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The Situation Room

President Obama Delivers Message to Muslim World; Death Toll Rises in Italy Earthquake

Aired April 06, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: One hundred and fifty people, as I said, are dead. Officials fear that number could rise dramatically. Perhaps 50,000 people already made homeless, and that number could go up as well.

Robert Moore is on the scene.


ROBERT MOORE, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): In a tragedy that has in every sense shaken this ancient town to its core, these are the rare moments to treasure.

This man was pulled from the rubble by rescuers. His relief, his reaction to the knowledge he had cheated death, was overwhelming. For the exhausted crews who had worked for three hours here, it was a glimmer of hope that there might be more stories that could unfold.

And a few hours later, we watched similar scenes of a four-story apartment block that had collapsed, local people and firefighters, at times using their bare hands. So great was the need for care as masonry was removed.

At least three people were trapped, but miraculously alive under the shattered concrete. One woman, Francesca (ph), was found with just a broken shoulder. She was taken to an ambulance amid chaotic scenes. A photo of Francesca recovered from the ruins shows one of the luckiest people alive.

(on camera): It's 12 hours since the earthquake struck, an hours since Francesca was rescued from this very building, and still there's hope for more survivors but as always, it is a battle against the odds and against the clock.

(voice-over): So, we waited for the rescue of another woman called Claudia. But suddenly the faces around us told the story, relatives crying, rescue workers using a bed sheet to cover the scene, this young 22-year-old another victim of an earthquake.

It had shattered this town in the darkest hour of the night. Dozens of people have been saved thanks to an epic rescue effort that began with minutes. L'Aquila has faced tremors and earthquakes over the centuries, but how can a family truly prepare for a moment like this?

Fifteen thousand buildings are damaged, including the city's hospitals. It forced paramedics and hospital staff to work outside, to improvise emergency care as best they could.

And all around them are the signs of the forces at work when an earthquake strikes. Local residents uniformly speak of a terrible noise, of a 30-second tremor, and then the race for their lives out of buildings and on to the streets.

The death toll is proving very difficult to calculate, for beyond this historic city are outlying villages where the destruction is still being assessed. The redeeming feature we witnessed here is the scale of the rescue effort and the determination of the emergency teams to keep looking for survivors.

Robert Moore, ITV News, in L'Aquila in Central Italy.


BLITZER: All right, we're going to be going back to Italy very soon. Our reporter is on the scene. We will go back there live and get the latest on this breaking news.

But there's other important news we're following right now. This is what greeted President Obama on his first visit to a Muslim nation as president of the United States, warm and welcoming newspaper headlines, one of them even saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "Our hearts have been broken over the last eight years. Now it is time to mend hearts."

Now, that's what the president hopes to accomplish with Turkey, telling the Muslim nation the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. It's a message partly designed to get more help for Afghanistan and pull troops out of Iraq.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is in Istanbul -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as part of his outreach to the Muslim world today, the president got personal, referring to his own childhood in Indonesia and the fact that his father was Muslim, a politically risky move, perhaps, because the president spent so much time last year knocking down false rumors that he's a Muslim, too.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Barack Hussein Obama.

HENRY (voice-over): It was no accident President Obama chose Muslim majority Turkey for the final stop of his European tour.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has been enriched by Muslim-Americans. Many other Americans have Muslim in their families or have lived in a Muslim majority country. I know because I am one of them.

HENRY: Mr. Obama also tried to turn the page on the Bush years, touting his plans to wind down the war in Iraq and close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo. OBAMA: There is an old Turkish proverb, you cannot put out fire with flames. There are some who must be met by force. They will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems and it is no alternative to extremism.

HENRY: But the outreach also has practical goals. Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, so it's support is crucial in Afghanistan. And since Turkey borders Iraq to the north, its cooperation with moving U.S. military personnel and equipment out of Iraq could be pivotal too.

OBAMA: I know there were differences about whether to go to war, but now we must come together as we end this war responsibly.

HENRY: The courtship included a careful massaging of his previous support for a U.S. resolution declaring Turkey committed genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915. At a news conference, the president used the word "killings" instead of genocide and said he wants the Turks and Armenians to work it out.

