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The Situation Room

Interview with Tom Ricks; Hostages Plea for Help; Somali Group Terror; Schwarzenegger and the F-Bomb; Anniversary of Historic Election Nears

Aired October 29, 2009 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, new details emerging about the shootout between the FBI and alleged self-styled Muslim extremist group in Detroit.

Were its members planning a violent revolt to try to establish a separatist state here in the United States?

Also, millions of cars are about to be recalled after a deadly and horrifying accident. Now, there's new information you need to know about your Toyota or Lexus.

And surging violence is raising new concerns about America's two wars. The stakes are higher than ever in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I'll talk about it with the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, Tim Ricks.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


More than eight years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, a new lead has investigators back on one suspect's trail. It's a passport found among other documents seized in Pakistan.

CNN's Reza Sayah is in Islamabad. He had a hand in identifying this significant piece of hard evidence -- Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very interesting find in Pakistan -- what appears to be a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a suspected plotter of the 9/11 attacks -- a man authorities say is still at large.

To go ahead and tell you how we found this item, on Thursday for the first time, the Pakistani Army took a group of journalists to South Waziristan. This is the battle zone where, for the past two weeks, the army has been taking on the Taliban and it's no surprise they wanted to show off some of the items that they have seized. They showed off some weapons, some documents, including some passports.

One of the passports was a German passport. And when we opened it, there we saw the picture of Said Bahaji. Inside his passport was a Pakistani visa that indicated Bahaji arrived in Pakistan on September 4, 2001, which matches what investigators have been saying all along.

Now, what's remarkable is that Pakistani military officials who were on this trip were not aware that this appeared to be Bahaji's documents. U.S. investigators say Bahaji helped with the logistics and the funding of 9/11. They describe him as a senior Al Qaeda propagandist who is very much of interest to the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah in Islamabad for us, working this story.

We'll stay on top of it.

Meanwhile, here at home, federal agents are still tracking two suspects in connection with this week's deadly raids on a radical Islamic group in Dearborn, Michigan. The leader of the largely African-American group was killed. His son has now been arrested. Eight others are in custody. A hearing was held earlier today at federal court in Detroit.

That's where we find our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti -- Susan, what are the charges here?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you might think the charges involve terrorism, but they do not. Instead, these suspects are charged with stealing in stolen property and selling stolen firearms. And the man who directed this operation who wants to time himself (ph) for a felony, directed these people to do what they did and also told informants that he would never be taken alive by the FBI. And he was right.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Was a homegrown violent revolt to create a separatist state for real?

Could an alleged self-styled Muslim extremists group based in a Detroit warehouse really have pulled it off?

Investigators only will say that Luqman Abdullah, its suspected tough-talking ringleader who died in a shootout with the FBI, was capable of dying for a cause.

TERRENCE BERG, U.S. ATTORNEY: Obviously, we know from his -- his conduct yesterday that violence was intended.

CANDIOTTI: The group isn't charged for its alleged rantings, that include talk of killing FBI agents, attacking a government building and bragging: "We're not fake terrorists, we're real terrorists."

Instead, a dozen Detroit area men are accused of illegally selling firearms and a conspiracy to sell stolen TVs and laptops to support itself.

After two years of working with informants, the FBI pulled the plug.

BERG: The evidence was sufficient at this time to bring charges.

CANDIOTTI: Prosecutors say the group called itself an uma, brotherhood. Its ultimate leader said to be former '60s Black Panther H. Rap Brown, who is currently jailed at Supermax Prison in Colorado for killing two police officers. The FBI says some of his followers converted to Islam in prison. A criminal complaint says the Detroit group used to do target practice in the basement of its mosque. The FBI warned the criminal charges are not meant as an indictment of Islam.

ANDREW ARENA, FBI DETROIT: I think any Muslim -- mainstream Muslim going through one of the mosques here would not recognize this ideology as what they believe in. This has really no links to what -- what their faith is -- is about.

CANDIOTTI: During Wednesday's takedown, the FBI contacted local imams to keep them in the loop and said they maintained a good dialogue. Yet some organizations are worried about possible backlash against Muslims.

DAWUD DALID, CAIR DETROIT: Perhaps some person who wants to be a vigilante or a super hero, thinks they want to do something to -- to a Muslim or to a mosque.


CANDIOTTI: Now, the FBI calls this group a hybrid -- a little bit of this and a little bit of that. As to why prosecutors did not file terror charges, the answer I got from the prosecutor is this -- "that charges were based on the evidence we had" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan, did other Muslim groups see any problems with this particular group?

