Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

President Obama Ponders Future of Afghanistan; Democrats Divided Over Abortion Coverage in Health Care Reform Bill; Interview With Attorney For Alleged Fort Hood Gunman

Aired November 11, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama in his Situation Room -- he's huddling with his war council over troop levels and the way forward in Afghanistan. We're being told the president is considering four options.

Amid the Fort Hood massacre probe, were clues into the suspect's past behavior overlooked for fear of alienating a Muslim soldier? And how is the suspect doing? His lawyer visited him in the hospital. The lawyer is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will talk with him.

And a powerful world leader raked over the coals by a grieving military mother. You will see the letter that spelled scandal, and you will hear tape of the mother blasting the British prime minister, Gordon Brown.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On this Veterans Day in the White House at this very moment, President Obama is weighing one of the biggest decisions he will make as president, possibly sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops to war in Afghanistan.

In a scene like this recent one over in the White House Situation Room, the president is surrounded by his war council, including the vice president, Joe Biden, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General David Petraeus.

In a moment, General Petraeus tells CNN in an exclusive interview if he thinks the decision-making proses is taking too long.

But let's begin with the war strategy meeting under way right now.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is joining us.

Suzanne, what do we know?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know this meeting is taking place right now in THE SITUATION ROOM. It's about -- expected to last about two hours or so, so that means about 30 minutes left.

Unlike that wall photo you saw with Secretary Clinton, she is not in this meeting. She is in Singapore. They're about 13 hours ahead. It's about 5:00 in the morning or so. So, she has got a deputy who is actually on the meeting through a secure video line.

But what senior administration officials are telling me now, here's what they are discussing, four options. One of these options, which is a favorite of the Pentagon, is to send perhaps as many as 34,000 troops to Afghanistan. This would be a combination of support, combat, as well as U.S. trainers, to send them over there.

Now, these other options are different combinations, mixes, if you will, taking four factors into account. You have got the troop levels, the amount of troops that you would be sending there, but, also, what kind of cooperation are you going to get from the Karzai government? That's a big factor.

The second thing, the U.S. government, what is it willing to offer on the civilian side, in terms of support to civilians? And, finally, what can the United States expect from other countries, those key NATO allies?

All of these things, Wolf, going into the mix, these are the kinds of questions that the president is reaching out to his top advisers, asking them, getting the answers he needs to refine what they say is going to be the final strategy dealing with Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's been very methodical over these weeks, months, in considering all these options. What else is he asking for? What additional information does he need to know before he reaches a final decision?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly, one of the things that he found out today was that Japan announced $5 billion in aid over five years to the Afghanistan effort. That's just one thing that they are looking at, what kind of support they are getting from their allies.

But he's also heading to Asia. He's going to have a week-long trip. He's going to check in with key allies there. There's a big NATO meeting that's taking place on November 23. They will be talking about troop levels.

He is also hosting a state dinner with the prime minister of India in the weeks to come. All those things are going to come together. He's going to get information from these key events. And then he's going to roll out that decision, Wolf, we're told, within the next couple of weeks.

BLITZER: We will watch every step of the way, together with you, Suzanne. Thank you.

And, as we mentioned, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General David Petraeus, he's among those huddled inside the White House Situation Room with the president right now.

But just before going into the Situation Room, General Petraeus spoke exclusively with CNN. Amid criticism from some, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, that the president is simply taking way too long on deciding how many more troops to send to Afghanistan, our Kyra Phillips asked General Petraeus what he thinks.


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I think the process has been very productive and very useful. I think there's been a degree of discussion and debate, indeed, that has been excellent. There has been refinement of objectives.

There's been discussion of various courses of action. There have been explanations and -- and -- and discussions about how the civilian component of this will complement what is done by the work of our military troops.

All in all, I think this has been a very productive couple of months that we have spent on this.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Will General Stanley McChrystal get what he needs, sir?

PETRAEUS: Well, that's up to the president, obviously. And, again, our job is to provide him our best professional military advice. And that's what we're determined to do, we will do. We owe that to our country and to our troopers, especially those like Brian, who have sacrificed so much for our country.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, how many of you think the president should be sending more troops to Afghanistan?