OBAMA: If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage that.

HENRY: A far cry from Mr. Obama's campaign promise, when he said that genocide "is a widely documented fact" and "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully" about it.


HENRY: And campaign rhetoric can sometimes be difficult to square in this complicated world of diplomacy. The president clearly does not want to offend Turkey, which could also turn out to be a key mediator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much -- Israeli-Syrian peace talks as well.

Ed Henry is traveling with the president.

With the president determined to get his message out to the Muslim -- to the world's Muslims, Turkey is a very good place to deliver it. Virtually all the people in Turkey are Muslim. Less than 0.5 percent are Christians and Jews. And as Ed just explained, Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, giving it a potentially significant role in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The country, by the way, right now has 600 troops in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon wants major changes in American military priorities. Today, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, outlined his proposed 2010 budget. Among the proposals, phasing out production of the military's most expensive fighter jet, the F-22, in fiscal year 2011, terminating a proposed new fleet of new helicopters for the president, and scaling back plans to build a shield to defend against missile attacks.

Here's the defense secretary explaining his priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: This department must consistently demonstrate the commitment and leadership to stop programs that significantly exceed their budget or which spend limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs.

Our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries, not by what might be technologically feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, the almost $534 billion proposed budget is supposed to spend more on anti-terror tactics than Iraq and Afghanistan and less on preparing for conventional warfare. Secretary Gates hopes to build more F-35 fighter jets and more quickly. He wants buy more speedy ships and create a much more mobile and flexible fighting force.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, there's a dramatic new development in that Binghamton, New York, shooting incident of last Friday.

The alleged killer, Jiverly Voong, sent a letter and pictures to a local television station. That would be News 10 Now. The letter was postmarked on Friday, the day of the shootings, but the station received it only today.

The station reports the letter includes what it calls a summation, with Voong saying he cannot -- and I'm quoting now -- "accept my poor life and that at least two people with me go to return to the dust of the earth." That's a quote from the letter.

The letter ends with these words: "You have a nice day."

Our correspondent Allan Chernoff has been working this story now. He's standing by. We're going to get much more on what is going on, more details of this letter.

Wow. That's a pretty spooky development in that story.

Let's go to "Jack Cafferty" right now.

It sort of reminds me, Jack, of Virginia Tech, where that shooter wrote a letter and gave it to a television station just before he went on that shooting rampage.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Well, the rap on some of the coverage that these kind of crimes get is that it inspires copycats, although the time between Virginia Tech and this thing would probably put the lie to that idea.

It is springtime, nevertheless. And if you looked real hard, you might see some little signs of recovery trying to burst through, along with the daffodils. Despite dropping 42 points today, stocks have been on a tear lately.

After hitting 12 year lows, the major indexes have risen for four straight weeks, the Dow jumping more than 21 percent. That's its best four-week run since the 1930s. It looks like Wall Street is hopeful that the economy and financial sector are at least closer to stabilizing.

A key jobs report out last Friday showed unemployment soared to 8.5 percent, but markets seem comforted that the numbers came in about as expected and employment tends to be a lagging indicator when it comes to the economic cycles.

Meanwhile, there have been other glimmers of positive news on the economic front. For starters, we don't seem to be hearing about more massive layoffs every other day, like we were a couple of months ago.

And when it comes to real estate, there is some actual good news. Existing home sales rose 5.1 percent in February. That's the largest increase in almost six years, mortgage applications way up, jumping 30 percent one week in March, with most of the applications for people refinancing their homes.

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae says its refinancing volume nearly doubled last month and expects that number to keep growing. One official there says the results are encouraging and that expanding refinancing options is -- quote -- "a critical part of preventing future foreclosures and hastening recovery" -- unquote.

So, here's the question: When it comes to the economy, do you think the worst is over? Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Everybody will answer the same thing. We hope so. But who knows?

CAFFERTY: Yes, we hope so, sure.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Spectacular attacks -- why a top U.S. general suspects Taliban fighters may have something in store for American troops right now. Our Barbara Starr is reporting on her exclusive tour of Afghanistan. Stand by.

