons and munitions are being manufactured that are ending up in Iraq.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. military now says that anonymous official went beyond the intended scope of a briefing that was only supposed to show the extent of Iranian weapons in Iraq, not conclude who sent them there.

CALDWELL: The military analyst was making an inference as to where the chain of command existed for the Quds force.

MCINTYRE: But that briefer's inference was never approved or endorsed at the highest levels of the Pentagon, which still refuses to point an accusing finger at Iran's leaders.

GENERAL PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: That does not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.


MCINTYRE: Wolf, here's the back story. There was a major mix-up in signals. The U.S. military in Baghdad thought it was doing a routine briefing about the threat to U.S. troops from Iranian made weapons.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, officials were touting it as the definitive case against Iran.

The result was an unexpected bombshell and a briefing that, frankly, laid an egg -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, to a certain degree, whether it's General Pace or President Bush, they're learning from the mistakes in the buildup to the war in Iraq, that unless they really know for sure, they can't guess about it, they can't surmise about it. They have to have hard evidence. They're not going to necessarily go with a specific point of view. They're going to try to be as precise as they can be.

MCINTYRE: In fact, this particular briefing went through at least 17 different revisions to make sure that nothing was in it that couldn't be supported. But then one of these intelligence officers, pressed by a reporter, offered an assessment that was a little bit off the page.

BLITZER: All right, thanks for that.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

He's a powerful Shiite cleric known for his militant anti- American stance. His private army is linked to much of the violence in Baghdad.

But is he suddenly out of the picture in Iraq?

Let's get some more on this important story from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the man who may have the strongest political influence in Iraq isn't even in the country anymore, at least for now.


STARR (voice-over): The U.S. says Muqtada al-Sadr has been in Iran since last month. But in Baghdad, the chief U.S. military spokesman would say little else.

CALDWELL: We're just not going to comment publicly about it. I mean I'll see. Everybody is looking at this very closely.

STARR: Sadr's people say the U.S. is lying and that the Shia cleric, who controls thousands of members of his Mahdi militia, is still in Iraq, in the southern city of Najaf. A senior U.S. military official confirms to CNN that Al-Sadr is tracked by U.S. intelligence. His movements are watched, his conversations monitored. He and his followers are said to be responsible for much of the recent sectarian violence.

The military is talking because it hopes Al-Sadr's departure is good news. Despite some major attacks, the overall level of day to day violence is down in some areas, with the new security crackdown. Many Shia militia leaders have gone to ground and now, Al-Sadr appears also to be on the run.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We see his top lieutenants being detained and my guess is he thinks he is next, and so he's going to go some place that he feels safe, which in the area would be Iran.


STARR: But nobody is willing to write Al-Sadr off just yet, or his Mahdi Army. Experts say Al-Sadr could well return to Iraq in the weeks ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards became targets today. A car packed with explosives blew up near a bus carrying members of that elite force. State media say 11 people were killed, 31 were wounded. The attack took place in a lawless area near the Pakistani border.

A militant group tied to al Qaeda reportedly claimed responsibility. Government officials blame insurgents and drug traffickers for that attack.

Iraq's neighbors are upping the ante in a high stakes effort to shape the future of the region.

But are they fighting a war by proxy?

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware -- Michael, we've heard a lot about Iranian influence in Iraq.

But what about the Saudis? What are they up to?

There have been reports the Saudis are shipping truckloads of cash into the Al-Anbar Province, to funnel some of that money to the Sunnis.

What's going on?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, himself pointed out, essentially everyone in this region has a stake in the game that is called the war in Iraq. And that includes Saudi Arabia.

Now, Saudi Arabia, like most of the Sunni Arab states, which just so happen to be America's allies, warned before the invasion and in the immediate aftermath and at every possible opportunity since about the rise of Iranian-backed expansion.

Now, we've come to see that come to pass.

So what we're now seeing is the Saudi government in a difficult position. It needs to protect its interests without betraying the American alliance.

We're seeing it fund Sunni tribes because, don't forget, there is a massive land border that Saudi Arabia shares. And these tribal allegiances cross that border, which to them mean nothing.

Don't forget, also, there's a lot of Gulf Oil money -- not coming from the governments, but from rich donors -- that is going to al Qaeda. Much of the money that went to Osama bin Laden now goes to Al Qaeda In Iraq.

These donors want to see their money at work and they believe they see that in the Jihad here in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia hosts the Baath Party, essentially. It launders and filters their money through its financial system.