In our brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 42 percent of you favor it, but get this. Fifty-six percent say they oppose the president sending more troops.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

It seems like public opinion, slowly, but surely, shifting against sending more troops against what the president may decide.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's public opinion that's actually growing, Wolf.

You know, back in April, we asked whether people supported the war in Afghanistan. At that point, Wolf, a majority of people said they did support the war effort. Fast-forward eight months in our poll now, and 58 percent of the people say they oppose the war in Afghanistan, so it follows that people are also opposed to send in more troops.

BLITZER: Does the -- the -- the country, the American public right now, believe that there can be a stable government in Afghanistan ever?

BORGER: No, the public does not -- in one word, no.

When we asked people whether there can eventually be a stable government, and that is without U.S. troops, take a look at this. Sixty-four percent of the people are very pessimistic, and they say no.

And one thing I would like to add to that, Wolf, that I believe from my reporting, it's clear that the president has the same concerns as the American people. There are questions. For instance, if we send in large amounts of troops, does that encourage people in Afghanistan to set up their own troops or not?

And, then, you know, my sources say, that's why we could end up with a decision from the president that is not black and white, that perhaps sets up benchmarks for the government there, as well as for our allies, who says, if you meet these benchmarks, then we will send in troops accordingly.

BLITZER: The -- the country is practically even -- very evenly divided -- on whether the president...


BLITZER: ... is taking too long to make a decision. Forty-nine percent say he's -- he's -- it's taking him too long. Fifty percent say it's not.

BORGER: Right.

Yes. You know, the public is clearly divided on the question, as Dick Cheney put it, of whether the president is dithering on sending troops. But, Wolf, I took a look at the internal polls that we get along with this, and...

BLITZER: You went inside the polls?


BORGER: Inside the polls. And it's interesting. There's a gender gap on this question. A majority of men say the president has taken too long. A majority of women say he is not, that taking his time is the right thing to do.

I will let you interpret that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Women are always smarter than men.


BORGER: Right. And we take a little bit of time to make decisions.

BLITZER: That's smart.

BORGER: Yes, I agree.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He has got "The Cafferty File."

I'm sure he agrees with us as well. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You -- you said women are always smarter.


CAFFERTY: And Gloria agreed with that immediately.

BLITZER: Yes. Yes.


BLITZER: I agree with Gloria.


BORGER: Always.

CAFFERTY: Well, not always.

The suspect in the Fort Hood shootings that left 13 dead and 42 wounded at one point had asked that the military allow Muslims to claim conscientious objector status when it comes to going to war against other Muslims.

"The Washington Post" first reported on a slide presentation Army Major Nidal Hasan, who is Muslim, made when he was a psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Army Hospital back in 2007. The presentation was supposed to be about a medical topic, but, instead, Hasan lectured about Islam, suicide bombers, and threats the military could face from Muslims who are conflicted about fighting other Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Quoting now Hasan: "It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims" -- unquote.

Hasan was set to leave soon for Afghanistan. And a relative says he had asked not to be deployed, but "The Washington Post" reports, that's not true. An Army official says Hasan never formally requested to leave the military, as a conscientious objector or for any other reason.

Meanwhile, there's no exact count of how many Muslims are serving in the U.S. military. The Pentagon lists about 3,500, out of a service of about 1.4 million, but officials say that number is probably low, since disclosure of your religious preference is voluntary.

Nonetheless, it seems to be a real issue that might continue to present itself, with U.S. troops still in Iraq and potentially tens of thousands of additional troops soon to be sent to Afghanistan.

So, here's the question. Should Muslim members of the U.S. military be forced to fight against other Muslims?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

I think, when you're sworn in -- and I took this oath a lot of years ago -- it says you promise to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It makes no differentiation on, when you're sworn into the military, what the religious preference of the enemy might be.

BLITZER: Right. It doesn't say that -- give an option for Christians, for example, to avoid fighting other Christians.