Plus, getting rid of the world's nuclear weapons, that's the president's dream. Does he have the plan to turn it into reality?

And immigrants looking for a better life -- how one family fled the violence in Iraq, only to find tragedy in that deadly rampage in Binghamton, New York.

We're going to go to Binghamton and also find out what was said in that letter. It's about to be released, the letter from the suspected killer to a television station.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Thousands of U.S. Marines are being deployed as part of the troop buildup in Afghanistan right now.

Meanwhile, there's new intelligence suggesting they're about to enter an increasingly dangerous region.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and a crew, they're traveling exclusively with the U.S. Marine Corps commandant, General James Conway, in Afghanistan.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this place, Forward Operating Base Delaram, has taken so much fire in recent days, some people thought it was too dangerous for General Conway to come here.

(voice-over): Despite the violence across this region, General James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, came to the Forward Operating Base Delaram to see firsthand some of the threats facing the 8,000 Marines headed this way, the Marines, part of the administration's new counterinsurgency strategy to increase troop levels on the ground.

Across southern Afghanistan, the news is not good. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the only news organization traveling with Conway, the general warned of new Taliban threats.

GEN. JAMES CONWAY, U.S. MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: There is, we believe, increased enemy involvement in the south. They are going to try, I believe, to create spectacular attacks before an increased U.S. presence can be brought to bear.

STARR: Conway also revealed there is new intelligence the Taliban now could have heavy-caliber machine guns that can potentially shoot down helicopters.

The general chooses his words carefully.

CONWAY: There are rumors, there are intercepts, there are indications that there could be something like that in -- in -- in the weeks and months to come.

STARR: The Marines already here are being hit by a growing number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks. Conway says it's a war that could go on for years.

CONWAY: I think, in terms of the requirement to accomplish what the objectives are right now, it's not going to be done in a short period of time.

STARR (on camera): As more Marines move into southern Afghanistan, the next step, they will start moving out, out into the towns and villages, to bring security to this very troubled region -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks. Be careful over there.

Barbara's reporting exclusively for us from Afghanistan.

That bloody rampage in Binghamton, we have been telling you about it. We're just getting word now of a letter, a letter that the suspect actually wrote and sent to a TV station. We are going to get some more details on that.

But that incident also took the life of some immigrants who came to America looking for better lives, one of them, in fact, a middle- aged Iraqi woman. What a sad story.

Let's go to CNN's Allan Chernoff who's working the story for us.

You were up there in Binghamton. You're watching what's going on. I know we're getting more details on this letter that was given to a TV station.

But this woman, Allan, she leaves Iraq, wanting peace and quiet and an opportunity in the United States, settles in Upstate New York. Pick up the story for us.


For the family of Layla Khalil, America represented hope. Indeed, that hope in a second turned to despair. This is especially tragic because the family thought it had finally found a peaceful place.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Layla Khalil and her family left war-torn Baghdad for what they expected would be safety in the United States. They had escaped three suicide bombings near their home there.

MUSTAFA ALSALIHI, SON OF VICTIM: The situation in Iraq is dangerous, everywhere, dangerous. But we hope, like we came here, and we hope we will get better life.

CHERNOFF: The family arrived in Binghamton, New York, seven months ago, after a two-year layover in Jordan.

But on Friday, at the American Civic Association, where Layla was studying to improve her English, their hope was shattered. Fifty- seven-year-old Layla Khalil was one of the 13 people killed when gunman Jiverly Voong, a former student at the association, snapped.

Layla's funeral was held yesterday. For husband, Samir, a professor at Binghamton University, losing his partner of 31 years is devastating.

SAMIR ALSALIHI, HUSBAND OF VICTIM: I miss her a lot, because we lived a long time. Her sacrifice, her sacrifice, especially for her children, because she loves her children a lot.

CHERNOFF: Mustafa, one of Layla's three children, says his mom was looking forward to his upcoming graduation from Binghamton High School.

M. ALSALIHI: She's like, "I want to see you, like, graduating, and I am proud of you," and like all these words. But I will make her proud of me. I'm 17. I was -- my love, my mother, I wish anyone don't lose that.