So there's all sorts of money pouring in here, not just Iranian.

BLITZER: Is some of that money, the end result of it being the death of American troops?

WARE: Well, by and large that's the point of it, Wolf. I mean some of the money that's being outlayed -- and, of course, I stress as far as we're aware, none of it is official. This is not governments acting overtly. This is all private and behind the scenes.

But some of it is strategic. It's to shore up friendly sheikhs. It's to secure power bases. It's to maintain alliances. But then again, a lot of it is to arm the fight.

Now, that fight used to be solely against the American forces and, to a lesser degree, the Brits. But now it also includes funding the civil war. And I've got to tell you, nationalists, Baathists, Jihadi, al Qaeda -- it's hard for me to find a Sunni insurgent group that is short of cash. Certainly none of them are short of weapons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Button up for us, Michael, the Muqtada al-Sadr story. U.S. officials insist he's now in Iran, that he's left Iraq. You've covered this guy for a long time.

Is it your sense he's afraid of the United States right now and that's why he may have headed over to Iran?

WARE: I think it's impossible to tell, Wolf.

But Muqtada is not a fellow who has shown any great fear of the U.S. military. Don't forget, his forces engaged the might of the U.S. Army at least three times in 2004. And at best, you've got to say it came out a draw. It certainly made him into the, you know, folkloric superhero that he is today.

And there's a lot of buffers between him and the U.S. military. And, of course, he's got a lot of Iranian friends. We've heard President Bush talk about the Quds force. Well, the Quds force have their talons into Muqtada, as well, not quite as much as they have into other groups, but Muqtada receives Iranian support as much as anyone else.

The fact that is he in the country or out of the country?

Honestly, we can't answer that. Muqtada himself will have to answer that when he finally pops up.

But he's gone to Iran many, many times. It doesn't mean that he's taken flight. And, indeed, if he has taken flight, most likely it's to get away from internal Shia militia rivals.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Mike -- Michael, thanks.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty will be back tomorrow with The Cafferty File.

Still to come, the trip they planned to a tropical paradise turns into what some are calling the flight from hell. And it never even got off the ground. Passengers trapped for hours on board. We're going to tell you what happened.

Also, loyal Republicans splitting with the president over sending more troops to Iraq. Dana Bash speaks to one of them who's calling the president's policy fundamentally flawed.

And we'll talk about the troop increase and the bitter debate in Congress with former Democratic Senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland.

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


BLITZER: Some Congressional Republicans are finding themselves in a very difficult position as the House and the Senate grapple with resolutions opposing sending more troops to Iraq.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, talked to one of those Republicans who usually supports the president, but not -- not on this issue -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as this debate goes on in the House, there are a lot of House Republicans who are swimming in unchartered waters, opposing the president. I spoke with, as you mentioned, one GOP congressman who has broken with the president before on social issues -- things like abortion rights and stem cell research -- but not like this, not on an issue of war.


BASH (voice-over): Minnesota Republican Jim Ramstad voted to authorize invading Iraq and has staunchly supported the president's war strategy -- until now.

REP. JIM RAMSTAD (R), MINNESOTA: It's time for a surge in diplomacy, not a surge in troops, to mend a broken country.

BASH (on camera): How hard was it to get up on the House floor and make a speech that makes clear that you're going to vote against your president?

RAMSTAD: It's difficult, but this is a vote of conscience and a vote that I believe reflects the vast majority of the people I represent here in Washington.


RAMSTAD: A surge was already tried in Baghdad last fall and it failed.


RAMSTAD: It's not fun to stand up and oppose your president, our president, especially in a time of war. But I believe that this surge policy is so fundamentally flawed.

BASH (voice-over): The Republican, who proudly displays a picture with the president, says the White House hasn't really tried to change his mind.

RAMSTAD: I have only been contacted by one staff member and I told -- explained my position, and that's was the only contact that I had with the White House.

BASH: But some GOP constituents are furious.

RAMSTAD: I had one caller who was not happy with my position. And as I told the gentleman, who threatened me at the polls the next time in terms of losing an election, I said, you know, losing an election would be a small price to pay for keeping my integrity.


BASH: Now, Ramstad is a 16-year veteran of the House, who won reelection comfortably in November, with 65 percent of the vote. But he also represents an independent-minded district in Minnesota that, like many other districts around the country, is increasingly disillusioned with the war.