CAFFERTY: Exactly. Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, I mean, these -- these kinds of wars have been going on throughout history. So, it's a -- it's a -- an interesting point, but not one that I think has a whole lot of weight attached to it.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect most of your viewers out there will agree, Jack.

Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Well, we will see.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, it's always interesting.

The person who shot and killed 13 people was -- quote -- "very swift, very tactical." We're hearing heart-wrenching firsthand accounts of what happened during the massacre last Thursday from a man shot multiple times. Stand by for that interview.

And, on this Veterans Day, honoring those who served and the fallen. The commander in chief marks the day, and you will see a very special collection of mementos.


DUERY FELTON, CURATOR, VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL COLLECTION: It's more than a collection of sorrow. It's also a celebration of life.



BLITZER: President Obama is paying tribute to the troops this Veterans Day, both living and fallen. This morning, we -- he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Then he gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, where he thanked all the men and women who have dedicated their lives serving their country.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In an era where so many acted only in pursuit of narrow self-interests, they have chosen the opposite.

They chose to serve the cause that is greater than self, many even after they knew they'd be sent into harm's way.

And for the better part of a decade they have endured tour after tour in distant and difficult places, they have protected us from danger, and they have given others the opportunity for a better life. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama also visited Section 60, the burial ground at Arlington for U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And thousands of Americans joined him in marking this Veterans Day. They attended services and visited war memorials. Many left mementos behind. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here in Washington, mementos are part of the landscape. The National Park Service collects thousands of them every year.

Our CNN photojournalist Bethany Swain explores a collection of these unforgettable artifacts.


FELTON: People started leaving things in 1982, and they are still leaving things. There's no precedent for this. And, periodically, the rangers will pick things up at the wall and they will transport them out to the facility.


So, in '86, this was decided that this would become a formal collection. And I think, last year, it was something like 6,000 objects that came in. I looked at us as being voyeurs, in many ways.

It's left at the wall, so it's special.

This is a softball that was left, so you take from it what you will.

This facility is not open to the general public.

It's a rendering of a POW MIA tiger cage to draw attention to the MIA, missing in action.

This collection is international in scope, just as the Vietnam War was international in scope.

We have a lot of blackjack cards in here.

I can't tell you why it was left. But we have over 100,000 objects in the collection. It's more than a collection of sorrow. It's also a celebration of life.

We have this object that was left, jungle boots, the dog tags, a helmet. So, when we say we have 100,000 objects, that's very conservative. It depends on how you count. Is this one, or is this 300?

When you look at the (INAUDIBLE) you still see residue. That's why I haven't cleaned it, because it tells so much of a story. But I have often wondered which context this was used.

And we're still not able to determine the nursing school, but it's a nurse's cap. Sometimes, people will write messages on the currency. "Forget me not." Very profound, simple, but effective.

When a person dies, that person doesn't die in a vacuum, not in isolation.

Almost 60 percent of today's population was not alive during Vietnam. You can't tell where you are until you understand where you have been. And we're preserving the past for the future.


BLITZER: For more of the collection and how you can see it for yourself, you can go to, a good day to do so.

And don't miss this Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern "Veterans in Focus," hosted by CNN's Tom Foreman. In honor of America's veterans, CNN's photojournalists have turned their lenses on the men and women of the military and their lives of service, struggle and success. You will want to see it, Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

The shootings at Fort Hood won't just leave physical scars on the people who were injured. They are also sure to leave deep emotional wounds, as survivors mourn the loss of their comrades who died that day and as they try to relive those terrifying moments when the gunman opened fire.

Today, we heard from one of the wounded, Army Specialist Logan Burnette, who was shot multiple times in the hip, elbow and stomach.


SPC. LOGAN BURNETTE, FORT HOOD SHOOTING VICTIM: We heard the shooter continue to move to the opposite side of the building as he continued to fire, very, very quick reloader on that weapon. He was very swift, very tactical with what he was doing.

As he moved, we -- me and two other soldiers in the cubicle -- I wish I could remember their names -- decided it was time for us to get out of that building.