CHERNOFF: Layla's English actually, the family says, was quite good, but she wanted to improve it, so she could become a librarian here, just as she had been in Baghdad.

And the daughter says Layla was always thirsty for knowledge and that she died as a student -- Wolf, a really tragic story.

BLITZER: What a tragic story, indeed.

Thirteen people killed, plus the shooter, 14 altogether.

I know you're working the story on this letter that apparently has arrived at a TV, a local TV station. When you get some more on that, we are going to share it with our viewers, all right, Allan?

CHERNOFF: We will have that for you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

We will go back to Allan as soon as he gets some more details on that letter.

More trouble for Bernard Madoff -- another one of the Wall Street swindler's luxury toys is seized, this time by French authorities.

And the FBI certainly has its most wanted list. Guess what? So does the EPA. How it's changing -- it's chasing some of the nation's worst polluters.

And visiting Muslim Turkey, President Obama reaching out to the entire Muslim world, saying the United States is not at war with Islam. Will his efforts pay off?



BLITZER: By the way, the vice president will be our guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. We would love you to be part of the interview as well. What question do you have for the vice president of the United States? Submit your video questions to Watch us tomorrow to see if your questions are answered.

They're even using their bare hands to go through the twisted metal and sharp glass, teams right now desperately trying to save survivors possibly trapped after Italy's deadliest earthquake in almost 30 years. We are going there live.

And ridding the world of nuclear weapons, that's President Obama's goal. You're going to find out how he hopes to do it. Are his plans realistic?

And should the U.S. take military action against North Korea? What might the consequences of that be?


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: The scope of the disaster in Central Italy, it is growing tonight, as the death toll from that magnitude-6.3 earthquake hits 150, with deep fears that time is running out for survivors trapped in the rubble. That -- that number is going up.

Also, the U.S. military right now blaming al Qaeda in Iraq for six -- six -- car bombings in Baghdad today. They killed at least 32 Iraqis, injured more than 100, almost all of them civilians.

And, on Wall Street, stocks retreated today, after a four-week run, but only slightly. All three major indices were down less than 1 percent -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

We're following the breaking news in Italy right now, where the death toll is climbing and the desperation is growing, along with fears that trapped survivors may not last much longer.

CNN's Paula Newton is right at the epicenter in Central Italy right now.

Update our viewers, Paula, on what's going on behind you.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the scope of this is just beginning to sink in here, this medieval city, these towns brought to their knees, really.

What's going on right now, Wolf, as you can see here, the ambulance has just pulled up. And if the families out here get lucky, they could get a piece of good news. They do have a stretcher here willing -- ready.

And even the rescuers here, even the fire department, Wolf, they have been, with their bare hands, trying to very gently find some people. At least six students now buried in this building.

Wolf, as you can see this building, it's been damaged incredibly. It's really at risk of falling on -- on top of everyone.

When we've been here tonight, Wolf, you can at times feel the Earth shaking beneath you. We don't know if it's because it's -- if it's a tremor afterwards -- an aftershock or if it's the actual buildings beneath you.

I'll tell you, Wolf, an agonizing wait for the families here. It's just been excruciating. They keep running to the center to see what's going on and then huddle around blankets and each other, trying to keep warm and give each other comfort.

But the death toll here, Wolf, continues to rise. And there are remote villages all around here that few people have been to so far. So certainly people in this country getting ready for quite a few days of grieving -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Just before Easter, as well.

The death toll, we say now, at least 150. We expect that number to go up. A thousand or 2,000 people have been injured. And we're -- we've been reporting 50,000 Italians have already been made homeless.

Is that right?

NEWTON: Absolutely. I mean, Wolf, and it's been absolutely indiscriminate in terms of the homelessness. You've had the old buildings collapse, but you've also had new buildings around you. It doesn't make a lot of sense when you walk around these streets -- Wolf, many people still incredibly shell-shocked and trying to figure out what to do next.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Paula, because we're going to be getting back to you.

What a horrible story.

Let's move on, though, to another important story we're following. President Obama has a daring proposal underway.

Can he help pull it off?