And, Wolf, I spoke with a senior Democratic campaign official today who said that Ramstad is one of their top targets now in 2008.

BLITZER: A lot of those Republicans potentially feeling the heat in 2008.

Dana, thanks for that.

Back in Iraq, he disappeared in October, abducted on the streets of Baghdad. Now an Iraqi-American soldier, a sergeant in the United States Army, has shown up in a hostage video.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the video was posted on an Internet Web site, the first images that we have seen of Sergeant Ahmed al-Taie since his kidnapping some four months ago.


DAMON (voice-over): For months, the family of U.S. Army Sergeant Ahmed al-Taie prayed for this -- a sign the American soldier, kidnapped in Baghdad, might still be alive.

ENTIFADH QANBAR, AHMED AL-TAEI'S UNCLE: Well, I've been obsessed all morning, repeating the video a zillion times, trying to read his lips. I was not very successful.

DAMON: The Ahlul-Bayt Brigades, a little known Shia group, claimed responsibility for kidnapping al-Taie four months ago. The group posted this video on a Web site for supporters of the Mahdi militia, loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The group and al-Taie's family have been talking.

QANBAR: This is a very professional group. Their first e-mails were in English and they were perfect English. And they know what they are doing. They haven't promised anything they didn't do and they haven't done anything they didn't promise.

DAMON: Al-Taie is an Iraqi-American working as a military translator. He was last seen in Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone on October 23rd. He left the secure zone to visit his family, including his Iraqi wife in Karadah, a central Baghdad neighborhood. But after he arrived, three vehicles with gunmen pulled up, cuffed and kidnapped him.

A fruitless citywide search began -- a hunt that at one point threatened to cause a major rift between the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.

U.S. soldiers took up positions at checkpoints around Sadr City and conducted raids into the area, a Mahdi militia stronghold, sparking such outrage that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki stepped in and ordered the checkpoints removed.

(END VIDEO TAPE) DAMON: The tape offers some comfort to al-Taie's family, but little relief. There is no date on it, nor is there any indication of where al-Taie is and no word as to what happens next -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Arwa, we'll watch this sad story unfold.

Coming up, some on Capitol Hill are fuming over cigar smoke over representative -- from Representative Tom Tancredo's office.

Listen to his response.


REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: We have a -- we have a smoke detector. It's called my next door neighbor.


BLITZER: We're going to have details of the Capitol smoking spat.

Who else was involved?

And we'll have more on that story we've been reporting on, those passengers trapped on a plane grounded by weather for eight hours -- yes, eight hours. We're going to give you some additional details of that travel nightmare. Carol Costello will be speaking toots passengers.

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


BLITZER: Some JetBlue passengers are furious over what they describe as a travel nightmare. They were trapped literally on board a grounded plane for hours.

Carol Costello is watching this developing story for us in New York.

You gave us the rough outlines a little while ago -- Carol.

But update our viewers on what you're picking up.

What happened?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, weather problems. And everybody was confused. There were so many planes on the ground, they didn't have enough gates with which to take the passengers back and let then deplane.

Passengers said it was like being held hostage. The problem is at JFK, as I said, in New York. One JetBlue plane unable to takeoff due to the weather boarded passengers at 7:45 this morning. They just got off at 4:15.

I walked with passenger Carolyn Faucher.


CAROLYN FAUCHER, PASSENGER, JETBLUE FLIGHT 751: Well, it's good to be free from there. I mean it's not like, you know, especially when the windows were iced over, you're kind of like in a sound- proofed coffin. You know, you're being held hostage in an enclosed space and you don't know what's happening when or why.

So, yes, I feel a lot freer now. I feel -- bit it's kind of a sense of what now?


COSTELLO: Yes, what now? Because she's on her way to Cancun and they don't have any flights into Cancun tonight.

Now, keep in mind, while she was on board that plane, there were 139 other passengers. There was no food on board. The bathrooms were full and the power went out at times. So it got pretty cold in there.

JetBlue did issue a statement. It reads, in part: "All customers will receive a full refund and free round-trip ticket on JetBlue. We apologize to customers of Flight 751 for this inconvenience."

And we found out, Wolf, that that's not the only plane that underwent such trouble. There are others on the runway with passengers on board who have been in those planes for hours.

BLITZER: Well, they've got to do something about that and let those planes go back and let these passengers go free, at this point.

All right, we'll stay on top of this story together with you, Carol.

What a nightmare that is.