CANDIOTTI: You know, I asked them that. And, as a matter of fact, they said that they didn't have any sign of it. Some people said that this was a man who took people in and gave them food. They never saw any time -- signs of trouble.

On the other hand, they said, if the FBI has evidence that these people did something wrong, we're all for prosecuting them.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti working the story for us in Detroit.

Thank you.

Jobs are still scarce, loans are hard to come by, but today the Commerce Department reports surprising economic growth for the first time in more than a year. Where did that come from?

Perhaps more important, will it hold?

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, looked into all of this for us -- Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if I had a beard like you, I'd be scratching it right now, wondering, what's going on?

Wasn't it just a little while ago that we were saying the economy was the worst since the Great Depression?

Have a look at the last four quarters of economic misery and then all of a sudden -- growth of 3.5 percent at an annual rate during the third quarter. That's July, August, September. That's above average growth.

How is it possible?

Well, what's been happening is that Uncle Sam has been throwing the party -- taking out the punch bowl. And that's what's stimulating the economy.

Remember the stimulus plan?

It's been working. So let's see what's in that punch bowl mix.

First of all, the Cash for Clunkers program definitely has revived the auto industry. As a matter of fact, believe it or not, one third of economic growth during the most recent quarter came out of the auto industry. Astounding.

First time homebuyers -- they're getting an $8,000 credit for buying a home. That's gotten housing off its back.

And the bailout -- don't forget the bailout.

How can we?

We're spending so much on it. But for banks, insurance companies and those auto companies, as well, they're doing OK thanks to that federal money.

And, finally, thanks to the Federal Reserve, very low interest rates. That makes it easier for consumers to buy products, including homes and autos.

So altogether, this punch bowl has got the economy cooking.

But, you know, it's pretty expensive to throw a party. And at some point, Uncle Sam is going to say good-bye to the punch bowl.

The question is, for economists, politicians, investors, everybody, all of us, can the party continue without the punch bowl -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A good question.

Allan Chernoff, thank very much for that.

Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That was a very lucid explanation of what's going on here.

BLITZER: I thought he did an excellent job with it.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely.


CAFFERTY: Ali Velshi will not be happy, however.

BLITZER: No jealousy between our -- our people. None.

CAFFERTY: I'm just monkeying around.


CAFFERTY: All right. Serious stuff. California police now say as many as 20 people were present at the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside a high school homecoming dance last weekend -- 10 people actually involved in the sexual assault in a back alley at the school. It went on for more than two-and-a-half hours. Another 10 people stood around and watched. Nobody called 911. Nobody reported it to police. Nobody did anything to help. Police say some witnesses took pictures, others laughed.

California law makes it illegal not to report a crime against a child, but the cutoff is 14 years old and since the victim in this case is 15, cops say they can't arrest the spectators.

Well, among other things, that law ought to be changed immediately.

Meanwhile, this horrific rape of a young girl follows a brutal beating death caught on video of a 16-year-old honor student in Chicago a few weeks back. That case has been hampered by the refusal of witnesses to come forward. These kids in Chicago also stood by, watched this teenager murdered -- beaten to death in broad daylight -- and did nothing.

Experts say the reason crimes are not reported could be a social phenomenon known as "the bystander effect." That means the larger the number of people involved in any situation, the less is likely to get done.

One famous case happened here in New York in the '60s. People watched or heard a serial killer rape, rob and then murder a woman named Kitty Genovese. At the time, one witness said: "I didn't want to be involved." It became known as The Genovese Effect.

Here's the question -- should people who witness a crime like the gang rape of the 15-year-old California girl, face jail for failing to report it?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thanks very much for that.

What a story that is.

Two highly respected journalists at odds over the war in Afghanistan.


TOM RICKS, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think Thomas Friedman knows a lot about a lot of things, but he doesn't know a lot about war.


BLITZER: That's Tom Ricks. He's covered the military for more than two decades. What he has to say may change the way you see the war. Stand by.

And the story behind the hidden obscenity in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's note to California lawmakers -- was it payback for one of his sharpest critics?

And an horrific crash outside Diego raising questions about a popular Lexus and Toyota model. We're going to go for a test drive.


BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- a report of a tornado.

Let's check in with Chad Myers, our severe weather expert -- Chad, where?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Just on the south side of Shreveport -- Boger City, Shreveport, you are all in this tornado, reported by the fire department on the ground right now down near Burt Coombs' Summer Grove area. But on the ground, moving to the northeast, Wolf. And as it moves to the northeast, that would take it right over downtown Shreveport.