We're talking about eliminating nuclear weapons around the world. We've heard it before. It's a huge challenge -- Brian Todd.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you think that his economic agenda, Wolf, was ambitious, this is really something else -- getting rid of the world's nuclear weapons.

Let's first take a look at the stockpiles. Now, exact numbers are closely held secrets. But we asked the Federation of American Scientists and a group called for some estimates.

Russia has the most -- a total of about 13,000 nuclear weapons. Those include non-operational weapons. The U.S. is second, with about 9,400 nuclear weapons.

Then a big drop-off. France, over here, has about 300 nuclear weapons. China, in the Far East, 240. Israel believed to have about 80 nuclear weapons , but it won't confirm it has any.

Actually, between China and Israel, you've got the U.K. With about 185.

Pakistan and India both have about 60 each. And North Korea believed to have less than 10 nuclear weapons.

Nine countries with more than 23,000 nuclear weapons. So we dug into how tough it's going to be to wipe out all of these weapons.


TODD (voice-over): The president himself says he's not naive about his plan to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons.

OBAMA: This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime.

TODD: But on the way, what's realistic?

We asked experts about the president's goals.

One is reducing current stockpiles of nuclear weapons. And within that...

OBAMA: We will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with the Russians this year.

TODD: Experts say that may be the most realistic goal.

PROF. JIM WALSH, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: The Russians have already indicated that they are willing to negotiate with the U.S. to reduce their nuclear stockpile.

TODD: But other ways of getting countries to reduce their arsenals will be tougher.

OBAMA: The United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.

PROF. MATTHEW BUNN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The states that are still producing material for weapons -- which is primarily India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea -- are not interested in participating in such an agreement.

TODD: Another goal is to prevent those who don't have nuclear weapons from getting them. To achieve that, tougher inspections and penalties. And...

OBAMA: ... An international fuel bank so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risk of proliferation.

WALSH: The fuel bank already exists on a pilot scale. That's already been funded and set up.

TODD: The final piece -- locking down vulnerable nuclear material so terrorists don't get it. That, experts say, will also be very hard to achieve. BUNN: Almost every country that has this kind of nuclear material regards its specific procedures for how that material is protected and secured from theft as being closely guarded national secrets.


TODD: Still, there's a feeling inside this White House that President Obama has to take the lead on these ideas now. As one National Security Council official put it, the U.S. has to commit to shrinking its own arsenal before it can get other countries to help pressure Iran and North Korea to end their nuclear programs -- Wolf, all eyes are on Iran and North Korea in this entire equation.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's talk about this and a lot more.

Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard;" and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin. They're all part of the best political team on television -- Gloria, I'm going to play a little clip of what the president said. We like to call it the money bite, if you will -- the sound bite that obviously is causing some headlines.

All right, listen to this.


OBAMA: Let me say this as clearly as I can. The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.


BLITZER: All right. Now, we heard a variation of that from -- from President Bush over the years, as well. But coming from this president, it sort of sends another message out there to the Muslim world.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it does. This president, first of all, looks different. This president mentioned Muslims in his inauguration speech.

And why not start this outreach from the very top?

You know, the United States has had a very, very difficult time on the Arab street, as they call it, trying to make the case that we are not anti-Muslim in this country.

So why not let the president take that message directly to the -- to that world?

BLITZER: And, you know, it's a message, Steve, that he has to send not only to the Muslim world, but to -- to the American public, as well. Let's look at this. In our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked this question: "Should the U.S. trust Muslim allies as much as other allies?"

Fifty-one percent said yes, 48 percent said no.

And we're referring, among others, to Turkey, which is a Muslim country and has been a longstanding member of NATO.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes. I think he's got to overcome, certainly, some domestic skepticism. But I -- I'd probably part company with a lot of conservatives in that I think he has a real opportunity here. I mean the fact of Barack Obama as president of the United States, I think, could do a lot. The symbolism of him giving a speech, as we are told he's going to do, in a Muslim capital could do a lot, I think, just in terms of getting people to understand what the United States stands for.

The problem, I think, is when it comes to substance, he's saying all of the wrong things. He's projecting weakness. He's trying to convince Muslims that we like them -- that Americans like them a lot.