A group of airline passengers, by the way, who endured a similar incident last December have now gone online to lobby for an airline passenger's bill of rights.

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has some more on that.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, that's right, Carolyn talked about what now?

She might want to take a look at this. A group online called the Coalition for Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights. This group of passengers say that they were on a plane. They were heading from San Francisco to Dallas at the end of last year. They were diverted to Austin because of bad weather, held on the plane for more than eight hours. They say no bathroom facilities, no food, no running water.

They have established what they call The Passenger's Bill of Rights. Among many of the elements of this Bill of Rights, they say that the airline should establish procedures for returning passengers to the terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours.

Another element is to provide for the needs of passengers, including food, water, sanitary facilities and medical attention if there is a delay of longer than three hours.

They've started an online petition with about 2,500 signatures so far. They'd like Congress to look into this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch it together with you, Jacqui.

Thank you.

Coming up, a smoking spat on Capitol Hill.


TANCREDO: I got a call from somebody, your next door neighbor, about the fact that you were smoking a cigar. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's Congressman Tom Tancredo.

And his response?

Tough. Find out what else he had to say about the complaints about him smoking a cigar in his office on Capitol Hill.

Plus, up next, my interview with former Democratic Senator Max Cleland. He'll weigh in on the very divisive debate unfolding on the floor of Congress right now involving the dispatch of more U.S. troops in Iraq.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, that winter nightmare that's out there -- parts of the Northeast frozen in their tracks by a fierce snowstorm. As you just heard us report, a JetBlue plane to Cancun was stuck on the tarmac for eight hours because its wheels were frozen and couldn't move. Other planes and their passengers stuck, as well. We'll update you on that.

Confronted on Iran -- President Bush is grilled about conflicting administration statements about Iran's role in Iraq. He says he's certain Iran is supplying deadly weapons to insurgents in Iraq. But he says he doesn't know for sure if top Iranian officials actually gave the orders.

And on the trail of Muqtada al-Sadr. The U.S. military's top spokesman in Baghdad confirming reports that the anti-American Shiite cleric has left that country and is believed to be in Iran right now. But the cleric's supporters deny that. They say he's still in Iraq.

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

Furious debate in the House of Representatives unfolding today on the resolution opposing the president's plan for Iraq.

But Mr. Bush warns his critics that a hasty pullout would push Iraq toward disaster.

Listen to this.


BUSH: If you think the violence is bad now, imagine what it would look like if we don't help them secure the city, the capital city of Baghdad.


BLITZER: Joining us now, former Democratic senator Max Cleland. He was severely wounded in another war. That would be the war in Vietnam. He's a strong critic of the president's strategy in Iraq.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


Well, the Iraq war, as anybody who has listened to your program in the last 30 minutes, is a disaster already. It is a runaway freight train with the president leaning forward on the throttle wanting to accelerate the pace of the train into greater disaster. The Congress has to stand up and say that they are going to live up to their constitutionally mandated role of deciding whether we make war or not and deciding whether we fund the military or not.

Now, the first battle here will be on a resolution, a non-binding resolution, basically saying, Mr. President, you are going in the wrong direction. We're not going to go there. But ultimately, the real nut cutting (ph) is going to come months from now in terms of budget hearings, when we really find out...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt -- let me interrupt for a second, Senator.


BLITZER: It could come as early as next month...


BLITZER: ... when some of those appropriation bills come up for an additional $100 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CLELAND: Right. And the country is clear. The country wants an exit strategy now. And they are correct. The Iraq Study Group is correct.

We need diplomacy now in that region. Not a military buildup. Not an escalation.

BLITZER: All right. But let me -- let me press you on what the president says. The president says, as bad as the situation is right now -- and he says he's not happy with the situation -- he's warning that if the U.S. were to do what you are recommending, simply pull out, it would be a much worse disaster in Baghdad.

CLELAND: Well, I think this is -- this is the nut of the argument here. I mean, the troops there are really a finger in the eye to the Iranian people, particularly those who don't like us. And most of them don't like us. As a matter of fact, the president of that country, Iraq, wants 50,000 American troops out.

You are not going to see that country settle down at all unless the military presence of the United States is extracted from there. Plus, you're not going to have less conflict unless you get us out of there.

We are the finger in the eye there. We are the problem. And we took out Saddam Hussein and created, in many ways, this power vacuum that now Iran and now Saudi Arabia is feeling like they have to fill in to be part of.