Stay away from windows. Get -- don't get in your car yet if you're downtown. Stay inside the buildings and get away from the windows. This could be a very dangerous storm for downtown Boger City and Shreveport -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Listen to Chad Myers.

He knows of what he speaks.

Chad, thanks very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Stay on top of this for us.

Nearly four million drivers in North America will soon be asked to take part in a voluntary recall that affects several models of Toyota and Lexus cars.

Is there a problem with the gas pedals?

CNN's Brian Todd has been investigating this story for us.

It began with an incident involving one vehicle in particular.

Brian is joining us from a repair center in Chantilly, Virginia -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the Lexus ES350, one of the most highly rated sedans out there for safety and performance. It is the top selling sedan in the Lexus lineup. But now, questions are being raised about some of the features in this vehicle and the way drivers are using some of those features -- questions pegged to a horrific accident that occurred recently.


CHRIS LASTRELLE, LEXUS PASSENGER: We're going north 125 and our accelerator is stuck.

TODD: (voice-over): A Lexus ES350 sedan out of control on a highway near San Diego at over 100 miles an hour. Moments before impact, a desperate call to 911.

LASTRELLE: Hold on! Pray! Pray!

TODD: The crash in August killed four members of one family. Preliminary reports from investigators say a floor mat -- the wrong kind, improperly installed -- could have pushed over the gas pedal and pinned it down. Toyota has told drivers of several Toyota and Lexus models to remove their floor mats until further notice.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, also lists other factors in that crash -- one of them, on the accelerator pedal. Beyond the main pivot, the lever is not hinged and has no means for relieving forces caused by interferences. NHTSA officials make clear they're not saying this feature caused that crash, but they've documented more than 100 incidents where accelerator pedals on Lexus and Toyota vehicles got stuck.

Experts we spoke to, including Omar Panjshiri, a certified Lexus technician at the Chantilly Repair Center in Northern Virginia, say the lack of a hinge in the middle of the pedal is not a design flaw, that it's a common feature in most new vehicles and that the pedals are safe.

But Panjshiri says tweaks could be made.

OMAR PANJSHIRI, CERTIFIED LEXUS TECHNICIAN: They can certainly drop the floor pad a few inches on a -- a different design, either raise this up a little so you have a lot more clearance on the -- between the floor and the accelerator pedal.

TODD: (on camera): Another item in this NHTSA report has to do with the push button ignition on the ES350. It's got a feature that a lot of drivers may not know about. We've got to go on the road to show you how that works.

(voice-over): Panjshiri and I head out on a highway.

(on camera): I'm going about 60 miles an hour. And if I need to kill the engine, what do I have to do?

PANJSHIRI: You just push the -- push and hold the start button for more than three seconds and that will disable the engine.

TODD: OK. You see the lights are dead, the engine is killed. I'm pulling over here to the right, slowing down.

Do most drivers know that feature?

PANJSHIRI: No, most people don't. They would literally have to study the whole manual in order for them to know this feature.

TODD: (voice-over): The NHTSA report simply calls attention to that lack of labeling. Panjshiri says Toyota/Lexus may want to put stickers on dashboards telling drivers how to cut power.

It's not clear if the driver in the August crash tried to do that. Overall, Panjshiri says, this is a very safe vehicle.


TODD: Is the manufacturer going to redesign this gas pedal or that push button ignition switch?

Toyota and Lexus officials tell us what they're working on is what they call a "vehicle-based remedy" to make sure this problem never happens again. They're not being specific on what that remedy is or is going to be, but they say once they have it, they're going to send notices out to nearly four million Toyota and Lexus drivers for the recall. It will be the largest recall they've ever launched in North America -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in Chantilly, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC.

Thanks for that report -- useful information for our viewers.

It may be the most controversial note the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has ever sent. His message to state lawmakers contains a hidden obscenity. We're now learning why it may be there.

Plus, a bullet fired at the home of our own CNN colleague, Lou Dobbs. We have new details.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on? FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Wolf.

Well, police are searching for a gunman who shot and wounded two men in the parking garage of a Los Angeles synagogue. A 17-year-old taken into custody earlier has been released. Police say he remains a potential suspect. Detectives are reviewing security videotape from the temple. Meanwhile, patrols have been stepped up at Jewish places of worship.