I think he needs to project strength. In fact, I think the message he should be sending is the one that President Bush tried to send but didn't ultimately succeed in sending.

BLITZER: During the campaign, Roland, he said he would address the Muslim world and, in effect, speak in a Muslim country during his first 100 days in office.

And he has now done that, right?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean it is important to have the president have his level of outreach to the Muslim community because, like it or not, we need them. Turkey is a critical ally for the United States.

But not just look at a number -- 48 percent of Americans don't trust Muslim allies and other allies, in Turkey, you have some poll results showing that 90 percent are against the United States.

So if you look at in terms of them being on the border of Iraq, when you talk about us having bases there -- we need to be able to have a moderate Muslim -- those who also themselves are against fellow Muslims who are violent. We've got to have them on our side. We can't alienate them.

And so the outreach is critically important. And I don't necessarily think it was a question of him projecting weakness. It's also being humble as you approach them, as well, because it's a two- way street, not a one-way street.

BLITZER: And what he...

BORGER: And...

BLITZER: And what he...

BORGER: And...

BLITZER: I was going to say, Gloria, when he was introduced at the Turkish parliament today, he was introduced as Barack Hussein Obama.

BORGER: I bet. And he's been using his middle name more than he ever did during the campaign, Wolf. You remember that. He never -- he never said that.

But look, this -- this is important for our country, because if Barack Obama is popular in the Muslim world, that's going to be good for us in the long run, as Roland says. And so maybe 90 percent hate America. Well, you know what, if you really like the president of the United States, those numbers are going to continue to go down. And they are our allies in certain worlds and we should deal with them. And I think he's doing the right thing. You've got to start somewhere.

BLITZER: So did I hear you right, Steve, would you think maybe this will pay off?

HAYES: Yes. I think it has the possibility of paying off. But again, I think his rhetoric needs to be very strong and very unapologetically pro-American -- not in an aggressive and arrogant way, but to say American values are universal values. The things that we hold dear are the things that you hold dear.

BORGER: So how is (INAUDIBLE)...

HAYES: And we have that in common.

BORGER: So how do you think he's projecting weakness?

HAYES: Well, I think by going and apologizing, by raising American flaws in virtually every speech he's been giving over the past five days, certainly makes it look -- I think, projects weakness in such a way that is not going to be helpful going forward.

BORGER: Well...

MARTIN: You know what, Steve?

BORGER: You know...

MARTIN: I mean, see, individuals...

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: ...owning up to the reality, that's not projecting weakness. That's called being honest. It's called being forthright.

And so maybe as Americans, we need to stop being so defensive...

BLITZER: All right...

MARTIN: ...and admit our own faults and frailties, as well.

BLITZER: Roland, on that note, we're going to leave it right there.

I want to remind our viewers, Roland is going to have a lot more coming up on this at 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- a little bit more than an hour from now. Roland Martin, "NO BIAS, NO BULL," 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to see that show.

A somber sight made public again for the first time in a generation -- images of America's war dead coming home.

Why now?

We'll tell you.

And the country's worst polluters exposed -- we're watching the Environmental Protection Agency's Most Wanted list.

And can Chicago's most famous son help the city bag the Olympic Games?

President Obama gives the Windy City a plug.

We're also standing by for that letter from that alleged killer in Binghamton to a TV station.

What did he say?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: All right. We're getting that letter -- or at least parts of it -- in, from the accused killer in Binghamton, New York.

We're going to go to Allan Chernoff.

He's working this story for us.

Apparently, the accused killer himself, who's now dead, wrote a letter to a local TV station that is now being released.

Stand by for that.

The FBI has its Most Wanted list. So does the EPA. It's going after the nation's most sought after polluters.

CNN's Elaine Quijano is joining us now with more.

So who's on this list -- Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's 21 people in all, Wolf. And as you noted, in the same way the FBI has its Most Wanted list, so, too, does the EPA.

Take a look. These are some of the 21 people the EPA accuses of violating federal environmental laws -- marked men and one woman on the run.


QUIJANO (voice-over): Undercover surveillance tape, a criminal investigation -- but it's not the FBI, it's the EPA.