BLITZER: All right.

CLELAND: So our troops should not be caught up in this, and we are losing our kids every day. And for an increasingly meaningless war.

BLITZER: You know, I want you to listen to what John Boehner -- he's the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, the minority leader. He got very emotional when he spoke about what he sees happening in Iraq if the U.S. were simply to pull out. I want you to listen to Boehner.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: We all know what happened on September 11, 2001, when 3,000 Americans died for no other reason than they were Americans. Do we really believe that if we pack up now and if we abandon Iraq and leave the country in chaos that our enemies are just going to lay down their arms and leave us alone?


BLITZER: He says those forces would be on their way here to the United States. The U.S. would have to fight them on the American soil, as opposed to Iraq.

CLELAND: Bull feathers. Who came after us September the 11th, 2001? It was al Qaeda. We're not fighting really particularly al Qaeda in Iraq, we're fighting Iraqis. That's the problem. We're fighting the native people there. BLITZER: But there is an al Qaeda element at war with the U.S. in Iraq.

CLELAND: Yes. Well, yes, but it's also basically morphing into 60 different nations and beginning to take over Afghanistan again behind the forces of the Taliban.

We are in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. And this is a disaster already.

We are in chaos there now. That's not where we should have the American forces. We should withdraw land forces there.

And the Congress will do the right thing in the next few days, and in a bipartisan way say to the president, Mr. President, we're not going to buy this strategy. There is no strategy anymore.

There is no military purpose or objective for additional forces in Iraq. It's just more -- a surge of, yes, more deaths and more wounded.

BLITZER: So, Senator...

CLELAND: I can get pretty emotional when I go over to Walter Reed and see those kids missing arms and legs and part of their head, too.

BLITZER: It's a very emotional subject all around. But I just want to be precise. What do you want Democratic congressmen, Democratic senators, members of the House to do? Democratic members, when the appropriations process comes up, the money to fund this war?

What exactly are you calling for?

CLELAND: This is beyond Democrats and Republicans. This is about saving American lives that are hyperextended now on no mission and for no purpose going into the fourth year of this war that has become a disaster. The deal is, you not only stop the surge, the escalation, but you begin to withdraw the forces and you -- and you dedicate the American military forces to a strategic withdrawal and you provide the money for that.

BLITZER: And that's it?

CLELAND: And that's it.

BLITZER: What about the notion of the president saying right now that there is intelligence, there's hard information that the Iranians are providing sophisticated munitions that can pierce the most sophisticated armor and has already killed 170 American troops in Iraq, wounded hundreds of others? Doesn't know if the top leadership in Iran has supported it, but says there's no doubt that the Iranian Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is sending this stuff in.

CLELAND: We have created a power vacuum that is sucking the Iranians in, the Saudis in, maybe in a covert way, but no doubt. This power vacuum is sucking these countries in.

We are in the fourth year of being on the border of Iran and the border of Saudi Arabia with 130,000, 140,000 troops. What are they going to do there? Sit there and play tiddlywinks? I don't think so.

So, we need to withdraw our ground forces there. That does not mean we abandon Iraq. We work through NATO -- we work through NATO, we work through our allies. We exercise the diplomacy that the Iraq Study Group called for, and we do it in a bipartisan way.

But you cannot go ahead and go down this road of further disaster into chaos and kill more Americans. That's what I'm concerned about.

BLITZER: All right. Listen to this additional clip of what the president said at his news conference earlier today.

Listen to this.


BUSH: I don't think so at all. I think you can be against my decision and support the troops. Absolutely. But the proof will be whether or not you provide them the money necessary to do the mission.


BLITZER: All right. He's directly responding to the notion that there can be a debate on a symbolic resolution, but when it comes to money, if you don't vote for the money, you are abandoning the troops.

CLELAND: That is not true. The best way to support the troops is bring them home, out of this chaos, this hell that has been created, this cauldron, this mishmash out there that this president was not prepared to handle and didn't put the adequate forces in to begin with. And he did not build a coalition to support us when we got in trouble there.

So we have one alternative, and that is to withdraw our ground forces. That's the right thing to do, and more and more members of Congress are coming to that point of view.

BLITZER: And what happens if they don't do that? Whether the Democratic leadership or the Congress as a whole refuses to cut the funds?

CLELAND: We will have a surge all right. A surge in more planes bringing more casualties into Walter Reed and Bethesda in the dark of night. More arms and legs lost, and more bodies coming home with a draped flag over their coffin. That is not the direction we should be going in.