BLITZER: Army Specialist Burnette spoke to CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We're going to have a lot more of that interview for you just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up.

More questions about the suspect in that shooting, 39-year-old Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with the latest on the investigation.

And it gets more complicated each day.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Wolf.

We're getting more information now on what investigators say are communications from Nidal Hasan to a Yemeni cleric and also more information about other leads being followed in this case.


TODD (voice-over): A source familiar with the investigation tells CNN Nidal Hasan not only contacted a radical cleric in Yemen, but it's believed he also got communications back from that cleric.

Investigators say, during that time, that cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was the subject of a federal probe, but the source says all the communications seemed innocent in nature, and says officials are following other leads, leads on connections Hasan may have had with other people who would have been of concern to investigators.

Questions continue over Hasan's behavior while in medical training and the response to that behavior, specifically presentations Hasan gave on Muslims in the military, when, according to one classmate, he was supposed to be talking about health issues.

The classmate, who witnessed one of the presentations, tells CNN, despite the discomfort of others in the room, he doesn't believe Hasan's superiors counseled him about it. And the classmate says he believes it was because they didn't want to alienate a Muslim soldier.

While this was his strong belief, he didn't provide evidence of that. A retired military lawyer familiar with such investigations says political correctness does factor in these situations.

THOMAS KENNIFF, FORMER ARMY JAG OFFICE ATTORNEY: In a post-9/11 world, there are a lot of forces in the military that may be very hesitant to give the appearance that they are singling out Muslim soldiers, even when that individual Muslim soldier may be making statements that are looked at as very incendiary and very questionable.

TODD: A Defense Department official wouldn't comment on that, and there's no specific information that Hasan's superiors didn't address his presentations with him or that they avoided doing so because he's Muslim.

I asked former Bush Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, a CNN contributor, if political correctness could have inhibited investigators looking into Hasan's communications.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: There is no question in my mind that investigators, when they looked at this material, understood very well that, if they decided to pursue this investigation, they would have to justify why they were -- they chose to pursue one of the few Muslim Americans inside the U.S. military, and perhaps alienate him.


TODD: Now, a senior investigative official who we spoke with said he has never heard any indication, seen any allegation that Hasan got any favorable treatment along the line any time before this shooting because of the fact that he's Muslim, Wolf. BLITZER: And we're going to be speaking this hour with his lawyer, Hasan's lawyer.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: And we have got some good questions for him, Brian. Thanks very much for that.

Senate Democrats deeply divided over the issue of abortion insurance coverage in the health bill -- is a compromise out of reach? Our CNN political contributor James Carville will weigh in.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Fred, what's going on?


Hello, everyone.

A California man is in trouble for allegedly portraying himself as a highly decorated military officer, when he never actually even served as all. Thirty-nine-year-old Steven Burton is expected to surrender to authorities tomorrow, after being charged with the unauthorized wearing of military medals.

Burton was allegedly seen and photographed wearing uniforms and medals, including the Cross, as well as the Purple Heart. If convicted of the misdemeanor, he could face up to a year in prison.

And the husband of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has died. A statement by the court says John O'Connor III died today in Phoenix of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 79 years old. Justice O'Connor retired from the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2006, saying that she wanted to spend more time with her husband, who was then in the earlier stages of the disease.

Our hearts go out to them both and the entire family -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our deepest condolences, indeed, Fred. Thanks very much.

He's accused of inflicting terror not like anything ever seen on a U.S. military base. What might the alleged Fort Hood gunman be saying? His lawyer will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now: Roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, they are soaring, up 350 percent since 2007. We're going to take you on a ride with U.S. troops as they drive down an Afghan road infested with IEDs. Former pro football player Pat Tillman, his friendly-fire death in Afghanistan set off a firestorm of allegations about a military cover- up. Now a new book takes a very hard look at the case and the controversy. I will speak with the author.

And a horrifying crime: A teenaged boy is set on fire, allegedly by his own friends. We will talk to the paramedic who helped save his life.