QUIJANO: And Albania Deleon is the first woman to make the Environmental Protection Agency's most wanted list.

DOUG PARKER, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: What her business was, was a fraud. She was in the business of training asbestos workers. She often preyed on undocumented workers, who would come in and rather than get the required training, she would charge them the required amount but provide no training and then send them off into the workforce.

QUIJANO: Doug Parker, with the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, says Deleon was convicted of running that sham operation in Massachusetts, but never showed up for sentencing.

PARKER: She made a great deal of money off of this and, in the process, may have endangered these workers and may have put other folks who occupy these buildings later at risk.

QUIJANO: Another EPA fugitive, Mauro Valenzuela, a former mechanic for the now defunct aircraft maintenance company SabreTech. He's accused of illegally having oxygen canisters loaded onto the doomed ValuJet plane that crashed into the Florida Everglades in 1996.

PARKER: We focus on a very small segment of our society, the folks -- the bad guys, the folks who are trying to make a buck or save a buck and getting over on the system and, in the process, occasionally endangering people and the -- and the environment.


QUIJANO: Now, since the most wanted list started in December, one fugitive has been captured and another surrendered.

As for rewards, Wolf, right now there aren't any offered, but officials say that could change in the future.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Elaine Quijano.

A drugstore chain pulls a Chia pet from its shelves.

CNN's Jeanne Moos standing by to find out why.


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll be reporting on the president's visit to Turkey.

While here in this country, there's new evidence that the president is a more polarizing president than any on record.

Also, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announcing sweeping cuts at the Pentagon -- Gates even cutting spending on missile defense just days after North Korea's test of an ICBM rocket. We'll have that special report.

And new questions tonight about police tactics in those two high profile shootings in recent days in the cities of Binghamton, New York and Pittsburgh. Many are asking now why it took so long for police officers to enter those buildings, where a gunman had shot so many people -- 13 in Binghamton, three policemen in Pittsburgh.

Join us for all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer continues in a moment.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: When it comes to the economy, do you believe the worst is over?

Jane writes: "I'm feeling better about the economy. My husband and I have started yet again a company and things are starting to look up -- more orders slowly but surely. It's not easy out there, but I keep saying over and over in my head, 'We will be successful. We will be successful.' So it goes. I'm sleeping a little better most nights."

Kenneth writes: "Maybe for us, not for our kids and grandkids. They're going to pay for the Obama spend and tax bills at higher rates than we have -- and they will pay and pay and pay."

Lou writes: "The worst will be over when the great and all knowing media tells us it is. You'll know by the signs. Ratings begin to drop when people get sick of the non-stop coverage. Suddenly the crisis will begin to wane. People will stop being so scared by the 'sky is falling' media. And we'll all feel like going shopping again."

Michael in Cleveland: "Are you kidding? I don't think we're going to hit bottom until late this year or early next year. And then I think we're going to flounder around on the bottom for a while. There might be slight movement up, but nothing significant. I think we won't see any real recovery until the spring or early summer of 2010, if we're lucky."

T. writes: "I'm not an economist, by any means. But March has already shown us signs of improvement. I think and pray that we've already hit rock bottom. I truly believe things will turn around dramatically sooner than we all anticipated. Wouldn't that get the GOP's panties in bunches?"

A.J. writes: "I have my fingers and eyes crossed, hoping that it's true. Hey, Jack, you look better with my eyes crossed."

Very cute.

And C.H. writes: "I think the worst is over. Now I look forward to Fox News explaining why."

If you didn't sew your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much.

I want to get back to the breaking news right now. Our CNN affiliate, News 10 in Binghamton, New York today received a letter signed by Jiverly Voong, the man police say killed 13 people at the city's American Civic Association on Friday before killing himself.

Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff.

We've been waiting for details of this letter.

What do we know -- Allan?

CHERNOFF: Well, Wolf, if authentic, this letter does provide evidence that Voong planned his mass murder weeks in advance.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Madman: "I am Jiverly Voong shooting the people," the letter addressed to News 10 begins. The author writes of how he has been taunted and tortured by undercover police, touching him as he slept, even taking money from him, repeatedly driving in front of him and stopping short.