BLITZER: So you are really putting a lot of pressure on the leadership, the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate...

CLELAND: I am saying that the United States Congress, Democrats and Republicans, need to live up to their constitutional responsibility, live up to the Constitution that they swore faith and allegiance to, and live up to the two basic tenets regarding war.

One, it's not the president that is the decider on war. It is the Congress.

Number two, it's the Congress that decides whether to fund war or not and how much and when. So it's time for the Congress to put up or shut up, and we're going to find out what's going on here in this war very shortly.

BLITZER: A critical moment.

Senator Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia.

As usual, thanks for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, snow, snow and more snow. When will it end? We'll check in with our CNN severe weather center in Atlanta for an answer.

Also, human rights groups have long criticized the U.S. for the way detainees are being treated. But now the popular TV show "24" is coming in for some criticism as well. Our Carol Costello, she'll be back to look at both sides of this controversy.

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


BLITZER: A brutal winter wallop making life difficult across the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. You can see some of the worst of it right behind me, some of those traffic cameras across the region.

Flight cancellations and delays are plaguing airports, including Washington's Reagan National Airport, which was closed for a time this morning.

In Pennsylvania, many drivers are opting to stay off the roads, while some 2,200 plows struggle to keep up with the snow and the ice.

That same wintry mix is making it hard to get around the Big Apple, where wind gusts up to 50 miles an hour are making things even worse. Hundreds of flights were canceled in the city's three main airports.

In Indiana, treacherous conditions on the roads. Crews are working to clear up drifts up to 10 feet high, and travel restrictions are in effect in some parts of Indiana.

A similar scene in St. Louis, where the snow is being blamed for dozens of accidents.

And nationwide, more than a dozen deaths are blamed on the severe winter wallop.

In Detroit, it's not just the snow and the ice posing a threat. The temperatures are dangerously cold, with wind-chills as low as minus 10 degrees.

But residents in upstate New York have it -- get this -- even worse. Blizzard conditions and up to two feet of snow are making travel almost impossible. Air and train travel are on hold in many areas. Schools and universities are closed in Syracuse, Albany and Rochester.

And check out Chicago, by the way, blanketed by snow as well. It's mostly stopped falling, at least for now. Crews now working to clear the words. Some littered with abandoned cars.

And there's so much snow in Cleveland, it caused the roof of this gas station to simply collapse. Three customers were underneath when it happened. One person was injured.

So when -- when will it all end?


BLITZER: And, of course, all the severe winter weather is coming amid growing concern about global warming. In fact, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee was scheduled to hold a hearing on all things global warming this morning. Ironically -- get this -- it was canceled because of the winter weather conditions in the nation's capital.

It's cold out there.

Up ahead, Lewis "Scooter" Libby is a big step closer to learning his fate. Our Brian Todd is covering the case. He'll have a full report coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Cigar smoke -- yes, cigar smoke -- has some people on Capitol Hill fuming. But the source of it, Congressman Tom Tancredo, says to the complainers, tough.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM ready to clear the air.

What's going on?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Big election last fall. Everybody wanted this big bipartisan effort for everyone to come in and deal with Iraq and gas prices and health care, and look what members of the two parties have found to debate about.


FOREMAN (voice over): Like many wildfires, it started with a spark. Specifically, an unexpected visit by a Capitol police officer to Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: She says, I just got a call to come up and talk about you -- or "I got a call from somebody, your next door neighbor, about the fact that you were smoking a cigar." And I said, "What about it?" And she said, "Well, he's complaining about it." And I said, "Well, that's tough."

FOREMAN: The complaint came from the office of freshman Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and the workers there denied our request to come visit. One of Ellison's aides, Rick Joward (ph), told CNN he called the authorities because he found it "really bothersome" to smell Tancredo's cigar through the wall.

Smoking is banned in public areas of the Capitol. The speaker's lobby, once a smoker's refuge, has been declared off limits. And the new speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has even said the days of smoke-filled rooms in the United States Capitol are over.

Well, not quite. Individual offices can set their own rules.

TANCREDO: This is absolutely allowed. I can do this in my office when I want to.

FOREMAN: Tancredo has an air purifier running full time, and he's not sure how the smoke might be getting through the wall, but he expects he'll know if there's a problem in the future.

TANCREDO: We have a smoke detector. It's called our next door neighbor.