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

Let's get back to one of our top stories, the fallout from the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas. The alleged gunman, Major Nidal Hasan, is recovering from his injuries in a San Antonio hospital, and will eventually be tried, we believe, in a military court.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Belton, Texas, Colonel John Galligan, retired U.S. Army. He's the attorney representing Major Nidal Hasan.

I know you had a chance, Colonel, to actually meet with him in his hospital room. How is he doing?

JOHN GALLIGAN, ATTORNEY FOR NIDAL MALIK HASAN: Well, when I met with him, it was very briefly. It was just for a 30-minute meeting, and that was shortly after I had filed a notice of appearance in the case. And I wanted to get down and personally meet with him. I went down along with the military detail counsel, Major Christopher Martin.

BLITZER: What was your...


BLITZER: ... impression when you saw him? A, is he going to make it?

GALLIGAN: Well, my hope is that he's going to make it. And my hope is that they're going to take good care of him. And I'm sure they will there at BAMC. It has an excellent reputation.

We couldn't talk a lot because he was heavily sedated. My intent is to get back and visit with him, perhaps tonight, and certainly no later than some time tomorrow.

BLITZER: Did he have an understanding, in the brief conversation you had with him, why he was there, how he got there?

GALLIGAN: He understands that he's in the hospital. He understands that a criminal justice process is ongoing. And he understands that Major Martin and I are his defense counsel. And we advised him we didn't want him to, you know, jeopardize his health. At the time, we assured him that we were going to be back and meet with him soon.

He was satisfied with the preliminary part of our defense team because that could be amplified. He knows he has a right to retain further or additional civilian counsel. He understands he has a right to request additional military counsel.

But our whole purpose, really, was to go down and solidify the fact that family members, on his behalf, have retained me. And I wanted to receive assurances from him that that was consistent with his desires. So, I received that and we're satisfied with it.

BLITZER: Did you get the impression that he understands that he shot and killed 13 people?

GALLIGAN: Wolf, we didn't get into any issues associated with those facts. It was simply to ensure that he understood time, place and person, the nature of my role and the nature of the role of Major Martin. We didn't discuss anything about, you know, the specifics.

He understands that charges will be forthcoming. As I told him, I, at that point in time, didn't know in what form, what jurisdiction. And as you know, I've said to various people, even as of today, I haven't received formal charges in the case.

BLITZER: I'm sure you'll be getting those sooner rather than later, as you know the military justice system, how it works.

You assume, I assume, that he will be tried before a military jury, as opposed to a civilian.

GALLIGAN: Well, I've learned to assume nothing. But the word that I'm getting -- and it's not official word. I'm getting it from the news media and other reporters who are apparently talking to folks in the military, either in Washington, D.C., or at Fort Hood, is that the case will remain in military justice channels.

But again, all of the normal incidents that accompany the processing of charges in a court-martial setting have not yet occurred. I think the closest thing that indicates that there's a court-martial in the works is last night, about 8:00, I did receive an e-mail from the prosecutor at Fort Hood, indicating to me that the pass privileges and leave privileges of Major Hasan had been revoked. And it was styled as a notification of restraint, a change in the conditions of pretrial restraint.

BLITZER: So what about his motivation?

GALLIGAN: But that's the first...

BLITZER: Did he give you any indication of his motivation?

GALLIGAN: We had no discussions at all, as I indicated earlier, about that. And before we do that, I want to be equipped with a lot more than I currently have. But I'm sure as soon as I get a charge sheet, assurance , as soon as I'm in receipt of official records and investigative files, we'll be getting into the details of what the government is alleging.

BLITZER: You spent 30 years active duty in the United States military. You retired, what, back in 2001? A lot of folks, when they heard I was interviewing you, they asked me how could a retired U.S. military officer, a full colonel, go ahead and represent someone accused of mass murder? And I want you to explain to our viewers why you're doing this.