A U.S. scientist allegedly asked for $2 million to share what he knows about top secret government space and defense programs. That allegation made in court papers filed ahead of Stewart Nozette's hearing tomorrow. The hearing will determine whether he'll have to stay in prison while he awaits trial on charges of trying to sell classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli.

And this frightening moment involving somebody in our family -- CNN's family. CNN's Lou Dobbs says a bullet struck his New Jersey home this month. A concerned Dobbs mentioned the incident on his radio show, saying it came after weeks of threatening phone calls. Police are trying to determine whether the bullet was fired intentionally or it was a stray. A police official tells CNN that they got a call from Dobbs' wife, who says she heard the shot in the morning while outside the house. It struck the attic area and then fell to the ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's scary stuff.

WHITFIELD: Pretty scary stuff.

BLITZER: Yah, very scary.

Thank God everything is OK.


BLITZER: Thanks, Fred, for that.

An insider's look at President Barack Obama's campaign -- we're getting a first glimpse of excerpts from a brand new book by the campaign manager, David Plouffe. He writes about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin and a whole lot more.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here.

She's got some excerpts she's been going through.

There -- there was those incendiary remarks from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Behind the scenes, there was deep concern about what was going on. He takes us there.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There was. And what -- one of the things that happened, this was the first big crisis of the Obama campaign. The Reverend Wright was a close friend of Barack Obama's and there were YouTube clips all over. Many of them thought they were incendiary remarks, anti-American, etc, etc.

That day, the president and his team said, let's give a round of network interviews. And they did. But as David Plouffe tells the story, Barack Obama came back and said, I don't think it's enough, I think I need to give a speech. And there was some question about whether that was a good idea.

Plouffe writes: "Obama had raised giving a race speech back in the fall. At the time, chief strategist David Axelrod and I strenuously disagreed, believing that we should not inject into the campaign an issue that, for the most part, was not on voters' minds. Now, we were in a much different situation. I agreed that a traditional political move -- the damage control interviews we had done that night -- would not be enough. But a speech was fraught with peril. If it was off key, it could compound our problems."

So it's interesting to me to look back on that time because, first of all, there was this issue of you're going to give this major speech, you need to go down, you need to write it, but he had this whole schedule. So they didn't want to all of a sudden say, well, the schedule is canceled because it would look like they were in a panic. So they kind of wrote it on the fly, delivered it in Philadelphia and the rest sort of is history, Wolf, because, as you know, that was one of the better received speeches of the campaign for any candidate.

BLITZER: Yes. It really worked.

We're also getting, from David Plouffe, new information, I think, about how close the president might have been to actually selecting Hillary Clinton instead of Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate.

CROWLEY: This was the -- this was the conversation that kept all of us talking for weeks on and off the air -- just how seriously did President Obama, then candidate Obama, consider Hillary Clinton to be his number two?

And Plouffe tells about a mid-June meeting when there were six candidates on the list, one of them being Hillary. And he writes, "Barack continued to be intrigued by Hillary. 'I still think Hillary has a lot of what I am looking for in a V.P." He said to us, "smarts, discipline, steadfastness. I think Bill may be too big a complication. If I picked her, my concern is that there would be more than two of us in the relationship."


CROWLEY: And funny only because that's literally what all of the commentary was about when Hillary first got out of the race and that number two talk began. Everyone said what a complication it would be to have a former president, particularly this former president, as the husband of the V.P.

So, in the end, she did not make the final list of three...

BLITZER: Yes. CROWLEY: -- which turned out to be Biden, Bayh and Governor Kaine from Virginia.

BLITZER: Tim Kaine. And if she had been married to someone else, maybe she'd be the vice president right now.

CROWLEY: Maybe. She's Secretary of State and she seems to like it.

BLITZER: Oh, she loves it. I'm sure she does. And she's doing, by all accounts, a very good job.

Let's talk a little bit about Sarah Palin. When John McCain asked the governor of Alaska to be his running mate, what was the reaction inside the Obama campaign?

CROWLEY: Well, as all of the buzz had gone over to the Republican side and here is this brand new, fresh face and immediately got a lot of attention, they seemed to be really perplexed over at the campaign, with Plouffe writing: "Her entrance to the race would be nothing short of a phenomenon, but I also thought it was a downright bizarre, ill-considered and deeply puzzling choice."

And that was on the day or close to the day that it happened. Another interesting thing is that Plouffe decided -- he and Axelrod decided right away that they would put out a statement reacting. And that statement, if you remember, Wolf, had a lot to do with her inexperience, because they thought, aha, John McCain's big, you know, ace in the hole has always been that Barack Obama didn't have any experience, then he picks Palin.