In a rambling summation, the letter demands a cop must be held responsible: "I cannot accept my poor life."

It ends chillingly: "You have a nice day."

Enclosed with the letter, photos of Voong holding guns; also his driver's license and pistol permit. Police are working to confirm whether the letter was, indeed, written by Voong.

The letter is dated March 18 -- more than two weeks before it was postmarked Friday, April 3 -- the day Voong burst into the American Civic Association, killing 13 people and then himself. No police were injured in the attack.

Voong, authorities say, had been upset over losing his job and being teased about his poor English. The letter, if, indeed, it was written by Voong, points a man who was more than distraught -- someone whose paranoia may have led him to become a mass murder.


CHERNOFF: Family members told police they were not that surprised at the tragic events. And if they had any clue as to what was in Voong's mind -- if this letter is, indeed, accurate -- then certainly that would explain why -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thanks very much very.

Pretty eerie -- very eerie stuff.

Coming up, Jeanne Moos, right after this.


BLITZER: It's an icon of the "As Seen on TV" novelties. The Chia pet has been around for generations. But a store chain recently pulled a most unusual version of the Chia Pet from its shelves.

CNN's Jean -- Jeanne Moos tells us why.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a Chia pet that got shoved out the door at Walgreens.






MOOS: A mere week or so after its introduction at certain Walgreens in Chicago and Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just spread the seeds, water and watch it grow.


MOOS: What's growing is controversy.

(on camera): Do you see a racial angle to this?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean what's the problem? This is the president of the United States. He's not a damned Chia pet.

MOOS (voice-over): Now he is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Display it on your desk.


MOOS: Most folks just laugh. But some worry about others splitting hairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would grow and it would look like an Afro.

MOOS (on camera): Do you see anything offensive about it?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean it looks a little Jerri curl looking to me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like the Jerri curls.

MOOS: Are you guys offended by this?





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not at first glance.

MOOS: But you understand how someone else could be?




MOOS (voice-over): Walgreens got a few complaints and decided Chia Obama wasn't appropriate for its corporate image. And that has left Chia Obama's maker pulling out his hair.

JOSEPH PEDOTT, OWNER, JOSEPH ENTERPRISES: I don't -- I just don't understand. I wish I knew. I'm just hurt. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Joseph Pedott says Chia Obama was flying off the shelves -- especially at the Walgreens near Barack Obama's Chicago home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would put one in my classroom.

MOOS: This teacher already has a Chia Hippo for her fourth graders.

(on camera): And he'd make a great Chia pet.

Can't you just imagine him as a Chia?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Chia pets should be left to animals.

MOOS (voice-over): Online, someone posted: "It looks more like Chia Billy Crystal." Posted another: "Would it be racist if it were Richard Simmons?"

And if the Afro angle worries you...

PEDOTT: It's a -- it's a Chia. And you can trim it to any hairline you want. Give it a hair cut.

What has that got to do with racism?

MOOS: The other day, Chia Obama was spotted on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange sneaking up behind a CNBC reporter.

(on camera): Do you know who they're doing next?




MOOS: Chia Hillary.



MOOS (voice-over): That's the prototype. The hair will be just like Chia Obama's.

MOOS: Also coming soon, the Statue of Liberty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That looks like...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't want my face to be somebody's (INAUDIBLE).

MOOS: Dumping Chia Obama sort of takes the green out of Walgreens.




MOOS: When it comes to getting even a few complaints, companies tend to be ch-ch-ch, chicken.




MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Very cute.

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

In Egypt, an activist goes head-to-head with an anti-riot soldier.

In Italy, a dog in Natianca (ph), wanders amid the earthquake rubble. Her owners are missing.

In Turkey, honor guards take positions after President Obama takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony.

In Cincinnati, the New York Mets pitcher, Johan Santana, helped defeat the Reds.

Some of this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Tomorrow, the vice president, Joe Biden, will be here THE SITUATION ROOM. We want you to be part of the interview.

What questions do you have for the vice president?

Submit your video questions to We'll try to get some of those questions to you on the air.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.