GALLIGAN: Wolf, I will tell you what I have told consistently anyone who asks that same question, and that is as a military -- former military JAG officer, former military judge, former prosecutor, former defense counsel, and now currently actively involved, also, in the civilian practice of criminal defense work, I fully appreciate the importance of ensuring that everybody has a fair trial. I think that's particularly important when it applies to anyone in uniform, officer or enlisted.

Their profession is to defend us. We owe it to them as either fellow service members or as U.S. citizens to ensure that we properly defend them.

The rights that I'm asking be accorded to Major Hasan are the rights that service members live and die for. Let's just make sure we don't deprive them in his case.

I also tell people that I'm a firm believer in the military justice process. Sadly, because so few people do serve in the U.S. Army and sister services today, there's an increasing -- a diminishing number of people who really understand the military justice system.

If properly applied, it can ensure that an individual has a fair and just hearing. If allowed to run its course, without being perverted along the way, I'm confident that most people will say we arrived, at the end of the day, with a fair, impartial and just result.

My purpose in representing the major is to ensure that we keep the military justice procedures on track. I've told people it's a great system if it works right, but it's a system that, if you have problems in it or difficulties along the way, be careful, get out of the way.

BLITZER: And you realize he potentially is facing the death penalty?

GALLIGAN: I understand there are a lot of potential variances that could occur in this case. But as I indicated earlier, right now, he's a suspect who has in -- is being represented by counsel, and neither he nor I have been in receipt of anything formal with respect to how the case is going to proceed.

BLITZER: Colonel Galligan, thanks very much for joining us.

GALLIGAN: Thank you very much.

And I'd just encourage all of the listeners on this program and others to join me in ensuring that Major Hasan has a fair and impartial hearing in any forum that ultimately may be assigned to determine the facts in this case.

BLITZER: I'm sure...

GALLIGAN: If we can do that, justice is done. BLITZER: I'm sure he will get a much fairer hearing than those 13 Americans who were brutally gunned down the other day. I'm sure he will get all of the rights that are applied by the U.S. Military Code of Justice.

Thank you.

GALLIGAN: Well -- OK, thank you. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead. If you want to say anything else, go ahead.

GALLIGAN: No, I -- it's -- the difficulty that I have, of course, is when people, in discussions with me, with references like the one that you just made, in the criminal justice field we often are dealing with victims. And the victims, oftentimes, are more than just those that are named on a charge sheet or in an indictment.

We want to make sure that everybody watching the process unfold feels comfortable and confident that it's going to be fair and just. And the minute we try to isolate certain cases in that process and say, well, we can make a judgment before the trial, or assumptions before the trial, I think leads to the wrong result.

BLITZER: Well, I think the point you're making...

GALLIGAN: I'm comfortable...


BLITZER: ... is that whether he's tried by the military or tried by civilian authorities, he's innocent until proven guilty.

That's what you're trying to say, right?

GALLIGAN: Correct. Well, he's cloaked with that presumption. There's a burden of proof upon the government. There are serious issues that have to be examined as we watch all of this unfold, whether it's unfair pretrial publicity, whether he can have a fair trial at a particular location. All of these things are going to unfold over a period of time.

Right now, though, I'm awaiting the medical physicians and attendants at BAMC to assure me that my participation, my involvement, my presence with my client would not in any way detract from his ability to make a, hopefully, speedy recovery, as I wish for all of the people that have been affected by these tragic events.

BLITZER: As all of us do. We hope that all of those who are still in hospital and suffering will make a speedy recovery as well.

Colonel Galligan, thanks very much.

GALLIGAN: All right.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: High stakes in a major family feud: Democrats against Democrats in the U.S. Senate. At issue, how the public option and abortion might play into health care reform.

Top Democratic strategist James Carville, he's here. We'll dissect what's happening in his own party.

And the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, raked over the coals by a grieving military mother. He wrote a letter to console her. Instead, it caused scandal. You're going to hear the tape of the mother blasting him.


BLITZER: Right now Republicans are virtually united in their opposition to the Democrats' plans for health care reform, but Republicans may be the least of the Democrats' problems right now. The Democrats are squaring off against each other in this debate. At issue, two issues that incite passions among Americans.