So they put out a statement about that and Obama objected to it...

BLITZER: Really?

CROWLEY: -- and came back and -- and gave a -- gave a sort of a gracious statement from him and Biden welcoming her to the race.

BLITZER: And these initial excerpts published in the new issue of "Time Magazine," our sister publication.

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Candy Crowley.

Next week, an extraordinary interview -- I speak with three of the president's closest advisers all together. They were architects of his campaign a year ago. Now, they help shape his message. David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs and Anita Dunn -- they're going to take us a little bit behind-the-scenes of what's going on -- at the White House now; also, what happened a year ago exactly. That's coming up next week. Monday the interview airs.

A British couple kidnapped in the dead of night, held by pirates off the Somali coast. Remarkably, they have been able to contact the outside world by phone.

We're going to hear about their harrowing nightmare in their own words.


BLITZER: For our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a special congressional election in New York's 23rd district is generating national attention with a political first-timer who's shaking things up. Could be a Republican litmus test for 2010.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pakistan. She's taking the country to task over what she calls a safe haven for al Qaeda.

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

The debate over whether or not to send as many as 40,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan is raging amid some troubling developments, including a deadly Taliban attack on U.N. workers and a startling report about President Hamid Karzai's brother.

And joining us now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Tom Ricks. He's now with the Center for New American Security, a think tank here in Washington.

Tom, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: How complicated will this revelation make the situation in Afghanistan, "The New York Times" reporting that President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who's allegedly a huge drug dealer in Afghanistan, has been on the CIA payroll for years?

RICKS: I don't think it complicates the situation in Afghanistan, particularly. I think Afghans assume this sort of thing is going on. I think they'd be surprised if the guy's not on two or three payrolls.

I think where it might hurt, though, is in American support for continuing this war and for escalating it. So I think it's a problem for President Obama domestically.

BLITZER: It looks like there's a war of leaks going on now between proponents of General McChrystal's plan, opponents of his plan, and the Washington media obviously playing a significant role in trying to help one side or the other. Do you see that?

RICKS: I do. And I think there's another player in there which is the Obama White House leaking selectively to show how careful they're being, that they're not dithering, that they're deliberating, that they're trying to parse through all the issues here.

BLITZER: The president made the visit to Dover, to the air base in Delaware where coffins were coming back. And we saw the emotional pictures of a number of Americans killed in Afghanistan. How does this play on a commander in chief to actually see the coffins and meet with the family -- the surviving family members?

RICKS: I think it's important. It brings home the cost of what you're doing. Unfortunately, I think it's also a rather sterile, sanitary way of looking at the cost of war. The real cost of war, the broken hearts, the broken minds, the shattered families, the mothers who lose their children.

That's the real cost. It's not just seeing a quick ceremony. But, that said, it's better for President Obama to see it and to go to it than to not see it at all.

BLITZER: We're told he's now in the final stages in his decision on whether to accept in whole or in part General McChrystal's recommendations. Based on what you're hearing, you're reporting, Tom, what do you think he's going to do?

RICKS: I think he will go with, essentially, the McChrystal plan. I think they'll try to sell it as a compromise between the Biden proposal for counter-terror, the Petraeus counterinsurgency approach. But I think that actually really is the McChrystal plan. Counterinsurgency with the population centers, counter-terror, selective raiding out in the rural areas and the routes in from Pakistan.

BLITZER: And based on what you know is that a wise decision?

RICKS: I think it is. I think it's just about the only chance you have. I think the problem might be in Afghanistan. Especially if the runoff goes badly or doesn't happen at all. If Dr. Abdullah decides to drop out and you don't have a runoff and you're stuck with Karzai as looking like a corrupt, weak and incompetent leader that we're stuck with.

BLITZER: I take it you therefore disagree with Thomas Freedman who wrote in the "New York Times" this week it's time to start pulling out of the Afghanistan.

RICKS: I think Thomas Freedman knows a lot about a lot of things but he doesn't know a lot about war.

BLITZER: Just explain again what you mean by that.

RICKS: I read that column and I said this is nice if you have security. But in order for Afghanistan to move forward, you better get some security. And if American troops aren't providing it, where is it going to come from?

There are two enemies we have to face in this war on Iraq. One is the known one. The Taliban and the Islamic extremists. The other is abuses of the Afghan government. Corruption and brutality. American troops in a counterinsurgency role can handle both those problems. I don't see anything else that can.