FOREMAN: I don't like cigar smoke, but this is one of the great legislative bodies of our land, and this is what they are talking about now, Wolf. And here's the most astonishing part. Everybody is saying we need more bipartisan work. These two guys never met each other before this issue, and they work right next to each other.

BLITZER: Well, maybe it will bring them closer together as good neighbors.

FOREMAN: Or perhaps this will be seen as the dawn of new laws.

BLITZER: That's possible. Unlikely, but possible.

FOREMAN: Unlikely, maybe.

BLITZER: Thank you, Tom. Appreciate it.

So, are you more vulnerable to identity theft because of where you live? A new study is breaking down which states, which cities are the most dangerous when it comes to protecting your personal information.

Let's go back to Jacki Schechner for more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, a company called ID Analytics, which helps detect and prevent identity fraud, did a study and it broke it down by which states and which cities are most vulnerable to identity fraud. Take a look at what they found.

The three cities that have the highest rates of ID fraud, New York -- states, rather -- New York, California and Nevada. And then the cities that have the highest rates would be New York, New York; Detroit, Michigan; and Los Angeles, California.

The states that you'll find with the lowest rate of problems would be Wyoming, Vermont and Montana. They also found that consistently across the years, the state that had the least amount of problems turned out to be New Hampshire.

Now, what this company tells me today -- and this may seem logical to you -- is the reason why there's a higher rate of identity fraud in populated areas is because there's more points that people can possibly take other people's information, or they can possibly steal information in general -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Jacki.

Jacki Schechner reporting.

Up next, prisoners, torture and a popular TV show. Coming up next, our Carol Costello takes a close look at what some human rights groups are saying is a link between the TV show "24" and the torture of U.S. detainees.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: It's a hit TV series seen around the world, but critics say it may be encouraging U.S. troops to engage in torture.

Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York with this story.

What's going on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, it's hard to wrap your mind around a TV show influencing professional soldiers. But there are some who say it is and it's dangerous.

And an advisory to our viewers. Although "24" is a fictional program, the images from the program we're including in this report might disturb some of you.


COSTELLO (voice over): Torture as a tool, it's used often and effectively in the FOX TV counterterrorism drama "24".


COSTELLO: That's "24's good guy torturing his own brother. Jack Bauer, the tough, sensitive, undercover operative, justifies his actions to save America from Islamic extremists who have just detonated a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles.

That the fictional hero would torture is disturbing to Human Rights First. It worries American soldiers want to be like Jack.

(on camera): Why do you suppose a soldier in Iraq would want to be like Jack Bauer?

DAVID DANZIG, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST: Well, Jack Bauer is very seductive. He's a hero. He's always right. He always wins. He saves the day in the end.

COSTELLO (voice over): And while that sounds farfetched, Ken Robinson, a CNN national security analyst who served in Special Operations units, including the CIA, says "24" is becoming a problem.

KEN ROBINSON, TERRORISM ANALYST: The United States military is concerned about it because they have started receiving evidence that soldiers in the field have been impacted by it down range in Iraq, utilizing techniques which they've seen on "24" and then taken them into an environment in the interrogation booth.

COSTELLO: FOX declined to talk with us, but one of "24's" co- executive producers in a podcast interview with did respond.

DAVID FURY, "24": One would think that their training would be far more extensive in the real world and they'd understand that this is a heightened reality.

COSTELLO: And from Kiefer Sutherland, the actor who portrays Jack Bauer...

SUTHERLAND: There hasn't been a torture sequence that my character has been involved with that there isn't some kind of a negative repercussion, whether it's emotional...

COSTELLO: Still, Danzig's group and a general from West Point went to meet with "24's" writers to get the show to depict torture in a more realistic way. To show the audience such tactics often don't work, are against the Geneva Convention and, hence, have consequences.

Danzig is hopeful a change is in the works.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "24": Help me, somebody! Please! Help me!


COSTELLO: I'm telling you, those scenes are hard to watch at times.

We did get this statement from the Department of Defense. It tells us, "Our policy is to treat detainees humanely. Our men and women who handle detainee operations are professionals. They understand the difference between a TV show and reality."

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Carol, for that report.

This additional note. FOX, by the way, tells us that "24" is seen literally around the world, from Australia to Japan, Latin America, and throughout Europe. In fact, some 200 countries and territories in all, including some that have been very critical on U.S. polices on interrogation techniques.

That's it for us. We'll be back in an hour.

Let's go to Lou in New York.