Let's talk about it with our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist James Carville.

One of those issues, abortion rights for women and whether it's going to become more difficult for women to get abortions as a result of this health care plan, specifically the amendment that was inserted in the House version which a lot of Democrats in the Senate don't like and say they will vote against.

How do they split the difference on this, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't know if they're going to be able to split the difference. And you also probably have some Senate Democrats, Senator Casey, for an example, that's going to have great difficulty if these provisions are in the bill.


BLITZER: Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska says he won't support it if the House language is weakened.

CARVILLE: Right. So, look, that's the perils being in a majority, that when you have a lot of congressional seats and you've got a lot of Senate seats. On some of these issues you're going to have a lot of different positions.

And look, Speaker Pelosi, she did a good job of getting the votes that she had to get on this thing, and the ball is in Senator Reid's court. And, look, it's tough. That's why they're saying they're going to need until next year to do this. And if they get it done, my hat's off to them, but it's not easy.

And there are contradictions within the Democratic Party. That is a fact. BLITZER: Because you have a bunch of Democrats in the Senate, especially some of the women like Senators Mikulski or Claire McCaskill or Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, who say they can't live with the House anti-abortion amendment. They can't support that.

CARVILLE: Yes, they are. And, you know, to be fair, these senators and these women feel very passionate and very strong about it. A lot of people in the House did. And that's where the Senate leadership and the president is going to have to come in, and he's got to make some phone calls, and they're going to have to deal with this.

I don't make any -- I don't make any bones about it. This is a very tough issue, and it's going to be -- it's going to get very complicated.

And you saw them get it done in the House. The Senate, if anything, is going to be more difficult. We're going to have a lot of days where we're going to be holding our breath on this thing, and there's going to be a lot of late-night phone calls, I promise you.

I don't want to pretend that this is going to be something that can be glossed over, because it's not, and it's going to be a tough issue for us. But, you know, I've seen us come through these things.

BLITZER: Yes, because just to remind our viewers, in the Senate, you don't need 51, a majority, to get it passed. You need 60 votes to get it passed. And right now there are 58 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Now, Joe Lieberman, he says flatly if the public option is included in the Senate version, he will support the filibuster. He makes no bones about it. That brings it down to 59, and there are probably some other moderate Democrats who don't like the public option either.

CARVILLE: Well, look, there's a reason that every president since President Truman has been trying this and hasn't succeeded, because it's difficult. But there's also a reason that this thing is now further along than it's ever been in U.S. history. And every senator, you know, if you know if you're right at the end that you have a lot of power, so everybody has a chance to exercise some power here.

The majority leader seems to think that he can -- he's worked with Senator Lieberman in the past, he seems to think that he can get something done when the time comes. You know, these votes come right down to the end, and there's a lot of negotiations going, there's a lot of things that happen.

And I keep coming back to the -- I think that they can get to 57 or so. I think the president is going to have to come to the Hill again. I think the president, he's going to have to do a lot, a lot, a lot of arm wrestling, and he's going to have to get down in the trenches here. This is going to be a tough deal.

Can they do it?

BLITZER: Yes, but you know, James, 57, 58, 59, it collapses, it's not a done deal. The whole thing goes back to square one. You need 60.

CARVILLE: It does. You do need 60, and I'm saying the president -- I think that the majority can get to 57. I think the president is going to have to carry the other three over the line with it. And, again, I don't want anybody to think that this thing is going to be easy, that it's a done deal, but I also think that we've got a real shot at getting this thing done.

BLITZER: James, thanks very much.

CARVILLE: You bet.

BLITZER: A condolence letter riddled with errors and misspellings, never a good thing, but really bad if it's from a prime minister and sent to a mother who lost her son in Afghanistan. There's a furor under way right now in Britain over Gordon Brown's -- what they are calling "Lettergate."


BLITZER: The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, hopes he stopped a scandal he helped start. He's apologizing to a mother of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan.

The prime minister first wrote her a letter, but the mother says it was riddled with misspellings. When that came out, Mr. Brown called her to apologize. The mother recorded the conversation and raked him over the coals.