BLITZER: Let's make the turn to Iraq right now. It looks like there's an uptick in terrorism going on there. And I assume it's going to even go -- it's going to be even more aggressive as we get closer to some sort of election in Iraq. Does the security situation in Iraq seem to you perilous right now?

RICKS: It does in a slow, deteriorating way. It's not catastrophically collapsing. It's coming apart slowly at the seams. And the only thing in Iraq that's changing is American influence is declining. So all of the basic problems that were there for years before the surge are still there. All of them have led to violence. Questions like how do you share oil revenue? Will Iraq have a strong central government or will it be a loose confederation?

All of those could lead to violence again. In fact, the former mayor of Tal Afar up in the northwest has a good piece in today's "New York Times" op-ed page basically laying out the reasons that all the elements for a civil war are still there and could come back very quickly.

BLITZER: So if U.S. influence is declining, does that automatically mean Iranian influence in Iraq is increasing?

RICKS: I don't know if it can increase any more than it is already. I think the Iranians are the biggest single winners in this war. More than in Baghdad, I think in Bazra. Baghdad is a big political problem. Bazra is where the oil goes out. That's where the money is. And I think Iran long has had its eyes on Bazra as the prize more than Baghdad.

BLITZER: Tom Ricks, thanks very much for coming in.

RICKS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Hijacked by pirates and missing for days. Now a dramatic phone call from a British couple recounting their horrifying ordeal which is still going on.


BLITZER: I want to update you on a story we reported on earlier in the week. We have new information about a British couple believed taken hostage last week by pirates in the Indian Ocean. They have now been heard from in a dramatic phone call from their captivity.

Britain's iTV got an exclusive interview. Abbi Tatton is here with more on this story.

Where is this couple now, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: The call came from on board a containership where the couple say they are being held. Paul Chandler here describing the moment when his yacht was boarded last week.


PAUL CHANDLER, BRITISH HOSTAGE: Three boats came alongside, I was off watch. I was asleep and men with guns came aboard. And then we were forced to sail six days (INAUDIBLE) towards Somalia. They kept asking for money and took everything of value on the boat. They haven't asked formally for money yet. That's it.


TATTON: Chandler was able to say in a later call to the BBC, Wolf, that they are being treated well.

BLITZER: What do we know about their movements over the last three days?

TATTON: Well, the Chandlers had a travel blog. So between these calls today and that blog we can piece some of it together. We know that last week they set sail from the Seychelles, saying we may be out of touch for some time. Didn't last long.

A couple of days later we saw there was a distress beacon that was sent out and this abrupt blog post that just said, "Please ring Sarah." Apparently a reference to a family member. Then today they reappear hundreds of miles to the west, making phone contact and their yacht found bobbing in the oceans in international waters. The British government saying they're using all methods at their disposal to ensure their safe return.

BLITZER: I hope they find them and bring them out of there quickly. Thanks very much, Abbi.

Here's a question. Could Somalia become the next home base for al Qaeda? CNN's David McKenzie has our story.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while piracy has grabbed the global headlines, security analysts believe that an Islamic group based in Somalia poses a much greater threat to east African security, more so than even al Qaeda operatives. They're called Al Shahaab. And I must warn the audience this story is disturbing.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): Masked gunmen hold the hunting knife to the head of a terrified Somali man hinting at brutal justice. It is a propaganda video purported to be made in late 2008 by Al Shahaab, an Somali extremist group with operational links to al Qaeda.

One of the militants recites verses from the Quran. He accuses the man of being a spy. Then on camera they behead the captive with knives. Somali watchers say that this is the face of a new, more brutal Al Shahaab. The group has been fighting to overthrow the weak, U.S. backed transitional government that is propped up by an underfunded African Union peace keeping force.

But Al Shahaab's national aims are now being reduced to terror and arbitrary violence.

HASSAN SHIRE SHEIKH, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: The most gruesome group violence is now committed by Al Shahaab. And they have also still a thief. They just shoot, they kill, they maim and they lash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're calling all the brothers overseas, all the Shahaab, wherever they are, to come and live the life of a mujahed.

MCKENZIE: And Al Shahaab are using a more so sophisticated ways to recruit jihadists from both within Somalia and beyond. Even successful recruiting American Somalis to their cause. Analysts say it's yet another sign that Al Shahaab is morphing into an al Qaeda like operation.

RASHID ABDI, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The rhetoric and the language, if you look at the Web site, you'll hear their preachers or their scholars speak, you know, it's completely indistinguishable from al Qaeda leaders.