A British newspaper posted the recording on its Web site. Here's part of it.


JACQUI JANES, MOTHER OF FALLEN SOLDIER: The letter that you wrote to me, Mr. Brown...


JANES: ... was -- you know, I don't want to sound disrespectful here, but was an insult to my child. There was 25 spelling mistakes -- 25!

BROWN: There wasn't.

JANES: Mr. Brown, I've got the letter in front of me...

BROWN: OK, Ms. Janes. I'm sorry that I can't -- I can't satisfy you, but I have tried my best to show you this evening that if there's been some misunderstanding about how my...

JANES: I do appreciate you taking the time to phone me, but I'm afraid we are going to have to disagree.

BROWN: Well, that's -- I know how strongly you feel.

JANES: No, Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown, listen to me. I know every injury that my child sustained that day, I know that my son could have survived, but my son bled to death. How would you like it if one of your children, God forbid, went to a war doing something that he thought where he was helping protect his queen and country and because of lack -- lack of helicopters, lack of equipment, your child bled to death and then you had the coroner have to tell you his every injury?

My son had no legs from the knees down. My son lost his right hand. My son had to have his face reconstructed.

Do you understand, Mr. Brown? Lack of equipment.


BLITZER: Strong words.

The prime minister later publicly apologized, and the mother said in a TV interview she accepted his apology.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: There is nothing to say.

The question this hour: Should Muslim members of the U.S. military be forced to fight against other Muslims?

Jay says, "Yes. U.S. Muslim soldiers weren't drafted. They signed up voluntarily to serve in the United States armed forces. What if the U.S. has a spat with North Korea? Should Korean-American soldiers get a free pass? Of course not."

"If you're not willing to do everything your boss orders you to do, then maybe the Army isn't your best career choice. Suck it up or don't sign up."

Eric writes, "If the answer is no, then how can you force Catholics to fight Catholics or Protestants to fight Protestants? Wars between countries know no religion. And wars between religions know no countries."

Kyle in California, "Yes, Jack. They took an oath to serve the U.S. and protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. If U.S. Muslim troops have a problem with fighting their own, don't join the military."

Mark writes, "Muslim first, American second?"

Judie in El Lago, Texas, "Anybody who enlists in the military is sworn to support, defend and protect the United States of America, not Muslims. Has anyone considered radical Muslims infiltrating the military?"

"Why not exclude Muslims from serving in the military? It seems to me it would solve future situations that they feel are imposing on their religious rights." Margaret writes, "We have a volunteer Army. What is the complaint about?"

S.G., Kingsland, Georgia, "I signed the same pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that you did. The doctor is a traitor. He should be court-martialed, and if found guilty, sentenced to death."

And Judi writes, "If you're a Muslim, shouldn't you ask yourself that question before you enlist?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Sarah Palin is being tied to what's being called vicious political attacks. The accuser, a moderate Republican, a conservative who essentially ran out of an election. Now she is striking back.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," a female Republican who you might say is going rogue. Her name is not Sarah Palin.

Dede Scozzafava is a bit of a maverick herself, blasting Palin and other fellow Democrats (sic). You'll recall conservatives effectively drove out the moderate Republican from the race in New York's 23rd congressional district. Now it's Scozzafava's turn.


DEDE SCOZZAFAVA (R), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: Some of the ads were very vicious, and some of the robo calls and some of the calls that were being placed, yes, using language such as, you know, "She's a homo lover, she is a child killer," and that language was coming from people that identify themselves with the Republican Party.


BLITZER: In "The Washington Post," she also questioned if Palin fully understood her endorsement when she backed conservative candidate Doug Hoffman.

A fresh poll suggests slightly more people may vote for Republicans in next year's midterm elections than vote for a Democrat. The breakdown in the new Gallup poll of registered voters, 48 percent would vote Republican, 44 percent say they would vote Democratic. Within the poll sampling error, of course, but that's a switch from other recent polls that showed Democrats as the preferred party choice.