MCKENZIE: And their methods are, too, using asymmetrical terror tactics like suicide bombings once unheard of in Somalia to inflict maximum damage. Al Shahaab has openly threatened neighboring countries. Threats that shouldn't be taken lightly.

ABDI: We should not underestimate the capacity to conduct those operations. This is a very deadly organization. Very formidable foe.

MCKENZIE: An extremist Islamic group that will continue to inflict terror in a region once known for its moderate Islam.


MCKENZIE: While Al Shahaab remains a deadly force in Somalia, some analysts believe that international support for the peace keeping force and the tolerant religious tradition in Somalia could mitigate the group's power -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, David, thanks very much. David McKenzie reporting from Nairobi.

A veto, a letter and some salty language. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dished out some choice words. We're going to update you on a story we first reported on yesterday.

And the First Lady Michelle Obama really digs the sweet potatoes from the White House garden.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: We're going to set this here for you all to see. Just photograph that.



BLITZER: New details about a story we first reported about yesterday. A controversial note sent by the California governor Arnold around Schwarzenegger to state legislators. A note that may contain a not-so-hidden message.

CNN's Casey Wian explains.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): : California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to deliver sharp messages. He's brandished a knife to worn of budget cuts and shown a Conana the Barbarian sword to bitterly divided state lawmakers.

Now his pen up here is sharper than that sword. If you read the first letter of each line of this recent veto statement, the governor seems to be saying a little something extra to someone. Possible the veto bill's sponsor, Democratic state assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

This dispute began earlier this month when the Republican governor unexpectedly dropped in on a Democratic fundraiser at the invitation of a former state assembly speaker. Schwarzenegger was loudly booed then Ammiano shouted and we'll paraphrase, kiss my slur- a-gay-man behind.


WIAN: Ammiano later said he was angry about what he calls Schwarzenegger's lack of support for gay rights and gay marriage and he refused to apologize. 0 AMMIANO: I know what was not appropriate was him coming in thinking that all the pernicious acts that he has done, particularly against people with AIDS in San Francisco was going to be OK.

WIAN: But Schwarzenegger appears to have had the last word. When an Ammiano-sponsored bill to expand financing for the port of San Francisco crossed the governor's desk, his veto message was delivered very creatively. The first letter of each line of the text clearly spells F, blank, blank, K, YOU.

Earlier this year Schwarzenegger defended his propensity for unorthodox messages.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: You know, you send a governor to Sacramento not (INAUDIBLE), they sent up the pastor, but you sent someone that's a little bit more entertaining and has a little bit more fun with the whole thing.

WIAN: The governor's spokesman insists the message was nothing more than a coincidence. Something that was bound to happen when a large number of bills are vetoed.

(On camera): Assemblyman Ammiano called Schwarzenegger's message a creative use of the veto. Adding, quote, "We'll call it even and start with a clean slate with the governor from here on out." We'll see. Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed five of the assemblyman's bills since he heckled the governor earlier this month.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.


BLITZER: It's harvest time over at the White House. The first lady Michelle Obama was joined today by students from two D.C. area elementary schools for the fall harvest of the White House kitchen garden.


M. OBAMA: We actually planted. We planted -- you and I remember planting these -- all these herbs and some of the lettuces so some of them were seeds, but some of them were little plants. And then they grew and then in the spring and the summer, we harvest it.

So there was food just like this ready to be picked and then we ate together. So then the summer went by and now it's fall and there's a whole new crop of food here that's ready to be harvested and actually we've done a little bit of that, my girls and I, we got a couple of these sweet potatoes and we're going to do some of -- these sweet potatoes are huge.

They're huge. So hopefully you guys will be able to pull-up some of these huge sweet potatoes. So that's why we've invited you all here. So you're going to help us do our fall-winter harvest.

Yes, young man, do you have a question? Oh you're just fanning your hair? That's good. That's good.


BLITZER: Sweet potatoes, I love sweet potatoes. Also helping to pluck and dig up the vegetables were staff and volunteers from Miriam's Kitchen, a Washington food shelter that has received food donations from the White House. Very good cause.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." She should do the right thing, Jack, and invite you and me over at the White House for sweet potatoes. We love sweet potatoes.

CAFFERTY: I love them. Put them in the oven, put a little marshmallows on the top. Let those melt on to the top of the sweet potatoes. I'm there. Yes, reserve me a table near the window.

BLITZER: All right.

CAFFERTY: And I love Schwarzenegger's note. Love it.

The questions: Should people who witness a crime like the gang rape of a 15-year-old California girl face jail for failing to report it? Two and a half hours of sexual assault, 10 people reportedly standing around, some of them took pictures, some of them laughed. So disgusting.

Maureen writes from Colorado: "Failure to act requires a decision, a decision not to help is a decision to harm. These people should be held accountable. If arrest is not a legal option, then you in the press need to hold them up to shame."

Mike writes: "My gut instinct says yes, but then you start thinking about situations where a bunch of people are just watching a fist fight. Somebody gets punched in the face, falls down, hits their head and dies. So what? Everybody that was there watching is on the hook for not reporting a murder? What if the victim doesn't want the crime reported? Should the bystanders still be liable if the victim asks them not to report it?"

Joe writes: "I'm a retired judge, if I had these people in my courtroom, I would charge them with aiding and abetting the crime and deal with them accordingly."

Trish writes: "Absolutely, people who stand by and watch violence should be charged. They are complicit if they don't help. I don't want to be a part of a society that's so cruel it would allow an innocent person to be attacked with impunity. If we need to force people to act decently, then we're going to have to do that."

Sabatino writes: "Do to others as you would have them do to you. Maybe these witnesses would have been less amused if it was their sister or mother being gang raped. In that case I'm sure they probably would want the witnesses to be jailed. And so should they."

And Keith writes: "It's a difficult question. Basically we're talking about punishment for not doing something. But I think in extreme situations, with crimes like this, there ought to be a requirement of at least reporting it to the authorities. But it's an extremely gray area. What I'd like to see reported in the news media are the names and pictures of those who watched and did nothing."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, we've got lots of these, go to my blog, Maybe you'll see yours there -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Good work. Appreciate it.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, unveils a compromised health care reform bill. It isn't exactly what she wanted. We have details of what's in and what's out.


BLITZER: We're almost upon the one-year anniversary of the election of Barack Obama. Several filmmakers are looking back to the campaign, even before that. Here's CNN's Kareen Wynter -- Kareen?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Much has been said about the 44th president's campaign and election. That it was historic and inspired millions so it should come as no surprise then that some of those inspired were filmmakers.


EDWARD NORTON, ACTOR/PRODUCER: Something as complex as his election, you could make 17 films about. WYNTER (voice-over): Now quite 17, but at least three new films about Barack Obama are hitting the main stream.

M. OBAMA: A little ice cream boost?


M. OBAMA: You can?

WYNTER: On television, HBO will premier "By the People" on November 3rd, produced by Edward Norton. Crews were given unprecedented access to Obama's 20-month campaign.

NORTON: People didn't see debate preps. They didn't -- those things like him consulting with his advisors on core strategy and some of his reflections on the emotional experience of the hazards of the campaign. Then, too, you get some intimacies with him and his family, seeing him at home and some of that was somewhat rare.

M. OBAMA: How much will it cost us as a family? How were we financially going to handle me reducing more hours? We obviously got all of those questions answered to my satisfaction and as a result we are now running for president.

WYNTER: On October 30, "Labor Day" hits theaters in New York and Chicago. It explores the president's campaign from the perspective of the Massive Service Workers Union.

GLENN SILBER, DIRECTOR: To see sort of hundreds of thousands of people get mobilized with their level of commitment, I was personally inspired.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We set up counseling programs...

WYNTER: And finally, available on DVD in stores nationwide November 3rd, a documentary "Becoming Barack" paints a portrait of the would-be president in his formative years. The film examines Obama's pre-campaign years, personal photos with friends and family and excerpts of the president narrating his autobiographical book "Dreams of My Father".

B. OBAMA: Without stopping to aim, he let out three quick shots in the direction of the first boy.

WYNTER: What you won't find in any of the films is the intense criticism now facing the president. But for "Labor Day" director Glenn Silber he hopes his film will serve as a reminder.

SILBER: Even though I'm not perfectly happy with everything that's happened in the last year since the election, not all the changes we were hoping to see have happened as quickly as we might hope, but to realize that change is hard work and we're all going to be involved.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WYNTER: So you just saw, Wolf, all three films offer some never- before-seen footage of Obama and those closest to him. Not an easy task, some say, considering just how publicized this president has been -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Kareen, thanks very much.

And happening now, the best political team on television on these stories. President Obama is patting himself on the back over some long-awaited growth finally on the U.S. economy. But is his administration overstating its role in creating jobs? Stand by.

Also this hour, the House speaker unveils a new health care compromise. Some fellow Democrats aren't impressed.